“And I’m up while the dawn is breaking, even though my heart is aching. I should be drinking a toast to absent friends instead of these comedians.” –Elvis Costello
A couple days later, it’s my birthday. I get up early and take my friends to the bus station. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?” They ask. They’re leaving for San Diego this morning. “I would,” I tell them again, “but I don’t have the money, and I really want to look for a job.” But mostly, today, I want to get my head on straight and that means getting some work done.
After sitting in traffic for an hour, I arrive home and finish putting notes on the movie outline that I’ve been working on with The Writer. I email it to him before sending him a text, announcing that I had done so, along with an invitation to write with me this afternoon. Feeling highly productive, I continue on my writing streak and decide that today I will finish another script I’ve been working on, inspired by my college years.
After two hours, the nagging sensation from being ignored strikes my last nerve, and I can’t take it anymore. Why is he ignoring me? Doesn’t he realize it’s my birthday? A sliver of me is furious, but I bury that temperament as I dial him. The phone rings. And rings, and rings. I can feel my blood pressure rise as my call is about to go to voicemail—except he picks up at the last moment. “Hey, you.”
I’m knocked on my ass—so much for being vicious. “Hi,” I say. From the noise patterns of the call, I can tell he’s in the car. And from his tone, I can tell someone is with him. “What’s going on?” He asks. “I was just going to see if you wanted to get lunch and maybe write.” The feeling I have while waiting for his response is akin to the butterflies that come with an intimidating job interview. “I’m actually on my way to lunch right now. Actually, can I call you later?” Actually, I have no air left. “Shah,” I answer, unsure of which word I am trying to gasp out. BEEP BEEP BEEP.
So that’s it. I’m all alone 1:30 in the afternoon on my birthday, and that how the remaining ten and a half hours are looking. This is good though. I wanted to be productive. Loneliness and productivity are great lovers, so I take out a concentration pill, cut it in half and swallow. I examine the remaining half of the pill and think, Fuck it, before swallowing that part, too.
* * *
Hours later, I’m around page 42 when it starts to bother me again. He didn’t even acknowledge that it’s my birthday. I decide to call again. “Hey,” I say a bit more aggressively when he answers the phone. Now I’m feeling (and probably sounding) slightly desperate. But it’s my birthday. I can do whatever I want, right?
“What’s up?” “Do you want to catch up on TV tonight?” I ask. We haven’t seen any of the old shows we used to watch since Dalton moved back. “Really, I would love to, but…” I can hardly wait to hear the excuse this time. “…Dalton is staying here for the rest of the week. The guy whose house he’s living at, his family is in town visiting, so he needed the spare room that Dalton’s been staying in. I’m just doing him a favor.”
“Oh. Alright.” That’s all I manage. He says some generic salutation before hanging up, but I don’t process it. Originally, tonight was going to be the night I was going to talk to The Writer about my feelings. Instead, I’ll be sleeping alone.
In the kitchen, I pour myself a Jameson on the rocks then sit back down in front of my laptop. I’m distraught. But re-appropriating this kind of emotional damage (that’s my fun euphemism for pretending like bad shit didn’t just happen) is like dynamite for creativity—you can’t get that anywhere else. Ideas just explode out of you like a bad case of Montezuma’s revenge. I make the best of my night and write my aching little heart out. I get all the way to the end of the script. When I check to see what time it is, I realize it’s 2:30 AM. This is mildly unfortunate, considering that I wasn’t kidding about the creative dynamite. My brain is shooting fireworks, but my body is exhausted.
I take an anxiety pill with a small nightcap to calm me and decide to write some revisions while I’m winding down. Only, the come down doesn’t… well, come. Just after 3:00, I decide I’ve had enough and turn off the light. I roll back and forth so many times that I become trapped in my sheets. I shove them off and push them into the big empty space next too me. I’m burning up even though the A.C. is on as high as it will go. I feel my face turning red. I take another Xanax. And another swig of Jameson. Happy Birthday.
I lie there for fifteen more minutes, typing away. I get a few lines out, but mostly just stare at the screen. I wish I had drugs now. I hate myself for getting to this place. I take out another Xanax and crush it up with my hammer like I’ve seen in the movies. I cut it into a line and snort it up my left nostril. It burns badly and most of it falls out anyway—stupid. The room is spinning. Why can’t I just be unconscious? I feel nauseous, but not sleepy.
I think about what I would have said to The Writer if I had just waited a couple more weeks–until today. I imagine that we would have done something romantic. And at the end of the night, we’d be kind of drunk. It being my birthday would give me some kind of leverage, or at the very least some kind of emotional cushioning on the matter of my feelings. I don’t know exactly what I would have done…tried something overtly sexual probably. And then ease into it. It doesn’t matter now. These thoughts only stir my furor.
I’m becoming jittery. It’s just past 5AM. My mom ought to be heading to work on the east coast now. I open up my blinds and stare out the window as I call her. I’m not wearing a shirt, but I’m sweating. “Is everything OK?” She asks as she answers. “What are you doing calling me so early?” “No, I’m not OK,” I answer with slight hysteria. “What’s wrong?” She asks. “The Writer,” I reply.
