Jason took a long drink from a bottle of tomato juice and leaned back against a three story rack of heavy steel shelves as he waited for the juice to replenish his fatigued body. He relaxed for a bit as he continued to recover from too much alcohol over the weekend. he glanced up at the half filled shelving towered over him and thought about how it would soon be empty. He sensed some of his strength returning and felt rested enough to return to work. He put the cap back on the bottle and hid it behind a box of computer hardware parts, then picked up a clipboard and trudged back to an assortment of dismantled mainframes, crates of hardware, and file boxes scattered on the concrete warehouse floor next to a large wooden pallet.
He looked at the form on the clipboard and tried to find the spot where he left off in the maze of small writing and bar code stickers. He finally came to a blank rectangle, read the description next to it, looked down at the inventory, and picked up the piece of equipment that matched the description. He turned it around until he found its label and two bar code stickers. He peeled off one of the stickers and applied it to the blank rectangle on the form. He then took the pen from the top of the clipboard and tediously copied the information from the label onto the form while fighting against his slowed, hungover thinking. He longed to go home and recover but forced himself to work through his hangover. He finally completed the task and placed the item on the pallet.
He then picked up a mainframe part off the floor, removed one of its bar code labels and placed it on the form, slowly wrote down the information from its label, and stacked it onto the pallet. He laboriously carried on in the cavernous building as the flickering light of the florescent tubes from the high ceiling aggravated his headache. He settled on a pace that felt manageable without looking too slow in case a new supervisor showed up unexpectedly.
Isolated and hungover, Jason’s mind began to wander back to the night of Tony’s party. The memory of the argument he had with Randy continued to haunt and pain him. Some harsh words were said, he recalled, we never talked that way to each other before. He was surprised and saddened by Randy’s jealousy. I had no idea, he thought regretfully, did I miss the signs? have I been ignoring him? maybe he’s right about me pushing him away, maybe some of it is my fault. He thought back some more about the night; a party at a strange house crowded with tense people he didn’t know, Randy’s somewhat secretive manner, and his more belligerent than usual behavior that blew up into a fight and almost got him in trouble with the police. He’s mixing with the wrong people, Jason concluded, then he considered his own responsibility. Maybe I drove him to it, he said to himself as he thought of the increasing time he had been spending with Christine. His getting into wrong situations and doing things he shouldn’t be doing, is he just trying to get me to notice him again? Jason wondered. I need to be there for him, he resolved, but what if he doesn’t want to come back?
Jason’s actions became more automatic as his shift wore on. He silently swore at the new owners for denying employees the playing of radios anywhere in the workplace. Time dragged on without the familiarity of music and he furthered his determination to find a new job. It feels like everything is starting to close in on me, he dreaded, then wondered if Randy was right about some of the things he had said about losing freedoms. Life does feel more restricted, he admitted, don’t have as much fun as I used to, spending more time with Chris’s family and friends than with my own, if it keeps up I’m going to be driving around in some lame-ass minivan before long. He looked around the remote area for other people but only saw empty space.
His thoughts went back to the night of Tony’s party. The events of the night replayed again in his mind as he tried to pinpoint when everything went wrong. He remembered showing up with Randy, Mike, Brian, and Terry when the party was already happening. The people at the front door were paranoid about letting them in, but Randy vouched for them. Once inside they tried to hang out with Randy in the house full of strangers, but he drifted away from them and began carousing with other people. Jason, Mike, Brian, and Terry tried to talk to some of the other party goers, but the noise and everyone’s erratic behavior made it difficult. Was he trying to show that he had new friends? Jason thought, it was obvious that a lot of them were on something other than alcohol, probably just a matter of time until a fight broke out, it just happened to be Randy and that other guy. He continued to search but couldn’t find an exact moment when the night started to go wrong. Maybe there wasn’t one, he figured, then wondered if that moment had happened long ago.
He pored over the events of the night some more until they started to connect to similar past episodes of misbehavior, and all the separate unruly incidents scattered over time and place combined into a single pattern. He was struck by its obviousness and saw the familiar history anew. He tried to trace it to its beginning but it stretched back as far as he could remember. It was all right there in front of me the whole time, he realized, how did I not see it sooner, and what else have I been missing? He then tried to see into Randy’s future but sensed only dread.
His thoughts turned to his own future and the futures of all his other friends. He saw their long summer days of pursuing the next good time coming to an end, and reflected on how much more carefree life used to be. We used to have fun, he reminisced, now all everyone talks about are careers, car payments, and waiting for the next paycheck. I know that’s the way of things but I thought we had more living to do, he lamented, and with everything getting more expensive it seems like there’s no more time to relax. He remembered how his parents used to hire a sitter and go to adult parties with all the other parents and grown ups in the neighborhood. Sure was easier to do that back then, he thought, not as much time now with both parents having to work. He began to wonder if Randy’s accusations were right. Maybe he had a point, Jason considered, it does feel like we’re on a conveyor belt that’s speeding up and can’t be turned off, and we have no choice but to adjust so we don’t end up living outdoors. He then pondered what it’s going to be like for future generations as his actions settled into a manageable work tempo.
