Almost a year after I left college I was still in Gainesville and running out of money. While in school I ran up huge credit card debts thinking I'd have a job immediately after graduation. We were told at orientation that the university had a job placement program, with employment virtually assured. I was stupid and actually believed this. When the time came, the 'program' turned out to be a small, barren room with several folders of out-of-date human resource files from major companies. I was pitched into the job market during a deepening recession.
I worked at Subway for six months until they crossed me once too often and I told them to fuck off. My roommate and I were unemployed, short temp jobs nonwithstanding, and since I had flexibility (the credit cards) I was paying all of the rent. I thought he was a fucking bum for putting me in this position-- especially after I heard secondhand that he'd given me shit for not cutting my hair to get better jobs --but I had no choice, until my mother offered to let me move back in with her. Without thinking I jumped at the opportunity and did so at the beginning of November.
Work was no better in Sarasota and I ran out of money completely. It wasn't long after this that the creditors started calling. The conversations all followed the same general pattern:
"We need a payment of $65 from you by the end of the week."
"I don't have sixty-five dollars."
"Then can you send us $20? Just send us what you have."
"I don't have twenty dollars. If I had money I would be sending it to you."
"Can't you send us twenty dollars?"
"I don't have twenty dollars."
"Well, whatever you have, just send it to us."
"If I had money I would send it."
"Is there somebody you could borrow it from?"
Every time I got a call from a creditor my mother would lose her cool, as though she was the one they wanted, and she screamed at me for inviting the wrath of the world's financial institutions upon her house. It was slowly driving her even more batshit. I wondered if they would try to repossess my comic books. She offered no useful advice for dealing with them, nor did she help me with job-hunting. "Look in the paper!" she yelled, and I did, making calls and sending out letters. This would placate her for about a day. The next she would be all over me again, wanting to know what I was doing next. This was my life for a couple of weeks, screaming and want ads, until the temp agency got me something. I was an unskilled assistant to a guy who drove from office to office fixing printers. He was a heavy smoker and much of our time was spent stopping for cigarette breaks. We rode around in a tiny garbage-strewn Honda which stank of Marlboro 100s.
When my birthday came around I had a cold and was not in the mood to socialize, especially not with my mother, and when she asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner I said no, I'd rather just hang around at home. It was a weekend, though, so she and my grandmother went out. I did a little drawing and then went to bed.
I got woken up by the phone. I ignored it and went back to bed, but it kept ringing, so I got up and answered it irritably. It was my mother, calling from an infirmary. She told me that she and Grandma had gotten rear-ended by a drunk driver on the way home from the restaurant, but that it wasn't serious. She asked me to please not worry. I took this at face value and after she hung up I went back to bed.
I was waked again about an hour later by my mother, who was upset that I wasn't sitting up worrying about her. I shrugged and repeated what she'd told me, that the accident wasn't a big deal. I'd assumed she was being genuine and hadn't given it another thought. Everybody went to bed.
If my mother had been upset with me the night before, the next day she was furious. She looked pretty rough. Her injuries, though superficial, had had time to set in overnight. The airbag had smacked her pretty hard and it looked as though somebody had blacked her eyes... she had a couple of small abrasions on her cheek and the bridge of her nose. I shuddered to see her like that. My mother worked herself into a fury. "I can't believe you would go back to sleep! Sometimes I don't know if you care about us at all!" Just then I didn't know either. I didn't need this. She was playing with my head, telling me to relax and then stomping me when I did.
My grandmother's shin had been whacked by some molding and she'd had to have stitches. She was a little more sanguine but there was this air of sadness about her, as though she was buying in to the portrayal of me as a bad son. I felt like I was being set up, being made to feel guilty, and I always hated that. If they'd do that to me, then fine, I didn't care. Let them have what they wished for.
A couple of days later we drove out to the wreck yard to get all the personal stuff out of Mom's car. The insurance company had designated the yellow Mustang as totaled. When we got there I saw that the entire back end had been crumpled in, and the back seat, where I would have been sitting had I joined them for dinner, was heaved upward about a foot.
For the holiday season I got a surreal job at Honeybaked Ham. Mostly they had me making sandwiches in the stifling hot glazing room. Behind me, a line of guys with flamethrowers were melting amber glaze powder onto spiral-cut hams, tongues of blue flame licking over the surface of the meat, the roar of the torches drowning out the heavy metal belting from the overhead speakers. A guy wearing kiln gloves would wrap the sizzling carcasses in heavy-duty foil when they were finished. On occasion they'd have me put on a thick full-body parka and ski gloves and go into the freezer to shift stuff around; from a virtual oven to a cold so intense that even I couldn't take it indefinitely.
One day we were outside on break and I got shit from another metalhead because of my Maiden t-shirt. "Why, what do you listen to?" I asked, raising my eyebrows. "Slayer," he replied, as if the cachet of his musical taste should have flattened me. "Slayer's okay," I said, considering. "I'm more into Ministry, Throbbing Gristle, Neubauten...." He looked at me blankly. I was an alien species. "Never mind," I said.
The job was strictly seasonal and after three weeks I was let go. I was keeping the creditors at bay by this time. My contribution to Christmas was kind of thin as a result, but I did what I could, hoping the holiday would help dissolve the bad feelings between my mother and myself. She must have felt the same. To my surprise, my mother actually bought me things I'd asked for. She got me the soundtrack to Hellraiser II, as well as something by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. But she had reservations. She was worried that the latter tape was Satanic, that it would brainwash me. Her boyfriend Larry, who was really into Hendrix and should have known better, had convinced her that such music existed; I said it wasn't, but inwardly I wasn't sure since I didn't know what the fuck 'Satanic' was. I was exasperated. People had given me shit for listening to Iron Maiden. People said that Led Zeppelin was Satanic, and my mother listened to them, and to Ted Nugent. 'Wang Dang Sweet Poontang' was harmless fun, but anything with 'Kult' in the title had to be dangerous. Brainwashing? She only listened to her music after Larry had okayed it.
After the holidays I coasted for a while and didn't get any work. I made a trip out to California late in January and sold some artwork while there. I'd bought the tickets months earlier; otherwise I probably would have surrendered the money to my creditors. As it was I started hearing from them at the end of February when my money ran out again. I had taken to hiding in my room with the door closed, talking to people online using the antiquated terminal I'd been lent. I knew few people in town and it was the only way I was holding onto my sanity.
Everything was going back to how it had been before, my mother screaming at me every day to get a job, try harder, do something, with no guidance offered. She cornered me in my room one day and shouted at me about anything that came to mind. I wasn't looking for real work, I spent too much time on the computer, I didn't give a damn about her or my grandmother. She wondered aloud what she had done wrong to make me this way, like I wasn't even in the room. I yelled at her as loud as I could to leave me alone, because I couldn't reason with her and she was just abusing me now. She moved towards me and told me not to yell at her like that, and I sensed then it would eventually end badly, that if she kept pushing me I was going to snap, I would hit her or worse. Near tears now, I said "You say you're concerned about me, but what about my feelings?" to which she said "I don't care about your feelings," and a lot of other things, but I heard nothing after that. Mostly I shut up and let her wear herself out.
I told my mother soon after that I'd realized a car would allow me to find more substantial work. She agreed. I scratched together some money by selling artwork, and getting a loan or two from my friends, and after a couple of weeks' investigation I found a retired couple who were selling a Ford LTD four-door for $300. I bought it and got plates and registration for it that day. My mother seemed pleased that I was at last taking some initiative.
The next morning I waited and listened as my mother closed the door to the garage, started up the car and backed out into the street. I watched as she drove away. Then I got dressed, and loaded the car with the boxes I'd packed the night before. It only took about an hour. I wrote a brief note so that she would know I wasn't kidnapped. Then I got in the car and headed to Gainesville, to stop over before continuing to the west coast.
I left behind a charcoal drawing of a skeleton, pasted on the empty fish tank in my room, with the name 'Ashtoreth' pasted above it. This collage was of no significance. I invited my mother's suspicious mind to give it some.