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Imprisoned Perceptions

            My best friend reached out to hold my hand, and the clamminess that I had always taken for granted filled the emptiness until it overflowed, with what, I don’t know – something bittersweet, like the diet lemonade he’d finish off for me every day when I couldn’t hold anymore. I held that clammy hand and pressed it to my cheek, both freezing and warm at the same time, just how I remembered.

            “Wanna go to the mall, Arsh-Jee? I’ll be your wing-woman if you find a cute emo boy, but I can’t promise I won’t steal him from ya!” I took Josh’s hand off my cheek and wrapped his whole arm around my shoulders and I clung myself to his waist.

            “Just as long as you don’t buy a lava lamp this time and make me carry it, Chrisala.” We walked from our grassy field straight over to the shops, hand in clammy hand, swinging our arms the whole way.

            The shirtless men at Hollister greeted us as we ran inside, but not before Josh could snag a picture with one of them. “No lava lamps here, just six pack abs and the smell of California in the Midwest.” I picked up a banana-yellow V-neck tee. “You’re not allowed to buy this, Arsh-Jee.” I put it back on the rack as he made his way to grab it, and I hugged him from behind, holding his arms back as tight as I could. “No more yellow! You have enough yellow! No more!”

            “Christina, let go of me.”

            “No, you already have too much yellow in your closet! Wear something else if you want to attract an emo boy.”


            I let go and sat back in my office chair. “Sorry, Ken. Didn’t realize it was a dream.”

            “That’s okay, it happens to the best of us. I just wanted to show you this guy’s resume and application. You’re interviewing him later today for our accounting position. Also, Kathryn’s retirement party is in the breakroom at lunch. There will be cake – chocolate, I think.”

            Ken left my office, and I scanned the applicant’s resume for any stand-out experience, but I could only see yellow. That dream took me back to thirteen years old, and it’s where I wish I could stay, but here I am at thirty years old working in HR for General Mining Equipment. Josh, my Arsh-Jee, had long passed. He took his own life in his freshman year of college. My dreams can’t even put together what he’d look like as an adult. But each one, he is so realistic. His gleaming golden Justin Bieber locks, his pasty pink skin, his teal-blue eyes. And those hands. I could always feel his clammy hands. They used to gross me out.

            A few minutes past noon, I went to the break room where Kathryn was blowing out the candles on her retirement cake as employees surrounded her singing, “Happy retirement to you, happy retirement to you, happy retirement dear Kathryn, happy retirement to you.” Everyone looked around at each other as if to ask, “should we include the ‘and many more’ part?” Kathryn thanked everybody then started to cut the cake.

            “She’s got a knife!” Patrick, our receptionist, shouted. “She’s going to stab us all!” Patrick shoved me and our other coworkers aside and ran full speed at Kathryn and shoved her to the ground where she whimpered and slowly crawled away from him. He picked up the knife and everyone gasped when he drew it back in his hand, only for him to swing it down into the cake. “Murderer!” Patrick yelled at Kathryn. “Murdererrrrr!”

            We all waited for Patrick’s dream to end before anyone made any sudden moves. His dreams were always rather violent. I was just hoping that the cake would remain edible this time.

            When Patrick was good and ready, he apologized to Kathryn, helped her up off the floor, and performed the cake cutting himself. He passed out slices to all of us and we ate and chatted. I was lucky enough to get a corner piece with tons of icing, which made up for the fact that everyone made their rounds to me to inquire about the applicant I’d interview later. People in this office were always so interested in mundane happenings. What was the point of asking me details about someone I hadn’t even met yet?

            Anytime someone retired, there was gossip about who would fill their position. Anytime someone got married, there were disgruntled complaints about who did and did not get invited to the wedding. Anytime someone was pregnant, there were competitions for who would get to hold the baby first when they’d inevitably bring it into the office for show and tell. I guess it gave everyone at this little mining company something to occupy their time. The drama helps our little world here at GME keep spinning. ‘Round and ‘round we go, processing and fulfilling orders when we aren’t busy dreaming. The dreams gave us all something to witness, but never something to talk about. These kinds of things were old news.

