Friday, December 23, 2011

Uncle Pat

There at the dinner table on Christmas Eve, I was looking down at the remnants of my meal, using my fork to poke at what was left of my mashed potatoes and swirling them around in some leftover gravy that pooled along the edges of my plate. I tried to focus on things like the wax dripping from the candles that sat in the middle of the table or the grandfather clock against the wall which I noticed was only minutes away from chiming that loud and prominent grandfather clock chime. I took a moment to focus on my cousin's girlfriend from across the table. The way they were sitting, I could tell he was rubbing his hands up and down her leg and at one point I saw her jump a little as if he'd gone a little further up the leg than she had expected he would and then she turned towards him, smiling one of those mischievous and turned-on smiles. The ones that say, 'stop it,' but also 'keep going.' I looked down at her breasts for a moment and pictured what they looked like and then I felt strange about doing so. My stomach was full as it always seems to be at every family potluck and for a while I could only focus on my misery. I imagined all of the food inside of me forming fists and punching the insides of my stomach, protesting the lack of capacity and looking for any means of escape. Eventually, I ran out of things to focus on and was left to give my attention to the thing I'd been trying to avoid ever since we sat down to eat.

My family surrounded the table; parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my cousins' girlfriends and boyfriends and the children of my older cousins. Seated at the head of the table is my uncle pat. Uncle Pat is a preacher at the Church of Christ and he sits at the head of the table because he's a 'man of God,' and my family thinks this makes him the head of the family. Pat used to be a tweaker and he hit rock bottom and then supposedly, while laying in an alleyway after a night of heavy drinking and getting fucked up, he was approached by an angel who told him how to turn his life around and start living his it the way God had intended. He told us that the angel was dressed in a referee uniform along with a trench coat and fedora. It never spoke to him but rather motioned. It was something in the way it smiled and stared at him, moving it's hands in such a way that said to him, "everything was going to be ok now." Since that night, he started attending church and drinking a lot of iced tea. He met some woman at a church sponsored bingo game and he married her and although I've met her a number of times, I still don't know her name.

The funny thing about this angel story, to me anyway, is that nobody in our family ever considered the possibility that maybe uncle Pat was simply tripping his balls off in an alleyway and had some crazy hallucination. Instead, they all just prayed extra hard over the course of a year for Pat's recovery from drug and alcohol abuse and thanked the good lord daily for sending one of his angels to point uncle Pat in the right direction. Everyone in my family loves to hear the alleyway story. Everyone fancies it a tale of another one of God's miracles, viewing it as an audience once probably viewed Houdini; shocked, amazed and perplexed. Amongst the amazed however, there are always the skeptics; the ones searching for all the loopholes and trying best to figure out the illusions. You could say I'm one of the them.

After the meal, someone always says, "Hey Pat, let's hear the story." And then someone else pipes in, "Yeah Pat, tell us the story!" Everyone loves the story but me. I didn't like hearing it the first time it was told and I especially don't like it right now. But when you're the only atheist in a family of christians, you might as well just suck it up, fold your hands and bow your head and say the lord's prayer like a good boy because if they were to ever find out that you, their own flesh and blood, don't believe in God's love, one might just as well disown himself because nobody takes kindly to godlessness in this family.

"I don't remember much before it happened," started uncle Pat's story. "I was out with a 'friend' of mine. We were drinking and smoking and giving in to all of Satan's temptations. The last thing I remember before the alleyway was this man at the bar who made me very sad. He was sitting by himself, keeping quiet and drinking from a mug. I hadn't payed him much attention but all of a sudden he turned to me and he said, "Salvation is near." I turned to him, a shot of Jim Beam in my hand, and asked him to repeat himself and he said, "The lord is coming and salvation is near." My initial response was to laugh. I saw him as just a crazy old boozer and thought nothing of it. I took my shot and I turned to walk away. When I did however, I was sad. I don't know why but I was sad and that's the last thing I remember before waking up."

At this point in the story, uncle Pat likes to ask everyone to join hands so they can say a prayer for the old man. Wherever he may be. It's aunt Paula's theory that the old man was the guardian angel. That he was always there, keeping to himself in the corner and silently looking out for Pat. Everybody nods in agreement, assuring themselves that these things really do happen. After the prayer, throughout which I bowed my head and wondered how a stick of butter doesn't melt or spoil at room temperature, uncle Pat continued with his tale.

