22 February 2012

Short Story: Future Tense

Turns out "Peering Through The Static" never really went anywhere; I just couldn't figure out anything interesting for Toby and Elsa to do. Maybe I'll come back to that one. In the meantime, new content.

Future Tense
David J. Dunn

I hadn't spoken to Joy Halliday since the the third grade. We were schoolyard acquaintances back then, knowing each other's names, subjects, grades, birthdays, et cetera; but we never spoke to one another. I, being a reserved little boy with his nose perma-nestled in books, was never one to speak to my male classmates, let alone a girl. But something made me notice her more than the others. I know she felt it too. We were too young to understand what was happening, but those glances across the lunch room when we caught eyes were exhilarating to my prepubescent mind. I'd be talking about Power Rangers to Shaun and Ducky, perfectly content to speak to the friends in my immediacy, when she'd catch my eye, walking to a cramped table, straddling a small plate of gravy-drenched french fries. I often just stared at her and she stared back. She'd smile and I'd smile and it'd play like a pop song; sappy and sweet, but ultimately hollow.

You see, third graders don't really know what they want. All I knew is that I was having new feelings, new emotions and new sensations. So when my mom made me a Facebook page, I knew the first person I wanted to add. I remember my dad finally letting me use the website all my friends raved about, how I wanted to be in on this social craze so badly, even though I knew nothing about it, and I had even less use for it. It was likely that I was just in the childhood “wants” stage, fitting in by online osmosis. When dad helped me set it up, subtly tweaking my privacy settings and limiting my exposure, he added himself as my first friend. I remember his picture, that same one that my parents had in two separate frames in our house; Carol and Pat before they became Mom and Dad. After adding my mother and a few close friends, Dad left me alone at the computer for a moment, something he never did until this point, and of course I immediately added Joy.

My schoolyard chums had nothing better to do than sit around on Facebook all night, so they responded to the friend requests immediately. Just a few minutes after creation, my friends had plastered TV show catchphrases and game requests on my wall, obscuring my personal information in a fog of copyrighted images. I felt like I belonged for once, like I was part of what was happening.

A few hours passed, and I retired from my PC to eat supper, shoving it in my face as fast as I could so I'd be able to get back to the computer a few minutes sooner. “Slow down,” my father would tell me, “Your food's not going anywhere. Neither is the internet.” I tried in vain to make him see it my way, but his logic and controlled nature always had a snarky answer for any excuse I could come up with. I had a particularly hard time with slowing down that night, almost choking twice. I had no idea at the time, but my tiny id-driven brain had been needing that computer because I didn't know if Joy had added me back yet. When Mom eventually let me go upstairs without finishing my broccoli, I jumped into the musty leather computer chair and hurriedly clicked on my browser.

But she hadn't added me back. In fact, she'd turned down my invitation to be her friend. I was devastated; why didn't she add me? I had no idea why anyone, let alone her, would turn down a friend invite from me. At first I was just confused, but as the night went on with no word from her, I started to worry and panic. If she didn't add me on Facebook were we actually friends? Was I allowed to talk to her? Do girls have different Facebook rules? The weight of the world was suddenly collapsing onto my untested back. That was the first time I felt the social sting; that feeling of unknowing, being completely in the dark as to how she felt about me. It felt like hell. I hated it. Still confused and completely lost, I left the hum of the computer room and turned the corner into my messy bedroom, slamming the door behind me. Looking around, I attempted to find an outlet for my anger. I grabbed various toys and flung them across the room, chipping the paint on the walls, but not making enough noise to alert my mother. In my destructive rage, I broke a lot of my things, but at that moment I couldn't care less. Suddenly all that mattered in the world was not plastic and cartoon, it was flesh and voice. Without thinking, I drew a felt pen from my pencil case, my favourite kind because they wrote on anything, and began to push my bed out from the wall. I crouched behind it, trying to stay out of sight of an unknown and nonexistent authority figure, and I wrote on the wall behind the inside post: “JOY JOY JOY”. As if I was caught, there was suddenly an urgency to escape the hidden depths I'd written. I dropped the pen, leaving it somewhere under the bed, and pushed the post back to where it had been, scraping the floor as it went. Unfortunately, Mom heard that, but I managed to recreate normalcy before she forced her way into my room.

I ignored Facebook for the rest of the night. I decided I didn't want to think about Joy Halliday, all I wanted to think about was autobots and decepticons, He-Man and She-Ra, Megaman and Protoman, and other popular pairs. Little did I understand that my brain was coding for me, it was starting to evaluate relationships, starting to realize the primal needs of the human animal. That night I dreamt about a party at my house, where everyone was having fun, drinking pop and eating hot dogs; but she wasn't there. I was so miserable that couldn't even enjoy my triple-decker birthday hamburger.

When I woke up for school the next day, it occurred to me that I'd actually have to talk to Joy. I had never thought this far ahead, and suddenly the prospect of the lunch room was mortifying. I tried faking sick in the morning, but my Dad was way too smart to fall for it, probably thinking I wanted to waste away my day on Facebook. He dragged me, kicking and screaming, through the pouring rain and into the car, and soon I was standing on the front step of Cornerstone Elementary, my hand trembling as it reached for the handle.

The semester ended four months later. During that time, I never spoke to her once. I didn't even try to make eye contact anymore. I couldn't face her knowing that she'd snubbed me online, knowing that she probably hated my guts, I mean I was a boy and she was a girl, how were we supposed to get along anyway? To my childish psyche male and female were like oil and water. So we were wordless for the rest of the school year, and I was miserable for a little while, but eventually I grew out of it. Soon enough I found myself graduating from elementary school, journeying into the mire of junior high, and finally experiencing the opposite sex for myself when Bethany Potts kissed me on the lips during art class. Nothing happened, but I started to become more and more interested in the mysteries of the female. In high school I met Nancy, and we saw each other for three years before I found out that she'd cheated on me. After Nancy was Brittany, and I cheated on her. I was still figuring things out.

So yesterday, on my twenty-seventh birthday, I was heading home from work, navigating my broken down Honda shitbox through Yonge Street, when I accidentally rear-ended a purple Ford. It wasn't my fault; the asshole in the blue sedan cut me off, and the Ford stopped. Unfortunately I happened to be in her blind spot at the time. I was understandably pissed off when I got out of the car and saw the offending vehicle driving off into the sunset. The driver of the car which I'd hit was a pretty young woman, about as old as me, with red hair draped from her head down to her shoulders. She apologized profusely; I told her not to. She seemed shaken up, so I comforted her by telling her I'd pay for any damages. We then decided to exchange personal information like good insured citizens. When she leaned in next to me and looked me in the eyes I knew. I waited for her to write her name before I inquired.

Turns out Joy had been living in Michigan for most of her life after moving away. She said that she never actually saw any of our classmates again, but had been catching up with some of them over Facebook. My ears perked up and the seven-year-old in me reared his ugly head again. I told myself to forget about it, but it was too late for that. Before platonicity kicked in, I needed an answer.

“Why didn't you add me on Facebook when we were kids?”
“Because Mom wouldn't let me add boys from school.”

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