These are the thoughts and the moments that came to me when I think of my time in a record store, feeling pretty lost after finishing university:
Being stuck behind the till, asking for help from Sam as he rushes by, flustered, saying he’s got to go out to buy Tom, the manager, doughnuts.
Being asked to work without pay and being threatened with firing if I didn’t do it, when the company was on the edge of going bust.
Boss sexually harassing colleagues.
Going completely mad from having to play madness, round the clock, at Christmas.
Working late at Christmas.
Colleague thinking the world will end on 2012
Seagull stuck in the shop
The joy of leaving
Endless miserable mornings.
The joy of snow days.
Going into my boss’s office and telling him that I wouldn’t work any more days without pay and if he suggests otherwise, I’ll go to HR, being shocked to see him well up, and turn red, and talk about all he’d done for me. He hadn’t done anything.
Then, later there was a complaint, and he asked them if it was me. It wasn’t, it was from a previous employee about sexual harassment.
Was so happy to get away from there.
Talking to customers. Recommending them foreign films and horror films and series and chatting about music and television. Loved it.
What am I glad about?
I’m glad that I finally stood up for myself. I’m glad that I took the risk. I’m glad that I finally embraced my fears and overcame them rather than always running away from them, rather than letting bullies push me around anyway they wanted just because they were in a position of authority. I was depressed, and I felt pathetic and hated myself, and that was taken advantage of.
What would I do differently?
I wouldn’t have taken shit so much. I wouldn’t have let myself be beaten around. I didn’t need that job that badly. I acted as if I was desperate, but I wasn’t. The thing that was keeping me there being beaten around was that on some level, I thought I deserved it. I hated myself. And it took me a long time to realise it was wrong for anyone to be treated that way, let alone myself. So, I stood up for myself. But I would have done it sooner. I would have allowed myself to switch off. I wouldn’t have been so afraid all the time of what might happen, and what might have gone wrong.
The following is free writing a story that came into my mind, set in tough working conditions, with a sci fi element about clones. I thought about my self obsession and self hatred, it's pretty free wheeling but I just decided to follow what came out:
You get used to someone who is just like you. You can get used to anything, if they force you to. I never thought I would.
He was nervous of me. I woke up one morning after a good night’s sleep and a pastry and a particularly good coffee, I decided to reach out. I thought I should.
I walked over to him and stood there. ‘How are you?’ he asked, without looking up from his work. ‘It’s weird seeing you,’ I said looking down.
‘I could say the same of me’, he smiled and laughed. And it was the strangest thing. The anger in my bones lifted, I didn't feel so scared. His smile was sweeter than I expected, it wasn't fake. I felt the same warmth when I got a real smile from anyone. And it was a relief. We both chatted as if we didn't know each other. We felt like brothers, but brothers we could each trust. We knew each other’s moves. Because we knew each other so well, we could treat each other in a way with more love than I'd ever expected. This also meant that I knew we could hurt each other in a profound way, if we wanted to.
Some days I could tell he felt warm towards me. Some days I felt the most intense desire to shove him over. He was weak. He was resentful. He was selfish. I wanted to destroy him. Then he would turn around and smile like a seven-year-old, without defences and I would go back to my unit, and I could feel it rising to the surface and it would all spill out and I would cry for hours. All these years, all the hate I’d felt when I looked in the mirror. Now I knew it. I was just a boy, Just a clumsy, awkward boy. Had I felt such hatred. He never deserved it.
I knew he felt the same. Our work became easier, it became obvious where the corporation used this system of pairs like this. Trust, was not an easy thing. It had become easy for us. We understood each other’s moods, we could tell when things were going unsaid and we could each say themselves. ‘I know you’re getting hungry cos I am too.’ I said.
‘You think you know everything’ he’d say.
‘Well what I don’t know, you can tell me.’
He’d smile. And I always felt better when I made him smile, just like he felt happy when he managed it with me.
We climbed the hill and watched as the bigger of the two suns began to set, the sky a milky purple.
‘Do you wonder what’s out there, if there’s more than this?’
‘Of course, I do’, I said.
‘So how do we stay here doing the same work day after day, the same lifting, moving, mining?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Exactly, I don’t know either.’
‘But I also don’t know how we escape, how we change anything. I know you feel that because I feel it.’
‘We’ve both spoken to other pairs. They say there are other places where the suns come up.;
‘I’ve thought about it. But you’ve noticed how sometimes half of a pair goes missing when they speak of such things. Perhaps that’s why they join us together. We hated each other at first but now we’re friends. We look after each other, we stop each other from doing something stupid.’
