Staring off into space and imagining an ocean made entirely of glittering stars, I suddenly notice a squirrel darts right in front of me and I jolt myself alert to train my eyes on the road ahead. The same old roads to the same old tired places, mostly brick and mostly mortar and mostly one foot in front of the other until I can break free from the high glass tower and curl up with my notebooks and fantasies once again.
If they had any idea, they’d never believe it. It’s incredible to me how zero-dimensional people assume you are without thinking anything more of it. The good part about their ignorance is it makes it easy to hide yourself when you need to. People prefer it when you blend in because it makes them feel like the big deal they wish they were to feel important. I straighten my skirt and tuck my hair and smile and nod and write stories about the many ways to escape in my head.
Coffee in hand, I meet him out on the curb where the smokers are taking their break, never minding the blistering summer heat. The heat doesn’t faze any of us anymore, except for the new guy who just came in from Arizona and keeps going on some bullshit about the difference between this particular kind of hell hole and a “dry heat” which is apparently much easier to stomach. I have to take his word for it because I’ve never been and also it doesn’t matter.
My friend offers me a cigarette from his fresh pack and I politely turn it down. It’s been many weeks since I let myself indulge and for what it’s worth I’m trying to stay the course. It seems like in general if it feels good you probably shouldn’t and if it’s grueling you probably should, such is our fucked up puritanical culture where self-inflicted punishment and/or self-deprivation is the highest honor of all.
What I don’t think they get, though, is there is a toll all this posing is taking on us which is constant and invisible to the naked eye. There’s a current underneath everything like something is about to erupt. No. Something is about to finally break. Something which has been brittle and disintegrating for a very, very long time.
I suck in some second hand smoke as one by one the smokers peel off to head back into the manufactured shade of their air-conditioned offices. I sip my coffee and watch as the small personal jet planes taxi along the runway at the center of the wide open fields. Rich but not famous. High but not high enough. Never high enough.
In the corners of my mind, I can feel the way the life drains out of my system when I have to pretend I’m fine all the time. A restlessness like screaming blindly into the void in a dream. He crushes his cigarette into the sidewalk as we make our way back to whatever it was we were doing in the first place. Cuffed sleeves and neon screens. But there’s something in the way he drags his feet. Something in the way the side of his young mouth turns down when he gives me a parting smile. Something unspoken which tells me he feels it, too.