[FICTION] How to Live in the Big City
Move to a new city. Say things like “I need a change of pace” and “It will be good for me to branch out.” Know that these are lies – you were really tired of living with your parents.
Get an efficiency apartment and a crappy job at a hotel buffet. It will just barely cover your rent. Think to yourself that this will build character. Feel proud.
Spend the first night in your new apartment. Have trouble sleeping because of the cars honking outside, the sirens. Feel weird knowing there isn’t anyone else there with you. Tell yourself that this fear will pass.
Try and get to know your coworkers: Sonya and Dennis. You three will be working together a lot. Ask them lots of questions about the city, their lives. Notice them sneak away to have a cigarette. Hold down the fort for them. Ask Sonya if she wants to go to the movies sometime. Do not be offended when she cannot go. Feel that you will be friends soon.
Explore the area around your apartment once. Take a selfie with a famous landmark. Feel stupid for doing this. Consider posting it on social media, but decide against it. Only weirdos take selfies with landmarks by themselves.
Take as many shifts as possible to avoid downtime. On your third week, catch Sonya and Dennis making out in the dry storage. Do not report this. Reassure Sonya when she confronts you, her face red. Feel your solidarity will make you all closer. Ask Sonya to go to a play with you. Do not be offended when she cannot go. Ask Dennis. Smile politely when he declines.
Check your mail every day. Feel embarrassed when a guy, pulling mail out of his slot, asks if you’re waiting for a package or something. He gets his mail at the same time as you—you recognize the song he always hums, “Fat Lip” by Sum 41. Never look directly at him. You don’t want to be weird. Tell him yes—a lie—but stop checking the mail so often. Obsess later that you should have been nicer to him. Regret not making a witty remark. Wonder if you’ve ever been witty in your life.
Watch all the good movies on Netflix. Watch all the bad movies on Netflix. Watch one episode of an anime. Watch every anime you can find. Keep the TV on constantly to keep the apartment from being too quiet. Ask Sonya and Dennis if they like anime. Realize quickly that this was a mistake. Say “Oh, yeah, me neither.” See that they do not believe you. Feel stupid for lying. Feel stupid for bringing it up.
Build a routine: Work, market, home. Try your hand at making a fancy dinner on Thursdays. Usually end up eating Ramen. Do your laundry every Tuesday evening. Clean your apartment from top to bottom on Sunday mornings, your only day off.
Reassure your mom when she calls. Say, “I’m okay.” Tell her that you’re eating well and that you get along great with your coworkers. Tell her that you love living here. Graciously accept her offer to put some money in your account every month. Promise to call home more. Hate when she calls, but don’t tell her this. It just makes you homesick.
Begin to realize that Sonya and Dennis hate you. Stop inviting them places.
Post that landmark selfie to Instagram but not Facebook. You want to show your friends back home that you’re Living the Big City Life, but you don’t want your mom to worry about the lack of friends in the post.
A homeless man on the subway tells you that you’re attractive. Thank him cautiously, but feel flattered. Reflect on this interaction when things are slow at work. Realize it’s the most meaningful interaction you’ve had in a while. Put this in the back of your mind and refuse to fall into the darkness your mind creates. You are not depressed – you’re going through a tough time. This is what it takes to build character.
Cry at night while watching your shows. Admit to yourself that you’re depressed. Remind yourself that everyone has hard times. Tell yourself that others have it harder than you. None of this makes you feel better, but it feels good to try.
Refuse to give up your routine. Know that when you stop your routine you will probably become a hermit and die. So go to the market. Pick up your usual. Give the guy at the meat stand a twenty-dollar bill and wait while he wraps your chicken breasts in brown paper.
Feel startled when he mentions he hasn’t seen you around for a while. He has sandy blonde hair and nice hands. Know he is a stalker and a murderer. Know you are his next victim. He reminds you that he waits on you almost every day. Feel like an idiot, but secretly praise yourself for being cautious. Embarrassed, tell him yes, sorry, it’s been one of those days.
Thank him when he compliments your shirt, advertising your favorite anime. Accept the wrapped chicken breasts and the phone number he’s scrawled on it. “Text me if you ever want to hang out,” he says. “It’s hard to make friends here.”
Agree and wish him a good day. Take your chicken home and throw it in the oven. Turn the TV volume up. Carefully cut the paper around the number and post it on your fridge. Tell yourself that you’ll text him, but will only see him in a public place. Just in case. Call your mom. Tell her you’re okay and almost believe it.
Moriah Howell currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she is obtaining an MFA in Fiction. She has been previously published in Burningword Literary Journal and Hot Metal Bridge Literary Magazine.