I rolled over clumsily in bed and fumbled for my phone on my nightstand to check the time. 12:15 pm, not a time any regular contributing member of society would wake up but for someone who goes to sleep at 4am (and doesn’t believe in setting an alarm) this was my reality. I shuffled over to the opposite side of the bed and stumbled into the bathroom to take a leak and wash up.
By the distant sound of running water and dishes clanking against the metal sink, I could tell that my mom was awake.
I wonder what’s for breakfast.
I dragged myself downstairs to seek the answer to this all-important question.
“Morning”, I greeted her.
“Good morning, you look like you slept well”, my mother replied as she sat at the kitchen table sipping her tea.
“Hmm”, I grunted in agreement. I grabbed the toast she had prepared from the counter and set my plate on the kitchen table. I sat in silence spreading apricot jam on my two pieces of whole wheat toast.
I guess my favorite part about breakfast was staring out the glass doors that separated me from the forest beyond the backyard fence. It invoked a fleeting sense of peace and tranquility, something I found myself longing for a lot these days.
My mother broke the silence, “I’m heading out to do some groceries after I finish eating, make sure you answer any phone calls and don’t set the house on fire while I’m gone”.
“K”, I replied and slinked back upstairs to my room after polishing off my plate and leaving it in the kitchen sink.
Time to brush my teeth.
As my daily ritual dictated, I opened Insanegram and started scrolling through my feed with one hand while brushing my teeth with the other.
Another mass shooting in the States.
Someone I went to high school with posted pictures from their proposal.
Another international conflict.
Ooh a meme. *Liked*
Someone I went to school with posted a selfie. Guess I’ll give them a like, they’re a nice enough person.
More depressing news from around the world.
Another meme. This one was kind of funny, let me send it to my buddy Ronaldo.
As I continued to scroll through a sea of memes, international news, and posts from people I was acquainted with, a few minutes passed by, and my hand grew tired of the circular motions meant to polish my teeth. I closed Insanegram and put down the phone on my table. In the washroom I spit out the paste and gargled with water a few times to get the mint flavored foam out of my mouth.
Time to check the rest of my social media apps.
But before that, I booted up my PC.
Thank God for SSDs.
This process would normally take up to 5 minutes on my crappy old laptop, technology has sure come a long way. Next up was Twotor. Not much different from Insanegram in terms of content. Some sort of horrible world or domestic tragedy being reported on followed by someone I went to school with posting some stupid motivational quotes and the usual memes. The one difference though was people with anime profile pictures arguing over which crappy show is better.
God, I love Twotor sometimes.
Nowadays, it seemed like everyone was into trading stocks and cryptocurrency. After doing some surface level research, I decided to put some of my savings into stocks and crypto through a robot advisor. I was nowhere near smart enough or patient enough to learn about the intricacies of the market on my own, so I left it up to the AI to do what it thought was best for my portfolio. I opened my stock portfolio and was surprised to see I was up a few hundred dollars; it wasn’t much but hey money is money. I headed over to my crypto account and wasn’t surprised to see that I’d lost another $100 overnight.
“Buy the dip”, they said, “You’ll become rich”, they said.
What they didn’t account for is that it would keep falling. At this point I would just have to hold onto hope that one day I can at least break even or miraculously turn a profit.
After the arduous task of checking on my finances came the most dreaded part of my morning routine, checking emails. It mostly consisted of job alerts from LinkUp or Indood and the occasional emails from companies to which I had applied. These emails rarely contained good news. I clicked on one of them.
“Dear Zayn, thank you for applying to our company. After careful consideration we regret to inform you that we are no longer moving forward with your application. We wish you the best in your search for an opportunity and invite you to apply to future postings with us as they become available.”
Wish me the best?! PISS OFF. Sigh, another rejection.
How many does that make it now? I stopped keeping track, but without a doubt I’ve applied to over 300 jobs at this point. Most companies don’t even respond to my applications, so I guess this is better than nothing.
Who am I kidding?! Better than nothing?! Screw this!
Screw these companies!
Screw my useless degrees!
SCREW MY LIFE!
I closed my emails and opened up YouVideo.
What a crappy start to my day.
Frustrated and annoyed, I sat there and tried to take my mind off my failures by catching up on the videos of channels I’m subscribed to.
Oh, a new update video for my favorite MMORPG - Ruined Escape - let’s check that out.
As I watched I just couldn’t shake that feeling. My pent-up anger and frustration had taken root in the forefront of my mind and all I could think of was being rejected once again.
When will it end?
How many more companies are going to ignore me?
Will I ever get a job or am I destined to be a NEET for the rest of my life?
I was sick and tired of feeling this way. These negative thoughts continued to cloud my head as the video played in the background.
How did things end up this way?
When was the last time I genuinely felt happy?
As I continued watching more videos, the barrage of questions within my internal dialogue slowly dissipated. I glanced over at the time, and it was already 4pm, I was getting kind of hungry, so I went downstairs and made myself a sandwich which I quickly devoured so I could return to my computer. After lunch I played Ruined Escape, mindlessly clicking to achieve a dopamine rush from gaining a level or obtaining a rare drop.
“Kids, time for dinner!”, my mom shouted from downstairs.
I glanced over at the time in the bottom corner of my screen. 8pm.
As I came out of my room into the hallway my younger brother passed by, yawning with his disheveled hair sticking up at weird angles.
“Yo”, I greeted him.
“Sup”, he responded in a hushed tone.
If anyone thought my sleeping schedule was bad, then I would have to introduce them to my brother. He usually went to sleep anywhere from 6 to 7am and woke up whenever he wanted, sometimes sleeping away the entire day.
As we entered the kitchen our mother scolded my brother, “When are you going to stop sleeping in the entire day and wake up at a normal time? You lazy ass!”
I chuckled but realized my mistake too late.
She turned to me and started nagging me as well.
“And you, when are you going to find a job instead of playing games and watching your cartoons all day, huh?!”.
“I’m trying”, I retorted.
It was my brother’s turn to laugh at me.
“How did I end up with two lazy ass good for nothing sons?!”
As our mother continued to ramble on and lecture us, we ate our food in silence, desperate to escape the berating barrage.
“Thanks for the food”, we said in unison and dumped our dishes in the sink, clambering back to our rooms.
I propped open my laptop and cozied up in my bed as I navigated to the Anime movie database (AMDB) to decide which anime to watch next. As I scoured the site for a new series to watch, half an hour passed. Nothing I clicked on interested me. I opened YouVideo and instead watched random videos into the late hours of the night as my eye’s got heavier and heavier. With my remaining strength I slammed my laptop closed and reclined in my bed.
Another wasted day.
This was my life now. For the past year it felt like I was reliving the same day, everyday. As a 24-year-old graduate with no job or source of income, living at home with my parents was really my only option. It’s not like I wanted things to be this way. I was trying to find a job and put not one but two post secondary degrees to use but at this point it had already been a year with no promising results.
Wake up, eat, check my mail, send out some job applications and then laze around for the rest of the day.
Playing video games or consuming countless other forms of entertainment had become my sole endeavor during my waking hours. As I laid in bed, the questions I’d asked myself earlier that day sprung back into my consciousness. The voice in my head repeated one question over and over.
“Where did I go wrong?”
That really got me thinking. In fact, this was something I thought about a lot lately. But it was late, and I was too tired to think of a logical answer. As I dozed off my mind continually wandered, dredging up old memories, vaulting at random between events from years past. I wanted an answer to all these questions. I wanted to confront these feelings and seriously face myself. But It was easier to just ignore that and go to sleep.
“I’m too tired.”
I ran from myself again. I hate confrontation. I know that I had to ask myself these difficult questions and try to change my stubborn and detrimental behaviors. The answers could help me escape this lifestyle, but I was too scared. Scared of reintegrating into society, scared of taking on responsibilities, scared of being a failure and scared of being outside my comfort zone.
That night I had a dream. It was not an ordinary dream. A Lucid dream perhaps? No, I couldn’t freely control this dream. Pitch black darkness enveloped me. I couldn’t see anything or determine where I was. The only sense I could rely on was touch. I felt what was something resembling a chair beneath me, my hands rested on what seemed to be armrests. Suddenly it happened, light. A blinding white light appeared before me. What looked to be a large screen typically found in cinemas was lit up in front of me. I swiveled around in the chair and to my surprise, found myself in a movie theatre. To my dismay, I couldn’t find anyone else in the large room as my eyes darted back and forth scanning the extending rows of seats.
Then I heard it. A woman’s voice. I turned to stare at the screen and there stood a familiar figure clad in a brown turtleneck and plaid shin length skirt, grinning ear to ear. She was holding chalk in her hand and stood patiently in front of a blackboard.
“Do you know the answer to this question Zayn?”
A small voice replied, “No Ms. Stevens”.
Where have I heard that name before? Then it struck me, that was the name of my first kindergarten teacher as a kid. As the child in front of me continued to look around I noticed an eerily familiar setting. The Posters on that wall, the coat racks at the back of the room, the tiny desks with the nametags placed on the edges. The child fidgeted with his nametag as the teacher continued her lesson in the background. That’s when I noticed the name – Zayn. That was my name.
Wait, could it be?!
