An illustrated short story
December 9, 2016 at 12:25 pm
This article is part of the POMEmag Séance Theme Week.
The first time? I was terrified. My heart was pounding so hard it felt like it was trying to rip out of my chest. The air felt thin, and I was gripping the laptop so hard it was starting to hurt.
Then I ran. Ran like it was the only thing I knew how to do. Ran like my lungs wouldn’t empty. Ran like I couldn’t hurt. Then I learned it didn’t matter how far I ran. Distance didn’t matter. Time didn’t matter. Daylight didn’t matter.
Inconvenience didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if I had a differential equations test or a group project due. It followed and it hung and towered sometimes but never forced me to act out. Sometimes, I’d be left alone, just long enough to feel like it had passed. It felt like I was given peace to know what it feels like to have it taken away.
A couple more days went by. I hoped to change my fortune.
“Man, I wanted to get one of these when they came out, but I couldn’t really afford it then. My laptop is like 4 years old. It’s been slowing down a lot and runs out of memory now… There’s quite a few nicks on this. I didn’t see them mentioned in your ad.”
“Yeah sorry, I’m not that careful with my things. I thought I had put it in the ad. It runs everything perfectly. There’s no scratches on the screen. I can knock down the price fifty bucks, but I can’t really do any lower. I’m trying to help out my sister. She’s got some medical bills from a crash she was in.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, man. Yeah, my uncle is dealing with some shit like that too. He’s an independent contractor for a cement company. He messed up his knee one day. And he’s got insurance and everything, but his deductible was really high. My dad downgraded cars to help him out.”
“Yeah. Shame, too. He had this real nice truck, one of those King Ranch ones. You seen those?”
“Yeah, I think so”
“He had one of those. Sold it, went down to a regular F-150 and gave the difference to my uncle. Mom’s happy about it.”
“That’s great. People helping people. That’s what I’m trying to do. You know, help my sister out. So like, $400 fine?”
“Yeah, that’s good man. I don’t have any cash, but you got Venmo or a PayPal?”
“Venmo’s good. Here.”
“Oh man, your phone is old as shit. Is that a 3?”
“Nah, its a 4. They don’t do upgrades anymore, you know. I’m stuck with it.”
“Well hey, maybe this good karma will come back your way, right?”
“I hope so.”
“Alright, man take care.”
Like I said. Peace given, just to take it away.
To be honest, I can’t tell you what I thought was gonna happen next. The days went by, then weeks and seasons. It was my new reality and it was every day.
I had lost a lot of sleep when it started but well, it’s not like I slept like a baby or anything, but I got more sleep over time. I started smoking again and that helped.
Kept going to class, kept making ends meet. Kept trying to make friends and stay in touch with my family. Called my mom a couple times a week and asked if my dad is there at least once a week. I learned that little conversations mean more than long ones where you try to catch up with everything at once.
It’s the little things that help you feel normal. Don’t get me wrong, I lived with constant uneasiness. But the ghost never did anything different, so why would I?
What I didn’t expect was for a second to show up.
“I thought you hated iPhones.”
“Yeah, I kind of won this in a raffle. It was at one of those tables at the student plaza. I was walking by and they were fundraising for cataract surgery for kids in Guatemala or something. I figured I don’t have much, but at least I had my sight so I gave them what I had for the week.”
“What, really? So what did you do for food?”
“Actually, you know that fancy all-organic, all-GMO-free grocery in that neighborhood where all the yuppies live?”
“I’ve been there. Its super nice; that’s the only place I can get my favorite ice cream.”
“Well, they have samples every day right around 6, when everyone comes in. So I would just make multiple rounds and grab every sample I could.”
“No one called you out there?”
“Nah, it’s huge and no one cares. A single onion costs like $12 there so who cares if someone grabs four or five samples of bean soup made by New Age Buddhist feminists living in a commune run by organic cats.”
“And now you have a new phone!”
“And now I have a new phone.”
“Someone is looking out for you!”
“Hey listen, I gotta go. I gotta make it out to some office hours.”
“Yeah, I don’t think this prof sticks to university guidelines for office hours. I’ll catch you later.”
“Shit. I think I’ve lost my meal card.”
“No worries, man. I got you.”
This is my friend, Joseph. He’s been the same since I’ve known him from band way back in middle school. He’s everything you might want to be.
Not because he’s great with the girls or stupid athletic, or that getting good grades just comes easily to him. He’s not any of that. He’s just… I guess you could say that he’s the best version of himself he could be. Nice, polite, always doing the right thing. Listens and thinks before he speaks. Truth be told, I’ve known him for about 7 years and I’ve never seen him be selfish.
I’d rather disappoint my dad than have Joseph think less of me.
“Hey, thanks, man. I’ll get you back next time. I swear I thought I had my meal card on me.”
“Don’t worry about it. Seriously, you’ve covered me plenty of times.”
“Alright, well, I owe you something. You sure you can’t make it tomorrow night? Hannah’s in the band so we won’t have to pay cover. I don’t drink, but she said she might be able to get people a free round.”
“No, I can’t. I actually have an appointment to donate blood the next morning. Universal donor here.”
“Oh, right on. Well, I’ll have to catch you sometime soon.”
No, I don’t donate blood.
I do respect who Joseph is. He knows what he is and he’s happy with that. Other people like that about him, too.
No, I didn’t win an iPhone in a raffle. I didn’t buy raffle tickets to fight blindness in some fucking third world country.
He’s honest with himself and I’ve learned to be honest with myself. I like that we’re similar in that way.
No, I don’t have a sister who got into a car crash and needs help. That’s what insurance is for.
They say college is where you discover who you are, but they don’t really say much about accepting who you are.
I think I pride myself in finding value. What’s the value of a meal card in comparison to a laptop or phone? Not much right?
But what if you meet up with your friend at his dorm, look through his wallet while he’s in the bathroom, take his meal card and then offer to pay for his meal when he can’t find his meal card?
The look of gratitude he gives you for paying for his meal with his own card? It’s like that old commercial series. Priceless.
They say every semester you should be working on yourself in a new way. Challenge yourself. Never stop growing. I think I am becoming something new.
A collector of sorts.