TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE
KnowInk was probably the worst work place she’d ever known, she thought. She was teleconferencing with her therapist, again, talking about how someone who worked there had committed suicide. Crystal was convinced that KnowInk had a hand in that happening, but she didn’t have concrete evidence of it being a direct cause.
The boy who had suicided was named Jason. A sweet, short man who didn’t come across as having Short Man Syndrome at all. He’d called her a rock star once, and she loved him for that compliment. He looked like he could have been a model and about twenty years old, so she never allowed herself to even stray into the romantic sphere with him or his friends. They were just beautiful young people with good spirit. She was thirty five at the start of her role there, but they didn’t know that. Only management knew how old Crystal was.
She was a lot closer to the CEO’s age than she was theirs, being just ten years younger than him. She didn’t really know that, either, but she knew they had a small child, perhaps seven years of age, he and his wife.
Scott and Courtney. Pretty names, pretty people. Good for them. Pretty kid, too. She was as cute as you expect a seven year old to be. She remembered once that they cleaned out their closets and brought children’s books to work before taking them to charity, so anyone who wanted free books could take a look and acquire them.
Crystal took one with her on a smoke break once with her buddy Alex, who also worked there. She read it out loud and showed him the pictures, just as if they were both children. She didn’t have a reason to do it, she just did it. Afterward, she looked at Alex and said, “I just learned something from this book.” Alex looked at her incredulously and asked her what she learned.
She couldn’t remember now what it was. She finds lessons everywhere, in everything. Today’s lesson is: don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Crystal started that job, taking a massive pay cut, thinking it would be a happy place for her. The building was great for her P.T.S.D., having ceilings twice as tall as most other buildings on the first floor. She always imagined her spirit was a giant and needed more head room and that building had it. It also had windows from floor to ceiling, giving illusions of being even larger, and always bright until darkness came. She remembered dropping the blinds almost every night to protect the company’s assets from passersby.
Crystal had taken it upon herself to try to make sure the office was grumble-free, actually. They were asked to turn off the lights every evening if they were the last ones out, shut the coffee pots off, do the dishes they made since it had an on-site state-of-the-art kitchen, drop the blinds, and so on. Basically, they were asked to be responsible adults.
There came a day when the head honcho got pissed off about the food overflowing with uneaten leftovers, not even realizing it was the chief of finance’s kid crew doing it. Crystal didn’t care who made the mess, she knew if they just threw shit out on Fridays, it wouldn’t be a problem. She didn’t ask for permission, this work place was more of a step-into-the-responsibility-yourself kind of place, so she started e-mailing everyone but management about how she’d clean the refrigerator out every Friday. At least, she tried to e-mail everyone. She probably missed a couple people.
Crystal also walked around and told them she was doing it, and when it came time to do it around 3:00 pm on Friday, she’d ask people if the food was theirs and if they wanted it. If she waited until later in the night, and nobody was there, she just tossed it and took the garbage to the dumpster herself. This was all recorded, actually. They didn’t really make it a secret, since they needed to protect their assets. She was grateful, actually, because they probably caught thieves with that setup.
So, Crystal cleared out the fridge. If it was produce — and some people did bring produce — and it looked good, she’d leave it in the refrigerator. Really, the only thing the job lacked to keep people happy was a snacks system. She’d had that at one of her previous jobs. They’d offered fruit and crackers, essentially. She’d noted that nobody in that office ate right, not really, and she was not one to suffer a hangry bitch, so she started using her own money to bring snacks into the building. Management reimbursed her for it after it improved morale significantly. But, she only did it for her specific team. She wanted to do it for everyone. If anyone came by hungry, she’d get them to eat a snack anyway.
Crystal even put out breath mints because occasionally one of her coworkers had the worst fetid breath. She was never going to tell him so, but she hoped he would at least try a minty life saver once in a while. You could lead a horse to water but you couldn’t force it to drink. He did use those breath mints, though. She was grateful.
