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On the Edge
On the Edge
My name is John Fitzroy. My life is as interesting as leftover Jello and about as plain as unflavored yogurt. I grew up in a neighborhood where all the houses are identical. Like in Edward Scissorhands but without the ominous-looking house at the top of the hill. In fact, there was nothing exciting at all about my small town.
Though that’s not entirely true. The best thing -- at least for me -- was Caitlyn Summers, my girlfriend of four years. She was my muse, my sunshine on a cloudy day, my everything. She was beauty personified. It’s as though she were perfection that was incarnated on but a glorious day and given a name and that name was Caitlyn. If things were not going right she would right them with the warmth of her smile or the mere glow of her personality. It’s as if she was the very air in my breath or the pulse of my heart. And when she left me for another guy, I had a stroke and I choked.
I’m sorry if I started to mislead you into thinking that this would be another mushy love story. Quite the opposite, actually. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. The neighborhood Vons was filled with chocolates, fuzzy stuffed animals and heart shaped valentine cards. Love was in the air and me being a hopeless romantic, I had a love potion brewing all of my own. And to heighten the euphoria was the fact that I was coming up on my two year milestone at my job. Perhaps it was a little ambitious but I was hoping for a raise and promotion. Things were really going my way; I felt that if I played the lottery I would have a good chance of winning. I sure felt like a winner. A beautiful girlfriend that I loved, a college education that landed me a good job as a Design Manager’s Assistant at a local architecture firm and a recently acquired two story house in the suburbs. It was cloud nine.
I bought brand new satin sheets and covered the bed with rose pedals. The whole house was lit by the soft glow of a thousand candles -- which took at least a couple of hours to set up -- and complimented with soothing jazz music. The dining room table was so ornately decorated it would have put any Christmas feast to shame and just as I was finishing the last final touches on the meal I so diligently prepared myself, Caitlyn entered as if on queue.
She paused in the doorway, stunned by my performance, so I thought. The golden candlelight made her skin glow as an angel’s would, but she did not smile.
“Oh, John.” She gasped.
“I did this all for you -- for us.” If there ever was a moment in my life where I would have recited Shakespeare’s sonnets, this would have been it. I was totally hooked on Cupid’s little arrow, so much so that I was blinded by all else around me.
“You’re not making this any easier, John.”
“I can’t do this anymore, the lying, the secrets.”
I set the frying pan down on the counter and took off my oven mitt. “I swear, I have never lied to you,” I said earnestly.
“It’s not you, it’s me.” She bit her bottom lip and her brow furrowed. “No, that’s not true. It is you, you’re too nice, I just need a guy that is willing to throw me around, force me down. You’re too nice to me.”
“I didn’t know you wanted me to be rougher with you. If that’s what you want, then I’ll try.”
“No, it’s too late.”
“Too late? It’s never too late, what are you talking about?”
“John, I’m seeing somebody else. We’re over. ”
I sat there for a full minute, unable to process what she said and by the time it finally sank in she was already out the door. That night I must have called her fifty or more times. I stayed up all night that night and for several nights after that. Food lost it’s taste to me and I lost my desire to eat any food. Needless to say, I was a wreck.
That was a Friday. I had a full weekend to sulk and rot in my emotions until work on Monday. I walked into the office that day, feeling as if a lead weight was strapped to my head. It felt impossible to carry my head up or to walk without a disgraceful slump. I knew I was unshaven, I knew I hadn’t brushed my teeth in days and that my hair was probably a little more than just a bit disheveled but I also couldn’t seem to care.
Upon my arrival, I was summoned to my boss’s office where my appearance immediately brought a concerned expression to his face. He brushed it off, however, and asked me to take a seat.
“John, we’ve needed new ideas in our company for some time.” Said my boss.
“I agree, sir.”
“Market wants innovation, not tradition and that’s what we need to give them.”
He continued talking as though he were talking to himself. “And I feel that we have a strong need for some fresh blood in this company, somebody who can provide new designs and supply the demand for innovation.”
My attention wandered for a second to his tie. Ever since I was a child, being lectured by the principle at my school about mindless and pointless things, I’ve developed the habit, or ability rather, to blank out such ramblings. Besides, I couldn’t help but notice how his tie was an olive green with cream and orange sorbet colored spots. How tacky.