            I liked to think about how one day, the drill rigs that we create here will eventually dig the ground right up from under us and how the black dirt will swallow our desks and computers whole. At least, that’s how I imagine it will be. Hopefully they’d give us the heads up that we’re out of business, or at least that we’re about to be bulldozed. Kathryn is getting out at the right time.

            After finishing my slice of cake and wishing Kathryn a happy, healthy retirement, I returned to my office. I stared at my paper shredder. I thought about what it would look like if I put a piece of cake through it, or maybe even a whole cake. I’d never disrespect baked goods like that, but I bet I could get away with putting just about anything in there. They would all assume it was just a dream. I think I could pull it off. If Mack, our enormous sales guy, can make the whole office believe that he ate twelve tacos on Taco Tuesday because of his dream-eating, then I can sure as sugar put a sheet cake through a paper shredder.

            I filed through reports and complaints until the time came to meet the applicant in the conference room for his interview. I kept having to check his resume to remember his name – Logan. He definitely looked more like a Karl to me.

            “Hi Logan, nice to meet—” I reached my hand out to shake his, but he was staring blankly, mouth agape, and then I looked down at his pants. Low and not much to behold, I could tell he was in the middle of a dream I did not want to interrupt. I left a note for him with instructions to find me in my office when he was ready (and directions to the nearest restroom). I stepped out of the room and popped into the ladies’ room to let the blush in my cheeks have a chance to calm down, but I found Nina, our switchboard operator, standing in front of the sink trying to pull her teeth out one by one. I turned on a faucet to drown out the sound of Nina’s fingers squeaking against her teeth and took to a stall. A toilet seemed to be the only place I felt truly alone at GME, and alone was always a good thing when a dream could strike at any minute.

            We’re all past the point of judging each other’s actions. No one has ever gotten hurt – well, too badly hurt I should say; Patrick’s dreams can be a doozy – so we try to let bygones be bygones at the end of the day, even if a dream action is super embarrassing, like hugging your boss from behind and telling him he can’t wear yellow if he wants to attract a cute emo boy. Our little world here at GME just kept on spinning.

            However, there was something so exposing about having your coworkers witness you from outside of those dreams. It’s always one-sided. Ken will never know that my dreams are filled with memories of Josh and I. He will only ever know that there’s someone I desperately want to stop from wearing yellow so that they can attract an emo boy. That’s all Ken will ever know in this contextless world of ours.

            And all that I will ever know is that Patrick thinks we’re all going to get murdered, Logan has the hots for someone or something, and Nina thinks her teeth would look better outside of her mouth. It’s not that I really want to know the context. It’s not that any one of us should know each other’s context. I guess it’s just that this is all we get, and then we must bring drill rigs to operable conditions.

            Drill rigs are a deeper shade of yellow, almost orange. Josh didn’t like that kind of yellow. He liked more of a lemons and sunshine type of yellow. The kind that made me anxious.

            “Did you bring candy, Chrisala?”

            “That and so much more, Arsh-Jee!” I sat on his living room floor pouring lollipops out of my pillowcase. “I brought something to help you feel better since you were too sick to trick-or-treat with me last week.” I pulled two sets of onesie pajamas out of my backpack – Batman for him, Superman for me.

            “No way!” Josh grabbed his onesie and slipped it on over his yellow clothes. The golden cape fluttered behind him. “This is awesome! Now every time you shine a light into the sky, I’ll show up and scare the bad guys off with my gay.”

            I worked my arms and legs through my onesie. Josh zipped it up for me. “And if the homophobes come for you, uhhh, what does Superman do?”

            “You should know this! He flies, he’s super strong, he—”

            “I just like him ‘cause he’s hot.”

            “Me, too, I guess.” Josh took the wrapper off a yellow sucker and popped it in his mouth. “So, what would you do then, if the homophobes came for me one day?”

            I found a red sucker in the pile of candy I dumped on the floor, then exchanged it for a blue one and stuffed it into my cheek. “I guess I’d throw them out the window or something.”

            “Superheroes don’t kill people, Chrisala.”

            “Then after I throw them out the window, I’ll jump after them to try to catch them!” I laughed as I acted out this jumping scene for him from the couch to the floor.