One day, Crystal had an extremely generous streak going on with her, and she made breakfast for every single person who came in hungry. Omelettes with veggies and cheese. It took her two hours and cost her about $45.00 total. She didn’t mind because she wanted everyone to know they were appreciated. She put those two hours back in late at night. Her relationship with Ben had been on the rocks then and she did everything in her power to make sure he got as little time from her as possible.
Ben had broken up with her in 2017. This came out of left field for her because the relationship had not been going through ups and downs before that, at least not on her side. There were shitty things that happened, and she divulged her feelings, then she felt better if he addressed them, which he did. He didn’t know that’s how people who actually succeed do it. They talk their shit out, forgive each other, and then things continue.
Ben broke up with her because he wanted to sleep with other people. He always had wanted that, it was the only thing in their relationship that wasn’t right. When he chose to pursue Crystal, he was in self-denial about his true desires, she thought. Now, she thought he believed he could maneuver her into a three way relationship. That was the death knell of their relationship, but it had years to come. Her employment at KnowInk was in the middle. He dumped her at the same time she got the new job, destroying the chance to buy a little gem of a house she found in order to get out. She couldn’t find another gem like it and the money at KnowInk wasn’t enough to let her to move out and he knew it. She was still paying for her first house, where her friend *cough*enemy*cough* was staying for free.
Christina was staying in her home, rent-free, with the idea that she would be buying it from Crystal in just two more years. Crystal expected her to be a full grown adult and talk to her about the finances if there was a problem with this eventual goal. She had decided her friend could stay rent free in order to fulfill this desire. The woman squandered the cash instead, of course, living it up beyond their means, justifying it having three kids.
Crystal tried to renegotiate with Christina in that time. She wanted to sell the house her friend was occupying and outright buy her a place with the equity that had built up, so she wouldn’t have to go homeless and she’d be out from under both the house she was gifted in divorce and having to support her friend. Instead, Christina had an anxiety attack over the idea and refused to move. The woman was never going to recover from that, neither one of them.
Crystal was stuck in Psycho Boy Ben’s house, living in his spare room. He never asked her for rent, though she had offered it in the beginning. If he’d asked her for it then, she would have been up shit creek without a paddle. That pay cut she took for KnowInk meant she couldn’t afford it. Psycho Boy Ben didn’t feel like sleeping alone; it must have been the rent he sought. He felt like groping her nightly. Even when she kicked him out of her bed, he just buttered her up to weasel his way back into it, so she figured it was pointless to bother kicking him out after the third or fourth time it happened. Nothing she said truly sunk in with that rat-faced man. Okay, maybe she was being unfair because of how she felt about him. His face was nothing like a rat’s.
That’s when she realized she was being raped routinely, but she didn’t have the word rape to pin on it yet. He was a weirdo, she recalled; he didn’t climax the first few times they had sex. She thought it was a given for a man to reach the end. Instead, he had masturbated while she watched, unsure what was going on in the boy’s head. These days, she assumed he was fantasizing about raping his sisters or other women.
Yeah, he’d said a few things that bothered her deeply. One of them was when he admitted he’d pulled down his sister’s panties once while she was asleep because he was curious about what was underneath. Then, one time, he told her that he loved her like a sister. And, finally, there was a steamy scene in his sister’s bed when they went to visit her. She didn’t feel good about having sex in someone else’s bed at all. He talked her into relieving him alone. She thought it was disgusting, honestly, but it painted a picture: he wanted to be with his sister, not her. He wanted to be with a lot of people that weren’t her, he’d made that clear by then.
Crystal began to dissociate after that breakup. She was always dissociative, but she became even more so. Especially when he forced intimacy on her nightly. She’d come to learn she’s technically asexual. She had zero interest in sex most of the time. When she was with Antoine, they did the deed two to three times a week. Ben, on the other hand, went for every single night and all weekend, whenever possible.
Crystal had lost interest in having sex with Ben and he knew it. He had to. There was a massive difference between the assertive pro-sex woman he began to date in 2015 and the pillow princess she’d become. She didn’t want to be there anymore. She didn’t even smile most of the time and definitely stopped smiling during. She’d lost all sense of joy and happiness. He even went so far as to encourage her to dress in a slutty manner for a while, but the kind of attention she received was not her kind of attention to seek.
