[Note: Please listen to the prompted songs while you read, if possible. Pace is based on my own reading speed, so the length of the song may not line up with how quickly you read its aligned story segment - I recommend listening all the way through the song and letting the scene expand through the end, or you can just go forward with the new song even if you haven't finished the last, but don't start a new song before you finish reading the previous segment. Thanks.]
"Stoooooooop," I groan.
The beeping alarm stops and Google Assistant's robotic voice begins:
"Good morning, Jamie. It's 7:30 A.M. on Monday, May 23rd. Today's forecast includes a high of 78 and a low of 62, with strong chances of severe thunderstorms. Right now, it's 65 degrees out and cloudy. Have a good day."
"Thanks, Google..." I mutter, throwing an arm over my eyes to block out the bedside lamp that comes on with my morning smart routine.
[Electric Light Orchestra's Mr. Blue Sky]
Truly, I love my job, but that doesn't make Monday mornings much easier. I've never been good at transitions - especially the transition from relaxation to work mode.
My toes wriggle in my house shoes just as my fists reach the highest point above my head in that oh-so-satisfying first stretch of the day. I used to just leave it at that, but lately I've been trying to be more intentional about my health routine, so I continue with some hip and hamstring stretches, too.
Let's pretend you didn't also just see me attempt to twerk.
The electric kettle's already on and nearly ready for me to brew the day's first cup of tea - Earl Grey, of course - so I shuffle over to the cupboard and pull out my Monday mug:
"A beautiful day begins with a little love."
If there is any singular item in the world that screams 90s bisexual grandma who gave up on men at 67, it's that damn rainbow mug. It also serves a purpose in the life of this 25-year-old bookish mother of cats.
Which is something important to know about me: Everything I own has a very specific purpose. I do my best to keep myself in line to reduce social discomfort, and I've found that the awkwardness of telling my mom, "No, that lighter is only for smoking. Let me get one for candles and incense," when she visits is significantly less painful than the embarrassment of never being able to find items, ever. Has it helped me make friends?
[Jamie looks at the camera and very dramatically shrugs.]
Cats fed and steaming mug of tea in hand, I sit on the couch and scroll through YouTube to see if there are any short news clips that seem important or interesting: COVID guidelines (haven't changed), COVID public opinion (hasn't changed), memes about a piece of broccoli that was stuck in VP Harris' teeth while she was giving a speech (Really, Internet trolls? Come on.), Harry Styles (yawn)...
Okay, so moving on. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert it is. I mostly ignore it, anyway.
Thunder rumbles softly in the distance - some beautiful day for sure.
Suddenly, a cuddle puddle of three black cats and a giggling pajama-clad woman (me) has taken over my couch. How anyone could dislike cats is so very unclear to me - they’re so soft and warm and not needy or smelly like dogs.
Don’t get me wrong; I love dogs, as long as they belong to someone else and I’m just a visiting friend. They’re just so very… much. And I can’t always handle the much-ness of dogs, certainly not by myself.
As I pull my purple house key out of the lock and yank on the door to make sure it's secured, I mentally check through the rest of my routine list.
Lamictal, Wellbutrin, and Strattera: Check.
Sixteen ounces of water: Check.
Floss, swish, brush: Check.
Socks are the same brand, style, color, and wear level: Check.
And lastly, do I smell like a mixture of deodorant and the Hempz Sweet Pineapple and Honey Melon skin and hair line? A quick sniff check confirms that I completed these steps, too.
It's 8:33 A.M. when I get in my car to head to my 9:00 shift at Barnes & Noble - three minutes later than I'd have liked to leave, but hey, finding the perfect socks can take a few minutes.
Despite the community's unspoken consensus that the strip of Robinson between Berry and I-35 is actually a 45 mph zone mismarked as a 40, I somehow end up stuck behind someone who clearly isn't using cruise control but doesn't creep past 38 anyway.
My heart is racing and I can't get around this car because everyone behind me is passing us both without giving me a chance to escape.
Deep breaths, Jamie. Deep breaths. It's just a few short minutes.
Lightning flashes off toward the northwest. I take advantage of the snap distraction to make myself release my deathgrip on the steering wheel and calm down. Just like that, I'm free to pass and join the rest of society driving a reasonable 48 mph.
Ah, hell - I missed parts of my audiobook while I was panicking.
I press the voice control button that opens Siri on my car's dash and tell her to rewind two minutes, and then I'm back to listening to Grace Foster's narration of her time at Katmere Academy in Tracy Wolff's Crave.
I freaking love these books - the cheesiness and the discreet fourth-wall breaks are just what I need in a story right now.
