Life as a thing starts almost immediately after he’s gone, but life as a thing is so unbelievable that I have to stay still for a long, long time just to wrap my head around it. Life as a thing is numb for a little while but pretty soon it gets absolutely unbearable once the reality of it begins to take hold, and then staying still is, like, someone else’s problem and it’s all I can do to just scream and scream and scream into the mattress instead of exploding all over the south wing and leaving thick layers of radioactive decay and poisonous fallout everywhere.
When the first wave of life as a thing subsides I can feel the sunlight dribbling in through the fog-which I can’t see but know is there because of the horn’s muffled moan out beyond the pier-but then Miss Thing comes back and who knows how long the new tsunami of convulsions lasts because really who’s watching the clock and why bother splitting hairs between things and objects like it even matters oh fuck it hurts and the sheets are soaked with I don’t want to know what of it’s mine and life as a thing is about to black out when the phone rings like a jackhammer and I freeze. It keeps ringing, five or six times-why’s the machine dead?-and just to make it stop I pick up but don’t say anything.
“Frankie? Frankie, are you there?” Oh Jesus. Not him. The receiver is made of black ice and it’s crystallizing alarmingly fast, spreading over my hand and down the coiling cord. I can’t speak.
“Frankie, hey-hey, it’s…it’s Justin. Are you, um, there? Talk to me.”
Life as a thing is now so paralyzing that it takes an enormous amount of effort and time just to hang up-I can hear his voice cut off, just like that-but at first it doesn’t make me feel anything…and then just as suddenly I’m shaking all over and I can’t control it and oh God I’m fucking scared and I almost completely lose it again except the phone starts ringing and I just snap back into place. Just freeze again and let the machine take it. Just let it happen.
“Frankie, it’s Justin again. Hey-are you all right? Pick up, okay? Is he there-Is Chris there, I mean? I really need to talk to him…”
…and I let him sit there for a second, but am slowly moving, down…
“Goddamnit, Frankie, pick up the fucking phone, I need to ta-”
…and then I can’t hear the rest cause I’m scrambling down on the ground and looking for the cord and there it is and I just yank it out of the wall and the machine goes dead. Stay the fuck away from me.
Then the pain starts to localize-intensifying in places, I mean-squeezing and cramping and suddenly the room feels very, very small and the pressure of it just pops the door open. I hold the knob for a second to brace myself, and I guess I grab a towel off the floor because life as a thing continues down the hall to the bathroom, dragging a towel in one hand and sweats in the other. The tile is way too cold, so I put the towel down by the shower and kind of shuffle to the toilet with sweats around my ankles. It hurts too much to sit down for very long though, so I flush and slowly make my way back to the towel and turn the water on full blast, as hot as it will fucking go.
Life as a thing doesn’t exactly wash away, but I’m not really expecting it to, and lots of other stuff ends up down the drain. I towel off and try to sneak back to my room even though the hall lights are as bright as always, no matter the hour. It’s only a few steps to the door but I feel totally exposed the whole way, and when I hurry into the room I don’t look and trip over a green duffel bag he’d dumped on the floor as soon as he’d come in. I’m still trying to remember exactly how it happened-the furtive little knock followed by him just barging in as if we’d never ended, as if I’d always wanted to see him, as if I wouldn’t notice or care about how dirty and drained he looked-because I didn’t really get anywhere with the five W line of questioning. He looked spooked, and for the life of me I can’t think of why suddenly it didn’t matter that we’d been broken up or that he’d never stopped calling or threatening or finding new ways to freak out-I felt like here was this broken thing that needed attention, and forgot that broken things can also be dangerous wild animals.
Because it hurt, it really fucking hurt, and then before I realize it, life as a thing involves unzipping the bag and looking through every item in it, every stitch of clothing-which isn’t much, but still, it’s his-and I throw all of it in the corner, all of it except one shirt that says “Zero,” which I pull on without a second thought. Maybe I’ll burn the rest. I finish getting dressed and wonder where I could get away with burning a small load of laundry and think maybe I should go find out. Just get out of here and leave this creepy little box before it begins to scare the shit out of me again, and then life as a thing shuts the door behind it and glides down the hall and around the corner through the boys’ downstairs wing. It turns another corner toward the door-which I can see from here is held open by something on the floor, a jacket. Life as a thing means stepping over that jacket and moving outside into the morning fog; moving around the building to the right, toward the beach.