In contrast, another man she had loved never spoke about sex with her. It was part of the reason she loved him, honestly. Naughty Nick is the name she gave him these days, especially since he had never answered her marriage proposal. Naughty for never confirming or denying that he cared. Naughty for hooking her and leading her on, even if it was unintentional. She had begun to believe that these men knew exactly what they were doing, especially when she disappeared for two years after he’d told her he was engaged. She disappeared again for two months when he used a woman’s name after that. He knew. He just didn’t want to know.
Denial is a dangerous thing, ultimately. Nick had told her about his engagement around the same time she had thought she’d leave Ben for good and propose to Nick. In fact, if he’d waited another week or so, she would have told him her true feelings. It was a big leap for her; she’d have to move to the U.K. to be with him, but she could do that now that her career had taken off.
The fact that Crystal with obsessed with taking care of herself monetarily stemmed from another British man. Burr. He’d put it on her to save all kinds of money to immigrate to him, all while she was under student loan debt. She didn’t have even the start of a career yet, being that the technical school she’d gone to taught her technical skills that weren’t applicable to the town she grew up in. It turns out that they were quite appropriate for St. Louis, though.
All kinds of denial led Crystal to keeping her love to herself. The man had never told her that he liked her, let alone loved her. She didn’t want Burr II. She felt like she convinced Burr to date her and it ended incredibly badly. (She didn’t do that much convincing, as it turned out.) In fact, he is the real reason she now stopped whenever someone said they were dating another person. She felt like she stole him away from Allison, a girl he’d been dating when they met online. She knew in retrospect she did not, but it was wrong of her to interfere. Her desires were not more important than another human being’s desires, ultimately, and therefore it is wrong to try to woo someone who was already engaged with another human being. Engaged as in seeing each other, mind you. Every relationship might as well be an engagement. You’re not supposed to be toying with peoples’ emotions like that, she thought.
If you don’t see yourself with them in two years, don’t waste your time and innocence with them now.
Every relationship scars us. No matter how good it seemed, it leaves its mark. We grow around other people to suit them more than to suit ourselves. No matter how much we don’t want to, we still do it.
Crystal had decided she was not doing it again, which is why Diego was in the doghouse for tickling her. She would spend her time well away from him until he got the point, journaling her thoughts and therapy sessions. Diego didn’t know yet he was in the doghouse, but he could guess, when he found there wasn’t even coffee the next morning. He started to worry about her being okay, frowning and becoming grumpy as he went through the motions to make coffee and breakfast for himself. He’d be off to work in just ninety minutes… He wished she’d come down to see him before he went.
“No,” he heard in his head.
He looked around, frowning and curious at the same time. “I do not consent,” the voice continued. “I will not see you today.”
He shook his head incredulously. He had cracked, hadn’t he? His mind started racing. He didn’t use that word… consent. He knew what it meant, but it wasn’t part of his own every day vernacular. He decided to write an apology to his roommate… no, land lord. He’d gone too far and that was before the brownie was introduced. She was right, too. He slept like a log. He had woken up long enough to get to his own bed when the couch was uncomfortable enough to wake him.
He wondered how she’d gotten it up the stairs briefly. “Movers, I guess.” He had discovered she kept paper in a buffet in the living room, so he grabbed that and a pen. He took the rest of his pre-work time to write the best letter he could think of.
It was wrong of me to touch you without permission. I realize that now. I will refrain from doing it again. I can’t believe you’re such a murder hobo, either, which is what led me to feeling affectionate enough to breach that boundary.
I know you have bladder issues and I failed to consider that coupled with the effects of tickling. I didn’t realize your wardrobe change was related to that until this morning. It assume it’s awfully insensitive of me overall to forget that your body is on the mend from so much trauma and the illness you’ve told me about.