"I have no idea how I wound up there or what I had done hours prior to it happening but the first thing I remember thinking was that my pants were wet. I thought maybe I peed in my pants but then realized the wetness was in my shirt as well. So I slowly opened my eyes and saw that I was sitting next to a dumpster in a puddle of something that was leaking out the side of it. I slowly stood up. I immediately started feeling dizzy and my stomach started turning and I vomited. I felt too weak to do any walking and so I slowly fell back down to the ground, partially in my own vomit and partially in the dumpster goop. I started to fall back asleep but this bright light that came out of nowhere filled the alley. It wasn't sunlight and it wasn't light that could have come from any lightbulb. It was a light unlike any I've ever known. I knew immediately that this was something holy and something important and something not to be ignored. Something in the light itself told me that. And then, from the light, a figure came. It floated down towards me with grace and elegance. The light was blinding but I couldn't bring myself to look away. I was filled with this overwhelming sense of comfort. The alleyway disappeared and everything was this glorious bright light. The figure floated down in front of me and he was wearing a zebra striped shirt underneath a trench coat and wore a fedora that tilted forward just enough to shadow his eyes. At first he just looked down at me, saying nothing. His gaze, though, it was power. It entered me and stirred me up inside. He then hunched over and extended his hands to me. I slowly reached out for them and embraced them. The angel then closed his eyes which made me close my eyes and I could feel the devil being drawn out of me. I could feel him clawing and grasping to stay inside of me but the angel was stronger and the devil lost. I opened my eyes and I was back in the alley. The bright light was gone. I could no longer see it. But I could feel it inside of me. It got me on my feet and it led me home. I took a shower, cut my hair, threw out all of the liquor and the drugs and I found a church. And that's how I found Jesus."

There's a moment of silence after the story is told in which my family members look upon Pat with eyes of remorse and mouths curved into adoration. They tell him how brave he is and how much he inspires them all. "God has blessed this family." said grandma. "Praise him." They all close their eyes and they say "Amen." Finally, it ends. We all go back to discussing the weather and the Illini stats and the people at work who make them angry and tupperware and deer season.

My cousins and I have nothing in common and so none of them really talk to me. They'll say hello and they'll be interested in where it is I work and whether or not I have a girlfriend yet but after these topics are covered and briefly discussed, it's off to the next person and I'm left feeling awkward amongst my own family. My aunt Jackie is the only person I care to talk to. She tells me how handsome I've gotten and always hugs me when I arrive and hugs me when I leave. She jokes with me and when I offer her a beer she accepts it. She goes to church and loves the alley story just as much as the rest of them but If I told Jackie that I thought the alley story was bullshit and that God wasn't real, she would shrug her shoulders and say something like, "Eh. You're allowed to think anything you want, sweetheart."

I was talking to no one, however, when the grandfather clock struck 8 o'clock and began its chime. It momentarily muted everyone's conversation and in that moment I decided I would leave. I've eaten, I've said hello to at least half of them, I've heard uncle Pat's story and the end of its telling usually signifies the end of my commitment to be there. I got up from the table and excused myself to the bathroom. I like to pretend I'm using the bathroom before I leave a place so that I can re-enter the dining room, coat on and car keys in hand, and be able to walk in and quickly say goodbye so that everyone hears it at the same time and so that everyone can say it back at the same time and no one feels obligated to get up or shake my hand or hug me.

I went through all of the motions to strengthen my ruse. I didn't have to pee but I went ahead and tried to. A couple little dribbles came but that was all. I washed my hands. There wasn't a towel to dry them with so I used my shirt. I opened the medicine cabinet to see if there was by chance any Vicodin. There wasn't. I left the bathroom, found my coat amongst the rest of the coats stacked in a corner and re-entered the dining room, keys in hand.

"Welp, I think I'm gonna take off," I tell them.

"Oh you don't have to go so soon now do ya?" my grandma asked. "Are you going to be at church tonight?"

"I'll try to," I said.

Everybody said goodbye and aunt Jackie gave me a hug. As I was saying my last goodbye and turning towards the door, uncle Pat spoke up and said, "You should really try and make it to church. It's going to be a very lovely service."

"Yeah. Ok." I replied.

I left.