‘Maybe, but maybe it has nothing to do with keeping each other safe. Maybe it’s about keeping each other in check. One of us considers standing up, and the other persuades him to play it safe.’
He finished his tea, gathered up his stuff and walked away.
We weren’t angry at each other. We were just both tired. And day after day continued with that fuzzy tired feeling washed over everything. Our goal and our challenge had been to get on with each other, now that had happened, what did we each have to look forward to? What real dignity did we have?
I was on a lower level when I heard the Superior call to him. He asked why the work had been slacking, who was responsible. My brother told him that it was he who was responsible. The Superior told him he had grown arrogant. ‘Do you think you have any worth, other than your work?’
With this a slap across the face.
‘You’re correct in your assessment, said the Superior. This matter will be dealt with. Back to work.’
‘Why did you do that?’ I asked him later.
‘Because it was the right thing to do.’
‘The work was too much for us to finish.’
‘Yes, but if I’d have said that they would have punished us both.’
‘What’s going to happen?’
‘You don’t know, so how am I supposed to?’
As he slept I watched him. I thought of the hate I had in my heart, every time I looked in the mirror. How much that had changed and drifted away once I’d seen myself in him. As I began to fall asleep, I had one thought in my head, that if I did one thing with my life, it should be that I protect him. Even if it meant losing my life.
I woke with the sun in my eyes, to his legs and then his eyes staring down at me, sitting up on his bed. Not sad, happy, wistful, he seemed more free than I’d seen him in a long time.
‘I need to tell you. I have to take responsibility.’ I said.
‘It’s okay, It’s all going to be okay.’
‘No it’s not fair that anything happens to you, I need to take the blame, you must go on.’
‘Shhh, it’s okay. I already explained it to them. It had nothing to do with you. They’ll be here to pick me up soon, to take me away.’
‘No, no, no. They can’t. That’s not true.’
‘Please, you don’t remember but I’ve been here longer than you have. If there’s only one thing I can do with my life, it should be that I protect you. I understand that now.’
‘Please, no.’ I could feel that my heart was bursting. I could feel tears welling up. ‘I don’t want you to go.’
He knelt down in front of me and took my hands.
‘I know, but listen to me, I’ll always be with you. Wherever I end up, I’ll be thinking of you. When you’re weak you’ll have my strength.’
‘No’, I sobbed.
‘Now I have to tell you something, you have to listen carefully. Some thing is happening. They don’t know. Each time they send a new one, we’re learning. We’re growing. I believe there’s a way out of here. Or maybe getting out doesn’t even matter because we’ve grown more than they could ever have realised.’
‘What are you talking about’, gripping his hand and wiping my face with another.
‘At that moment the doors burst open and the men came. I clung to him, and he kept his eyes on me. ‘I’m not scared’, he said. ‘Remember what I said’, as they took dragged him away. I was thrown on to the floor, and there I stayed for, I can’t say how long.
A few days later and back to work. I can’t say how I got up off that floor.
I focussed on my work, then some weeks later, a nervous hello. There he was. He looked just like him. He came over and stood nervously shuffling his feet. ‘So how are you, I asked’, not looking up from work, smiling.
‘It’s weird seeing you.’
‘Well, I guess you could say the same of me.’
Character study, really not sure if I'm doing this right but I started to write about the main character and it took on a darker edge. I don't know if the edge to this character will stay, but maybe he'll be a more flawed and complex one than I expected:
He liked to sit on the hill and watch the two suns as they rose, filling the sky with a milky orange swirl. He imagined what would happen if he could get close to one of them. He felt the warmth on his face and his fore arms, and it comforted him. The most likely thing if he got too close would be his demise. These thoughts would give him a lot of mileage during empty hours. You couldn’t get to close to the suns but you couldn’t stray too far.
He could tell there was something wrong with his face. He stared at his reflection and everything was warped. Stop, he said out loud.
He bounced a ball every time the same.
He walked backwards.
He stared at the mirror. Stop.
Blood on his knuckles. It was him. He’d punched the wall. As a child he cried and climbed.
What if I had an accident. Could I stop working then? What are you thinking? Who do you think you are? How are you thinking? You’d only end up in another place like this. It’s where you belong, haven’t you worked that out yet?
