By Jeremy Arias
There was a light wind pushing the leaves on the moon-soaked streets. The street lights dripped their light down to the pavement above parked cars, reflecting its light as far as it could.
I sat in the darkness of my porch looking at the lawn before me. Four trees sprouted out of the ground and let their branches reach for the sky. The wind began to whistle and the leaves rustled in synch like a tune from the earth. Do I dare contribute to this music? Would whatever rhythm I make add to the tranquility of the night?
I sat in silence listening to the world do as it does. I don’t deserve this. No, I don’t. Not tonight. Not any night. Not even the day. Not even as a punishment.
I took another deep breath to stifle a sigh.
Just as I was about to call it a night and give another shot at trying to sleep, I noticed movement on the street. Something moved swift and low as if trying to sneak between the cars. There was almost no sound to the steps taken. I ran my hand down my face and rubbed my eyes to see if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing, or maybe my tireless mind was getting the better of me.
There was the sound of the breeze again hitting the wind chimes and rustling leaves on trees. The figure held impossibly still in the gap between the parked cars. I couldn’t make out what it was or what it was doing, if anything at all. Maybe I shouldn’t care. Maybe this is something I’d rather not see and hear about on the news or something. Whatever it was, it shouldn’t be disturbed.
Silently, I rose from the stoop I sat on and creaked the screen door open slowly, letting myself back in. As I swung the door closed, it squeaked loud enough to end my heartbeat with a bang. I grit my teeth as my grip tightened on the knob, trying to suppress the closing squeal. That’s when I saw the figure rise up on a pair of feet.
The figure was dark. It almost seemed like staring at a silhouette from the bottom of an abyss. It’s shape barely seemed human. It had two barely-spaced legs, a fat, rectangular body, and an oval shaped head. Slowly, one leg dragged itself in front of the other and carried its body over to my side of the street. It’s legs moved like tentacles in cartoons with a slick motion that barely moved the top half of its body as it walked.
I locked the deadbolt on the door which clicked like a shotgun. I backed up into my room and searched frantically for my phone. The gate clinked and the fence ruffled, mocking the familiar sound of someone jumping over the fence. There was a crash and thudding sound that could only be compared to dropping a bag of meat. There was no bounce or reaction of pain of any type. It was just a plop as it fell.
Without turning on any lights, I felt my way around the bed looking for my phone, which was discovered only a few inches away from my pillow. I unlocked it and dialed the police as fast as my trembling fingers allowed.
The line began to ring.
“911 emergency, what’s your emergency?” the dispatch officer asked.
“Hello,” I whispered. “There’s something outside my-”
“911 emergency, is there anyone there?” she asked again.
“Yes, hello?” I called.
“911 emergency, is there someone there?” she repeated.
“Yes! I’m speaking!” I checked the phone to make sure my microphone wasn’t muted, but it seemed fine.
“Hello?” I called again into the speaker. “Hello?”
It sounded like nails on a chalkboard from the other side of my window.
“Hello?” I whispered into the microphone as I backed away from the bedroom window.
I hung up the phone. I figured they’d send a patrol car if there wasn’t a response, but how long from now until it got here? Would I last the minutes or hours until the police got here?
But there wasn’t anything that followed. Not a sound came from the window. I tiptoed my way to the window and placed my palm on the curtain, pinching my fingers against the cloth, delicately pulling a slit for my eye. There didn’t seem to be anything outside, which seemed cliche, but this made me believe it was time to go to sleep.
I spent an hour crouched by the window staring out into the emptiness. As every second went by, so did the thought that I was crazy and needed to sleep.
Look at me, I thought. Two in the morning, staring out the window in red shorts and a black shirt. If anyone with half a brain saw me, I’d look like a total creep.
My mind wandered to the thought of the police call. Perhaps I should call back and say nothing happened. I should still wait and see if they show up so they can check if anything was stolen. I adjusted my legs from the tireless crouch and rested my back against the wall, resting my head and closing my eyes.
All the sounds of the night combined with a sudden dragging sound. It sounded as if someone was dragging a bag of dirt across the cement little by little. Someone small, like a toddler too weak to pick it up or drag it a long distance, having to take sudden breaks to regain the strength to pull it some more.
