In high school, I told the careers counsellor that I wanted to be useless.
“I think you should reconsider that,” she said.
And so I did. I decided it would be terribly disappointing for my parents. I took home the list of fifty careers that were said to be a good match for me based on a fifteen-minute quiz we took in the computer lab. I showed it to Mom and Dad.
“Well?” I said.
“We just want you to be happy,” said Mom.
Dad nodded and said, “Masaya,” which translates to happy. I noticed he’d been copping out like that a lot lately whenever I came to them with a dilemma. He would just repeat what Mom said in Tagalog, smile brilliantly at me, then look back down at his newspaper. That evening there was a hole in it, where he’d cut something out.
I graduated high school. I told my best friend I would stay in our hometown, instead of moving into a brownstone dorm with her in New York, where we’d both been accepted to Columbia. My best friend was the most popular girl at school.
“I think you should reconsider that, if you want to stay friends,” she said.
I looked into her eyes. I couldn’t picture her ever being lonely in a big city. I knew I would never be lonely as long as I was somewhere I’d never get lost in.
I got a job frying chicken at the back of the supermarket, where people lined up for last-minute dinners for their loved ones. I tried to guess how many members were in their families based on how many drumsticks they took home. Some people made me dig through the metal tray for the best one, as if I hadn’t been trained to batter and fry them so that each had approximately the same amount of flavor. I would clack my tongs impatiently.
Dad died of a heart attack my second year of community college. As they lowered him into the hole in the ground, a man I’d never seen before who had a comb-over and a beautifully lined face threw the heels of his palms to his eyes and held them there.
“Who was that?” I asked Mom afterwards. I sat across from her at the kitchen table, in her chair. She sat in Dad’s.
“A very close friend of his from a long time ago.”
They had been boyhood friends before fighting over my mom when they met her at a bar one night. My dad had whisked her away to America as soon as it was clear he was going to win. The man was an immigration lawyer well past retirement age, living three hours away from where the funeral was, five if you included traffic. My dad had seen his ad in the newspaper once and cut his picture out, Mom said. She had secretly written down his number from the ad but only dialed it once. Did Dad cut out the picture so he wouldn’t have to see it while reading the news? Or did he want to keep it as a memory of the bond he’d sacrificed?
“Hindi ko alam,” said Mom, reading my mind. I don’t know.
After five years of taking general ed classes, I knew more about zoology, American Sign Language, Portuguese, photography, and urban beekeeping than anyone in the community college other than the tutors. I decided it was time to choose a major. Music theory was the only thing I left on my list that I wanted to learn more about.
“Do you want to be a musician?” the community college careers counsellor asked.
She lowered her head, pinching the bridge of her nose.
“Do you have a migraine?” I asked.
I was now the deli manager at the supermarket. I loved my job so much. I watched my regular customers age and reproduce, their addiction to comfort food passed down like a gene. I was paid well, supporting Mom and myself through the GFC, which I kept picturing in my mind’s eye as spelled out “global fried chicken.” Others weren’t so lucky. At the end of the day I would save the leftovers and give them away. My store manager found out and didn’t mind. There were whispers that he was retiring. There were whispers that I was next in line to the throne. I didn’t need a degree or a certificate of any kind. But for some reason I wanted one.
I went to a bar, because that’s where the people around me said they went when they were stressed out.
“I have to go home now,” I said to the boy, who had grass-green eyes and a warm torso. I lifted his fingertips with mine, peeling his arm away like a long, wet sticker.
“Are you sure about that?” he said. I hopped out of the bed with a start, but he held onto my arm, putting one hand in front of the other like he was climbing a rope that would pull him out of the sea. I jerked it away in spite of the lust re-filling my bones. I would be late for work. I bumped into the nightstand behind me, which was actually just a bar stool with a glass of water on it. The glass broke dramatically.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” he said.
An outside hire was brought in to take over the store. She called me into her office that morning, and then clicked through her computer for several minutes, while I sat there, my mind wandering.
I imagined the naked boy on his knees, picking up the shards of glass.
“You need to stop giving away the leftover food,” she said.
“But we were just going to throw it away.”
“Why are you talking back to me? Think about how reckless you’re being and let me know when you’re ready to apologize.”
We both closed the store that night. I told the new manager I couldn’t see myself throwing food away every day when it could be in someone’s stomach. She fired me.
I had moved into a new apartment in anticipation of the promotion I never got. I was living alone for the first time in my life. When I got home, I opened the bottle of pinot gris Mom had bought me to say “congrats, I love you, I just want you to be happy, I miss you.” She lived ten minutes away.
I googled the word “reconsider.” A song called “Reconsider Me” from the 1960s came up. Four different singers had recorded it, including a guy whose last name was “Pillow.” I played each version on my laptop, singing along to the lyrics once I got the hang of the melody.
Like a sparrow with a broken wing
Who’s come back to beg you to reconsider me
Oh, reconsider me
The sun burned pink into my room. I floated in song, rocking back and forth in 4/4 time. Notes swirled around me like a swarm of bees.