In the 20-teens: describing the decade
in the 20-teens i fell in love with a girl named Anette. she was in the gluten-free section of the snack aisle, opening boxes and sniffing their contents. store employees shyly stepped forward, reciting their mantras of regulation. she laughed and held the boxes to their noses. “smell this—it’s empty! what are you feeding people?”
in the 20-teens i kissed a girl and there was a magnitude 9 earthquake off the coast of japan. she told me she loved boys and girls equally, that she’d had a taste of both, and wasn’t satisfied with either. she ate me up and sucked on my bones while radioactive waste poisoned the sea.
i got my degree only to learn that it wasn’t needed. in the 20-teens i was always somewhat unemployed. we stayed in the basement of Anette’s family’s place, breathing in mold and asbestos until our lungs were coated in artificial shit. we found a stray cat and named him Leonard. Anette submitted a short story to every place she knew but never heard back. it was about steaks and the great american landscape.
in the 20-teens my best friend Miguel was shot in his bed on a sunday. they said the gang member’s bullet left a hole in the plaster behind the head of his bed the size of a quarter. i attended his funeral in creased pants and a jacket with a mustard stain on the sleeve. i miss the guy terribly. his family later moved to illinois. i don’t think there are many gangs there.
i learned how to wait tables. i learned how to smile when a customer yelled at me for something the cooks fucked up. i learned how to sprinkle dust into their soups and drinks. i half-hoped i would get fired, but no one caught me. i flirted with elderly women and they told me how wasted my handsome features were working at a diner like this. i gave them an extra helping of blueberry pie on the house.
in the 20-teens i was almost married, but Anette kicked me out because she was bored of me. i think she was mad at the both of us for not having jobs we could properly complain about at dinner parties without feeling ashamed. a month later one of her short stories was accepted by a journal and published. she didn’t get much but she made sure to tell me how good it felt. she insisted on keeping Leonard.
i moved in with my friend Brian but he was a slob. he dropped my phone into the toilet when he was drunk. in the 20-teens i had to go a year and a half without a phone until my contract was up and i could half-afford a new one. i stopped talking to anyone but Brian. Brian wouldn’t stop talking about all the pot he wanted to grow. i became depressed and started visiting a therapist. dr. mulligan and i ended up talking about the futility of life. i listened to the problems he was having with his teenage daughter and offered what little advice i could. in exchange, he put me on prozac.
in the 20-teens i finally bought a new phone and the first message i received was from Anette telling me Leonard had been run over by a car a year ago. that night i sat on Brian’s back porch and smoked a joint with him for the first time. later he told me i started crying about Leonard and said things like “i miss changing his litter box so fucking much. i miss the smell of petrified cat shit.”
dr. mulligan got his license revoked and i stopped taking prozac. i considered drinking myself into my next life but every time i wanted to kill myself i saw Leonard splattered across the pavement of some stranger road.
at the end of the 20-teens Brian hooked me up with a job at a publishing house. it was small, the pay was shit, but it was somehow what i wanted. i got my own place and my own cat named Leopold. he baptized the new apartment by pissing in every corner for a week. i figured what’s mine is yours and i voted for the first time in my adult life. i didn’t know anything about the candidate—i closed my eyes and pointed somewhere on the list to choose.
in the 20-teens i got my first raise and a phone call from Anette while i was watching homemade videos of terrorists shooting people in the head. i felt dizzy as she told me how much she missed me. the news went on about more people dying while she was yakking into my ear that she wanted me back, needed me back. in the 20-teens Leopold jumped up onto my lap, raked his claws into my thigh, and i told Anette that we were done.
in the 20-teens i fell in love again, with a girl named Janette. we met at a protest in times square for the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, holding our hands up as tear gas filled our lungs. we shouted our throats raw for equality. after the protest died down and everyone went to bed, Janette pried my ribs apart and whispered promises for better years to come.