Tag Archives: Boston

An empty city

“Basket Case,” Kiran said. “That song is my life right now.”

“Am I the the shrink or the whore?” I opened iTunes and typed in Green Day. No results. My harddrive crashed recently, amputating my music library.

“I dunno,” he answered. “Before you asked that, I would have said the shrink.”

I asked, “And now?” I left the room to rifle through my CD collection, grabbed two Green Day CDs: INTERNATIONAL SUPERHITS! and American Idiot.

“I dunno.”

Rip “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. I don’t know where it goes.
I walk this empty street on the boulevard of broken dreams. The whole city sleeps and I’m the only one, I walk alone.

My song for while I was working the overnight shift for Allied Barton. Not that I listened to it while working there–I don’t even think I had it at the time–but I can’t listen to it now without thinking about that time.

In those hours boston was my city, those dark, starless hours of night, all the lights of Mass General were on and all the roads unused. I owned the city for a few lonely but potent moments. A civilization’s infrastructure at my disposal for no particular purpose: I did not have the wheels the concrete was placed down for; I had no use for the buildings around me.

Near 11pm, I would leave my rowhouse on Cambridge Street, and then I felt like Prufrock, awkward in my stiff short-sleeve Oxford and uncomfortable blackish uniform pants. One night some girls stopped to flirt with me, drunk enough to think a collared man in a hurry would make fair sport. Another night, an SUV drove by and a man leaned out the window and yelled URKLE at me. My hope is that he was drunk, too.

Left onto Blossom, and the Holiday Inn attendants always looked at me funny. I was the wrong color and income bracket to work an overnight security shift, and they all knew it. It took me a few years to realize it, but at its core Boston is a racist town, and I was taking a good job away from a black man who was likely in more need of regular money than me.

Do I need to defend these statements? All but two of my coworkers were black, one an overweight white man and one a Latina. My manager was black, as were his bosses. The only healthy whites I saw worked in corporate, where the color ratio was again established in a way I had seen before, white majority. Everyone at Hawthorne had worked the job for years, the young ones only four but the oldest among them for fifteen and twenty. I only stayed for four months, and I could see it in the Holiday Inn workers’ eyes that even they knew I wasn’t cut out for the work.

Hours alone in my little office. Close both windows and turn on the space heater; it’s the only way to get by in those Boston nights. The winter chill settled into Boston around one each night, though none of the daydwellers would ever know because the more comfortable fall weather came back with the morning sun. Do some homework. Get restless. Wonder why you don’t write, and then don’t. Wonder why you don’t, ad infinitum.

On my break at three o’clock, the city held a different story. Ashley liked me to come home on these breaks even though she had to wake up in the morning, so I would walk home. I lingered in the streets, daring cars to round the bend and give me a thrill of fear, but none ever did. Brick rose up as high as my limited perspective could see, and fluorescent lights flooded into the streets, and no one ever disturbed the windows.

I liked to walk through the hospital’s campus instead of around the corner with the gas station–the homeless didn’t go into those streets because of the private security patrol–but either way I had to pass the oxygen tanks, which for some reason reeked of death and fungus every night. Fog fell off them like a cheap movie stunt, which always put me in the mood for an adventure with a building caddycorner:

At one point a rowhouse, MGH had snatched it up and turned it into some research facility, the windows boarded up so no one could look in and yet things definitely went on in there. Someone had also posted a Biohazard sign near the door, RFID’d and coded rather than just locked. Now the building stood isolated on the corner of two small streets, surrounded on one side by a parking lot and the other by a parking structure. What exactly went on in that dilapidated building that they hadn’t just torn it down like the others for more parking space? Were there people in there now, as I passed by? Was the zombie apocalypse going to begin across the street from my home? Could this be the exact scenario by which writers come to write scary movies and zombie apocalypses? And then, because every night I would forget, a blast of warm and humid air smacked me in the face, and it smelled almost like exhaust against the cold and crisp night air. Every night with that fucking vent. And then I’d be at Cambridge Street and then home.

Only once did I disturb a man sleeping in my building’s entryspace. I opened the open door and reach my key out towards the lock on the closed door, and there underneath me was an apologetic man: I’m so sorry, he said as he scrambled to get something together on the floor, perhaps the never-attended-to and always-accumulating stack of Beacon Hill Times. Flustered, I told him, “It’s no problem,” but I had to wait for him to leave before I could move into the building. It made me sad when I came back down that night and he wasn’t there; I would not have begrudged him a night’s sleep.

Kalli would always hear me climbing up the four flights of stairs, and she would hop out of bed with a thunderous clomp as her long nails hit the wood floor. Then she would skitter in front of the door until I opened it like a young child capable of waiting with excitement at any time of day. Clip clip clip her nails would click, waking Ashley just enough so that when I came in she could say, “Hi, honey,” before turning over and falling back asleep. I would kiss her before going into the kitchen to reheat my dinner, and out of sympathy I would sit with my laptop in the living room and do something silent. Always during the day she would say she liked it better when I sat in the bedroom to eat.

When did I start playing World of Warcraft again? That job, that Allied Barton job, played a direct hand in it, as did Ashley wanting me to be awake on the weekends to spend time with her. At least twice per week I had to change my sleep schedule, and for a while TV was enough to stay up for thirty-six hours, but always after watching enough TV I’ll start playing video games: one is a much more engaging format than the other. And though Ashley knew the role WoW had played in the dissolution of my relationship with Sarah, her fight against it was minimal. Sometimes then, after scarfing dinner, I would watch quietly a TV show; later I would log into WoW and do part of the leveling to 80. On occasion I would jot notes that had filled my head while walking home.

**

Whew, that’s about as much as I can get down this morning. I hope it’s worth something to someone other than me, even if it’s not finished.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

Story embryo: The Homeless Youth of the Silver Line

You can see a million miles tonight, but you can’t get very far. -Counting Crows

**

This is a story about a morning where I sacrificed nothing.

“Thank you so much for coming with me, honey.” Even at five in the morning, she’s bushy-tailed, light-hearted. She’s a morning person, my sweet buoyant Ashley.

“It’s nothing, honey. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Then I smiled and said, “You know, unless I had only got three hours of sleep last night.”

She stuffed clothes quickly into her bag. “That’s not funny. I was very disappointed that morning.”

“I know, honey.” I rubbed my dry eyes again, hoping to moisten the sandy sleep away.

“It’s amazing how many more clothes you can fit in a bag when you fold them,” she stated. I laughed, but only in the back of my mind so she wouldn’t hear. She said, still folded over her red rolling backpack, “You’d better start getting ready. Are you going to take a shower?”

I rubbed at my eyes again before answering, “No.” I looked at her then and said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too. Now come on!”

I pulled some jeans out of my dirty clothes pile and put them on. I put on the first green shirt I pulled out of my dresser, but it had some crusty white filth around the waist so I took it off even though it smelled clean and through it in the dirty clothes bin. The next green shirt was just fine.

She asked, “Will you bring the suitcase downstairs and call the dog up for me?” I nodded, and she leashed Kalli and left.

I stumbled around the house for the next minute trying to get everything in order: I pulled my passport and keys out of my work khakis in the dirty clothes bin and then went out to the living room to grab my wallet and iPod. I shoved everything roughly into their corresponding pockets and then went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. The difference between the living room and kitchen in this 420 sq. ft. apartment is floor type: most of the apartment is hardwood–the norm in Boston–but the kitchen is cheap, thin linoleum. But no wall separates the room, and I scan the coffee table and small dining table in the living room from the kitchen counter where I’m drinking the water to make sure I haven’t left anything behind.

The door buzzes and I press the buttons that open the front door for Ashley. I walk out into the staircase and whistle down the four flights so that Kalli can hear me and will come up. I hear Ashley shooing her and shake my head: she should know by now that Kalli won’t come upstairs unless whoever walked her leaves. Kalli likes to be chased.

