The Beginning of the End
The Beginning of the End:
Or is it?
Have you ever went out to eat alone? If so, did you ever notice right after you tell the host “Just one,” and you’re led to a specific section of the restaurant (which is most likely an area designated for new members of the waitstaff due to their lack of experience and incapability of handling large parties) what happens next? Most often than not, the host will remove the other place setting and silverware from the table. They’ll perform this action violently almost, and it’s not because they’re angry. It’s because they’re focusing on advertising the current restaurant specials. They’re focusing on delivering the dialogue correctly, just the way their manager instructed, and they are completely unaware that even the right words still make them sound robotic. So they rip the other place mat away, attempting to maintain their integrity as a hard worker while conserving place mats and silverware, and they fail to notice your reaction.
I remember one time specifically, I was on my way home from a coworkers house in Haledon, New Jersey. Working odd restaurant hours myself, I used to forget necessities of living like eating on a regular basis. It was 3 A.M as I pulled out of my work friend’s neighborhood and I realized I was starving. Well fuck, I can’t go home. There’s nothing but UTZ chips and refrigerator cereal at my house. For those of you who don’t know me, my Father owns a bread route and delivers UTZ products. We get to keep the ones that have already expired. And as for the cereal, well, that’s a different story. For as long as I can remember there have been boxes of Raisin Bran and Life on the second shelf of the fridge. I thought this was normal for the first five years of my life until I made friends who would stay over for sleepovers like Laura Santo and Grady.
“You keep your cereal in the fridge?!” They would ask. (What suspicious five year olds!)
“Yeah, you don’t?” I was confused.
Finally after being questioned one too many times, I asked my parents. I found out the reason for storing opened cereal boxes and bags of chips WAS unordinary, but my Mother found it necessary. She was too nervous to occupy the cabinets with these groceries because she feared it would provoke household bugs.
“But they make little clips for that reason. Seriously, someone invented a solution for this out of plastic pieces. They’re probably like 29 cents at the store!” I told them. (I wasn’t five when I made this argument, obviously. The phenomenon of fridge chips and cereal was an ongoing conspiracy throughout the years. The older I got, and the more friend’s houses I visited, I realized we really WERE the only ones.)
Listening to the growls of your own stomach after working a twelve hour shift at a chain restaurant and drinking a couple beers at a coworkers apartment, I’m sure thoughts of fridge chips and cereal wouldn’t satisfy your appetite either. So I headed toward the Pompton Queen Diner. They’re open twenty-four hours, and for all I knew they might have still been serving beer too. So I obeyed the voice of my GPS and followed the back roads of Haledon. I looked down and the glass screen of my cell-phone read “Destination in 0.5 Miles”
But I had to spike a piss.
And again for those of you who don’t know me, I like to think I have a big heart and a medium sized brain. But my bladder on the other hand, well, it might be the smallest bladder ever manufactured in Jersey.
So I jerked the steering wheel to the left and pulled my white Ford Explorer (Henry) into an empty parking lot, 0.5 miles away from the Pompton Queen Diner. I ripped the car keys out of the ignition, because I always fear I’ll lock myself out so I’ve made it a habit. I ripped those keys like they were an old bandaid on a child’s wounded knee.
That may have been where I went wrong. If I utilized that fraction of a second to unzip my jeans instead of remove the car key, I may have been able to spike a successful piss. That wasn’t the case though, and my tiny bladder chose to be a tiny diva of the urine queen’s. It’s funny because I’ve spent a lot of my life focusing on how to strengthen the capabilities of my heart and mind, when really it’s my bladder that’s always been the weakest.
My jeans became partially drizzled with urine, but I managed to squeeze them down my thighs just enough to be rescued from a full soak. Shit, well now I have piss on my pants.
But I’m still hungry. And if you worked a twelve hour shift at a chain restaurant without eating, you would be too.
So I walked into the Pompton Queen Diner and told them,
The host or whoever was working at the time, it was 3 A.M after all, showed me to a spacious booth. I seemed to be the only customer which never bothers me because it’s hard to listen to strangers and their secrets when I’m trying to chew my food. Dining alone has never bothered me either.
