The sea churned. Her black frothy waters crashed against the rickety wooden hull. Jarring me and my mates two and fro, from port to starboard and back again. Like drunkards, we grasped for whatever wasn’t moving lest we be thrown overboard and swallowed whole by her vastness. The storm raged on.
Each lightning crack allowed just enough illumination for me to take a visual of who had succumbed to the ocean's wrath. By my limited sight, I gathered all were present. However, they may have wished they weren’t considering the fate that would soon follow. The calamity awakened more than fear. It awoke something ancient and diabolical from its depths. In a flash of chaos, she whipped out from beneath, her slimy tentacles the size of the tree trunks hugged the ship, gripping tightly as battered wood cracked and splintered. I found solid ground but only for a moment,... a cruel moment where I witnessed my fate sealed. The last nail in the coffin.
The storm settled just enough to show me its design. It wanted me to know that it was taking me and my men under.
Water rushed in from all ends as the ship was pulled under, willed by its mightiest beast. Terror intensified as I watched the bow slowly dip down below the sight of the horizon. Before I would submit, before I would let this be my end, I gathered the last bit of strength I had and bust out my pocket time machine. Two shakes and no time to waste, the seedy merchant said. Figuring I was a couple more feet from my death, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.
One two and boom, I was back in time, set to never go on the voyage. I had seemed to miscalculate my trajectory because everybody around me had bowls on their heads and pistols that shot light. It was totally rad; I stayed there and became their king. Played games all day, ate as much as I wanted, and I decreed waking up before ten A.M. was considered torture.
Uggah Ok, I think that is enough writing for today. I’ll have to reconsider redoing the bit where the main character goes back in time. There needs to be another solution. I can't think of one. It’s fun and all, and a great release for minor frustration brought on by the notorious writer’s block, but I don’t want to forget again and leave it in. I should probably head to bed. It’s getting late and I have work tomorrow. Before ten should really be considered torture.
I can’t rightfully say how, or why, I ended up where I ended up. I suppose I was just told to. Like so many of us thrust onto the proverbial hamster wheel. We have to follow a set path to this preconceived idea of what an exemplary member of society should be. Usually status, pressure, and image dictate your destiny. At that point is it even destiny anymore? I’m not entirely sure if I’m being totally honest. Maybe a twenty eight year old bank teller shouldn’t be thinking big picture, I should probably just make sure I’m not late.
“I really gotta bring headphones on these walks.”
Good drive-thru duty again, I could be alone, well not entirely. I still have to gather for the morning huddle, and the afternoon one, and the after-work one. So many huddles, and please can we stop calling it a huddle. We are not a sports team. In fact, we are not a team at all. If points were accumulated by how many people we could financially trouble by selling them a credit card they didn’t need, then I think we’d be winning. That I would consider huddling over.
I suppose the one good thing about this job is that when it wasn’t so busy I could gander out the window like a mannequin sporting the newest purple men’s dress shirt. I got to think about all the stories I want to write. All the wonderful tales in my head. I would play them out and watch them come to life just outside the bulletproof glass. Dragons and Vikings. Aliens, warriors, heroes, all playing out like my personal movie. One ticket sold. The cost, my sanity.
Now you might ask yourself aren’t you a little old for daydreams. Well, considering I peaked at twelve, I think I’m right on cue. Not only that, but one of the richest women in England wrote a story about witches and wizards. I’m sure she saw Harry bouncing around in the bushes just outside her window in the breakfast nook.
In case you haven’t noticed, I like to write; I like to tell stories. Stories that garner genuine emotion with an abundant relatability that lets you escape but remember who you are all in one. I can honestly say I much more than like it. It is an existential part of my being. I almost have to do it. I feel like it was meant for me.
Sorry, that was quite the leap. The funniest thing was, despite all these undeniable truths; aside from that short tale about the time traveling pirate, I haven’t written in decades. Funny how life works sometimes, isn’t it.
I was jostled from my innocent hypnosis when that all too familiar bring rang out, notifying me a car just pulled up. It wasn’t loud, but it always reverberated in my head. Maybe because a majority of the time I was here, I really wasn't. That ding was my alarm, waking me up from a pleasant dream and shoved me into a nightmare.
