This lady had a broken arm. She’s working the self-checkout registers at the market with a broken arm. I just found that fantastic.
Damn. Why’d I miss that? Why wasn’t I there when she broke her arm. I want to know this story. Did she tell anyone how it happened? Did she lie about it? Recurring injury? Why don’t I know that?
There was this other guy. He had a face. Of course this guy is a guy. Of course he’s a person. Why wouldn’t he be? I don’t know why I couldn’t recreate his face in my mind prior to our meeting, but I saw him scanning the aisles and I was baffled. He looked like he belonged there. Here.
I’ve heard that you can’t imagine or dream about people you haven’t met yet. I find that frustrating. I looked at this man scanning the aisle. Every feature about him seemed so normal. He never existed in my life prior but I’m sure he existed.
Who signed me up the be the main character in my life? That’s so constraining. I want to be the reader.
I create these images in my mind about people. Everyone. These images are only determined by interactions I have with them every now and then. But what happens when they leave my sphere of existence. When they go home what do they do? What did they eat for dinner? Are they sad when they go home? Do they make the same jokes? Is there laugh the same? Did they sneeze and did someone else say bless you?
I just want to know. Is that perverse? It’s perverse I think. But someone should know the entire history of mankind. Or maybe not even that, but at least one person should know the entire history of our story. Think about all the stories that there are. Ever. That’s only a fraction of all the stories there could be. Sure. Not everyone is newsworthy, but I’m not talking about headlines or weather. This is intimate journalism that I’m talking about. All the tiny micro stories in a person’s life are worth telling.
Not saying anyone is required to read it, but the potential is there and that’s all that matters. The broken-armed woman. I bet she thinks her life is dramatic or purposeful. Why would I call her crazy for thinking so? She held the door open on her way in the bodega yesterday. Someone should know about that? Why does it go unnoticed? And I know that’s not anything special, holding the door open. It’s just why isn’t that something we care about? Yeah, we’re not going to church over the whole deal, but that small interaction is so small. And sad. And joyous. And brief. Let’s expand those tiny pieces, fragments of life, that we let slide through our fingers time and time again. The filler time in our lives, in their lives, add up. Is it then so filler? In between promotions and deaths? Or are our major moments the filler? In between holding the door open and bagging our groceries.
So I pulled out my journal there in the grocery store. Pen out too. And I walked up to the lady with the broken arm. I couldn’t break eye contact with her once I had it.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“Excuse me?” she responded. She always replied this when met with an uncomfortable question.
“Your arm. I would like to know about it,” I said.
Bicycling downhill in her neighborhood. She jerked the handlebars to the left when a neighborhood dog ran across the road ahead of her. She turned into a parked car and flipped over the hood, landing the entire weight of her body on her arm. Which is why it’s broke.
“That’s interesting,” I said.
“Yeah, if you think so. Are you a doctor or something?” she asked.
“What else?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. How was your morning?” I asked.
“Why do you want to know?” she asked.
“Someone should,” I replied.
She had a early morning. Woke up before her alarm clock even went off. At first she was upset, but she figured she got some extra time to drink her coffee. The cast didn’t let her have a good night’s rest. She likes to sleep on her stomach, but the cast was just big enough to make it awkward to sleep like that. She brewed some of coffee that was gifted to her on her birthday two weeks ago by her aunt. It’s from Korea or something. She can’t make out the letters on the packaging, but reading them always makes her think about learning a new language. She thinks French would be sexy to learn, but she knows no one that knows French, so who would she talk to. The coffee was too hot to drink right away so she had to wait a few minutes to drink. That made her think that maybe she should stop the water from boiling a little sooner so she can enjoy her drink a little sooner, but she doesn’t know if the water NEEDS to be boiled in order to be prepped for the coffee. Would something be off about the coffee if she took off the water from the stove just as it was about to boil? She doesn’t know. She figured that she wouldn’t try because if the coffee were to be off, she would have wasted a good cup of coffee. She can’t do that, it was a gift. Regardless, she finished her coffee and left for work. And there she was now. Telling me all this.
“I love that,” I said.
“Yeah thanks for asking. What are you a writer?” she asked.
I paused. “I think I am now,” I said.
“Now?” she asked.
“I guess so,” I said.
“Okay, I’m going back to work. Thanks for asking me about my morning. It was nice,” she said.
“Do you mind if I follow you home?” I asked. “Or actually can I hang around here until you’re off and then can I follow you home?”
She froze in place. Her eyes got wide as they usually did when confused. She did that thing she used to do where the tip of her tongue touched her canine tooth gently. That’s how you knew she was thinking.
“Why?” she asked.
“Someone has to know what happens to you.”
“My name is Abigail. I just go by Gail,” she responded.
“Interesting,” I replied. I already used up three pages of the journal I had.
There was a time where a customer received the wrong amount of change. This man was short changed by the machine. I overheard something about fifty cents. The man barked and complained over this lost money. The vein on his neck budged out as thick as a roll of quarters. Why was he so mad? Did he need the fifty cents? Was money that tight? He didn’t have many groceries at the time. I like to think he needed it.
Gail kept her cool. She let the man just yell at her for a while before offering to get the change from her own register. I figure she could have just done it once the man was starting to get all loud and such, but she waited like if she knew the man needed to yell. Like if she was doing the man a favor by allowing him to blow up then and there. I asked her later why he let the man yell at her like that. She said that she needed to let him emote because no one else would ever. She figured it was her progressing his character. Perhaps it was stuck. Doomed to be the same person for forever. Gail was just the soda can pssshhh that he needed to get on with his life.
Gail got off work at 5pm that day. I was twelve pages in my journal at this point. She came up to me changed out of her outfit and into her normal clothes. She wore a faded pair of jeans that day. A yellow shirt from Mill Water High School which I found out later was where she went to high school. She had graduated in 2007. Went to two years of community college before she dropped out. Anyways, her earrings were small white daisies. She got them with her first paycheck when she was 16 actually. She loved them so much.
“I don’t know how comfortable I am with this,” she said.
“I don’t take up much space,” I said.
“No, it’s just that it’s pretty creepy. I don’t even know what you’re writing,” she said.
“It’s just what happened to you today,” I said.
“Yeah but why do you care? And it’s like a camera is following me or something,” she said.
“I’m not a camera,” I said.
“You don’t find this weird? Don’t you have a job or place to be?” she asked.
“This is more interesting I think,” I said.
“What do you plan to do with the journal?” she asked. She was good at asking good questions.
“I don’t know yet,” I said, “I’ll decide when I’m done.”
“When will you know?” she asked.
“When I’m out of things to write,” I said.
“And you think someone will seriously read this?” She pointed at my journal.
“Someone could,” I said.
I got in her car. She bought it a year ago. Used, but in good condition. A sedan with lots of leg space. It was a good bargain for the quality of the car. It was her first car purchase. She named it Roxy.
“This is insane,” she said. She closed her eyes and took a breath as she drove. “What do you even want? What if you’re a serial killer or something and this is how you isolate your prey? What if I let you into my apartment and you stab me with that pencil in your hand like 80 times and throw me in your trunk a-la Jeffery Dahmer and try to dump me in the river?”
“I’m not here to protect you,” I said. “I’m not here to hurt you either. I’m just trying to see what happens to you. I’m trying to fill in the moments in between the big moments by writing them down on this journal. This way, at least one person on this earth can be read entirely.”
“That doesn’t make sense you know. We have Wikipedia for that stuff,” she said.
“Where do I look you up?” I asked. We stopped at a red light. A white car pulled up next to us. Where is the Wikipedia for the people in that car? There was a car accident three days ago on the 205. Three people died. Where do I look them up?”
“Not everyone is worth knowing,” she said.
“I would disagree,” I said.
She was hesitant inviting me in. That was understandable. We were still strangers then. I knew how ridiculous I was being. Asking her questions no one would care to ask.
“When’s the last time you tripped?” I asked.
“I don’t remember,” she said.
“When’s the last time you remember?”
“Like a few years ago. Thanksgiving at my mom’s,” she said.
“Not your dad’s?” I asked.
“He passed away when I was younger.”
“Was he sick?”
“I thought this was about me?”
“How did his death make you feel?”
“I don’t want to talk about it?”
“Have you talked about it?”
“I’m not talking about this with you.”
“That’s not cool.”
“When was your last haircut?”
“Is it that bad?”
“No! I was just wondering.”
“I know. I’m playing with you.”
“So you’re sarcastic?”
“People have said that about me.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“I would actually.”
“It’s a joke. My friends.”
That night she told me about almost everything I asked. I heard all the stories one night could hold. The scar on her forearm, the chip on her tooth. I heard about her new shoes and dirty dishes. She told me about the deepening lines on her face, the anklet she wore. One time she tipped a pizza man $100 on accident and had to call the bank to get the refund. She felt so bad though, so she had pizza again a few days later and tipped $50.
“Should I drive you home?” she asked.
“Can you pick me up before work?” I asked.
We were still trying to figure out our dynamic as the days passed. I jotted down everything I could imagine about Gail. Any tiny interactions I wrote down. From when she said “have a nice day” to when she said “sorry.” After the third day, I was out of paper in the first journal.
“How much is your employee discount,” I asked her during her lunch break.
“10 percent,” she said.
“Can I use it?” I asked.
“I’m not gonna let you mooch off my discount. If you want groceries, buy them yourself,” she said. Sometimes she would snap at people in these tiny micro-aggressive sentences. It was her way of decompressing over the stress she accumulated over time.
“No I was just wondering,” I responded. I didn’t tell her about being done with one journal. Later that day, however, I grabbed a new journal from one of the aisles and tried to pay for it. Gail saw me and I think she realized pretty quick what was going on, so she came up to the register and put in her employee code. It saved me two dollars.
That night after work, we went to the gas station just down the road. She asked to see the first journal. I was hesitant, but I let her read through the pages.
She laughed a few pages in.
“You saw that?” she asked.
“What?” I asked.
“When I rolled my ankle. I thought I got away with it,” she said.
“Yeah I thought it was funny,” I replied.
“You even have the guy screaming at me for his change!” she said.
“Yeah I got that too,” I said.
“This is crazy. I already forgot about some of this. Like how did I forget this?” she asked.
“It’s hard to remember everything I guess,” I said.
“Did I ever tell you the time I almost adopted six dogs one day?” she asked.
I already had my pen and journal out. “I’d like to hear about it,” I said.
From that night on, Gail told me her stories at any chance she could. She would tell me later that she would be in the shower or cooking dinner, thinking about stories she hadn’t told anyone.
After a few weeks, I had gone through ten journals. Gail would read each new one religiously. I let her keep each journal at her apartment. Every now and then, when she would invite me over, I would see a small pile starting to form on her coffee table. I was glad she was so invested in the journals. It made me feel like I was right. Like if I was onto some sort of secret of the universe. I was immortalizing Gail page by page, letter by letter. Each story hand-written, allowing for her imperfections and energy of her life to be shown through the slight tremble of my hand. When I wasn’t with Gail, I would imagine what she was doing. I wouldn’t write any of it down, but I’d prep questions for her for when I saw her next. How was your day? Who was your favorite person today? What do you want to tell me? Those really were the only questions I ever asked her. The rest of her story came out naturally in conversations. A lot of this reminds me ofs and I need to tell you abouts.
“Okay I got a good one for you today,” she said one day.
“Let me hear it,” I replied.
“So about a year ago, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.” Her tongue was rested gently under her canine. “I don’t have any family that I talk to anymore. It’s how my father passed and it’s why I never really wanted any kids. Luckily, I wasn’t in anything serious with anyone before my diagnosis so I didn’t drag anyone into this whole thing.”
I don’t remember what I said in response, but I don’t think it mattered.
“Write this down,” she said.
I said something else I don’t remember.
“The survival rate isn’t good. I don’t know if I make it past 5 years. I chose not to treat it because I saw what the treatment did to my dad. It rough to just watch. I want to ask you if you can stay and write about me until the day comes that uhh die. Whenever that is,” she said.
I remember this next part clearly.
“I think you should try and get treatment,” I said.
“I think the journals are my best way of staying alive for as long as I can,” she replied.
“I don’t know if I agree,” I said.
“That’s okay. I figure you would be a little shaken about the whole deal. But I warmed up to your whole idea so here we are now. I promise I’ll do my best to tell you everything there is to know about me just so long you promise me to write everything down,” she said.
I remained silent.
“I’ve been saving up money for the last year to try and road trip to New York City next summer. I’ll probably need another six months before I’d be ready to leave,” she said.
She invited me to come with her. In retrospect, it wasn’t a choice really. I had enough money for a little less than a lifetime saved up from my grandmother’s inheritance. If she told me to leave right then and there I would have followed. I offered her the money and she said no. Said it was character building. She had to be tough for when she made it to New York. I bought so many pens that day.
This is now one of my projects. I want to turn this idea into a book someday. It was all written in a fit of inspiration so excuse the mistakes. Keep on the lookout. I’m have some exciting stuff coming early 2020. Some short stories too. Thanks for reading and thanks for caring.