OH MY BLOG — I FREAKIN’ MISS YOU!
We’ll be back in sync w/each other soon, but in the meantime, I’m sharing my final short story of the semester below…
and in case you’re wondering, it’s 71% truth and 29% fiction.
Me and Audio
By Jace Yarbrough
I met Audio at a Thursday night bike meet.
It was cool outside of the bike repair shop. I was sitting up on a raised concrete slab that jutted out of and ran parallel with the back of the building, resting my bony back against a whitewashed brick wall.
Holding a pen in my left hand, I had a book about loneliness spread open in front of me, the front and back cover of it resting against my thighs. As I read through the book, I marked the lines that I really liked — the ones that resonated with me so deeply that I felt like crying and rereading them over and over again until we both fell asleep together. Me and the lines.
And I was looking up every few minutes, realizing that other bikers had joined the growing crowd whenever things would become noticeably rowdier, and one of the times I looked up was when I first saw him: A skinny guy rolling into the alley from the left, wearing a bandanna on his head and a scarf around his neck and sticking his arms out at his sides so that they ran parallel with the ground. He was cute. Very silly, and very cute. Seeing him and watching him made me smile.
As the wheels of his bike slowed, I noticed him allowing his eyes to roam the crowd – taking in all of the other bikers smoking and drinking and staring at or showcasing their phones. His eyes found me, eventually, as I’d hoped they would, and when they did, I felt an inky wave of nausea pass through me. It was terrifying and electrifying – being seen by someone you want to have see you.
“Ahhhh… a fellow reader. What’s the book about?”
Startled, I tracked the unfamiliar voice with my eyes. I quickly discovered an older guy standing just to the right of where I was sitting. He was leaning his hip against the outer rim of the concrete wall, staring down at the book in my lap and then looking up at me.
“Oh – it’s about loneliness… basically, how to be happy with one’s solitude.” I smiled over at him apologetically, like I wish I could tell you it was a nicer kind of book.
The old guy nodded his head slowly. “And are you lonely?”
Wow. Bold. And way too fucking old. “I am… depressed. From being lonely. But I’ve learned to manage it well.”
He nodded. “I also struggle with that.”
It was hard to gauge his intent, but I chose to believe it was harmless. I closed the book and gripped it with both hands, reassured by the weight of it. “And how do you manage yours?”
He looked at me with surprise, as if I was the one who had first crossed the line.
But then suddenly, the route leader was screaming into a megaphone, reciting the usual: no texting while riding; keep in the right lane; scream “pothole” if you see one and make sure all of the newbies feel welcome.
“I’ll catch up with you on the break,” I said to the guy, scooting across and off of the concrete and then hopping onto my bike. I strapped my heavily-stickered helmet on and then spun and tugged at the rings on my right hand while I searched the crowd for Cute Guy.
I couldn’t find him, but soon, we were all cruising the streets of downtown Birmingham together — our discordant music blaring, our bikes’ sporadic lights touching hands and cars and concrete, and the lead singer of Glass Animals crooning into my ears only as the sun rolled backwards with us.
Mid-ride, Cute Guy rolled up beside me and looked directly over at me. The stuff of dreams.
Did he just say “hi” to ME?!
“Hi!” I echoed him, grinning. And then I felt panicky… like I was balancing on the brink of something. “How has your week been so far?” I ventured.
He squinted. “Challenging.” He nodded to himself, seeming satisfied with his answer. “And you?”
“Same – emotionally challenging, but… it’s going well.”
We chatted on and off, here and there, but he tended to disappear – leaving me to weave through the crowd… he seemed to be catching up with friends and introducing himself to strangers.
So confident, so open — so compelling. I wanted him to ride with me all night.
After five or six miles, we stopped at a park – tonight’s secret destination. It always changes. Sometimes, it’s an abandoned warehouse, a ball park, or an old parking deck. But it’s always cool. And this half-way break is when people lay their bikes down and wander around for a bit… drinking and talking and flirting and playing. Kids come on the rides, and ninety-year-olds do, too. People cuss and throw frisbees and munch on protein bars as they holler at each other, laughing loudly because they’re having a great time. I usually find a quiet spot to people-watch from, because when you’re as lonely as I am, the reality of striking up a conversation is more terrifying than the idea of watching a train barrel towards you.
But this park had a swing set — unresistable. So instead of cozying up next to a tree trunk, I plopped down onto one of two swings and began kicking my legs into the air, giggling to myself as I rose higher and higher. I was wearing purple corduroy pants and a reddish sweater that read carpe diem. My outfit looked so bright and happy… I hoped it looked right on me.
Nadia, the only girl who works in the repair shop, plopped down onto the other swing. Most girls make me nervous, but she doesn’t. She has wild, brunette hair, wears cool skirts with a fanny pack, and has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. We started talking about kombucha and she explained how she brews it at home. I enjoyed listening to her.
I really didn’t need another heart attack, but Cute Guy ran over to where we were and then leaned against the pole closest to me. “I was hoping I’d get to swing with a beautiful girl tonight, and here are TWO!”
