An animal trainer
“Don’t eat that!”
By Giovanni Ortiz
There was a downpour on the window I stared out of. The city doesn’t faze me and never will. The lights jumbling up as each drop of entropy fall onto the window. The shapes outside has no form, no actual definition. Red, gold, and green seems to be all over my window. There is a Shhhh! that seems unending. Like, thousands and millions of people are outside throwing rice at the window. But, it is something beautiful and less hateful; it’s rain. I loved the rain, out in Nebraska it smelled fresher and cleaner, something man couldn’t poison with smoke. I want to stop the taxi driver and stand out there, in the middle of the street, and take a shower looking at the stars. I want the rain to fall over me and wash the sweat, tears, and nervousness off. I want to start fresh and have the rest of the day’s worries paint its picture, whether it’s abstract or objective. I want to look at everyone’s face and give them meaning. On the other hand, I need to go home. I continue to let my red eyes watch the silent movie called NYC. I’m sure he didn’t mean to break every bone in my body with only words.
I don’t think anyone would believe I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him– actually a lot of people would. I did spend the beginning of my life with him. I witnessed his first kiss. He told me all about his first time with Jessica Ramano, sophomore year, the day after they’d done it. I told him about all of my firsts. We usually told each other secrets when either he or I were on our way back home– we were neighbors– making a stop on the side of the road. You know, when you’re on the road and there’s an open field, well there were a lot of them in Nebraska. So, we’d stop and leave our school bags in the passenger seat. Then, we would chase and lose each other in the cornfields. The scent of dried grass, a field, and corn danced beneath our noses. We yelled our names, shielding our eyes from the sun, until we’re found. Usually, we’d laugh as our butt hit the ground. Our lungs, lighter and lighter, made us feel higher and higher. Is it possible to get high off of laughter? (I found out that being “high” doesn’t feel like “being high”. It felt worse. Like, a deeper pressure that made me want to cry and laugh all at the same time.) We’d whisper small secrets to each other as the sun jumps over us and dips below the corn. I’d realize I had math homework I needed to finish. My mother had a rule about being out without much permission after the sun is set. He’d guide me through the corn and find the old, faded blue 1980 impala. He’d drive home because I wanted to be in control of the radio. We never shared similar tastes in music, he was into punk and I was into classic. I wish I knew that would be one of the signs that it wasn’t going to work out. I wished we found our middle ground at the beginning.
“Excuse me, sir. Can you pull over?” I say to the taxi driver. He glances back at me, a line of sweat just beneath his hairline, black hair drooping over his forehead sticking to the sides of his face. Jeez, he was sweaty. I feel the car take a detour and my body lurch to the right. Tonight, I need something strong, to keep me away from myself. He pulls over and I ask him to wait, my box of things in the trunk reassured him. I open the door and the sound of rice hitting the window sounds like a crowd cheering instead. Opening my umbrella, I wedge myself between the two cars the taxi double parked over to get to the sidewalk. The fluorescent lights gave the store a sterile feeling, as if it’s a hospital. It’s like a morgue for wine and liquor. A middle aged man looks up at me as I walk in the store, my boots making the annoying squishy sound you get when you walk on linoleum with wet shoes. He diverts his attention back to the book he was reading.
I walk to the back of the store; I don’t know whether or not I want whiskey, vodka or gin. I was probably staring at the assortment of bottles for about two minutes. The guy shouts behind me, “You okay back there?” His voice is raspy and somewhat friendly. I grab a bottle of Scotch and went to the counter. He asks for ID, I give him money and show my ID. Maybe I need two… I grab the bag of alcohol and thank him. On my way out, I open the umbrella and make a jog for the taxi. I’m sure the hems of my jeans are soaked. I thank the taxi driver and repeat the original address I’m headed to. Cradling the bottle on my lap, I take a gander outside the window as the people’s faces blur around me. There’s traffic and I’m grateful for that. I’m not an alcoholic, I promise. But, I need something to make me feel temporarily better. Understand?