“Hello, how are you welcome to East Side Bank, How can I help you?” I will never get over how cheesy I sound.
“Yes Hi, this might be an odd request considering I’m in the drive-thru, but I’d like to apply for a credit card. Can I do that here?” You can, but I’m super not in the mood, go away.
“Of course, that’ll be just five simple questions I’ll enter it in. Shouldn’t take more than a day. I’ll call you if you’re approved. Sound good?”
The rest of my team must have been listening because when I turned the corner, the lot of them fired off their party horns, filling the lobby with an annoying screech you wouldn’t even want to hear on new years
“Hey, all right, congrats on your sale today!” my manager shouted
Please, why? I’ve been doing this for over a year. And why do we have so many party supplies in a bank? We sell mortgages. Plus, I didn’t do shit.
“Hehe. Thanks, guys.”
Just as things began to settle down, and the celebration was all but past, my manager with the same vibrant energy asked.
“Listen Jay, we could really use that enthusiasm. You think you could come in this weekend? It would really help.”
What she was really saying was:
“We are short-staffed because nobody wants to work here. They got tired of having to check their morality at the door, sell products people don’t need, and work for a commission that mostly goes to the top. And you’ve been working weekends the past two months, so I know you’re gonna say yes, cause you’re an idiot.”
“Sure I can do that.” Is how I always answered.
I’m an adult now and this is how it works, right? Always say yes, work whenever you can, even if you hate it. It’s your duty right?.... Right?
The long walk back home only mustered up more feelings of dreams I had lost, and time I had let slip by. Was I doing the right thing? Is this where I’m supposed to be? People follow their dreams, why didn’t I?
That desolate headspace and ample amount of time before I reached the front door of my apartment allowed me to ponder those questions.
When I was a kid, I was told I had a gift.
“Wow, this kid could write,’’ They would say.
“Oh man, you’re the next Stephen King,lookout.”
“I'll hang onto this, use it as an example. Great work.”
Teachers, family, and friends alike would tell me this all the time. Although not too long after, those same people would tell me that endeavor was useless.
“Writing is only going to get you so far.”
“That’s enough now. You need to get a job and quit messing around.”
“You will not make any money writing about fantasy.”
The answers were right in front of me. I was told I should give it up and it would amount to nothing. Relieving the viscous train of thought never got me anywhere. Maybe it wasn’t what these people said, that was the problem, maybe it was the fact I believed them.
Scouring the internet was my staple before bed routine. I knew it was a bad idea. It’s probably what kept me from sleeping, but yet here we are. Maybe I should read, or meditate, or even better yet, put my money where my mouth is and write.
Staring at the blank screen hard enough to see its pixels. I finally stirred. In an all-out attempt to forge ahead and follow my destiny. I began clicking away on my keyboard like a man possessed, wriggling my fingers like Beethoven would when he tickled the ivories. Top ten football hits, I typed in the search bar. I watched the first video that came up. Maybe I’ll write tomorrow.
I like to round out the night with a quick scroll through social media. There is nothing I like more than sleepless nights thinking about all my friends living a better life than me. if that doesn’t do it I cringe till morning thinking about all my past status back in 2015. What was I thinking then? What was I thinking… ever?
Kyle Witmore took wakeboarding lessons. Nice, good for you, dude.
Why do people keep posting ten sounds from the nineties that’ll make you cry? And why do I keep watching it?
Here we go, another well-placed ad I haven’t seen since a second ago. What will Google suggest for me this time? I’ve been careful. I even turned off my Alexa. Still, it didn’t matter. Something caught my eye immediately. In big bold white letters, it read: WRITING CONTEST. Ok, that is a little eerie but the internet usually is. Enter your short story and you could have a chance at five thousand dollars and a spot on our upcoming book set to release sometime in spring.
Man, wouldn’t that be something, huh? A dream come true. A chance to prove everybody wrong.
Eh, I don’t think I have a shot. I should really turn my ad blocker on.
