Sometimes the world crumbling around you doesn’t look like a shitty job and bad relationships and packs of ramen noodles that you lost the flavor pouches for.
Sometimes it’s far more abstract: staring at the page of a book and forgetting how to read, counting out a customer’s change and willing yourself to not think about how currency works, because if you do you’ll forget the simplest combination of coins to total 67 cents. Your brain on autopilot is numb and indifferent; it cannot enjoy or analyze, but it can function.
That’s the choice: functionality or presence. Functionality lets you go to work and wash dishes, presence is feeling like a living, breathing person with autonomy.
I explain this to Deanna.
“That’s dramatic as fuck, bud.”
I shrug, embarrassed. I’m sitting at the bar she’s tending. My head is in ‘presence’ mode, so even as we speak I’m breaking down the words leaving my mouth, analyzing our conversation like they’re lines in a play and I’m scanning for errors. Deanna plays a dual-role of bartender and therapist, I play the part of the man who’s had one too many drinks, only all I’ve had is half a sip of Pepsi. An actor needs to keep their wits.
“Why do you think it has to be one or the other?”
Another shrug, “That’s just how my brain works. If I turn it on, it starts breaking shit down to the micro level and it won’t stop until I make myself go brain-dead.”
“Has it always been like this?” God, she really knows her lines.
“No. No, just kinda recently. I used to… I mean… I think I broke my brain.” Why don’t I know mine?
“Hm.” Deanna leans on the counter, ignoring the glare she’s getting from a coworker. “Wanna know what I think?”
“No, Deanna, I came out here at 2:00 a.m. because I don’t give a shit about your opinion.”
“I think,” She pauses, stares at the drink in front of me, “that you don’t like Pepsi and I totally forgot.” She grabs the glass with a ridiculous flourish and turns to dump it down the drain. “You didn’t even say anything, idiot.”
I would have had to change the script, would have had to tell the props department that the soda machine should be Coke products, explain that the solid red logo matches the lighting better than the red and blue. “Too much work.”
“Sure.” We won’t have to get the props department involved for that.
“But for real, wanna know what I think?”
“That Pepsi is better than Coke? You’ll never convert me.” I pluck the lemon from the edge of the glass and squeeze it. Juice dribbles, the cut on my thumb stings. That’s not part of the script. You can’t fake sharp, cleansing pain.
Deanna rolls her eyes. “I think you’ve had a lot of changes in your life recently, and that maybe it’s causing you to question things you didn’t even think to question before.”
I open my mouth to make fun of her Freudian tone, as my roles demands–my character is sarcastic and drunk, why wouldn’t I?–but what she’s saying makes sense.
“Plus you’re depressed and anxious and your brain doesn’t know how to chill the fuck out.”
“I actually figured that out by myself.” I grab a spoon and begin fishing the lemon seeds out of my glass, making sure to add the action to the scene. I can’t hazard getting a seed in my mouth and then trying to say my line.
“You have a lot of downtime at the gas station, yeah?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Will you get in trouble if you bring something to do while you’re not working?”
“I could kill a man and they would not give a shit.”
“Not the activity I had in mind, but you do you.”
Deanna’s coworker slips past her with a rag slung over their shoulder and a scowl: “Stop encouraging children to murder, Deanna.”
I delete their line from the script. They’re irrelevant.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Bring a notebook. Whenever your brain starts to over-analyze, try writing it all down instead of just ignoring it. Catalogue the fuck out of whatever you’re thinking. Let your brain do what’s it’s gonna do, you know?”
“That’s…” I frown at the lemon in my glass. It’s soaked up the tea, no longer looking clear and bright. Bad colors, bad lighting. I’ll have to fix that on the next edit. Maybe add sugar instead. I don’t like sugar in my tea, but maybe play-Kip does. “That’s smart.”
“You’re good at this.”
“What kind of bartender would I be if I gave shitty advice?”
“The normal kind.”
She laughs. “Hey, why don’t you head home and try to sleep, m’kay? If I don’t help Daniel clean up around here I’m not gonna be any kind of bartender at all.”
Like she’s called end scene, I snap out of the analytics and let myself drift back into nothing. “M’kay.”
“You work tomorrow?”
“Top shelf of the bookcase in my room, there’s a couple empty notebooks. Put one in your bag and take it with you, alright? Just to try it out.”
I nod again. Stand up. “Yeah, sure.”
She looks me over. “Hang in there, bud. It’s either journaling or murder.”
“I take back what I said about good advice.”
“Hey, don’t knock it till you try it.”
“G’night, Deanna.” I sling my backpack over my shoulder.
“A little murder might be good for the soul.”
“Good night, Deanna.”