His friends were doing better than him, he thought. So there's this one friend, alright — he's basically freelancing every day on a set. Another friend was working for a production company, and then there was this other guy (not really a friend, but he knew him and called him a friend), who was working on a shoot involving...Martin Scorsese?
Bray made any attempt he could representing himself. He wrote a lot of short stories, made a few videos, shared them — it was only one film he'd done that soared attention for one night. It was one of the best nights of his life, which involved Nalani sitting right beside him. Months passed, and here he was, spending every day in his apartment, trying to make something and feeling out of touch with just about every thing. Nalani, working at a visual effects company, still would hear Bray complain every day about how he wasn't where he wanted to be, yet.
The more he saw people on Facebook or Instagram post about their work, he felt threatened. He saw the massive "likes" and "hearts", the shares for one's post. Though, whenever he posted something, he saw nothing. It's an odd thing to get worked up over, why is that? He would ask himself if it's because his work sucks or because he sucks as a person. He even convinced himself he wouldn't amount to anything since no one ever noticed him, socially. No one wanted to work with him? No one wanted to really get to know him? This was the shit, you see...so, when someone he knew got shares or likes, he'd grow envious and rather spiteful to himself and the people he knew. Here was a jealous man, who wanted to be noticed, who wanted to be respected, and who wanted a chance.
It was this thought that altered Bray's attitude within the last few months. It is the reason Nalani and him had to break up, but then it became the reason Nalani had to not even speak to him, no more. He became impatient, started antagonizing himself, and there was only one person who truly saw him this way. A "toxic"' exchange, she told him. What happened to that guy I met at the Fat Cat?
Indeed, what happened Bray? You did good, but something hit you, deep.
He mixed competition with envy, and being a filmmaker had a much more realistic, hurtful truth to its tune than he could've ever imagined. He wasn't particularly good at anything other than writing or directing? The filmmaking business, right now, in New York, is all about finding the technicians. Is he a technician? No. Was finding staff writing jobs, hard? Yes. There's too much to get into for the subject matter, but every day of the early year and after graduation became a bleak and fearful discovery.
Nalani, on the other hand, wanted a break. She wanted to not work and spend time for herself. She never understood why Bray couldn't do just that. Spend time with himself. Bray couldn't just not work every day, it's almost as if both of them wished they could switch places for a bit.
"Everybody is shit, Bray. They're irrelevant because you have to do what you want, and the only thing that matters is if you love doing what you do. If you don't then maybe this isn't for you." Nalani once said to him.
He took the last bit to heart, and he would tell her it isn't about doing what you love, but if doing what you love will get you somewhere. He wrote this narrative in his head, this fuckin' narrative that only people who've kind of quit, make.
There is no need to describe all the days Bray would get this way. There is no need to describe more of what amounted to the moment at the Cinnamon Snail. It happened, and it sucked. The two of them, sitting across from one another. Their hateful goodbye and the saddening after effect. He just needed to hear he was good, but why?
It's been two weeks, now. Bray was getting used to being alone, but would get emotional for maybe an hour. He would look at the mirror and repeatedly say:
"You can do this... You can do this... You — yeah, you. You can do this."
He messaged a friend during the first five days since Nalani and he last spoke and would ask how she was doing till he realized he needed to stop. Random thoughts came to his head — the idea of Nalani talking to her ex again, or if she's talking to some new guy or girl, and if she was hooking up and "loved" Bray, not love — stop, stop.
Those thoughts weren't as bad as this one... Does she really believe I don't understand why she had to do what she had to do?
He knew, but he didn't want her to believe he didn't "get it." Today was a new day and he was going back to Long Island. He lost about four pounds, he was feeling healthier and hadn't eaten meat in three weeks now.
He was quieter and read more articles on accepting yourself and learning to spend more time, alone. In the train back to Valley Stream, he looked out the window to see city buildings turn by the dashing speed of the train, into green suburbia. He exited the station and saw the vastness of cut shaven grass and aging pavements. The air was fresh and by the cab stand, he saw an old bearded white man, taking a piss.
His mother was drying the wet plates with a smock, they were in the kitchen. She asked him about the job search and it led to an argument, the kind you have with your mom that feels like the same one the last time you saw her. But this time, Bray didn't get irritated or mad, he was scared, his mother hasn't seen him in such a way before, but he looked at her and a tear dropped.
"I know something is wrong, but you have to tell me. What is it?" She asked. He stared out the window, at his dog, with his arms stretching upward and exhaling a heavy breath.
"You know about what happened, Mom." He said.
"What happened, tell me."
"It isn't about what happened but why it happened. It's who I was that led to this, Mom." He said it all in one breath and teared some more. Shit, now she sees him this way.
He continued, as his mom watched. "She gave me a chance, more than one chance. She's cried for me. Because of who I am, she had to actually stop talking to me. This is why I'm alone. This is why I'm alone and feel alone. You see dad? He spends his energy getting angry over a job he doesn't even want and it's over. But he still gets worked up from it and he's stuck. Look at Grandma, she brings up the past and it's never good. Look at me, how am I different? I made myself stuck. I tell myself shit that isn't even true and holding it in and I had to lose something good to realize it, fully. This is not who I want to be, Mom."
She got teary eyed. "Are you depressed, Bray?"
He couldn't say yes or no. He just kept tearing up.
"I've been alone and I need to be to understand my flaws, ya know?"
"What did you do?"
"I wasn't a good friend. I didn't treat her the same as I would with a guy friend because we both have deeper feelings and I just wasn't good to her because I wasn't good to myself. I told her she didn't love me and I know she does, but I said it because I was so pissed at how things are... I have to push people away from me."
He took a moment, swallowed, then said:
"I don't love myself."
She got close. "It isn't because of your father. It isn't me, it isn't your sister, it isn't Nalani. It's you, Bray. You know, when I was your age, I was the same way. I was annoyed when everyone tried giving me advice, telling me the truth about who I was, and I didn't want to hear it because I was too young and afraid to believe the truth. Your father is that way, now. He's a good man but never wants to listen because he knows he's wrong but doesn't want to hear it. We all find it hard accepting were the people we don't want to be. That's why you have to, though, so you don't get stuck. I can't stand here and watch you this way. If I can take your thoughts and pain and put it in me — I would." She held herself together though from crying some more.
From the other room, revealed Bray's father. He sat down and watched them both.
"I'm sorry for what happened. Nalani is a sweet girl, a great girl. I'm not gonna tell you it's just a break up because it hurts, and I know it hurts. She's been through a lot, and she's a brave girl. Whatever way you reacted to her, you've gotta remind yourself that she's been through a lot and she only needs a good friend. So, maybe it was good you both didn't speak for a while, and if she says don't talk to her, don't. Respect her. If you want to make things right, you will just keep finding more ways to love yourself because that's what matters. You're jealous of people? Don't be, it's not good. They're irrelevant. She was with you for a reason."
This was all shocking to hear from his father.
"You know how much your father and I praise you to our friends and co-workers? We love you. You created those bad thoughts in your head, so you're stuck but get out of it. Because no one put you in that space, but you. Time heals."
Both his parents said it at the same time after she said it. "Time heals."
"It hurts. If things between you and her work, god bless. Be the best you can to yourself and her. If it doesn't work out, that's okay, too." His Mom said.
"Well, I hope it does. I really like her... But hey, you can only know, right? If she still loves you, which I think she does, she's not gonna cut you out, all the way. What I'm saying is you both love each other; if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. And like your mother said, if it isn't, then that's okay. But please, be good to yourself, Bray. Don't be miserable, live."
Bray never cried in front of his father, but staring at him with wet eyes and still body — he really saw him. His parents embraced him with a hug.
As his dad walked away, he said:
"You know, your mom and I broke up and didn't see each other for a year till she hit the back of my car, remember?"
She chuckled and he left.
Bray sat, he thought for a moment, saying, "I've got work to do."
"Everyone does, always." Mom said as she grabbed the frozen fish from the counter. She laid it on the sink, applying warm water over it.
With her back turned, she asked:
"You're still a vegetarian, right?"