            “Superheroes don’t kill themselves either!”

            I spit out my thumb I had been sucking on. It didn’t taste like blue raspberry. I didn’t feel like superman. I was wearing my stupid blazer. I was still sitting on this toilet. I looked under the stall door and I didn’t see Nina standing there pulling on her teeth anymore. She must have turned off the faucet on the way out. It was finally quiet.

            “Oh god, why this dream? Why now?” I heard footsteps leading to the restroom and a man’s voice blubbering and whining on the way into the stall next to mine. “There’s no way I’ll get the job now, they must think I’m a creep!” I heard him sniffle. I saw a drop of water fall next to his dress shoe.

            “Logan?” I asked quietly.

            He didn’t respond for a few seconds. “Occupied.”

            “It’s okay, Logan. No one is judging you.”

            I heard him breathing hard, panicked. “Don’t tell me I ran into the wrong bathroom, too.”

            “You did,” I said. “And I’m not judging you for that, either.”

            He breathed out a defeated sigh. “How could I be so stupid?”

            “Don’t worry about it. I’ve been in here sucking my thumb.”

            Logan didn’t respond to that.

            “Tell you what, let’s just do your interview here.”

            “Are you… Christina?” he choked out. “My interviewer?”

            “That’s me.”

            “I’m so sorry ma’am, I’ll head back to the conference room right away and—”

            “Relax. Here is fine. We’re comfortable, are we not?”

            “No, I’m not comfortable.”

            “Well, neither am I. So, tell me, what interested you in this accounting position?”

            Logan took a long pause, then situated himself. One foot left the ground, probably crossed over his other leg. I imagined him leaning back against the hard porcelain with his arms tucked behind his head. “The simplest answer is that I’m good at math and I need money.”

            I nodded a sympathetic nod he wouldn’t see. “What’s the complicated answer?”

            He chuckled. “Probably some crap about being really interested in preparing financial reports.”

            I chuckled. “It’s quite interesting work, I bet. Seeing how much money a drill rig makes for our company.”

            “I’m sure it is ma’am,” Logan stumbled over his words. “I do want to serve the company well.”

            “Relax,” I ordered. “I’m kidding. Nothing here is interesting,” I said with melancholy in my voice. “Absolutely nothing.”

            Logan didn’t respond, and neither of us spoke for endless minutes. I wonder if he was worried that another woman from our office would walk in and catch our impromptu potty-interview. I wasn’t worried what anyone would think. I was only worried that the context would go to waste.

            “I actually do find something interesting about this place,” I mentioned. “No one cares enough to hear an explanation of anything before going about their day. Not a soul here cares if someone is…” I trailed off, unable to find the words.

            “It seems like you care,” Logan whispered in his stall.

            I chewed on that thought for a few moments, debating what it was I cared about, before Logan followed with, “about people. How they’re doing, you know, inside their heads.”

            I smiled involuntarily and then forced it away. “I don’t see how they can all be doing just fine, I guess. After everything I’ve seen. After everything we’ve all seen. But we just have to ignore it all. We can’t stop fulfilling orders.”

            “Does this place have that many orders?” Logan asked, surprised.

            I snorted. “Not in the slightest. It’s just, if we stop, we have to start paying attention. We’ll have no escape from the dreams. Not our own, not each other’s.” I paused. Logan knew that I had more to say, and he stayed quiet until I could speak. “This is the world we live in, and everyone tries their hardest to stay on the outside and not ask any questions. If we have questions, then we have judgments. At least that’s how it feels. I don’t know if that’s how everyone feels, or if it’s just me.”

            “That’s how I feel,” Logan agreed. “I wish someone would ask me questions. I want the opportunity to explain myself. It would make me feel more human and not just… humanoid.”

            Humanoid. Alienated. Avoided. “I… I feel like I’m the one who talks to Arsh-Jee… or the one who hates yellow, or the one who hugs anyone in her path.” Patrick, the one who wants to save us all from a murder. Mack, the one who eats everything in the break room. Nina, the one who rips her body apart.

            “I guess that would make me the one who gets an erection,” Logan laughed.

            “Why did you get an erection?” I asked simply.

            Logan laughed, uncomfortable, more so than he already was.

