Choices. Chapter 1: 2004.
When I graduated from college back at the turn of the century the job market was pretty bad, at least in my field. Most job offers available for a recent graduate without experience paid just enough for it to be more economically sensible — after running some numbers — to be unemployed than accepting them. Turned out that after paying for transportation, office dress code compliant clothes, meals and the simple cost of rent and living, the wages offered weren’t enough for me to even aspire to merely break even, let alone profit at all. I’d lose more money working than sitting at home staring at the wall and, considering that I had student loans to pay for on top of everything else, things weren’t looking so good.
That’s when I decided to cut costs as much as possible, look for a job close to home even if it was part time and I was overqualified for it, and take advantage of my modest savings in order to keep looking until I found a job that would allow me to come out a bit ahead of the break even point. Honestly, it took a few months to get to that point, and I have to confess that I have to thank a friend that helped me land a position in the company where he worked. The following year, thanks to that breather, I was able to get a better paid job with better benefits by myself and I was on my way. I had the satisfaction of knowing that, once I had passed the last of my college final exams, I never cost anybody else but me a single red cent.
But during those months when I was unemployed and, having graduated, no longer had access to the book loans from my college library that had helped me ignore the fact that I didn’t even own a T.V. throughout the years, I ended up trying to keep busy doing all sorts of things because having nothing to do for months at a time ends up driving you crazy. One of those things, that ended up taking a quite a bit of my time, was spending time sitting in front of an old desktop computer without internet access, property of one of my flatmates, writing all sorts of things while Temple of the Dog or Stardog Champion played on repeat on my CD player. (Back then practically no one owned portable mp3 players and smartphones hadn’t become ubiquitous. Hell, I didn’t even own a regular cellphone and I wouldn’t own one for a couple of years more.)
Close to a decade later I found a box full of stuff from that time in my life, including a printed copy of some of those stories, and I noticed that more than being independent writings, there were certain connections between them and some pretty evident common themes. My dad had just died and, though at the time I didn’t notice, part of my grieving process consisted in reading all of the stuff I found and try to piece a single narrative, fractured as it may be. Looking back, the common themes I mentioned are pretty obvious and they explain why I did it, but while I was busy trying to make sense of all this I was unaware of it. I don’t claim to say that it’s a good story or that it shows any true writing skill, since I was practically a kid when I wrote it and even now I don’t make claims to be any sort of good writer, but it’s interesting to me because it reminds me of who I once was long ago, unfiltered and without much condescendense.
Ch. 1: 2004.
You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up and you have no idea
-Bloody Motherfucking Asshole (Martha Wainwright).
When she came home after attending the presentation, the light of the answering machine greeted her with a red-eyed repeating wink. More like a nervous tic, she thought amused, fast as it blinked to imply that the message was a new one yet to be heard for the first time. She was about to wonder who it might be from when she realized that she already knew.
The girl walked up to the tall table next to the kitchen door, threw her keys into a wooden bowl filled with loose change and assorted knick-knacks that found their way there when she didn’t pay attention to them, and stared at her reflection in the mirror that hung over said table for a few seconds.
She puckered her lips and knit her brow when she noticed the zit on the right side of her chin, glaring an angry red against the backdrop of her pale skin. She touched it gingerly and decided to leave it alone. It was one of those ingrown ones that hurt like hell and once she started picking at it, she knew she’d be unable to stop. The girl took a deep breath and unslung her bag, little more than a glorified woolen sack, from her shoulder getting it caught with a few locks of her hair in the process. She took another deep breath and shrugged as she whistled random snatches of music and worked to free her mane from the purse’s attempt to take their relationship to a much more intimate level. Should’ve kept my hair short, she mused untying the bag’s strap to make the operation easier. She remembered when she was younger and had white girl dreadlocks. This would’ve never happened then, she thought, nor later when I had cut them off and worn my hair short for a while.
In all honesty, Elisa was in her own way as vain as most women were. Her hair was one of the few things she was self-conscious about and it had taken close to three years to grow it back to its current length after the blue-and-black-dreadlock-followed-by-a-buzz-cut episode. Now she settled for her real hair color, dark brown like her mother’s.
She stopped disentangling her locks for a moment to let her mind wander for a bit while she figured out how to proceed. Maybe she had been unconsciously trying to teach herself to dispense with vanity when she had done all that crazy shit with her hair when younger. “Sure,” she chuckled. Trust her to try and give a more profound significance to something as banal as her choice of hairstyles.
After she had successfully broken free from her purse, Elisa went to the kitchen and got herself a glass of water. She took a long drink and carried it back to the living room where the answering machine waited for her in its unending red-lighted seizure. She pushed the button and, sure enough, his voice came out of the speaker:
- Hey, how’s things? We’re about to go on stage so wish us luck. Sucks not having you along, I really wish that you could’ve avoided that work stuff you had today and come with us but I know I’m just being selfish, so don’t give me that look. Going to be weird being a three-piece without a lead guitar but someone’s got to take bass duties and you know who it’s going to be. Well, guess I got to go. Be seeing you in a few days and, Maritxu, please don’t —
The recording beeped its ending and Elisa wondered what Adrian was going to ask her not to do at the very end. She finally decided that it was nothing important. Otherwise, it followed to reason that he would have called back to leave a second message. And yet, there was the Basque name thing. From an early age they had gotten into the habit of calling each other by their middle names when they were on their own or there was something important to talk about. It had been an us-against-the-world kind of thing back when they were children and had been forced to learn a different language during their father’s years pursuing his doctorate degree. Back then she was Maritxu to his Iñaki, though nowadays, in their late twenties, they did not usually get into that old game.
Elisa pushed the button once more and listened to the message all over again, though she did not get a clearer impression of what Adrian could have been getting at the end. Who the hell knew where he was concerned? It could be anything, really.
She turned the radio on and sat on the couch, setting the glass of water on the floor by her feet. She picked up a folder from the coffee table and started reading. There was still all the paperwork to go over. God, she fucking hated to work on the weekends. She loved her job, though. She had to admit you had to take the good with the bad.
A postcard lay unnoticed under the coffee table. The front displayed a huge ancient-looking tree. On its back, it proclaimed on an unsteady, spidery, black hand: “I miss you guys…Cheers!” Under a childish drawing of a glass of beer and a happy face, it was signed simply G.H.
After a couple of hours, Elisa decided to go to bed and just as she started to drift off to sleep she briefly wondered what she was going to do now that she was pregnant by a man she never wanted to see again in her life.