But this was one of the first times I remember witnessing the violence behind “removing the other place setting and silverware” at a restaurant. It didn’t make me feel awful, I just noticed. Then I thought, well shit, what if there was a person out there who PREFERRED eating with loved ones yet had no choice but to stop at a diner at 3 in the morning, alone, due to saddening circumstances. For instance, what if a person spent the past fifteen hours in the hospital down the road at the bedside of someone ill. Someone who he or she prefers to dine with on a regular basis. How would that person feel seeing the other place setting being ripped away?
I thought of this for the first time that night, despite how many times I’d dined alone before. Then I asked for a beer but they were no longer serving it, so naturally I ordered the “Thai Noodle Salad.” That was sarcasm if you were unaware. Who the fuck orders a “Thai Noodle Salad” in a diner when they’re starving?
The noodles came out frozen and without sauce. It was no one’s fault but my own. I was sitting there with piss pants trying to eat Thai Food in a diner at 3 A.M, alone. Still, the server apologetically took back my plate and handed me a menu to choose something different. To be safe and avoid pissing anyone off (even though I doubt anyone could be more pissed than my pants) I ordered the apple pie.
So I sat there waiting, watching the other side of the table reflect yellow light where the place mat opposite me should have been, sipping at coffee while thinking about silverware and being alone.
Then my apple pie came (which they never charged me for despite my own ignorance), and at the same time other late night diner guests walked through the entrance. The host, or whoever he was, sat the guests in the booth right next to me. As I raised the spoon to my mouth, with the pie and ice cream perfectly proportioned, for the first time in thirteen hours I REALLY remembered what hungry felt like. Holy fuck, this is about to be sex in my mouth, I thought. Fuck those noodles. I’m a dumb ass for sure, but If I never ordered that gross shit, I would have never taken the time to actually think about what I really want right now. I want this pie more than anything I’ve ever wanted. Everything happens for a reason.
The spoon was a centimeter away from my tongue, my mouth was watering, and I could practically smell the pie’s aroma despite my congenital anosmia. And then a girl with a messy bun and running mascara in the booth next to me twisted her body and said after sniffling,
“I’m so fucking mad. I don’t know what to do. Is love always going to be this fucked up?”
She wasn’t really looking for an answer. Even if I did have the right one to offer, that’s not why she twisted her body desperately at the edge of the diner booth. I knew this all too well. And still I lowered the silver spoon full of perfectly proportioned diner ice-cream and pie, before leaning it against the plate and twisting my own body to make eye contact with the girl. Because despite what food was in my fridge growing up, and how cold it was or wasn’t supposed to be, my parents taught me table manners.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full!” They’d say. A timeless rule of etiquette.
No one ever scolds a person by saying,
“Don’t listen with your mouth full!”
At least, I’ve never been a witness to this sort of reprimanding. But I’m assuming the rules of etiquette are the same despite what side of the conversation a person is on, whether a person is a talker or a listener.
Most people are destined to be talkers. They are blessed with the ability to open up their hearts and share their meaningful, or worrisome, thoughts with other people. Usually these other people are the few destined to be listeners. Talkers can sense that before conversation even arises. It’s an invisible mark we’re all born with, kind of like an aura only there aren’t several random color categories you could fall under. There’s only the talkers and there’s only the listeners. Just like the talkers, the listeners can sense the other’s presence too before anyone even says a word.
No one begins or ends their day conscious of these facts. People don’t roll out of bed and say to themselves while stretching, “Welp, today is here and it’s time for me to be a talker/listener!”
That’s one of my favorite scenes in Pulp Fiction. All of the questions that Uma’s character asks are brilliant in determining the pit of a person’s character.
“Do you listen or wait to talk?” Is my favorite one she asks.
“Honestly, I wait to talk.” John Travolta’s character says something like that. I think I might like his answer more than I like her question.
We’re all here, and we’re all playing the role of either the talker or listener whether we know it or not. It’s an unavoidable aspect of living. There’s no escaping it. The only escape I can imagine would be if a said talker and said listener met and upon their introduction, each became both. A rare fateful interaction which allows both individuals to not only see the true depths of themselves and of each other, but also the vastness of this world. And in doing so both come to the realization that nothing ever has been or will be, as important as being able to see that sort of depth and vastness.
