Tag: framing device

Three’s a Crowd

Distracted

“Wow. So in the end, you didn’t get the girl, huh?” the radiologist said, dragging both myself and the readers back into the story’s hospital framing device.

I readjusted my open-backed gown as haughtily as I could muster (which it turns out, is “not very”). “Not the girl. I didn’t get one of the girls I met in my lifetime. There were others. Obviously, I succeeded. Eventually.”

The man just shrugged. “Well, how was I supposed to know that?”

I held up my left hand and wiggled my occupied ring finger.

“Honestly,” he said, “you sort of seem like the type to wear a fake ring.”

I gave him a hard glare. “I don’t remember writing you this mean.”

The technician held up his hands defensively before clutching his metal clipboard to his chest. “What I’m saying is, if I understand the bullet points of the story thus far, it’s that you seem to view relationships as sort of a…chore.” He poked his head out the door then, making sure no one had noticed he was listening to an exceedingly long story rather than doing the work he was being paid for. “Or you used to, at least.”

“One…could make that assessment,” I begrudgingly conceded. I leaned back in my chair. “My entire life I’ve been surrounded by people who were miserable because they were alone. And when they found someone, they were usually even more miserable.” It was hardly a ringing endorsement for being in a couple.

Or, for that matter, being single.

The radiologist drummed his fingers on the clipboard absently before sighing. He seemed to have made a decision he wasn’t thrilled with. “Well, in any case, since you wrote me into the story, I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been talking to you for an hour.”

“Let’s call this what it is. You’ve been talking at me.”

I considered the offer before waving it off. The idea of using a character I’d created for the purposes of a story as my therapist seemed like something I’d have to describe to a real therapist later. “It’s fine. I’m just trying to close out this bit of the story. I feel like it’s been dragging on.”

“So, what happened with Kay? Did Hatey find out?”

“He did,” I answered. As far as I know, Kay told him exactly what happened as soon as he arrived – most likely over a very tense meal consisting of bad fighting and worse soup.

The technician whistled. “Wow. I bet there were some fireworks there.”

“You’d be surprised,” I said. In fact, I’d been surprised at the time. Hatey had showed up at my door around 2am the following night. (Or morning, depending on your viewpoint.) Despite my concerns for how he’d figured out where I lived and my suspicions that he’d come to murder me, it was actually a very short, fairly polite conversation. “He actually thanked me.”

“You’re kidding.”

Hatey apologized for being an intolerable ass, though he may have used a different word for it. He said he’d unfairly misjudged me as someone just trying to get into his girlfriend’s pants, largely glossing over the entire portion where she’d been trying to get me into them. “It was mostly pleasant vindication, up until he thanked me for not being as selfish as a lot of guys would’ve been in the situation.”

The radiologist blinked at this. “Wow. How dare he.”

“He was telling me that I might be a more decent guy than he thought at first,” I scoffed, shaking my head. “He even said that if I ever wanted to hang out, he thought the two of us could be friends.”

Mocking outrage, the radiologist covered his mouth. “The monster!”

“I didn’t do it for him.” In reality, he wasn’t even astoundingly far off in his initial evaluation of me. And it echoed eerily close to how Kay had also judged me to be an entirely different person than I really was. “I semi-politely declined his offer to be friends. I told him that I didn’t think not sleeping with his girlfriend for reasons entirely unrelated to him was a solid enough foundation for friendship.”

“Ouch. So that was the end of it?”

I rolled my eyes. “It probably should have been – if I, Kay or Hatey had had an ounce of sense between us. But we actually hung out as a group throughout the rest of the year.” Despite our love triangle morphing into something like a love-hate-lust-vague disinterest…triangle, they were still surprisingly fun little group outings.

“Even when nothing had changed between you and…Hatey?” It was clear he didn’t like using the name I’d picked for him.

“It was a little different. It was less open hatred and more…a temporary ceasefire. A gentleman’s agreement to pretend we liked each other,” I said. Spoken out loud, it sounded pretty stupid.

“That sounds pretty stupid,” the technician agreed. “But at least things must’ve been less tense with things resolved between you and Kay.”

I scoffed again. “I never said anything resolved there. She reminded me on an almost daily basis that she’d happily dump Hatey at a moment’s notice if it meant she could pull me into the nearest dark alley and have her way with me afterward.”

He grimaced at this. “That sounds…horribly awkward.”

