Out Of Touch [Short Story]

I can still remember when Jessica and I met for the first time back in 7th grade. She was just as shy as I was and our classmates tried to pick on us. She was the helping hand I needed and I did everything I could to give back accordingly. During our school career we were like peanut butter and jelly, Spongebob and Patrick, Ash and Pikachu; no one could stop us. Jessica and Joanne, the Double-J’s. I was in love with photography and Jessica was the perfect model. People didn’t like her because not only was she humble, sweet and innocent but also the most beautiful girl out there. We always dreamt of our own little advertisement agency. She was supposed to hire models or model herself and I was the artist who gave our creations the life and depth.

We graduated eventually. I pursued culture studies and French because I wanted to become a teacher if our start-up would fail. She went with economics as a major. I moved out of town. She stayed where she was and drove down to college every single day. Jessica became barkeeper at a local club. I taught students to gather some experience. Every weekend we would meet up on Saturdays and do photo shoots. At first we ran a fashion blog, later on we jumped on the Instagram bandwagon. Jessica met some people with influence at the club mainly advertisers looking for models, distributers and even designers. So many people willing to help us getting closer to our dream.

I will never forget our first actual campaign for a small tech start-up. They wanted to do ads in local newspapers and we delivered with the best shots they could get for their budget. Everything seemed to work out just fine. Yet, I started to become a little worried about Jessy. She drank. A lot. Every Sunday she would brag about her crazy wasted adventures in the local nightlife. She told me about her new friends that are obsessed with her and the unimaginable sex she had with total strangers. It started to confuse me. I always had been a person who favoured deep meaningful relationships to superficial adventures and facebook friendships with people who barely remember you when they‘re sober. I mean it was okay with me. She was supposed to have fun. But this sudden and slight shift in personality was something unusual. Sad thing is, it didn‘t stop there.

A couple of weeks later I‘ve got a call in the middle of the night of a drunk, barely speaking Jessica. She asked me to come. She said she was scared and needed some company. She said she was at Randy‘s bar. So I changed clothes, drove down to our hometown and went to the bar as fast as I could. There she was with three pretty messed up looking men. Hygiene was not part of their vocabulary. Two of them were kissing Jess in turns, the other guy just sat there waiting while creepily staring at Jessica and his two pals.
When she saw me, she shouted: „Hey Joanne, come here! This sweetie over there wants some company for tonight.“
I was so pissed. Did she just call me in the middle of the night to hook me up with some weirdo?
„What is wrong with you, Jessy? You said you were scared. Scared of what?!“
„Joanne, calm the fuck down. I am scared that you‘ll die as a virgin. This fella here is Derek and when I showed him a picture of you he was stoked. He‘s down, give him a shot“, she said, laughing half of the time.
„Are you out of your mind? No offence Derek, but I will not just randomly hook up with the first stranger you walk buy, Jessy!“
She looked at me like I was a mad man: „Come on, have some fun“, she said.
I just turned around and left.

The next morning she sent me a picture of her smiling with all three of the guys in bed. I was disgusted by that selfie, but whatever floats her boat. None of my business. I was upset for a couple of days but eventually things settled and everything seemed to be back to normal.
Then she called me. She wanted to go out on dinner with me to talk about something. I accepted the invitation. Saturday came around and we met at the Chinese place next to our former high school.

At first we ordered. Then we had a little chat.
„Joanne, I wanna be honest with you“, she said, „I don‘t want to become a model anymore. And this agency of ours will probably never happen.“
I was a little shocked she pretty much threw that right in my face, but I kind of knew already. So I replied: „Well, that‘s okay. I think our dream was just that. A dream.“
„Yeah, I mean, Joanne, you know, you‘re not even that talented and I am not that beautiful to begin with. It was a stupid idea.“
Ouch. That hurt. I alway knew I wasn‘t the best photographer in the world. But my long-term best friend telling me I was untalented. I didn‘t know what to say. Or even how to react. I just sat there and stared into the void. We ate. We drank. We talked like nothing really happened and then we left that place. I headed home and cried for the rest of the evening. I felt betrayed and worthless. All the positive feedback, the certificates I got in photography courses in high school, everything didn‘t matter. Jessica said I sucked, thus I sucked. „Not even that talented“.

