Sinking Into Myself Chapter 2: "Ten Men"

The young girl sat alone during the lunch hour. She didn't sit with the other students in the lunchroom. No, she walled herself in the safety of a classroom. While others were out on the field talking and running (one would not dare call it "recess" in junior high) she stayed behind to read a book.
"What are you doing in here, cow?"
She refused to look up from her reading--not wanting to give her tormentor the satisfaction.
"Are you too afraid to be with the others? Or are you afraid you’ll squash them flat?"
"I don’t weigh that much."
"Yeah, and neither did King Kong."
“An original Kris Gersmehl comeback. Better patent that.”
The young girl had learned what her tormentors lacked in tact, they also lacked in knowledge.
"No one likes you here and no guy in this school, let alone the freaking world, would ever want to go out with you. You’re too fat and too God-awful ugly."
"Stop it! Just stop it!"
The girl was close to tears. She had been trying to do all she could to change her life around. She had changed her diet, stopped watching television, gone on hike, walks and runs around her home in the country. Was her tormentor blind or did he just have a depraved heart?
"And what are you going to about it, fat girl!"
“Why do you hate me? She asked with tears streaming down her face. Yes, she had some friends...she had a best friend—the only one who ever came to her aid--but the fact that someone hated her for no reason drained her. But for the first time, he did not have an answer to her question as he looked at her with a puzzled expression and then walked out of the room.

omnia causa fiunt

Ten Men

“I feel dead."
“Well, then rise, shine, and feel the burn, Vampira. We’re going back to Joe’s.”
I tore the bedcovers and pillow away, exposing Kim's face to the bright sunlight that permeated through the window.
“Jazz...it's...it's...what the hell time it is anyway?”
“Eight-thirty.”
“It’s eight-thirty on a Saturday. Let the dying die!”
“Did the dead forget about what she did last night?”
“It’s still pretty foggy.”
"We're going back to Joe's house because...."
"Oh yeah...my clothes."
"Unless you want him to..."
“I vow to never do that again.”
“You’re going to have to clarify what ‘that’ is.”
“To never drink again. Don’t hold me to it.”
An hour later we were once again at Joe’s house. The front yard was a mess: tire ruts in the grass, plastic and paper cups all over the lawn and watermelon shrapnel on a few of the garden gnomes.
“His parents are going to freak out at this.”
“One can only hope.”
I said that not to be cruel, but it would be for the best if he was caught. Joe was like a magician: he would vanish when trouble started and then re-appear without a scratch on him. (Not that I cared too much…maybe I just hated to see people get away with being dishonest.) As we walked up to the house it looked like he was going to need an army of David Copperfields to whisk away the proof of the previous night’s soiree.
Kim stepped ahead of me, walked up to the front door, opened it and stepped right on in.
“You don't live here, you just...can't...walk in.” I suppose if one leaves their underwear at someone’s house, they have some right of sorts to just enter. Some intimate form of imminent domain.
“Tom?”
The front room and hallway were immaculate. The set of soundly stacked speakers were gone. There was also the smell of carpet cleaner and potpourri in the air. The house was now too clean to believe any cover story that Joe would say if asked by his parents “did anything happen while we were away?”
“Tom?” Kim called into the kitchen.
“Yo!”

The voice was not Tom but Joe, sitting at the table with an incredible stack of French toast. His face and eyes showed fatigue; as if making French toast (and hopefully turning off the griddle) was the last thing he could do before his brain melted into a grey mush.
“Where’s Tom?” Kim asked.
I had doubts Joe could say more than a monosyllabic reply.
“Upstairs.” Two syllables. My expectations were shattered.

Kim skipped out of the kitchen and back into the hallway. I thought to follow her, but I had a slight reservation that I would hate to see what I would find up there.
“Why didn’t you join in on the party?” Joe asked just before taking a large bite.
“The thought of purging my guts out the next day and looking a little bit like you right now wasn’t high on my totem.”
“You get used to it…”
“To what?”
“To living on two hours of sleep…Shit, I need to wake up.”
“What’s on your calendar, Joe?”
“Work.”
Joe works? Oh this I had to hear.
“Where do you work?”
“We’re helping a work crew for the summer. Cleaning up and stuff. Last day before the new year.”
“May I ask who the “we” are?”
“Tom, Kris and I”
My mind was racing with scenarios of Beavis and Butthead, plus one; “The Three Stooges” or a scene from “Goodfellas”-esque; shenanigans prevailing. Either the three were clean and diligent in their work in a "Twilight Zone" way or their boss was a major idiot.
Kris entered the kitchen, side-stepped around me and gravitated to the coffee maker. Joe pointed at Kris and flew his hands into the air as he yelled.
“It's alive! Alive, I tell you!”
Kris simply flipped him off, poured a cup of coffee and then sat at the table. No sugar, no creamer, no Irish whiskey…someone was still tired.
“Do cheerleaders date football players?” Joe asked as he took another bite.
“That’s an urban legend,” I replied as I stepped closer, leaned toward his face and with a hint of flirting asked: “Why, Joe? Are you playing this year?”
“Yeah,” he replied with a little bit of excitement in his...voice.
I looked back towards Kris—we had his attention. “--But, sometimes they do.”
“Cool,” Joe replied as he took another bite.

