Jeff Hill is a moderately reformed frat boy turned writer/teacher splitting his time between Nebraska and New York. His work has appeared in over a dozen publications and his mom has a binder full of printed copies for any doubters. Jeff is the Chief Creative Officer of ComicBooked.com and is currently seeking representation for his novels, Dead Facebook Friends and Dead Week.
“Everything I know is a lie,” she said, as I gave her the look I felt I was supposed to give her after such a dramatic statement.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she snaps. “Just… stop it.”
“How am I supposed to look at you? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to argue with you? Yell?”
She crumples her napkin up into a ball and tosses it playfully at my face, missing by about an inch.
I put up my fists, acting like a 1950s boxer.
She smiles, then shifts back to her concerns and immediately breaks down. “When are you going to take me seriously?” she asks.
Never, I think to myself.
“I do take you seriously, babe.”
She cringes. “I hate when you call me that. It sounds so painfully normal. So dreadfully average. So…”
“Real?” I ask more than say.
When she asked me to meet her at the bar for an early cocktail, I had no idea that she was going to be acting like this. To be completely honest, I never would have agreed if I knew.
“Okay,” I start. “I’ll bite. Why is everything you know suddenly a lie?”
“Don’t be an ass,” she replies, dodging the big question.
I don’t bring it up again.
My phone vibrates and even though I know I’ll catch hell for it, I check to see who has just texted me.
“It’s her, isn’t it?” she asks.
“You don’t get to ask that,” I tell her.
I pay for the drinks. We walk out separately. And I never do ask her what her problem was today. Partly because I don’t really care, but mostly because I already know.
It never really surprises me when I hear enemy fire.
This place is ridiculous. It’s dangerous, it’s dark, and no matter where I go, it always seems to smell like piss. My boss told me that the best photojournalists will live their photos, not just take them. But I never in a million years expected him to follow up on that statement the drunken night he offered me the promotion with the magazine.
You’ve probably heard of it. You might even read it. But none of that matters right now. To be completely honest, it’s all a bunch of horse shit.
War, that is.
I was sent to cover this damn war. I don’t have any moral links to one side or the other, but my god, does it suck here.
The group tasked with keeping me alive has done a decent enough job so far, I suppose. I mean, after all, I’m not dead yet. So yay me and good for them. But seriously… what’s the point of it all?
It’s just a job, I keep telling myself. Nothing matters except that paycheck. I don’t have anyone back home waiting for me. I don’t have any gigantic life aspirations that I have to return home for. And to be completely honest, the most exciting thing I’ve ever done is binge-watch the entire first season of True Detective. Damn good TV, if you ask me. But, just like everything else in life, it sort of just kind of… peaked. You know?
That first kiss? It’s all downhill after. The first time you put your boss in his place? Doesn’t really feel that great if it happens again. The first time doing something you’re not supposed to do? Excitement sort of cuts in half every subsequent outing. And if you take it a step further, which I always do, and include someone you’re not supposed to do said activity with? Well, you’re never going to top that first one.
Family’s not for me. I could have tried it a couple of times, but it just never seemed to be something I’d be any good at. A career is just a word that people use to justify wasting a third or half or more of their day doing something that sucks. And travel is just an excuse to be temporary.
As much as it pains me to admit it, I think she was onto something. The day before I shipped out, I thought she was going to cut ties before I could break her heart. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe she was right. Maybe everything we know is a lie.
Six long months passed.
I won an award. I got paid. I got a big promotion. She got married.
While I was away, nothing much changed here in the States. We got a new president, but he’s just another guy just doing a job and trying his best to keep us from what I just spent six months covering over there. I got a new apartment on the Upper West Side, she got a new house in Brooklyn.
I saw a wedding announcement before she asked me to meet her when I was planning to call it off. I didn’t think she’d actually go through with it. I think I’m happy for her, or is it just that I feel like that would be the human thing to feel?
I don’t know anymore.
I send her an email at work, but it comes back with a message failure receipt. My boss walks into my new office, his old one (He got a promotion, too. Yay us.) and asks me what’s wrong.
“So… We’re like friends now?” I ask, genuinely concerned about this impending new social situation I’ve potentially forced myself into.
He smiles, lets out a fake laugh, and then pats me on the shoulder as he begins talking about senseless corporate babble from “upstairs.” I don’t know if he gets the irony of the situation or not. We are on the thirtieth floor. There are only thirty floors at the magazine.
I call her on my lunch break (I get two hours now. Sweet.) and it goes straight to voice mail. For some strange reason, I can’t bring myself to leave a message. I order food that I don’t eat and an incorrectly-poured Guiness that seems to mock me as I sit at the bar and look at all of the people who don’t seem to get it.
A waitress leaves her phone number on a bar napkin underneath my tab. I pocket the digits and pay with cash, tipping well for no reason other than why the hell not.
As I head back into the office, I see a marquee with my name on it.
I text her. “You were right.”
I get a response back from her number, but very obviously not from her. This is the first time I’ve “met” her husband. And probably the last.
“You bet your ass she was.”