by Bridget Callahan
I have been trapped inside this apartment for two weeks.
It’s not really trapped. Technically, I could go outside. But I have no money, and very little gas in my car. I have carefully stopped myself from driving anywhere besides work and home. I think regretfully of the last time I got paid, and the thirty dollars I chose to put in my gas tank. Why did I not put forty?
How did you ever love me in the first place? How I wish you hadn’t.
I have friends, and they at first asked me out, feeling sorry for me. They bought me drinks, and fed me. They even gave me little nuggets of weed to entertain myself with. I am an abandoned stray porch cat getting catnip. This is what being poor does, it makes you feel sorry for yourself and go on weird spurts of thought about how unlovable you are. Or else it makes you angry at everyone else maybe, but I’m more introverted in my blame, and I think most people are too, which is why we don’t have revolutions here. Psychology Today took away any chance for a real revolution in the states, I want to tell someone. There is no one to tell. I am alone.
I have day by day dwindled my supply of food. At first it was easy to think of things to make. Casseroles. Sandwiches. Fruit. Then it got harder. When the bread and eggs ran out, it became hardest. No, wait, when the coffee ran out, that was the hardest. That was just this morning. It’s very easy to not eat a lot when you have coffee and weed, despite what people say about the munchies. The nice thing about the munchies is also that you don’t care, necessarily, what you’re eating. Last night I fried pickles in cornstarch. It was terrible, you should always use a wet dough for that. But still, I ate some of them, because I was stoned and I was bored.
There will be food again, but I can feel my body slipping into the state of not knowing when. There is an antsiness, a constant, nagging worry. A little thought buried deep in the back of your head, “When will I eat next? What will I eat? What are my options?” That’s actually a very primal state, isn’t it? I should try to enjoy it for that sake. Nothing like having less and less choices to set off how awesome it is when you have more and more.
I sleep a lot. I stare out the window at the parking lot below, at my neighbors coming and going, and the birds in the trees. I watch the clouds. Sometimes I brush my hair. I take lots of showers. I notice all the little flaws on my body and I pick at them. Trapped.
I think about how some people would enjoy this, all this staying at home by yourself. Some people choose to do it. I think those people probably have tv.
“It should be a time to create things,” my friend said.
“It is hard to create things when you are not choosing to,” I replied.
So mostly I just stare out the window. I look at the mailbox.
I am waiting for a check.
It is not a regular paycheck. I get those in my bank electronically. In fact, the experience of waiting for a physical check to come in the physical mail is weird, and blankly terrifying because it is so unfamiliar. My entire morning before going to work is waiting for the mail to come, and hoping it will somehow come before I leave. Usually my shift starts at 1:30, but the last few days, she’s scheduled me at 2:30 and 3:30, so I sit here and obsess about when exactly the mail might come. My mailbox is visible from my kitchen window, and I leave the flap up, so when the flap is down I know the mail is here. But every day I do this, and every day the check has not come. Should be this Friday, they tell me. Should be this Monday.
It is a freelance check. Free, Lance. Free means we don’t pay you. Least not when you need it. Freelance is the boyfriend who insists that you have no expectations of him. Stop expecting me to be on time, you know I’m going to be late, why do you bother?
Sometimes when a friend comes over, on a night I am just sitting by myself reading reading and staring staring, I clamor for their affection. I want cuddles and snuggles. I ache for someone to rub my back. Let’s get high together, I urge, let’s just sit around and talk. How have you been. How was that thing. Tell me how you feel about that.
Tonight after work, I hang out with Meghan. The check did not come before I left for work. Meghan is also broke this week, we get paid (our regular checks) Friday, and it is Wednesday and Wednesdays we close together, so she gives me a ride to work and home. At her house, she pours us drinks with the last of the homemade pineapple vodka she has, and sprite. She scrapes all the resin from her bong and various bowls. We find an extraneous nug on the coffee table, she finds two twisted tied up bags of the very last of the gram cocaine. So we each do a line, and take some resin hits, and we are poor together. It’s funny because we are very much the same kind of poor person – concerned with food and not being bored.
“If my check came today, if when I get home it is in the mailbox, we are going to get breakfast together,’ I say. It is my way of saying thank you, for the ride and the drugs and the alcohol.
The plan for the morning is this: Meghan’s friend is fronting her some weed till Friday, and she is picking it up tomorrow morning at 9am. We are going to have coffee and breakfast together. If my check has come, we will go someplace wonderful. If not, Meghan will probably just make coffee and pancakes, and we’ll get stoned. Meghan is the kind of generous person who doesn’t even think about the fact that she’s gotten me fucked up on her dime the last three times I’ve hung out with her. I don’t know how I’m lucky enough to meet these people, but I am. I have visions, desires to fill her with souffles and morning bloody marys, fancy donuts from the fancy bakery downtown, massive artisan breakfast sandwiches and vanilla foamed lattes.