I stood outside on the front porch, surveying the battlefield that was once the front yard. It was either that or stay in the company of Joe and Kris and watch them grunt back and forth like cavemen. I suppose I could have gone on a scavenger hunt through the house to look for Kim, but I thought it best not too…again, who knew what I would find.
We, Kris, and I, had gone to a few parties at one time. These were all impromptu events that sprawled up around us or we were whisked to them by people who could drive. Some were better than others; and for a time, I enjoyed going to them, seeing new people and learning how the other half lived. I know that sounds condescending, but at times I really did feel like Jane Goodall observing the habits of teenagers in the tequila and triple sec mist.
Kim stepped out the door and then skipped down the steps.
“I’m sorry, Jazz, I-”
“Got caught up in the moment...again?” I replied as I followed across the lawn.
“I guess you could say it like that.”
“Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he just break up with Danielle?”
“Yeah, he did, but she was just a slut who would sleep with anybody, like Michelle...just meets ‘em, greets 'em, eats em.”
“Give me ignorance on that, please.”
“You should see him when he sleeps, Jazz, he's so cute.”
“I hate that word.”
“Why do you hate the word cute?”
“It's not the word, it what it’s used for: A baby is cute. Bunnies are cute. A picture of a baby with bunnies, that's cute.”
“Well, Tom still is cute in my opinion.”
“So, is it Tom who's cute or a part of him?”
“They’re a package deal...emphasis on the package.”

We drove into the closet form of civilization, Airway Heights, where Kim worked at a grocery store as a courtesy clerk, or more commonly referred to as a bagger, go-getter, customer service rep…actually, to hear Kim tell it, she did just about everything but rent the movies out to the customers at the video counter. She lamented on how she hated working until she got her paycheck every Wednesday and then she absolutely LOVED her job and all of the surly shoppers who muttered under their breath about squished bread.
The store wasn’t exactly crowded but shopping carts were strung out all over the lot. I maneuvered the car into a parking space that had at least fifteen feet on any side from a cart, as people were notorious at not giving a care when they unloaded and just shoved it away from them and into a parked car…like, mine…on the first day I got it.

“Alex to the lot please for a cart run. Alex to the front for a cart run.”
We walked into the store, towards the center of the building as the intercom blared for some poor schlep to ferry shopping carts into the store.
“Are you getting anything?” Kim asked. She accelerated her pace as she walked away from me; on her way to the back of the store.
I shook my head; we were there for Kim to see her work schedule for the week and I had no plans on buying a thing.
“No, you?”
“Can you grab an RC for me?”
I nodded in reply as she turned the corner at the end of the aisle. Better a Royal Crown than a Crown Royal.
From out of the corner of my eye, I then saw a brief flash of white, red and black. A nanosecond later I heard a weird “thunk” and found myself on the floor.
“Are you okay?” A garbled voice asked.
"Yeah, maybe I-" My eyes were open but everything was so out of focus. There it was again, a blurry picture of someone dressed in black, white and red. I had to blink a few times to focus before he came into view.
Although I would never put myself as Snow White or any fairy tale princess, for a brief moment, I wanted this stranger, this person who slammed me to the floor, to kiss me like a prince in those stories. But I settled for his assistance in helping me up.
“I’m sorry, really, I-”
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I--”
“Jazz!” Kim’s voice screamed through the air and into my already pounding ears as she raced from the end of the aisle to where we were. “Jazz, you all right?”
“Yes, Kim, thank you.”
“I’m sorry I was just in a hurry to-” the quasi-prince started to say, before:
“Watch where you’re going” Kim, ever the gen-teel one, finished.
“I said I was sorry.”
“Yeah, well, be more careful, you-”
“Kim, I’m fine, really. Go get your schedule,” I replied. “Go.”
She nodded but glared back at him as she walked away.
There was a long silence between the two of us. He looked around, quite possibly to see if a manager or someone else saw the incident—the look of “well, I guess I’m fired” was in his eyes.
“I won’t sue you.”
“It’s not really you I’m worried about, well, I meant-”
“In that case, I’ll have my lawyers call you.”
“Alex Foxx, spelled with two ‘x’s’...in case you need to press charges.”
“Jazeta Daniels. How does it look?”
“Probably feels worse than it looks.”
“Please don’t lie to make me feel better. It doesn’t help.”
“It’s a shiner. Not a world record, but--"
“Might as well be. I have photo shoot this afternoon.”
“Really? Are you some sort of fashion model or something?”
“Or something,” I replied.
Truth be told, I was a model...but not in the runway style, more of the line for clothes and up-close facial shots. I went to an audition and was picked up by Premerton Studios of Spokane, Washington. It was never about a bunch of rail thin models wearing dresses no one "normal" would wear. No, that's where I came in. The picture you see in magazines for the new “back to school” or “Prom Season” photos? Me.
“You know, I’d thought you were a runway model, actually.”
“Thank you.”
“Well, Jazeta, I uhh.”
“Alex Foxx to the front lot please, second call. Alex Foxx—" the disembodied voice on the intercom boomed.
He fidgeted for a minute…as if debating in his head if it would be okay to just blow off work and stay next to the girl he clotheslined. “Work calls. We can run into each other again, sometime, right?”
“Let’s make it figuratively, okay?”
“Of course,” he replied as he ran around the end of the aisle, presumably out the front door, and I stood there, kind of grinning like an idiot.