Nadia and I both laughed; it was obviously a lame line, but he was so incredibly genuine. And I couldn’t believe my luck! Not only had he noticed me, but he had also thought that I was beautiful…
Seeming unaware of his profound affect on me, he strolled off toward a little girl named Emme. I watched him as he helped her go up and down the playground’s slide. Absolutely precious.
Let it go, J — he’s too perfect, I warned myself. He’s either gay, already dating somebody a thousand times cooler than you, or a monk who would never, ever date anyone, including – especially – you. I sighed, letting up on my swinging and hovering a little closer to the ground.
After about twenty minutes, someone shouted that we were rolling again. On our way back to our bikes, Cute Guy passed by me and smiled. I couldn’t fathom what was happening; was he really noticing me as much as it seemed? Or was my overly-active imagination just being cruel with me? I wanted to grab his hand, or give him a hug, or ask him if he liked getting coffee on the weekends – OR do all three of those things… but in reality, outside of the pretentiously brave confines of my mind, I didn’t do any of them. I just lowered my head and gently took my bike back from a tree.
You’re going to get hurt again if you keep on like in this, I chided myself. Nobody normal falls in love this quickly… and never with you.
Another six miles and we were back where we started. Some people go home right away (usually, this includes me) while others – the cool kids – stick around in the alley outside of the shop to smoke and drink and hang out.
And tonight, I was awkwardly but bravely standing in the back doorway of the shop, passively waiting for something to happen… like a fall, followed by a catch or a crash. Something.
Out there in the dark, I noticed yellow streetlight touching the brick and the concrete and some of my pale skin, and it made me feel like I was in some sort of cigarette dream.
And then, something did happen: The nosy old guy from earlier spotted me. Sigh. He walked over to where I was and then stood beside me, placing himself right underneath the yellow light. He looked older in it, but also, wiser.
“So – back to what we were talking about earlier… how do you manage yours?” I asked quickly, gently assuming control of the conversation.
He adjusted his glasses and inhaled deeply through his nostrils.
“I think of it like this; when you know it’s going to be cold out, you wear a coat, right?” He paused, so I nodded. “Well my depression is cyclical; I can feel it coming from a ways off, and when it starts, I know it’s going to last a while. A real downward spiral. And while I could just ride the whole thing out — the onset of it, the downward spiral, and then the slow uptick – when I feel it coming, I go ahead and put a coat on so that I’m better prepared for it. Because you dress for the weather, physically, and you should do the same thing – spiritually, emotionally – for your depression.”
“That makes total sense. And what’s your coat?” I probed. “Like, for me, I know what to do to sort of insulate myself against it; get out of the house, be around people, drink lattes, write stories, make music… what do you do?”
He never really answered me. Not directly, anyways, which is the way I wanted him to. But he did mention something interesting: guided imagery.
“Imagine you’re in a tank,” he said. “A sort of fish tank. It’s like a mile wide and several miles deep, and you’re on this endless spiral staircase inside of it, always walking down, down, down. And occasionally, a door appears, and when it does, you have the option of getting out — of leaving.”
He stopped speaking, and I understood why.
“Wow. That’s so wonderful,” I whispered. “I was imagining you saying that, the further down you go, the more upward climbing you’ll have to do later on to ever get out, because I imagined a single door at the very top. How depressing!” I laughed. “But I love that, with the way you explained it, you can pretty much leave anytime you choose… I mean, you know — at intervals; whenever that opportunity presents itself again. If you take it.”
“Right. Exactly.” He smiled, and I was glad, then, that he was nosy.
Cute Guy had wandered outside while we were chatting; he’d looked over at me and then sat down onto the metal landing outside the door, a canned beer in his hand. My heart had started racing then, in quick pursuit of that wave of nausea, and I begged myself to muster the guts to sit down next to him. It doesn’t have to be a big deal! I said. You could ask him what he’s drinking, what his plans are for the weekend, or whether or not he likes to read…
But my nosy friend continued talking – moving onto the less-interesting subject of personality tests – and by the time I’d been able to politely excuse myself from his company, a group of people were already huddled around my guy – one of them, a lovely girl with pink and purple hair. I heard her refer to him as Audio. His name was so great. And she was so pretty.
I turned around to leave, feeling sad and frustrated with myself for being so small, so quiet, and so plainly dirty-blonde…
But then I turned around again, marched out the back door, and tapped Cute Guy on the shoulder. He turned around slightly to face me, looking surprised – possibly in the same way that I’d looked surprised earlier when Nosy and I had first met. I stuttered slightly, but eventually managed to say: “I just wanted to say goodnight.”
He smiled at me warmly. “Goodnight, Jane.”
And then I left… smiling and wondering how he’d known my name. The soft thud of my skate shoes reverberated off of brick and concrete, and when I rounded the corner and stepped up onto the ghostly yellow sidewalk, a gust of wind swirled my honey-blonde hair into wild tangles. Beautiful, I remembered, grinning.
The scent of his beer faded as the sound of their laughs grew distant, and the small but distinct sound of me muffled in volume also as I drew the yellow city into me like a lover…
And then I realized that if I just rearranged his words a little bit, stripped of their tone and context, I could make the nauseatingly magical evening even better: