Waking Up by Kevin Finnerty

You get up because you can’t sleep.

You turn on the TV even though you went to bed because nothing was worth watching.

Nothing has changed.

You turn off the set and look at your smart phone.

No one has written you.

You assume they’re asleep.

You scroll through various sites, but your squinty eyes are unable to focus on the small screen in the dark.

You get out of bed.

You turn on your computer.

You search “trouble sleeping.”

The top hits say not to use your computer or other electronic devices right before you go to bed.

You’re supposed to drink milk.

You get some milk.

You drink some milk.

You grab two books and head back to bed.

You wonder which you should read — the one you like that might keep your interest or the one that will bore you enough to put you to sleep?

 

You’re tired a lot.

You like to stay up late and sleep late.

Not as much as when you were younger, but your body clock still seems to prefer late and late.

You job requires early and early.

Up before 7 a.m.

So you should be asleep by 11.

In theory.

You can’t do that naturally.

You force yourself to do so by a variety of means.

Most involve chemicals of some kind.

 

You’re the kind of guy who flips an umbrella end over end while he walks down the street.

You keep a pen in your mouth when typing on your computer at work.

If someone comes in to speak with you, you teeter it back and forth between your index and middle fingers.

These are not affectations.

You’re the sort of person who isn’t comfortable doing nothing.

Or doing the ordinary.

You’d like to be able to relax more.

You think it would help you sleep.

 

 

You go see your girlfriend after work.

Her friends tell you they don’t like that phrase.

What part? you ask.

Either.

They tell you they don’t like the term “girlfriend” because it’s demeaning.

Especially for a 25 year old woman.

They tell you they don’t like “your” because she’s not a possession.

You ask what you should call her.

“Lacey.”

You feel old.

You’ve had to retrain how you think, how you speak.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

But you don’t think Lacey’s friends should be so quick to jump on you when you forget.

You don’t think the “—ist” labels they sling about are warranted.

You wonder who really is the micro-aggressor.

You know you’re not pure.

You’ve never claimed to be.

But your heart’s not black either.

You’re just tired.

 

 

You worry about what people think of you.

You worry you do so more than others.

You think about these things a lot at night in bed.

You wonder if that’s normal.

You tell yourself to stop.

But they’re not all conscious acts.

Sometimes, too often, you wake up from perfectly good sleep and your mind is racing.

Thinking about, focusing on, matters that do not matter.

Social foibles.

Bureaucratic issues at work.

Questions without answers.

What’s wrong with you?

 

 

You roll over.

You flip the pillow.

You toss the blanket.

You clench your jaw.

You squeeze your eyes tight.

Your will is no match.

You are awake.

You call your girl-

You call Lacey.

She asks why you called.

You say you couldn’t sleep.

She says you should have texted her.

You apologize.

She tells you she’s going back to sleep.

You ask how she would have seen the text had you written one.

She doesn’t answer.

 

 

You can’t escape it.

It’s that time of year.

Online, TV, radio, newspapers.

It’s all elections, all the time.

You hate it.

But you can’t ignore it.

Your…

Lacey does.

You ask how.

She tells you it doesn’t matter.

You think it does.

Because you’ve bought into it, she says.

You think about this when you’re alone.

In bed.

 

 

You don’t feel like you’re part of it.

Your bosses say you have to be working 24/7 to be somebody.

You don’t understand why.

Your bosses make fun of Lacey’s generation in front of you.

You could point out, officially, you are too.

You don’t.

Your co-workers who are Lacey’s age become quiet when you come near them.

They think you’re a spy.

You feel like you’ve fallen between generations.

 

You go see a couple of friends your age.

You used to drink beer and watch football with them every weekend.

Now they assume the role of referee.

They watch their toddlers run about the backyard and whistle or yell when a particular play is over.

Or illegal.

It’s inevitable, they tell you.

Why fight it, you’re going to end up like us.

You wait for them to ask about . . . Lacey … but they never do.

They used to care.

Two yeas ago when she was 23 and you’d just turned 30.

They wanted to know everything.

Now maybe they know you better than you know yourself.

You watch the action.

The kids are having fun, no doubt.

You’re not so sure about the Dads.

You don’t notice Ann until she’s beside you.

Handing a package of groceries and the keys to Tom.

Telling him and Jason to get the rest from the car.

You hug Ann.

She pulls you close.

You look tired, she says.

 

You ask Lacey to meet in public.

You haven’t done this in a while.

You break up with her, with Lacey, while sitting at a picnic table in a semi-crowded park.

You wonder if she’ll cry.

She seems to suppress a laugh.

You brought me here for that? she asks. Why not just text me?

We’ve been going out for two years.

Whatever.

You’ve lost her interest.

She stares at her smartphone and smiles.

She talks to it, not you.

I was going to break up with you anyway. I’ve kind of been seeing someone else.

Kind of? you ask.

She starts to explain but you realize you don’t want to hear, don’t want to know.

You just want to get away.

 

 

You sleep a little better after your breakup but don’t blame Lacey for your earlier fits of insomnia.

You mentally thank her for not disclosing her cheating or whatever it was earlier.

You would have had even more trouble sleeping knowing that.

You try to find your place in the in-between world.

You read about making incremental improvements.

In your diet.

In your habits.

In your mental makeup.

In your outlook.

You don’t notice much change, except you find yourself worrying less.

And sleeping better.

You have dates but not a relationship.

You have a job but not a career.

You have friends but not a confidante.

You were told to try online dating.

But not to spend too much time online.

Your last date ended when the woman left you at a coffee shop ten minutes into the date.

You wonder what you could have said or done.

 

Your barista, or a barista, or a valuable human being who for one reason or another has an employment position in a coffee shop, comes to your table five minutes later.

I take it she’s done with this? she asks.

You watch her pick up the half-empty mug left by your former date.

You shrug or raise your eyebrows or convey some other nonverbal message.

You hope she didn’t notice the scene.

I saw what happened, she tells you.

I’m sorry.

Not your fault. She’s the bitch.

You look up.

You meet her eyes.

You think she’s pretty.

Hey…

You watch her scan the room.

You do the same.

Only two other people in the shop, and they’re quietly going about their business.

What’s your story?


Kevin’s stories have appeared in Blue Lyra Review, Eunoia Review, Fiction on the Web, The Quotable, The Rain, Party & Disaster Society, VLP Journal, and elsewhere.

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