Jason’s thoughts returned to Randy’s uncertain future. Where’s he headed? Jason worried, now that he’s gone way past having a good time I don’t know what’s next. He looked again into the past at all the causes that shaped Randy’s behavior; his absent father, his conflicted relationship with his mother, his acting out to get attention, and he saw them all combine randomly with other elements and form into the present crisis. He then remembered that he shouldn’t make excuses for Randy. And why did I have to remind myself of that? he asked himself, I’m not saying it’s okay for him to go through life recklessly, I’m just trying to understand how it all happened.
Jason then wondered if anyone else was worrying about Randy as much as he was. I’m sure they are, he thought, but people have their own lives to lead and their own problems to deal with so what can they do. He saw life’s inevitable forward progress and understood of his friends’ and peers’ safe, pragmatic decisions, but he kept yearning for the simplicity of the past and wanted to save at least some of it. Maybe everyone is right and nothing more can be done for Randy, he told himself, but I can’t just abandon him. He tried again to find a possible positive outcome for Randy but continued to come up short. The hopelessness of the situation wore on him. But what do I know anyway, he reminded himself, I may know Randy better than anyone, but I didn’t go through what he went through, I didn’t live his life.
Jason looked around the stark building as he worked. The bare concrete and and tall, steel shelving gave an appearance of cold and unfeeling permanence, and the emptiness reminded him of the dwindling workforce. I know I’m supposed to be thankful for having some kind of job, he acknowledged, but what exactly do I have here? the breaks are shorter, the new bosses suck, all the cool people who used to work here were either laid off or quit, they put a freeze on raises, now they’re talking about drug testing, and I’m definitely not making enough to live on my own.
He remembered some gossip he overheard that the new owners were intentionally making the workplace miserable so people would quit and the company wouldn’t have to lay them off and pay into unemployment or give them a severance. What a fucked up thing to do, he thought angrily, shouldn’t be allowed to happen. He remembered how one of the new supervisors gave him a hard time for being two minutes late. He said it wasn’t fair to the other workers, he recalled bitterly, what an asshole, like anyone cares about two fucking minutes, that kind of bullshit never happened in the old days. I better get a new thing going quick and get the hell out of here, he told himself.
His bleak work situation weighed upon him further, and he felt the increasingly desperate need to change his path. Maybe I’ll have to take any job I can get even if it’s less pay just so I can get out of here, he planned, but then I’ll have to start at the bottom again, and if I do take a job that pays less I’ll have to keep looking for a better paying job. He then worried how Christine would feel about him making less money, and how much longer it would take to pay off his credit card debt and move back out of the house. Dad had it way more together when he was my age, he bemoaned, and now it’s getting impossible, maybe I really was born at the wrong time.
His thoughts traveled back to all the years of playing sports under a hot summer sun and hard manual jobs he used to work. He remembered when he dug trenches for water pipes and sprinkler systems, and another job where he pushed around heavy wheelbarrows full of concrete and dumped them into wooden frames laid upon the ground. Have to say I was more happy with life then than I am now, he admitted, here I am filling out paperwork and stacking all this crap like a kid playing with blocks, pretty easy job, but I liked it a whole lot better when I was breaking a sweat. He recalled the satisfying feeling at the end of the work day when he saw the progress he and his coworkers had made.
The computer parts, crates of hardware, and file boxes gradually cleared the floor and covered the pallet as Jason repetitiously labored just hard enough to not worsen his hangover while timing his task so he would look busy but not finish too fast. They’ll just give me some other stupid thing to do, he told himself. As he worked he revisited the past again and the buried history continued to unearth and reveal itself. He remembered how Randy always seemed to get into trouble with teachers, principals and other authority figures ever since kindergarten. Mom always said he was looking for the attention that he needed, he recalled, but we all thought he was a lot of fun, made everybody laugh, a lot of good times, didn’t seem like a problem back then. He was struck by how life seemed so innocent then and now appeared much more complicated.
He thought about Randy’s home life and all the clashes he had with his mother over the years. Sure they fought, he remembered, but Randy was a handful, especially after his dad took off, so she did the best she could in order to deal with him, that’s just how it was. I know they love each other, he acknowledged, it’s just harder for some people to show it, and she had her own hard times growing, probably goes way back over generations.
The burden of responsibility pressed upon Jason and he felt obligated to find a solution to the chaos. He revisited the past once more. What if Randy got along better with his mom? he thought, what if his dad never left? what if he had some guidance? His wishful thinking continued as he tried to reimagine the past. What if we had noticed his problems sooner, he fantasized, what if we reached out, what if we tried harder to bring him on the right path, what if…what if what! You can’t go back in time and change things! he insisted as frustration broke through, you do the best you can with what you got and you get on with it, everyone’s got problems!
The items were almost cleared off the floor and stacked onto the pallet. Jason looked at his watch, saw that it was getting close to 5PM, and felt some satisfaction over finishing at his own pace. I wonder if this going to be be my last task here, he thought offhandedly. He then heard a heated discussion in another section of the building.
“Look, this was never a problem before, I’ve already made arrangements for occasions like this,” a coworker was pleading.
“That was with the previous owners,” a new supervisor replied.
“But I have to pick up my son!”
“You can’t bring your personal problems to work,” the new supervisor responded firmly.
“When you’re here, you’re on our time.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall