Checking In; Checking Out

BY ANDY NALEWSKI

“I’ve come so far…” Delete. Who the fuck am I kidding? I have no idea how to start this paper. What’s significant? What’s important? I can’t remember anything anyways. I already wrote about the one time, the big one. I could turn that one in and say it’s new. Can I do that? Is it plagiarism? Can one plagiarize oneself?

Oh, take the easy way out, like always. Don’t lift a finger and blame your brain for it. It really is the brain though. That stupid organ the size of my fist. I knew it was going to be like this, not being able to do jack shit like always. I should just end it all, life. Not me, but my life, my friends and family, my work, my time. I should give up, like before when I… Oh... That could work.

...

I stood at the desk. She was young, had beautiful blue eyes, and think brown hair. She smiled and greeted me in a calming tone. “Welcome to Fellglow. We’re here to help you.” She turned a moment in her modern chair, and brought a large stack of paper out from under her desk. “Fill this out. The doctor will be coming by soon, and you two can talk a while. My name’s Christie, by the way.” She held out her hand, and I shook it.

The place was so accepting, not what I expected at all. Lush, carpeted floors, new agey colors on the walls, and simple paintings that soothed. For a moment I felt grand, just peachy. I’m going to get better. When I sat down in one of the chairs and touched the pen to the blank space where my name goes, it all washed away, and I found myself cold and unable to breath. It wasn’t right. I’d been in therapy before, but checking in? It was going to haunt me.

I stood at the desk. She was old, almost cranky, and stern. She had on an insipid smile, as if she was mocking me. I felt awful. I explained the situation, and she turned in her rustic chair, and gave me some papers to fill out from under her desk. “You’ll have to talk to the dean after you fill those out.” She got up from her chair and went over to a stupidly small coffee machine, and she hardly looked at me afterward.

I felt dreadful. The place was grim and dark, with lights that gave the room a terrible, bleak tone. I drew heavy breaths, and I finally managed to get the pen down onto the blank space where my name was supposed to go. I’d dropped classes before, but dropping out? I’d never live it down. But it was right. My breathing steadied. I’m going to make it better.

I packed my things; the laptop, the notebooks, all the jazzy knickknacks of college life. I was optimistic, but at the same time, ambiguous. It didn’t feel like a struggle this time. I knew I was going to kick ass - this was my year, and I was going to look back on it for decades as the time I came out of my shell and truly started my life, and later, a rewarding career. The next day would have a great morning, with stupid amounts of coffee and other great things that were greater than great.

I woke up, and the morning was indeed great. My mom greeted me right as I opened my bedroom door and walked into the kitchen. “Hi honey!” It was so jovial. I hadn’t seen her like that in a long while.

“You sound happy.” I said it dully, but I didn’t mean it like that. I was worried I had hurt her. But she paid it no heed. She stood, coffee cup in hand, still smiling in that bathrobe that was a god awful shade of pink.

“I am happy! Nothing hurts today!”

“That’s great!” I lit up at the words. She has the worst joint pain. I thought she was lying at first, just putting on a smile. But the aura she had then - the pep in her voice, the spring in her step as she offered and hastily proceeded without giving me time to answer to pour me one of many cups of coffee; it was bliss, and I decided to let it last I held onto that moment as I walked out the door and got into my trusty creampuff of a car. I turned the key. I’d been to college before, but this? This was going to be epic. I’m going to do better.

I filled out the form and looked around at Fellglow. It was still warm, but something was missing. There was only the single girl behind the desk. Then there were many. A million of them, all humming some familiar tune as they bussied about. I got lost in them, lost in the humming. I thought I would never escape it. Then there was another source of audio, some dialogue. “Hey, boss.” I turned my head and was greeted by the sight of a tall man. He was black, trim, had big, brown eyes, and a shaved head. I half expected him to be wearing one of those sterile lab coats, but he was in a sweater vest, a white collared shirt, and slacks. “I’m Dr. Chalice.” His voice was deeper than mine. My voice isn’t particularly deep, but his was so much lower. “You like tea?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir. ‘Sir’ sucks. My first name is Lawrence. Just call me that, kay?”

“Sure, Lawrence.”

We walked down to his office. It was adorned with old things, and few new ones. It was a contrast from the rest of the building. He had an old wooden desk, and old oil paintings. His degrees were hung on the wall in old frames. The whole room was old. But he didn’t look a day over thirty-five. I brought it up to him. “A lot of this stuff was in my parents’ house. The record player is especially old.” I made a bit of a face. He picked up on it. “Don’t worry. I may dress oldschool and have oldschool stuff, but I’m young at heart. Except for music. I’m big into Coltrane.”

“I actually like Coltrane a lot.”

