Jason took a long drink from a bottle of tomato juice as he leaned back against a three story rack of heavy steel shelves and waited for the juice to replenish his fatigued body. The half filled shelving towered over him as he relaxed for a bit as he continued to recover from too much alcohol over the weekend. 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. He 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 comprehend the maze of small writing and blank rectangles awaiting bar code stickers with his slowed, hungover thinking. He then looked down at the inventory and picked up the piece of equipment closest to him. He turned it around until he found its label and two bar code stickers. He peeled off one of the stickers, looked back at the form on the clipboard, and tried to figure out onto which blank rectangle it belonged. He finally found the information on the form that matched the label on the equipment and applied the sticker. He then took the pen from the clipboard and tediously copied information from the label onto the form. He longed to go home and sleep off his hangover, but forced himself to work through the pain. He finally completed the task and placed the item on the pallet.
He picked up a mainframe part, removed one of its bar code labels and placed it on the form, slowly wrote down the information from its label, then 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. He then contemplated his own responsibility. Maybe I drove him to it, he considered 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 guilt continued to weigh on him. And what if he doesn’t want to come back? he dreaded.
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 without the familiarity of music and he furthered his determination to find a new job. It feels like everything is starting to close in, he feared, 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 were drawn back to the night of Tony’s party. The events of the night replayed again in his mind, and 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 wondered, 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 searched some more but couldn’t find an exact moment when the night started to go wrong. Maybe there wasn’t one, he concluded, then wondered if that moment had already happened long ago.
He continued to pore over the events of the night until they started to connect to similar past episodes of misbehavior, and all the separate unruly incidents scattered over time and place combined and formed into an unmistakable pattern. He saw the familiar history anew and attempted to trace it to its beginning, but it stretched as far back as he could remember. He was struck by the obviousness of Randy’s increasing hostility through the years and was surprised he didn’t see it sooner. It was all right there in front of me, he thought to himself, was I blind? He then tried to see into Randy’s future, but saw only darkness.
His thoughts turned to his own future and the futures of all his other friends, and sullenly foresaw the end of their carefree days and lives restrained by greater responsibilities. Life used to be fun, he reminisced, and now it’s all about careers, car payments, and waiting for that next paycheck so you don’t end up living outdoors. I thought we had more living to do, he lamented, I know that’s the way of things but with everything getting more expensive it seems like there’s no more time to take it easy. He remembered how his parents used to hire a sitter and go to adult parties with all the other parents and grown ups. Seemed easier to do that back then, he thought, not as much time now. He started to wonder if Randy was right in his accusations. He may have a point, Jason considered, like being on a conveyor belt as it’s speeding up, but you can’t turn it off so you have to adjust. He then thought about what it’s going to be like for future generations as his actions settled into a manageable work tempo.
Jason’s thoughts revisited Randy’s uncertain future. So where is he headed? he worried, he’s gone way beyond just having a good time. He looked again into the past and tried harder to find a cause that best explained Randy’s behavior; his absent father, his contentious relationship with his mother, his acting out to get attention, but could not figure out which one. I guess it’s a combination of all those things, he told himself, and maybe some other things. He then felt he needed to remind himself that he wasn’t supposed to make excuses for Randy. Why did I have to remind himself of that? he pondered, I’m not saying it’s okay for him to go through life recklessly, I’m just trying to understand.
Jason started to wonder if anyone else was worrying about Randy as much as he was. I’m sure they are, he thought, but eventually everyone is going to move on with their lives. He found himself accepting of life’s nonstop forward progress and understanding of his friends’ and peers’ safe, pragmatic decisions, but he also yearned for the simplicity of youth and a desire to preserve at least some of it. Everyone else may have figured that nothing more could be done for Randy, he told himself, but I can’t just shun him. He tried again to find any kind of possible positive outcome for Randy but remained unsuccessful, and the hopelessness of the situation wore on him. 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 buried history continued to unearth and reveal itself.
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 affirmed to himself.
His bleak work situation weighed upon him further, and he felt the tug of desperation. Maybe I’ll have to take any job I can get even if it’s less pay and I have to start at the bottom again just so I can leave this place…but if I do take a job that pays less, I’ll have to keep looking for a better paying job. And would Christine even put up with me working for less money? he worried further, and how would I pay off my debt and move out of the house? Dad had it way more together when he was my age and now it’s getting impossible, he bemoaned, 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 dug trenches for water pipes and sprinkler systems, and another 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, he told himself, pretty easy job…but I liked it a whole lot better when I was breaking a sweat.
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. His thoughts drifted back further. 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, sure didn’t seem like a problem back then. He was struck by how life seemed so innocent in the past when at the time it didn’t.
He thought about Randy’s home life and all the conflicts he had with his mother over the years. 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, it’s just harder for some people to show it, and she had her own hard times growing, probably goes way back. The pattern of dysfunction stretched out in his mind further than he ever remembered.
The burden of responsibility began to weigh on Jason, and he felt obligated to find a solution to the chaos. He revisited the past one more time. What if he got along better with his mom? he imagined, what if his dad never left? what if he had some guidance? His wishful thinking continued as he tried to reshape 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 the 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 and saw that it was getting close to 5PM. He 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