I rolled a joint on the dashboard before I drove off. It was Christmas Eve and I was getting high and driving through the country with an especially heavy sense of loneliness. It seemed to me that I was the only person driving right then. It seemed to me that everyone else was asleep and I had the road all to myself. So I drove further and I turned on the radio. I rolled down the windows and made my hand float waves against the wind while some choir from California was singing Christmas songs to me on 90.3.

I'm not a big fan of Christmas songs and I don't particularly like choirs. But I listened to them and it reminded me of the way Christmas Eve used to feel. When I was a kid, I mean. When Christmas was very literally, in my head, a magical time. I mean we all had to have felt that way. We all believed that one single man who lived in the Arctic amongst a bunch of elvish factory workers went out one night a year with his flying reindeer and his bag of endless presents and delivered toys and gadgets and gifts to everybody in the world who had been "good" according to his carefully observed and scrutinized list of those who were naughty and those who were nice. We believed that it was all real and life didn't get any better. But as you know, Santa turned out to be fake. He turned out to be a ploy created by parents to keep their children in line. And once the magic was gone, the world grew darker and Christmas was just another reason to eat retarded amounts of deviled eggs and a time to figure out which of my cousins has a new boyfriend or girlfriend.

My parent's had not yet returned from midnight mass. The house smelt of mom's pumpkin spice candle that sits on the kitchen counter. There was a faint smoky undertone to the smell and I noticed that the wax had not hardened yet and so I gathered that my parents had stopped home before heading to church and that they hadn't left very long ago which meant I had about an hour and a half to myself. I grabbed a couple beers from the fridge and headed for the couch. I started feeling sleepy immediately after sitting down but I cracked open the first beer anyway and drank it in just a couple minutes. I stared at the lifeless television screen and saw the Christmas tree in its reflection, standing there behind me all lit up and alive. I opened the other beer, not really wanting it and took a sip. I felt my eyes become heavy and decided to close them for just a minute. When I opened them again I decided I didn't want the beer so I set it on the coffee table and laid down on the couch, deciding that this is where I would sleep for the night.

In the moments before I lost consciousness, I thought about how when I was little, it was always my plan to hide behind the living room chair so that I could catch Santa Clause in the act. I wanted to see him. I wanted to talk to him and ask him so many questions. It wasn't about finding out if he were real or not. Mom and Dad told me he was real and so I felt no need to question the matter any further. However, I usually just fell asleep within minutes and dad would carry me to bed so that he and mom could lay out the presents and eat the cookies and drink the milk that my sister and I left out. I can't even imagine the excitement I must have felt each and every Christmas Eve. And here it is, 20 something years later and I'm half drunk and a little stoned and I'm realizing that I completely understand why someone like uncle Pat is the way he is. Hallucination or not, if someone truly believed that they saw something so beyond our reality that it transcends description, It's no stretch of the imagination that they could, right then and there, transform into a person completely opposite from who they were. Because it takes you back to Christmas Eve as a kid. It proves that there is something else. It might not be Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny but there is something magical and upon realizing this, all of that excitement that had been tucked and hidden away for so long comes rushing back to you and why give up a feeling like that? That's what everyone wants. That's what everyone is looking for. And if they find it, good for them.

For me, the stories and opinions of other people are proof of nothing. I have to catch Santa Clause in the act. I'm not about to be tricked again.

I laid there for a while longer with these thoughts and then I stopped and fell asleep.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Terror in the Doorway

I'm afraid of my bedroom door. I'm not afraid of it like I'm afraid of snakes. A door poses no real threat to me. The only thing a door can do is stub my toe or slam shut on my fingers. The door can only be in my way where a snake can approach and attack and fuck me up. Either that or make me run in the opposite direction in a manner that is shameful and depraving. Snakes do that to me. Doors do not.

I'm really only afraid of my door during the moments in the early morning when I've awoken with only half-consciousness and maybe turn to look at the alarm clock and silently cheer for the next three hours of sleep I'm allowed to have. And then I turn back over and see a figure standing in my doorway. The only illumination I have comes from the light of my alarm clock and the little green LED light that belongs to my phone charger so the figure is more or less a silhouette. But I could tell that it wore a cloak-type garment. It was the color that blood takes on when it dries. A dark rusty red. The figure stands there or rather hovers there, still and silent. From what I can tell, it has no legs. It has no bottom half at all. It crossed its arms, (if that's what you want to call them,) across its chest. Its stance and demeanor was like that of a monk 12 hours into meditation. Calm and unaware of anything outside itself. Not there to harm nor there to threat but just...there to be there. There to exist in that space in my bedroom...

