Photo by Randy Kinne

Jade Mitchell loves her phone more than she loves me. We sit across from each other inside Kleiman’s café on GRSU’s campus. She texts while I watch her (sexting, yeah). My generation doesn’t need conversation, often self-absorbed, checking our phones when we’re bored, yeah, that’s a given. But it’s a ghostly world when I talk, and no one listens.

“Jade,” I call out from what must be another dimension in her mind.

There’s no reply. She’s lost in her own world happily texting. Yeah, she doesn’t need me. She has plenty of “guy friends.” We have nothing to talk about, and lately, it seems like we never will. She’s texting Brian because she finds him more interesting than me. I don’t blame her. Brian is her silly, immature half-boyfriend about her age. I’m her slightly older, foolish other half. She prefers it this way. I watch her face light up, flushing a dark pink as she receives a new message. She has dirty blonde hair (always worn up in a ponytail), a round pale childish face and little green eyes that dance feverishly across her text messages as she eagerly sends and awaits the next. I thought she was cute when I first met her at Jake’s house party: that was a year ago now — short-shorts showing off her 17-year-old body with the hip sway, low-cut white blouse, pink bra visible with the straps, like a skinny boy up to the chest, nice breasts — she was hitting Jell-O shots, casually grinding against me on the dance floor (by dance floor, I mean a small area between a grimy, beer-stained leather couch and a Samsung 4k TV); four Bud Lights in me, so she’s exciting me like I’m 13 hitting puberty. Jade had to leave early so she could get up for school in the morning, but we exchanged numbers, yeah. And then I was up till 1 am, wide awake, sexually frustrated, realizing I could probably have her if I needed that — and I needed that — so I hit her up the next day. We went to IHOP on 28th St, and I paid for her full stack of buttermilk pancakes, so we both knew this was serious. We made out in my dad’s Honda CRV for a couple minutes, and I was turned on, but she seemed not that into kissing, preferring to recite her weekly drama while I listened — too petty and too cruel to follow, I discovered her heart of darkness like I’m Marlow. Then she had to go home early because her curfew is weirdly at 4 pm in the afternoon; but we kept seeing each other even though Jade didn’t have her license, so of course I drove her around like Lolita, paid for her Domino’s pizza, stopped at the Beltline Bar and bought her a fajita — along with her daily lunches, dinners, and other random, impulsive desires whenever we went to Woodland Mall or Meijer’s, Walgreens, Staples, etc. But as for me, I was in; I had this girl now — but not Ava; no, not Ava who made my heart beat fast, Ava who I dream about pretty consistently, Ava who I knew back at Northern Hills and immediately fell for but who then started dating Conner, yeah that Ava; Ava who last year once met blue eyes with me in the hallway and maybe one other time in the locker bank — so no; Jade is nothing like her, yeah I know; but she’s still real, warm in my arms, soft to my lips: man, she’s here now, and shamefully enough no one else has ever been so close before. But it’s funny, perversely so, how physical appearances lose their power as familiarity and lack of deeper connection reveal the hollow core. Anyways, I cut myself shaving today. I think it was signifying something about how this day would turn out. Blood dripped slowly down my chin. I didn’t use a Band-Aid though. My life is like an open wound. Jade’s too weak to hurt me, but she just nicks me all the time though. Two weeks ago I noticed how my hair’s growing more curly, tangled and knotted, but every time I go to wash it I get more of this flaky crap peeling off my scalp like incredibly gross snowflakes. Knowing Jade, she’d probably tell me to go pop a couple Tylenol because that’s how she fixes all of her trivial little problems. Maybe she could help me if she’d put out every once in a while, but I guess that’s not her style because every time I go to hit that she complains of a headache or some other imaginary, provisional disease which keeps me at bay. But I know what’s wrong with her. Jade’s a senior at Northern Hills, but she’s still a baby. Yeah, I’m in my first year at GRSU, English major. The Fall term started a week ago, and this Sunday afternoon I decided to hit her up, not because I wanted to see her but more due to the heavy weight of moral obligation I feel as her boyfriend to go out with her rather than leave her to go out with other guys and blithely forget about me. I once saw more in Jade: her big smile showing off her silver braces and pink rubber bands, the private-inside-jokey-bantery-type laughter we shared, her overly caffeinated knee-shaking energy, her absurdly naïve optimism that made me smile, once. But I haven’t met anyone at GRSU to replace her, yet. Lately, I’ve been spending more time alone in my cramped prison cell aka dorm room eating cafeteria meals, a loner by definition, yeah, I’m Holden Caulfield. So I guess being with Jade gives me something to do. For example, couples go out to drink coffee and talk about their dull, ordinary lives and laugh at jokes that are painfully insipid and share other boring, insignificant details about their workweek which neither partner wants to hear — phones quickly pulled out during any awkward pause or quiet moment, yeah. And so here we are in this lousy campus café; Jade’s on her phone; we’re drinking burnt, highly acidic coffee, forced to smell the nauseating aromas wafting in from Kleiman’s cafeteria: meat lover’s pizza, French fries, cheeseburgers, sushi rolls, Kung Pow chicken, spicy green curry, cheesy refried black bean melts, smoked turkey from the poor man's Subway knockoff, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, stale from three days ago donuts. And yet, strangely enough, students still come and go through the doors of Kleiman’s cafe. Some are in so-called “study groups” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) pretending to do homework but really just chatting superficially and checking their phones continually; some are flirting with each other uncomfortably and judging by their halting, frequently stalled conversations, poorly; some hoodie wearing loners sit at empty tables, drowning their sorrows in bad coffee and high-fat, high-calorie muffins. The coffee grinder makes a loud buzzing sound; voices are raised shrilly above the noisy machinery to place orders. The AC is humming, so it’s freezing inside. Top 40 blasé pop-of the moment Spotify playlists shuffle slickly produced but unfortunately lifeless popular music incessantly. Kleiman’s café is the perfect place for a casual date if you don’t mind practically shouting at one another from across the table and having your senses assaulted by an ungodly amount of food sensations that shouldn’t be mixed together so thoughtlessly and distastefully buffet style, yeah. So I glower at Jade while she continues to ignore me. I reach for my spongy Styrofoam cup and swing it aggressively up to my mouth, taking a big gulp of the brown liquid (the barista told me it’s coffee, but I’m beginning to think she’s a liar.) It’s far too hot, and I scald my tongue badly. Close to spitting it out all over the table, I persist in swallowing the burning liquid and feel a painful fire travel down the back of my throat. I make a grunting, incoherent sound. But fortunately for my vanity, Jade doesn’t notice me in the slightest and continues texting as though it’s her sole purpose in life.

“Hey Jade,” I say coldly, setting my coffee down, resisting the urge to dump it out on the floor like a maniac.

There’s no response.

“Jade, who are you texting?” I ask, presumably a reasonable question.

“What?!” she cries, utterly shocked at being asked a question by her boyfriend of all people. Her eyes do not move off of her phone.

“I said — who are you texting?” I repeat. I just stare at her. I don’t need to check my phone to know what she’s about.

“What, Alex? Oh… Wait…sorry, ok… Wait… Almost done…. There…” She sets her phone down on the table. “What were you saying?” She smiles at me childishly.

“Who was that?”

“Oh…just Brian,” she says, fidgeting uncomfortably, apparently unable to meet my eyes.

“What does he want?” I ask, staring at her guilt-stricken young face.

“Nothing,” she says, her eyes drifting longingly back to her phone.

I give her a withering look and run my hand through my curly unwashed black hair; a white snow shower falls all around me.

“What does Brian have to say?” I ask quickly, hoping that Jade won’t notice my issue.

“What?” Jade says, still looking dully at her phone. “Nothing.”

“Jade, what is Brian texting you?” I repeat.

Jade shrugs and hangs her head like she’s ready to fall asleep. “Nothing,” she mumbles.

I know she’s lying, just like what a silly little child would do, no end of her games in sight.

Give me your phone,” I command, my eyes are cold steel, confident, man, I’m Walter White.

“No,” Jade says defiantly, still avoiding my eyes. She grabs her phone from off the table and holds it to her chest.

“Jade, give me your phone,” I repeat.

“No,” she says, clutching her phone like a small child clutches a stuffed animal.

“Jade, give me your phone before I break it!” I cry, slamming my fist on the table.

A few students look over at us and cast wry smiles in our direction.

“I hate you,” Jade informs me, standing up, her pale face flushed pink.

“Please don’t go,” I say, trying my best to fake sincerity in order to prevent a scene. “Please, I’m sorry. We can talk about something else… Please sit down.”

Jade thinks about it for a half a second, and without having anything better to do with her time she decides to stay. Jade likes making me jealous. It gives her a sense of power over me. She sits down.

“How’s school?” I ask, my eyes narrowing, feeling a headache coming on.

“Good,” she says blankly.

“Do you have a job yet?”

“Umm, no.”

“Why not?”

“Umm…” she yawns heavily. “I don’t know.”

Silence follows her last insightful comment. Jade looks down at the table and stares off into space for a while, and after a few uncomfortable moments finally comes back down to earth.

“Oh,” she says suddenly, “yesterday me and my friend went to McDonald's, and I ordered an Iced Coffee, and I drank the whole thing, and it was sooo good…” A lengthy pause follows while I wait for the conclusion of her story. Jade sips her coffee.

