I was running on 5 hours of restless sleep and room temperature water as I pulled into the Advanced Data parking lot with less than 5 minutes to spare before my 8am shift. The lot wasn’t full at all; since we could make our own schedules, people rarely showed up for work on Mondays unless they were newer to the company and were required to work at least one or one of the tenured employees who received an extra dollar an hour for working Mondays. I hurried to the building’s entrance with 3 minutes left on the clock. I had recently been moved to what was meant to be my more permanent desk closer to the entrance after being in new hire nesting for a total of 6 months and I was still not getting the hang of the work. I sat with an interesting bunch of people. They were all nice to me, and though we were all different ages, they were the type of people I could see myself hanging out with after work. The managers wanted to sit me with these seasoned employees, all of whom worked for the company longer than 5 years, in hopes that it would help me become a better bill collector. They were all good at their jobs too, what they all were particularly good at was detaching themselves from the work. I would be there, feeling self-conscious about delving into people’s private affairs to find a number they hadn’t blocked us from, and my huddle mates would proudly proclaim “Let’s call granny’s phone!”, and dial the number, confidently greeting a mean grandma and convincing her to call her grandchild on 3-way so they could set up a $100 payment plan over the next 9 months for their charged off Victoria’s Secret credit card. It was awe inspiring in a way, sometimes Advanced Data seemed like a place where the dreams of people like me went to die but my huddle mates truly took pride in their work.
I knew the phone script, had the rebuttals tacked on all three walls of my cubicle but when I would hear those people on the other end of my headset, either hanging up in my ear, on vacation completely unbothered by their debt, at work, or giving me fake payment information to get their laugh of the day, it would burn my soul. At that time, I was more concerned about realigning my chakras. I was fresh out of college with no prospective opportunities in my field, all except one of my close friends were either scattered across the world or we had fallen out and on top of all of that I was in an extremely toxic relationship that had been progressively getting worse since we decided to terminate an unplanned pregnancy just days before I started training for the job. It was particularly hard coming in to such a soul sucking place as a call center full of bill collectors everyday after being gaslit into a screaming match at 7 in the morning so my boyfriend could justify his day full of cheating on his insane girlfriend.
That day, all my huddle mates were there, they greeted me with their warm smiles, happy and eager I came in on the one Monday a month I was required so they could feed off my youthful energy and be entertained by my 20-something angst. They were honestly my favorite part of the day. I might have been at work for 30 minutes before one of the managers tapped me on the shoulder, bent down and asked me to come with them to a conference room. Before this, I had only ever been fired once over email, I didn’t know how they handled things in guarded buildings and offices when they fire you. I wonder if it’s something about the fact that you’re losing your benefits that makes them think everyone is gonna haul off and shoot up the building when they fire you that they feel the need to corner you before they give you the bad news. I came into the conference room and the manager that had pulled me aside was there with someone from HR on speaker phone. The woman from HR explained my options about losing my health coverage at the end of the month and I immediately start crying. I didn’t care so much about the health coverage, at the time, what I wanted to ask was what was I supposed to do about the little bit of dignity I was losing if I no longer had this decent paying job. I was living with my boyfriend, he had just recently quit his job and I didn’t know what I was going to do. They brought all my things to me in a cardboard box and all I could think about was the discussion my huddle mates were having about me after seeing them box my chakra drawings and notebooks. I went out into the parking lot and contemplated throwing my Advanced Data cooler cup full of ice at the windshield of my manager’s Benz, but I decided against having a run in with the cops that day and aimed for the ground next to it before getting in my car and speeding off to cry in a park near the house I grew up in.
After hours of silent contemplation, my one friend that was still in the city pulled up to the park to sit with me.
“Hey…” Billy swaggered over to the picnic table I sat on top of. She had a sleeveless shirt and basketball shorts on, her toned brown limbs looking like a paper bag some talented artist used for doodling while on a long call. She wiped off the tabletop before sitting next to me.
“Hey…” I sighed, not looking at her but keeping my gaze fixed on the clear blue sky as I leaned back on my hands, the raggedy wood dug into my palms but the discomfort was soothing.
