fiction

Soda Machine. {fiction}

 

“Do you wanna, uh, go?” He barely gets the words out before his eyes shift to the ground.

I know, you are thinking, “Where?”

No, that’s not it. I am sitting face to face with Benjamin Ivanovich Sasaki on a bench in the alley behind the locker room. The soda machine buzzes on and off with the fits and bursts of an angry lover.

It’s the kind where the cup drops (or doesn’t) and two separate streams of liquids that until that very moment, on their own virtually undrinkable, come together to form the caramel-colored elixir that will seed the childhood obesity epidemic for generations to come. We are blissfully ignorant of this fact and thus, drink it every day like it’s our last.

My cheeks are hot. I am not sure where to look. This is heavy. Technically, I guess Ben is a rebound. But, I’m 12 and I don’t fully understand what that is. What can I say? I peaked early.

With my previous boyfriend, Mark, our going was short-lived. We made a single trip to McDonald’s. I ordered a double cheeseburger and small chocolate milk shake. He had the fish fillet. We took the subway. We are city kids growing up in Tokyo, Japan, wild with the freedom of hoodlums, minus any real danger. It’s a pre-pubescent utopia. I broke up with him after that. Deep inside I felt he wasn’t all that exciting.

Maybe it was the fish fillet.

Benjamin is handsome. His blended Romanian-Japanese heritage suits him. People are always putting him in a locker or upside down in a garbage can. Sometimes they pull the hood of his faded red sweatshirt over his head, but I think he’s dreamy.

“Yes.” I lift my gaze to meet his deep-brown eyes and slowly move my head. Then, in some sort of cockeyed maneuver, I manage to quickly plant a whisper of a kiss on his right cheek. We may as well be married. The bell rings and we both look panicked as without a shred of rigmarole, we race inside to the lockers in an attempt to make whatever class comes next when you are 12.

I miss Ben’s game. It was solid. Clear and direct. And, don’t let the verbiage fool you; going with someone meant something. It was clearly defined in the hierarchy of provocative things that are defined when you’re 12: which base, tongue or no tongue, going or broken-up. The teen-angst undercurrent of social construct was alive and well. If you were going, you were hooked, an item, a couple.

You might never see each other again beyond that initial verbal agreement, or touch ever, or exchange much more than locker combinations, but for purposes of the general public and any announcements at the lunch table, you were going and that was no joke.

The container of the relationship was lined and sturdy, albeit the inside was a competition between time on the bench by the soda machine and time playing Space Invaders until your thumb blistered.

***

“Yo! Do you wanna hang?” [Insert monkey emoticon or other nonsensical animal icon here.]

I am older than I will admit pen-to-paper, though with enough drinks and the right lighting, blessed with a decade less in appearance. This is the second young dude in as many weeks who is offering this exact proposition via text message.

A faceless, nebulous offer that leaves the door wide open to watching a football game in a crowded bar, drinking Bud Heavies with 100 of your closest friends, possibly an intimate dinner and art opening, or swing-from-the-chandelier sex. But, you don’t know which. It’s a chasm of ambiguity so wide and varied you will need a GPS to survive and a Sherpa for the baggage you have collectively brought with you.

Vulnerability is dead. Vulnerability is dead. Vulnerability is dead. Thrice, I write it in the hopes that it lands even once, because if vulnerability is dead, our attention spans are in the ICU. We killed vulnerability in cold blood. That’s right, you and me. Don’t look so surprised. Did you not think you were an accomplice? We didn’t even hide the evidence.

On the contrary, we immortalized the evidence for every Tom, Dick and Harry to see for all time, until time runs out of electricity. Then, no one will remember anything at all and vulnerability will be resurrected because everyone is vulnerable in the dark. But, until then, we’re screwed.

Hang holds the undisputed title of the greatest devolution of modern language in the context of interpersonal relations, since Baby Mama. Because before the Age of Kardashians, those seeking company or interpersonal relations of any kind had clearer agendas, vernacular to match, and were unafraid to put either out there.

“Sure, what’d you have in mind?”

