Jason took a long drink from a bottle of tomato juice and waited for it to replenish him. His body was fatigued and his mind taxed from too much alcohol over the weekend. He leaned back against a three story rack of heavy steel shelves half filled with inventory and relaxed for a bit. He then screwed the cap back on the bottle and hid it behind a box of computer hardware parts. He tiredly walked back to an assortment of more boxes scattered around the concrete floor and next to a large wooden pallet.
He picked up a clipboard that held a stack of papers and looked at the top form. He tried to comprehend the maze of small writing and blank spaces with his slowed thinking. He then looked down at the pile of boxes and picked up the one closest to him. He read the writing on its label, looked back at the paper on the clipboard, and tried to figure out which information belonged on which line or square. He took the pen from the clipboard and tediously filled out the form. He wanted to go home and sleep off his hangover, but forced himself to go on. He finally completed the form and placed the box on the pallet.
He picked up another box, slowly copied the information from its label onto another complicated form, then stacked the box onto the pallet next to other one. He continued the task alone in the cavernous building. The flickering light of the florescent tubes from the high ceiling aggravated his headache as he struggled to work through the pain.
Isolated and hungover, Jason’s mind began to wander. He thought back to the night of Tony’s party. The argument he had with Randy continued to haunt him in his dulled state. Some harsh words were said, he thought regretfully, we never talked that way to each other before. I had no idea he was jealous like that, he thought, or did I just miss the signs? have I been ignoring him? maybe he’s right about me pushing him away, maybe it’s partly my fault. He recalled more about that 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 conflict and almost got in trouble with the police. He’s mixing with the wrong people, Jason asserted. He then began to wonder about his own responsibility. Maybe I drove him to it, he conceded, I have been spending more time with Christine, his getting into wrong situations, doing things he shouldn’t be doing, is he just trying to get me to notice him again? Guilt began to weigh on Jason. I need to be there for him, he reminded himself, but he still felt unsettled. What if he doesn’t want to come back? he worried.
Jason’s actions became more automatic as the day 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 resolve to find a new career path. I just keep losing my freedoms, he bemoaned, then wondered if Randy was right about some of the things he had said. 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 minivan before long. He looked around the remote area for other people, but saw only empty, lonely space.
His thoughts returned to the night of Tony’s party. The events of the night replayed in his mind as he looked for the moment when everything went wrong. He recalled showing up with 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 was busy talking to other people. They then tried to talk to some of the other party goers, but the noise and everyone’s erratic behavior made it difficult. A lot of those people were on something other than alcohol, he remembered. Probably just a matter of time until a fight broke out, he figured, if it wasn’t Randy and that other guy it would have been some other two guys. He searched some more but couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment when everything went wrong. Maybe there wasn’t one, he concluded, or it had already happened.
As he poured over the events of that night they began to combine into a single totality, which he then saw as part of a long chain of events that built up unnoticeably over time. He tried to find its beginning but it stretched as far back as he could remember. A pattern of behavior appeared to him and he was surprised that he didn’t see it sooner. It seems so obvious, he thought to himself. He then tried to foresee what the future held for Randy, but it made him uneasy.
He then considered his own future, and the futures of all his other friends. He saw the ending of their happy-go-lucky lifestyles and a future of greater responsibilities and less fun. It used to be we were all living it up without a care in the world, he reminisced, and now it’s all about careers and families and car payments. I thought I had more living to do, he thought indignantly, but with everything getting more expensive all the time I guess there’s no more time to take it easy. He started to wonder if Randy was right in his accusations. He may have a point but you can’t stop yourself from growing older, Jason reminded himself. His actions settled into a manageable work tempo.
His thoughts were drawn back again to Randy’s uncertain future. Where is he headed? he worried, he’s gone way beyond just having a good time. He then looked into the past and tried to find the source of Randy’s behavior. There’s got be a reason, he told himself, people don’t get that way for no reason. He then felt he needed to remind himself that he shouldn’t make excuses for Randy. Why did I have to remind himself of that, he wondered, I’m not saying it’s okay for him to go through life recklessly, I’m just trying to understand.
Jason wondered if everyone else was worrying about Randy. He tried to contemplate if
anything could be done for him, and dreaded that there wasn’t. But I can’t just shun Randy, he told himself. He tried again to figure out a possible positive outcome for Randy but was still unsuccessful. The hopelessness of the situation wore him down. What do I know anyways, 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. The history buried in his subconscious became unearthed and dawned upon him.
Jason looked around the stark building as he worked. The bare concrete and steel gave an appearance of solid, immovable permanence. I guess I ought to be thankful for what I have, he thought ironically. Not that I exactly have anything here, he reminded himself, 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 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 would not have to lay them off and pay them a severance. That’s 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 goddamn minutes, that bullshit never happened in the old days.
I better get a new thing going quick and get the hell out of here, he reminded himself. His bleak work situation weighed upon him further, his desperation amplified by his hangover. First thing I’ve got to do is to stay away from those kinds of parties, he told himself, and maybe I’ll have to take any job I can get even if it’s less pay just so I can leave this place. But if I take a job that pays less, he pondered, I’ll have to keep looking for a better paying job. Would Christine even put up with me working for less money? he worried as he struggled to find a solution. Dad had it way more together when he was my age and now it’s getting impossible, he agonized, 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 one strenuous job where he had to dig trenches for water pipes and sprinkler systems, and another where he had to push around heavy wheelbarrows full of concrete and dump them into wooden frames laid upon the ground. Got to say I was more happy with life then than I am now, he admitted. Here I am filling out paperwork and stacking boxes like they’re blocks, he told himself, pretty easy, a job where I don’t have to kill myself, but I liked it a whole lot better when I was breaking a sweat.
The boxes gradually cleared the floor and covered the pallet as Jason labored repetitiously. He worked just hard enough not to worsen his hangover and timed his task so he wouldn’t finish too fast. They’ll just give me some other stupid thing to do, he told himself. His thoughts drifted further into the past. He remembered how Randy, ever since kindergarten, always seemed to get into trouble with teachers, principals and other authority figures. 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, sure didn’t seem like a problem back then. He was struck by how life seemed so innocent back then. So many things I didn’t see, he realized, and all because I was too busy having fun.
He reflected on Randy’s home life and the stress and conflicts between he and his mother. Sure they clashed, he remembered, but that’s just how it was, Randy was a handful, especially after his dad took off, so she did what she had to, at the time it actually seemed normal. I know they love each other, he acknowledged, some people just have a harder time showing it. He saw Randy’s lifelong impulsiveness and risky behavior in a new light, and more flaws were revealed than he had remembered. He tried again to find a solution to the chaos. What if he got along better with his mom, he thought, what if his dad never left, what if he had some guidance, what if…what if what! The dam of sympathy burst inside of him. You can’t go back in time and change things! he insisted, you do the best we can with what you got and you get on with it, everyone’s got problems.
The boxes were almost cleared off the floor and stacked onto the pallet. Jason looked at his watch and saw that it was getting close to 5PM. He felt a bit of 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