Notes and Neurosis

Chaos in Print

Chuck and I had just stepped off of the bus at the Coquitlam transfer station. Our day at Science World had come to a close, and we were shocked and dismayed that we had missed the last bus to L’s neighborhood. Chuck went to call L to come pick us up, and I was left alone with my thoughts. It had been a good day. I took a deep breath, and the chill of the night air stung my nostrils. I looked towards the sky, and through the orange halo that seems to hover over all cities, I could just make out the stars. Night in this city seemed to have a magical quality to it. I could hear the murmurs of my fellow bus passengers as I stood by myself, trying to look local. I was starting to feel like I belonged. I was starting to feel like a local. Then, Chuck returned from the payphone, and I was plunged into the most worrisome 24 hours of my life.

Chuck was somewhat distressed. L was very upset. Chuck and L had been planning for a long time to spend the next few years teaching English as a second language in Japan. After months of sending out their resumes, they finally had an interview scheduled for the next day. Part of the interview process was to prepare a sample lesson plan, and then actually teach it. L had been after Chuck all week to finally sit down and prepare their plan. She had done the research, had some sample ones on the computer, and all they had to do was sit down and write it. But, of course, they couldn’t write it that week, as most of their evenings had to be spent entertaining me. So, they had set aside this evening to do it. As soon as Chuck and I got home, they were going to lock themselves in their room and write. But, the clock was striking 9 PM when Chuck and I arrived back in Coquitlam. Things were being cut too close for L, and now, she was mad at us.

Chuck was giving me the guide to surviving an angry L when she pulled up. It’s a very scary feeling, when a friend is mad at you for the first time. That twinkle in their eye that you’ve grown accustomed to is gone, replaced with a burning fire that you’ve never seen before. The laughter in their voices has been replaced with an icy tone, and every word veils an accusation. That’s what I saw in L when she arrived. I was getting a vibe from her that I had never felt before, and it scared me. It was that same feeling you’d get in the pit of your stomach when you were seven years old and your parents were fighting; like something had gone cosmically wrong in the universe. We rode back to L’s house in a very cold, very silent atmosphere. L only said one thing to me, something about how I’d have to find something to amuse myself that night. I mumbled back something along the lines of, “I always have something to do.” When we got back to L’s place, Chuck and L immediately went to their room and got to work, while I went upstairs and turned on the TV.

After a few hours of mindlessly flipping around the channels, I finally found one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: Voyager: Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy, all about the misadventures of the Doctor when he learns how to daydream. I needed a laugh. Sadly, though, it was around 11 PM, and I was only conscious for about half of it. During one of my partially awake states, I spied L creep up the stairs towards the bathroom, clad nothing in a bathrobe. Obviously, she was taking a break from her work and going to have a shower. I was still feeling bad, and now, my naturally guilty conscience was kicking in. This had been the only thing she wanted to get done all week, and she couldn’t because of me. If I hadn’t been so selfish and come to visit them, she would still be happy and have her work done and relaxing on the eve of the big interview. But, instead, she was stressing out. She was mad, and it was all my fault. It was all my fault. I had to fix this somehow. When the guilt over making someone feel bad subsides in me, it’s soon overwhelmed by a single, burning, desire: make them feel better. But what could I do? She was still mad at me, and who knew how Chuck felt, so I was too wary to attempt a verbal confrontation. So, I fell back on the one skill I’d been using for a while now. I wrote them a letter.

I retreated to the guestroom and grabbed my coil bound notebook. The note I jotted down was quick, but emotional. I don’t even quite remember what I said. It was something along the lines of how much I loved them, and I wished I could be helping them, but I knew the best way to help at that moment was to stay out of the way. I think there was also something about not being a religious man, but I’d pray for them during their interview tomorrow. It wasn’t the best thing I had written, but it described how I felt. I tore the note out of the notebook, and folded it up.

