June Ninth, Memory, and Bladensburg

by Elliott-Robert Brown

June 9, 2016

It was a week ago that I'd lost my last job. This time I couldn't be bothered to cry or mope. I had about five months of savings ready and would be fine as long as I kept my appetite under control. From November of the previous year to June of the current one, I had worked whenever my bosses needed me; Sunday being the exception and a day I was adamant about not working, regardless of standards unofficially set by the field that I worked in. Day in and day out, for months on end I was never still, never stayed at home, was always out and about either for work or for church or for spending time with friends. And in my week of unemployment, that hadn't changed since the Thursday I'd lost my job. I told myself this time I would spend the day at home. I wouldn't leave for any reason. I was going to stay home and study the cook books that I'd borrowed from the library.

Then I realized that I can't sit still in my own home. There's always been something in the atmosphere that feels so confining that I have to get up and pace the floor. If I intended to study, I needed to study among other concentrating people. I'd go to the library. I procrastinated and stayed home for about an hour longer than I had intended and soon I grew hungry. There was a Checkers about eight minutes from my home. The Checkers was also about one minute from the library. I would go for a burger and it would be fine as long as I kept my appetite under control.

I packed my worn blue backpack with books and a notebook, sharpened about five decent-length pencils and four that most people would likely consider too short to use, put on my month-old shoes that somehow had their white heels blackened from my abuse, and made my way down the street when I ran into my neighbor. He was a nice man, a retired substitute teacher who had worked at least since my mother was in high school. He was out walking his small white dog; so tame it didn't need a leash while it wondered from street to curb to tree with an almost childlike enthusiasm for a walk it must have completed hundreds of times before. My neighbor and I talked, agreeing to see the upcoming Western together before he stated that he didn't wish to hold me up on such a beautiful day. I made my way to Checkers as I remembered the film's trailer and sang the song that played in it in mumbles.

I passed a stain on the street. A few days prior I had seen something odd in the grass between the road and the woods next to my house. Upon closer inspection I realized it was a turtle. A find I hadn't made in my neighborhood in years. Unlike cats, rats, raccoons, groundhogs, and deer. The next day I made my way down that street and saw something odd. First, I wondered what this crushed box-looking thing was in the street. My second question was what that weird pink thing sticking out from under it was. At my third thought, or realization to be more accurate, I felt like I was going to throw up. I only hoped it wasn't the same turtle.

I finished the burger I had purchased from Checkers under the shade outside of the library before I made my way in. It was surprisingly quiet for the amount of people inside of it. I looked for a private room to read in, but finding none I made my way to the tables in the center. I briefly met eyes with a girl I went to high school with. But as that was the limit of our interactions in school, that was the limit of interaction I gave.

I sat down and calculated my finances as best as I could considering my state of employment. I flipped through the book I borrowed on Sourthern cooking, and I grew disappointed with my own lack of interest. I set it aside and flipped through the book I borrowed on French cooking, growing even more disappointed with my lack of interest as well as slightly hungry. If I remembered properly, Busboys and Poets was about forty minutes away on foot. And, having checked my bank account, I decided getting something for myself would be fine as long as I kept my appetite under control. I decided to return the Southern cookbook and the French cookbook. I held onto the book about food and metabolism out of my desire to trigger a second growth spurt. I returned the books via the slot outside, feeling it would be easier than walking up and talking to the librarians.

I briefly considered calling my pretty friend and asking if she wanted to come, though I rejected the idea figuring she wasn't in the mood and would also probably decline. I looked down Annapolis Road and realized that with the clear skies, dust, and run down but still operating buildings this place was much like the South Carolina I grew up vacationing in every summer.

I walked onto Baltimore Avenue and came upon a heavily bearded man sitting down. I gave him a straight-faced nod, expecting a similar greeting in return. What I received was a comment on how beautiful of a day it was. I agreed and wished him a good day as I walked past. It was only then that I really took the time to look around and see how beautiful of a day it really was. Warm to the point of almost being hot with a cloudless sky. It was days like this that I'd forgotten I loved. And days like this that I longed for working in a sweltering, white and gray, windowless kitchen. And its days like this that I would enjoy much more with some form of company. Everybody was busy and that was how it was.

As I walked I remembered the area where a dear friend of mine used to live. She was always good company and energizing to be around, juxtaposing me whenever we got together. I remembered spending time with her family in the summer, buying and eating a large number of crabs and trying to convince someone who was with us to eat the crab's "mustard." I remembered going to the small pier by the river and sitting in a train car display with my pretty friend, as my dear friend and her boyfriend did whatever it is teenagers did while together. I remembered going out to eat with my dear friend and her boyfriend, watching her break into fear and worry over something she wouldn't tell me, her boyfriend telling me he would have it under control. And I remember that day being the last time I saw her happy before she ran from her friends to pursue happiness with that which she feared.

I thought about a conversation I'd had with my pretty friend earlier that day. And I recalled a moment she suspected me of trying something. And I couldn't be frustrated over the accusation for longer than a second, knowing that my opportunistic habits had rewarded me with her caution and scrutiny. Though, admittedly, such thoughts hadn't ceased popping into my mind from time to time.

