I don’t make friends easily, and I lose them even worse. That’s the curse of being the owl in the eaves, the outsider, the observer. Having a purpose and knowing my place are both nice, but out here on the periphery life can be difficult. It’s like living in a bubble made from two-way mirrors: so close to the world, but invisible and unable to reach out and touch what’s on the other side of the glass.
The bubble is good for so many things. It provides the objectivity that I need in order to write believable dialogue, for example. For a person with a brain broken in the same manner as mine the bubble provides tremendous emotional security, too. They can’t hurt you if they can’t get through the glass. I live in a cell of my own design.
But goddamn, sometimes it gets lonely inside the bubble. Sometimes I don’t want to be an observer but a participant. A guy can only talk to characters on a sheet of paper for so long, so occasionally I crack open the hatch and I let someone in: Lee G., Hal the Drummer, Matt, Jarod, Jody. Now and then I step outside the hatch and try to be something I’m not: the illustration major; the record store manager; the man worthy of a Jody.
All of the roommates except for Jarod moved to Athens, Georgia. I moved the drawing table into the empty bedroom. Between work, school, and his weekend trips to Athens, Jarod and I rarely saw each other, and when we did we offered no more than passing acknowledgement grunts.
The death spiral from close friends to barely speaking was difficult for me. Jarod and I went through a lot together: the beach ride; his accident; our first apartment. I guess my tight-ass-edness over things like paying the rent sucked the fun out of me. Who wants to hang out with a nineteen-year-old who is concerned with whether the freezer needs defrosting? Up in Athens they were having one long party and the poor bastard was stuck rooming with Felix from The Odd Couple.
School wasn’t any better for my mood, all those snotty rich kids who didn’t have to work full-time jobs. No wonder their work was so much better than mine. That wasn’t it, and I knew it. I was an art school fraud. The only reason SCAD accepted me was for my tuition checks.
It was definitely time to crawl back into the cave, to paint the inside of the bubble black and lock the hatch. Time to quit my job and retreat to the back of the classroom until the end of the semester, where I could write and doodle and pretend that I didn’t care about all of the poseurs of whom I was secretly jealous.
That mean little bastard voice was back, looking for more ways to prove that I was a worthless failure. If only someone would be honest with me I could bail out.
Ben Morris was honest with me. He took one look at my Drawing Three final and thought it was a joke. Stan was honest. He called me as he saw me–a fuck up. Jody never was, though. Even now that she was in New York and had no vested interest in keeping me out of the bubble, she still told me that I was brilliant and beautiful. I couldn’t figure out her game. She didn’t need to hustle me, she had her own life now.
I sat down at my drawing table to work on my Illustration final. I taped down a sheet of nice drawing paper, grabbed a conte crayon, and let it fly. Lines appeared on my paper, lines I didn’t draw. I pulled up the paper and ran my hand over the table’s smooth surface. Dozens of long, straight cuts crisscrossed the table.
When Jarod came home from work I asked him what happened to my drawing table.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s all cut up.”
“Oh, I was working on my project for Three Dimensional Design.”
“So why didn’t you cut on a piece of cardboard?”
“Relax,” he said.
“No, I’m not going to relax. You fucked up my drawing table.”
“No, it isn’t. Look at this sheet of paper. Do you see those lines? Those are your cuts. That should be a flat area of color, but I’m picking up the gouges you put in my table.”
Jarod rolled his eyes. “I’ll sand your fucking drawing table, okay? Lighten up.”
“Why not? You’re doing a great job.”
“I don’t know, Scott. I guess it’s just too much with school.”
“Well, I can understand that, but I’d hate to lose you. Why don’t you hold off making a decision until you get back from your folks’ after Christmas?”
“Okay,” I said.
When I got home that night I discovered that Jarod packed up and took off for Athens. We didn’t speak again for almost two years.
I turned in my Illustration final, a poster design for the old Burt Lancaster movie Birdman of Alcatraz. It was horrible, but I tried not to care. I lingered after class, packed up my stuff slowly so that I was only with Traci, my teacher. I walked slowly toward the door, little worry lines emanating from my head. I probably sighed a few times, too.
“Everything okay?” Miss Haymans finally asked.
“Do you ever wonder whether you belong?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like if you have what it takes,” I said.
“You mean if you have talent?”
“Yeah. How do you know whether you’re a fraud? If you’re lying to yourself you’ll never know it, and the school doesn’t care how bad you are as long as the checks cash.”
Traci stopped packing up her things and looked at me with her giant Keane eyes, her delicate face framed by her thick, black curls. “Is that what you think?” she asked. Her tone did not convey armchair therapist or SCAD employee coached to conceal the hustle.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’re wrong,” she said softly. “You have enormous talent. Don’t give up, and don’t let anybody distract you. You have a great future waiting for you.”
“Okay,” I said, and I tried not to cry.
“I’ll see you back after Christmas,” she said.
My girl was gone, my buddy was gone, and my job was gone, but Traci Haymans wouldn’t let me burn my whole house down. That mean little bastard voice inside of me didn’t know what hit him.