I rose up again feeling tension all across my head. There was a pressure behind my eyes that felt as if my brain was being mangled into knots. I gripped my forehead and got to my feet pulling myself to the window. I peeled back the curtains and saw the figure now standing directly outside, peering into the window through the slit.
I jerked back releasing the grip on the curtain, stumbling to regain control of my feet. It had what looked like a disfigured face. There was a sole green spot that glowed like radiation in place of eyes. The rest of its face was charred black as well as what was visible of its body.
It’s raspy voice said.
“What the fuck are you?” I exclaimed as I searched and stumbled looking for anything to defend myself with in case it broke through my window.
Whyat the fook arrr yooooo?
It’s voice was clearing up and sounding awkwardly distinguished.
What the fuck arrrrr yooooo?
It began to push the window, which slowly cracked from the epicenter of where it pressed its dark, stubby arms.
My hands managed to find my swiss army knife from behind my pencil case. I drew the knife out as I watched it crack my window into tiny, brittle shards.
The figure leaned on the window sill, and like a ball of clay, began to ooze inside and tumbled onto my floor. I made out the shape of the figure in the darkness and found what appeared to be the head. I gripped my knife tightly, bracing my trembling hand, to go for a jab in the head.
I grit my teeth and sent my arm soaring to its head, jabbing across. It was like stabbing a pile of mashed potatoes. The knife went through, so I slid it back and tried again, but by now, the knife got stuck and began to sink into it’s head like quicksand.
I stepped back against the door and swallowed hard in shock. The figure was rising to its feet. It was only about my size and slowly produced arms, legs, and the rest of a face. I opened the door and ran out, into the living room, tripping over the coffee table. I rushed to my feet, cursing the cliche of tripping. I didn’t think I’d ever be that stupid, but in the darkness, anything can happen.
I turned on the light and ran to the kitchen looking for another knife. As I reached the knife rack, my eyes fixed onto the fire extinguisher mounted on the wall. I pulled it off and got ready to bash it against the figure.
The figure came out of my room, upright and standing, stepping into the light of the living room. When I saw it in full light, I dropped the fire extinguisher and my jaw. The figure was now wearing a black T-shirt and red shorts, had semi-combed, frizzy bed-hair, dark hazel eyes, a two-day beard, and light-brown skin with a swiss army knife in its hand. I was staring into a reflection of myself that moved all on its own.
“Oh fuck,” I muttered.
My heart raced, pounded as the figure got closer and closer. With every step, each detail of my own became clearer and appeared. The moles, the looser strands of hair, the scar on my arm, and even the size of its nails became much like my own.
My mind was racing and screaming, telling me to run, but my eyes were fixed on the figure, hypnotized in what felt like a trance. Any moment now, I’ll wake up. I’ll wake up.
Oh fuck, the figure said.
The figure got closer to my frozen body and slashed the knife across my forehead, then jabbing it into the side of my head where it became too weak to retract it. My eyes couldn’t widen any more than they already had, my body crashing to the floor like a bag of meat, a pool of blood spawning from my head.
I’ll wake up.
I’ll wake up.
By Jeremy Arias
The crow cawed as the morning rose. I could see his shadow spilling over the curtain with the sunlight. He hopped around and danced as he chippered a honking sound.
Cawnk Cawnk Cawnk!
If I’d leave him alone he’d start knocking on the door with his beak. By now he’d learned that I had a love for such birds, and I would give him crumbs of bread, seeds, or whatever other bird food items I had lying around. It was typical that he’d show up in the morning and impatiently wait for his serving of whatever surprise I had left over from last night’s dinner.
A few weeks ago was when he started showing up. You feed a bird once and they keep coming back. With crows, this trend is a bit different. When you feed a bird as smart as a crow or raven, they return the favor and give you things in return. The first morning I saw Atticus, which is what I named the crow, he was dancing around eating the chocolate candies I left out during a drunken escapade of mine and thought he was cute. He managed to open the packaging and helped himself to my snacks. If I saw a person eating it, I would’ve flipped out and kicked them out, but I figured if he’d opened it and helped himself, he deserved them for the trouble.