I remembered Doughnut Connection, a family-run doughnut shop that operated in my youth when I went to church in the area. Every Sunday evening my grandmother would take me to get doughnuts and converse with the clerk or his mother a little bit. I stopped going when we switched churches and wouldn't see the man or his mother for years. And when I did return again, I was so excited for ice cream that I was politely dismissive of his honest interest in how I was doing. Something I would come to regret years later when Doughnut Connection was replaced by an Ethiopian restaurant. The same strip of road the doughnut shop operated on was now an art district with a few fancy stores, beautiful apartments, and trendy eateries like the restaurant I was heading to.

Somewhere along the line I had decided to go to a library further from my house after I'd had my lunch. I estimated it as about forty minutes away.

I made my way into Busboys and Poets and sat at the lounge rather than a table, quickly decided to have a shrimp cake to start and shrimp and grits for the entree. It was pretty cold in there. Upon receiving my shrimp cake, tasting it, and taking a moment to reexamine the menu, I realized that the appetizer I ordered was just a diminutive version of the entree I wanted. I changed my selection, figuring it'd be easier to pick something else than explain why I wanted two of the same thing to my waitress.

As I ate I thought about the restaurant I had just left. I briefly wondered if I may have been bitter about the turn of events, but figured I lacked the emotional intensity to feel that way. I felt that my curt communication, while not landing me in my current status of unemployment, certainly guided me there. I realized that I shouldn't have said, "I want to be a chef and have my own restaurant," during my interview. Next time I would say something to the effect of, "I want to be a chef and have my own restaurant. However, I also want to do things like write stories and poetry. And my love of comics and animation has given me the desire to attend school for art once I manage to pay off my student loans in around a year and a half. And working here is a way to get me closer to my goals." Perhaps if I had said that, I wouldn't have constantly been pushed by a passionate man in a direction I was only interested in; me having trouble being truly passionate about anything I enjoy once people get on my case regarding it. Maybe I'd have kept my job longer and been able to pay off my loans sooner. But what microscopic negative feelings I had subsided when I remembered that I'd finally be able to enjoy my summer.

I asked for a blackened salmon when the waitress came back and fumbled with the menus as I handed them to her, apologizing afterwards. I thought about how close the library I was to go to was to College Park. I wondered if I should make the trip to see my old friend, someone that I'd have walked hours to see if I had to. Someone I'd want to sit and talk with to both apologize to and forgive for whatever number of time this would be. I ended up pushing such thoughts from my mind. While I enjoyed remembering people, painful memories were best forgotten when an apology would only cause upsetting emotions to resurface. I sat shivering and wondered if I the odd-shaped thing I was sitting directly under was an air vent. I decided to try out the vegan parfait and was pleasantly surprised. And as the cold air and soft couch in the lounge were causing me to doze off, the waitress returned and spoke kindly, talking sweetly through her smiling teeth. Though she failed to seduce a larger tip out of me, by complete coincidence I take myself as a good tipper. Before I left I made my way to the bathroom, and I briefly met eyes with a girl I went to high school with. But as that was the limit of our interactions in school, that was the limit of interaction I gave.

After more walking and more singing to myself, I made my way to the library. Across the street to the right of the entrance was a community center where I once took jiu jutsu classes, having too much fun on Thursday nights to even care about the fact that I wasn't even a white belt. To the left of the library's entrance was the church I attended in my youth, and was currently attending. I remembered summer days similar to this one, spent at that church for their VBS program. Five days of lessons in abnormally cold rooms, doing arts and craft projects that you wouldn't want to do before coming around while working on them. You'd treasure your creations for the two weeks that they lasted before they were ruined by the misfortunate entropy of anything handed to a child.

The library was warm. Not as warm as it was outside, but the lack of wind made the atmosphere almost suffocating. I sat at a table for a bit and tried to avoid listening to the table ahead of me. A tutor was explaining work problems to what appeared to be a disinterested child. It was cringeworthy. Not because of how hard the instructor was trying, nor because of the child's slouched posture that said he wished to be anywhere but where he was. It was because of the discomfort I had developed with children after my final year working in child care during high school. This was something I remembered that I could fall back on if I could be bothered to overcome the stigma that comes with being a man working with young children and my own attitude towards the little creatures. I felt sleep coming on and decided that it was time to head home.

But how to get there? I opted to make my way to the metro station, after a snack stop at Target. It would be fine as long as I kept my appetite under control. I walked up a hill and made my way past a movie theater. I thought I should catch a movie before I made my way home. But with exhaustion rendering my mind to a state akin to inebriation, I figured I wouldn't spend money on a movie I'd fall asleep in. I made my way into the target, browsed swimming trunks, browsed books, browsed game consoles, and made my way to grab snacks. One bizarrely busy self-checkout line, one little boy shouting for his mother, and one pair of guys flirting with a girl as she worked later, I made my way out and to the metro station.

I watched the buses pass and saw a few from the college campus pass. I couldn't help but think of my old friend. How much of the truth needed to be said in comparison to what I chose to say? How would I explain losing my job, or would I admit it at all? And would anything I do make any difference? At the end I was just eager to get home. And hopefully do something at least somewhat productive.

June Ninth, Memory, and Bladensburg by Elliott-Robert Brown

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