As Kalli starts to come up, Finny boldly sticks his nose over the threshold of our apartment’s door. The tiger cat is generally scared of me, especially when the front door is open, but last night and today he’s been especially bold about his intention to escape. When Kalli rounds the third floor landing, Finny bolts for the staircase up to the roof. He usually bolts downstairs, so I’m a little tickled by the change.

I reach for him, but he skitters further up and away from me. I mutter, “Come on, man, really?” and pursue him. When I reach for him, his claws dig into the thin rough carpet, so I scoop him forward a little bit to loosen him. I can feel his little heart through his ribs beating frantically, and he starts to turn this way and that, desperate to escape. The reaction is also strange for him, usually so calm even when he’s in trouble and scared, but I just shrug it off and set him down gently in our front hall, where he looks up at me as if he’s confused, perhaps having expected something worse.

“It’s okay, Finny,” I say before moving to the closet to grab my coat, which I unhook from its hangar and put on. The hangar is the one that came with the coat and itself stands out from the rest of the apartment: I bought it when I was working at Fidelity, when I was living high on the hog, and the polished wood and gold-plated wiring represents a financial status not otherwise shown in our impoverished home: a bed without a frame, books still in boxes because we can afford bookshelves, even our furniture which is not even from Ikea but rather from the Goodwill or found for free through Craigslist. The home is almost entirely patchworked, ghetto-rigged; the hangar is singular, hiding in the closet only to hold my coat.

Which itself is as singular. I feel awkward telling people about my financial situation when I’m wearing it, a black wool Calvin Klien three-quarters length coat with silk and cashmere lining. I bought it at Macy’s on a whim because I had the extra money and a maternal coworker had urged me. Now the lining in ripped at both places where the coat rests against my pants pockets and one place in the back, perhaps where I sat on it awkwardly once. I can’t dream of getting it relined anytime soon; I haven’t even looked into the cost.

“Aw, thanks, honey!” Ashley cooes when she sees me round the last landing with her suitcase. I walk down the last flight of stairs and answer, “No problem. How cold is it outside?”

“Not so bad,” she says.

“Should I put on my scarf and hat?”

“No, it’s not so bad,” she says again.

But when we walk outside it feels like it’s less than ten degrees, cold for December even in Boston, and I don’t get a block before I put on my silk scarf and hat, accessory purchases to the coat. We chitchat idly on our way to the Charles/MGH T station. Even when the train comes and we board, sitting next to each other, the talk is much the same: two weeks until we see each other again, and it’s too bad about her grandmother, and remember that time we walked all the way to Government Center instead of just getting on at MGH, and I’ll be fine and don’t worry about me. Ashley is a caregiver; she likes to dote.

When we get to South Station I point out the entry to the Silver Line buses and follow her towards them. The top of the stairs is slightly clouded, and when we get there the smell of burnt rubber offends us. The air is thick with white smoke. She coughs and I hold my scarf to my nose, but nothing avails us. As we move off to the left towards the SL1-Logan part of the station, the cloud dissipates quickly, and when we turn around we can see it in its entirety: a fifteen-foot obstructed sphere of nastiness. I shake my head to clear away the smell, and we cluster around her suitcase, hugging and kissing our goodbyes.

“Excuse me,” a young male voice calls out loudly enough that we know he’s talking to everyone on the platform. I turn my head to see a hooded youth in a thin red vest with a long sleeve shirt and pants. His red eyes and the gray hollows around them show that he’s tired, exhausted. “I was wondering if I could get a dollar from any of you so I could get a coat from the Goodwill. See, they handed out coats last night, but they ran out and I was one of a few that couldn’t get one. But they’re selling them, and I just need fifteen dollars, and I just need a coat. It’s so cold out there I can’t stand it; I can’t even leave the station.”

He had whiskers around his face, probably five days of growth. And he did look tired and cold. Ashley said that she didn’t have any cash on her, but I had two dollars that she had given me the day before in my wallet.

“I’m not going to get drugs,” he said. Nobody had responded, though a handful of the thirty or so people around watched him idly. “It’s just so cold, I just want a coat. And I’m so tired, I haven’t slept in days–”

I thought of Rich and how he couldn’t sleep when he had been homeless

“–and it’s just so cold. Just fifteen dollars and I can get a coat,” he mumbled. His voice began to crack, and his eyes turned even more red, and tears beaded inside them. He didn’t cry, though, and he regained his composure.

“Do you want to?” I asked Ashley.

“I don’t have any money,” she said. I pulled out the two dollars and gave them to her, and she gave them to him, and he thanked us briefly and quietly and moved along the crowd to see if there were any others who might give. We heard him mumble as he shuffled his feet, “It’s just so hard, and I’m so cold, and I need some help. It’s shit like this that makes me border-line suicidal,” at which point I saw fear flash through Ashley’s eyes, but I just held her close and pressed my cheek against her forehead. “I’m getting Section 8 housing on the twenty-eighth,” he continued, “but I can’t wait that long. I can’t wait that long. And it’s so cold.”

“It’s a good thing he’s getting Section 8,” Ashley said.

“But the twenty-eighth is so far away,” I answered.

“You’re not thinking of inviting him back to our place, are you?” she asked. We had done it before, once, with Rich, but I said “No, that’s just when Kiran’s coming in.”

About three minutes later the SL1 showed up and nobody had given him any more money. He grumbled about people with so much that couldn’t even give him a dollar to help him get a coat. “I can’t ask one person for fifteen dollars,” he said, “but I can ask fifteen for one. But I’m not even getting that,” he said, and he looked at me as I boarded the bus. “It’s one out of sixty, and always someone like you that gives me more than what I’m asking for. Thank you,” he said, and I nodded, boarded the bus, and left him there. He didn’t try to hussle me or get anything else from me, and I didn’t see where he went off to.

A young woman in a white half-coat, maybe in her early thirties, ran onto the bus after me. “Oh, was he begging for money?” she asked. I said yeah. “He should get a job. Everywhere is hiring.” I said yeah again and sat down with Ashley. The woman sat down across the aisle.

I told Ashley, “I almost gave my hat to a woman at Harvard yesterday.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Some homeless woman who was selling Spare Change. She looked so sad and cold. I wanted to give her my hat, but I couldn’t’ve replaced it.”

Ashley said, “I should’ve told him that I bought my coat at the Goodwill for fourteen dollars. That might’ve made him feel better.”

“Yes, it might have. You know, he’s the sort of character I should be searching out. He would’ve made a good article.”

“Yeah!” Ashley exclaimed, suddenly animated. “You could do like a collage of portraits of homeless people, like a years worth of people, where they go and what they do and why they’re there. That would be so interesting.”

“A similar article in The New Yorker back in the fifties helped launch them to national prominence,” I mentioned. “I can’t remember the name of the journalist, but he wrote about a homeless man named Joe Gould. And there was another at the turn of the century, I can’t remember that journalist’s name, either, who dressed himself up in rags and wrote about New York’s homeless population and how they get by.”

“Oh, so it’s not really new?” she asked, disappointed.

“Well, not sparkling new, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bring something to the table those authors didn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“In each of those cases, homelessness was treated as something novel; it was exoticized, like it’s a foreign state that nobody knows anything about. But that’s not really the case today, people just treat it so flippantly, with stereotypes, you know? I could address that.”

“Yeah, people just don’t think that without a family to catch them in hard times they could be there. I mean, just think if we didn’t have our parents, or at least if we didn’t have yours.”

“Yours wouldn’t let you slip into homelessness, either. They may not pay to keep you in Boston, but they wouldn’t let you fall so far,” I said.

“But not everyone has that safety net,” she said.

“No, not everyone. Not most,” I answered.

“It’s good he got Section 8 housing,” she reiterated. “And then you could use the proceeds from the writing to go to like Wal-mart or something and buy coats in bulk, because the big charities can take care of food banks and stuff but obviously at least someone needs some help to get a coat.”