...but it's a figure standing in my doorway. Figures don't belong in my doorways and when there are, I get scared. And when I get scared I feel outside myself. I feel like this other person that is driven by survival and pushed by the threat of harm and the reluctance to be harmed. I don't like that. The bright side is that I will fall asleep again in just a matter of seconds and wake up three hours later with little to no immediate recollection of being scared.


It's always been preached in our family to re-use towels. The theory was that after a shower, you were clean. Therefore, towels never got dirty. I had the bad habit, however, of using a new towel everyday. After a week, the pile of towels that had accumulated would start to demand my attention. One day, having left the house earlier that morning with the pile of towels, now starting to attain a mustiness, still piled on my floor, I came home and they were gone. The towels were gone and a towel hanger was now stuck to my door. On my bed was a note from my mom. It said something to the degree of, 'hang your towels,' 're-use your towels,' 'your bedroom smells,' and 'p.s. I found your weed. I'm disappointed. Love, Mom' I was to start hanging my towels on this hanger so that when I walk out of my bedroom in the morning it will be right there, in front of my face, begging to be grabbed before proceeding to the bathroom.

The first day, while the hook was still empty, I got to my room after my shower and obediently hung the towel on the hook. That was the same day that the figure started standing in my doorway. As I'm sure it's been pieced together by now, the figure in my doorway is not actually a figure at all. It's my towel hanging on the hook. So I proceeded using the hook, re-using my towels, avoiding towel piles on my floor and prevented any further lectures on towel use from my mother. Therefore, I also awoke in a split second of frightened panic almost every day somewhere between the hours of 4 and 6 a.m. So why not stop using the hook, you might ask. Because, I will answer, when you've only slightly entered consciousness after having slept for a good 4 or 5 hours, those fleeting moments where the eyes are open but the brains still have some catching up to do, shit doesn't bother me. I become the laziest motherfucker to ever occupy a bed.

Once, when my parents' house was being infested by mice, I woke up to scratching and scurrying that came from inside my walls. I turned my bedside lamp on and at the exact moment, one of the mice darted from my closet to underneath my bed. I sat frozen for a minute contemplating my options. I could get up, put on the wood stove gloves and take care of the situation right there or I could simply turn my lamp off, get back under the covers and convince myself that I was just dreaming. I opted for plan B. I always opt for plan B because during the hours of the morning when the drunks are passing out and the graveyard shift employees are counting down their final hours, I simply don't care about anything. Start a fire in my room and I might care. Burst in pointing a gun at my face and I might care. But if my life is not being threatened, it's amazing how much of a fuck I do not give.

So one morning, weeks after the figure started appearing and weeks after piles of towels started accumulating once again due to my newfound negligence of the hanger, I awoke in a haze of whatever inebriation I took part in the night before and my alarm clock told me that it was 4:13. I didn't have to work that day so I, in a voice full of gravel and phlegm, rejoiced with a "Fuck yeah." I then turned over and there I saw the figure. But it wasn't the same figure. This figure had legs and it stood in my doorway and my door was open and I knew after a few moments of confusion that this wasn't a towel. This was an actual person. It stood there, still and calm, and the green light from my phone charger illuminated teeth that were arranged in a smile which made me feel uneasy and scared.

I had always wondered what I would do if I ever encountered a ghost or some paranormal thing to which I had no idea how to interact with. I always assumed I would just regress into a childlike state of mind and hide under the covers until it went away. But this was different. It was not something I could just ignore. It was that smile. What the fuck was it smiling at? So very slowly, I reached over to turn on the lamp that sat on my bedside table. And then the figure sneezed. And then it sneezed again. And again. Suddenly I started thinking about every horror movie I ever saw and every ghost story I ever heard and never once had I seen or heard of a serial killer or monster or troll or ghost do something so human as to sneeze not just once but three times. I wasn't scared anymore. I turned on the light and there in the doorway was my mom wearing her nightgown and wiping her nose on her arm. When she looked back up her eyes stared straight ahead of her at nothing at all.

"Mom?" I asked. "Mom, what are you doing?"

"I don't know," she replied.

"Why are you in my room, you scared me."

"I don't know," she repeated.

There was a pause in which I didn't know what else to do. At this point I figured either my mom had been bitten by a zombie and already eaten my dad and my dog and was now about ready to eat me....or she was sleepwalking. The last I checked zombies neither sneezed nor spoke words so I got out of bed and tried to wake her up.

"Mom, wake up. You're sleepwalking," I said.

"Do you want a fried egg sandwhich," she asked. "I bought some spinach."

"No mom. You need to just go back to bed."

"I think Everybody Loves Raymond is on," she said.

"Ok," I told her.

I walked her upstairs and to her bedroom and she crawled right back into bed and fell back asleep.

I walked back downstairs and tried to go back to sleep myself but I was far too awake. And that pissed me off because I didn't have to work and I couldn't enjoy sleeping in. So I sat there in my bed and tried thinking about what I was going to do that day. I really just wanted to be lazy and do nothing so I decided that's what I would do. And then this scratching sound started coming from inside the walls. Starting with one or two scratches every minute or so and then progressing into persistent scratches that couldn't be ignored. I scratched back. And then I heard some rustling bags from inside my closet and it became clear that we had mice again and I was not asleep and so therefore I had to give a fuck.

I hate having to give a fuck.

Friday, January 7, 2011


It's three in the morning and I still can't get any of the frontmost parking spots. Not that the few extra steps are going to kill me but there's a microscopic part of me that gets let down upon being denied imaginary late night parking privileges. I realize that I am at Wal-Mart at three in the morning but wonder if it is really possible that 11 other people are doing the same thing? I suppose it's possible but what's weird about the whole ordeal is that when you walk in, there doesn't appear to be anyone else in there but you. Sure, it's possible that all 11 people are spread throughout the store but you would think you'd at least see someone at the cash register or in the aisles as you walk past, but they are just nowhere to be seen. Sometimes the employees are nowhere to be found either. It makes you feel like you're in the opening scenes of "28 Days Later," and one edge, waiting for a zombie priest to come barreling out from inside a clothes rack of Faded Glory polo shirts. It's a strange feeling to seemingly be the only customer inside a huge store. It's like standing in a gymnasium by yourself. Both are places that demand to be filled with people and noise. When both elements are missing, something seems off. Something makes me feel like I just shouldn't be there. But for right now, I'm still in the car and I'm checking all the nooks, crannies and crevices for spare change. I manage to find $1.73 in quarters, nickels and pennies and I am really hoping that it will be enough for jar of pickles.

The thing is, I don't even like pickles. In fact, I hate them. They're gross. And it's not one of those foods that I just THINK I don't like such as cole slaw or onion rings, food that I would probably end up enjoying if I just ate it more often, I just straight up want nothing to do with pickles. I've tried to like them. I want to like them. I would like nothing more (I'm sure that's a lie,) than to enhance my sandwiches with a new flavor and a nice little crunch for texture but a pickle will never be that thing. I think it's the crunch that appeals to me most. Anytime I have ever seen anyone eat a pickle, a very small part of me takes great pleasure in the sound of its crunch. It's just absolutely perfect. It's a shame they don't have a taste to match.

So why am I so desperate to buy a jar of pickles?

Well...there are a few reasons.

Just as much as I hate pickles, Jamie Tilson loves them. I once heard her describe pickles as "God's one and only gift from above,"... and.Jamie Tilson has kids. Now I'm sure she loves her kids more than she loves pickles but there was a moment in one of her days in which she took a bite of a pickle and for just a moment, that pickle was the only thing that existed. It brought her a satisfaction that I can't honestly say I've ever felt. That look she gave and the way she chewed was enough to let me know that it was very possible that I was missing out on something wonderful. It made me realize that true pleasure can be found in something as simple as a jar of pickled cucumbers. I can't honestly say I've ever felt that way about anything in my life. I wish I liked something half as much as Jamie Tilson likes pickles and I'm sure I do, I just haven't found it yet.

