by Alex Price
“I need you to leave.”
I looked up from my cereal.
“I’m sorry, what?” I said.
Without looking up from the newspaper article he was reading, Darren repeated himself.
“I mean, you need to get out.”
“You’re kicking me out?” I said through clenched teeth.
“Yep, sorry Jules. I honestly can’t afford to let you live here anymore.” Darren looked sincere enough, but I started pleading with him anyway.
“C’mon Darren, I’m going to get a job soon. It’s just a matter of time. You know I’ve been looking all over and it’s just so hard to find something that really gels with what I’m interested in and…” Darren had finally looked up, and was now just staring at me.
“What?” I said, exasperated.
Darren let out a low sigh. “I know you’ve been looking Julia, and I know you want to find the right thing for you to do. But I work all day and I still make barely enough for myself.”
“I can sleep on the floor if you want? I’ll only eat once a day if you need me—“
“Julia, let me finish.” Darren interrupted. “I care about you, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s time you find your own way. I think it might just be nice for me to have the place to myself every so often, you know. Plus, you’ve been looking for six months now Julia, and I don’t really know how you’re going to be able to find something with the degree you have.
Julia stood up. “What are you saying? You must not seriously think that. And what is that about alone time? Are you seriously kicking me out so you can fuck the neighbor who keeps giving you those fucking puppy eyes every single time you walk by? I thought you would be understanding to my feelings. I’ve been helping around and doing dishes and even feeding your cat every once in a while! And I don’t even like your cat!” A moment of silence goes by. I begin again, my anger fading.
“I’m trying so hard Darren. You know that. Nobody’s picking me up. Nobody’s buying.”
His steely look drops for a moment, as if I had thrust him back in time with just my words. A time before all of this. A time where things made more sense between us.
The steel returned. “Look Julia. There’s a grocery store down the corner from here. All you have to do is go apply, and you can keep living here. That’s all.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was a pretty logical thing for him to want me to do, but something was stopping me from saying yes.
“I can’t do that. I’m sorry.” I grabbed my backpack and started walking to the door.
“Wait where are you going? C’mon Julia that’s not too much to ask I hope? You can at least stay one more night if you have your mind made u—“
But I was gone. I closed the apartment door behind me and quickly made my way down the stairs and then out to the street below. The winter sun was setting and the air was getting more chilled by the minute. The streets were thinning out, most people had already made their commute from work to home. Faint light beams flailed out from the west, as if Apollo himself was losing his grip on the sky. To me, it felt like the world was dying.
The park was desolate after sun down. It felt strange walking through a place of such happiness and activity during daylight, only to be greeted by a place of solemnity and hopelessness at night time. I’ve never been one to be scared of the dark, but today I understood why people were. It wasn’t about being scared of the dark, it was about being scared of what could be lurking there that isn’t visible. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not knowing what’s around the corner.
The leaves were rustling in the wind. The playground made slight creaking sounds as if it had forgotten there were no children left to play on it. I kept walking down the dimly lit path, greeted only by the occasionally straggler caught in the park after dark, eagerly trying to get out.
I should feel mad at Darren, but I feel more mad at myself. He’s right, I shouldn’t be putting this kind of pressure on him. I stopped to kick some dirt.
All I wanted was to go to college and do something I love. That’s it. I feel like I shouldn’t have to settle for anything else. I feel like if there’s something in this world I want to do, then I should be able to do it.
“Why does it feel like I’m being punished?” I whispered to no one in particular. It wasn’t my fault I didn’t love business or biology.
My backpack strap suddenly ripped apart, not used to being carried around for this long.
“Fuck! Fucking fuck fuck fuck!” A surge of anger came over me. “Arghh!” I threw a stupid little rock at the closest tree. I missed. Tears started to form in my eyes as I let my body fall to the ground, not wanting to keep standing. My backpack was ripped: I had no home, no money, no friends, and no job. “Fuck.” I repeated. Curling up in a ball was the only thing I could do.