Too much excitement better pop in some unlikely animal friend videos before I hit the hay.
The proverbial battle went on. Work an unreasonable amount of hours, come home, sleep, barely eat, rinse and repeat. All the while, my mind clouded with the same ruminating thoughts and questions. What am I doing? Am I ok with this? What do I want? Drowning in the mundane and the bitter taste of unhappiness, I broke down. The work situation helped little. It seems my coworkers shared my sentiment, but unlike me; they got out of dodge. That just meant more fake adulation for me, hiding the truth that we need you to work constantly and wear all the hats. We’ll just disguise it with praise.
When you work in the bank industry you never even fathom the concept of getting robbed. Sure relentless drills and countless meetings about procedures would tell you otherwise. To me, they were all synonymous with workplace safety videos. All for legal purposes I thought. I was never gonna drop a hammer on my toe or catch some falling debris without a hard hat. Just an afterthought right?
Sunday afternoon. Yep, Sunday we were one of the only banks open, and we toted it every second we could. So much so that this fine young man who was down on his luck, and looking for a little thrill and a quick and super illegal way to make money sought out that convenience, how nice.
Being that I was the only teller left. I was the only teller working. Drive-thru and upfront duty. Along with marketing, operations, scheduling, sales, and office assistant. I had to make sure we had enough party hats in case someone sold a home equity. Obviously, I was the one to receive the note disguised as a deposit slip written with specific instructions. He wanted, ex amount of money, no tracer and he had a gun. Congrats on taking the time to think this out buddy you thought of everything huh? Like I said although I worked at a place that got robbed the most I never would have thought.
Frozen in absolute fear and shock, I slowly tried to eek some semblance of thought in my panicked mind. Dripping in like a broken facet I remember protocol, Follow protocol. Then again protocol usually dictates someone else should be here with me, but eh not today, screw it right. Let's only follow rules when we can. First and foremost sell, sell, sell. Just out of habit I considered asking the gentlemen if he would consider a credit card. Wow, I am brainwashed. Ok, ok, they always say to call a supervisor when you don't know what you are doing. I pulled my hand back immediately like the phone was on fire. Nice move, me. A robber asks for money grab for external communication he won't mind right. I don't know I was just going through my Rolodex of pre-programmed solutions
My initial flight or fight response had finally settled in. Through bouts of trying not to pass out or puke. I ran to the back, grabbed what I could, and all but chucked the cash at him.
He sped off promptly after. What followed was the usual arrangement: police, questioning, customers yelling at you because the store was closed. No yeah come on in, the police tape is just decoration. Halloween in July, fun new thing we're doing. Do you like it?
I felt numb, tired, and in shock all at the same time. Feels like someone shot me with adrenaline after downing a bottle of Ambien. I was firmly planted in unreality. Currently things were going bad and this was the cherry on top. What do I do now I thought?
I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go right back at it the next day. I’m a glutton for punishment, what can I say? It was so inconceivably etched in my brain that this was what I had to do. This was the plan. Work, work, work. Everybody has a hard time, it’s just life. I don’t know, did it have to suck this bad?
I opened up my email the same as I do every morning. This is how we communicate throughout our region. Seven or eight branches, run by power-hungry trolls and their obedient puppets. Who sold what? Who worked 15 days in a row, and was ecstatic about it? Who sacrificed themselves to the bank gods for ever flowing personal loans. Stuff to get you really motivated ya know.
This particular day though…I expected it to be different. A bank robbery had just taken place at one of their sister stores, and a fellow employee was in the line of fire. Well wishes and good vibes are what I expected. Or even silence would be fine. They bragged about how family-oriented we are so it’s fair to assume that’s what I’d get.
Quite the opposite in fact. Blistering emails spammed my inbox. Shouting about a brand new credit card contest. A whole bracket had been set up tournament-style WHO COULD SELL THE MOST,In big purple letters. Underneath it was a well-placed note from my appointed arch-nemesis. Round one you’re GOING DOWN JAY. Just below that an ancient roman emperor, looked like Joaquin Phoenix from the gladiator with a cartoonishly big thumbs down.
