Thomas Cannon, 7/16/2012
Current Occupation: teacher of children with significant disabilities
Former Occupation: pizza delivery
Contact Information: Thomas Cannon’s story about his son is the lead story in the anthology Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism. He also has poems and short stories published in literary magazines and on websites. Thomas lives in Oshkosh, WI with his wife and three children. He supports his family and his writing with a career as a special education teacher.
Todd typed “entry level positions” in the Google search bar. He didn’t bother limiting it to Wisconsin. For the first four months after graduation, he had looked for openings in the Madison area for a research assistant or anything that would be similar. Lately, he had been sending out resumes statewide for any related jobs, but they did not produce a single phone call.
Now he was ready to go anywhere for anything.
His search gave him 54,500,000 results with the first ones being websites for job search companies. He could not bring himself to click on any of them. What would they do for me? he asked himself, besides put me on every scammer’s list. The thing he had learned only recently was that everyone wanted to something from you. What was college but a promise of success in order to get your money? And when that wonderful job didn’t come after graduation, the girlfriend leaves you. Other things that had never bothered him, now operated retroactively on his psyche. He remembered the words his father had said coming up to him after his graduation ceremony. “Well, your mom and I have to get home and feed the dogs.” It was like they dismissed their obligation to him the moment his education was done.
He longed for his old campus job at the library help desk. There he could use the computer to find something for someone and be able to put his finger on the answer and say, “Here’s what you were looking for. Right here.”
Disheartened, he typed “my life sucks.” into the search bar. He found 48,900,000 hits. The top one was mymiserablelife.com. He read some of the stories on this website. People with disabilities. People who had contracted herpes through a cheating spouse and people with terrible childhoods. Stories much worse than his. But they did not bring him to “at least I’m not them.” These peoples’ lives just proved to him the world that much more hopeless. He got what was left of the raspberry vodka bought for his long-gone girlfriend from the top of the refrigerator and read every story on the website, toasting to the people who had posted their stories.
The vodka burned his throat and each time, he did not think he could take another drink, but he did. Then he looked on the web for paradise. Some pages that would take him away from where he was. He googled images of beaches in Jamaica, Hawaii, and Tahiti.
When he finished the vodka, he got up from his only connection to the world to go buy some more alcohol. He walked through the November streets of Madison. Blocks away, college kids were walking down State Street in large, unruly groups. But the street he was on was silent as he walked.
Everything was silent as he stood in front of his second destination after the liquor store–Sarah’s apartment. He saw the glow of the TV from the living room. She would be there, watching a movie under a blanket with her new boyfriend. She had picked someone like her- a sophomore and destined for graduate school. It would be a long time before they had to face reality. He sat down on the curb and drank some of the raspberry vodka that he could not stand.
Then he returned home and to the computer. He tried to type in “I want a better life”, but typed in “a bitter life.” A website called Bitterdudes, loaded and he thought that somehow it would help him, but as he scrolled through it, not able to focus on the words, he saw pictures of beer and guys drinking with girls in tight fitting German waitress outfits.
These guys know nothing of being bitter, he thought. He tried to email them and set them straight, but then decided that when he was sober; he would not want to face the response from the four definitely non-bitter guys.
He went back to Google and typed in “I need love” and got a hit from eBay, “Whatever you need you can get it on eBay,” he told his empty apartment. He clicked on this link. He got auctions for CDs by Olivia Newton John and LL Cool J. So he typed in “love” on eBay’s search bar. Related searches was girlfriend. He clicked on that. Auctions for pics of ex-girlfriends came up. If the descriptions were to be believed, these were guys getting back at their ex-lovers. Even if he had such pictures of Sarah, he could not imagine wanting revenge on her like that. He typed in what he wanted from eBay. He typed in “the answer.” He got a penis enlarger. His finger wavered over the mouse for a moment and then he went back to Google.
He stared at his screen for the longest time. I have everything against me. I can’t escape. He thought, if I could only have a few moments without thinking about my bills my problems, my loneliness.
