By Amada Matei
Restart. Reboot. Refresh. New day. Fresh start. Forget regrets. My therapist told me I needed to find a ritual to remind my inner demons that the past is gone and today I can start anew. Beat down the beast that gnaws at my past digressions, vexing regrets and silences my foreboding predictions of moral failures, all by lighting a candle, sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, and singing my mantra. What is done is done; it is what it is; let the past stay in the past. I think of every axiom that conveys self-forgiveness and hope and perhaps if I hum the incantation long enough and loud enough, the morose images in my mind’s eye will pop like a pus-infested pimple. All my errors will ooze out and I will feel cleansed as if nothing ever happened. I will be reborn. Five minutes of humming and breathing and visualization turns into a laundry list of meetings, memos to write, dinner parties, and some ass kissing at the CEO’s luncheon. It’s a lukewarm attempt at Nirvana, but I got to start somewhere. New day. New chapter. Restart. All is forgotten.
I shave my face, remembering half way through that my work wife likes it when I’m scruffy, giving off a rogue vibe, yet still fashionably hip. Now it’s too late. I shave the rest of me and jolt at the tiny dagger lacerating my chin. Blood cascades past my jowl and a wad of toilet paper is my only medical device. I stop the bleeding and get dressed in a crisp blue shirt, purple striped tie, and the rest of my underling uniform. I rub my hands together as if I’m washing them and take a deep breath. Count to four. Exhale. The ritual of soul cleansing is eating up my time. I grab my briefcase and start my day.
My first stop is the drive-thru for a caffeine buzz. “Three seventy-five,” says the girl with the nose ring.
“That’s a quarter more than usual,” I say.
“Sorry. I don’t set the prices.”
With my overpriced latte in one hand, I veer back into traffic and jerk forward and back, forward and back, slamming on my brakes for the nitwit in front of me. Forward and back. I hit the brakes again, this time a dollop of hot coffee stains my lap as I curse the nitwit and the coffee and the traffic. I glance at my watch every two minutes as I crawl through the muck that is my life.
Thirty-five minutes later, I’m in my parking lot gripping the steering wheel like I’m wringing out a wet towel and breathing myself back to Earth. Restart. New day. Breath in and out. Count to four.
My boss visits my desk as soon as I sit down reminding me of our meeting, the one that’s a regurgitation of our weekly flimflam, except this time I have to present to the big wigs. I head to the bathroom to dab and dry my pants while I recap my speech in my head. My monolog is perfect, everyone is fixated on my impeccable delivery, and verbose gobbledygook. My boss is awestruck, he shakes my hand at saving the company lots of moola, and insists I accept a raise and the corner office.
My reverie is shattered by my near collision with Margo as I step out into the hallway. We smile and do the tango to get out of each other’s way. “Hey John. Aren’t you in a hurry?” she says.
“Sorry. Got that damn meeting on my mind,” I say and stare at her breasts. “Speaking of things on my mind, you given any thought to that drink?”
“About that. Not sure if it’s a good idea to mess around with coworkers. I just don’t want it to be awkward later. I hope you can understand that.”
“Sure. No worries,” I say remembering her last Facebook post showing off her long legs and low-cut sweater, clinking beers with that He-Man from IT. He was drooling over her exposed neckline and she appeared lit like a meandering firefly. Awkward, my ass.
I take the stairs, two at a time, stacks of manila folders nestled in the crux of my elbow. My asthma-like breathing gets shallower with every climb because I didn’t realize three flights of stairs was the equivalent to Iron Man training.
A bunch of minions and ass kissers were spread around the conference table when I stumbled in, as beads of sweat clings to my hairline and I’m no longer confident in my antiperspirant. Count to four. Past mistakes stay in the past. Today stays in the present.
“John, we’ve been waiting. We all got lives to live,” says my boss scribbling in his notebook, not bothering to look in my direction. “I hope you’re ready.”
“Absolutely. I apologize for being late.” I plop my files onto the table. Stacks of paper slide out and ice skates towards my boss and bowls into his coffee cup. It topples over, spewing any remaining liquid onto the table, absorbed by my handouts. I don’t dare check my boss’ expression. I save what I can and accept napkins from an altruistic neighbor. No one says a word. I grab more paper towels by the donut platter at the front of the room. I dab the coffee cup dry and hand it to my boss.
