Verities and Vestiges
by Shaun Terry
I could feel Charlie staring at me, but I didn’t dare to look. When she looks at me like that, it really freaks me out. It’s like she ceases to be a living, breathing, real human. You know when you can feel what someone else is feeling? Other people talk about this, they talk about people’s energies, or at least I guess that’s what they mean. Well anyway, when someone’s really losing control, when they’re about to get real crazy, sometimes I pick up on something. There’s a static in the room and it feels like something Teslan, like anything could happen, only that it won’t likely be good.
Mostly, I was just trying to not look at her. I was trying to ignore her. She was just staring at me. We’d fought a good deal, recently, and the arguments were getting worse. This was the part where the prospective long-term life partner becomes frustrated with me and decides that I’m not worth all this bullshit. I hate this part. It’s uncomfortable for me and they always make it so complicated.
At some point, I was just staring at the wall when I realized that I was staring at the wall and, then, I was intentionally staring at the wall, following the cracks or just looking at it stupidly, as though I was completely mindless.
I ignored Charlie’s incessant fidgeting. This is how they get when it gets like this. At some point — well, not all, but some — some of them get really anxious and fidgety and I get scared that I’m gonna get smacked by some uncontrolled appendage. Chill out. Don’t hit me, you spazz. I’m always thinking stupid things like that when I get in this position.
But, you know, I couldn’t even blame Charlie for this. In fact, I’m experienced in this sort of thing and maybe she’s never dealt with something as ridiculous as this. The thing is that no one ever understands anyone else. Most people don’t understand themselves. Maybe no one does. I certainly don’t. And Charlie doesn’t understand me. Why would she? Why should she? She wouldn’t. No one would.
She was making me anxious. I suddenly became aware of my heartbeat; my whole body was pulsing — no, thumping — thumping against nothing, thumping against itself. God! Now, my heart was beating even faster. What’s wrong with me? Whenever this happens, I feel like I should call a doctor, but I’ve survived through this so many times now. I don’t want to be dramatic. At least, I don’t want anyone to realize how dramatic I am.
And for some reason, I made the idiotic decision to look over at her. I could see it all in her face, all this pain, all this frustration. She’s mad at me, but more than that, she’s disappointed. I’ve wronged her and I should be ashamed. She’s just standing there, staring directly at me. She’s so mad at me. Why is she mad? Does she even know?
That’s the funny thing about being someone like me. By this point, I’ve seen this patterned behavior so many times that I know what it looks like, even if my unsuspecting, undeserving victims have no idea what they’re feeling at all. It becomes so easy for me to divert attention from what I did wrong and to cast doubt. That’s so shitty, but it’s just true.
I almost jumped when she suddenly made a sound, “Are you gonna say something?” She was speaking so strangely, so uncomfortably.
“What do you want me to say?”
“I dunno. You could apologize. You could explain yourself. Anything would be better than you just standing there with your mouth open.”
She was visibly uncomfortable. She sarcastically looked at the wall with me, as though she didn’t realize there was nothing there to look at. She was annoyed and she wanted to punish me now. I couldn’t blame her.
But I was annoyed by her question and I didn’t wanna answer it. So slowly, I forced myself to play along. “I’m sorry that we’re here, doing this. I’m sorry that I upset you. I have no idea what I did, though. I want to figure this out, but I don’t understand what’s happening and I wish you would tell me.”
I knew it instantly. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. I said the wrong thing. You’d think I could figure out how to respond to these situations by now, but I always fuck it up.
Charlie kept spazzing out. At one point, I thought that she might come toward me, but her nerves ensured that she returned to the position she’d been in before.
I found myself remembering the first time I ever bloviated in Charlie’s direction: “The first thing you have to understand about me is that I’m a narcissist. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not as bad as I used to be, but I don’t recommend that anyone get close to me. I mean, I want you to. But for your sake, don’t. I mean, I want you to love me. I want everyone to love me. But from afar. I want to pick and choose who I interact with and how, and maybe I want to interact with you, but you really shouldn’t. Just trust me on this. But don’t trust me on anything.” She had laughed at that. She’s not laughing now.
Charlie’s giving up. She made a weird little exasperated noise. That’s when I heard the birds chirping outside and little furry squirrels and chipmunks roaring like cutesie vestiges of the Jurassic or some shit.