Augustus P. Registreer, Panic in Monochrome, Charcoal on Wood, 2016
Augustus P. Registreer, Panic in Monochrome, Charcoal on Wood, 2016

He finishes logging off, putting up the incomprehensible error message (“User AJPW@sdpprox200I.Princeton.EDU is not authorized for this time period” does the trick) to discourage the drunken students trying to P/D/F a course at 4:30 AM. He wishes he could say, Man, another 21 hours done. Time to enjoy this good ol’ three-hour oasis I get. Instead, all he can think of is the pain that awaits him until he can plug himself back into work at six. God, this is terrible. Three hours to myself. Three hours of thinking, reminiscing, regretting. Three hours of hurt.

He rolls a blunt. His supply is dwindling, but if he goes outside there’s a chance he’ll run into her – an infinitesimal chance, but a chance he doesn’t want to take all the same. He’ll have to ration, and less weed means more time sober, which means more time to think about her. He fucked up, and he knows it, and now she’s been gone for almost two years. He closes his eyes for a moment before bringing it to his lips. Her absence is why he took this job in the first place. After graduating, he needed work, needed something to take his mind off of things. Princeton’s offer was exactly what he needed: twenty-one hours a day of menial labor, perfect for slipping into a mindless routine. He’d get his life back together in the wee hours of the morning, probably – make an OKCupid, get a condo on Zillow, something like that. He’d get over her for sure.

Now, two years later, the only thing that’s changed is the speed at which he burns through his supply. Everything he does still reminds him of her – he loved her, and loves her even more now, and he can’t figure out how to forget his mistakes. His OKCupid profile sits half-finished, as it has for the past year. Every apartment has been too new, too unfamiliar, and the place he’s rented for the past few years is all that’s left of the good times. He’s tried to move forward, but he’s realized that he’s too attached to the past. Stupid. You shouldn’t let your feelings ruin you like this. I can’t believe it.

He exhales. Weed is the only drug he uses nowadays, since alcohol brings him back to that horrible time. It reminds him of that dingy basement party, with the punch so vodka-heavy that he was hammered in almost no time at all. Reminds him of the dancing afterwards, some godforsaken part of him telling him to stop, leave before he made a mistake. Reminds him of body on body, not caring about the repercussions, just wanting the now. Reminds him of the look on her face when she saw.

The blunt is just about gone, and he stubs it out on the desk. What’s great about work is the total absence of freedom that comes with it. Someone asks him to drop a class, he drops the class. Someone wants to see their paycheck, he shows them. An easy call-and-response. They ask, he listens, they go away satisfied. It’s simple, polar. Either it works or it doesn’t. He’s good at his job, and he knows it – there’s one little snafu where logins don’t quite work properly, but other than that everything is fine.

Then again, sometimes someone will check their grade for a statistics class and he’ll feel a pang of shame. He knows she’s here for post-grad work doing stats stuff, and whenever he’s reminded of that – even when he’s working – he loses focus for a second, stumbles before showing the student the A- or C+ or what have you. He gets back into the swing of things a few minutes later, but the damage is done, and it always makes him think about her once 3 AM rolls around.

The twenty-one hours to himself during the day aren’t so bad, but the three hours at night are paralyzing. He always tells himself, in the midst of particularly productive days, that he’ll be able to finally start doing things during the night, but when the time comes he’s scared of going out. Going out means dealing with people, and people sometimes know her. People might have heard of him. They might hurt him even more, might tell her how he’s doing. Better to stay inside, where he’s safer. Easier to keep the pain inside than share it with the world.

He’s pretty high now, enough that she’s finally out of focus. The smoky haze surrounding him obscures his vision, helps him forget that there’s a world outside of this room. His mind wanders, a glorious freedom from the thoughts that dominate it whenever it slows down. He sighs. This isn’t good, and he knows it, but it’s better than what could be, the less shitty of two evils. The digital clock above him reads 4:05, and somewhere in the back of his mind it registers that he’s going to sober up well before six, but right now he’ll enjoy the oblivion. Maybe this time around he’ll finally register for an appointment with that shrink his friends told him about, back when he still saw them and they saw an opportunity for change. He’ll deal with it when the time comes, he tells himself. If not, work’s just around the corner anyway.