That’s what I like to tell myself at least. You know, to keep myself from getting angry about things like melted ice-cream and cold pie. Things that could have been good but disappeared and turned stale. I like to think there’s a reason for all of the talking and listening, or there will be one eventually. Because if there isn’t, as a listener especially, I don’t think it’s fair. As a listener, I’m not complaining about hearing the voices of other people. I genuinely enjoy strange people and their stories. I’m just proposing that listeners should be granted more time in this world. Time to listen, time to feel, time to sleep, and time to practice their own speaking whichever way they choose. Listeners should be granted an extra day or two of the week, to find their own voice. Listeners need more days, or hours, maybe even minutes would suffice. I don’t know.
They at least need some more fucking pie.
I just got home and my first reaction was to rip away one of the two kitchen place settings on the table that came with my new apartment. It made me think of times I’ve been at diners and watched other people perform this action for me. Now I’m here for the second night in my new studio apartment near Downtown Asheville, and this is the first thing I thought of doing after locking the door behind me. It’s not like it’s even a kitchen table. It’s a tiny slab of linoleum, or something else, right against the wall next to the stove. I’m not complaining about the size, I don’t need a big kitchen table. I don’t need much of anything when it comes to things.
Ripping away the place setting made me laugh for a second, remembering how this action has the potential to make a person feel lonely. I shoved the red place mat and the ceramic dishes, which also came with the apartment, to the other side of the counter while I laughed and unzipped the case to my laptop. I’ve never pictured myself choosing to write in a kitchen, then again this is the first one I’ve ever been able to call my own.
This is my second night sleeping here. I spent yesterday moving the few belongings I had at the Walton Street House here to Furman Avenue. The building is historic. I typed historic but I was being polite, trying not to offend these walls that surround me. Because I’m really thinking, this building is old as fuck.
Everything here creaks with old age. There are secrets in the cabinets that won’t shut and in the faucets that need extra strength in twisting. The kind of strength I don’t have. But the secrets I’ll stick around for.
The woman who chose for me to be the tenant here is named Katie. I liked her before she even showed me the space. We were walking up the stairs and she was speaking about her daughter who is going away to college for the first time. I could feel all of the love and hurt and realness behind her words while she spoke of her daughter and unlocked Apartment #2.
This kind of love is the unconditional sort of love I’ve been thinking about recently, I thought. I can feel it.
So when Katie spoke of her daughter going away to college, I told her,
“When I went away to school for the first time, I feel like I appreciated my parents more. The separation really allowed me to see things the way they really were and I realized how lucky I’ve always been. Your daughter is lucky too.”
And I was telling the truth. People rarely ever realize what they have until they are forced to take a step back and see it all from a different perspective. Katie’s love for her daughter is what I paid attention to while she was showing me the apartment, and despite the massive rusty Murphy Bed she pulled out from the wall (which took up so much space there was barely room for any of us to walk or breathe), the monstrosity of it didn’t bother me. Neither did the crumbling walls. Or the circularly massive crimson stain hidden beneath the worn out carpet.
I failed to mention at first that my friend Susie came with me to view the apartment for the first time. We were out for drinks Downtown on Sunday afternoon, and Katie was persistent in contacting me about seeing the place which I wasn’t expecting. From my experience so far when it comes to renting rooms or apartments, and also applying for jobs on your own in a southern state, despite your own persistence most people are flakes. Although I don’t have much experience, I only arrived two months ago.
It was Sunday afternoon that I contacted Katie for the first time which is hard to believe, because it’s Thursday (well Friday I guess now), and I’m already a resident of the apartment building. When I was in Florida for my cousin’s wedding,which was only a little over a week ago, a lot of my family members were asking me questions about my time here in Asheville.
“What are you doing for work?”
“Where will you live next?”
Both realistic and appropriate questions, but still I felt overwhelmed. I had treated my time so far in Asheville as a learning experience, yet I was hesitant to make any decisions or efforts regarding both of those questions before my cousin’s wedding. I think part of me realized any job would have been annoyed once I told them I needed a week’s worth of vacation time for a wedding immediately after being hired. I also know myself, and if I got hired anywhere, I would obey the restrictions of my new work and would have spent less time with my family if that was what the job required. I needed that time with my family.
