Sorting through my stuff after I’d moved into the FBI Surveillance Van, I came across a picture taken many years ago. One of my Pranksters had suggested that I find a truly happy picture of myself and put it somewhere important to remind myself that there is happiness to be had again, so I slapped it onto my fridge. That way, when I go for my diet Coke, I’m stuck looking at a happier version of me.
The picture had been taken years ago, during a party at my parents house.
Being a server meant that, because everyone else on the planet was snuggled up in their wee beds, we were like an insta-party – just add booze. Every night, we’d go out to clubs, bars, or (rarely) party at someone’s house.
That night, my parents were out of town, which meant it was party at Becky’s. We managed to invite everyone – bar patrons, serving staff, friends of friends, restaurant managers, you name it, we were there. The picture from that night had been taken by one of those old disposable cameras, and clearly shows me with my arms around a dude, smiling brightly into the camera, his arms still in the air, caught before he’d had a chance to put them around me.
It’s a fitting picture, I think, for our relationship, which had begun years before.
I’d met Mikey at my first job: an upscale dining establishment that had been around since the beginning of time, where I, not yet 18, was a hostess. He, also not yet 18, was a busboy. We struck up a friendship of sorts, at least, the sort of friendship you have with someone you are also crushing on. And boy, was I crushing.
The guy had everything that made my young heart go pitter-patter in my chest: he was wryly funny, clever, could, upon occasion, be sweet, was kind, and showed me the little things in life.
Once, I remember, when we were both old enough to serve liquor, we spent the 4th of July working the outside part of the sprawling restaurant complex, serving beer in plastic cups and nachos with day-glow cheese so bright it nearly glowed in the dark. I’d just come out of the bathroom, where I’d been sneaking a smoke, when he grabbed my arm and led me across the pond, not speaking, refusing to answer my question, “Where the fuck are we going?”
Eventually, we stopped. He turned my shoulders so that I was facing North.
“Look,” he said. And I did.
From that vantage point, we could see the fireworks going off in three separate towns, peppering the sky with shimmery reds, whites, and blues. I breathed in, deeply, happily. It was beautiful.
Mikey was always doing shit like that. When I dyed my hair a terrible shade of red by accident, he insisted that I come over for an inspection right away. There, in the hot sunlight, he peered at my hair, studying it. “I like it,” he finally said. “It suits you.”
We stayed friends after my first son was born, he and I driving around late at night, the baby strapped in the backseat, soothed by the music I played and the gentle rocking of the car. We’d get out, now and again, to look at the stars, far away from the lights of the city, the silence filling the air deafening as the baby slumbered on.
I often pictured life together, he and I. Raising my son. Helping each other grow and learn. Relying on the other to remind us to do better; be better. I never spoke these words to him, of course, because, I suppose, I didn’t know if we could solve for zero. Knowing that some words, once spoken, can’t be unspoken.
With him, I was never sure where I stood. Did he like me? Did he like me as a friend? Did he respect me? Did he love me?
I couldn’t answer those questions. In small part, because I didn’t want to know the answer and in larger, more annoying part, because I don’t think he even knew the answer. Trying to decipher Mikey was like trying to solve for zero – impossible unless you know the other factors. And I never did.
Eventually, after seven years of friendship, it happened. One drunk night, we hooked up. It was nothing I’d dreamed of. No romance, no courtship, no flowers, no nothing. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Entirely unlike either of us.
After that night, nothing was the same. I wanted more. He did not. But, of course, these words remained unspoken, probably because we finally understood where the other was coming from.
Things finally came to a head seven years after I’d met him. I’d been invited to an unveiling of Sam Adams Light in the city and G Love, one of my favorite bands, was playing. Having some extra tickets, I, of course, invited Mikey. Ten of us crawled inside the limo that was already full of booze and we began the party before the party began. By the time we arrived at the club, we were all toast.
Mikey chose this opportunity to start hitting on my friend and coworker. I pretended not to see.
That is, until he began to tell me, in his drunken stupor how much he liked her, and began to grill me for her phone number. Disgusted, I took off and wobbled in my heels down to Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s to “catch some air” and “eat a cheeseburger.” When I returned, he was still all over my friend, who was trying her best to dissuade him.
I rolled my eyes.
In the limo going home, we were all silent. That is, except for Mikey, who was still drunkenly hitting on my friend.
The next time I saw Mikey, we’d gone out to the golf course where we’d once watched the sunset on the 9th hole, a couple of friends along for the ride. Once again, he asked after my friend, specifically for her phone number. I stared at him.
Seven fucking years.
For seven fucking years I’d held this guy in the highest regard, never solving for zero, never asking after the formula, always assuming that we were “meant to be” or some happy-crappy bullshit.
At that moment, I knew that it was over; I’d never solve for zero, not with him.
He continued to look at me as I stared, not quite understanding my behavior. Finally, I spoke, “Mikey, you’re either an idiot or an asshole. Either way, I don’t need you in my life.”
Flipping the bird in his general direction, I turned heel and walked off across the perfectly maintained lawn, chastising myself, knowing he’d never follow. It simply wasn’t who he was.
Slamming my foot on the clutch and starting the car, it dawned on me.
I’d finally solved for zero.
Do you remember Chatroulette, Pranksters?
I only came across it back when I was writing online sex shop reviews for Toy With Me and searching for an angle to cover. If you have NO idea what I’m talking about, lemmie give you the very briefest of rundowns to the very best of my dwindling brain capacity.
Chatroulette was created by some college kid in (I believe) Russia who had the grand idea to create a site in which you could talk to various people around the globe via webcam. Neat, right? But you do see problem inherent, don’t you, Pranksters? THIS IS THE INTERNET WE’RE TALKING ABOUT.
If you have no idea what I mean by that, well, let’s just say, Internet = Penis-Galore.
So you could pop on your webcam and, in theory, make friends across the globe, so that you and your new-found globular friends could join hands and sing “We Are The World” a-Capella. In theory. Like communism. In theory.
If you got bored with the person you were talking to, you could simply switch to someone else to chat with…. except it didn’t work out so well. Basically, a Chatroulette session showed many a teenage girl what, exactly, a creepers pervert and his trouser snake looked like. Over. And. Fucking. Over. Sometimes, the mystique was, you’d manage to meet a celeb. IN THEORY.
This probably explains Chatroulette better than I can (is safe for work. Probably):
What you just saw, Pranksters, is Chatroulette at it’s finest. Apparently, the site’s still around to disgust the masses (just like this one!)
(holy long-winded intro, Batman!)
When Google Plus came out, I was all, why the balls am I getting invites to another social media network? Is this Google’s version of The Facebook? Why does my cat wipe his ass on the carpet? What the fuck is a hobby?
(pointless and un-pithy aside: I’m a firm believer that one can be good at between one and three social media platforms, but no more).
Most people who signed up with Google Plus were all, “daar, this isn’t Facebook,” and rather than just go back to where they came from (read: The Facebook) to continue playing with their fake farms, they complained bitterly about how G+ wasn’t Facebook. All over G+. That’s a fuck-ton of energy wasted right there.
Initially, I gave G+ the good old “meh,” and went back to The Twitter to spew my garbage in 140 characters or less. I had a couple G+ accounts because I have 76 email addresses for no good reason which meant that I inadvertently had 76 G+ accounts. But considering half of what I saw on there were those lame-ass picture quotes (like so):
Okay, so generally the quotes are more like this:
In my head it went something like this: “G+ is like Pinterest but with dudes.”
That was, of course, until the night of the Sandy Hook shooting. Since, as most of you are aware, I work for The Band Back Together Project, we decided that it would be a good night for us to do a G+ hangout to discuss our grief. That lasted 10 minutes before a bunch of people showed up and we got to know people, literally, around the world.
We’d been using G+ to conduct our board meetings for ages, but somehow, we’d never managed to connect that to the idea that there might be new and exciting people on Google Plus who did new and exciting things, like “NOT SHOW THE WORLD THEIR PEEN.” It was a fucking Internet Miracle.
If you have any doubts of it’s randomness, check out this video (skip to minute 1), taken by a friend of mine who’d been live-screening this G+ chat on YouTube (if you skip around, you can see how bizarre it is).
So if’n you’re ever on G+ and want to chat, here’s my page and my profile. I’ve made a couple of communities for us (one for mah blog and one for Teh Band) so we can hang out together and, quite frankly, I’d love to meet you, Pranksters. The Band community is hosting a hangout tonight at 7CST and I’ll be there.
Gaps in geography means that it’s hard to really hang out, unless, of course, we do it online. And so, we make our way into the future. A future with less peen and more community.
I gotta say, it looks pretty bright from here.
There are very few questions I detest more than “Are you okay?”
(Runners up include: “Where are your pants?” “Why do you hate thousand island dressing?” and the statement, “I’m worried about you.”)
I must’ve asked that question to thousands of people over the years, especially when I was serving. The standard greeting of a new table was something like, “Hi, my name is Becky and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. How is everyone doing?” 999/1000 times people would reply with the standard, “We’re doing fine” or “What the fuck kinda name is “Becky?””
When you’re in the weeds, slammed beyond control, have one eye on the three tables you haven’t yet greeted that are looking around for you, the bartender yelling at you across the restaurant that he’s somehow out of sour mix and you just heard your second set of dinners hit the line, you don’t really have the time for more detailed interaction with people.
That 0.001% of people, though, responded with something to the effect of, “I’m alive,” or “do you really want to know the answer to that?” When you’re juggling three sections and dealing with half a kitchen that’s doing the YMCA (en espanol)(which really makes you want to join them) instead of cooking your food and you can’t find spoons for the coffee you just brewed after dumping out the last of the coffee and cleaning the maker, and trying to figure out how, exactly someone drinks an amaretto stone sour without yacking, you don’t have the time for personals. Even if you wanted to.
Because you walked in that day wondering if you’d be making enough to cover formula, diapers and gas to get to school, you’re worried about your own problems: does my son have autism? What am I supposed to do about the dude that’s stalking me? What do I do with the rest of my life? You can’t really handle any problems besides what’s directly in front of you: get food, drinks, and merriment to your tables without having to sing Happy Birthday with the few cooks who don’t speak English and your manager who thinks singing to customers is dumb, but they asked so you gotta start begging the cooks and the busboy and the brand-new dishwasher to help you out here, please? And you look up from your soggy birthday cake and notice that the inept hostess is now triple-seating you at 10:30PM on a Thursday night.
There’s simply no time to be a counselor. Which is why I still hate the question.
“Are you okay?” most people want a reply that sounds positive, “why yes, I’m delightful, thank you for asking! Little Jimmy, the highest human pedigree of child, well, he’s just been enrolled in NASA’s young genius program, I’ve been promoted from CEO to heiress, and I just bought the most gorgeous 874,623,722 foot yacht – you should come over for a sail and I can regale you with perfect stories of my very perfect life.”
(okay, that just sounds like one of those Christmas card letters, but you know what I mean).
No one wants you to reply to “Are you okay?” with “No, not really.” Simply put, they don’t exactly want to know if you’re okay; it’s a formality, something that fills the space between “hello” and “goodbye.” I get it – I’ve been there and I understand that there’s not a lot of room for the truth.
Which is why I’m no longer able to really answer that simple question. The qualifiers, stories, the explanation is far longer than most people care to hear – especially when your primary response would be (if you actually said it), “No.”
Because while I’d love to come here and type you a wonderful story of how much better my life has gotten since July, it’d be a lie. Things are different, that’s for certain, and not always in the best of ways. I’m getting a crash-course on Living Alone 101, and it’s one motherfucker of a ride.
There are good moments and bad. Feeling liberated and feeling defeated. Darkness and light. Continue obnoxious comparisons ad nauseum.
But the truth of the matter is this: I’m not okay. I’ll be okay again, but I can’t tell you precisely when or how. Making the right decision doesn’t always mean that it’s the easy one.
And for now, for this very moment, and, I’m certain, many moments after this one, I’m not okay – I’m simply learning to be okay with not being okay.
That’s the best I can do; it’s the best we all can do.
We grab a life raft where we can, hold onto the hope that this, too, will pass, and that someday, this will all be a time we can look back upon as The Time Things Weren’t Okay. We’ll wake up each day hoping to slay the dragons, hoping the darkness won’t win, and we fight to do better; to be better.
There’s growth to be had. There are changes to be made. And there are things to be done. Life will, once again, be good.
Some day, some passing afternoon, in the not-so-distant future, I know that I will be able to once again answer the question, “how are you doing?” without feeling as though I’m lying through my teeth when I say breezily, like our endless numbered days, “Oh, I’m fine.”
And mean it.