“You’ve been with us almost two years now…”
“My anniversary is right around the corner, sir.”
“…and I have yet to see any new ideas from you.”
I perked to life, suddenly realizing what type of a talk this actually was. “Oh, but I have plenty of new ideas, I’ve just been waiting for the right time to release them.”
He gave me a moment of silence with his one-strike-and-you’re-out look.
“F-for example, I’ve been playing with how to effectively integrate Japanese designs with middle class American housing architecture in such a way that would be eco-friendly and light on the wallet.”
“Yes, I know. Jeff, the intern, told me he was telling you about his ideas and that he was concerned that you’d try to take credit for it.”
“The intern?” I could hardly find any air in my lungs with which to speak. Those were my ideas! I was the one who had told him about them!
“He was the intern, he’s now been promoted to a fixed position.”
Using my ideas to get the promotion that I deserved.
“He’s now the Design Manager‘s Assistant. There’s no easy way to say this but with a lack of open positions in the company, well, we’re going to have to let you go.”
It felt like somebody had ripped the rug right out from under my feet. The room started spinning gently and I could not get a grip on myself. “You’re firing me?”
“You have two weeks.”
I walked back to my desk, shell shocked as it were. Everything was fuzzy and distant like I was stuck in a bad dream. I kept thinking that maybe I’d wake up soon only to find myself back in my warm bed. But that didn’t happen, I just sat at my desk, looking around at everything that had been so familiar the last two years and couldn’t help but think how I wouldn’t have it anymore.
Just then Caitlyn entered through the front door, a small wave of relief washed over me for just a second. My guardian angel, my light, my… she walked right past me as if I were transparent. Walked right past me and to Jeff, the late intern and threw her arms around his neck. “Hey, baby.” She cooed. “Well done on your promotion.”
Talk about kicking a man while he’s down. No, talk about kicking a man below the belt and then kicking him while he’s down. I felt my ears getting hot and my teeth gritted together as a rage boiled under my skin. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I didn’t yell anything intelligible -- I just screamed, picked up the monitor off my desk and threw it to the floor, nearly breaking it into thirds. I stormed out of the office, kicking walls and other inanimate objects, while all my former co-workers sat in stone silence.
I got into my car and raced for the main street. Anger and hatred coursing through my veins. I wanted to tear the very skin off my flesh, I wanted to rip the world apart with my bare hands. The speedometer climbed from 60 mph to 90 mph. A red light loomed ahead, just then I realized that the monitor I smashed was the only thing in my office that was something I owned personally; I accelerated. The light turned green just as I came up to the intersection. I drove a little further and then pulled into the parking lot of the local grocery store and beat my fists against the wheel, setting off the horn in sporadic bursts. A couple of people looked my direction. I got out of the car and slammed the door shut, stormed into the store and went straight for the booze section. Flowers, chocolates and thousands of sentimental Valentines Day things filled the store and heightened my rage. I bought the largest bottles of gin, vodka and Jack Daniels that I could get my hands on and one over-sized stuffed teddy bear -- you know, the type that is soft and cute and holding a rose and a big heart that has loopy cursive letters that says, “I love you.”
In the parking lot, I put the alcohol into the passenger seat and put the teddy bear on the ground. I emptied the full bottle of vodka onto the innocent, loving bear and lit it on fire before I pulled out of the parking lot. I just left the little valentines bear engulfed in flames to meet his demise.
A little bit further down the road, a cop pulled me over. The husky man took his sweet time in getting out of his own perfectly polished car and walking in a condescending fashion towards mine.
“Do you know how fast you were going?” He sneered.
My mind went to my speedometer that had been at 90 not too long before. “No, officer, I don’t.”
“Sixty-two, that’s seven miles above the posted speed limit.”
A bit of relief came over me knowing that it was all he saw. “That’s it? I thought that was okay, officer.”
“You’re near a school zone.”
“Yes, near it, but not in it.”
The officer’s jaw tightened and I could tell that under those 80’s style sunglasses he was thinking only the most unpleasant of thoughts.
“Is that alcohol in your passenger seat?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t drinking, I --”
“Step out of the vehicle, sir. Would you mind explaining the empty vodka bottle then?”
What was I going to say? “No officer, I didn’t drink the vodka, I used it to commit arson. Are we square now?” No, that’s not what I was about to say. I just bit my bottom lip and let the anger brew inside.