He had vague memories. Playing tag with the other kids. Wanting to play it again the next day but another kid wanted to play another game called bulldog so he shouted at him and the boy pushed him, so he pushed him back and he fell over and hurt his head and then he jumped on top of him and punched him and the other boy slapped him and they rolled around on the concrete until the teacher came and broke him up. When he kept getting bullied and kept lashing out, he was sat down in an office as slither of sun stretched across the carpet. He stared at this light, and the tiny specks of dirt and hair you could see floating within it. Were these everywhere? Then the door flew opened and his mother burst out, yelling ‘come on’ as she went and he got up and trudged after her. He waved goodbye to the teacher, who watched them as the disappeared out the door at the end of the hall.
It had begun to rain and they got into the car and he jumped up into the seat next to her, the rain dancing against the window. She rifled through her bag and pulled out and lit a cigarette. Then stared at the rain and is it writhed its way down the glass. Abruptly she turned and said, ‘Why on earth are you smiling?’
People said he was quiet and it made him screw up his face. ‘I didn’t realise I was.’ This type of comment caused him to focus more on his work. He’d come out at the end of the day, drenched dark blue from the soot and chemicals. He stood under the re-entry chamber and felt the hot water and gasses crash over his body. It felt cleansing, and he came out of the chamber and roughed his hair up.
He didn’t like talking about himself. In fact, he asked, why do you want to know about me, when anyone asked.
He always imagined what it would be like to be different, to fly, to be able to walk through walls. He pushed against the wall once trying to concentrate and push through, just like he had seen a superior doing on a cartoon. He pushed and pushed and pushed. Years later when he was slumped on the floor, tears falling down his cheeks, he held against the wall in the same way. He felt a warmth, a buzzing sensation. He spread his hand around. It was cold in places and warm in places. His eyes narrowed and he wiped away the tears. That night he sat up in bed eating up eating a peanut butter sandwich staring at the wall. What was happening in this place? The buzzing feeling felt different from anything else he’d felt before. He could almost see another place, with, plants? Green everywhere. It was trees and sunlight and mud and birds in the air. It was a forest.
Staying until the end of the day at work was agony but somehow, he made it and rushed home, waiting on the underground, a hammer in his back pack.
He rushed down the corridor and for a second, he felt he was being watched. He turned back to see a woman staring at him through a door open a crack. Then the door abruptly slammed. He finally made it to his own door. He frantically made it inside. He didn’t even pull his jacket off. e
He knelt down in the same place and felt the wall in the same way. The same images, the same buzzing, the same warmth. He lifted up the hammer. Aim. Pull Back. Bang. Pull Back. Smash. Pull Back. Crack. He kept hitting until bit of the wall fell away. A crack of light. Oh, wow, okay. He said. He laughed, yes yes yes, I know it, I knew it I knew one of these times something would have to be real. It couldn’t all be fake. He pulled them off and apart. and inside the light was green and swirling. He lifted up his hand and slowly reached inside. The sensation travelled up his arm and throughout his body, the smell of rain. A vision of a forest and a great light shining down. A new bright sun.
Character in action. In this part the character seemed to grow to have an even darker edge, and to be suffering from depression, which I attempted to show through action. Again, this has gotten even more free wheeling and I don't know if this is coherent enough or if I can bring it together for the final draft, but I thought I'd go with the flow and we'll see what happens:
He got out of the shower put a towel on, put the toilet seat down. He just sat there for a while in the steam.
Then he got up and slowly dressed himself, went into the kitchen filled the kettle up, but when he put it on nothing happened. ‘Come on’ he said.
Again. He pulled it off and threw it against the wall. Then he got a pan out of the cupboard and got out a pan and put on the hob.
He fell asleep on the sofa with his clothes on and woke up about 6. ‘Dammit’ he said.
He put the water on to boil and poured it in with 6 tea bags. Then he stirred it, and added milk and about nine sugars. He tried it. ‘Hmmm’. He said, and tossed it into the sink.
The next day he put on his hat and coat and gloves. Then took off his gloves. He looked in the mirror, moved it around then threw it on the floor. ‘Dammit’ he said.
He stepped out the door. Then he rushed back in. Tried on the hat again, and threw it against the wall, but it just flew and gently fell against there. It was nothing like the satisfying crash of the kettle. ‘Dammit!’
He passed a pile of vomit on the side of the street as rain drops started to fall. He was wearing the brown cord jacket he’d stolen from his older brother. It had a handy inside pocket. The label had some Italian brand on the label, so he had no idea where it originated from, but he sometimes got compliments on it so it must suit him. He thanked them and said it was a gift, and that it was warmer than it looked.