“That probably not the best way to go about it, but I like the idea,” I said. Then we quieted down since the bus had reached the airport, and we listened to the speaker list off the airlines at Terminal A and then Terminal B stop 1, where we got off. I walked her into the airport.

“Did you hear what that woman said to me, when she got on the bus?” I asked.

“No, what did she say?”

“That if he was homeless he should just get a job. ‘Everyone is hiring,'” I mocked.

“Yeah, that’s why you’re struggling to get a job,” Ashley scoffed. “God, that’s something my sister would’ve said.” She shook her head as we boarded the up escalator to the US Airways ticket counters.

“I would’ve given him the coat off my back if I could’ve afforded to replace it,” I said.

“I know, honey. I could see it in the way you watched him.” She put her hand on my shoulder.

“And that’s the extent of my generosity: I’ll give as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me. God, what a dick I am.”

“No, honey,” she cooed. “We just don’t have anything to give.”

So here I was at the airport with my girlfriend early in the morning to say goodbye, having given two dollars so that a young out-of-luck man who happened to cross my path could buy a coat, critical of myself. The story needs work, like what problems my parents had bailed me out of and how recently and the job change I was going through at the time, from an overnight concierge position to a cashier position at The Coop, where I’d work later that day for the third 9-hour shift in a row my third day on the job. But still, it’s a start.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Humanistic, Writing

A freelancer’s beginning

On August 24, 2006, Emerson College sent me a letter asking me to take part in their Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing. They had denied my application to their Masters of Arts in Book Publishing but judged that I would fit in with their certificate program. I saw the program as a distinct end to my post-college unemployment, my living off near-to-minimum wage in combination with parents’ gratuity while I tried to find my place in the world. Hell, the program could define my place.

Also, I had wanted to leave Texas since I was a child and had made many frustrated attempts throughout my life. I was determined that my exodus to graduate school would not be denied, however.

When I received the news, I shouted, actually screamed for the joy of it. I called my mother and father, who had not been home when I opened the letter. I called Justin and Steve, two of my high school friends I still kept in touch with. I called Sarah and told her all about it, told her about how this meant no more jobs at coffee shops and no more crying about the worthlessness of Texas. I told her that this meant everything would be all right.

It wasn’t until later, when she had asked me if I would come to Waco for her birthday or if I wanted her to come to Dallas, that I realized this meant leaving her. In hindsight, it’s strange to think that neither of us recognized that immediately. But Emerson started on September 12 that year. I had to get up to Boston somehow with at least my clothes and Kallion, my dog.

How does one completely disassemble their life and relocate to Boston within two weeks of receiving the news that he could go if he wanted? I mean, I didn’t have to accept Emerson’s invitation. I could’ve stayed in Dallas, living in Steve’s parents’ house and working at Starbucks while I scrounged for gainful employment unsuccessfully, resisting Sarah’s insincere invitations to move in with her back at Baylor instead.

My parents had kicked me out after six months because my dog sheds a ridiculous amount. Part Husky and part German Shepherd, she sheds year round, her short coat when it’s hot and her long coat when it’s cold (Texas only has two seasons, hot and cold.). They asked me to keep her outside all of the time, even when I was home and when I was asleep. But I sleep with Kalli in my bed. She lies on the couch next to me when I write. She loves me and trusts me, and all in all I’m more of a parent than an owner to her. I would no sooner leave my four-year-old child outside all day, and I flatly refused. So away I went, and I took my dog with me.

My parents had hoped that kicking me out would give me the spark I needed to find a job, as if my unemployment had come by choice rather than circumstance. My Bachelor of Arts in Great Texts of the Western Tradition, while being a great conversation starter (General response to hearing it is, “What?” Never “Huh?” always “What?”), looks worthless on a resume. I also listed the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, which–despite how it’s sold to freshman–no one actually cares about outside of a collegiate environment. I had zero office skills, zero contacts worth pursuing, and zero prospects. Hence, I put my college degree to work at Starbucks.

Dallas is a tech city, and I am not a techie. While I’m fascinated with computers and video games to a point where I know computer languages simply to make me a better player, I couldn’t finish a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Baylor. Dallas has almost no art scene and actually no writing scene, and I stood out like a sore thumb among the resumes of my more technically proficient colleagues.

The one job interview I received was for a proofreading and copywriting position at a young health insurance company, and I misspelled guarantee in a sample they had me write on the spot. They caught it; they questioned my proofreading skills over it (fairly), and that was the end of the interview.

I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and Concise Rules of APA Style. I was determined to find freelance work by cold contacting companies and just asking. They can’t reject you until you ask, after all.

I found two freelancing gigs through Gmail, Google.com’s email service. As one by one my cover letters to Dallas companies found their way back as rejections, the language used in the conversations prompted Google’s adbot to list a series of self-publication and editorial companies for amateur authors. A light went on in my head.

ProofreadNOW.com had taken me on staff because the owner, Phil, had a daughter attending Baylor when I contacted him. I told him that I had no proofreading experience and that I was still browsing the style guides I had bought with minimal understanding. He took me on anyway. After two months he fired me, saying that my proofreading skills weren’t par with their expectations.

A-1 Editing responded to my query with an editorial test. I completed the reading section with some light proofreading and editorial queries, and apparently my effort pleased the owner, Nicole. She sent the first manuscript about a month afterwards. I worked on it slowly and carefully, attempting to maintain my good first impression. I returned the manuscript to her on deadline and promptly received another.

Nicole wrote one of my letters of recommendation to Emerson, one of the few tokens of proof that I had some experience in publishing. My acceptance into the certificate program probably rested largely on her merit alone. She lifted me out of unemployment and creative stagnation, a shift in my life for which I’ll never quite be able to repay her.

All I had to show for one year out of college in Texas was Starbucks and two freelancing gigs, one a failure and the other a success. My parents had kicked me out of their house. I couldn’t afford to move out of Steve’s parents’ house because my Starbucks wages only covered my credit card minimums, car payments, and student loans, not all of which had come out of their grace period yet. Unemployed, broke, and homeless with my dog in tow, I could’ve stayed.

I still can’t explain how I fit all of my most important possessions in my little two-door 2000 Honda Accord. I knew how to break the computer chair down with hex keys, but even in its component parts the base of the chair, a five-point plastic star with a wheel on each leg, never quite fit anywhere. I ended up shoving it into the floorboard in front of the passenger seat. Kalli took the passenger seat herself, eyeing the base distrustfully. Three heavy, book-filled boxes took the back seat and rested on a comforter and a few bedspreads to protect the leather. In the trunk, my computer (but not a monitor) sat next to the space heater and my one bag of clothes.

The whole time I packed, alone over the boxes and still more alone carting the heavy items to the car, I kept asking myself how it was going to work. How could I, broke and alone and afraid, make it to Boston? I had $700 to my name, which included my last check from Starbucks (Stephanie had gotten corporate to print it early so that I wouldn’t have to have them send it to me later on.). How could the next few days of my life play out successfully? How would fate find yet one more way to bring me back to Plano, dejected and frustrated?

I determined that while I wasn’t sure about a single moment in the rest of my life, I was sure as hell gonna head to Boston and find out.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Features, YM&S

A Relationship in Presents, Part Five: The red dog

There’s an interesting discussion of how readers approach posts in this blog in the last post, if you’d like to participate. I also wonder how readers are seeing the posts in this series as style pieces; how do these pieces read differently to you, and what do you think the artistic point is?

Remember to leave stories for this week’s Theme Thursday! We had seven posts for the very first game last week, and I’d like to see that number beat! I’ve also finished the remix of the piece I selected from last week’s games, and I’m really looking forward to showing it to you! 🙂

**

Behind the black bars of the waist-high fence, it pouted at me as if a real dog, kenneled. The red fur looked to me like passion in faux crushed velvet. The synthetic material crowded around the plastic eyes like desire would do to me if it could, if I weren’t buried so deeply down in depression to render it helpless, a child in a well slipping against a wall he thought he could scale.