Jamie and I know each other from a job I had in high school. We worked in the hospital food department filling meal trays for patients. It was my job to place an entree and a side on the tray and Jamie would do silverware and desert. A guy named Ronnie Silverman did the drinks but he doesn't need to be discussed in great detail but I'll give you the sparknotes. When I started that job, I knew nothing about Ronnie. When I quit a year later, I had learned that he eats eggs for every meal and has some weird skin condition on the top of his head. That's all. Both pieces of information I heard from other employees, never from Ronnie himself. Ronnie never said anything. If he had a question he would do these weird hand gestures that somehow conveyed, quite clearly, the question he was asking. He managed to create his own form of sign language that never really needed to be taught to anyone. Everbody just picked up on it. This may be the most interesting thing about Ronnie Silverman. For all I know, he's still down there not saying a word.

Jamie and I didn't get along at first. She had worked at the hospital a year longer than me and was kind of a bitch for the first few months I worked with her. "Kind of a bitch," is actually an understatement. She was Satan's whore and even he probably got annoyed with her from time to time. Either I wasn't serving the right proportions of lasagna or I was wearing the wrong kind of gloves. I was always doing something wrong and she was the first to let me know. It wouldn't be inaccurate of me to say that I hated her at first. I hated the way she wore her hair. I hated that her shirt was 2 times too big for her, (she was a skinny girl with a nice body but was always afraid to let it be seen.) I hated the way she wore makeup. She was the type of girl who never had anyone show her how to wear it properly and it showed. I hated her taste of music and I hated everything she ever had to talk about. It wasn't long however, after we convinced Harold that she was my mother, that all of that changed. All the sudden she became a very pleasant person to know. I liked her. I like her a lot and I think she liked me too.

Harold was an old man that was either slightly slow in the head or the most naive human being in existence. He was the janitor of the food department and could usually be found with a mop in his hand. If he wasn't mopping, he was wheeling the cart of trays up to the different parts of the hospital. I think the job was created for him because he really never did anything that the rest of us didn't do anyway. I think we was just an old man with nothing to do with his days which is a realization that in retrospect, makes me feel shitty about giving him such a hard time.

It started one day by Jamie telling me how bad a job I did washing a certain plate that I'd accidentally left a particle of food stuck to. She must of been having an especially bad day because although this behavior is typically normal, she was really laying into me about it. Harold happened to be in the vicinity and overheard her. Apparently, to him, the way Jamie always yelled and lectured me seemed to him a motherly thing to do. Later on, we found out he actually believed that Jamie was my mother and that she only yelled at me so much because it was her right, as a mother, to do so. On the day of the plate incident, Harold very shyly tried to stick up for me. He said that anyone could have left such a tiny piece of food on the plate and that if she wanted to get mad at me, she could wait until we got home and not do it at work.

After a bit of confusion we put it all together and figured out what it was he thought our relationship was. Jamie never yelled at me again after that. She never once nitpicked something miniscule and she was happy all of the time. Our days were filled with plots to have mother/son arguments whenever Harold would walk into a room. I, to this day, still don't understand how that worked. How the switch in her personality was flipped with such ease, but it happened and I'm glad it did.

One night after work, while walking out to our cars, Jamie asked if I wanted to hang out for a bit. Normally, after work, everyone walks to their cars not saying a word and we drive our own separate directions home. Seeing as I've never talked to Jamie outside the hospital walls, her invitation to her life outside the hospital caught me off guard and for a moment I didn't know how to respond or even if I wanted to.

"What, like just...hang out?" I asked.

"Yeah, I mean drive around or something. Talk."

My first instinct was to make up an excuse. I had to work on something. I had to go to bed early. I had already made plans with somebody. I just needed some kind of alibi but what came out was, "Sure."

Jamie drove a white Honda something-or-other. I couldn't tell you the year but it definitely had some age to it. She seemed to be a fairly tidy person. Other than a couple receipts crumbled up on the floor and a few books thrown about in the backseat, the car was pretty clean. I noticed a distinct fragrance and guessed it had something to do with pine. I tried to get comfortable but there wasn't a position that could take away the awkwardness I knew was about to take place.

We pulled out of the parking lot and she hadn't said a word yet. I tried desperately to break the silence and found an opportunity when I heard Screamin' Jay Hawkins burst through the speakers.

"Nice," I said. "I've always like this song."

"Really?" she said. "I can't stand it. This was on a mix a friend made for me. I usually just skip over it but I guess if you want to hear it..."

"No, no. Your car, your rules."

She skipped the song and now my only thought was how to get out of this situation as soon as possible.

