Over the course of a month, I’m posting a short novella titled We Almost Had It which traces the friendships and romances of a group of thirty-something social media managers in Seattle as they try to figure out what a fulfilling life looks like in the digital age. The story was inspired by Shopping Is a Feeling, an album released by former Gastbys American Dream guitarist Bobby Darling under the moniker What What What. This is the first chapter, “Shopping Is a Feeling.”
Making a decision bordered on impossible. The idea of a comedy was appealing—Alex knew he could use a laugh—but nothing caught his eye or inspired hope. It had been years since he laughed at an Adam Sandler movie and the current crop of stoner-comedies didn’t do much for him. There were always dramas. Tightly wound, deliberately paced storylines that probed deep into the human condition, offering a close inspection of the miseries of life. A good drama struck at something in your heart that made you want to live more fully, to be a better man.
What about that documentary on Tetris that he had been meaning to watch? He scrolled past it in the menu and then cut back to read the one-line summary; the constant hum of his anxiety whirred in the background, distracting him so that the words didn’t stick. He read them again. The opening credits of the movie started playing behind the menu overlay while he stared ahead, his eyes glassy and glazed, looking past the menu and through the television.
“Ah, fuck it.” He turned the TV off, plunging the room into darkness.
Outside his window the city was alight. The iridescent glow of neon signage bled through the curtained window, illuminating Alex’s bedroom with an eerie glow. If it weren’t for all the cranes and construction he would have had a beautiful view of the waterfront and the Sound. Seattle was growing, now maybe more than ever, with high-rises blossoming up on nearly every street corner. That growth was pervasive. The sight of it cluttered his view, the sound of it crowded his dreams.
Summer would be ending soon and a warm haze had settled over city. It should have been comforting, a blessed break from the rain, but to Alex the warmth felt suffocating and as soon as his head hit the pillow, he knew he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. That was nothing new. He had been battling insomnia all summer and maybe longer. He couldn’t quite remember when it had started. Some days it felt like he had never slept a full night in his life.
When what felt like hours had passed, Alex finally let himself turn and look at his alarm clock—it was an act that had become a ritual; could he guess how much time had passed since he last looked?—only to find that those hours had been mere minutes, and only a half dozen at that. In the back of his mind, Alex felt that there was something he ought to be worried about but he couldn’t remember what. He tried to push that feeling into oblivion as he slid up into a sitting position and took his glasses and phone from the nightstand. The pale glow of Twitter and then Instagram and then Facebook reflected across his lenses as he read post after post and liked—or didn’t like—photo after photo. She was there, of course. She was always there. But he only ever looked these days, never liking or commenting. He scrolled through pictures and posts and wondered what might have been.
A sponsored post reminded Alex that he had knocked his Bluetooth speaker off the kitchen counter. Now that it was on the fritz he needed to replace it and the search for a new one was a welcome distraction.
yo you up
The iMessage notification flashed at the top of the screen, interrupting the fourth or fifth CNET review of Alex’s late night. Dammit, Randy, he thought. He pulled down his notifications and stared at Randy’s text, knowing that if he responded it’d lead to a long conversation—as every conversation with Randy did—and then who knows when he’d actually get some sleep.
He had had a good thing going with the speaker search and he was close to deciding which one he was going to buy. Well, he was close to deciding which three or four he’d look up on Amazon so that he could compare prices and read some user reviews. He was a responsible shopper but more than that he had come to find comfort in the experience of shopping. He knew that he had been manipulated to feel that way but that didn’t make the feeling itself any less real. The truth was that the warm satisfaction of shopping was about the only positive feeling he could count on anymore.
No. Not again. It was already 1:34 in the morning. He had to be back in the office in under seven hours. It was better not to engage. Better to turn off, to unplug. Randy would tell his story in the morning anyway.
Alex set his phone and glasses on the nightstand and slid back down into his bed. He stared at the faint light that crept in around his thick curtains, framing the window like the bezel of a phone. He wanted to sleep but he was wide awake and had to force his eyes closed.
Sleep didn’t come. He opened his eyes. 2:03 AM. He rolled over, putting the glow of the window behind him. He really needed the sleep. He really needed the sleep. He really needed the sleep.
When he finally succumbed to the need, his sleep was brief and unsatisfying. He woke to a feeling of utter exhaustion. But work called. He stumbled, eyes half closed, through his morning routine: listening to a podcast as he showered and shaved and dressed, scrolling through early-morning East Coast tweets as he mindlessly ate a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats that dissolved before he could finish it.
He closed the door behind him and, once again, set out into the world. It was drab and gray, a light rainfall giving the illusion of walking through a cloud. Alex didn’t pay attention to where he was going. He knew the way. It was always the same. Every damn day.
Click here for the second chapter of We Almost Had It, “Numb in the Middle.”