Its face asked me about abandonment, whys and what could it dos and reallys. He wanted to come along, but I wouldn’t have it. I didn’t even wait to see the arguments played out in the stuffed, unreal face.

“Why do you stay with her?” Renisha had asked me. We worked across Summer Street from each other, me at a financial corporation doing client communications and she social networking, and we met in a Starbucks caddycorner to our separate offices. “Why do you stay with her?” she asked. “You don’t have to.”

The answer was true and horrible and romantic. Like a trumpet call to start a military dirge, it bounded forth, monosyllabic and haunting. I couldn’t maintain eye contact while it hung in the air, but I saw her face drop to the table in my peripheral, expressing a mixture of pity and disgust spiced with a moment of wonder about whether love really boils down to my response. The table had no answer for her, and neither did I. As the relationship with Sarah wore on, my friendship with Renisha waned, forever stealing her chance to solve my riddle.

My love for Sarah held within it a paradox, that I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible and yet every moment I spent with her was spent not-quite-with her. And yet her very real absence from our time together made me want to spend even more time with her, up to the point where I cut out all other engagements. The downward spiral had started in the summer we first moved in together, months before that February meeting with Renisha, when Sarah and I ran out of Grey’s Anatomy episode to watch and so she moved into Solitaire.

Her laptop. My laptop. A 64” HDTV. Free Cell. Nintendo emulations. Family Fued.

“You don’t have to stay with her, you know,” Justin had said. He had come up for New Years to see us and gone home. The Thanksgiving after, when I told him that I was breaking down under he relationship, my very real dog resting on the purple microfiber chair to my right behind which the red dog had been stuffed, he told me, “You don’t have to stay with her.” I told him that I loved her, and when he asked if I was sure, I said yes. But I also told him I was breaking down.

You spin the wheel in the teacup ride at Disneyworld, and the cup spins round and round. The tangent force pulls you towards the chair, and you grab harder, pulling yourself forward and spinning, spinning. Eventually your arms fail, and the custodians tell you to stop, and the cup breaks off the ride and takes you for a horrible, unrestrained trip across the theme park, trampling families and employees and cute little crafted bushes, eventually tossing you into the castle’s pond where you drown, destitute and broken. No, nothing breaks; that’s your short little dream before the ride stops and you get ushered out of the cup, at which point you can rejoin the line if you choose or perhaps get a bite to eat.

Sarah said, “You didn’t have to do that,” when I held out her Valentine’s Day present, Lindt chocolate truffles from the store in the hotel two blocks away and a bottle of vodka with a penguin on it. She collected penguins like an obsession. I once, as a child, told friends and families that I was collecting piggy banks, an admission I always regretted, especially after I stopped my collection. Sarah had no regrets.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and I love you,” I answered, slightly confused. The presents remained in my hand, unwrapped except for an unmarked brown bag and a Lindt plastic bag with a drawstring.

“You just didn’t have to do it is all.” She took the presents, put the vodka on her Crate and Barrel foldable bar. She kept the chocolates in her right hand but picked up a brown box with her left. “This is from my mother.”

A dog toy, a little squeezable thing. Kallion doesn’t play with toys.

“Excellent,” I said before grinding my teeth. Yes, I had bought my presents late, the night of, but it began to dawn on me that she hadn’t bought a present at all.

“I’m stuck,” I told Renisha over a sip of cinnamon cappuccino.

“You’re not,” she answered. “Why don’t you go stay with Shoshanna? You know she’d let you.”

“No dogs allowed,” I said. We paused, thinking. “Is it pathetic that I’m staying with Sarah because of my dog, like parents who won’t divorce because of the children?”

“Yes,” she answered. “It is. Your dog is not your child.”

I put the empty box by the trashcan behind the bar and tried to coax Kalli into playing with the new toy, which she ignored. Sarah watched for a moment and then went downstairs. When she came back up, I had already put myself under my computer and logged into World of Warcraft. She put on her coat from the cheap Target coat stand by the door and left without a word.

Sarah walked down Exeter to Newbury without pausing at Commonwealth—she had already taken pictures of them covered in snow—and then she walked to Fairfield. Inside, she picked up some candy from the seasonal aisle before spotting a red stuffed dog hiding on the banister above the turn in the stairwell to the basement. Retrieving it, she concluded her purchase and returned home, dropping the white plastic bag marked CVS and a large stuffed dog on the couch beside me.

Internally, I scoffed. Externally, I thanked her, petting the cheap, dusty material. I wiped my hand on my pants. She sat down in her chair and refreshed Facebook, and I continued playing World of Warcraft. Ten minutes later, I started to raid, and when I started talking on the microphone with the other players, Sarah rolled her eyes, unplugged her laptop, and went downstairs into her bedroom. As with most nights for the past few months and most to follow, I would sleep on the couch.

When I moved out, I left that red dog behind the fence under the construction docks of the building on the far side of Exeter and Commonwealth, under renovation. I mused whether a construction worker might take it, might give it to a child who could take some joy in the thing. Sarah had set aside effects in a box, items that I had given her that she didn’t want to keep and held no meaning to me: a coffee cup that read Bean, some dog toys, the red dog.

I remembered Justin’s words as I looked at that stuffed animal behind the fence. You don’t have to stay with her, he had said. I mean, I wouldn’t leave her—she’s rich and pretty and funny—but you don’t have to stay. All the pitiful and pathetic moments infected by thoughts like that, a relational virus. Just so, the dog pleaded with me to stay. But I walked away. I wouldn’t engage; I would only remember.

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Author: Greg Freed

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1:34 AM Ramblings

I’m an editor—I’ve freelanced for years—but I’ve often supplemented my freelance income with another gig. Why? Because freelancing works like real estate: huge surges of business connected by deep lulls. The surges often match my attempts to market myself, but hey, guess what: a full-time grad student, part-time worker, part-time editor doesn’t have much time or inclination to market himself. Time and money are both limited. When school starts up again this fall, I won’t have all the time on my hands that I had to start this blog, and what then will I do to find freelance work, then when I need it most but also lack the time to market myself?

Supplementary jobs have entered my mental horizon. I really don’t mind Starbucks as a job, except for the people who take it very seriously and always manage, against what seems my good judgment, to get in positions of power. Starbucks is the job I would prefer over many others if I have to work a structured job at all. The obvious: low hassle, low responsibility, the people (customers and coworkers) are friendly and don’t expect much; you get tips, and you get paid above minimum wage. But there’s always waiting tables, which shares any of these qualities except the low hassle, which you trade for a gigantic upgrade in pay. ($11/hr after tips to, I dunno, $16/hr if you’re at a place even nearly worth its tables). So why do I prefer Starbucks?

People. I enjoy people, despite whatever contrary opinions these blog posts may have given you. Or, more than people, I enjoy conversation; rich, deep conversation that doesn’t have a purpose, point, or motivation. During my tens and my lunches I go sit out in the lobby instead of in the back, and on more than one occasion my shift has had to come find me because I got so sidetracked that I forgot my break was over. Sometimes the store is dead (hence, the break) and it doesn’t matter that I’ve forgotten in the grand scheme of things; sometimes the person is one of those who is very serious about their work and feels that a speech is necessary to make me toe the line [y’know, that’s one of the weirdest phrases, a stereophone cliche where both images work]. Well, it’s a free country, and speech is a free as it comes, but there’s a point where investment is almost guaranteed not to match return; sometimes business maxims apply to social settings.

