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Oh, oh no, I guess I dialed the wrong number. I hung up the phone and tried to decide if my dialing the wrong number was actually an unconscious sort of warning, that something in me was trying to tell me that I shouldn’t call and talk to the customer service guy for DirecTV. It wasn’t his fault that anything went wrong, that I was a complacent loser. It really wasn’t. It was just that I was mad and wanted to yell and didn’t know who to yell at because Melinda left a few hours before and I didn’t want to make Waldo, our, or maybe now my, cat upset. It all started right before Game of Thrones was going to come on and Melinda realized we no longer had access to HBO. She was very upset and this led to other things coming up like how I never clean the litter box or give her foot massages. This led to other worse things like how I don’t have interests and lack an ambitious drive and don’t even own stocks or bonds, but actually it all started when I forgot to pay the cable bill, but actually it all started when Dr. Derrick (Derrick being his first name; he likes to keep it casual, but there is an innate power dynamic in the workplace so he also insists on being referred to as Dr. ever since he came back from “Harvard”) fired me. Actually, it all started when I forgot to do a safety check on the loading equipment because Melinda and I stayed up really late the night before “sorting out our communication skills.” Actually, it all started when my Mom’s neighbor Gary told me about the job at the warehouse, but I suppose it started before that when I dropped out of college after I moved in with Melinda. But I guess it started when we met. She walked like gravity couldn’t touch her, and she had this smile with so many beautiful teeth. I never would have spoken to her under normal circumstances. Hell, I wouldn’t have even made eye contact with her under normal circumstances, but it just so happened that one day she came to talk to me. She was only telling me that I had spilled some GoGurt on my t-shirt, but hey, I was going to take what I could get, but actually it all started before that. I guess it started because I decided to go to college in New York against my Mom’s wishes, but no, it started before that when I used to run cross-country for my high school. It was the state qualifiers and potentially my last race in that beautiful green and yellow jersey. I pissed my pants a little bit at the start line and the assistant coach gave me a pep talk before hand that I’m embarrassed to say got me jacked up despite featuring phrases such as “give them something to remember” and “your only limit is you.” So, the gunshot rang out and off we went and I ran that first mile like a real winner. I went out with the fastest kids in the state breathing hard, dripping in sweat, and smiling like a goddamn winner, but I wasn’t and never would be so I crashed, hard, typical really, and finished somewhere in the bottom ten percent. At least I can say that I gave them something to remember (and laugh about) and that indeed my only limit was myself. But it doesn’t start there. I guess it all started before that: in junior high, when I moved to a public school for the first time. At my lowest moments, it’s possible that I pretended to perform certain acts on a bruised banana in order to make the girls’ table laugh, thinking that I was in on the joke but not knowing it was me. Those were formative years in my life, but I suppose it all started before that when I was coming home from elementary school with my mother. Yeah, it definitely started there. I remember I sat in the back pulling to fully stretch the elastic band holding a few Elle magazines and then unintentionally/intentionally letting it go. It snapped back, hard and fast, making a whipping sound against the magazines. I apologized every time but continued to make the same mistake. Once, my mom got so pissed that she pulled the car over and turned around to look at me. Whenever she got mad she called herself the dragon lady. “Don’t mess with the dragon lady,” she would say, and trust me when I say that I did not mess with the dragon lady. “You have to stop doing that,” she said. “You have to stop having such a blatant disregard for what people want.” I was very young at the time and probably didn’t understand the words “blatant” or “disregard” or “stop,” but anyone could understand her eyes. “One day you’re going to grow up,” she said, “and you’ll think back on this and you’ll say, ‘I’m thankful she was hard on me because look where I am now. Look how I have everything I want. Look at my beautiful family and look at this beautiful house which I let my mom stay in whenever she wants because she really likes the hot tub.’ And every day you’ll wake up and thank god and thank Mom for everything that you have.” I guess it all started there because years later I was sitting, not in a mansion with a saltwater infinity pool in the shape of a dolphin or with lots of cars that have XM Radio, no, I was sitting on my couch with Waldo the tabby cat, trying to decide if I should call the DirecTV guy or if I should call Melinda and apologize for everything. Not just for forgetting or more accurately being unable to pay the cable bill, but for every single little thing, every moment that I disappointed her, even in the smallest ways, for all the times I accidentally stepped on her toes while dancing and all of the times I went to sleep without saying how good her Obama impersonation is. For every time I wanted to hold hands even though it was cold outside and I was too stupid and stubborn to wear gloves. For every time I couldn’t find “the spot.” For every time I accidentally bought her clothes a size too large. For every time I forgot we had reservations at my favorite Italian restaurant. For every time I opened my eyes while we were kissing and every moment I didn’t give her my everything, like tulips, her favorite flowers (I think), or bad rhyming poems, or a kiss on the shoulder just to say I’m here for you. But instead of calling anyone, I just lay down and kissed Waldo and told him, “Waldo, you’re just a cat, but you’re a great cat, maybe even the best, and I don’t tell you this enough but I love you and you’re beautiful on the outside and the inside, and I’m never going to leave you Waldo and I’m sorry for everything I’ve ever done to you, but please know I never meant anything by it, I’m just a stupid idiot, who spills GoGurt on himself, can’t win anything for the life of him, and can’t even figure out what happens to Tyrion and Dany on Game of Thrones this week — probably dragons, or sex, or dragon sex — but I’m a stupid idiot who loves you, and I never want to forget what your eyes look like from this close because they’re amazing. There are so many colors, there the whole time, that I never even noticed. Have I ever told you that, just how amazing you are?”
ZANE AUSTILL is a senior at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities where he concentrates in Creative Writing. His writing has won several regional Gold and Silver Awards in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and he was recognized nationally as a YoungArts finalist for his fiction. He also loves Liverpool Football Club.