            “You said you wished someone would ask you questions, right? This is your chance to explain yourself,” I urged. I knew it was an odd and inappropriate question to be asking a future employee. I didn’t ask because I wanted to know. I asked because I wanted him to be able to explain.

            After some more nervous laughter, Logan spoke quietly. “I was dreaming of my wife.” He paused. My first thought was that this statement was him putting up a clear boundary, but then he continued. “I lost her a few years ago to a horrible accident. When you found me in the conference room, I was dreaming of a wonderful memory I had with her,” Several water drops – tear drops – fell to the floor in his stall that I could see. “We had just moved into our new home and settled in.” Logan’s voice was shaky now. “We were so incredibly happy. She took her clothes off and ran around the house naked, teasing me to come catch her, and I’m sure you know the rest.”

            That was Logan’s context. To me, the one who gets an erection is now the one who has memories of his late wife. This is all it took for humanoid to become human. For alien to become native. For avoided to become encountered.

            “I appreciate you telling me, Logan.” That’s all I could think of saying. I didn’t think he’d want pity or sorrow. I thought that he probably just wanted to be contextualized.

            “So,” he flipped. “You said you were sucking your thumb before I crashed your party. What’s that about?”

            I let out a laugh that was more of a depressed puff of air. “I was dreaming of eating a lollipop.” That would be enough context for that question.

            “Then who’s Arsh-Jee?”

            This question jarred me. I had never heard another person say my nickname for Josh before. It didn’t sound right coming from anyone else’s lips. “My Arsh-Jee,” I cooed, smiling fondly as my mouth, the correct mouth, formed the endearment. “He was my best friend. Always will be.”

            Logan sounded reluctant when he asked, “Is he gone?”

            My eyes watered until they overflowed just a little bit. “Yes,” I whispered, “My Arsh-Jee is gone.” His pet name tasted sour now.

            “So, did Arsh-Jee like lollipops?” Logan asked.

            I smiled as my tears wetted the corners of my lips. “He loved them.” Logan didn’t ask any follow-up questions, but I explained anyway. “He loved everything yellow, and I hated everything yellow. I still hate yellow,” I laughed. “We loved the same pop-punk bands. His mom would play our CDs for us in her car when she drove us anywhere. I was his beard at his family Christmas parties so he could stay in the closet. We went to a haunted house once that was so scary, I peed my pants, and we got ice cream afterwards, but I’m still terrified of zombies. We watched Magic Mike together and I think he liked it a lot more than I did. He and I would make references to Jersey Shore, which we were much too young to be watching.”

            I went on and on, telling Logan every memory I had with Josh, telling him just how deeply he affected me after such little time. Josh had only been in my life for a fast few years, but he left the impact of a lifetime in my heart. As abrupt as the dreams can be, I welcome them because it’s a gift to be with him for those brief moments. I hope to hold his clammy hands in every dream I ever have.

            Logan and I sat in silence after I was done. I hoped that I gave at least one person my context. Just enough so that I could maybe be the one who is still grieving rather than the one who sucks her thumb.

            Maybe my context didn’t matter to anyone. Maybe I’m the only person who feels like my context explains it all, or who I am, or why I exist the way that I do. I didn’t know if I’d ever share my context with Logan again, or with anyone else at GME. I didn’t know if Logan or anyone else would ever share their context with me again. I didn’t know if anyone else’s context really mattered to me. I think what mattered to me, and what I hoped mattered to everyone else, was having this kind of chance.

            “Logan,” I croaked after the quiet absorbed us both. “You’re hired.”

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Christina Giacalone

Christina Giacalone is a senior psychology major with a minor in creative writing. She has always had an interest in the field of mental health, but writing is her true passion. Christina enjoys writing deep emotional pieces of fiction that leave a bittersweet aftertaste. One day, she hopes to be able to hold a physical copy of her first published novel in her hands

This story is one I use my real name in because the subject matter is real (apart from experiencing dreams the way the characters do). Josh, or rather, Arsh-Jee, was a very close friend of mine who I lost to suicide. On the right is a picture of us in our superhero onesies. Thank you for taking the time to read about something I hold so close to my heart.

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