Today's Reading

My mother likes to remind me that pity parties should never last more than thirty seconds, so I take a deep breath and make myself get up from the floor and walk across the expanse of the apartment to the second bedroom, Room 403, the one that isn't being used for office space. Instead, it's where the mass of things I have stolen from people at the community center form a mountain of junk that reaches to the broken ceiling fan I can't possibly ask the maintenance guys to fix without being reported to the Health Department. I pause with my hand on the doorknob, reminding myself
to breathe before I twist it open with a quiet creak.

I don't even feel the tears of shame as the junk mountain comes into view, I'm so accustomed to them every time I come in here, an instant reminder of what a pathetic human being I am. I hurl the coffee mug at the mountain, hoping it will shatter upon impact, but it lands on the dark green cardigan I stole last week, which softens the blow just enough to let it roll down to the bottom of the pile without incident. I wipe my eyes on my sweaty sleeves, transfixed on the cardigan, and then pick it up and bury my face in it. It still smells like the Zeppelin Scentsy bar. I lower it just below my eyes, only enough to keep from running into the walls as I turn and leave Room 403 and toss it on the well-made duvet cover in my own bedroom, pristinely clean by comparison. My own sweaty clothes I toss on the floor before I step in the shower and let the water warm as I stand under it.

"I can't stop. I can't stop. I can't stop," I hear myself repeating, though I'm not sure when I started saying it. I try to remember my therapist's advice to clear my head: take ten deep breaths, count each one out loud. By the time I get to six, I can feel my heart rate returning to a semi-normal level and I imagine the shower washing all the anxiety off me with the layer of salty body odor.

I don't bother drying my hair before throwing myself on the bed with an audible thud. I hug the cardigan to my chest and squeeze my eyes shut, envisioning the kind of man who would wear the dark green color, the woodsy masculine fragrance, fragrance, imagining him lying next to me, telling me everything is going to be all right. In my mind, he has curly dishwater blonde hair and a single dimple on the right side of his perfect smile, a smile my dentist father would
approve of. I never said it had to make sense. At least it's slightly less pathetic than a man-shaped body pillow.

When I am still wide awake after twenty minutes, I decide to get up and do some work. Willing myself out of my comfy bed doesn't make me feel better, but it at least makes me feel like I might manage to be less of a garbage human for one day. I slip on a tank top and a pair of lounge pants (which I refer to as happy pants) before sliding my naked arms through the sleeves of the cardigan as if I were wearing my boyfriend's shirt. It nearly hangs to my knees.

I have thirteen messages on eLance. It's easy enough to get work on there for a freelance graphic designer. The pay's usually shit by comparison, since you're competing with graphic designers in parts of the world where six dollars an hour goes a lot further, but it sure beats going to an office for eight hours a day just so people can tell you to make the font bigger and create logos that look sort of like Apple, but are most definitely not Apple. People always say they want Apple-like design, then bristle at all the negative space before listing out all the things that could fill it. I start at the top of my unread inbox. The subject lines read something like this:

Can we make font bigger?

Need new logo. Think Apple but not Apple.

Rec'd final invoice

Re: bigger font?

Modern logo requested

Waiting for final invoice

Because they often don't pay much (or pay much attention), it's pretty easy to get away with going past the originally agreed upon deadline. They almost expect it out of creatives. I usually don't have more than about six small jobs up in the air at one time, most of which I knock out in a couple of hours when I feel like working—when I feel like I do now. I begrudgingly biggify some fonts, bang out a couple of logos, send some invoices, make some PayPal withdrawals, send some follow-ups and thank-yous, and rate some employer profiles, but only manage to kill about four hours. On the bright side, I don't feel like I'm being sucked into a pit of despair anymore, which is always a plus. I calculate my month-to-date earnings; I only need a couple more jobs this month to pay the handful of bills I have. My parents still think they need to help pay my rent, and I'm not about to tell them to stop or take on more work than I can handle just to let them off the hook. They spend more per month on their stupid country club membership; they canafford it.

I unzip and shove my hands into the warm pockets of the cardigan, surprised when my fingertips feel something hard and cold. I recognize it as an iPhone before I can even bring it up out of the pocket. I look at it, the logo on the back exactly like Apple. I flip it over and try to turn it on, but the battery's dead. I retrieve one of the many iThing chargers I have at arm's length and plug it into the USB of the computer I use for work. The device's name is Susan, a taskbar balloon tells me. The screen comes to life after a couple minutes, but it's passcode protected. I try 1-2-3-4, in the event the phone belongs to a complete bonehead, but alas it does not. The numeric code for Susan doesn't work either, and after a few more basic permutations, I find I feel just as shitty as I did before I dug myself out of my pit of despair by getting some work done. Instead, I flip off the monitor and fall into bed without removing the cardigan, falling instantly asleep to the almost imperceptible smell of sandalwood.

This excerpt ends on page 17 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book Christmas in Blue Dog Valley by Annie England Noblin.


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