Drive Thru

He looked me dead in the eyes and lied to me.

I pulled out of the parking lot and put my straw in my drink and took a sip. Sweet tea. Not unsweet. And I even asked him if it was unsweet and he looked at me and said yes. Why did he do that? Did he intentionally lie or was he just mistaken? Was he banking on me not calling his bluff and tasting it right there at the window? Did he even hear what I said? Maybe he just responded with the mechanical “yes” that most people give when you ask them a question as you’re just about to leave their presence.

So many questions swirled in my head – not unhelped by the sugar – as I sipped my sweet tea. The only one that seemed relevant was whether or not to return the drink.

Not this time. This time the fast food monger wins. But I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I now taste my tea before I drive away.

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Donuts

She walks in and almost everybody looks. She’s done up nice. Her hair is fixed and her makeup is on and her clothes are clean and full of color. There’s nothing about her hair or makeup or clothes that are over the top, though. She looks just touched up enough to give off that womanly look of triumphing over the regularity of the human condition. But her look is by no means flashy. It’s light and crisp rather than heavy and thick. She’s more water-colored picture than oil painting.

She has donuts in her arms. Two boxes of them. Chocolate and glaze and they smell delicious. She sets them down on the table and tells everyone in the room they’re free to help themselves. Her smile is as clean as a glass of water purified from a heavenly glacier. Many in the room  get up and make their way to the table. A few of them can hardly wait to get back to their seats before they take a bite. Momentary flashes of pleasure sneak onto their faces as moist warm dough sinks into their taste buds.

But I’m not one of those who venture down to the table.  This is not because I don’t like donuts or don’t want one. It’s because I know this trick she plays.

They say there is a condition in which the victim of psychological abuse actually begins to empathize with their abuser. The victim, once he or she is delivered, will feel a strong desire to reunite with their accuser and resume their former state of punishment. They feel a sense of companionship with the one who had been hurting them and guilt over no longer filling the role they had in their master-slave relationship. Psychologists think this is because the victim has become emotionally connected to the attacker in an special, albiet grosteque, way.

Even if the connection is negative, any deep emotional experience with another human being wraps chains around one’s mind in some way. Over time those chains become heavy and near unbreakable, apparently.

And that is why I don’t take the donuts.

What she does is this. She comes in and brings everyone goodies and is nice and complementary and straightforward. She nods knowingly and smiles and no one ever knows the better. But then when you’re most vulernarble she destroys you. It takes a special breed of person to do such a thing. It’s almost insect or alien like. Spider like, maybe, is best of all. Because she knows that as soon as you take a donut, her first bite of venom has already made its way into your bloodstream. You won’t speak against her, surely, for she has been so kind to you. After all it was you who took the donut. She never forced you. You’ve entered into an agreement with her, and if – or rather when – she tells you to do anything, you’ll do it without questioning or asking why. Because if you don’t you’ll feel that pang of guilt and dishonesty. You’ll feel like a criminal, a moral tresspasser, a person who takes from people without giving back to them. But none of this works if you never take the donuts.

Unless of course, you’re just as much a spider yourself.

On second thought, perhaps I’ll get a donut. Why not make it two? And it would all be for nothing without the final touch. “Thanks so much for the donuts! You’re the best!”

Motes

The clock ticks deliberately. I notice each movement of the hand, but at the same time it doesn’t have my attention. The sound has produced a groove in my brain, a rhythm. It admits no variation. It just ticks, lightly, consistently, over and over. At first it was annoying. It was too noticeable. But now its predictability is soothing.

I am sitting in a cloth-bound chair which has no wheels and is stationary on hardwood floor. It is smooth and cool beneath my bare feet. Besides the clock the room is silent. Sunlight is shining in through the blinds – beams of heaven streaking through the air. I refocus my vision from the light itself to what it is the light is illuminating. Billions of dust specks float effortlessly across the room, an explosion of particles of minutest size.  

Every time I see a sight like this I think of the word “mote,” because that is what these dust specks are; and when I think of the word “mote” I think of the saying of Jesus about pointing out a mote in someone’s eye when you have a beam in your own. It is strange how old Sunday school lessons stick with you.

But Jesus is a difficult thing to think about. I do not wish to go down that road presently. I resist the thought and bury the Sunday school lesson. My mind acknowledges this as a mental weakness: do not dismiss ideas just because they are hard to think about. But my pride is not aroused and I do not feel compelled to do battle. The tranquility of apathy steals over me like a blanket and I place my head on that most comfortable pillow of ignorance. My mind goes back to the dust specks.

Think for a moment about a speck of dust. I know it is really not a single thing, but innumerable things: tiny atoms situated in such a way, with all their trillions of relationships dancing together in a symphony of matter. I imagine the picture of the atom like you see in science books with orbitals around it and electrons whizzing past one another.

These elements in this dust speck, where were they yesterday? Were they down the road or a town over?

Where were they this time last year? In another part of the country? A vision of dust specks  falling over the rim of the grand canyon flashes into my mind.

Where were these specks a thousand years ago? A million? Suppose there is life on other planets. Perhaps these atoms have been there. Perhaps a creature much like myself saw them illuminated in the rays of a purple sun one evening. Perhaps halfway across space, when the universe was billions of years younger, something like a dragon was made of these atoms, and when he died his body burst into flames and sent up these elements into the air, and slowly, they made their way here, to be seen and thought about and breathed in by me.

All of a sudden my stomach churns like an unoiled machine. I stand up out of the chair and go into the kitchen to make breakfast.

A Morning

I woke up early to the sound of N’s alarm. It was 5:30, maybe. It blared a good 5 or 6 times before she became aware that it was sounding. This is normal for her, somehow. I say somehow because the way she wakes up is so opposite from my way. The first millisecond an alarm sounds I am awake and aware of myself and my surroundings. Not so N. She differs from I in both the time it takes her to awake and the attitude which she awakes into. I will not go into details for fear of appearing to make fun. I will say, however, that if there was a sudden natural disaster, that hurricane best wait a minute before it hits N’s apartment, because she’s not quite ready to get up yet, thank you very much. And if it doesn’t like that, well, she has a big fat something it can kiss.

So I awake to N’s alarm. She turns it off before I have to nudge her, surprisingly. She gets up and heads into the bathroom. A light switch is flicked and the corner of a black field of vision gets a little brighter. My eyes are hit with the shock of the first light after a full night’s sleep. Nerves which have been dormant for 8 hours are revving up their engines for another day of use. But they won’t rev up much, because I turn myself away from the evil light and show it my back.

The third noise of the morning is the creaking of the old knobs of the tub. I think for a moment about how N used a black sharpee to make a thick black line on each one so you know just how much to turn them to get the right ratio of hot and cold that lasts the longest. Having a small water heater causes you to go to lengths you otherwise would not.

The faucet comes on with a rush, the plug is pulled, there is a pause, and a hissing rainy sound is heard as water makes its way out of the shower head. I briefly imagine N naked and consider getting up to take a piss. That would be an excuse to make my vision a reality. But the warmth and fuzziness of sleep seduces me instead and I fall back into numbness.

Next thing I know, N is standing over me. Her white nursing scrubs make her look vaguely like an angel. I smile and allow myself to believe that I am in heaven, or going there.

“Before you leave will you make sure you scoop Gabby’s litter box? She just pooped.” My bubble bursts. It was only a matter of time.

“Sure thing.” A broken mess of two words crawl out of my mouth like stink bugs.

“And will you call Reba? We need to make sure this apartment thing doesn’t fall through.”

“You got it.” Three stink bugs. I’m powerfully aware of the need to brush my teeth.

Then there is a pause. “Do you think you could bring me lunch today and eat with me?”

“Uhhm.. what?” I hesitate. At this point I am aware that I have already agreed to two tasks, both of which I may forget. Although I awake quickly, I do not normally possess the ability to comprehend the many tasks that N asks of me. I believe she knows this is a weakness of mine and has, in the past, used this knowledge to my demise. It is, alas, only through much experience that I have learned not to agree to too much too quickly. One cannot imagine the number of battles I have lost because of commitments I have made and never remembered.

“Lunch. Do you want to eat lunch with me today?” Her hands move to her hips. I sense both impatience at my idiocy and annoyance that she has to go to work while I lay sprawled in the bed like a drooling shrek.

“Oh. Lunch. No babydoll. I’m sorry. There were some things I was planning on doing right around lunch time.”…

She hugs me, a bit disappointed. We exchange I love you’s. A sudden pang of guilt shoots through me like a lightning bolt and I am overwhelmed with feelings of assholishness. I tell her to come back to me for another hug. She bends to me in the bed and obliges. I swear my undying love to her and promise to bring her lunch and eat with her next time. She says words that muffle in my sleepy ears, but I imagine she is somewhat appeased. I drift off to sleep again, all right with her and the world.