“Tell me about it.” And the fact that she regularly communicated this sentiment to her boyfriend – occasionally while we were all together – made it ten times worse.

“Why would those two even stay together? She didn’t seem all that fond of him. And he was basically indifferent to the idea that he’d be gone the moment you decided you wanted sex more than you wanted to be a good person,” the radiologist wondered.

I honestly had no idea. If the story had revealed anything, it should have been that I was no relationship expert. “I think some people just can’t stand being alone. Even if being together makes them just as miserable.”

“Speaking of miserable, what happened to those crazy kids, anyway?”

I gave him a shrug. “Not a clue. I only know what I was personally involved in, and I eventually had the sense to get out of it before they tried to wrangle me into an awkward threesome or some other mess.”

Still, I told him the end of my part in it. “We hung out for the last time before we all left for Christmas. I take it they spent the holidays at her apartment and things didn’t go well, because the next time she got in touch with me she specifically mentioned we should hang out without him there.” I hadn’t wanted to go, but as I was legitimately busy at the time anyway, I hadn’t had to lie to get out of it.

“It got very difficult to be around her,” I continued, “when every time we got together seemed like a trap to wear me down. It eventually became obvious that if we couldn’t be an item, she wasn’t really interested in being a real friend.”

“No offense, but what did she see in you, anyway?” the technician asked, looking me up and down. The hospital gown probably wasn’t doing me any favors.

“None taken. And I honestly have no idea.” If she’d ever given me an explanation, I’d apparently forgotten it. Among other things.

“So that was the end of it?”

“More or less,” I lied. She had, in fact, called me one last time to say she didn’t even care how I felt for her anymore. She was just so tired of being with someone she felt nothing for that she wanted to feel anything, just to not feel empty for a few hours. I hadn’t bothered explaining to her that I was very much a virgin. Unless she’d wanted to fill the void with disappointment, I couldn’t help her.

I don’t remember how I’d answered. But I’d remained a virgin. So she probably didn’t get the sort of disappointment she’d been asking for.

The radiologist nodded. “It makes you wonder, though. I’ve heard of worse couples working things out. You think they ever got married? Had kids?”

“A guy who abandoned his entire life to pursue a girl it would have been illegal to be with in quite a few states? And a girl who pursued the first guy she saw just to get away from him?” I summarized.

If those two didn’t deserve a “happily ever after,” none of us do.

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A (Bath)Room with a View

Showers
You never realize how hard it is to find an image of a shower stall without two people hooking up in it until you need one…

I’ve always had an issue with open-door policies – at least insofar as they related to communal shower stalls.

It was shortly after I’d arrived at college that I realized I could no longer pretend I was “still clean from the long shower I took at home” and used the shared showers for the first time. I was immediately troubled by the sight of four stalls completely open, with only a fifth stall offering any sort of privacy from passersby. You can probably imagine my reaction when, upon entering the bathroom three weeks later, I found the door missing on the fifth stall.

It had been replaced, much to my surprise, by a wet, naked man who looked very unhappy that I was staring at him.

This may or may not be how most shared bathrooms are in college dorms. I don’t know. I’ve only ever lived on two different campuses, so I don’t have a huge frame of reference. Nor have I ever thought to ask random people about their showering experiences, for reasons I probably shouldn’t have to explain.

But this was a problem for me. As to why, well, that’s a bit of a long story.

 

*                    *                     *

 

Back in the hospital waiting room, the radiologist started. “What? Why in the world would that be a long story?”

I blinked. “Why are we back in the narrative framing device?”

“It’s really important you answer the question,” the technician said, folding his arms over his clipboard. “It’s reasonable to not want to shower in front of everyone. It’s so reasonable, in fact, that having a long story behind behind why you don’t like it fills me with dread and horror.”

“I don’t know. I think the audience needs the backstory from my childhood to fully understand where I’m coming from.”

The radiologist seemed to look right through me. Given his line of work, it was either ironic or just him being really, really good at his job. “What sort of story from your childhood? Is it something you’d be better off sharing with a therapist? A trusted member of the clergy?”

“That…might be awkward. It was sort of an incident from my church’s summer camp,” I said, realizing how it must have sounded once I said it aloud.

The man’s eyes widened in terror. “Oh, dear God…”

I sighed. “Just…hear me out, okay? It’s not what you think.”