“I brought you something, thought it might make you feel better…” She pulled out a joint and a lighter. I looked at her and rolled my eyes, we both laughed. “Ahhh… that’s what I like to see, that beautiful smile. I know getting fired sucks but you’re a smart and capable woman, there will be plenty of other opportunities.”
“I know… I just feel so hopeless. Nothing is going right, and you know Jerry quit his job, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
“I truly don’t understand how you got in so deep with that clown… you need to cut him loose.”
“After he learns how to be nice to you.” I huffed and passed the blunt to Billy. “What do you think you want to do since you’re a free agent? Gonna finally start that YouTube channel? Now would be the perfect time!” She nudged my arm with her elbow, I let my body sway from the force of it.
“I honestly hadn’t thought that far but you’re absolutely right. My birthday and my trip to Toronto with the girl’s is coming up next week, that’ll be a good vlog. And then, I just need to spend all my money wisely for the rest of this month and figure things out once I’ve had a nice break.”
“You’ve had a hard year, so you definitely deserve a break… I think it’ll be good to go on the trip. Help you gain some perspective. And you know I’ve been waiting for the YouTube channel! If you need any money or anything, let me know. You know I always got your back.” I smiled over at her and nodded. She always knew what to say to affirm me. We finished our blunt before deciding to head to the bar for some wings and drinks.
I walked into the house around 10pm.
“Where the fuck you been?” Jerry yelled as I closed the apartment door behind me. He had pulled off one of his gaming headphones but still had his eyes on the TV screen.
“I was at the bar with Billy…” I sighed rolling my eyes, kicking off my shoes. I was drunk; the room was spinning as I struggled to unbutton my jeans.
“What the fuck you mean you were at the bar with Billy. I already told you I don’t like that mutha fucka.”
“We’ve gone over this, Jerry, Billy is just my friend and it’s unfortunate that you don’t like her, but I do.” I usually avoided all conversations with Jerry regarding Billy because it always ended in a fight but the 7 shots of tequila I’d taken on Billy’s tab gave me gumption I wasn’t expecting.
“Go be with that nigga then!” I stopped dead in my tracks as I was pulling my jeans over my wide hips and decided to pull them all the way back up.
“You know what, maybe I will. You always do this! You didn’t even ask me how my day was! I tried to call you earlier, several times in fact and after not returning any of those calls you’re questioning ME about where I’VE been?!” Jerry waived me off and pulled his headphone back over his exposed ear. I came over to him and snatched the headphones off his head, he immediately stood up and shoved me against the wall, I started to cry again. “I got fired today! I’m having a hard time! It would be nice to have some support from my boyfriend!”
“Girl… fuck you. You just said you wanted to be with Billy. And now that you don’t have a job anymore, I have no use for you…” Jerry yelled, using his body to press me against the wall.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? You just quit your job to sit on your ass all day and I’m still with you…” Tears were burning my eyes and the entire time he just smiled at me.
“I was only using you for your money… now that you don’t have a job, there’s nothing I can do with you. You think I’d be with someone like you just because I liked you?” He let out a loud, sinister laugh.
“Jerry… are you serious?” I looked up at him and searched his big beautiful brown eyes for any sign that he was lying, that he was just trying to get a rise out of me but just like any other time I did this, I saw nothing but anger and resentment.
“Very… you can get your shit tomorrow, I’ll be out with my new girl.” My eyes were wide in disbelief. “Her brother is getting ready to give me a pack soon so I’ll be making my own money.”
“A pack, Jerry? As in drugs? You have never sold anything a day in your life, your bum ass don’t know a damn thing about hustling!” I scram as I tried and failed to push him off me. “I knew you were messing around on me but she’s your new girl, already? After all I’ve done for you, after all we’ve been through this year, I thought…”
“You thought what?! I never loved you… I was just using you and now I’m done.”
“You never…” I felt my grip on reality slipping, I started looking around the room like I lost something. 3 years we had been together and sometimes I would wonder if he ever loved me, him fixing his lips to tell me he never did sounded more true than anything he had ever said to me.