That was my kindergarten teacher, this was my kindergarten classroom. The child whose eyes I was seeing this world through, it had to be me, it was me. As a wave of nostalgia washed over me, I realized where I was. I was back in kindergarten again. Memories of my childhood which I hadn’t recalled in decades were playing on the big screen for an audience of one.
After twenty more minutes of Ms. Stevens explaining basic addition and subtraction, a shrill bell rang out throughout the room and in the hallways. Class ended and it was time for recess.
“Come on Zayn, let’s go get dibs on the monkey bars before anyone else get’s there!”
My younger self turned around to face an impish looking boy with dirty blond hair and freckles dotting his tiny face. Behind him stood a little girl that looked uncannily like him. Ah, they must be twins. But not just any twins, I knew these two.
“Alright let’s go!”, I shouted.
“Wait for me Hunter!”, a lanky bespectacled boy with a cheerful disposition shouted as he ran after us. Another familiar face.
“Hurry up Ash, last one there is a rotten egg!”, Hunter the male twin yelled.
Ash, Hunter, I remember those names.
As we pushed the metal doors open and ran onto the pavement, I beheld a familiar sight. In the distance I could make out the figures of older children playing soccer on the furthest field of the school grounds. My eyes panned towards the center of the field where the baseball diamond stood, fenced off and off-limits outside of gym class. The sounds of children laughing, yelling, and shouting carried from the surrounding pavement all the way to the vast green fields of the school grounds.
“Come on! The monkey bars are free!”
I turned to the Eastern edge of the school grounds where the playground near the kindergarten classrooms was situated. Monkey bars, slides, a merry go round, seesaw and various climbing equipment stood near a sandbox. The playground was a paradise for grade schoolers, kindergarteners especially.
As the youngest ones in the school, most of the kindergarteners were terrified of the older kids. Kindergarteners and most first graders usually kept to the playground and pavement near their classrooms during recess. The second and third graders mostly occupied the area near the baseball diamond or the asphalted area near the center of the school. Many of them played hopscotch or loitered around near the school building. A few of the daring third graders even ventured into the territory of the fourth and fifth graders. The largest area of the schoolgrounds was dominated by the fourth and fifth graders. Half of them played basketball near the edge of the parking lot. The remainder organized themselves into teams every recess and played pick-up games of soccer for the duration of our half an hour break.
As we swung from the monkey bars and jumped around aimlessly in the sand, we got increasingly disinterested in the mundane and repetitive facilities available at our school’s playground. There’s only a certain number of times a preschool kid can go down a slide or swing around a playground merry-go-round in circles before they lose interest and try to find something else to do.
“Hey, you guys want to go and watch the big kids play soccer?”, I asked.
“What if they yell at us and make us leave?”, Hunter rebutted.
“Stop being a sissy let’s go and check it out”, my younger self mockingly retorted.
Reluctantly the twins and Ash followed me as we left the playground and made our way around the baseball diamond to the edge of the soccer pitch. The four of us stood awkwardly at the edge of the field and watched the older kids skillfully maneuver the ball around the field with fervor. I stared on in awe as players snaked around one another and made plays which at the time seemed like magic to me.
As I watched these events unfold on the screen in front of me, I was jealous of my younger self. This passion and curiosity that I once had to explore, and play was all but lost. Even at the skill level of grade schoolers, it was remarkable that such a simple game could unite so many people and inspire onlookers as well. Soccer was truly the beautiful game.
I continued to watch on when the freckled twin girl interrupted us, “This is boring I’m going back to the playground”.
As she turned around and walked away, a white and black blur suddenly whizzed by from the corner of my eye. The ball hit the girl squarely in the back of the head and she fell face first into the grass.
A towering figure ran over and worriedly asked, “Are you okay? I’m so sorry”.
“Hannah, are you hurt?!”, her twin brother yelled. As we rushed over to their side, I noticed tears welling up in her eyes.
“I’m fine”, she croaked, holding back her tears with all her strength.
The towering figure turned to us and said, “You guys should be careful, it’s dangerous for you little kids to be playing around here. What grade are you guys in?”
“We’re in kindergarten”, I responded.
“Well, you’re a couple years too early to be hanging around the soccer field. Anyways, are you sure you’re alright? I can take you to the nurses office”, he said turning back to Hannah.
“I’m fine”, she muttered again in her tiny voice. Hunter and Ash helped her to her feet and trudged back towards the school.
“Do you think I can play with you guys some day?”, I asked.
“Sorry, it gets pretty rough when we play and we wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt during a game”, he explained.
“I’ll tell you what though, come by next week after school and I might show you a few tricks and skills”.
I perked up, “Really?!! That sound so cool, thanks!”.
“No problem, I’m Osman by the way, nice to meet you”, he said.
“I’m Zayn, nice to meet you too”. Just then the bell rang to signal that recess was over.
“Well, we better start heading back to class, I’ll see you around”, Osman said as he ran back towards the school.
Back in class Hunter asked, “Dude who was that guy? What was he talking to you about?”.
“Oh, his names Osman he’s a third grader and he was just saying that he can show me how to do some cool soccer skills”, I replied.
Hannah looked over at me scornfully and remarked, “It’s your fault that I got hit by that ball”.
“Not really, it’s your fault for running away and not paying attention to your surroundings”, I retorted.
Tears began to well up in her eyes again, “I hate you”, she huffed and ran back to her desk laying her head down on a makeshift pillow fashioned from her arms.
“What’s her problem?”, Ash asked.
“Just leave her alone for a while, she’ll be fine soon”, her brother responded.
As class ended, we all waited patiently for our parents to come pick us up. As I munched on a granola bar, I spotted my mother walking up to the school courtyard through the class window. My classmate Manny who lived in the same apartment complex came over and asked if we could walk home together.
“Stay safe, see you guys tomorrow”, Ms. Stevens called out to us.
Our mothers greeted us then turned to each other and began gossiping about whatever housewives gossip about. Manny and I skipped along talking about the latest episode of a popular TV show at the time. School wasn’t far from home, just a short 5-minute walk. As we approached the crosswalk near the school gates our Jolly old crossing guard Dave wished us a good evening and told us to stay safe.
And then something unexpected happened. Just as we crossed the street, the sound of screeching tires and a revving engine zoomed by behind our backs. From the corner of my eye, I witnessed a red convertible swerve, narrowly missing Dave as he stumbled back to the other side of the road. The usually cheerful elder gentleman swore in front of us kids for the first time, shaking his fist at the driver as he sped off.
“Are you okay, Dave?!”, my mother yelled from across the street.
“I’m fine, you guys stay safe and get home”.
Manny's mother asked, “Do you want us to call the police?”.
“No, it’s alright, he’s long gone, and I didn’t get a good look at his plates”, Dave waved to us as our shaken mothers held us tightly and began the trek home.
On our five-minute walk home, we walked by housing complexes on either side of the road of the sprawling urban landscape. Looking back on it, this neighborhood wasn’t the safest place to live in, but it was still home. This overpopulated neighborhood was designed for low-income folks and was home for many immigrant families, my own included. As we neared the looming 24-story apartment complex, Manny and his mother said their farewells and veered off to the neighboring apartment complex, one that was infamous for being a haven for gang members, petty thieves, and other alleged criminals.
As we entered the lobby my mother used her key dongle on the locked security doors to enter the ground floor. I rushed over to the elevators to push the button and fidgeted whilst waiting. Once inside I hopped to press the button for the eleventh floor and smiled proudly at my mother.
“Good job, you’re getting tall enough to reach the upper buttons”, she spoke with a distant smile on her face.
As we arrived on the eleventh floor, I sped down the hall outside our apartment door and waited for my mother to open the door. Once inside my mom told me to put my school things away, wash up and change my clothes. I ran to my bedroom and tossed my backpack on the floor and quickly undressed, putting on some shorts and a T-shirt. After washing up I headed to the cramped living room where my mother handed me my dinner.
“I’m going to pick up your brother from your aunt’s place, don’t open the door for anyone”, She said hurriedly grabbing her keys.
I chowed down on my dinner whilst watching the afternoon cartoons while my mother locked the door and headed to the twelfth floor to bring home my baby brother from my aunt’s house. I continued watching cartoons as I finished my food and waited for my mother to get home. By the time she got back I was beginning to feel lethargic and sapped of all my energy. I heard keys jangle in the hallway and then the sound of the lock click as my mother opened the door. In her arms was my baby brother.
"When’s dad going to be home?”, I asked her while making faces at my infant brother.
“He’s working late again, so he’ll probably get back while you’re asleep.”, she responded.
As the sun set, my younger self could barely keep his eyes open. It was time for bed, another exciting school day lay ahead. As the little me shut his eyes, the screen faded to black. The pitch-black darkness returned to the mysterious theatre.
Wait, what happens next?
The panic set in again as I lost the use of all senses but touch. Suddenly the entire room began to shake.
No, a distant buzzing shook the room at regular intervals. I jolted open my eyes to see me phone inching closer to the edge of my nightstand as it vibrated. I didn’t recognize the number on the screen but answered anyway.
"Hello?”, I spoke groggily.
“Hi sir, this is ABC Duct cleaning services and today we….”, I hung up.
Another spam call, perfect way to start my day. As I came to my senses, I couldn’t get my mind off the events that took place last night. It felt like a dream, but I had never had a dream so vivid and full of details.
Oh well, I’ll probably forget about it in a few minutes.
I got up to go to the washroom and start the day.