“…Um, ok…” I manage, “Anything else? Uh, who were you with?”

“Alex…why do you hate me?” Jade asks innocently.

“…I don’t hate you,” I say slowly, taking a moment to think about it.

“Yes, you do. You always yell at me.”

“I don’t always yell at you; it’s only when I’m upset,” I say, beginning to raise my voice.

“You hate me,” she insists.

“I don’t hate you; I just want to know what Brian’s been texting you,” I say in a louder voice than I intend. Jade’s pink face is twisted with confusion. I realize I’m getting nowhere and try a softer approach: “Please tell me,” I plead in a gentler voice. Jade smiles mischievously.

“Brian says that he loves me,” she says breathlessly, her green eyes sparkling with delight.

“And do you love him?” I ask, smirking.

“No.”

“Then why do you let him text you?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do.”

“You always try to make feel stupid!” Jade cries. Her face recites the usual sit-com ritual of distraught wide eyes complete with an overwrought gaping mouth, difficult for me to comprehend; all we’re missing is a laugh-track like it’s Friends.

“I’m just asking a question!” I say hotly, running a sweaty palm through my tangled greasy hair, white flakes swirling down into my lap, no longer caring if she notices or not.

“Well, I don’t know, ok,” she says, turning her head away from me. Her phone vibrates. She brings it up to her face and immediately begins writing a response.

“Jade, are you texting him right now?”

“What?”

“Are you texting Brian?”

“What? None of your business!” she cries.

“Give me your phone!” I shout, lunging at it from across the table.

“I hate you!” she screams, holding her phone above her head and out of my reach.

“JADE, STOP BEING A CHILD!”

“YOU’RE THE CHILD!” she wails and frantically tries to splash her coffee in my face. She misses and spills most of it onto the table. Some of it drips onto my white-collar shirt. I start swearing profusely. Jade slides out of the booth and races for the door. I watch her go, my chest heaving, my heart pounding. A few students nearby briefly look up from their phones to mutter obscenities in my direction, urging me to go straight to Hell. But even our sickening nonsense can’t hold an audience, and they quickly lose interest and turn their full attention back to their own absorbing problems. I stand up feeling slightly light headed and calmly walk towards the men’s room

I burst through the door, relieved to find no one inside. I pace back and forth in front of the stalls. Jade’s a hoe by definition; yeah, I should have seen it before. Jade’s not Ava. No, she’s nothing like Ava. But Ava goes to school downtown at GRCC, but maybe someday I’ll see her again, and maybe someday we’ll be together, and maybe someday we’ll just live together, and maybe someday we’ll be good for each other, and maybe she’ll meet blue eyes with me, and I’ll stare back at her and then rest my head on her lap, and she’ll be there, yeah, she’ll be there…yeah…it’s not happening. I know. So, lately I’ve been getting used to the idea that I’m not going to see Ava again, yeah, like maybe I’m not going to be with that fantasy, my Daisy, sudden plot twist, I’m not crazy. Last time I checked Facebook, Ava was with someone new. She looked happy. Yeah, it’s over. I’ll probably never see her again, so I better forget her. Are we even compatible? Do we have anything in common? It’s funny how irrational love is. It’s funny how it feels like my whole life is spent getting over one girl after another. I stop in front of the bathroom mirror and gaze at the ghostly face staring back at me. It’s funny how there’s a hideous black scab on my chin (hideous). I suddenly punch the mirror as hard as I can (too hard). My right knuckle feels like it’s broken (fractured, yeah). Shooting pain travels up my arm (pure pain). There’s too much pain in my life. Too much history. Too much baggage, and all for what? To leave me with no future? I’m already broken, yeah. Should I break-up with Jade? Priority #1? All my life, the girls in my classes, the ones I meet at these parties, eyeing me like I’m from another planet, man, I don’t need them; these days I just talk to myself like I’m Hamlet. Man…I’m lame, Jade knows, Ava knows, they all know. Sometimes I lie awake in bed and stare at the ceiling and think about my future, and then this suffocating dread finds me: this dread, that my life will be spent alone, surviving and continually suffering, drifting lifelessly and angrily from boring 9–5 job to mindless dead-end job, spent paying bills and buying groceries, yeah, living hand to mouth, yeah, spending all my money just to keep a roof over my head plus utilities, yeah — just like my mother, yeah, she knows… Sometimes when I think about my future I just want to kill myself, yeah, kill myself. But there must be something I can do. But what am I going to do? I just want to end my life, yeah, end my life. I’m not sure if there’s a bright future for me. I’m not sure if I’ll find the right job to fulfill me. But I know there’s still hope for me: Jade Mitchell and I married, yeah, I would never choose that.

End

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