He typed in “how to stop worrying.” A website called How to Stop Worrying and Start Living came up. It was a summary of a book by Dale Carnegie. Todd printed this summary off and read it. He felt lifted. Because there were answers for lonely people. He truly did. But as he thought about it and as the alcohol made its way to his brain, he realized that these tips would not help him. A whole college education had not helped him to forgive his parents, find love, or even pay the rent. “I am trapped,” he said aloud. He put his hands over his face and cried.
Then the late hour and the effects of the vodka overtook him and he slumped into a deep sleep at his computer. His face fell onto the keyboard and the vodka bottle, with its contents, plinked to the floor.
He awoke to the sound of beeping caused by his face lying on the keyboard. He heard his monitor hum on and he looked to it as it warmed up to show the gyrating Bezier curves of his screensaver. He jiggled his mouse and the screensaver lifted to show that in the night, during terrible, unrecallable dreams, he had hit random letters into the search bar in the middle of the screen.
His hands curl into fists and he mashed them on the keyboard. He brought his hands down over and over again. One hit for each terrible thing in his life.
But he stopped in a panic as he saw the blue screen of death come up. Blue screen is never good. But then in white letters the words, “Todd Kowalski, type in your query.” appeared.
His fingers instantly began to type his response. There were only two times when he could react without thinking things through or without researching information. When he was angry or drunk and he was both. He scoffed though as he typed, “Where can I find happiness?” and hit enter.
White letters replaced the others. “112 Main Street East.”
With a slow flicker, his computer returned to windows.
His heart raced as he tried to comprehend what was happening, but as he sat and watched the sun come up over the city, he really had only one question. “What do I got to lose?”
On the glass door, below the number plate 112, was the title I.C.A.R.E. Without stopping to think about the last time he had even talked to anyone or why someone was in the office so early, he walked in. A woman sat in the middle of the room at a desk. Behind her were partitions for offices.
“Hello. How can I help you?” she asked.
Todd did not know how to answer that.
Then a slender woman in a sharply tailored suit came to the doorway behind the receptionist. “Todd?”
He blinked. “Yes.”
“Oh my God. Todd Kowalski.” She ran up to him and hugged him. She squeezed him and then squeezed again. “You don’t remember me?”
Todd blinked. “No. I’m sorry. I don’t.”
“Janet Green. From high school. Here comes the planet Janet?
“I lost a hundred and fifty pounds.”
Then Todd could see Janet. She always had a cute face, but now looked incredible. He smiled and gave her a hug back.
“You were one of the good ones, Todd. In high school.”
They had been in Choir together and a few other classes. Janet reminisced about things he had not thought about in a long time. She told him how he had been a good guy to her when most had teased her relentlessly.
Janet had founded I.C.A.R.E., an organization that helped adoptees find their birth families, after she found hers through the Internet. Janet had to leave him for a meeting, but not before she asked him if he was all right and offered him a job.
Todd searched his computer for something that would lead to the blue screen. An embedded piece of spyware or a cookie. He searched his Explorer history, and even tried pounding on his keyboard again. On Google, he searched for I.C.A.R.E., but did not find any information other than its website and it only provided information on how the organization went about finding birth parents. He googled Janet Green, but there wasn’t any results for his Janet Green. So instead, he searched his old yearbook for Janet. He found a picture of her. She had chubby, acned cheeks and braces.
He had known that Janet’s life had not been easy. All through school, kids tormented her about her weight and her gay parents that had adopted her. He prompted himself that while he had been nice to her, he had never stood up to the teasing. In his yearbook, her illegible good-luck message told him a positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth it.
In the morning, he got up and got ready for work, but he was not sure when Janet was expecting him. He was ready at eight, but waited until he could arrive at work at ten to nine. Then he walked to 112 Main Street East.
On the door was The Southern Wisconsin Crisis Center for Families written in small, white letters. Below that was a sign that read: Accepting applications for entry-level positions. It was not the organization that had been there yesterday. He was pretty sure that Janet did not work there.
He opened the door and went in.