“I got a record here, want me to throw it on?

“Please.”

He asked the basic stuff, and I told him all of it. He was so easy to talk to, especially with the jazz playing. It was just a great, great atmosphere. I felt like I was surrounded by my friends, but it was also like they weren’t there, like it was just one out of the many who were listening to me, but it wasn’t any one of them listening.

I filled out the form and looked around the office. It was still full of gloom, but I felt good. There were so many of them; all of the staff were buzzing about, talking, almost shouting, at one another, trying desperately to file all the paperwork before days end. I got lost in it for a while, until I was pulled out by the humming of the old woman behind the desk. I looked at her, and she ushered me over. The dean’s office was just down the hall, but the walk was nice, and long. I took deep, powerful strides with a lot of spring in my step. I got into the office. I guessed he was the dean. It said so on the stupid plaque on his desk. He was plain.

I don’t remember what he said exactly. He started off praising me, saying how good I did, getting on his fabled list the first few semesters. Then he asked me a first question, one that felt like the millionth. It was like he was questioning everything about me, and I couldn’t explain any of it. How could I? I don’t even understand it myself. I mean, who was this guy? He was the dean, sure, but fuck his status - he reached inside of me and tore out my heart. “What happened?” I don’t fucking know asshole.

I wanted to say that to him just then. But I choked, I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t make eye contact, I stuttered trying to think of lame excuses when all I had to say to him was how much I was suffering and how I couldn’t do anything about it, but that I needed to and I couldn’t do it here.

It hit me after a month. I couldn’t do it. It was too hard. I tried and tried and tried to make it work, but I couldn’t swing it. The workload was too heavy, and I was too broken I talked to them both. I was suffocating.

“I can’t do it. I can’t…”

Mom got it. She understood. But Dad was different. He didn’t like it. “Do… you think you could drop a few, maybe a couple classes and take the rest? It might be -”

“I-I feel I need to drop out.” He looked away, only for a second, but it was the longest second of my life.

I took in every feature of his face. He looked old, tired. His hair was gray, born from stress and an underperforming son. His eyes were glossed over, and the tiny moles adorning his face to pulsed with disappointment. He hadn’t shaved in awhile; he had those peppered whiskers on his chin and neck. He looked like an aspiring mountain man.

I thought of he and I chopping down trees to build a cabin in Alaska. He smiled at me and patted me on the back. “We’re halfway there!” he said as we felled another. We had a long break, drinking shitty percolated coffee and smoking fat cigars. We went back to work. I went to pick up the axe, but I couldn’t lift it. I was too weak. He frowned at me, and turned away.

I went back to his face. He was going to turn away from me now, like he did in the woods. I couldn’t lose his approval again. It would kill me.

“I think you’re right.”

I felt nothing. I was relieved, of course. But I felt nothing.

The talk with Lawrence was good, and we had many more of them. I stayed in Fellglow the whole summer. Lawrence helped me with so many things I can’t recall what all of them were. I called him friend after that, but I never told him. I know doctors get paid to do that job, but I felt like he genuinely gave a damn. Maybe it’s a lie - and maybe I know that it’s a lie - but it’s a lie I’m willing to keep telling myself.

My friends and family came to visit me all the time when I was there, and when I finally graduated, they threw me a giant party with lots of food and a pint of Captain Morgan that I got to have all to myself. And after that, I took a step out of the door, and back into the world. And it almost happened all over again.

The conversation ended with the prick giving me what I wanted. I was on a leave of absence. I was out, free, open. I tried to brush off the anger, but it closed in on me, and I became slow. I imagined a watch on my wrist, and the hands moved slow. I looked up at the sky, and the clouds moved slow. And I walked, so, so slowly. It took me thirty minutes to get to my car - it’s usually about a six minute walk. I looked at the ground the whole time. I finally got to my car and sat down. I lit up one of my last cigarettes. It tasted awful, but it wasn’t slow. Time returned to normal, and when I got home, the world seemed a little brighter. I’m going to get better.

The talk was done. I said what I needed to say to them. I collapsed on my bed after the conversation. I was exhausted. I needed my energy for tomorrow, for the administration building for the insipid form I would have to fill out. It wouldn’t be hard, it wouldn’t be easy. I’d just be numb, and I’d continue being numb forever. These days, I long for that feeling I felt that night. I don’t want good or bad. I want nothing.

Well, I think I’ve edited the hell out of this shit, and for once, I’m satisfied. I can turn this in with my name on it and not feel like shit for once. Ha. I know this feeling. I did shit. I did good shit. I want to be like this all the time. I won’t be, I know that, but I’m not scared anymore. I got my story out, and I’m not about to repeat it.