“Hey there.” A voice materialized in the air next to me. I got up faster than I thought I had in me. A girl was standing in front me, not much taller than I was. Even in the dimly lit area of the park I could see that she had this really striking electric blue hair, but it wasn’t overstated or unnatural. It just seemed natural to her. Her eyes were fixated on me with an incredibly piercing gaze, to the point that I felt like if I lost eye contact with her I would hurt her feelings.
“Um, hey.” I said, surprised at how shaky my own voice sounded. “I was just napping.”
She put her hands on her hips, not really convinced by my obviously fake version of reality.
“If napping involves cussing loudly and throwing rocks, then let me tell you I’ve been napping wrong for years.”
All I could do was muster a kind of half smile and nod. I’ve never really been good around people I didn’t know, and I didn’t really feel like I had the energy to pretend to be sociable.
“Yeah, haha.” I squeezed out. She started looking around, taking in the scenery.
“My name’s Cecilia by the way. I like to be called Celia though. Feel like Cecilia has always been too much of a mouthful. Plus, the old Simon and Garfunkel song makes it kind of cool.” She seemed to pick up that I wasn’t really listening.
“Hey, I was just going for a walk and you’re kind of in the middle of the path you know. It’s dangerous to be in the park alone at night. Do you have somewhere to go?”
I nodded my head, forgetting for a second that Darren kicked me out. I then followed my nod with an awkward side head bob, trying to shake my head at the same time. It ended up just looking like I was having a head spasm.
“So, you do have somewhere to go? It kind of looks like you were getting ready to curl up for the night down there before I almost walked straight into you.” I just kind of stared at her blankly.
“Well, um.” She looked like she was deep in thought. “Well what the heck. Do you want to come to a party at my place tonight? It’s supposed to happen at eleven, but who knows. I don’t live too far from here. Lots of people, lots of drinks, and best of all if you’re really tired you can sleep on the couch. Sound good?”
I didn’t really know what to say. She seemed pretty nice, even though it was kind of weird that she was just inviting me to her house after just meeting me, and under suspicious circumstances. But she was right, it might be nice to have a place to crash for the night. Then again, I hate parties. I always feel so weird around people. Maybe sleeping in the park wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“Thanks, but I’ll just figure something else out.” I blurted, instinctually using my answer whenever anyone asked me to do something social in college. Fuck, why was I so pathetic.
Celia looked kind of disappointed. It made me want to instantly change my answer, but that would be too weird. Weirder than sleeping in a park with twigs and rocks.
“Um, okay. If you say so.” She started to walk away, but then turned around another time. “If you change your mind you’re welcome to come! I’m just outside of the park, you can’t miss it. Lots of people.” She said with a warm smile.
I watched her walk away. It kind of seemed like a sign that she just happened to find me in this park and offered some place to stay. Of course I would fuck it up.
I sat with my back to the tree and clutched my broken backpack. The dim light from the path was getting even dimmer, and it seemed like the world was closing in on me. And damn, was it cold. I started to consider going to Celia’s party. Yeah I’d feel out of place, and be the weird homeless looking kid, but at least it’ll have food and shelter. And it was nice of her to invite me.
Getting up was difficult, but I managed. I grabbed my backpack and carried it like a baby and started walking in the general direction that Celia left in. My feet made crunchy sounds in the dirt path.
Getting closer to the outside of the park, I started to hear music. Good music too. I burst through the trees and could see the familiar sight of buildings and streets. There was an old house on the corner sticking out like a sore thumb, and the music I heard earlier seemed to be coming from inside. As I got closer I could make out people dancing and talking through the window. People were drinking and smoking, and everybody was smiling. It seemed like nobody had a care in the world.
I started walking towards the door instinctively, and then halfway there I remembered that I would have to interact with all these people. I froze, again instinctively. Should I suck it up and have a good time, or continue living in self-pity? My stomach started to rumble and my fingers were tingling from numbness. Almost on cue.
Knocking on the door proved easier than crossing the street. A nice, bearded guy in his twenties wearing a plaid shirt and beanie opened the door to greet me. He looked confused to see me, but not alarmed.
“Hey,” I half-screamed over the music. “Celia invited me.” His face turned from confusion to recognition. “Oh yeah, Celia! Of course! Come on in, we’re just hanging out. Celia’s off doing something right now.” As my foot crossed the threshold relief washed over me. Nobody was staring at me, nobody seemed unfriendly. The bearded guy told me his name was Patrick, but I wasn’t really listening. The couch in the middle of the room looked super comfortable, and nobody else was using it. Another sign.
“Want a beer?” Patrick asked. I nodded my head and made a beeline for the couch. I was more tired than I thought, and that beaten up, leathery couch was better than a water bed for me. I sat down and Patrick handed me a can of some off-brand beer. I didn’t really care too much. I didn’t really drink. I opened the beer and took a sip, then proceeded to lay down on the couch. Nobody seemed to mind. There was some Beatle’s White Album playing in the background. As I fell asleep, John Lennon’s soft voice permeated the air around me.
Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you
I felt myself drift away into unconsciousness.
“Hey there.” A soft voice woke me up. Celia was standing over my couch, her hair slightly messy but just as blue as before. The morning light caught her eyes in a way that made her look beautiful.
“So I guess you decided to come after all.” She smiled at me, and I felt it deep in my chest.
“Yeah I did. Thanks. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, you kind of really helped me out there.” I sat up so that she wouldn’t have to look down at me.
The room looked different in the day time. There were lots of dishes all over the place, but it didn’t feel messy. It just felt lived in. Celia had cleaned up most of the trash from the party, but there were still a few stray beer cans surrounding her various canvases. Wait.
“You’re an artist?” I said excitedly. Celia’s eyes lit up. “Sure am! I like to do lots of things, but art is definitely one of my main passions.”
I walked over and looked at her paintings. One was of a cliffside, with a person looking out into the distance. It was cloudy and storming, and the water was turbulent, but the person looked content just to stare into the mess of all of it. It was beautiful.
“I’m an artist too!” I started reaching into my back pack to pull out my sketchbook to show her and remembered my ripped strap and the night before. My eyes went downward and the excitement was sucked out of me. “Or, at least I’m trying to be. Nobody likes my work.”
Celia came over and looked me right in the eyes. “If you’re an artist, you’re an artist. There’s no trying about it. If nobody likes your work, then fuck ‘em. If you like your work, that’s enough.”
“Not enough to pay for basic living expenses. I got kicked out of my roommate’s apartment because I had been freeloading off him without a job. I was just focusing so much on art that I didn’t want to have to get another job. I feel like it would have been admitting defeat. My roommate told me that if I got a job at the grocery store, then I could stay. I couldn’t even do that.”
Celia put her coffee down. “You know, just artist to artist, it’s okay to be lost um…what’s your name? I don’t think you ever told me.”
I smiled. I hadn’t told her. “It’s Julia. People call me Julia.”
“Well, Julia, it’s okay to be lost. You don’t have to have all the answers and you don’t need to have control of your life. Sometimes you just have to keep working and hope for the best. The best may never come, but that’s all we artists can do.” Her eyes seemed to be winking at me, but I couldn’t tell.
“You know, yesterday you were lying in a park. Now you’re hanging out with me. Everyday is a new day, so treat it as such. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The sunrise was visible from the window, painting a perfect portrait of color and light across the morning sky. I glanced over at Celia, also staring out the window. Here was this woman, unafraid to tackle anything life throws at her. Unafraid to follow her dreams. Unafraid to fail. Maybe if she could do it, I could too.
I looked back out the window. Color was effortless splashed across the horizon. The world seemed alive again.