His is stoic and his hands remain in his lap. “You can throw it out. I’m done with it now.” I obey with clenched teeth and resume collecting my stained paperwork.
“I apologize everyone. This is not how I wanted to start this meeting, but at least my handouts will now offer you a free whiff of caffeine,” I say with a chuckle but no one is laughing with me.
My fresh start is no longer fresh. It’s no longer new. It smells like day-old coffee and body odor. I pass out clean copies to my coworkers and throw the wet ones in the recycling bin. The minions look bored, uninterested, impatient. A couple of people have to share a copy. I spew lackluster numbers, irrelevant facts, and monotonous figures.
A colleague questions part of the data. It’s correct, I insist.
“No, it’s not,” she insists and digs deeper and I feel my penis shrinking with every debasing comment she makes. Then it’s settled: my numbers are off and I leave the meeting a couple inches shorter.
The day is stale by noon. My heart feels like a thirty-pound organ suffocating every breath I take. It pumps acid through my veins. I heave into the toilet, expecting blood or bile or demon piss. My heart is beating a thousand beats per minute and another drumming heart appears in the middle of my brain. My therapist said panic attacks are a manifestation of the mind because it feels it is losing control, stuck in the corner with no way out. I breathe. I choke on my vomit before swallowing it back down.
I hear footsteps outside my stall, then they patter away minutes later. My tongue feels like sandpaper and my armpits are saturated with fear and the stench of embarrassment. The cell phone in my back pocket vibrates. I reach back to pull it out and land hard on my ass when I answer.
“John, where are you?” I recognize my work wife’s voice.
“I’m in the bathroom stall, Second floor.”
“You’re having another attack, aren’t you? Need me to call someone?”
“I’ll be fine. I need a moment to find my self-respect.”
“I heard about your meeting. A hot mess.” She laughs like she feels sorry for me, but it makes me smile listening to her voice.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You said you’ll be fine.”
“I’m coming to get you.”
A few minutes later I hear her voice announcing her presence. “I’m a woman coming into the men’s bathroom. If you have a dick, better cover it now!”
She hears me laughing and crying. “I thought I was going to die,” I say when she crams herself into my stall and lifts me by the arm. “I’m supposed to be the man helping you dry your eyes, not the other way around.”
“My life is finally getting to where it doesn’t suck, and that’s thanks to you holding me up. I’m returning the favor, so don’t try to be macho.”
“I’m glad I was useful. I wish my ex-wife thought of me the same way.”
“Forget her. She had it made with you. She blew it.”
“I hate my job. I despise my boss. I lost my wife. Everything I touch turns to shit.”
“First, don’t ever become a motivational speaker. Second, this is nothing a stiff drink can’t cure.”
“I’m going to make this up to you. How about I buy the drinks tomorrow night?”
“No way. You cry like a school girl,” she says and I can’t stop laughing. My heart calms and I can breathe. I wash my face and walk around the floor to relax my nerves and situate myself back at my desk.
Four hours later, I park my car in the garage. While listening to talk radio and the humming of the motor, the garage door descends and touches the threshold, sealing me in. Talks of the slowing economy and a surprise downturn of the S & P 500 dominates the news, but the journalist’s lullaby voice makes it all sound so trite. I roll down the window and breathe. My eyes are closed. I think of new beginnings. A fresh start. The fumes waft towards my face and seep into my nostrils, my mouth, my ears, my brain.
My cell phone vibrates and sings. My work wife’s photo appears on the screen. I smile knowing she cares about my wellbeing and perhaps knows me too well. I turn off the ignition and answer her. She calls to remind me that tomorrow I can start again. Reboot.
About the Author:
Amada Matei works and lives in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a graduate of John Carroll University and holds a Masters in Sociology from Cleveland State University. By night, Amada supervises a child abuse hotline, and by day, she’s writing her first novel. She has contributed other works to Adelaide Magazine and was a finalist in 2018 for the Adelaide Anthology short story contest.