More than that, I enjoy having a home outside of home where I can get free coffee, free food, and time for homework without distraction, am in fact encouraged to do this work because I already work there and because the other people around make me feel connected to the human network in a way that I normally don’t. Further, I do continue to shop with Starbucks even while I don’t work there (a fact escalated by fewer and fewer nearby cafes that aren’t Starbuckses), which means I know which products I like and that I can enjoy them in peace. When school starts back up, Starbucks would condone my writing/blogging, which will conduce with my courses in a way editing never would. There’s not enough time in the world for us to pursue all of the things we find interest in, and in the interest of calibrating my life to maximum pleasure and retaining of information, Starbucks is the better choice.

Not that I’m going back to Starbucks—Ashley has specifically asked me not to—but these are the thoughts that go through my head when I consider my need for supplemental income. Therefore, don’t take this post personally; I’m not sharing it with you so that you’ll pity my situation. Consider it art, in your own way.

On those notes (of income and art), today, August 7, is my birthday. Reading this blog, you’ve learned plenty about me, my work, and my literary vision and aspirations. Now act on that compulsion you feel to click the button and buy me a cup of coffee or even a beer! ☺

**

I’m exhausted. I’m tired, I’m broke, I’m sad. I’m in love, I’m loved.

I’m happy.

I’ve run out of cash and I don’t know how to fix it. Get a job; I don’t want to settle for a job.

We talk about finances, Ashley and I. My face droops. She can’t stand it; puts her hand against my cheek and asks me to go in the other room. She’s not serious. She can’t stand the idea of me being sad, can’t bear to look on my face, its non-frown.

I gave my father a hard time once, when he got laid off and cried in front of his church fellows. I didn’t give him a hard time for crying; rather for praying.

My relationship with Ashley is the greatest proof of providence I’ve ever seen. Our lives fell together seamlessly without complaint; though money is tight, it’s never not enough.

This month it might not be enough.

I took her to New York for a weekend at the beginning of June. She hates that I regret the decision. It inspired her, made her decide that New York was her future independent of our future, of my future. I know now that New York is my future, too. That trip solidified the suspicions, or Sade had, and I took the trip to make sure.

The church leader asked me if he could lay hands on me. My father had taken me on the men’s retreat; I had seen him cry in earnest. My father looked away when the pastor put his hand on my shoulder, asking again. I didn’t want to be rude, and I had hope.

We go on dates. Our financial irresponsibility lies in going on dates. About once every other week, we drop about twenty dollars on not making a meal at home or maybe a bottle of wine to make my cooking seem more legitimate. My peers are broke, too, working those college jobs at pizza shops and bookstores. Why don’t I just get one of those?

I want a job at a call center. I’ve never worked at one before, but I have friends that do. They complain about all their free time. That’s what I need; a job that will pay me to write, to blog, to edit. I need supplement.

I’ve worked at Starbucks four times now, three months a piece four different times. Once as a teenager in Frisco’s Super Target where we couldn’t accept tips and yet we did, hiding the makeshift cup behind the counter when the store manager came by. Twice after college, once in Plano before the disagreement with my parents and then again when I lived at Steve’s. Once again in Boston, when I had decided to move out of Sarah’s place. Starbucks isn’t the bottom of the rung, that’s for sure. But my pride won’t let me crawl back, not for a fifth turn.

The hands felt alien through my clothing, like cotton was touching me, my shirt pressing against me, clinging against me. They prayed. They asked me what I wanted from God. I said to know; I wanted to know, to have the gift of faith. They prayed.

Fidelity paid me once to sit around. I was with Sarah, sad and lonely and bored. They paid me over thirty dollars an hour to just sit there with a smile on my face, maybe five hours of work a week. I couldn’t do it then; I complained, loudly. What weak part of me wants to do it now?

I’ve branched out through Twitter, found viewers, fans, colleagues. Some of them might have work I could take, could get. Maybe if I marketed myself as an editor with all my experience, I could cash in on the network. But I’d rather have readers; I’d rather get started as a writer, as my own writer, a writer of my own work and nobody else’s. I have no interest in journalism or in ghostwriting. I have no interest in selling what is most intensely and personally mine.

I have the time now, during the summer, for a fulltime position. I started the blog instead. I’m busy all day now, checking, marketing, writing; I’m consumed. I’m not really employed, not gainfully employed. I can’t, this month, contribute equally to the household.

My Sweet Hunk O’ Trash plays, Louis Armstrong & Billie Holiday. Ashley laughs from the sink while I work, I edit, I check. I’ll have to work all weekend to meet this already missed deadline. Ashley laughs, and so do I. I’m so in love; she smiles away the doldrums. Still, I’m sad; a worthless feeling permeates, settles inside my skin. I can feel it in the back of my shoulders; I can feel it weighing down my torso, bending my spine.

We can’t make rent if I don’t contribute. Ashley has been behind before, and I’ve covered her. She’s covered me as well. That’s what living together is, a give and take here and there. But she can’t cover me this month.

I cried. Their prayers turned into chants, into spells that swarmed my head. For days I would talk about the miracle, the surety and gift of faith. It would fade, and Mani would hate me for it. No, not hate; he’d mourn my religion, resent the loss of passion in a friend so dependably constant. I’d cry again as despair settled back into place, back into the home it had never left.

I want to give her everything she wants. I want to love her like she should be loved. I want to contribute, to avoid leeching off something so young, so tender, so savory sweet. I love her, but I can’t provide, not now.

Though I have the time now, I can’t really get a job. In two months, I’ll be out of time, a full-time student. I tell myself to suck it up and get that damn dayjob, but I won’t, I haven’t yet. The consideration is starting to filter through my pride, but it hasn’t won yet. I love her, I want to, I’m stubborn.

I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m lazy and exhausted. I’m demoralized. I’m the most hopeful I’ve ever been.

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Author: Greg Freed

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A Brief History: A view of sexual ethics today

Does social media work for blogs? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.

I started this blog with my Facebook network, mostly friends, some family, and a few acquaintances. The first week’s readership was small, the next doubled, and the next doubled again. I had about thirty or thirty-five readers consistently interested in my work. Some were close friends in Boston and family, others were friends with whom I am hardly connected any longer, hadn’t seen since high school, maybe longer.

None of them were vocal. Few comments, no real feedback. But they were there; the stats were there. Their presence pushed me onwards when I might have otherwise abandoned the attempt.

Then I joined Twitter, and in the first week I grew a network of around a thirty I followed and thirty who followed me, give or take after you deleted the spammers. Readership doubled again; Facebook readers remained and tweeps came and retweeted. The next week I had about a hundred following and a hundred followers (my ratios are good, huh?), and readership doubled again to over a hundred independent viewers.

That’s five weeks (six minus the foundation week), and my blog has grown by two to the fifth power. I don’t see any reason that the growth will stop until I run out of tweeps, and I feel convinced that I’m barely touching Facebook’s real potential at this point.

Even so, the differences, to me, go like this: dropping an ad into Facebook is like dropping a penny into a pool. A small splash, the water ripples for you, and the penny sinks. Dropping an ad into Twitter is like dropping a penny into Jell-o; it riggles along until you drop something else in it.

As for the following piece, I apologize only to Jennie. You asked me not to write about you; too bad.

**

Aside from porn, I in my youth never had a consistent form of sex in my life. The girls I knew were horny, and I knew how to push those buttons, but they were also smart, wily, and conflicted.

One time during college I took Justin to my friend Ashley’s house. I had just broken up with Christina and he was about to leave for Marine boot camp, so I worked out a little double date for us with Ashley and her friend Holly. I intended for Ashley to give Justin a thrill to remember Plano by before he went away, but he was too straight edge for an offer like that, or else he was just downright embarrassed by the straightforward nature of the scenario.

Justin said that he didn’t know what to do, wouldn’t know how to handle our dear Ashley. So I showed him: I walked up behind Ashley, pulled her chin to the side, and attacked her neck with gentle nibbles. She moaned, she shuddered, and she asked me incredulously, “How do you do that?”