I barely listened to Kim on the way to the studio. Yes, I was interested in her life, but not too interested in listening to what she thought would be the perfect future: wedding, children, not to mention she thought about what the color of the carpet in their house would be. It was like receiving a verbal “MASH” note.
“You seem to have it all planned out.” I replied after she described the flower decorations for the centerpieces.
“I do.”
“You deliberately said that, didn’t you?”
“Yes. Yes, I did.”
“Taking this a bit extreme, you think?” I asked. When I was younger, I dreamed of princes and being saved from a life of isolation. Growing up, I learned to kind of love the isolation and looked forward to it after school and sports events. My younger self would have stuck her tongue out at me and called me "a mom".
“A little, maybe, but I think it’s something that will last.”
It had lasted for a day thus far. I didn’t want to be the rain on her wedding day, but- “Okay, so when did he break up with Danielle?”
“At the end of school, I think.”
“And he’s solely with you?”
“We didn’t exactly do a blood oath or anything."
"Actually--"

Tom, as I said before, was like a tomcat. He was always on the move (didn’t want to say “prowl”, but there I did anyway) for someone new. His ability to meet a perspective ‘date’ was actually amazing, to tell the truth. He was not entirely handsome, in my opinion; he had a one track mind about things, mainly sex, but he was not shallow enough to deny any of that. So, either girls loved the honesty of his actions; intrigued by his “bad boy on the lam” persona or they thought they could tame the randy beast before them and he would be purring in their laps. I wasn’t about to ask Kim which one she was because she would probably vote for D, all of the above.
We arrived at the studio and went in. Premerton Studios was an adequately sized building on the north side of Spokane, nestled between tall pine trees. It had a non-descript look to it…I suppose it could be described as “ho-hum” on the outside. Inside, however, the building was Hollywood-ish with multiple pictures and works of art in the front lobby.
“Hello, Megan,” I chirped to the receptionist and wife of the photographer, David Locke.
“Hey Jazz, oh, what is that on your head?”
“I was hoping it wasn’t noticeable.”
“Hope springs eternal,” Megan replied as she picked up the desk phone. “Dave, Jazz is here.”

Kim walked to the side of the room and looked at one of the photos on the wall, which was of me, taken over a year ago. It was a face shot with the colors muted. David wanted to use it to test new filters.
Dave walked in from down the hall. He was a "hipster"--if one was called that in the 1990s--with a goatee, long hair in a braid and he always had a monstrous camera around his neck. He waved for me to come with him and we walked down the hall.
“Ah, Jazeta has made her appearance. Are you growing another head? Where did you get that?”
“A guy I ran into.”
“Living dangerously, are we?”
“I thought you wanted to get more action shots?”
"Wardrobe’s ready when you are."
“What is this shoot for, Dave?”
“Nordstrom. They're trying to gear up for the spring line; proms, graduation, new designs. It gets earlier every year."
I nodded and stepped into an adjoining room.
"You have thirty minutes."