But still, when a person asks you reasonable questions regarding your life and you don’t have the answers, what are you supposed to say?
“It will all work out.”
That’s what I was thinking and that’s what I should have said. Because it sort of did.
The night I arrived back to Asheville, I could hardly sleep. Even after a nine hour drive, I laid there between tossing, turning, and continuously adjusting the volume on Netflix. I desperately searched the back of my eyelids for some darkness, but the darkness never came. Or at least it never came without the soundtrack of my thoughts. It’s like being at the Drive-In Movie Theatre trying to find the right radio station, but you can’t. There’s no sound but there’s still images that flash in front of you and you can’t drive home because the picture is something you’re trying to figure out. You’re too stubborn to leave because you’re confident you can figure it out.
Before I realized, it was 7 A.M and I was still awake. What the fuck, I thought. I’m supposed to be getting rest. My plan was to fall asleep as soon as I got back, then wake up early to begin the search for a job and for a new place. The two things that most people move to Asheville and don’t find for months, or sometimes years, or maybe even become homeless. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I didn’t have an excuse anymore. My cousin’s wedding already happened, and I already saw my family.
I couldn’t sleep, but it was still already tomorrow. I needed to start my search. Especially if it was going to be as trying as everyone promised. So I pulled up Asheville craigslist (something I never imagined using but has become a way of life within these past few months) and clicked on “All Jobs”.
The first option that showed up read “Pre-School Teacher, Asheville.”
I laughed out loud because the time I spent here before my cousin’s wedding, most of the research I did regarding jobs had to do with daycares. It would be easier to be persistent in the restaurant industry considering I have the most recent experience at Chili’s. There are about a thousand restaurants within a five mile radius here in the mountains, but still I searched daycares. North Carolina requires anyone working in a childcare facility to have an early childhood education degree. I read this in various articles and a couple of pre-school teachers I’ve met confirmed the matter through conversation. All I have is a B.A in literature.
“Yeah, they’re really strict here. It’s different from New Jersey.” They would say.
“Well that fucking sucks, I love kids. You need a babysitter?” I’d respond.
I’m not sure what the response ‘Not really’ means regarding watching one’s babies, but this is North Carolina and I’ve learned not to ask questions when it comes to matters that don’t involve me personally. Besides, people volunteer their stories no matter what US state I’m in, so it’s all about patience. Or none at all depending what side you’re on. You know, do you listen or wait to talk?
Anyway, there was a story behind the “Not really,” but it’s not important because it’s not THIS story. And there were no neglected children involved so it’s insignificant.
I responded to the job posting with a picture of me in an Easter Bunny costume standing outside of a daycare in New Jersey. I already knew about North Carolina laws and how strict the system might be. But it was the first thing that popped up on craigslist at 7 A.M the day after I returned from Florida. The day I promised myself I would get serious about focusing on being responsible and staying in The Smoky Mountains.
Fuck it, this is funny. I love babies. A lot more than burgers that’s f0r sure. I’m just going to attach this photo to an e-mail and attempt to sleep again. Then I will continue to apply to other places once I get rest.
But fifteen minutes later, right at the beginning of my first real sleep in days, I got a phone call from the director of the new daycare in Asheville.
“You’re kidding,” is what I thought to myself as I popped up from my pillow. Then I searched for a voice that might make me sound as professional as I could potentially be one day.
So I have a new job and it only took me nine hours after returning to Asheville. I’m not sure why people say it’s so hard to begin a life here. I’m really starting to believe those people are just lazy, or the mountains just aren’t on their sides.
Thus far, the mountains have showed me nothing but support when I seem to need it most. I’m not trying to discredit myself. It has taken a great deal of hard work and days of crying to get where I am at this moment. But if it wasn’t for the mountains and their magic, I wouldn’t still be here. I would be inside a Super 8 hotel room in another state somewhere, still on the run.
Speaking with the daycare director over the phone that morning, we scheduled an interview the following day. She told me to meet her at “Barnes & Nobles” in Biltmore Park.
“Do you know where that is?” She asked.
“Yes, absolutely.” I told her, even though I only had a vague idea. That’s why GPS was invented.