“Dunno.  I’m open.”

Right. This is not game. It’s not even a pre-game show. There is nothing smooth or winning in this exchange. And, yet, I don’t blame this fellow. Or the dozens who came before him. It started innocently enough. In the beginning, built on the intention of bringing people closer, faster, email did just that.

Suddenly, invisible bridges were built uniting family and strangers alike in a new universe that expanded our communications. Remember, email used words. Full-length words in all their fingertip-banging glory. Words that needed to be constructed into, well, sentences. Sentences that, for the most part, included punctuation. You get the idea.

Though some would still argue with good reason that voice or in person is the gold standard of communication, email offered a medium where we could still feel. You could still have game on email.

I will not recap here in much detail the advent of texting, messaging, Facebook-ing (that’s right, I just used it as a verb), IM-ing, Snap-tweeting, Swipe-righting, and Insta-Pinter-everything, etc. I don’t have to because most of you have probably stopped reading this very essay to check one of those modalities in the middle of your read just in case something better presented itself. It’s okay. I don’t take it personally.

We’re all used to being a little ignored. The value of communication has been lost like your passport. You know it’s not gone, but you can’t find it either. We have whored out our deepest feelings to any voyeurs interested in a 30-second hit of what ails us or lights us up. Manic moments captured for all time. If the internet is a red-light district, then Facebook is the brothel of the digital age.

Like any good paid tryst, we have all but taken the emotion and meaning out of our communications completely. We’ve even taken out the words. More monologues crossing in the night than conversations, memes at the ready.

And, in the rare cases when someone does reach out, they are often met with the now-commonplace, non-answer, disappearing-text trick, or a slow-blood-draw-style conversation that puts nothing more than someone else’s time and schedule first. We are living in a world more connected and in communication than ever, and yet we are more alone than human hearts were meant to handle.

Just last week I installed a landline. I call the phone company to investigate the intricacies of what I so thoughtlessly removed years ago. Ida patiently goes through my options. I explain to her the phone I bought plugs into the wall, and that’s it.

“Do you want caller ID?”

“It doesn’t have a screen Ida. I figure if I don’t want to talk to someone, then I probably shouldn’t pick up the phone.”

There is silence.

“Ida?”

“What about call waiting?”

“Don’t need it. Can only talk to one person at a time. The busy signal is still free, right?”

More silence that oozes confusion.

“Do you plan to call people out of state? We have long-distance.”

“How much?”

“$.05 a minute.”

“Sold!”

I want a long-distance bill. I want something — proof somewhere that there is value to my communication. That minutes are cherished and I am desired and listened to. I can tell this because I can hear the answer — the back and forth of conversation — right then and there. Not only can I hear whole words, but dialects and emotions and the crack of voices when times grow hard.

I hear humanity. Through raised wires, I sense being. And, I am suddenly struck by the realization of where our power lies.

In our willingness to see and be seen.

To connect, slowly, one button at a time, with the care of a new lover. And, with that vulnerability, there is a sigh of relief heard in unison. A single tear of joy slides down the cheek of the human condition as we acknowledge with an open heart what we desire, unapologetically.

“Do you wanna, uh, go?”

Yes.  Yes, I do.

***

NicoleBHaggNicole B. Hagg has performed most jobs short of smelting tar. A lawyer in her former life, she is presently a full-time writer and Yoga teacher. She only legally took her married name post-divorce (explain that to the lady at the DMV) and runs 26.2 miles on her days off for fun. Nicole is a self-taught, evolving ukulele player, an amateur triathlete who is viscerally afraid of swimming, and a hopeless romantic who works every day to live her openhearted truth. She aspires to be the world’s leggiest 5’2” Rockette. Girl’s gotta dream. Nicole resides in Denver, Colorado on Hijinks Farms — the name she gave her backyard to feel more like a farmer.  There, she raises two endlessly funny small people, six chickens, two cats and an appropriate amount of trouble. Connect with her on Facebook. Nicole is presently editing her debut novel, “Great Love Stories Include a Frenchman.”

***

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