It was, however, very nearly what he thought. I won’t belabor a very traumatizing childhood memory, but the short version is that I was punished by my counselors for not wanting to shower in front of other kids by being forced to shower in front of them. You know, totally sensible, non-perverted, non-scarring stuff.

(Writer’s Note: I wisely withheld the details of the full version of the story on account of it being unimaginably, inescapably depressing.)

“That’s…very nearly what I thought,” the technician agreed, shuddering. “I mean, it was a little less molest-y than I thought it might be…” As silver linings went, you really had to squint to see it.

 

*                   *                    *

 

That small adventure, combined with the general uncomfortably homoerotic nature of showering after gym in high school never endeared me to the idea of being naked in public. In fact, I wasn’t particularly fond of being naked in private. Or clothed in public.

My life is a vibrant tapestry.

In that moment in the bathroom, I wasn’t sure what to do. Skipping showers for the next five weeks didn’t seem to be a viable solution. And my experience in summer camp had taught me that there were inevitably worse outcomes to just such a situation.

Luckily, by this point, I’d taken the step of looking off in a random direction, at least mitigating the risk of being pummeled by an angry naked man. But it didn’t do much to help my problem of not wanting to show off my bits – naughty, regular and those somewhere in between – to any person wandering through the bathroom at the time. And sometimes the hallway, since they kept those doors open, too.

“I guess somebody scratched something offensive into the door, so they threw it out,” my RA explained to me when I asked him about it later. I hadn’t seen the marks, though if there were anything like the rest of the graffiti in the bathroom, they likely featured our RA and his viewpoint on penises very prominently.

“Wouldn’t a door with a few scratches in it still function better as a door than…nothing?” I argued. “When are we getting a replacement?”

He gave me a confused look. “Replacement? Why would they replace it?”

“Because…I don’t like people staring at me while I’m naked.”

“Oh, nobody’s going to stare at you while you’re naked,” he dismissed, in a passable imitation of my gym teachers in high school, though to his credit, he didn’t add, “Frankly, you’re not much to look at,” as they had.

“That’s great. But I’d rather they just not be able to,” I answered. When it comes to people walking behind me while I’m naked, defenseless and washing soap out of my eyes, I’d rather it not be on the honor system.

Not for the first time, my RA shrugged and admitted he was utterly useless to me.

I sighed. “I guess I could always use the showers on the other floors.”

“Actually, I don’t really want the guys from my floor wandering into random showers,” he said, not for the first time complicating a very simple problem.

“Then, as far as you know, I won’t be doing that,” I said, without putting much effort into lying convincingly.

His eyes narrowed, as though he suspected something, but I quickly saw I’d misread what he was suspicious about. “Do you know who keeps writing horrible stuff about me on the bathroom stalls? And walls?” He went through a short list of other surfaces. Only three weeks into the semester, comments alleging his insatiable appetite for dicks had appeared on more forms of media than the Hebrew Bible, and were considerably filthier than even the weird parts where people tricked people into having sex.

“To be totally honest, there’s a long list of suspects who would write something horrible about you,” I admitted.

He smiled, apparently thinking some sort of joke was happening. “Nah. They’re just messing with me. It’s tough love. I mean, you like me, right?”

I hesitated, not sure how to answer when, in reality, it would probably be the best thing for him to get some honesty on the subject as soon as possible. I aimed to soften the blow. “My dad used to say that if he didn’t have anything nice to say, he shouldn’t say anything at all.”

“See?” he said, as if he’d heard literally the opposite of what I’d said. “What’s not to like?”

Gazing out at his question like a hole with no bottom, I decided not to clarify. I hadn’t been speaking generally. I’d literally meant that when my dad had been dropping me off, he’d heavily implied that he specifically hadn’t liked my RA.

But the moment passed and he only shrugged it off. “Well, even if they don’t like me, I’ll just have to try harder,” he said, and slapped me on the shoulder again.

“That…is certainly an action you could take that would have…some result,” I noted. If anything, he probably could have stood trying a little less hard. Failing that, he could have stopped creating situations to entrap his fellow students in criminal acts in hopes of endearing himself to school administrators. But I had enough problems without having to be my RA’s life coach. “And please stop touching my arm. It sickens me,” I added.

“You got it, buddy,” he said, and raised his hand to slap my shoulder again.

“They’d never find your body,” I cautioned him. He lowered his hands and opted to go gun fingers instead.

These left me only mildly nauseated, so I allowed it.