“I… never… loved you.” He spoke slowly and with intention. We always fought, sometimes to the point where things got physical, but he had never told me he didn’t love me. What I thought was our mutual love for each other was the only thing that kept me attached to him, everyone else who had ever told him they loved him had left him disappointed and from the very first time we hung out alone, I made it my mission to never be one of those people. He still used his weight to pin me to the wall, like he was waiting for me to beg him to not talk to me like that, like he was waiting for me to act like I usually do when he tries to push me away but I didn’t have the energy for it. I gathered enough strength to push past him and ran out the door.
I spent the rest of the week using my last check on vacation prep and making fake Facebook pages to troll Jerry and the new girl he had already gone public with after 3 years of refusing to post me on his social media. I had a blast in Toronto, even though I spent the first 2 of my 6-day trip crying hysterically to my friends about how fucked up my life was and I got it all, even the crying sessions, on camera. I wasn’t ready to go back home and face reality but being around my friends gave me the boost of energy I needed to remember how amazing I was. My plane ride home felt like a charter to a new life. I got to baggage claim expecting my parents to be there to greet me, but Billy was waiting for me with a sign and some flowers instead.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, a smile painted across my face.
“I told your parents not to worry about picking you up. I wanted to be the first person you saw when you got back.” She smiled.
“Well, that was very nice of you. Thank you for my flowers.”
“Oh, these, they aren’t for you, they’re for that woman over there…” Billy pointed to an elderly lady sitting on her walker as she waited for her bag. We both laughed. “But nah, I wanted to get you these, I know no one has ever gotten you any and I figured now would be the appropriate time to do so.”
I took the bouquet and read the note:
“I know this is sudden, but I could use more of your lovin. You’ve always been my first draft round pick and I was wondering if I could be your rebound until you realize I should be your one and only chick.”
I laughed so loudly everyone in baggage claim looked over at us. Admittedly, there had always been more than friendship between Billy and I, we met one summer when we were 14 playing basketball together at the rec center in our neighborhood. We became friends instantly; my girly girl met her tomboy and it seemed that was the beginning and end of our differences. We loved the same types of music, the same foods, if one person wasn’t good at something or didn’t know something, we were always right there to pick up each other’s slack, and one of the most special things about our relationship was that we understood each other’s silence. Back then though, I tried to ignore my attraction to girls, my family was very religious, Baptist Christian to be exact and I didn’t know any out queer people growing up, other than Billy, so being with another girl seemed like a far off and unrealistic fantasy. That same summer, Billy introduced me to her favorite cousin, Jamie, who would then become my first boyfriend and after that, the possibility of me dating Billy got further and further away until it became a whisper in the back of our friendship; a brush against each other that brought flustered giggles; handholding that felt less innocent than it seemed; years of our partners being uncomfortable with how close we were. We knew everything about each other and still loved each other without bounds, the timing for a romance was just never right. But as we stood in the airport, holding each other, I knew it was finally our time.
6 months later, it was the anniversary of my abortion and the day after Billy and I moved into our expensive brownstone in Brooklyn. Neither of us had ever lived so far from home in Ohio but we used to fantasize about being roommates in NYC on our late-night phone calls when we were younger; now here we were, living in New York as lovers. Billy was in investing and had been doing very well for herself, so I hadn’t worked a traditional job since I got fired, just created content for my YouTube page which was also doing very well in its own right. That morning, we ate breakfast together and talked about our plans for the day before she left for meetings. I had planned to record a house tour for my YouTube channel and discuss the plans I had started to curate for our décor but as I sat on the balcony, I watched a small group of protestors walking down the street with their prolife signs and pictures of mangled fetuses. It got me thinking about how different my life would be in that moment if I would’ve decided to have my baby with Jerry or worse if I had no choice in the matter at all. None of those people marching down the street to harass those who were already doing something very difficult couldn’t possibly know what making that type of decision feels like, if they did, they wouldn’t be out there. In that moment, I decided the best video for that day should be one recounting the last 365 days of my life, a tale of love, loss, learning more about myself and how an unexpected termination from a job I thought I needed helped me find the life I deserved. I set up my camera on the balcony and pressed record.