We had our first cans of beer together. I didn’t like going to parties until college, so whenever there was a party we’d sit in his basement, watch a classic horror flick, eat stale doughnuts and drink a cold can of beer we spent four dollars on. Sometimes when Dale, a senior at the high school we went to, worked a shift at the local drug store he’d let us buy cans of beer. His long pale hair sometimes mixed in with his facial hair, the drugs made him age a lot quicker than he’d have wanted, and he always spoke in a sort of whisper saying something like “Don’t drink and drive, Juniors.” He reminded me of the stoners you’d see on television with a bag of drugs sitting in their back pocket at all times. I always told him what I thought of him, too. He always said we looked more like a couple than “a pair of pair of good friends”. Actually, everyone said it. I was always first to deny, he always had a girlfriend.
I could barely imagine myself sitting in his basement, the washing machine and dryer mending the laundry, as the opening credits of a movie played. The brown carpet floor tickling my toes and the old squeaky couch sitting in front of the new-but-old television we’d saved enough money for. I would always lean back on the arm of the couch, while he sat on the other end, and let my feet touch the side of his thigh. Helen Chandler’s scream acted as background as we’d debate whether or not Bela Lugosi was the best Dracula. I remember when he realized the argument was over and that I won, he stopped talking and ruffled his hands in his brown hair and watch the movie. His hair wasn’t exactly soft and fluffy, but thin and wild, as if he’s never combed it (Probably didn’t). It still is crazy looking, from time to time. I miss spending four dollars on beer, eating stale doughnuts and watching Frankenstein in your basement.
The taxi turns the corner to my apartment. It is small and cheap. Granted that it is Manhattan, not enough space for everyone to live and breathe in luxury. I tip the driver and thank him. He looks a lot like Freddie Mercury and smells what I imagine Russell Brand would smell like if he wasn’t famous. The taxi driver helps me inside by holding my umbrella. I grab my box of things, hold on to the Scotch and make my way up the stairs. We used to live together, mainly because we were best friends and that’s what best friends did. They’d moved to New York City together after leaving their small town in the mid-west. They’d eat breakfast together and helped each other find jobs. They’d give each other ten dollar bills and felt bad when their boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them. Best friends are brothers and sisters that were lost in the war of parenthood, and dropped into two different families by fate. That’s exactly what we were. I had to get my own apartment as soon as we realized we both grew icicles on our shoulders. There was never a warm shoulder to give anymore. We gave it a try and it didn’t work. The one thing we promised each other wouldn’t happen happened. Nothing was ever the same.
It took me a whole month to find an apartment. The movers dropped everything off earlier this morning, that’s when I realized that this was actually happening. We both moved, I moved across the city and he moved on. He probably doesn’t even care anymore. So, I try not to care and move on.
My apartment is full of boxes, the bed is bare and set up in the only bedroom and the living room is bare. I search the boxes for sheets and glasses. I walk, practically crawl, to my bedroom and sit on the floor and lean my back on the base of my bed. My feet touch the wall. The walls were white and needs a new coat of paint. Maybe turquoise. That’s the luxury I have now, choosing my own wall colors. I place the glass on the floor and pour some Scotch. I down it in one gulp. The liquor burns my throat. It always burns on the first gulp. I pour some more. Henry, the dog I’ve had since I graduated college, pounces on my lap. I lazily drag my hand across his short fur.
“I don’t need him, I only need Henry. Right, boy?” I scratch behind his ear and make baby noises at him. He wags his tail and licks my face. I grab the glass and drink the glass in a second. Another burn, only a slight tingle. He settles on my lap and huffs. I continue on a gentle stroke and decide to drink straight from the bottle.
When I was ten, I wanted to be an animal trainer. I watched all the television shows on Discovery Kids and Animal Plant. I practically begged my mom for a dog or cat. But, she was terribly allergic. I got a turtle, instead. All my other fish didn’t last long. He had a puppy. It was a golden retriever. He named her Gold, very original. I tried teaching Gold how to sit and used phrases like “give me a paw, girl!” We practically shared her. I even fed her sometimes. I really appreciated him and his family, even as a ten year old. I got Henry because I missed the way Gold licked my face. I missed how her golden fur felt soft under my hands. I even missed walking her, stepping on dog poop and having to clean my flip flops off before walking in my house. When I went to college I no longer wanted to be an animal trainer. I wanted to be something mature and sophisticated. I wanted to be something my mother could brag about, “Oh. My daughter got into this college in New York City.” I gave up my dream just to be an adult. Now, I wish I was a kid again, more than ever.
