I’m fighting my vacuum cleaner when a commercial screams at me from across the room. A beach scene with a diverse group of clean smiles and happy twentysomethings drinking beer from slim cans. A fiery sunset hangs to the horizon over the ocean, as the glowing embers take flight and a deep voice instructs me to…
“Find your you.”
My you. I stare at the TV long after the ad. I wonder how many you’s are being found this very moment. I suppose I found my you once. In a basement, at a party, when I took too much acid and tried to run through a glass door.
Now, a clogged vacuum seems so insignificant. After watching well-groomed beach bums laugh and squeeze the life out of the day, immune to drinking laws, sand mites, bad weather or arguments, I wonder what comes next?
Will they go streaking in the ocean, their sculpted bodies glistening in the moonlight? Will one of them get drunk and start crying, talking about an ex, an uncle, overdue bills or eating disorders that lead to their six pack abs. Will someone announce they’re pregnant and they don’t know what to do? They’ll have to stop spending their days drinking on the beach?
I turn off the TV and toss the vacuum to the side. I’m quaking with energy. Inspired for the first time I can remember. Find your you.
Maybe I should get out, leave this room and set off for the mountains. Drive until I see something that makes me stop and smile, behold, and wonder. I don’t need anything else. No phone, GPS, just the clothes I’m wearing.
My mind spins, my chest heaves. I open the curtains, ready to take on the sun.
But where are my keys?
For an hour I search my room. Under the couch, in the couch, behind the couch. I check the pockets of my other pair of jeans. Meanwhile my you gets bored, goes back into hiding. My you is probably waiting in the mountains, swimming the pristine lakes and rivers while here I’m stuck on foot, too incompetent to reach it.
I pick up the phone and call Kelli. No answer so I leave a message. “Hey Kelli, I can’t find my keys, or my you. Haha. Long story. Anyway, um, if you still have a spare could you call me back? Or I mean, if you want, I can come to you. I mean…”
I hang up the phone and wait. I pull the shades tight as the sunlight taunts me. Outside I hear the sweep of traffic, the occasional horn, people talking. Everyone finding their own personal you’s. I check my phone again. Nothing.
Kelli’s bank is across town. If I’m going to chase my dream I need to start with facing my fears. I figure she still has my spare key so I put on a different shirt, one with less holes, frays, stains. I lace up my shoes and walk towards the bus stop. I don’t know the schedule. No one is waiting. I sit on the bench and watch the trash skitter down the curb every time a car goes flying by.
I look both ways every two minutes. So I see the large, hobbling guy chugging up the sidewalk, his bags clinking, as he huffs and puffs and sits himself down all to close to me with a grunt. He’s wearing layers of clothes and smells like fish. He’s got a scruffy beard and mismatch shoes, lugging two bags that sound like they contain a recycling center. This guy has not found his inner you.
I rub the back of my neck. I get nervous around people. Not like I think he’s going to mug me or assault me nervous but I have trouble with things. What to say, or, do I say anything at all? What’s the acceptable amount of time to sit alone with someone without speaking?
When the bus comes and I leap to my feet. Bag guy stays put. I nod to him, sort of mumble hey, as I step on the bus.
It’s a four mile ride, long enough to realize my keys are probably what’s clogging the vacuum. Could be, anyway. My phone dings. A text from Kelli.
I stare at her reply, wondering how we can go from dates to sharing a bed to being reduced to one simple character. Okay, so Kelli probably doesn’t want to help. But I’m dressed and on the way. I realize I forgot to brush my hair.
My own work history is scattered at best. My last job I spent packing boxes onto a pallet. Unmade boxes, the flat kind. Just stacks and stacks of boxes we sent out to companies. I loved it. I had all night to just think and stack. Start again.
I get out and it’s colder, the wind has picked up. I forgot my jacket. I hunch into the wind and get to the bank where I’m greeted by an over eager smiley girl.
“Hi, welcome to Citizens Capitol.”
She has found her you. And I don’t have my wallet and therefore have no way of signing up for the interest-free checking they’re advertising on the cardboard cutout behind her.
She wants to know why I’m here. I’m here for my spare key. I nod and thank her while gently brushing past, hoping to get through without being detained. Over her shoulder, I spot Kelli at her normal place, two places from the wall, her hair shorter than I remember it. Behind her is the safe—fourteen inches of metal protecting all capitol from the citizens. Cameras everywhere.
It’s strange to hear Kelli interact so cheerfully with customers. The fake laugh, the feigned interest, the constant nodding. I look back at the greeter girl. This place is more like a filming location than financial institution.
I wait behind the ropes. The man ahead of me chatters on with Kelli about his grandchildren. I don’t have the heart to tell him she hates kids, how she used to rage about her nephew and how he wouldn’t shut up. He leaked snot from his nose, ate his boogers, refused to wear socks so his feet stunk. But now, watching Kelli, as she goes on with a sparkle in her eyes, nodding and telling him they are adorable, all of them, just adorable, I’m almost convinced she wants to teach kindergarten.
A teller waves me over. But I don’t need a teller—at least not this one—I need Kelli. I look off, pretend not to see her. I turn to let someone else go only there’s no one behind me to let past and I end up turning all the way around. A complete spin and I’m back to where I was.
Only now Kelli sees me.
She looks left, right, as her grandpa packs up his receipts and papers and when he’s all done he’s talking to the greeter. I’ll bet he talks to people all day long, pulls out his wallet to show off pictures of the grandkids.
I don’t even have my wallet. If I’d died on the way here it would have taken some figuring out. Maybe through my phone, they would have called Kelli and she would have said she used to live with me but I was an unmotivated slob.
But I’m motivated now, as I plod ahead. Even as Kelli sort of shakes her head. “I can’t find my keys,” I say, figuring I’ll cut to the chase. I know she doesn’t like to be bothered at work.
Her lips part. She lowers her head. I look at the flowery pens stabbed into the fake rocks, the stale candy, the brochure with a boy hugging a dog.
She says my name like it’s against the law. As though a mandate been issued proclaiming no one will utter the name David in public. I pat down my pockets. “Seriously, no keys. I’d lose my head if it wasn’t connected.”
Kelli doesn’t laugh. She looks over my shoulder, then at her hands. She whispers, “What are you doing here?”
“I told you. I lost my keys.” I roll my eyes. “Okay, it’s kind of crazy but I got this wild idea to go on a trip, not a big trip, just, you know wherever my old Toyota would take me. Anyway, I was—”
“It’s been two years, David. Two years.”
“Oh, right. Has it been that long. I tried to call.”
The smell of lighter fluid. Kelli had a tiny house with a garden in the fenced in backyard. The toilet ran and I could never fix it. There was a fireplace in the living room. I burned her journal when I read something about another guy. Then a picture of us, her clothes, a pillow.
“I changed my number two years ago.” Her voice trembles. When I look up her eyes are glossy, red around the rim. She leans closer. “You don’t have a car. You burned my house down, David. Why are you here?”
Her hands are shaking. Mascara runs down her cheek. A security guard I hadn’t noticed moves in, watching us. Smiley Girl isn’t smiling any longer. Suddenly this place is very much an institution.
I pat my pocket, still no keys. I think about my small room with no fireplace. A halfway house, but it’s less than that. It’s not a house at all. “It was an accident. I told you that. I just…”
“You need some help, Kelli?”
The guard stands beside me, his pungent cologne, strong enough to keep anyone away. I look back to Kelli. “So you don’t have my spare key?”
The guard takes me by the elbow. Kelli’s lips are parted. She looks at me. “Take care, David.”