Atticus was dancing around at the sweetness of the chocolate and saw me peeking through the window. He cawed a couple times and danced back toward the edge of the porch. He flew away with the rest of the chocolates and came back the next morning. I hadn’t left anything out, but I managed to wake up early enough to hear him show up and scavenge the porch.
He’s back, I thought as I frantically searched for something to feed him. I went through my pantry and pulled out some nuts I had laying for a few months that I convinced myself I wasn’t going to eat after the first week they were hoarded in there, but I felt bad throwing them away. He took some time to get close to me, at first I had to lay down the nuts on the porch railing and allowed him to approach them. After a couple days he began to look for me and caw and honk on my porch until I came out.
Hawnk Hawnk Hawnk!
When I came out one morning with a cup of water and seeds, I noticed something lodged in his beak. It was a glossy brown button. He laid it down on the railing and took a step back stooping his head as if presenting it to me. I thanked him kindly although I knew he couldn’t understand, but he danced around happily as I put down his usual snack. I took the button and smiled at him as he finished up. He cawed twice and flew away.
Now he’s at my porch pecking his beak against my door. I don’t want to open the door again. I tried to shoo him away yesterday but he came back. I was hoping he didn’t come back today. Yesterday he brought a ring. It was golden with a diamond plastered on top of it. I was wondering what poor bastard he took the ring from or where he found it, but I’m not asking questions anymore, because today’s returning gift was an index finger with a shiny, red nail.
By Jeremy Arias
The birds hadn’t started singing yet and the moon had not yet been tucked away. The sun was still getting the last of it’s sleep, and I was trying to get the last of mine. I tossed and turned trying to fall into a trance, but it’s no use in this heat. My pillow was a sponge full of sweat that dripped from my forehead and I was almost able to smell myself.
Disgusted, I got up and went for my shower. It was almost that time of the month to clean up my sheets, so I figured it should come a little sooner if it caused me this much trouble. The laundry would be free soon enough if I did everyone’s laundry later, then they’d have no reason to need it.
The shower thoughts kept pouring into my head as I rinsed myself. I scrubbed my foot with the loofa and felt a tingling sensation on my ankle joint right on the part that feels like a ball is sort of sticking out of it. There were a bunch of bumps and red spots all around it. Something had a feeding frenzy on me.
The more I scrubbed it, the better it felt. As soon as I stopped, it began to itch and bother me. Was this the work of a mosquito? It couldn’t be, mosquitos leave behind a pyramid-like structure, this was the work of a spider. I investigated the spots and checked online as soon as I could of what spider bites looked like, and sure enough, it matched up. By now my foot was irritating me and I wanted to do something, but what could I do? How do you kill a spider you can’t find?
While I was online, I also checked what spiders hate. The internet is full of hate and you can find practically any kind of hate no matter who or what you hate, and apparently hating spiders is widely accepted. I found that spiders hate high pitched noises, smoke, and tree oils.
That’s perfect, I thought, I’ll just use these all until it leaves.
I cleaned my sheets later that day and sprayed the bed with tea tree oil. I replaced the sheets to the lovely sound of a high pitched screeching sound on an endless loop that I found online. It was pretty annoying and I could see why spiders hate it, and since I knew it would drive the spider out, I decided to sing along with it. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeee… It was annoying, but it was music to my ears.
Once I finished, I burned some palo santo and turned on the fan to spread it all around the room. The same concept works with just about any other insect too, not because of what you’re burning, but because insects don’t know the concept of incense. They assume the smoke is coming from something nearby burning and that they could burn with it if they don’t move out fast enough.
Once my room was an awkward smell of smoke and oil, I turned off the noise and kept going about my day. Once night rolled around I took twenty milligrams of melatonin and knocked myself out. In the morning, before everything else woke up, I woke up scratching my foot which now burned to the bone.
I grabbed my phone to shine a light on it, and what I saw I was not expecting. There were several other bite marks on my foot. The spider had not only not gone away, but he was pissed and took it personal.
Somewhere during the day he must have thought “Holy crap, he’s doing everything I hate and singing along to it! What the hell?” And at night while I slept he struck his revenge and took out all his anger on my foot. This meant war. But how do you declare war with a spider you can’t find?
I plotted. I was going to set this spider up. I paced back and forth all day thinking about how to get revenge on the spider. I thought about doubling the smoke and oil, perhaps playing the high-pitched sound louder and longer. I thought about everything spiders hated. I thought about how annoying the itch and burn in my foot was and what I could do. I wanted to bite the spider’s foot and leave him with a burning itch all day where he’d be spinning webs thinking about how he’s going to bite me and piss me off.
Finally, after hours of pacing, I got the idea. I shouldn’t fight this spider with hate. I should show this spider some love. Find the things that spiders like. Maybe I’ll sacrifice a fly and leave it near the bed so at night he would take the fly instead of my foot. I’d leave a fly with a few grains of sugar and a cap of water so he can see that I’m not worthy of biting. He’d see the fly, sugar, and water as a peace offering.
My next mission was to find a fly. I went outside to look for one and found them almost immediately. I killed one and decided to keep it in a sealed bag to preserve the freshness. If I was going to make an offering, this was going to have to be a good deal for everyone. I placed the fly beside the bed and threw a packet of sugar right next to it and a small bottle cap full of water. And then I waited…
The moon rose and I laid in bed waiting. Waiting. Waiting…
It’s hard to fall asleep with not only an itchy foot and sacrifice beside your foot, especially if you know that if you move too much you’ll spill the water on the fly and then the whole plan fails. I lit up a candle and kept it near so that I could see at least a tiny bit in case the spider came around or if the fly came back to life. Either one would be pleasing.
Hours went by and the only thing that had happened was that I sneezed. It wasn’t until around two in the morning that I saw something dark slowly float down from the ceiling. It was the spider fixing his web to drip down to the bed. It landed on the sheet and made its way for my foot, when it stopped and looked over at the sacrifice. It was a daddy long legs, I could see that once it got closer to the sacrifice where the candle lit up a bit more. It was confused and hadn’t known what to do. It grabbed the fly and hovered over the water for a tiny bit.
It scanned the fly and eventually spun it into a web and picked it up. I watched it climb back up the web and head back to the ceiling. He strutted to a corner of the wall where there was a bit more web gathered up and he left the fly there and began to relax.
That’s when I struck. I sprayed tea tree oil on a sock and stuffed it into another sock with a stick of palo santo and swung that sock straight to the corner where the spider resided. I screeched the high pitched sound as I swung some more and turned on the light. The spider’s body was nowhere to be found. I hoped it was dead, or I was in some deeper shit that I was before.
By Jeremy Arias
The six dollar book sat on a shelf. It stood there watching customers and readers and people trying to look cool and people taking pictures while it sat there. All it could do was watch and look pretty. Maybe it’s cover wasn’t all that great. Maybe it should have chosen a different shelf or different story.
Look your best, it thought. The better you look, the better your chances.
Every book wanted to sell. It was an honor for a book to be bought and paid for and signed and displayed on a shelf or rented at a library or recycled into a work of art. All the six dollar book wanted was a sale. What it got was a discount. It couldn’t sell, so it sold its soul and took a dollar off.
What irony this was. A six dollar book for the cost of five. Was it really that bad? Maybe it wasn’t the cover as much as it thought. Maybe it was what was inside that people didn’t want. Maybe the cover was fine. No. Maybe it was both. Maybe it just wasn’t good enough for anything. It couldn’t sell at it’s cover price so now a sticker dictated its worth.
Somewhere, it thought, there’s a vendor that couldn’t sell me. There’s a gang of customers looking to read that wouldn’t fork out six little bills or a handful of quarters or a sack of nickels and dimes and pennies and lint and change, does nobody read these days? Everyone’s looking down at their phones wasting time, watching videos and playing games and posting pictures, doing this and that, or talking to him and her and them but they don’t care about you.
Learn something! Pick up a book and read! The price was dropped and still there’s a vendor stooped and slumped over a counter who gave up trying to sell and is just watching people go by and stare. They talk and flip a couple pages and set it down. Why doesn’t anyone want to read it? Is there so much going on outside that you can’t escape your world for another? There’s plenty to do if you sit and give your mind a treat that will help it.