I am halfway through the Scotch; it no longer burned my throat. Henry laid across my waist as my face was stuck to the hardwood floor of my tiny bedroom. I take another swig. My head is clouded with him, him, him. I want to scream, kick, and throw. But, I can’t scream, kick or throw. I’d disturb the neighbors. I want to lie down and cry. But, I refuse to lay down and cry for my own dignity. On Henry’s collar is a small owl charm he’d bought for the dog when I first brought him home from the animal shelter. It symbolized Henry’s job as being the watchdog. Plus, the ol’ puppy had a habit of being a night owl. Henry the Sad and Lonely became Henry the Happy and Brave. I became Happy and Swooning. He became Moody and Argumentative. It was like he didn’t like the relationship part of me after a year and a half. He hated me even more after we called it splits.
I take Henry’s collar off delicately, as if it were Queen Elizabeth’s crown. I hold it up in the dim light. I have everything that I’ve given to him. He has everything he has given to me– excluding the charm, it belongs to Henry. Does he look at the things and remembers when he gave them to me and how I reacted. I remember hugging and kissing him. Thanking him for giving the charm to me to put on Henry’s collar. He was less moody and argumentative, then. He was happy and swooning. He smiled too much and his messy hair was cut short. He began to grow it out. It became the messy and scruffy mess it was when he was just a sloppy teenage boy. He still smelled like cheap cologne and talked too fast. He was angry and blamed me for everything. I’m sure Henry was happy, too. He looked happy, his tail wagging fast as I kissed him full on the lips.
Henry began licking the empty glass. “Stop!” I hissed at Henry. His tail hung low and he went into a whimper as he laid his head on my leg. It was like turning off the engine to a chopper. It died to a silence. No more whooshing. I rubbed Henry’s head. I finished the bottle of Scotch.
We went to a French restaurant. He just got a big deal for a film and was excited and happy. He was the happiest he has ever been, I wanted to cry. He knew I wanted to cry. I’ve always been an emotional fool. This was the first time we’ve ever been to a French restaurant, another first of ours. He was holding my hand. I was wearing this expensive dress my mother gave me money for. He was wearing an expensive suit his mother gave him money for. There was some violinist playing in the back and waiters with fake French accents. The room held the conversation amongst the rich. I was joking about it all in whispers to him. He laughed. Jesus, he laughed a lot. I missed that about him. He hasn’t laughed in a long time.
We ordered something that came in small portions that made us want to eat pizza an hour later. It was almost like a dream. The chandeliers and the diamonds sitting in the middle of the table were almost dream-like. I made another joke about how I wanted to dance on the tables like a drunken fool and he laughed and dared me to. I’m not a dare devil. Neither of us are. He ordered a chocolate cake that had a name I couldn’t spell or pronounce properly– he’d made sure to make fun of me for it. I was getting ready to eat a big spoonful of the cake. He dramatically gets up, green eyes wide, and nearly yells, “Don’t eat that!” I drop the spoon on the clean white table cloth. He pulled something from the food and wipes it off with his napkin. He gets on one knee and very romantically proposes. Everyone was looking and cheering us on. I did the worst thing ever and said no. His world shattered. It lasted us a month before we officially broke up. I saw it coming. It felt as if it were too late. I already denied his proposal.
The bed got colder and colder. It was like sleeping next to a ghost that haunted you. The idea of marriage scared me. He didn’t want to accept that. I blame the fact that my parent’s marriage never worked out. What makes you think my marriage would work!
He shouted at me and nagged me at everything I did. You’ll never make a good wife if you cook like this. You’ll never make a good wife if you say no to a proposal. I couldn’t take it. Neither could he and I left. We left the relationship. I had to leave the apartment. Now I miss him and wish I said otherwise. Now I wish I was booking wedding venues and tasting cakes. I wish I loved him the way he loved me. It was all my fault, or were truly never meant to be?
I wake up to Henry licking my face and the poisonous sun shining through my window. The birds are chirping a somber song and my phone is beeping along with it. I have a headache. It feels as if my head was thrown around and hitting the ground like a basketball. Then, someone delicately twisted my head right back. I groan and pull the phone out of my pocket. It’s a voicemail. I dial 1 for speed dial and put the password in, it was the first five letters of my last name. The answering machine’s voice can’t talk any faster. His voice reminds me of honey, it sweetened up my days. All he said was, “I miss you, too.”
Those four words told me that there was a coaptation of our lives. We’ll never be over because we are best friends, and by fate we are together.
© 2013 Giovanni Ortiz