The scene reminded me of the one time in high school when Ashley and I almost got together, the time that essentially guaranteed we never would. Younger, seventeen, I had invited her to my home in order to invite her to prom. She hesitated, and I told her to take her time. We laid down on a couch together and watched The Princess Bride. She had her back to me, pressed against me, and I cupped her breasts with my hands, ran them down her swimmer’s body. She turned hot, and then she got up and walked away. We didn’t go to prom together.

When I left Justin alone with Ashley in her living room, Holly acted in the same way as Ashley had. Young, virginal, she squirmed against the carpet of Ashley’s bedroom when I poured cold strawberry sauce on her neck. She let me ravish her with my hands and tongue, neither asking me to stop nor initiating anything herself. I could taste the heat of her blood under her skin; I had my hands down her pants, rubbing her as she panted. She told me not to stop, but I asked her if she wanted to go further. Eventually, still in each other’s arms, we fell asleep. She left in the morning, and nothing ever became of it.

Jennie had the same initiative to not-sex that Holly had, the same seemingly religious impulse that contradicted directly with her will to fleshy desires. Her motivational conflict resulted in sinusoidal sexual patterns. Three weeks on, three weeks off. My pillow talk verges on the ridiculous, so we’d have sex and then talk about religion, her relationship with God, the pursuit of truth in my life. Perhaps I cyclically inspired her religious fervor; perhaps she was fucking with me under the guise of religion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where sincerity ends and emotional games begin.

And yet I’m a man who respects principles, never the one to force the issue of sex where it’s not mutual. Perhaps this lack of a will to power on my part is what leads to what seems like an inevitable disappointment in my relationships: that the girls I date, though educated, expect the male to take the sexual lead, to direct the sexual course. If so, how chauvinistic, and what a lack of interest in my desires.

I want the girl to be interested. I yearn to please her, no matter how shallow our relationship is. I want her to enjoy being pursued, to give remuneration. I’ll only go so far before they initiate a next step: there’s nothing I hate more than a cold fish.

Jennie and I eventually came to an end over this misfortune. One day after another three-week asexual stint, she came over to bed me again. By the time she left, I knew that I’d had enough.

And yet I’d put up with much the same treatment from my very next girlfriend, Christina. Our relationship really comes in two parts: sophomore year and senior year. The whole of our sophomore ride, though sexual, lacked sex. She spoke of respect and fear and how she was still a virgin, though I highly doubt whether that statement was true. Still, I respected her wishes, and we kissed and fondled and I went down on her without her going down on me. And we didn’t sex, contrary to my mother’s belief.

One day during that sophomore year I had come home with Christina to introduce her to my family. Of course my parents were aware that I had had a sexual adolescence, much to my mother’s annoyance. Christina and I were upstairs watching a movie in the main upstairs room, one open to anyone who walks up the stairs and where my father spent a good deal of his time during those years. Because of the projection TV, we had the lights off.

Mother called up the stairs, “Greg, turn those lights on!”

“We’re watchin’ a movie, ma!” I hollered back. Christina had fallen asleep; she lifted her head off my shoulder.

My mother yelled, “Turn them on, Greg! I know what you do with girls up there in the dark!”

I looked Christina in the face after my mother said this; she had turned ashen, mortified. I felt embarrassed on her behalf, stood up, and marched downstairs without pausing the movie. Mother retreated into the backyard, and I pursued her. Of course, the TV room was only separated from the backyard by a thin window, and I’m relatively sure Christina heard every word we shouted.

“Mom, I’m not having sex with her.”

“Oh, bullshit!” My mother using profanity was rare; though she allowed it from my sister, she had slapped me the one time I had used it around her.

“She’s a good girl, ma! She doesn’t want to do stuff like that.”

She snorted a laugh. “That’s what Elvis said about Marilyn Monroe, and no one believed him either!”

I balked. “What?”

My mother’s finger shot into the air and shook with the exaggerated tremble of her angered body: “Elvis and Marilyn Monroe!”

A lull entered our conversation. I asked, “Are you serious?” I gave her a few seconds to answer before I finished, “Well, I guess that’s it, then.”

Christina and I broke up not too much later though for an unrelated reason. At the time, the reasons had seemed plentiful and the complaints against one another could have doubled as a code of law, but I recognize after some distance from our relationship that the split basically resulted from a mutual dislike of having a long distance relationship over the summer; she’d return to Houston and I to Dallas. Officially she broke up with me while she had me trapped in her Chevrolet Malibu on a long car ride out of town through rural roads. But I didn’t fight too hard to keep her around, either.

That summer I worked a menial job, a temporary night-shift construction gig that paid fairly well and let me destroy things. I called Christina every few nights to let her know how much I missed her until one night I perhaps overdid it, singing her a song that was playing on the CD player of my truck. When the song was over, she told me that she didn’t miss me and that we were through. She hung up, and I went back to work.

Bryan, Michelle, and Sydney came to my house a week later, and we all got sloshed on spirits, playing drinking games with Irish cream and vanilla vodka. Sydney and I slipped off to my bedroom while Michelle and Bryan caught up and made out; it was my first actual sex since I had broken up with Jennie, the first time in my life that I had had sex drunk, and the only time I had sex drunk with someone I wasn’t having sex with regularly sober. Of course it was a mistake.

One of the reasons Christina had broken up with me was Sydney’s reintroduction to my life. She had asked me to promise her that I would never cheat on her, and in one of the more controversial moments of my life, I had refused. Very few friends of mine have agreed with my refusal or my reasons for giving it.

I don’t make promises I can’t keep. In one of the introductory moments of my relationship with Christina, she had asked me to promise that I would never make her cry. I refused that request as well. She had smiled then, pleased with my candor. On this occasion, though, my blunt honesty seemed to her a fault.

I’m a writer, defined in my terms mostly as a person with an over-active imagination coupled with the disposition to record his thoughts. As a child, my parents caught me in any number of obvious lies, since I let my imagination run away with me. I grew older, though, and as I did I tried to reel in my mind’s propensity for exaggeration. The method I underwent in this pursuit was an evaluation of the human condition, an amateur exploration into why humans do the silly things they do. In this vein—a path which included observing my friends, asking them to observe me, and any art with a psychological angle I could ingest—I discovered that humans are capable of quite a few very silly actions, not the least of which is unexpected infidelity; and by unexpected I don’t mean that his partner doesn’t suspect (most suspicion is unwarranted, and most warranted suspicion is put aside), but that the person himself does not suspect.

The most common argument against this analysis of the human scene is that there’s always choice. At some point in the inception of an affair, an attached lover has to choose to cheat on his significant other. In my opinion, such a view shows the thinker’s naiveté: to assume that any given person chooses before he acts generally gives that person too much credit; people act for any number of unconscious reasons—unconscious here implies a lack of choice, which must be conscious—and in an attempt to explain such actions attempt to insert their motivation, usually foolhardily and in direct contradiction to the actor’s situation. Therefore, unexpected infidelity occurs; not only does it occur, I believe (possibly through my own inexperience with infidelity) it is the norm.

For this promise Christina asked, and I refused not because Sydney herself, a drugged up pitiable slut approaching me primarily for my pity and presumably for my help, was a threat to our relationship but rather according the principle, perhaps silly and idealistic: I won’t make promises I can’t keep. Any married man will tell you that’s no way to make a relationship work, and it’s not. But I’m nothing if not idealistic.

Sad and drunk, I fucked Sydney and enjoyed through an alcoholic haze my first experience with sloppy, self-serving, and artificially extended drunken sex. She left, and I didn’t see her again for weeks. Sydney called me and asked if we could get together again, but I refused her offers. She’d ask me if we could just be friends, say that she needed my friendship. I would take her to a movie to find out; in the dark we’d hold hands, then the kissing started, and by the end I was so excited for the sex to come that I accidentally backed my truck into a light pole. So, no, I guess at that point that I, without other recourse for sex, and she willing to give sex, could not just be friends. I didn’t see her again before she left for the Air Force.

