Monday, September 14, 2009

one: first thing's first

I know I said I'd do a few all at once, but I'm just too ready to get this started, so here goes nothing....

The mechanical beeping of my alarm pulls me from unconsciousness and into the sad reality that my life has become.

I hate that noise; I hate it with a passion that should be reserved for coconut and murderers and child molesters. I hate it because of the decibel level and the tone and the urgency underneath it all that signals my day needs to begin. But I just don't want my day to start. Sure, I have somewhere to be—even if I don't want to be there—but nothing sounds better than pulling the covers over my head and pretending that my day doesn't have to start before noon.

Gina pops her head in my door and yells, "Will you turn that damn thing off? It's been going off for five minutes now. Get up already."

I groan but reach over and slide the bar into position to end the monotonous, incessant droning of my alarm. With a deep breath, I toss the covers off my body and sit up. At least it's Friday. That has to be some sort of consolation. One more day until I can sleep in tomorrow and have two days to myself.

Quickly, I go about my morning routine, showering, dressing, applying make up, and styling my hair. If I had it my way, I'd never wear anything but sweats, but I deal with too many people a day to look like a slob. Not that I don't look like one anyway; my clothes are all two sizes too big, my foundation is a shade lighter than my current complexion since I tanned slightly over the summer, and I'm in desperate need of a haircut. I just have neither the money nor the time to rectify any of that.

I check myself out in the full-length mirror—the mirror that Gina insisted on purchasing and hanging in the hallway so she could always check herself out before leaving. Immediately, I wish I didn't. It's amazing they let people like me go out in public.

"Morning," I grumble, heading straight for the coffee pot. I have a few minutes before I'm forced to commute to the job, so I drink a cup of coffee, eat a handful of Total cereal, and quickly check my e-mail. In my inbox, I have the usual from my mother, talking about whatever recipe she tried and wants to recommend to me, and I'm thankful that I left Chicago behind. And then I see my second e-mail, and I remember exactly why that town is now in my past. John. I'm both curious to see what he wrote and upset that he won't just leave me alone already. I print it and fold it discretely so I can read it on the bus.

Gina sees, despite my effort to keep it from her, and she purses her lips but says nothing. We've had this argument so many times before, and it's not worth it to get into again. I know exactly what she'll tell me anyway, so there's no need for her to vocalize her thoughts.

"I'll see you later," I mumble, grabbing my purse and heading for the door.

"No you won't," she calls after me, making me stop in my tracks. "Open mic night. Wanna come?"

I pretend to debate whether I'd like to show my face tonight, but there's nothing to think about. Crowded café on a Friday night, listening to college students' horrible free style poetry and wannabe musicians croon off-key? No thanks. "I was planning on a date with Ben & Jerry, but maybe. I'll see how I feel after a couple hours with the brats."

She nods but knows I won't be coming to cheer her on. I hardly ever do. That makes me a bad roommate and an even worse friend, but I can't force myself to have a good time when I'm miserable inside. And if I'm a drag, I'll only bring her down. No sense in ruining her night, too.

I'm out the door and take the stairs from my apartment to the street, and soon I'm swept up in the rush of people making their ways to work. I love the anonymity of Pittsburgh, where I can count the number of people I know personally on one hand. I'm not anything to them; I'm another face they pass on the street, another person in line at Caribou Coffee, another seat taken on the bus. Maybe for some people, it would be hard to be nothing, but I like not having the burden of having to be something to these people. I don't owe them anything.

Once I hop in the bus and am on my way to the school, I take that folded paper from my pocket. I don't want to read it, but I can't help myself. I can't when it comes to John. My hands are shaking, and other passengers are looking at me and probably wondering if I'm going to bomb the bus or something. I try to block that out and focus on the words.

Haven't heard from you in a while. I hope you're not avoiding me. Did I do something? Terry's back in town and asking when you're coming back to C. He misses you. Joe says hi, too. I hope you're doing well and that I hear from you soon.
Wish you were here,

I crumble the paper in my hands as I battle the impending tears, garnering more attention from the other passengers. I want to tell them to fuck off and mind their own business, but if I was on the bus with a crazy person, I'd keep an eye on them, too, and make sure I was safe. I shove the paper in my purse with the intent of throwing it out when I get to work, but I know I'll read it a million times before it finally becomes garbage. After all, I need to dissect every detail. What does he mean when he says, "wish you were here"? Does that mean he misses me? Or is he just looking for a booty call because he's lonely? Lord knows he doesn't need me to have sex. He could have any girl. I never knew why he picked me anyway.

