Pathetic, I told myself. If Jessica was still here she would have made the girl return the dress. She would have asked to speak to the manager.
But I wasn’t Jessica. Inside, my body screamed for me to rush towards a safe place and that was my little red car.
Safe. No one can bother me.
I kept the windows rolled up, even though it was a warm day outside. I didn’t want to hear people’s voices; I just needed a bit of quiet to quell the nastiness in my stomach.
I teared up as I glanced at the shopping bag, disappointed in myself. I just spent over a hundred dollars on something that needs to be repaired. It wasn’t even on sale. I knew what my mother would say if she saw this. Ben had always done this stuff for me. Whenever my Comcast stopped working, I gave the phone to Ben so he could deal with it.
When I got home, I shoved the shopping bag in a corner of my closet so that I wouldn’t have to think about my failure for a couple days. Back in my room, I grabbed my sketchpad, ruler, and pencils and spread them over my desk. The best light was in the kitchen, but I needed complete silence to work on art. My environment needed to be a cocoon of artistic energy. My eyes roved over the walls, where I pasted photographs of some of my favorite corporate designs: Apple, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo.
One day, I’ll design something amazing for a company known all around the world.
But for now, I was working on penguins. My boss gave me the assignment to redo the pamphlets for the penguin exhibit. It was one of the most popular exhibits at the San Francisco Bay Aquarium, especially among children. I drew a straight line across the page and my hand instinctively flinched. An image of a wooden spoon cracking over my knuckles echoed through the years and I tightened my fist.
It was only a sketch, but it had to be perfect. I used the ruler even for the text; to make sure the crossed “T”s were perfectly straight.
Hours later, when I finished perfecting every little detail, I sat back and admired my work. Now, it was time to do it all over again. This time on Photoshop and Illustrator. By the time I finished everything, dark orange light glowed on my wall through my blinds. I stared at my stupid, cartoony graphic that burned my eyeballs for the past few hours. There was nothing else to do and the floodgates holding back all my feelings suddenly opened. Imaginary water poured in from the window, ruining all of the possessions in my cave, and finally submerging me. I was gasping for air.
What an empty life you have. Work, work, work.
I just spent my whole Saturday working, wasting most of my time on a sketch I didn’t really need. The emptiness of my life swallowed me like a black hole in my chest, always needing more, more, and more. More chocolate, more beer, more work and clothes. Yet, I still felt unfulfilled. Empty.
Ben was my purpose. I’m one of those stupid girls who made everything in life about their boyfriend. Every weekend, holiday, and party revolved around the boyfriend. And now that he was gone, there was nothing left. There was nothing to invest my energy in, besides work and my possessions.
I surfed the web and browsed through Express and Urban Outfitters, adding cute, expensive tops to my shopping cart. Buying crap made me feel better. I had a hole and I would fill it with stuff.
* * *
The town car whisked across the Bay Bridge and I stared out the window at the indiscernible black, rolling hills in the distance. My gaze flicked to the empty leather seat beside me. My hands spread over the seat and I imagined that he sat beside me. He grinned at me in excitement. Ben would have loved this. It was like thinking of a dead loved one. Tightness constricted my throat and the dark thoughts invaded my consciousness, sapping the life out of me and evaporating my desire for the party.
The car stopped in a quiet suburb deep within the San Francisco hills and the noise in my head stopped. I could hardly believe that such an ordinary place could exist in the city. It was an incredibly quiet street and the homes had driveways. I stared. Some of the houses were tall, vertical and pastel-colored. We were in front of a giant, white Victorian mansion that looked like a small castle. On the side was a greenhouse. The black gate opened and pink and yellow tulips lined the driveway and encircled the whole house. I got out of the car numbly and walked up the steps, surrounded by white roses. As I passed the glass house, I realized that it was actually a giant solarium, not a greenhouse. The floor was laid out in marble in a checkered black and white pattern. Beautiful patio furniture covered the gleaming floor and guests sat in wicker chairs, enjoying themselves, drinking champagne, and admiring the view.
As I blundered inside, I couldn’t stop staring. There were countless rooms: a room for the pool table, a library, and a study. Upstairs on the second level was a massive patio with its own garden and above that I could see porches sticking out of the bedroom doors. There were several private courtyards surrounding the first floor where one could sit on a sunny day, obscured from all traffic, and read. It was incredible. I never saw anything like it. I grabbed one of the bubbly glasses of champagne bobbing around the rooms on gold-plated trays and wandered.
The champagne slipped down my throat as I walked towards the crowd of well-dressed men and women, most of them Luke’s business associates. They were too intimidating to approach, so I wandered around on my own. He hosted the party in this ridiculously gorgeous mansion to celebrate the success of his multi-million dollar business deal. As his girlfriend’s best friend, I was invited. Jessica wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She refused to leave me alone in the apartment. Part of me loved that about her. Another part, the part closest to my bitter heart, was sick to death of being coddled.
She feels guilty, even though she did nothing wrong.
It wasn’t her fault, but damn did I resent it. And I hated myself for being such a petty friend. Couldn’t I just be happy for her? For the first time in her life, she was happy. I watched her struggle throughout the years with all the rape and abuse hanging like a ten-ton weight around her neck. A sick part of me even felt jealous for that. She was the tragic, selfless and brave orphan.
I didn’t have a transformative story. I was just a middle-class, white bread girl with no problems. No issues. No horrible trauma or secret abortion or drug habit. Nothing. I was ordinary. No one ever wrote stories about the ordinary girl. I had all the advantages in the world, and yet I was destined to be mediocre.
No one really understands how horrible mediocrity can be.
My fingers bit into the now-empty champagne glass. I walked through the mansion as the lounge music boomed in my ears, marveling at the number of stairs and the art displayed on the walls. I passed the living room where a Steinway & Sons grand piano stood. It probably cost him at least forty grand and I knew for a fact that neither of them could play. I sank my finger down on the ivory middle c and winced as a harsh note glared at me. Not only that, but it was out of tune! It was like biting into kale—bitter, bitter, bitter.