I merge onto I-35 and then immediately exit back onto Main St., crossing five lanes to get to a way-too-close left turn lane once I'm there (I'm pretty impressed with myself for doing this every day without a full panic attack, honestly).
Turn left, switch to the right lane to avoid the traffic holdup at the McDonald's entrance, turn right into the strip mall parking lot and...
My gut drops. I feel a bucket of molten steel start to tip over from where it hangs in my skull and drip hot metal all the way down my esophagus, past my slowing heart, and pooling at the bottom of my stomach.
Someone is parked in my spot.
There's a soft whimper of despair that comes from the half of my mind that is connected to the physiological reaction I'm having right now while the other half picks a different parking space and goes through the necessary steps to safely end the trip. The car-parking half is making a stern face and short chopping motions with her hands: "This is an irrational reaction, Jamie. It's just a parking space." But the despairing, stomachache-riddled half of my mind mumbles between shallow whines, "I'm perfectly aware of that. I don't know why this is so important, but it just is."
A soft rain starts, but it's very quickly gaining intensity, so I can the internal argument and head inside, hoping that the intruder is a new employee and not a customer. I can track down an employee and ask them to rock-paper-scissors battle over the right to the spot (a soft way to imply that I don’t want them to park there), but if a customer has taken up the spot then I’m S.O.L.
My heart skips a beat at the thought of it being a customer who becomes a regular and makes my spot part of their daily routine.
By the time I walk to and unlock the door it’s 8:56, meaning I’m less than 60 seconds away from being able to clock in. The barista waves to me as I head toward the computer terminal and I hear the overhead music start as the opening manager finishes the last few steps before we can open the doors to our raving fans - and by ‘raving fans’ I mean Tommy, who’s here for his daily combo of a copy of the Sentinel, a tall coffee with three ice cubes, and three naps over the next six hours.
[Jamie mimics a keyboard by saying “tap tap tappity tap” under her breath in order to make sure the audience reader knows that she’s typing on a computer to clock in.]
Employee Jamie Mantle clocked in at 8:57 A.M.
[Paramore’s Hard Times]
“Hey, Keller. How are you?”
Keller, a freckle-faced beanpole of a teenage boy that got a summer job with us, just gives me a shrug and a I’m not dead yet smirk, then walks around me to unlock the doors to the store and get the day started.
“Same,” I mumble as I stride my way back to the break room.
First step: Equip uniform. (I put on my pin-adorned nametag.)
Second step: Equip communicators. (Grab a phone and a radio headset.)
Third step: Gather all necessary information. (Review notes left by other management since my last shift.)
Now, time for my success process.
I pull out my iPad, open the Pencil Planner app and cross-reference the printed schedule to see who will be coming in today and if there’s anyone that needs any training or check-ins.
It looks like today I’ll be able to check-in with Millie, but nobody else needs anything. I scrawl: “Millie 12PM” as if there’s any part of me that believes I’ll actually get to meet with her at a time that I schedule for.
Which means that I’ll have a decent amount of time to do product-focused work rather than people-focused work. Which is great, because my productivity rate on the salesfloor hasn’t been meeting expectation lately. Which my supervisor (supportively) reminds me of monthly when we talk about how there’s just that one last thing standing between me and a promotion. Which is nothing short of nauseating.
Which when who what where why? Anyway. You heard my thoughts racing just then, saw the flashing lights as I got sucked into a time vortex of things to do, so I know we’re still on the same page.
Staging area, here I come.
The hardest part of working at Barnes & Noble is refraining from shopping while you work - well, that’s one of the hardest parts at least. For this reason I am stuck between a rock and a hard place: I pick the cart that has cookbooks, business, exercise, and gardening, and I am so bored I can’t focus and jump at any chance to do something else…
[cut scene of Jamie falling asleep leaning on the cart, pushing it forward and stumbling to the floor]
… or picking pretty much any of the other carts and finding myself too focused on the interesting things in history, science, social sciences, religion, sci-fi, fantasy…
[cut scene of Jamie reading the back of a book as she attempts to put another away, knocking another book off the shelf in the process]
I really don’t have the money to be book shopping right now, so cookbooks seems like the best option.
“Jamie, are you still leaving early today?” I jump a little, my boss having snuck up and startled me.
“Yeah, at one. I have counseling again.”
“Okay. Let’s see how much of this cart you can knock out by then. It’ll be a good opportunity to track your progress,” she says with a smile.