I did, however, have to call her again. Shortly after our sport fucks my urethra itched and urinating at first began to hurt and then to sear, to burn. When I examined my penis, I saw that the skin around the urethra had turned scaly and looked like the dried-out remains of a sunburn. I called my family doctor and made an appointment; when I arrived, he asked me to remove my shorts and lay down on his table. I did, and he shoved a cotton swap inside me; the sudden sharp pain caused my body to tense involuntarily, and my hands flinched. He laughed, saying, “I bet you’ll remember this before you go sleeping with loose girls again.” Later, when I told my first primary care physician in Boston about the experience, my doctor would tell me that painless screens for STDs have existed since the mid-nineties but that some doctors still prefer to use the swab just to reinforce sexual morality. Good for him, I guess, but as you’ll see soon, dear reader, it hardly worked.

I had Chlamydia, a bacterial infection easily cleared up by antibiotics within a week. I called Sydney to let her know that I had gotten it and that she might want to be screened herself, and she became indignant, told me that I couldn’t possibly have gotten it from her. I told her that it had been over a year since I’d had sex with anyone else, and she maintained that I was mistaken. I asked her who else she had currently been sleeping with, and she mentioned some guy I didn’t know out in Allen who could find out on his own just how painful the disease was. My friend Bryan told me, though, that she was having sex with his brother Jay as well, and I felt compelled to warn him; when Sydney found out why Jay had stopped having sex with her, she called me up, chewed me out for violating her privacy, and refused to speak to me ever again, a promise which lasted a few years and ended with little or no real effect since without a real need for my pity Sydney has little reason to keep in touch with me.

I’d have a few other sporadic sexual partners throughout the first semester of my junior year. The most significant of these were the two intellectual extremes, Emily the education major who never let the contradiction between her devout views on conservative Christianity and her open sexual policies bother her and Courtney the educated debater who evidenced a disparity between knowledge of books and of the world usually reserved for romantic novels.

I don’t remember how Emily and I found each other, only that the first time she approached me about sex she asked if we could get drunk first. I refused, and she said she’d drink before she came over. I told her that if she showed up drunk I wouldn’t have sex with her; if she couldn’t fuck me sober, she wouldn’t fuck me at all. She agreed, and so the affair started. Twice a week we’d get together, and she progressively climbed the kinky ladder until she went past where I was interested in going, which was where we stopped: Sex itself contents me for a long while, and I don’t need any spices added to it until the repeated flavor makes itself monotonous. She wanted to start off on the heavy side, and my lack of interest caused her to pull away.

Courtney was something altogether different, a student from one of the courses I was peer instructing, just the sort of relationship I had promised myself not to get into when I took the job. However, my responsibilities included entertaining the students and getting them involved with social groups on campus (Goal number one is student retention!), and I had invited a few of the students over to meet my friends and to attend various parties. The male students I invited declined, but the females came in a small pack of three: Sarah, Andrea, and Courtney.

One day during Thanksgiving break when most of our friends had left but she and I remained, she came over to watch a movie with me. It started friendly enough, sitting on my couch together. Then she leaned against my shoulder, and I tensed. Her head fell to my lap, and I didn’t push her off. She mentioned that she felt cold, asked me to lay down with her; I removed the back cushions of the couch and put my left arm under her head and my right hand on the flat of her stomach; even through her shirt I could tell that she had lied.

Courtney had fallen asleep by the time the movie was over, and she unconsciously nuzzled into my arm. I tried to get up without waking her, but she came two and yawned that she had better get going. I walked with her out my front door and down the cement steps to her car. She opened the door, and right when I was about to thank fate for letting me out of this pickle without too much drama, she turned and asked me for a hug. I put my arms over her shoulders and slid my hands down her back, pulling her in a soft and sensual hug. Her breasts pushed into the soft tissue of my stomach just under my ribs; the wire of her bra tinged the excitement with discomfort.

“What is this?” she asked me. “What are we?”

I sighed and looked away from her, loosening my arms.

“Couldn’t we be together?” She had heard my arguments against dating my students, but it wasn’t forbidden; it was just something I had decided not to do. Cheers to my moral stamina, since that was the only boundary between what she wanted and what I’d give her.

I still wasn’t looking at her when I said, “I’d rather not.”

She moved her arms in between us, placing her forearms vertically against my chest. When I turned my head to look down at her, I saw that she was searching my eyes for a tiny flicker of passion to kindle her hope, her slightly pouting lips complementing her expression. I kissed her suddenly and stepped past my qualms without much difficulty.

We dated for several months. She met my parents in the spring, and they liked her, a first in my young life. Around my friends and at parties, we would make out, falling asleep together on the carpet of my living room so as not to blur her strict Christian principles, which kept her from wanting to go further. We talked about her religion, which I was only beginning to move away from completely at the time, and about the affect of learning how to debate on children, which in my opinion is to stunt the process of forming a personality by means of restraining spiritual nutrition (that is, restraining the child’s ability to gestate opinions and information outside of his field of hand-me-down beliefs). Her opinion was somewhat different.

One day she came over and we went into my room together. The lights out, we kissed in my bed. My hands roamed and then she directed them; my teeth pinched and then she moaned, breathed heavily. For the first time, I put my hands under her shirt and felt her flesh, the studs of the aureole. Following my own desires, I reached down and unbuckled her pants, rubbed my hand over the top of her simple white cotton panties. She lifted her hips, pushing against my hand so that I could feel her rough pubic hair through the soft cloth.

I pulled my hand away, stopped kissing her, and sat up. I can only imagine the look on my face as strained and irritable.

“What’s wrong?” she asked me, her voice strained with more confusion than worry.

My hormones and the tease of the situation brought out my grumpiness, perhaps to an unjustifiable extent. “I shouldn’t have to stop myself for your sake,” I said. “You’re a smart girl and willful. You know that you don’t want to go this far.”

Now fear started to creep into her; she sounded a bit like a mouse: “I know. Thank you, though.”

“Don’t thank me for holding you to your morals. Stop yourself next time!”

She placed her left hand on my arm, but I stood up and walked away. “You should go.”

Courtney didn’t say much as she buttoned her pants and adjusted her bra. She asked me if I was sure, and I hugged her and kissed her cheek and told her I’d see her tomorrow.

Of course I didn’t. A couple of weeks went by before she finally sent me an email about how things wouldn’t have gone any farther than they did, which made me laugh a little to myself. It also said that she felt afraid because she knew she wouldn’t have been able to stop me if I had decided to continue. I let out a bark of a laugh and replied with something terse and nasty. For some reason, we’re awkward around each other every time we happen to see each other these days.

Sometime in this period, Jennie came back into the picture, our lack of serious relationship putting her religious qualms to bed, I suppose. She pinged me out of the blue one day, asked me whether I’d be willing to hook up with her if she just came over that evening, and that was the beginning of something casual and fun that ended when she began to date Mani.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Humanistic, Writing

Starbucks: The third place

Dear readers, commentators, and friends,

I cannot begin to express my surprise and gratitude at the readership surge in this blog. I passed several important new-blog milestones Friday night, a claim followed by boring stats that you can skip past if not inerested: having more than a hundred visitors in one day and breaking a thousand views to the site total. Further, breaking one hundred in a day was itself a caveat: the highest day before had only seen ninety-seven viewers, and the day afterwards [sic] had seen just over sixty. Friday, though, I have one-hundred and sixteen views, followed by a Saturday of exactly one-hundred and sixteen views. Even on Sunday, with no new post for days and very little advertising from me, I reached what only a week ago would’ve been stupendous. Thank you, seriously, for supporting the effort.