And then came a lonely customer who asked this and that. The vendor answered and haggled prices. The customer looked down at the phone in their palm and glanced around. When the vendor looked away, the customer dashed like lightning and took The Six Dollar Book in hand and ran off.
What an honor this was. After a long time of trying to sell, it was stolen. And it felt great.
By Jeremy Arias
A man on fire walked into the office and sat in his seat. His computer took no more than a few attempts to turn on. It usually took two.
“Morning, Gabe,” a man with a bullet in his brain greeted. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” replied the man on fire. “I’m just a little tired. What about you, Fred?”
“I’m tired too,” replied the man with the bullet in his brain. “Seriously though, fuck work!”
“I hear you,” said the man engulfed in flames as he stood up from his desk. “I’m gonna grab a coffee.”
And so the man on fire walked through the aisle of cubes, computers, coffee cups, and Cool Craig, who just had half his face removed. In the break room was a woman with a wire wringed around her neck.
“Hey, Jan,” said Gabe as the flames began to dissipate into embers.
“What’s up, Gabe?” she said as she took off a sweater, revealing bruises and scrapes.
“Not much,” answered Gabe reaching for the pot of coffee. “How was your niece’s party?”
“It was really fun!” she said as she began to ooze blood from her neck. “I’m just really tired. Emily woke up twice last night and didn’t let me sleep. That’s going to be the last of sweets after sundown.”
The flames began to rise as Gabe began to panic.
“Are you okay, Jan?” asked the man on fire.
“Totally fine, why do you ask?”
The man on fire took a second to think. What was it about her that made him ask.
“I notice you had a bruise on your arm…” he mentioned.
“I fell picking up after Emily,” she lied as more blood leaked out of the wire, slowly turning her face pale. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” answered the man in flames. “It’s just a little hot in here.”
“Turn on the AC, or better yet,” Jan suggested, “just try not to think about the heat, like at all! Just tell yourself it’s really cold and you need a sweater, you’ll trick your mind into-”
“No,” screamed the man being swallowed by fire, “it’s REALLY hot!”
“You know what I do? I try to pretend I’m at the beach, just picture that! Or even a penguin at the zoo! The arctic circle isn’t as cold, so a zoo should do! Or even think about ice! Or Ice-man! Or you know what else I do? You should try-”
The crackling of his bones and pressure in his skull had built up far too much to even care what she does for minor heat.
He was on fire.
He was fine.
By Jeremy Arias
He wasn’t sure where the road went, he only had a vague memory of where he began. No matter how long he sat in silence with his foot on the gas pedal listening to the sound of the engine running and wheels scraping the sand on the road, he couldn’t get his head to figure out why he was still driving.
The thought that every life decision he had ever made, or been forced into, lead him straight to the road occupied his head several times. He asked himself why he was on that particular road, but a real answer never came about. He remembered gassing up his tank and throwing a spare jerry can in the trunk for good measures. Despite the feeling of years passing, driving through that forsaken desert, he still had three quarters of the tank he started with.
He thought that maybe he’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. Maybe the GPS was just as lost and sent him down that road unknowingly cursing him to a never ending road. These were still actions of his own, however. He couldn’t blame the car or GPS. Maybe he was misguided, but even then, it was his foot on the gas.
His hands stiffened on the steering wheel and began to collect drops of dew from the humidity of the sweat accumulating inside, blood rushing through his fingers. His eyes now frozen on the lane that confined him between two eternities of sand, drifted from the lane to the sky where vultures flew overhead. He took a deep breath as he weighed his options. The only place this car could realistically go was forward. Perhaps he could go back too.
It was no use.
He slammed his foot on the brake causing the tires to screech and halt. Causing a silence over the screaming engine. His thoughts went from a scream to a soothing hum. A soothing hum came from within the engine. It became nothing as he slid the key from the ignition.
Of all the places he could go. He could be driving home. Going to a city by a shining sea or visiting Rome. But no. Here he was, with his forehead slumped on the steering wheel. There were miles of road before him. There were miles of road after him. But the road wasn’t for him. And a fool he was for not realizing it sooner.
His hand worked its way from the wheel to the stump on the door. He plucked the latch that locked him in. He pulled the handle and slowly pushed his way to freedom. He stepped into the sand and looked up to the sun. His feet, like patties on a grill, sizzled as they sank into the sand. His feet carried his body as his mind carried his spirit to the sun.
By Jeremy Arias
It’s usually about 8:30am or 9:00am when I get out of work. There’s something about the difference of the air and smells you get when you walk in and out of a coffee shop. When I get to work, the sun still hasn’t risen and the espresso machines haven’t begun their shift brewing endless cups of coffee, so the smell of coffee is very light and faint, subtle. When I get out of my shift, there’s something about the fresh air liberating my nose from the coffee smell, which I invite with a welcoming breath.
There’s always birds. Pigeons on the pavement eating scraps of food and flocking away the second you come near their personal space. At times I’ll see them sipping water left behind by people washing outside their shops. I’ve seen dogs leashed outside the bakery patiently waiting for their owner to come out. As I pass, the dogs let out a sharp bark telling me I’m too close. I shrug, smile at the dog, and sip my coffee.
As I walked back home just the other day, a voice called down from a bench.
“Good morning,” he said. I turned to my right and saw a homeless man sitting on the bench smiling. His hair was grey, skin wrinkled and burned from sun exposure, and lips spread out in a friendly smile. I felt like I already knew where this was going.
“Good morning,” I returned his gesture and smiled back at him. I was going to continue to walk away, but he leaned in closer as if he wanted to talk, but not yell.
“Do you think you can spare me some change so I can get myself a cup of coffee?” His face was still friendly and had a sincere look. I don’t usually carry change, and I pay for almost everything with my card. I thought I didn’t have anything to give.
“I actually don’t,” I replied getting ready to explain that I don’t carry change.
“That’s fine,” he replied. “Have a wonderful day!” he smiled as I turned to walk away. I smiled back and raised my cup to get another sip of my coffee, when it came to me. I took a few steps back and saw him look up at me as I approached.
“You know what,” I said. “I can give you this instead. I don’t carry change with me and I pay everything with my card. You can have the rest.”
His eyes brightened and hands extended, but stopped midway.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I don’t want to just take your coffee.”
“Go ahead,” I replied. “It’s my second cup and I’m actually trying to cut down on caffeine a bit.”
He took the cup.
“Well, thank you,” he replied as he took the warm cup off my hands. He smiled and took a sip. “I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied as I smiled and walked away.
As I continued my walk home, I realized I had seen him many times before, not just on my daily commute, but also as I stare out the window of the car and pass the streets watching pedestrians. There’s something about homeless people being ignored in a number of ways. People pass them by on the street, and although they hear their asks for loose change, they keep their faces forward and ears form a path to shoot the sound out the other. They’re invisible.
He had a face that if you saw him in another city, you wouldn’t question where you’d seen him before. You’d simply recognize him and keep going about your day without questioning yourself or looking again at him out of fear that if you did, he’d approach you.
The next few days I walked back home, he would look at me, smile, and say good morning. He wouldn’t ask for any money from me, he’d just greet me as any friend would on a regular day.
“What’s your name, young man?” he asked me politely one morning.
“Jeremy,” I replied. “And yours?”
“I’m Uncle Ron,” he replied ecstatically, as if introducing himself gave him a sense of pleasure. “I see you walk by here every morning and say good morning, but I don’t know your name… now I do. It’s nice to meet you, Jeremy.”
“Likewise, Uncle Ron,” I replied as I nervously shook his hand hiding my fears and memories of the stories my mom told me about how unpredictable homeless people could be.
“How are you doing today?” I asked as I pulled my hand back.
“Oh, I’m just swell,” he muttered. “The other night I was fallin’ asleep, just minding my own business- I stay over there sometimes…” He pointed to an alley across the street from the coffee shop.
“I was falling asleep and some guys came to me and just started beating me up and thrashing me around!”
“What?” I was shocked, but not surprised.
“Yeah, I wasn’t bugging anyone either, just getting ready to fall asleep and their car comes out of nowhere and they get off and start kicking me, look at what they did…”
He bowed his head and pulled some of his hair back to show me some wounds on the top of his head. It was scratched pretty bad, and there was a massive bruise under the scratches.
“I spent three days in the hospital!” he sighed. “Some people just don’t have any respect for other humans.”
He nearly spat out that last part.
“That’s terrible,” I said. “Some people can be pricks.”
“Tell me about it!” he agreed. “I’m almost through with this though.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m only doing this for now, see…” he began to explain, “I used to work at the [county] hospital, and for a few months they weren’t paying me. I have nine checks for seven hundred dollars sitting around there somewhere. My sister lives over in…” He pointed east and snapped his finger trying to recall the name of the city.
“...Norwalk,” he recalled. “Yeah, she lives over in Norwalk and said she could help me get a hold of those checks, but I wanted to see what it was like to be homeless first, you know before I make a lot of money. I don’t want to forget who I was, I want to stay humble.”
“I feel you,” I replied. I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth because it seemed odd that someone would choose to be homeless before making sixty-three hundred dollars to stay humble. I figured perhaps his sister took the checks and left him on a wild goose chase after these checks, and he ended up homeless as a result, then later on convinced himself it was his choice all along to go homeless. I don’t know, but there was something trustworthy about his story.
My grandma was an alcoholic who during the last few years I’d known her was going through a legal debate over being forced against her will to sign the deed of her house over to my uncle. The story I’ve heard, in summary, was that she was drunk, abused, and forced to sign. To pay for her legal fees and bills, our family redirected the rent money she would collect from her other properties, since her biggest expense was alcohol. During her drunken rants, she would say that her daughter (my mom) would steal the money from her and use it for other things. She had a paranoid mind that would take our aid as a threat against her lifestyle.
Knowing that my grandmother had a twisted world view and saw things different from us, I had a feeling there was something similar to Uncle Ron’s story.
There’s a different connection you get with people when you learn the story behind their face. Often times we’re told a story about people we don’t know, so we picture what these people might look like. Later on when we meet these people others tell us so much about, we match the faces to the stories and completely change the image we’ve amplified in our heads. When you learn the story behind their face, you learn that they too are a person who goes day by day with struggles of their own.
It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve seen Uncle Ron. Perhaps he finally got his checks and settled himself somewhere. Maybe he left to stay somewhere else or got admitted into another hospital. I don’t know what happened, but I hope he’s alright.
By Jeremy Arias
It’s Wednesday morning in Boyle Heights, I’m currently sitting in the corner of a coffee shop in Boyle Heights between a tireless espresso machine and a streakless window pouring in sunlight. I work as a baker here, and there’s about forty minutes until the banana bread comes out of the oven, so I have some time to write and catch up with the events going on in my life.
A few months ago, I dropped out of a college in San Diego because I failed just about every class in my last quarter there and later got an email saying I was dropped from the school. In a matter of a day or two, I settled back home with my family as I had nowhere else to go. I owe about ten thousand dollars in loans, and I’ve been dealing with depression which sucked the last of the life and motivation I had stashed in whatever reserves I held. I was a being of basic motor functions. I avoided talking with anyone to the best of my ability. It wasn’t atypical that my mood was repulsed by conversations and interaction.
With only a tiny amount of energy that could barely get me out of bed, and a mind that constantly screamed my insecurities and anxieties, ‘I don’t know/care’ was all that my mouth could spit, filtering all the negative things I really wanted to say. All my truths and feelings were hidden behind the thought that someone, somewhere, would actually listen and come to think that I was a nag or ‘whiney.’
When your day is shitty and you literally don’t find anything fun, your food stops having taste and you’re only eating to not starve to death. It becomes tough answering even the easiest questions for anyone remotely sane, like ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘what do you do for fun?’ The only thing that could put my mind at ease was a cold wind and dead silence in bed, but there was no way in hell I could ever get the two. The next closest thing was laying in my hot bed while the fan pushed hot air onto me. How the hell could someone live like this? This is the reason people commit suicide, and considering I’m only dealing with massive, day-long headaches, low energy, a dislike and repulsion to anything lifelike or stimulating, the thought there were people out there worse off than myself that were actually pushed into self harm and suicidal thoughts made me feel like it was all an act, like my depression was nothing more than a slump and I had to snap out of it, but how?
About a month ago, I got a text from my dad saying that the new local coffee shop was in need of a baker. ‘Fucking A’ I thought, I’m a pretty good cook and I love to bake. This was my calling. I spoke to the barista, who also runs the place, and the next morning, at 5 A.M., I was in the back kitchen being taught how to roll croissants and bake scones. I had myself a job. It is only a few hours every morning, from Sunday through Thursday, but hey, if I can get some extra money and keep my student loan collectors at bay for a little longer, this might work out. From one moment to the next, I became a part time baker.
The only thing that proved to be a challenge was waking up at four thirty A.M. to get ready for work and actually clear my head to focus on what I was doing. Being a college student for two years helped with just that, as I had faced many all-nighters studying and cramming for exams that never mattered. None of what I did in college matters now, at least not what I did in the majority of the classes I took.
Just last week, my mom took me to a doctor and I was put on antidepressants. The next few days followed with headaches that put my previous ones to shame: day-long confusion, nausea, irritability, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and loss of self-worth, hoping that within a few days the medicine would kick in and prove that this suffering was only short-term. Soon I would be back on society’s standards of ‘sane,’ whatever that may be.
Being back in Los Angeles, I thought I would immediately reunite with all my old friends, hang out, catch up and be together, but just as I predicted, I didn’t have the energy or will to even lift my phone and send a text, or even respond to a text when my San Diego friends would ask how I was doing.
One of the people I did reach out to, however, was my old art mentor Luis, who was typically a cool person to be around no matter the vibe. He helped push me through the process of bringing out the writer in me and guided me to publishing two books. After a few weeks of catching up and taking him the new, incomplete works I started, he proposed giving me a column in the biannual Art Block Zine and blog for their website, which he described as “dry.” He immediately gave me a .org email for DSTL Arts and told me I was now a representative of his non-profit organization, telling me about the responsibilities and precautions I must take. All my mind could translate this to was: “Don’t fuck this up, Jeremy.” But that may just be a taste of my anxiety sneaking through the Zoloft. He said he’d give me a business card to make it more official; right away he’d given me trust and had confidence I would do a good job with this, something I would have never convinced myself of. That’s how I knew I’d do well. From one moment to the next, I was an Associate Editor for DSTL Arts.
If anyone told me before I walked out of the bakery we met up at, that I would walk out Associate Editor with my own column and potential access to revive the blog, I would have dressed a little nicer than my sleeveless shirt and flannel, but then that would not have been me. And one thing I’ve learned while dealing with depression and seeing others fighting, is that people are unhappiest when they’re forced to be something they know they aren’t. And just like that, I had a new job. Maybe even meaning. I felt like a modern day Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs or funny remarks about life, or a different outlook that astonished people. Either way, I can’t be him, may he rest in peace.
I gave Luis’s proposal some thought for a few moments and proposed the idea of having a column about the community, see what people have to say or share. After all, society has been listening to the voices of Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, and all the other worthless celebrities people worship so much, who don’t even deserve half a fraction of the attention they get. They don’t share anything with us, and by “us” I mean the community of low-income people like myself, the people who struggle day-to-day to pay their rent, bills, or wonder if they can afford their next meal. Thankfully, my dad has a well-paying job, which unfortunately exploits his hard work, (fuck you “delivery service”, you took my dad from me) and my mom is a part time driver for a “ridesharing company.” My brother is a firefighter who has not yet been called out to put out a fire, and I’m a baker. Aside from us, I have three younger siblings who are still in their free years of school. We’re a working-class family, and there’s millions of others just like us.
Part of what I want to do for my column is hear the voices and stories of other people whose voices and stories deserve to be heard. This, however, will involve me facing my fears of interaction, and not only talking to other people, but getting people to talk back, potentially facing the same fear of telling me their stories. As of now, I’m thinking of asking a few questions about people’s lives, and since I don’t want to bore my readers, I’ll be changing the questions and stories depending on the feedback I get from other people.
Some of the things I want to acknowledge is that everyone is different, and their stories will definitely vary. I have high hopes that this will not only change me in a positive way, but the other people who read my column and articles I publish from here on.
The bell dinged. The banana bread is ready, and so am I. Until next time.
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