We hung up and I searched my closet for appropriate interview attire. Most of my clothes were back in Jersey because I only packed one suitcase. I think I was more concerned with actually leaving because I was afraid I never would, than I was with packing a suitcase like an organized person might. That’s a lie. No matter the case, I’m not an organized person. But I guess organization is something I’ll need to learn soon, because I am now the lead teacher of the one year old classroom at a new daycare somewhere in Asheville.
Despite the fact that my roommate Michael Tree had passed on some sort of illness with all of his loogie hocking around the house, I managed to dress for the interview and arrive at “Barnes & Noble” fifteen minutes early. It was strange having a scheduled meeting with a person I’d never met before. This wasn’t my first interview since graduating college, but it was the first time I thought about the strangeness of the whole process. I thought about the director’s voice and wondered if her physical appearance would reflect the way she spoke. She sounded relatively young and there was even more of a youthfulness in the sound of her laugh. You’re probably thinking, how did I already hear her laugh after only one phone call and never meeting? Well wouldn’t you laugh if you were sitting at your work desk in the morning, determined to respond to all necessary business e-mails, then all of a sudden you open a new message and it’s from some lunatic wearing an Easter Bunny costume? Of course she laughed.
Still, it’s difficult to paint a physical image of a person in your mind judging upon factors like voices and laughing. I considered staying in my car for ten minutes or so thinking about these details. I didn’t want to appear strange walking around aimlessly with my interview dress and the new purple folder I’d just purchased at the supermarket down the road. The director, and whoever else was interviewing me, would be able to spot me immediately while I was standing there fifteen minutes early looking like a lost animal. A sickly, lost animal.
Waiting in my car for that long would only have resulted in anxiousness and more thinking, so I decided to get out and head straight for the bookstore’s bathroom. Checking my appearance in the mirror, I didn’t look like the best version of myself. My face was pale with sporadic red dots brought on by the scars of stress acne, and there was still some white traces of leftover toothpaste lingering on my lips. I washed my mouth clean before looking up at my reflection again. Fuck, I look and feel like a sleep deprived pre-teen. My eye glasses were off-centered, so I pushed them up toward the bridge of my nose. This was the first time I wore my glasses in the mountains, and it wasn’t because I was trying to fit the role of pre-school teacher. I was trying to cover and create a distraction for the puffy black bags under my eyes and all the other imperfections on my face.
“These people don’t know you. For all they know, this is the best you’re capable of looking. They won’t suspect you’re a sickly insomniac who stays up writing stories until sunrise on the nights you’re not out until sunrise listening to the stories of everyone else. Just be fucking be confident.” I told my mirror self.
Then I looked down at my phone and I was still ten minutes early. But I couldn’t stand in front of the bathroom mirror for the next ten minutes. It would make more sense to leave on a positive note after that pep talk. That’s when I realized I was in a “Barnes & Noble” bookstore.
Although it wasn’t the same one, I thought about how I wound up in another “Barnes & Noble” parking lot the day I arrived to Asheville. I remembered laying there on top of my steering wheel while crying and feeling hopeless. Now here I was less than two months later, about to have a job interview inside the bookstore.
Instead of wandering the cafe area searching for the daycare director, I decided to browse shelves for the several minutes I had to spare. I let the fingers of my right hand run along the book spines as I surveyed titles while slowly walking through the isles. Without stopping in front of a specific section, I did this for a couple moments while simultaneously reading the titles and anticipating my interview. Then one of the isles I was walking down came to an end and it wasn’t followed by the beginning of new book shelves like the ones preceding had been. It was a dead end and I stood there looking up at a wall labeled “Journals”.
Fuck, I want all of these they’re beautiful, I thought. I picked out the ones I already owned and thought about them sitting inside the zipper of my JANSPORT book bag back at my room on Walton Street. I thought about their blank pages yearning for the ink from my pen and I felt foolish. I’m making a mistake. I’m not here right now for myself. I’m here for everyone else. I’m trying to make my family proud and make them worry less. I don’t need to be doing this. Not just yet.
“Hi there!” the daycare director said standing behind me. I already knew it was her before turning away from the wall.
“Are you Erin? The one interested in being a pre-school teacher?” She asked.
“Yes, I’m Erin,” is all I said back.
And still I got the job.