I realize that a clean narrative arc insists that I offer some sort of conclusion here. And yet, given these very specific circumstances, it feels almost more fitting that you not know the exact details of my adventures in shower privacy. Suffice it to say, I showered at some point between the end of this story and the moment I’m telling it, and that’s about all I’m willing to divulge on the subject.

I figure the chances of you actually being four camp counselors reading this at the same time are pretty slim, but you never know…

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This

crooked
See? Because the framing device is crooked. That’s the joke.

“You’re back in the story’s framing device,” the radiologist said, poking his head out from behind the monitor. “What happened this time?”

I sighed.

“And stop sighing,” he chided. “It messes with the image.”

I waited until I heard the telltale whir and several almost eerie moaning sounds from the large radioactive camera above me to indicate the technician had a picture of my insides he was happy with. As he approached the table I explained, “It’s not my fault this time.” I hedged slightly. “It’s not entirely my fault this time.”

The other man helped me sit up on the scanning table. “So who else was at fault?”

“It was my computer.”

He blinked at me. “I’m…not sure I follow.” Then, considering, he nodded. “Actually, I’m entirely sure I don’t follow. What does your computer have to do with the long gap between you telling the whole college story thing?”

After rearranging my hospital gown to about half of my satisfaction – in that it only showed about half of my rear end to anyone standing behind me – I faced him. “My computer sort of…exploded.”

The radiologist went through a series of expressions that, despite their nuanced differences, all seem confused to one degree or another. “Let me be entirely clear here. You’re literally writing my character’s responses right now, and I have no idea what that’s got to do with any of this,” he admitted.

For that matter, I realized, anyone who just started reading right here would have no idea why this college story has a portion happening in the hospital a decade in the future. I cleared my throat again to cover the sound of me breaking the fourth wall.

“Okay,” I said. “It didn’t actually explode.”

“Then why say it did?”

“It sounds a lot more interesting than saying my operating system disappeared and all I could do was stare at a black screen,” I offered. I was well aware of what a computer looked like when it actually exploded, given what was about to happen in the main story. “Suffice to say, it stopped working as anything other than a very large, very hot paperweight.”

Despite my explanation, the technician looked just as confused. “So…what’s that got to do with telling me a story? And how do you know your computer at home…exploded?”

“No, no, no,” I waved it away. “I mean, my computer exploded in the future, preventing me from typing new segments of the story and publishing them.” It was only after I’d said the words that I realized how ridiculous they sounded.

“I think what I like most about your story is how easy it is to follow,” the other man said, mockingly sincere.

“Shut it.”

“Okay. So let me try to summarize here,” the radiologist said, tapping his fingers on his clipboard thoughtfully. “You’re here now, telling me a story. The story is about your college days ten years or so ago. And it’s being written down as a blog sometime…after this doctor’s visit?”

I nodded slowly. “Actually, that’s a pretty good summary.”

The man gave me a weighing look, as if he wanted to say something more, but he just nodded as well. “Well, in that case, in that very oversimplified form, it’s not as complicated as I thought it was.”

I hopped off the table. “For a story with multiple timelines running in unison at different rates of speed with only one character in common, it’s actually fairly straightforward…” I hesitated. Then, being a realist, I added, “Straightforward…ish.”

“In any case,” the technician said, looking at the chart disinterestedly, “Something something doctor babble. You can go sit in the waiting room for another fifteen minutes.” His brow suddenly furrowed. “Did you actually write ‘something something doctor babble’ as my dialogue?”

“Sorry. I wasn’t really listening to what you were saying when it happened. So I’m losing some details as I’m writing it down later,” I admitted sheepishly. “I probably could have taken a more dignified guess than that, though.”

“Probably,” the man said, and led me back to the tiny third world country just outside the radiology department that had been very generously labeled as a “waiting room.” He watched me sit down and readjust my nudity to my liking before asking, “So refresh my memory. Where were you in the college story?”

I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut. “Honestly, I think it was my first job hunt, but I don’t really remember. But then I remembered something else happened before I went out looking for work anyway.”

“Which was?”

“My computer exploded.”

The radiologist gave me an uneven look. “I feel like we’ve covered that bit.”

“No,” I said with a sigh. “In the past. That computer exploded.”

He gave the television a wary look. “That wasn’t working when you came in, right? Because if you somehow destroy technology just by being around it there are actually some expensive imaging machines you should stay away from…”

“Shut it.”