By habit, I pull the cord and the bus comes to a slow halt, and I get off and make my way toward the school. I flash my badge to the security officer, but he knows me by now and waves me in as the students pour into the doors.

I'm not a teacher. Oh hell no, I could never have that thankless job. No, through some state grant, I was hired by the Pittsburgh City School District as a professional tutor. Basically, students come to me during their study periods if they need help with any of their classes. I passed some type of general knowledge exam, which basically means I know a little bit about everything but not a lot of anything in depth. A professor once paid me a great compliment by calling me a true Renaissance scholar. I didn't have the heart to tell him I just couldn't commit to a major.

Fridays are always busy with the kids. They want to have the weekends to themselves, so they hurry to get their homework and projects done before three. There are two other tutors in this program in this school, and all of us are crammed into a vacant classroom where the students come to us. The guys all chose Leah over me, and the girls love Matthew. I'm left with whatever overflow. On any other day, that would mean a bit of peace and quiet to ponder that e-mail; but it's Friday, and there's a steady stream of kids in and out of this room all day long.

"I need some help with my English essay," one girl says.

I wave her into the seat across from my desk. "Have you started an outline?"

"No," she mumbles, her eyes pointed to the floor.

"Okay, well, what is your essay on?"

"It's for honors English. We're supposed to pick something by Shakespeare and write an essay."

"What did you pick?"

"Romeo and Juliet," she answers, so proud of herself. "But there's so much out there, and it has to be original."

"Well, if you want original, you should pick something else, something not covered as much. What about Cymbeline? It's good." She turns up her nose. "Or does it have to be a play? You could choose some sonnets." She continues to roll her eyes, and I really just want to reach out and smack her. Instead, I do my best to help her nail down an idea that she might actually be able to manage with and send her on her way.

I glance at the clock, and it's almost time for lunch. Not like I'll be eating, especially if I plan on bingeing on ice cream because I'll have to save practically all my daily allotted calories for one pint—because let's face it, you can't not eat the whole damn pint of Half-Baked. When the bell rang and Leah, Matthew, and I head off for our forty-two minute break during fifth period, I round the block to the corner store and buy a liter-and-a-half bottle of water and a spotted apple. Yum, lunch.

Back at the school, I listen to the kids discuss their night and weekend plans, and I can't help but think that these sixteen-year-olds have more of a social life than I do. Which is partially my fault, because I don't go out. Then again, I have trouble making new friends, and that's all his fault, so I can only be blamed for so much.

Working out was high on my priority list for the afternoon, but after that, my evening was free. Gina's invite was still an option, but I still didn't want to go. Maybe I'd go see a movie. I hadn't done that in a long time, and with the SouthSide Works Cinema only a couple of blocks from my crummy apartment, there was no excuse for me to sit at home with only Ben and Jerry to keep me company.


  1. "It's amazing they let people like me go out in public."
    ^^ Amen, sister.

    Alright, where do I begin? There were so many amazing parts that I wanted to quote but I didn't want to copy/paste your whole thing lol.

    This was incredible. It was real, brutally honest and I loved it.

    You're one post in, and I can already tell this is going to be one of my favourites. Nothing Worth Winning was one of the best stories I've read on here, and I wasn't sure how you would top it; I have no doubts anymore that you will.

    You're style and talent never fail to amaze me... can't wait for more =)

  2. SO FREAKING EXCITED. I have been waiting for this story for what seems like forever. Also, I already relate to this character given how much of a struggle it is to look nice some days.

    Great beginning, I loved the insight into her character. I also really like that she's sort of adrift right now. Not that she'll be any steadier when she meets Max but still, it means that eventually (hopefully) she'll find herself.

    Great writing, I can't wait for more :D

  3. So, Charlotte is like the exact opposite of what I expected her to be, but this version is so much better than what I had in my head! Oh I'm excited for this! I can't wait for the fun to begin!!

  4. So I'm hooked already. I had a few laughs too..from the comment about the foundation not matching, happened to me this morning to the bus homb comment. I'm excited theres a few other chapters posted for me to read too!

  5. I can honestly relate so much to Charlotte, which kind of makes me sad. We have the same job and I'm in an awkward position in my life right now where all my friends went away for university and I'm stuck at home...and I can't decide on a major either!