As I left my room, I had to pass right by the bathroom. I could hear the running water, implying that L was still in the shower. I crept down the stairs to Chuck and L’s room. The door was already open a crack, and so I quietly opened it a little wider and peered inside. Chuck was at the computer, and I could hear the faint taps of his fingers on the keyboard. He didn’t notice me. I looked just inside the door, and saw L’s jacket casually tossed on a table. The perfect place. I reached in, and placed the note on top of L’s jacket. Then, I turned around, and did a silent sprint up the stairs. I passed the bathroom just in time to hear the water shut off. I charged into the guest room and went straight to bed. It was now in the hands of the Fates.

Saturday morning. I woke up, and for a split second, embraced the fact that I had now been away from home for a full week. But my mind was soon dominated by larger issues. No Archie comics this morning. I went straight downstairs. I was up early, but not early enough. They had already left, and I didn’t even get to wish them well. Hopefully, they got the note. All they knew was that the interview process would take all day, so, I was now on my own for who knew how long.

I tried to relax. I went to the kitchen to get my morning milk. L’s father soon joined me. L’s father is a bit of an odd duck. He has right wing tendencies, a passion for the past, and an offbeat sense of humor. I didn’t quite know how he felt towards me, and I’m still not too sure what I think of him. But, he treated me nice. He offered to make me breakfast. After some gentle prodding, I accepted, and was soon treated to some pancakes with oatmeal in them. Interesting to say the least. Over this morning feast, we traded stories and shared a passion for modern marvels. When the dishes were done, he went his way and I was again left to my own devices.

Seeing as to how this was Saturday morning, I parked myself in front of the TV and tried to find some good cartoons. I flipped around the channels for an hour or so, soon lamenting that there were no good action cartoons anymore. As I was amusing myself with the somewhat lame Evolution: The Series, L’s mother and sister soon came in. L’s mother is a grand, caring lady from…I forget where. Norway? Denmark? Northern Europe, I remember that much. L’s sister I had trouble getting a bearing on. L and her were in the middle of a rough patch when I was visiting, so when she and L weren’t screaming at each other, she was being pleasant and bubbly to me. I didn’t know what to make of their sisterly spats. On one hand, I understood L, as I saw the tears their fights would reduce her to. On the other, I sympathized with L’s sister, being a fellow middle child and all. But, I’m swaying away from the important fact: L’s sister is a stone cold fox. But, I digress. They were popping out, as L’s sister had to get to work and L’s mother had some running around to do. They wanted to make sure I was OK before they left, and how exactly L was last night. I shared with them how nervous L’s anxiety made me, and how I was bereft with worry for them today. They also shared their worries, (even L’s sister showed a little nervousness for her sibling) and I’m sure had we all known each other better, there would have been a group hug. They left, and I was once again on my own.

To kill time over my mornings waiting for Chuck and L to get home from work, I had hooked up an old Nintendo I found in the basement, and was getting quite good at Super Mario Brothers 3. I started playing it again, but my mind wasn’t really on the game. After an hour of succumbing to King Koopa and his forces, I needed something else to dull my pain. I went out onto the balcony and stared out at the skyline of Coquitlam. It was now the early afternoon. Had Chuck and L gotten a lunch break? Were they now teaching their audition class? I didn’t know the answers, and it was driving me crazy. Looking for something else to do, I wandered down to Chuck and L’s room. I hadn’t been online all week, so I hopped on Chuck’s computer and did a quick scan of the headlines at my favorite movie gossip websites. When I realized that I had missed nothing that week, I once again needed something to take my mind off of Chuck and L. I walked over to their vast collection of trade paperbacks and graphic novels, and tried to lose myself in the printed word. I snuggled into their bed, and started leafing through the pages of Battle Pope. My mind wasn’t on my reading, though. It was one of those rare instances where, even though I was reading, my mind wasn’t registering the words. Were Chuck and L now in the actual interview? Were they doing well? I looked at my watch. It was now mid-afternoon, around 4 o’clock. It was enough intellectual stimulation. I needed to do something physical to get my mind off of this. I decided to do what I always did in university: take a walk to 7-11.

This was to be a bit of a problem, though. Who would lock the door behind me? I had to do something I hadn’t done all week: talk to L’s brother. L’s brother, I feel, is a bit like me. He’s a kind, caring soul, as he was always asking if I was comfortable and offering me blankets and such. But, like me, he’s a victim of his own shyness, as most of his time was spent in his room, on his computer, playing Half Life. That’s where he was now, and I made my humble request that he lock the door after me and let me back in when I return. He agreed, and soon I was marching up the hill to the 7-11.

This was not the same 7-11 where Chuck and I bought our bus passes the day before. L’s neighborhood was blessed with two 7-11s, one at the top of the hill, and one at the bottom. Chuck and I got our passes at the one at the bottom, and I was going to the one at the top. The trek was tough, but I needed the fresh air. One of the first lessons taught to me by one of my math professors, Dr. Hackborn, was that when you’re faced with a problem with no apparent solution, you’ve got to take a break from it, and the solution will come later. That’s what I was doing now, taking a break from my worry. With each step, my worries grew lighter and I was able to relax. I knew Chuck and L. They were survivors. They can adapt to pretty much everything. They could probably make up the lesson off of the tops of their heads and survive. I was worrying for nothing! Chuck and L are two of the smartest, bravest people there are! They will do this, and do it well! They will be teaching English to the Japanese before you can say “konichiwa!” I soon arrived at 7-11, and got myself a celbratory Slurpee to toast Chuck and L’s forthcoming success. With a renewed vigor, I started marching back down the hill!

Sadly, though, with each step down, I began doubting my somewhat jubilant mood. Was I simply counting my chickens before they hatched? I mean, I knew nothing of what they were going through. Would this be a mountain they just couldn’t climb? Would this be the challenge they couldn’t adapt to? Why did I do this to them? As I trudged on, I knew only one thing: keep moving. I resolved that if Chuck and L weren’t back when I got back, I’d keep going, until I got to the other 7-11 at the bottom of the hill. I turned onto L’s street, and could see her house on the horizon. No van out front yet. It looked like I was going to the other 7-11. I picked up my pace, partially because of the downhill slope, but mostly because I needed to move. When I got halfway down to L’s house, I saw the white van that she and Chuck were driving come up the hill, and pull into the drive. This was it. For the briefest moment, I considered not stopping. I wanted to just ignore them and keep moving. But I couldn’t. Right now, at this moment, they needed a friend, either to share in their joy at doing well, or to offer a shoulder to cry on if it went badly. And besides, if they didn’t get it because of me, I should have the courage to own up to my mistakes.

I walked up along side the van just as L was stepping out. At first, I was taken aback at how she looked. She was wearing a very business-like suit, and her trademark lip stud was gone. This young college girl I called my friend had suddenly become a very grown-up woman. But, there was one part of her attire that I found very familiar: her warm, loving smile. I asked how it went, and her response was filled with superlatives. It had went amazingly well, and now all they had to do was sit back and wait two weeks to find out if they got it or not, but, both she and Chuck were convinced that the had gotten it. Both figuratively and literally, L was back.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I still don’t know if my note helped ease their tensions or not. They never said anything, and I never brought it up. All I know is that my I had fulfilled my desire: they were feeling better. I was feeling better. Chuck and L turned to go into the house, but I lingered back for a moment. I was again alone with my thoughts. The sun was starting to set behind the hills, filling the sky with the fiery oranges and reds of sunset. I took a deep breath. The air was still warm, but I could smell the lowering temperature. Night in this city still had a magical quality to it. When darkness came, it were as though the worries of the day were swallowed up by it. All in all, it had been a bad day for me, but with the night, a new 24 hours began.

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