Dave kept a tight schedule...but he knew who he was working with: teenagers who had other ideas at times. I tried my best to be a blank slate during shots, allowing the two of us to work together. He was the artist. If you think that I was a prop, well, I didn't think myself that way. Actually, I don't really have a great analogy to compare it to. I just know I enjoyed it, it brought me a bit of money and I never had to ask anyone if they wanted fries with their ‘Papa Joe’.
The shoot took less than forty-five minutes as Dave concentrated on two different styles. His thought were always on not ticking off the model and not sweating "the perfect shot".
"Every shot is perfect...but only one can be absolutely perfect...unless the client pays for two...or more."
I walked into the lobby to find Kim asleep in one of the chairs.
"Kim, wake up."
"How long was I out?"
"Maybe an hour? I'm not sure."
"Gotta crick in my neck." She gripped at her neck and yawned.
I helped her stand up and heard a few small 'cracks' as she stretched her legs.
"Damn, am I old?"
"Only if you feel that way," I replied.

We stepped out into parking lot to see another car next to mine, one that I knew too well: Kris Gersmehl's.
“Kris, what are you doing here?"
“I thought we could talk, you know, like we used to.”
“Fine, " I gave an annoyed sigh. "Let's talk."
“Umm, I'll wait inside,” Kim stepped back.
"No, go ahead and get in the car. This won't take long."
I handed over my keys and she side-stepped away from Kris to the passenger side of my car.
“Why are you really here?” I asked Kris as he took a few steps back in a defensive pose.
“I'm sorry about the party. I guess that's another thing you can hate me for.”
“I can hate you for a lot more than that, but I’m not going to.”
“Is there a chance for us to get back together again?”
“No.”
“Why?”
“If you have to ask me then you have more issues than I thought you could possibly have.”
“I just want to talk about—“
I walked over to my car.
“We're not having this conversation again.”
Kim unlocked the door and I climbed in behind the wheel.
“No, not again, because we never had it to begin with. You yelled at me and then said you never wanted to see me again.”
“And you know what? That still stands!"
“This wasn’t the reception I was trying to get, Jazz.”
“I don’t care Kris. I can move on. Okay? You of all people taught me that. No big deal, remember?” I yelled as I turned the key and cranked the engine.
Kris looked up and over the car, as if staring off into the distance. He would do this when he was angry, obsessed or depressed. I didn't feel like figuring out which one it was at that time.
“I’ve found someone else, Kris. He’s older, dependable and cares about me. He’s polite and I love him very much. So, I hope your senior year goes well without your supposed cheerleader trophy girlfriend.”

I closed the door and backed out of the parking lot, leaving Kris standing next to the now empty space.
"Boyfriend?" Kim asked. "You mean Alex? Oh my God, are you crazy?”
“Un poco.”
“You know nothing about him.”
“You work with him, so tell me about him.”
“I don’t know him. I see him at work and I see him work and work-that’s all he does. He doesn’t talk to people unless customers ask him a question.”
“Sounds like an ideal employee...possibly good boyfriend material. I happen to know he has a sense of humor too.”
“I guess anything's better than Kris Gersmehl.”
“Let’s not lower the bar that much.”

We drove back to the store.
I was on a mission--perhaps one that was foolhardy and incredibly stupid, but a mission nonetheless. I normally didn't go out and do anything like this because I was the one who kept Kim from doing things like this.
“Where would he be?”
“I don't know, I-Jazeta, think of it though, he's older, he doesn’t go to our school. You’ll never get to see him, he-”
We walked down several aisles before we found him; kneeling in front of a flat cart stacked with canned goods.

I motioned Kim to wait as I quietly walked down the aisle.
“Excuse me, where can I find pickled pig’s feet?”
"Yes ma'am, they're--" He turned to see me.
“Hi, Alex.” I said as I knelt down next to him. “Are you busy tomorrow?”
“No, actually, I, well, no, no I’m quite free until Monday afternoon.”
“Great. Do you have a pen?”
Alex reached into his apron; pulled out a pen and a notepad' and then handed them to me.
I quickly wrote down my phone number.
“Give me a call when you get off.”
“It’s not till after midnight.”
“And I'll be up.” I replied.
“I will, thanks. Did you still want the pig’s feet?”
“No. Thank you for asking though. I was just trying to get your attention.”
“Oh, well. I- thought I’d ask. That’s not yet the strangest request for an item I’ve ever gotten.”
“What was the strangest?”
“Rocky mountain oysters.”
“Oysters live in the mountains?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought at first too.”



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