After listening to a bunch of nonsense, she stops me: “What did he do to hurt you so bad?”
“He cared about me. And then he didn’t.”
* * *
There’s a knock on the door, and I answer. It’s The Writer—he’s asked to come over and write with me. It’s a few days after my birthday, and I’m over the private embarrassment of my emotional tantrum. “Hey,” he says smoothly sliding through the doorway, following up with a tight embrace. I do my best to smile politely. “How’s it going?” He asks. “Fine,” I respond shortly, not making eye contact. There’s an uncomfortable air in the room. “Do you… want to go somewhere and write?” He asks. “Whatever you want,” I respond quietly.
I go to my bedroom to fetch a pair of socks and then sit down by the front door to slide them on my feet. The silence continues. I take a breath like I’m going to say something, but don’t. He starts: “Is everything—”
“So, you forgot my birthday.” I cut him off. He looks positively dumbfounded, searching for something to say. “When was your…” he realizes that’s not the right thing to say.
“Sorry,” he offers with a wince. But I don’t give him an inch. As I finish tying my first shoe, I speak up: “Let’s just go get lunch. You’re buying.” The Writer proceeds to kneel down behind me, wrapping his arms around my torso and knees. I don’t move a muscle. It is without a doubt the most peculiar embrace I’ve ever received. “I’m sorry I forgot, but I still love you.” I’ve never heard him say that word before on his own merit. Not once. Invoking it now, even in a platonic way, feels cheap. “Sorry,” he continues, “I’m just a shitty person.” “Yeah. You really are,” I say, not missing a beat. He looks a little surprised but tries to cover it with a smile. “But I’ll still be friends with you anyway.”
Over lunch, we finish up the details of our movie outline. “I’ll look over it one more time and send it to my agent,” he says. “Then what happens?” I ask. “He’ll send it to some execs, and they’ll review it within a couple of weeks. And then hopefully, we’ll have a meeting with them and eventually a movie deal.” “Sound like a plan.”
“You know that show I want to get hired on?” He asks. “Yeah, what about it?” “Do you think they’ll hire me if I don’t write a sample script? I mean, can’t they just read my screenplays?” “I seriously doubt it,” I answer. Always trying to cut corners, this one. I then remember I’ve been invited to a premiere party that I know The Writer wasn’t invited to. Look at me all connected! “You should come,” I encourage. “The creator of that show will be there. You can network or whatever it is you’re supposed to do.” “Yeah, I’d like to,” he agrees.
* * *
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” -Helen Keller
It’s Saturday afternoon, and I haven’t heard from The Writer all day despite our plans to go to the premiere in an hour and a half. I call him, but he doesn’t answer. I start getting dressed—nothing too fancy—it’s supposed to be pretty low-key. I pace a bit, getting very anxious, so I call again. It goes to voicemail, and I let out an annoyed sigh. “What the fuck,” I say aloud.
I text him: “Are you still coming? Call me.” A minute later, my phone rings. It’s him. “Hello?” I say in a slightly passive aggressive tone. “Hey, sorry. I was on the phone with my dad.” “I’m about to leave,” I say, waiting for him to tell me he’s ready.
“I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore. I drank a lot last night, and I’m not feeling too well. I just want to take a nap.”
I may take it on all fours, but I’m not about to take this lying down.
I strike him with silence…and then: “Are you serious?” “Yeah, I’m just not really in the mood.” “You couldn’t tell me that earlier than fifteen minutes before I’m about to leave my house?” I ask. “Sorry. I didn’t know I wasn’t going to feel good,” he says. “Sorry, but that’s crap.” I snap back, the anger boiling into my voice. “You drank too much last night, and you just now realized that you don’t feel good?” I hear traffic. He’s in his car. “Sorry,” he says with a drawn-out whine. “Are you mad at me?”
“I’m annoyed,” I answer with distinct punctuation. “I could have invited someone who actually would have gone. Someone who wouldn’t take this for granted. Someone who respects me and my time. Plus, I barely know anyone there, and now I’m going by myself. But whatever.”
“I’m sure you’ll know someone,” he says encouragingly. “Thanks a lot,” I scoff. I can hear him shrinking on the other side of the conversation as I continue: “Just…forget it.” “Bye,” he says sheepishly. BEEP BEEP BEEP.
I’m slightly in shock. He just hung up on me. Out of fear. His last word was tinged in terror. If I weren’t so furious, I’d be laughing hysterically.
My face a little red, I splash some cold water on it then leave. In my car, my phone rings. It’s him. I ignore it. A minute later, I get a text: “Hey, so I’ll meet you. And we can go. I’m drinking redbull and vodka now. Rallying for you.” This only serves to piss me off more. “Forget about it,” I reply.
Another text: “Nooooo…I’m rallying. I’m gonna go. Sorry I’m just exhausted. I don’t want to leave you hanging alone.” That last part stings. My answer: “I don’t need you to hold my hand. I’m pretty sure I can handle myself for an hour.”
“I really do wanna go,” he says one more time. I throw my phone across the passenger seat, and it falls on the floor.