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Leave Before You're Gone
by Jenny Wray

I lived in San Diego for 6 1/2 months. Pasty-white and anti-anything that exposed my knees. It would be reasonable to ask exactly what I was thinking by moving to southern California. Fuck, I didn’t even like sand. But it was an escape out of Ohio, away from the entanglements created when best friends and exes and crushes and relationships become too inbred. As a foster mother in some movie of the week once said to her daughter, "What matters is, are you running toward something, or away?"

I was running away.

In the time I lived in San Diego, I worked five jobs, broke my glasses, stole oodles of toilet paper from work, fried my brain watching a sitcom starring the Olsen twins, barfed all over myself on more than one occasion, made a one-day attempt at veganism, picked up an inordinate amount of dog poop, and generally acted like, well, a wee bit of a lonely pathetic geek.

One of my jobs was working as a library tech II in the library of a technical college that specialized in nursing. I’d bullshitted my way into the job, stretching a summer spent volunteering at the library when I was twelve into the experience the job required. My bosses were two elderly women, one of whom boasted a crop of post-menopausal facial hair; the other ranted about people who called themselves Mexican-Americans and African-Americans, declaring them unpatriotic because they didn’t identify themselves as Americans first.

But I mostly worked alone.

Working in a library full of books that I’d never wanna read was pretty painful–like dying of thirst right by an ocean. But try as I might, I just couldn’t get into books with titles like Insurance Handbook for the Medical Office, or Fluids & Electrolytes Made Incredibly Easy! Fortunately, there were ads in nursing magazines to entertain me.

While mainstream publications might publish ads for Claritin, the newest copy of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services advertised Risperdal ("efficacy you expect, safety you trust").

The ad had a mock yearbook picture of a girl circa 1960. Under the girl’s picture it read, "Jane Smith, Most likely to succeed," while over the photo were listed, "hallucinations, grandiosity, social withdrawal, blunted affect, disorganized thought, hostility, and depression." And while I often wonder if I need steady doses of "The #1 prescribed anti-psychotic," I loved the testimony of the woman pictured saying, "Nothing could have prepared me for the devastation of psychosis." Well, duh. But the best part was the fake Polaroid "after" picture, which showed Jane model-pretty, smiling, her arms around a random man and woman. She damn near glowed. It’s good to know the drugs work.

I left that job in March. My boss had found my e-mails bragging about how I’d pilfered quarters from the copy machine. Hell, my laundry *needed* to be done, dig? But it was okay. I got what I deserved for being such a dumb shit.

Meanwhile, Nate, my roommate, was having his own adventures. He broke up with his girlfriend, started going to bed at 9 p.m., cursed the youthful skateboarders that practiced their moves in front of our house, worked at The Gap, and became romantically entangled with a dancer for Janet Jackson. His dog, Solly, dealt with transition from college-town Ohio to big-city California in his own way–by throwing up almost every day.

By January, I’d decided that I wasn’t going to stay in SoCal after our lease expired on April 30, and by the beginning of May I was back home, sleeping in my mom’s basement.

Like almost everyone I know, in the year following graduation I’ve been gripped with the kind of existential angst that has my middle-aged counterparts buying new sports cars, spouses, or faces. But I’m poor, my bank account still hovering in the three-digit range, so television has become my way of coping. I watch ridiculous amounts of T.V., staying up ‘till the wee hours, hoping that the miasma surrounding me will magically disperse.

Have you ever had a really horrible night? You know, one where you’ve said something shitty to a friend, acted like an asshole, and the next day you wake up, filled with guilt, dread, and low-grade panic but for a moment you can’t remember why? I feel like that most of the time. I’ve spent a good part of this mid-mid-life crisis lying on a futon in the basement, wondering where the hell I’ll go from here.

Right now I write cheesy and/or boring stories for a neighborhood newspaper, making far less money than in San Diego, where I was doing basically the same thing. So, now I sit on that futon, waiting for a job and a life to fall into my lap. The basement is beginning to smell like me (or like mildew...the scents are edging closer). My mom, in her ever-so-supportive, former preschool teacher way, has told me, "Jen, I don’t care if you need to live here six weeks, six months, or six years."

God help me.

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