I don’t expect to hear the door close but I instinctively look back anyway, and see a boy slumped against the wall beneath a window and my body starts to panic before my brain can tell it that no, you don’t know that boy, and he’s passed out anyway, so calm the fuck down-but life as a thing has no patience for stupid details like that and insists that a walk to the beach and around campus will do a world of good, and argues further that there’s no real reason to go to class today anyway. That I’ve learned enough brain-melting lessons today already, that no one will really understand if I tell them-that I’m too ashamed to tell anyone about the things I’ve learned today. I mean, how can I get someone else to understand it when I don’t even fucking understand it myself?
And so I just walk and keep walking, down the long eucalyptus-lined path to Webb (where a blown-off Geology section will be meeting at 10); across the moist strip of clean lawn in front of Chem and into the Phelps quad (where a ditched PoliSci lecture probably won’t miss me this afternoon); then fuck it, a hard left behind Campbell, that big ugly egg where freshmen go to die in GEs; past the Admin buildings that look like prisons. Life as a thing continues down to the bus loop and briefly considers waiting for the early express downtown before realizing that all this walking probably isn’t helping any pain of any kind lessen in any way-so no lingering at the old pool and go quick past the new HSSB (don’t look at the fliers on the wall; they’ll just tell you what you don’t want to do anyway), and don’t bother hanging around Music or the UCen and especially not Ortega. Can’t really eat anything at a time like this.
By the time I get back to the dorm the sun is up and blinding-that merciless all-seeing eye blasting righteous light down like it always does on everyone staggering east from Isla Vista on their walks of shame-so the hall lights are off when I get inside. It’s still mostly quiet, but there are little hints here and there that I’m not the only one slouching toward consciousness-low voices and random bumps from behind doors, hissing steam from the bathroom-but when I look down the hall and see my door wide open, I freeze. He’s back. He’s back and waiting for me. Something happened and he’s back and he’ll either apologize or pretend nothing happened or seethe and explode and holy shit this is not the time. Please God, not now. And so I tiptoe the last few steps and slowly, slowly peer around the open door, and…it’s not him. It’s not him! My roommate is back, and she’s…packing?
“S-Simone?” My voice is hoarse and brittle. “Simone, where have you…been?” Her bare brown shoulders raise slightly as she flinches in surprise before turning around, but any fright is gone by the time our eyes meet.
“Frankie? Frankie, baby, where have you been?” She’s looking me up and down. “The door was, like, unlocked when I got back.” Simone has a weird East L.A. way of seeing right through me, but I’m not ready for this shit yet. I clear my throat and try again.
“You first,” I say with a weak smile. It can’t be any worse than whatever I’m gonna say, which life as a thing dictates shall not be the truth.
“I’m moving out,” she sighs. “I have to withdraw. Bad grades and family shit. Big drama. Daddy’s girl needs to go home.”
“Long story. If you help me, I can tell you while we pack.”
And it is a long story, but completely forgettable and so full of stupid overblown melodrama and I can’t believe Simone’s dropping out and I’m about to ask her why the fuck she’s got to just leave school over it. I’m surprised I even care that much cause we never got along all that well anyway, but then she’s asking me “what do you want to do with these clothes, Frankie? Are these yours? They look like boy clothes.”
Oh fuck. His clothes. His cast-off forgotten wreckage in my room, in my life, in my body. Then life as a thing begins to blur again and, and…
“Frankie? Are you…are you crying? Damn, girl, what’s happened to you?”
She sounds astonished, like I’d never cried in front of her before-and maybe I hadn’t-but it’s not like I can just, just blurt it all out, because, because…it shouldn’t happen to me. Life as a thing shouldn’t have happened to me, but it did, and it is, and it’s so, so far beyond Frankie or Francine’s ability to handle right now. It’s gotta be someone else’s problem.
Yeah, someone else will have to deal with it.