“Excuse me what? Where am I going?” I couldn’t tell you why but this filled me with unfamiliar rage. “Did anybody hear the news? Can they just quit it for all of two seconds? “
I’m going down?!
What the fuck man.
In my inconceivable bout of anger, I kicked the box of lollipops under the desk. I should have felt good about my small act of rebellion. Finally I’m showing some emotion. But my foot got stuck, kind of killed the mood and made me feel like an asshat.
I turned the box around against the wall to hide the evidence.
I took care of the line of customers keeping the unpleasant interaction at bay as best I could. Right after the afternoon rush, I began to cool down just in time for an untimely, fake, cheerful call from my manager. I picked up the phone. My first thought was why are you calling me? I can see you? Next came the emphatic HI!!! The kind of greeting you’d get from someone you haven’t seen in a while for good reason. “So Jay, listen as you know we are a bit understaffed currently. Would you mind working the weekend?”
Like a bellow to embers, my anger reignited. I hunched over, clutching my chest. I saw all too perfectly my future right before my eyes. There I was behind the teller window, a beer gut, an impenetrable 5 o’clock shadow, setting up streamers for the 55th national, Oh my, gosh you sold a safe deposit box awards.
In an attempt to keep a full-blown panic attack at bay, I began to breathe slowly. I closed my eyes for a second to shut out that horrid image. And that’s when I saw it in big bold white letters, all caps painted on the inside of my eyelids: WRITING CONTEST. Money. and even better a chance to be published. I opened my eyes, reclaiming a new vigor inside my almost defeated body. I calmly responded.
“I don’t think I’ll be working this weekend Sue. or anymore in fact because I quit.” I hung up. The statement would have had a lot more impact if I didn’t have to finish my shift. Talk about awkward.
That night and the weeks to follow, I threw myself into my work. Feverishly mapping out what I would write. To my utter surprise, I was able to find some really wonderful groups and message boards full of even more wonderful people with the same ambitions as me. Wow, this is what I was missing all along. It seems like this community was waiting for me this whole time.
Incensed with a whole new desire and visions of a better future. I began to write. Like a madman, I drove my whole being into my piece. Sputtering out my best ideas. Curating stories that would rival Mr. Tolkien. Twists worthy of O’Henry. I kept the fire extinguisher close. The keyboard emitted trails of smoke as my fingers clamored at Mach speed. It was amazing, it was so good I can’t even tell you. A small synopsis would only belittle its excellence, it had to be consumed in its full form. Glad I nixed the story about the kid entering the writing contest, super lame and way too meta.
Moments after I hit the submit button, barely clearing the deadline. I had a moment of clarity. I left my job for a chance at a prize that is out of reach. Expecting unemployment to take care of me for how long? Oh boy, what did I do? ….I guess I just wait?
Finally, the day had come. I didn’t sleep a wink. It was like Christmas morning. Anxiously waiting for the email confirmation announcing the winners like a crazed fan waiting to see who won American Idol.
Ding, they were in. I frantically scanned the page. Congratulations once, twice, three times followed by names and story titles, none of which were mine. I kept scanning, hoping I would see my name magically appear like food in the fridge the second time you opened it. But no, I had to surrender to the fact I didn’t win.
I felt like a giant goofball. Utterly defeated, and out of time. Before I let regret totally overcome me, I heard another assertive ding. But this time it was from one of my friends in the groups I had joined going into the contest.
“I loved your story man, I think you should have won.”
“Great piece. You’re quite the storyteller.”
“How long have you been writing? I would love to collaborate with you sometime.”
Like the closing bell on Wall Street, the dings rang out all day. Each filling me with a bit of hope.
The support rejuvenated the reason I was there. I knew there was a high probability I wasn’t taking home the prize. What I really came here for was for me. Why stop at the beginning?
When you take a giant leap, sometimes you land in your dreams. I've been through a lot. I owe it to myself to try. I have to stay strong to the belief that if you follow your passion, everything will fall into place.
Someone once told me it’s amazing what you can create with a pen. And I intended to prove him right.