I want to help you, not hinder you. I wish there was an easy answer so I could just do whatever it takes to assist you so that you can finally be free of everything going on. I understand your situation, at least the parts you’ve told me. I’d be delighted to take you to the doctor if that is part of your health recovery process. In fact, I wish you would see a doctor. They can’t all be bad.
Thank you for inviting me to play video games, I enjoyed it despite being frustrated that you obviously have the upper hand. Maybe if I had more practice, we’d be on more even ground. Maybe if you weren’t such a murder hobo, I’d stand a chance. I’d love to play again someday, whenever you’re up to it. Even Katamari.
I’m sorry I didn’t want to play it… I have never tried it and I was afraid of losing interest in your favorite game in just ten minutes. I was thinking of myself more than you. I’m sure you would have loved to play it with a friend since I know you don’t often video game solo. I have a feeling I’ll be just as terrible at it as dueling you in Halo.
I’ve really enjoyed it every time we’ve spent time together. I find myself wishing it’d never end, but it always does. Will you marry me? I want to ask you in person more than through this letter. I’m not sure if you’ll ever forgive me to spend “
Just then, he got the impression her ring size was size 7. His hand paused on the page, his train of thought shattered. He looked up at the clock and realized he should have left five minutes ago. Damn, he was going to be late. He shot a text to his boss: “BRT, running 10 mins late :(“
This would be a first in a very long time, him being late. He struggled to get his train of thought back to wrap up the letter.
“time in the same room ever again, but I would give anything for another chance.
He shook his head at himself. He had more to say than that, but he had to get to work. Because she dropped the rent and he used her car, he went down to fewer days a week in order to guard the house. Or that was the excuse he gave himself. He went down to fewer days a week because he loved spending time with her.
She rarely spent more than a few hours a day with him, wandering off to resume the Crystal show somewhere else, leaving him fantasizing about romance. She absolutely knew how to string him along by the heart, he thought. Little did he know she did it because her own heart threatened to allow her to overstep her own boundaries. She wanted to be married. She didn’t want to be a fuck toy ever again, and that’s what premarital sex was about. That’s what it was always about and she lost sight of that for a time. She was not a toy. She had thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
It was a common misconception that feelings and emotions were the same thing. They are not. The word feeling had two definitions: an emotional state or reaction or a belief, especially a vague or irrational one. Emotion also had two definitions: a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others or instinctive or intuitive feelings as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge. (Thank you, Merriam-Webster.)
The two ideas were definitely linked, but not the same. Using Occam’s razor, like she was want to do, it was plain to see that feeling meant an irrational, vague belief and emotion meant a natural instinctive state of mind. Those were the simplest terms that could be used to define the words distinctly from one another.
She wandered downstairs after Daniel left. He was an odd one, she knew. He went by a lot of different names, telling her a new one every few days. She knew his real name was none of the ones he’d given her. He was afraid she’d do a background check on him and find out the sordid details of his past. He was a convicted rapist and did some time for the crime. She knew that, actually. She knew everything he didn’t want her to know. Everything. Even the time he stole cookies from him momma and pretended he wasn’t the culprit.
He wasn’t a bad man, she’d decided. Most people on Earth were rapists. If they weren’t raping each other, they were raping the environment or animals. Humanity had forgotten what boundaries were without big, scary predators to chew their faces off unexpectedly. She knew what he wrote for her. She knew what he daydreamed about. She even knew what he dreamed about. It was all her. He had it bad.
So did Ben, she’d thought at the time. She was wrong, though. She couldn’t glean thoughts before nearly dying, though. If she could, Ben would have never happened. He thought she was fat and unattractive and worth raping. That she deserved it. That she was scum because she wasn’t skinny. She knew that now. He’d basically told her his misogynistic point of view over time, whether he meant to divulge it or not.
She suspected he didn’t mean to. She suspected he hid himself to string her along for the sex. She’d cut him in half with a katana if he ever made it to her room. Diego didn’t know she had the means for self-protection just in case. She liked him from the moment he’d answered her ad for a roommate. Even though he’d dodged around the absolute facts, she understood everything about him in about ten seconds.
She was an expert at first impressions.