I nod and return the smile, then turn back to face a stack America’s Test Kitchen’s newest release. Having so many of them offers a new distraction: Where should they go? We have so many displays - tables, endcaps, an entire wall of face-outs - that this could go on. I’ve talked about this with my supervisor, and I know that I should be just focusing on getting the product on the shelf before worrying about that, but it’s just so tempting to go find a better placement for this than just on the shelf. More people will see it if it’s on a display!
[Jamie stares intently at the cookbooks, rolling her lips inward in contemplation]
No, I can stay on task. On the shelf, Jamie, on the shelf. Displays will come later.
There’s still about fifteen books on the cart when I leave, but it’s already 1:02 and my appointment is at 1:30 across town. I feel sick leaving anything undone, even so little, that I feel my voice shake as I force myself to say, “It’s okay, I was really close. It’ll be full again tomorrow and I can really knock it out of the park.”
I’ve been telling myself that daily for a few months now.
“Jamie?” Kimberly calls as she steps into the clinic lobby. I gather my things as quickly as I can so I don’t make her wait on me, then follow her down the hall to her office.
“How are you today?” she asks, and I remember that this is someone who does want the honest answer to that question instead of the compulsory ‘I’m fine’ of common small talk.
“I’d say about a six out of ten today. How are you?”
She tilts her head as she welcomes me into her office. “Today’s a good day on my end, but I am a little tired. Why are you at a six today?”
“It’s just another day of not being able to stay on track, really. Plus I had a few moments this morning where I felt really panicked - caught behind a slow driver, and then someone parked in my spot again,” I tell her from my favorite spot in the room - the overstuffed leather rocking chair with a sequin throw pillow to fidget with.
She nods and pulls out my treatment notes. “I know things like that are really difficult for you to deal with. Neurodivergent people do have a hard time with flow interruptions, as you know. Are you still using movie-style roleplay as a coping mechanism?”
Jamie stares at a point at the bottom of Kimberly’s desk for a moment. “Yes.” She feels like her heart rate somehow slows and speeds up at the same time. This conversation has happened a lot lately.
Kimberly nods, lacing her fingers together. “Has there been anything else that helped you today?”
Jamie lifts her eyes to meet Kimberly’s, wondering why the movie point wasn’t opened further. This part is much easier to talk about. “Well, I really like storms, so the weather is comforting. A lightning strike helped me take a breath and cool down when I was driving and then it was okay.”
“How about with the parking spot?”
She takes a moment to answer as she recalls the moments surrounding the panic. “I picked up my next routine fairly quickly. The one that I go through to get started with work for the day: Name tag, phone and radio, notes, plan.”
“That’s good, and I’m glad you can identify some things that helped you get back in your groove,” Kimberly responds with a gentle smile. “But let’s talk about the roleplaying.”
Jamie sighs. “I know it’s not a good thing,” she starts, but stops when Kimberly tilts her head and bunches her eyebrows together.
“It’s not a bad thing, either, Jamie. A coping mechanism is only bad when it gets in the way of your health and happiness. We talk about toning this down because you’ve said you think it’s contributing to your struggle with time management and staying on track.” She glances down at the treatment notes. “When we first uncovered this, we talked about maladaptive daydreaming, remember?”
She nods. “I read about that some more, and people talk about it in online support groups. I do think it lines up with what we’ve discussed.”
“Can you describe it to me?”
“It’s like I’m the main character in a movie,” she answers with a shrug. “There’s a soundtrack, cut scenes, stage directions, and scripts for the other ‘characters’ that obviously don’t actually happen, because the people around me have no idea that I see life that way sometimes. Today, the movie was mostly a comedy. The panic moments were like the ‘duhn-duhn-DUUUUUUH’ scenes. If I think about it like that it’s just… easier to digest, I suppose.”
When Kimberly doesn’t respond, Jamie continues, “I think I needed it to be a comedy today. I don’t really know why, but I woke up with low spoons. If I’d been fully fine I probably wouldn’t have been in movie-mode, or at least not as intensely.”
“I know it will be difficult to find the balance between helpful and harmful with this since it’s so all-encompassing, but let’s see if we can find a way to track the frequency of your movie-mode episodes.”
“Ha, punny,” Jamie says with a smile. “Yeah, if we can’t figure out anything here I’ll ask some of the women in my support groups.”
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I love the way the story and the music go hand in hand, well done!
"If there is any singular item in the world that screams 90s bisexual grandma who gave up on men at 67, it's that damn rainbow mug." -- I literally laughed out loud at this line!! I like the tone in this piece!
I'm glad you laughed! Trust me, if I could upload a picture of the mug that inspired this line, you would agree.