Needless to say, it was not my day. Nor was it my year and I ventured to assume it wasn’t my century either. There are certain times in a person’s life, times when the cloud parts and they are given a pot of gold or something tantamount in luck or prosperity. This was not one of those times. In fact this was a perfect opposite. I’ll spare you the insignificant, ugly details of what happened in the following month but I will tell you that after plastering my town with my resume, the only job I was able to land was working at the coffee shop making espressos and lattes. With that pay grade, I was not able to keep up with the payments to my dream house and so I lost it to the bank. I wound up with a debt and no house and a screwed credit rating.
The real salt on the wound was the fact that the coffee shop was only a spitting distance from the firm and so I got to see many of my former co-workers. Worse, they got to see me in my ridiculous coffee shop uniform with a bunch of high school students as co-workers. In civilizations of the past they would do many different things as punishment to people who had transgressed in some fashion or another. Things as cruel as dragging them naked through the streets until they died in utter disgrace. I felt such a treatment would be paradise in comparison especially as my biggest transgression was being a door mat for people to walk all over.
Jeff did a nice job of spreading some slander about me at the firm so every time an employee would become my customer at the coffee shop, it was always accompanied with a look or attitude that I was a convict or that I had a radioactive growth on my face that was contagious somehow. I’d go into the back where I was out of sight and I’d punch the concrete wall so hard that I’d bleed and lose feeling in my knuckles. I would kick and destroy as many cups or paper trays that I could get my hands on. Though I was trying to vent and release some of my anger, it never subsided and it would only grow at the sight of my mutilated hands.
I found myself trying so many different things to try to get rid of my rage. I went to the shooting range and fired out as many rounds on a 45 until the gun jammed. I punched my pillow so many times, it eventually burst into a cloud of down feathers. I even tried more subtle things like taking a bubble bath with scented candles while listening to Enya and the only outcome was that, afterwards, I wanted to drown myself to reclaim my masculinity.
I went to church, I got baptized once. I went home still angrier than a hornets nest. I got baptized twice. Still, no matter how much I tried to lay my troubles on the door of divinity I still found that the smallest thing would set me off.
I read “How to Control Your Anger Before it Controls You,” and “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.” I read those books at least twice each before ripping them apart and lighting them on fire. I had developed an unusual desire to burn anything I didn’t like. It’s not like I was constantly in a state of rage but anything that remotely reminded me of how I’d lost everything and been backstabbed would ignite the flames within and when I’d be set off, I could not find nothing that would extinguish the fire.
Now, you’re probably thinking that this story is a bit of a downer and I’d like to call your attention to the phrase “Every cloud has a silver lining.” This isn’t a Shakespeare tragedy like Romeo and Juliet where he takes a poison to commit suicide as he didn’t get the word that her death was only faked for their love. Then she awakes just in time to see his last dying breath and he has that miniscule moment where he sees that his lover is actually alive before he dies. Devastated by his death, she spews sad poetry before spewing her own blood with a dagger. They both die. My story is not like that. And I’m sorry if I ruined the ending of Romeo and Juliet for you but you should have seen it by now anyway as it’s been in existence long enough for you to have seen it. The ending of that play is very unfortunate, to say the least. Personally, every time I watch a new version of it I’m thinking in the back of my mind that maybe, just hopefully, this one will have a happy ending where they both live. Not likely. It would be like taking the list out of the movie “Schindler’s List” Needless to say it’s a play that plucks your emotions like a harp but that is neither here nor there in regards to my story, my series of unfortunate events. Like I said, “Every cloud has a silver lining” but the tides didn’t turn for me until one day, weeks later. I wouldn’t know it then but it was the day that would change my life forever.
It was a fair day with fair weather. Children playing in the streets of the small neighborhood where my grandmother lived. I was to visit her, it was part of my regular routine. I pulled up to her house, the white picket fence reminded me of what would have been a perfect life with Caitlyn. I could almost see our children playing in the yard, their new bikes leaning against that white fence, the smell of freshly mowed grass blowing in the Summer breeze. I imagined Caitlyn sitting on the porch reading her favorite mystery-romance novel sipping lemonade and then out the front door came a man -- it was Jeff, laughing mawkishly, holding my would-be wife. My fists clenched and eyes narrowed. I could feel the adrenaline start to pour through my veins. It just wasn’t fair. Why me? A garden gnome looked up at me, a wide grin spread across his porcelain face, taunting me. I wanted to punt him and send his little head into the neighbor’s yard but a strong love for my grandma kept that desire in check. I walked heavy-footed through the front door, every muscle in my body tense with hate. My grandma looked up from the couch where she was knitting a blanket. “Hello, sweetie. How are you?”