She started heading outside of town, towards the country roads. Part of me wanted to jump out of the car then and there. I didn't care what injuries I would sustain. As long as I could just break free from this. But then part of me was genuinely curious as to what her plans were. So I sat back and tried to be cool.

"So where are we going?" I asked.

"Could you reach into my glove compartment and hand me the wooden box that's in there."

I opened the glove compartment and found a little rectangular box about 2 in. x 5in. I handed it to her. When she opened it the smell hit me instantly. I couldn't believe it. Of all people. Jamie Tilson.

She ripped a zig zag out of the package and sprinkled a hefty amount of bud in the crevice. She rolled it like a champ, right there, still driving and not missing a beat. In under a minute she handed me the freshly rolled joint and asked, "You smoke?"

"Umm. Yeah. Actually." I said. I took it from her and she handed me a lighter. "You're really good at that."


I lit the joint and pretty soon I had completely lost any sense of the awkwardness I had previously felt. I began to notice how well the moon was lighting up everything around me. The cornfields were glowing a dim white glow. The trees cast faint shadows on the road ahead. The pumpjacks in the middle of bean fields were living silhouettes with their fires forever burning behind them. And Jamie Tilson started to talk.

"You don't like me much do you?" she asked. She said it without looking at me and with a tone that was more matter-of-fact than it was questioning. The question caught me off guard and I wasn't sure how to answer. The truth was that I did like her. I wasn't sure what it was I liked about her but I did.

"Umm. No, I like you. Why?" I replied.

"If you don't like me, that's fine. I just want to know."

I sat there thinking that I might as well be honest with her. She knew I wasn't telling the complete truth so there was no sense in carrying on in the direction I was going.

"I didn't use to like you. I used to hate you, in fact."

She didn't respond. I guessed she was expecting more.

"I like you now though. I mean, you changed at some point. You stopped Unless this is you. I don't know. I wouldn't have gotten in your car if I didn't like you."

"I guess that's true," she said. "Do you work tomorrow?"



She suddenly made a turn onto a dirt road, one that seemingly led nowhere. In fact, it led to the edge of a patch of woods. She turned off the car and got out. She opened to back door and grabbed a backpack. "Come on," she said.

I got out of the car and, against my better judgement, followed her into the woods. If the moon wasn't full I wouldn't have been able to see her ahead of me. Even now she was a faint movement ahead of me. My auditory senses were doing most of the work, following a crunch here and a snap there. Soon we entered a clearing in the woods. I heard her unzip her back pack and pull things out of it. She walked a couple steps one way and a couple steps back and I heard what sounded like logs. Then a squirt of sorts. And then she the yellow glow of her lighter flicked into view and I saw she was building a fire. It caught on the kerosene and flames consumed the pile of logs. The clearing was now illuminated and I could see there were logs made into chairs that circled the firepit. It reminded me of the midnight society on Are You Afraid of the Dark. She sat down on one of the logs and gazed blankly into the fire. I did the same. She pulled out a bottle of Jim Beam and drank straight from the bottle. She handed it over and although I was in no mood to get drunk in the middle of the woods with someone who is only a few degrees above being a stranger, I took a swig if for no other reason than to avoid seeming rude. I handed it back and this routine went on until the bottle was gone.

I wasn't sure how much time had gone by but I was sure that nothing was said between us. We both sat silently staring at the fire, only moving to add wood or to keep from falling over. I wasn't sure what to say but I also wasn't sure I needed to say anything. There was a calmness to it all. There was no need for conversation. It was an experience I had never had before and have never had since. It was the moon, the woods, the fire, the wind, Jamie Tilson and I. Well there was the weed and the whiskey too. I had never felt so at peace with everything as I did then and in that moment, when the fire ceased to be anything but glowing red embers and the whiskey took over my thoughts, I realized Jamie Tilson was never the hateful person I thought she was. She was never mad at me or annoyed with the little things I did wrong. She was mad that she couldn't be here whenever she wanted. She was mad that life demanded she spend most of her day inside buildings among people and their problems and that she have to be something she didn't want to be. She was mad that her life, as well as everyone else's was not what it she felt it was meant to be. Because this was what it was all about. Being out here, cut off from everyone else, just being and nothing more. And I felt for her. I felt bad for anything malicious I ever said or thought about her because Jamie Tilson, I now know, is the most genuine and sincere person I've ever known.