I come wandering in from the alley ways and streets wet with dark and moss and tree. The air smells like a thousand things to be killed, a million things to kiss. I feel lean and alone.
But when I get home from her house, there is no check.
At least my house is nice and cozy when I get in it. At least the light is warm, and I’ve kept it kinda clean, and the rugs are pretty and red. At least I have noodles to eat, and a warm bed, and a computer to type on. At least I looked pretty today, and my teeth were very white because I haven’t been able to afford cigarettes in a week.
So tomorrow morning I will wait for the check again. I will sit at Meghan’s getting coffee and I will think about it the whole time. And it will probably not come. And the next day, my regular paycheck will be there, and then, when I don’t need it any more, that’s when the check will come. That day. It is a test. It is a lesson. Don’t rely on things you don’t have. At least I have managed to have zero dollars to my name for two weeks and lived. This is something.
I am grateful because I have the cocaine in me. It courses through me, just a little, just enough euphoria to think things are pretty and warm and interesting. I understand Meghan’s mad dash to find drugs – being poor is boring. After a few days, that kind of boring becomes a disease, a depression. You have to fight that off, to keep going. You have to take some medicine for it. When we have money, when we have things to do and places to go and things to eat, we don’t need that medicine as much. Then it’s recreational. But when you know it’s just you and your house and nothing to do…
I wish I had a boyfriend still. It’s times like these you wish there was a boy who just wanted to hang out with you so badly, and would take you on drives, and bring you coffee, and entertain you. Meghan is sad because her boyfriend is on a work trip, that’s why she’s being this poor. I miss my old boyfriend. He was very good at rescuing me. But then he just left, and I never see him anymore. And no matter how many porches I sit on crying, I haven’t found another one yet.
I wake up too early, from my friend texting me before she goes to work. Also her boyfriend. They both text me, in this synchronous way that suggests they plan it, even though they feign ignorance of the other’s texts. This is their way of making plans. They want me to come out tonight to eat dinner at their house and play a board game. She wants me to smoke a bowl with her after she gets out of class. I say no to both of them, but I know I will say yes to her later.
Later there is a text from Meghan. Come over, but also, bring cream for coffee. I scrounge up change from my purses, my current one and the ones I no longer use, that sit on my bedroom floor, full of odds and ends, but stripped of everything that matters. I am not organized – my toys sit in piles around me, hidden under things. It looks like chaos, it is chaos, but I know where everything is. I find a stashful of parking meter quarters, enough to get a little thing of milk.
I go over to her house, and we purr. Her roommate comes home on his lunch hour, we all hang out while she folds her laundry, watching some dramatic network show, starring a bunch of B-list actors we all know. I like her roommate, he does too much cocaine, but he looks like he’d be good for some deep serious petting.
Outside, the air is deep and rich with trees baked all summer in the heat, finally taken out of the oven. I think of food this way – the whole time it is being cooked, it is being created, and as soon as you’re done cooking, the decay starts. Right now, at the very beginning of Fall, is the prime hour. There are bluejays everywhere, do they migrate down from the colder climes? This place is a haven for birds, all types, all kinds. I dream about all the different types of birds. Sparrows and kittyhawks and popinjays and turtle doves. Little ones. I don’t dream about ospreys.
After two weeks of being poor, all I think about is food and sex. Tactile things.
Why is that? I can smell the money coming tomorrow morning, I can taste the iron of it like blood on my tongue. I feel the most basic urges – to get drunk, to buy things to make me pretty. All the things I want.
When Meghan leaves for work, I sit on my porch and watch the birds in the parking lot. I wait, for Faith to get out of class. It is not wasted time. I think about a lot of things. I think about all the different airs that air is made of. I memorize shadows. I feel the solar afternoon winds on my hair and my toes. I contemplate painting my nails. I stopped, when this all began. It was just one task too much. There are lawnmowers and tree cutters in the distance, car doors shutting, birds birds birds, all these different sounds. The leaves rustling like waves on the bright green prairie. My body feels light, as if it could disappear into all this noise. That would be okay, to absolve myself of suffering, to be all truly Buddhist, in the purest intention non-existent, and fade off. And I will feel myself floating away, some sort of relief to this steel box that sits on my chest – float off to a place where all the expectations the world has of me no longer matter, where credit reports and bills are litter, and making sure the power stays on is easy and that I’m not homeless. Where when I go out, I’m not trying to trick the world into thinking I have more money than I do, or that I’m sexier than I actually am, or more together, put together right even.
And just at the very moment that everything is disappearing, everything is letting go, the tethers that hold me to this mortal coil are disintegrating like jellyfish tentacles in the sun – right at that glorious moment of ascendancy, where there is no longer hunger, or cold, or boredom, or loneliness, or heart-break, or regret, or future, I hear the lid of my mailbox close.
Bridget Callahan is a writer and comedian from Cleveland, OH, who now fights crime in North Carolina. Moral, philosophical, and temporal crimes. Not anything bloody and gross. @bridgetcallahan on Twitter.