“Honestly? I’ve seen better days.” I vented.
She gave a concerned look. “What’s wrong?”
“I --” A sharp whistle came from the kitchen, breaking my explanation.
“One second, hun, let me get that. Will you hold this for a second?” She asked, holding up the needles and the blanket.
I nodded and took her place on the couch as she left to the kitchen. The needles would be perfect for stabbing Jeff’s eye, I thought. I looked at the thin metal needles in curiosity and the more I thought about it, I realized I could probably get his heart with the needle as it would miss the rib cage. A heart for a heart, that seemed reasonable to me. Tit for tat. He stole my perfect life and it would be fitting that I take his life. I would never commit such a cold blooded act but the idea tickled my imagination and it seemed to fuel the gentle fury that burned so deep within me.
Just then my grandma sat down and smiled. “You look like you know what you’re doing with those.”
“Contrary, grandma, I have no clue how these work.”
“Well,” she started, “You want to grab this string with the hook of this needle.” I did as she said. “Good, now you take the other needle and grab this other string, bringing it under -- there you go. Then you come the other way, like -- exactly. You’re a natural. Now, repeat that pattern.”
“Repeat that, over and over?”
“It’s that simple.”
“It’s that monotonous.”
“Try it, hun. Do a couple patterns.” And so I did. She sat there with me for about twenty minutes while I repeated the pattern over and over. The light clicking of the needles fell into a rhythm and I was so focused on the blanket that all else around me seemed to fade away, even my troubles and my anger. It felt like somebody had pulled the plug on my emotions and all that pent up anger was draining out. I felt relieved; I smiled for the first time in a month.
My grandma eventually broke the silence. “What were you going to tell me earlier?”
“Earlier? Uh, I don’t remember.” I kept on knitting.
A week later I was driving down the main road. It must have been couple’s day or something because there didn’t seem to be a single person walking down the street that wasn’t with a significant other and they all looked so happy. I felt like everybody was plotting this just to spite me. My ears started getting hot and my muscles tensed. I quickly pulled over and took the keys out of the ignition to prevent myself from doing anything rash. I looked up and guess what I saw? An arts and crafts store. A “ping” went off in my head, signaling a potential epiphany. Maybe this was meant to be. I walked into the store and found myself some knitting needles and yarn. The lady at the counter was slowly counting the change and my hands were shaking with impatience and hate. I grabbed the change fast, surprising the poor lady. The only thing I could do was give a forced smile before taking the money and walking out the door.
Once I was home I ripped the packet of yarn open with frustration. My unsteady, angry hands clanked the needles together as I spat out all manner of profanities under my breath. But, lo and behold, as soon as I started on the blanket I again felt the anger drain out of me. I was happy and relieved and the whole thing just seemed so silly. I laughed to myself and at myself for overreacting. The colors in the room seemed more vibrant then before and I felt that vitality, rather than hate, now coursed through my veins. I was, once again, at peace with myself.
It wasn’t too long after that before I was offered a desk job in a town that was several hundred miles away. The job description mainly involved talking to prospective clients over seas and then turning them over to a sales representative. Easy as pie. I moved from my pad in my small town to a bachelor apartment that was a reasonable commute to my new nine-to-five. The change of environment was therapeutic in itself but every now and then I would find something that would set me off. I had turned into the Incredible Hulk without being so incredible or strong. In fact, the main thing I had in common with the Hulk was how we both got very angry at different things. However, I had found the moderator that nullified any catalyst-like stimuli in my environment, preventing a nuclear explosion. That moderator was knitting with needles and yarn. I kept one set at my apartment, one in my car and the other at my desk. Whenever I’d feel the flames start to ignite I’d extinguish them by picking up the needles and start knitting. It was my fail-proof fail-safe.
Months went by and I put in my time in the daily grind. Clocking in, clocking out day after day. Knitting blankets slowly made a transition from my anger moderator to a favorable pastime. Before I knew it I had more blankets than you can shake a knitting needle at. I can’t remember if it was my own idea or if a friend tipped me off but I found myself on the internet selling some of them. I didn’t ask for much and I only sold them through websites that were free to join as I didn’t expect that anybody would actually buy them. I figured I had nothing to lose and it’s worth trying to make a few extra dollars. I finished uploading the photos on Tuesday night. That Friday morning I received the final shipping order and I had made just under three grand. That’s almost as much as I made in two months at my desk job. From there I was knitting at every chance I could get. I knitted while eating, I knitted at home and I knitted while talking to people on the phone at work. I earned the title of “Old Lady” amongst my colleagues, which would have annoyed me if my being an old lady hadn’t put me into a new tax bracket.
Soon I started looking for a real house, combing the neighborhoods for “For Sale” signs but I got side tracked by an elderly person’s home. There it was, sitting in the heart of a residential area. I got out of my car, grabbed my needles and yarn and went inside. The smell of mothballs or formaldehyde -- or whatever it is they put in retirement homes to make them smell that way -- had hit my nose but I didn’t seem to mind. I was too happy to be bothered. I sat down besides some senior citizens, held up my needles and yarn, giving them a goofy smile and started knitting. Perhaps I stereotyped the elderly unjustly in thinking that they must love knitting. A wrinkled, hunched man quickly disabused me of that notion.
“What are you, a faggot or something?”
“No, I, uh --” I was severely caught off guard. “What makes you say that?”
“Why are you knitting, faggot boy?”
“I thought I could knit with you guys, you know, for fun.”
“Do we look like we give a shit about knitting?”
“My grandma, she --”
“Nobody gives a damn! Just because we’re old. Hell, I’ve served in more wars than the history books teach and you think I care about knitting.”
An old lady turned to me, her right hand shaking slightly. “He’s right you know, nobody here knits.”
“If you really want to make us happy, dear, you can help fix our TV,” said another woman.
I looked up to the corner where a small TV played some soap opera program. It was difficult to see through the fuzz and I noticed that those around the room who were trying to watch the TV were doing so with painful strain.
So I had an idea. I went to Circuit City and looked for the biggest flat-screen TV I could get my hands on.
A sales lady saw me gawking at the Samsung 55 inch 3D LED Ultra Slim HDTV. “Sunday night football?” She asked.
“No, actually it’s for the Kingsley Retirement Home. That’s not a bad idea though.”
“A 55 inch TV screen? I doubt that’s what they need.” Her hazel eyes studied me curiously.
“Well, that’s what I thought but it’s sort of what they want and it’s what would make them happy and at this stage of their life, I figure that their happiness is what’s important so I must oblige.”
“That and seeing their loved ones. Do you have family there?”
“No, well, see --” I couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was. She had a natural beauty that was plain but vibrant without the necessity of make up. I got the feeling that she was stable and content, it was nice. “Ah, it’s a long story.”
She smiled. “So you’re just randomly donating the most expensive TV we have to a retirement home?”
“Kind of, yeah. Is that crazy?”
“No, it’s very sweet.”
And so I purchased the TV and I personally delivered it to the retirement home. The spirit of Christmas came early for me and I felt fantastic. It’s said that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach I guess the same can be said for that particular group of elderly except that the way to their hearts was through a new TV screen. In short, we became good friends and I visited them often.
I continued to knit and I explored new colors and styles and I soon won recognition for my work, getting my picture published in a magazine. After that, orders were coming in faster than I could ever imagine. I was able to charge top dollar for my blankets as it was supply and demand. Before long I had more money than I knew what to do with. It turned into a second job just to figure out how to spend the money before the government took an unjust portion to taxes. With all the money I opened up my own company. Twenty-five percent of our profits went out to help the elderly. And the rest of the story unfolded like that of Forrest Gump.
Oh, and that beautiful girl from Circuit City, I got her number and eventually took her on a date. A few years down the road I asked her to marry me and a year after that we had our first child. I didn’t need to do the knitting any more as my company had over thirty employees just for knitting and another eleven sales and administrative staff to export and sell the hand knitted blankets around the world. However, I still found myself knitting the occasional blanket here and there.
As for my anger, it was in the distant past, buried under so much joy and happiness, I doubt that it would ever surface again.