I have spent so much more time developing this site than I thought I would, and I have so many plans now for the future, long before I ever thought that I would need them. Soon, though, you’ll see the first item on my to-do list, a Featured Fan story about Kate Barkhurst, an old friend from highschool and faithful Facebook friend. Thank you, everyone, and look forward to more stories from me, more guest posts, featured fans articles, and more… you know… as I get around to doing it.

My best,
Greg

**

They don’t understand, they haven’t listened to me. They called me arrogant. They’ve had all semester to see who I am, to see how I resent that label, and yet they called me arrogant. Not only said it, but spit it in my face, an accusation that seemed to say, “You can never succeed as a writer.” They read it, and they missed the point. All of them.

No, not all. There was Jenny. Jenny understood the torment of miscommunication; of course she knew what it was like to speak and yet not be heard. So sweet and so deep, she writes about moving from China to Boston as an experience of change, a flowing river of time and philosophy that soaks and bathes her mind. But writers as audience largely gloss over grammatical mistakes (as they should), and ink-on-paper doesn’t communicate in accents.

I think, and the other students notice it, too, that her writing is permeated by beauty over frustration. She writes so well, one might assume because of passion and integrity. But I have passion and integrity, too, and where does that get me? Labeled as arrogant is all, and alone. I suppose it’s about as lonely and isolating as not speaking the language of the land you’re in, but you hope in that other circumstance there remains the mysticism of discovery, or at least the obvious route of escape. For me there’s only years of letdowns, my adolescence into my waking life, of conversational successes mired by literary failures.

The cold wind of Boston winters blows through the Public Gardens and against my wool coat. I can feel its malevolence despite scientific objectivity having drowned out the world; the wind wants to bite my skin, wants to punish me for protecting myself from its harshness. Nature wants, like all life, love, to receive love as it exists, to receive without bending. My coat speaks for me my refusal of the unspoken request. My hands hide inside my pockets’ cashmere lining, helping the buttons to hold the coat in place. I had felt so sexy the day I bought this coat, had looked at myself in mirrors to memorize the way it weight and thickness complemented my girth rather than hid it, the day I thought there might be something to expensive designer labels after all. I remember the deflation upon coming home, of Sarah meh-ing her apathetic approval.

The wind cuts through my khakis instead since they’re exposed underneath the three-quarters coat. I’ve worn my Starbucks uniform to class for the last few weeks, thin-material long-sleeved block polo with dark khaki pants. Since money from Fidelity finally ran out and Sarah started asking me to pay her back for mostly legitimate expenses—to which I did not contributing but neither, really, did she—I had to get the job, and now I’m at class and at work, never at home. Sarah misses me, comes to Starbucks sometimes to sit with me, but I’ve had years to resent her attention, loath her presence. The absence of both in preference to her laptop drove me into romantic despair. World of Warcraft didn’t help on that topic, though it did relieve some of the years’ boredom.

The reading of my colleagues has broken my heart. I take criticism well—I write and people talk about the writing, and I love them for pointing out errors and paths I haven’t noticed—but like lay readers, my fellows decided to psychoanalyze me. They had done it before, when I wrote about my relationship with Sarah, talking about how sad I must be instead of the impact of the piece on the abstract reader and how that impact could be improved. The saying goes that these days everyone’s a critic, but that’s not quite the case in my experience; everyone is a psychologist, everyone thinks that they understand you by slapping their archetypes onto you, especially the ones who tell you (not ask you) not to judge. Not “Please don’t judge me until I’ve told you the whole story, or perhaps until you’ve researched it yourself,” but, “Don’t judge me, you don’t know me!” Of course, the latter ones are right; I don’t know them and never will.

I walk under the monument to ether, the world’s first anesthetic, used first at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. “We have conquered pain,” it reads. If only the words spoke truth. The wind blows again, cuts again at my shins savagely like a rusted and knocked razor.

I want to speak with someone about the disappointment. No one thought the writing was poor; the professor spoke its praises in that regard. The students merely wanted to ask me who the fuck I thought I was, in the nicest phrasing possible. But on that ground, I thought the piece stated rather clearly exactly who I claim to be.

I can’t talk to Sarah about this. She’d listen, but she’s cold, lacking in empathy. Or she has empathy and doesn’t show it. In four years, or in six if I count our friendship, I haven’t figured out which is the case.

I could go to Starbucks. It’s almost on the way home, less than a block from Sarah’s Back Bay condo, but I opened this morning and sat at a table once I got off shift until I had to leave for school at five. I literally sat there all day, and now I’d go back to do what, to stew? After all, who would I talk to? I’ve been there three months, but I’m not really friends with anyone. I go to work, I do homework, I play World of Warcraft; that’s me condensed. And when I got home, what? Sarah will already have gone to bed, not that I’ve joined her in months, and I’d stay up all night—til four, maybe five, maybe six—playing World of Warcraft, trying not to talk on the microphone so that I can relish in secret human contact in my home.

The churches at Berkeley Street, the Lutheran one with the homeless person (gender unidentifiable; I default to male) in the wool coat that I pass every night as I sing along to my iPod, so separate from his condition and just as vague a character to him as he is to me—but I’m not listening to music tonight, fuming instead; tonight, for the first time, he watches me, but I don’t mind—and the other one with the largely ignored cement hole. Clarendon, the rundown yard with the painted-black metal staircase and the door to the garden. The Newbury Street sidewalks, bricks that speak of old money, the townhomes broken into condos that lament the money’s loss. The plasma screens, shining vibrant blues and greens off beige walls, reflected off faux crystal chandeliers except that one home with the library, the dusty old tomes and the ladder on the right side; their crystal shines legit, reflecting white light off white walls.

But I have a friend at Starbucks, Ashley. But not quite a friend. She’s attracted to me, she told me so. Why would I call her? For an ego fest, so I can gain some pride off of how attractive she finds me? I don’t think so. I told her that rainy day that she walked me to Emerson that I wouldn’t turn her into a ’50s cliché, some girl hanging onto a man who says he’ll leave his wife (girlfriend) but never will, and I won’t. We had sat on the steps outside the piano shop, and she had told me that she couldn’t play the piano—not well, anyway. She had looked at me and told me she liked me, confessionally. She waited, seeing what I would do with it. I watched the automatic piano play a tune, and then I rubbed my hand down her cheek and told her that I wouldn’t abuse her. There she is; she is there.

She won’t be, though: she told me that the schedule marked her off at eight and it’s almost ten. She’ll have gone home, have left for the day, and I’ll be just as alone and just as forlorn as I feel now.

Call Mani instead. Call Steve. Call Justin and Mom and Dad. Consider calling Allison, and really feel like an asshole. Resent the way Murphy’s law applies to people answering their phones when you actually need human connection.

“Hello?” she asks.

“Hi, Ashley. I’ve got a strange question for you.”

“Yes?”

“You wouldn’t happen to still be at Starbucks, would you? I mean, I know you’ve probably left for the day.”

“No, actually. I’m here.” A thrill hits my spine between the shoulders and shivers its way down, the thrill of success; necessity or fortune falling into place I can’t tell, but it doesn’t matter and this is what I wanted, what I needed, to cut short the onslaught of despair. “Someone didn’t show up for their shift, and I stayed late to cover.”

Pause. Blink. Consider.

“I need—” But do I really want to do this to her, to rely on her when I don’t know how things are going to go with Sarah, when I can’t even pin down my feelings for a girl I just met at work, not to mention the girl I’ve loved for four years? Do I really want to be that asshole?

“I need someone to talk to.”

“I’m here.” She laughs, and weight falls away.

“Do you have anywhere you need to be? Do you need to go home?”

“No, I’m here, and I can stay. You should come. I want to listen.”

I turned left and walked down Dartmouth to Boylston, along the broad brick pathway of the private school, across the tree-lined Commonwealth Mall, and passed they dying Newbury Street. If I had gone to Exeter, Sarah might have seen me and asked where I was going. No, I turned left, kicking a pebble in the process.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing