They had me working at the other site, cooking. It was my first time over there, but the food was the same so what did it matter to me. I’d never made Japanese food before, but I seemed to do alright at it. Anyway, I was over there cooking.
The boss introduces me to the coworkers. They’re in their twenties, a kid, a girl. I’m twice their age. Boss says “This is Cole,” to them. They nod. Boss says their names to me, but I cannot remember them even right after he says ‘em.
About an hour into my shift, the kid, the delivery boy, is snickering with the girl, she’s the waitress. They’re saying things I cannot understand, obviously. Kid keeps looking over at me, giggling. I get to thinking about smashing his head in. Kid finally says, “Cole, my friend here,” nodding over to the girl, “wants to know if you’re playing a concert tonight?”
They both look me over and smirk. I’m in all black with a brown fedora. Black doesn’t show food stains as much and I was told to either wear a hat or a hairnet. Doesn’t seem so bad to me. The both of them are staring at me, actually wanting a response. I start to get angry. I look at the girl— you can tell she thinks she’s hot shit, but her face is too angled, too strong; she wouldn’t be worth a ten buck head job in most cities. Finally, I warmly say, “Yeah I’ll play a concert, if she wants to play with me.”
The kid continues to smile, then something hits his face and he remembers what American sarcasm is all about. He stops smiling. I wink at him.
“You know, Cole,” he firmly says, “she is my wife.” He’s trying to regain his grin, but unsteadily so. Young love. Aw.
“Oh yeah? Then you’ll have to get a ticket to our little show.”
Kid’s eyes narrow and his bottom lip moves. I’m left alone for the rest of the night and for the rest of the night I imagine what I’d do to him if he didn’t.
I’m sitting and thinking like I always am. Cheap cigars and some Old Crow.
When my mother was very young, she had a headache. She was given aspirin. Then all of her skin fell off. It’s called Steven Johnson syndrome. Sometimes it’s on those TV commercials: If you or a loved one has experienced this disease and nearly died or died, then call 1-800… And she survived. She’s in a medical journal for being the youngest person in the state of NC to tough it out. She said the skin falling off wasn’t so bad, but when it regrew, and she was one giant scab, that was worse.
That’s how it goes. It isn’t pain that kills, it’s healing from it. When you’re hurt, you don’t know how bad it is until you have the time to look back at it.
A few years ago, my father was shot. He had no idea. He was driving, and some yahoos up in the hills were shooting at any car that passed by. He said he heard a noise, and then a few moments later he noticed the steering wheel was wet. His hands were slipping from it. The blood. He looked at the wheel, then his hands, following the red until he saw the gunshot in his bicep. But it didn’t truly hurt until the insurance wouldn’t pay his hospital bills.
In 2010 I did a little time at the County jail. 8’x’12’ cell. But it doesn’t hit you when you’re inside. You just play checkers, walk laps, work out, have games of handball in the gym, look out the window, and write write write. It wasn’t until I was I was back outside, in the cold, that I felt it. I felt it when my clothes didn’t fit. Felt it when my face got five years older in less than one. The human brain refuses to allow you to feel intense pain because the body can go into a damaging shock. People get eased into reality, life. We get coddled into the fire.
So as the density of cigar smoke fills this room and the taste of bourbon lingers, I cannot help but think of how it was. Before.
Before all of this.