The trip back to the hospital parking lot was short. It took the same amount of time as it took to get out there but because I didn't want it to end, it came faster than ever. I wanted to say something. I wanted to extend some form of gratitude to her, to thank her for what she had just given me. But I didn't say anything and neither did she other than that she was hungry.

"Hungry for what?" I asked.

"Pickles. I would kill for pickles."

The answer came to me as kind of a shock. "Really? Pickles?"

"Fuck yes, pickles. What? Are you saying you don't like pickles?"

It struck me then that this was the most Jamie had said all night. She said nothing about her life. Nothing about her problems. Really, nothing at all. But when someone came to the table and started talking shit about pickles, she had plenty to say.

"No. Not really. Never have."

"You're absolutely insane. How can you not love pickles?"

I went on to explain why I didn't love pickles and she went on to tell why she loved them. She told me with with rigor and passion. Jamie Tilson fucking loves pickles. However, it was going on 10 p.m. and Jamie had to get home to relieve her babysitter and regretted to inform me that she had finished her last jar of pickles that morning and had not yet had an opportunity to re-stock.

"Oh well," she said. "I guess I'll settle for some toast or something."

She dropped me off at my car and drove off. I noticed her muffler spitting out white puffs of exhaust and made me realize that it was actually getting pretty cold out. I got into my car and drove off.

I walk through the automatic doors with the $1.73 jangling around in my pocket. It's three in the morning now and I haven't seen Jamie in over 5 hours. I'd spent that time driving around listening to music, smoking cigarettes and thinking about the night. I went and parked at Miller's Grove along the lake and actually fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I awoke I had the sole ambition to enjoy a goddamned pickle. I made my way to where I expected the pickles to be, looking down every aisle I passed for a sign of human life. I found none. Some random country singer was faintly playing on the speakers and along with the bright fluorescence I was feeling the urge to leave as soon as possible.

I found the pickles. Prior to this moment, having never shopped for pickles before, I never knew how many variations pickles came in. Dill pickles, Gherkins pickles, Bread and Butter pickles, Sweet pickles, Sour pickles, Pickle chips, Pickle spears, little mini pickles and on and on. I went with the pickle spears because I remember getting them on my lunch tray in grade school. I believe they were served on Chili day. Anyway, I checked out in the one open lane and found that $1.73 is, in fact, enough money for pickles.

I got in my car and decided I didn't want the pickles.

The next day, I waited until noon to drive to the hospital. I hate going to my job on my days off but this seemed important. I needed to get pickles to Jamie. It was the same as when I was 14 and got up an hour early so that I could buy a pack of gum before school for a girl I was seeing simply because the night before she had mentioned needing some gum and hadn't the means to go get it herself. I didn't bother going to the cafeteria because I knew that Jamie ate lunch by herself in the stairwell outside the kitchen everyday. When I got there however, she had not yet made it. I took a seat and waited.

After 5 minutes or so, she exited the kitchen door into the stairwell with a bag of food and jumped slightly when she noticed me sitting there.

"What're you doing here?" she asked just before glancing down to see the jar of pickles in my hand.

"I figured you might need some of these to get you through the rest of the day."

I opened the jar and held it out to her. She did nothing but stare for the next few seconds as if not understanding a word I'd said. And then she went for them.

"You didn't have to do that." she said.

"I know."

She sat down next to me and ate her pickle. I took notice of the crunch. Such a pleasant crunch. She took another.

"Eat one," she said. "Just try it."

"No thanks," I replied. "I've tried them. They're not for me."

"Maybe something's changed," she said.

I took a moment to think about that. I stared down into the murky pickle juice wondering if something, in fact, had changed. I couldn't remember the last time I ate a pickle really. Who knows? I might end up liking them. And then I looked at Jamie and thought about how only a month or so prior I hated this woman who sat beside me. Now I'm bringing her pickles on my day off. I guess it was safe to say that something had changed. I didn't know where any of this would lead but it felt good. Refreshing even. I reached into the jar grabbed a pickle. I bit down on it and chewed. I heard the crunch but it's never the same sound when it's your own crunch. I chewed that goddamned pickle until it was gone and tried my hardest to remain unbiased during the whole ordeal. I swallowed and took notice of the lingering taste that remained in my mouth. Jamie looked at me, waiting for a verdict.

"So what do you think?" she asked.

Some things might change. Some for the better and some for the worse. But I still hate fucking pickles.