Sometimes I look back at this and think if I had acted differently, I would be in a much better place now. Of course she called again. And texted. And acted like nothing ever was. To her nothing ever happened. Only I suffered every time she reminded me how low she thought of my abilities as an artist. But she‘s not an artist. How is she supposed to know? I hung out, I replied and acted like nothing was wrong. The months went by. I found purpose in life through a documentary about minimalism, got rid of a lot of things and started to play the guitar. I was good at it. And I loved it. It felt like I finally had found my passion (even though I now know that is not entirely true, since I already had a passion I was outstanding at). And I met new people that were kind, compassionate and like-minded. They knew that empathy towards others is the only thing that keeps our modern society together and helps us shape a brighter future. I finally was happy again. I faded out of my crippling depression, something I was only aware of after I got out of it.

Finally, I felt better about myself, despite Jessica. Yet, every time she texted or called, I replied. She mostly bragged about the expensive things she can now buy because of her new job. Even though I sometimes dropped the info that I don‘t find value in useless shiny stuff she just kept going. She also bragged about some disturbing sexual experiences and things she let men do to her. It was almost like she wanted me to show how great of a woman she is and what makes her the superior female.

It was 12th February 2019 when she wanted to meet again at Yongh‘s at 8 pm, to „get back in touch with each other“. I accepted. When we met, we ordered the usual and did some small talk to get conversation going. I thought it would be a good idea to tell her about my new friends.
„Hey, you won‘t believe it. A friend of mine, Elena, is into self-improvement now. The fun part is, she reads a lot of the stuff I read last year when I stumbled upon minimalism“, I said.
She asked: „Well, what‘s funny about that?“
„Elena basically talks about the same things I already told her like a couple of months ago. And here‘s the craziest part: Before she started her journey of self-improvement, she spent enormous amounts of money in clothes, clunkers and a mac, just to realise that not a single purchase would fill the void in her heart. She got rid of most of it and lives like a monk now.“
Jessica gasped a little and then replied: „Well, she just bought the wrong stuff.“
I wanted to tell her about how she misses the point but usually people won‘t change their mind even if (or more likely because) they realise that they‘re wrong. So I changed the subject: „You mentioned you have a new job which pays great. Tell me something about it.“
„I‘m working at Parker&Parker, the insurance company. And let me tell you, Jeff, my boss, already loves me. He said that I made the most customers last month.“
„What‘s your secret?“, I asked curiously.
„I scare people. Especially old ladies. Tell them some horrifying story about how they end up on the street if they don‘t think about this and that and boom… They will pay a lot for an insurance they don‘t even need.“
„That‘s messed up, Jessy“, I said in shock. She just casually bragged about this like it was nothing, a mere inconvenience to great success.
„No, it‘s not. This is survival of the fittest. That‘s how our economy works. Either you play the game or the game plays you“, she yelled at me.
„Calm down!“, I said, „Don‘t you think you could earn the same and „survive as the fittest“ without ripping old folks off?“
„If I never want to get a raise…“, she replied with a shady smile.
I was literally speechless. The humble and brave little girl that went out of her way to help me out back in school no longer existed. The woman in front of me was not the Jessica I knew.
I mumbled: „Come on, Jess, have some empathy.“
„Empathy for what? These old fucks don‘t matter. They‘ll die in a couple of years and just take a cut of our tax-payer money. I need to make sure that I earn enough to not do the same mistakes they did.“
„Jesus H Christ, your talking about people here, Jess. They breathe, eat, drink, love and feel just like you. Don‘t you see that they need their hard earned retirement money themselves? The wealthiest 1 percent own 45 percent of the entirety and our government does everything to make it worse. In a couple of decades you could be harmed by this as well. Don‘t you wish that people you trust with insurances or any expert in that matter would actually care about your own interests?“
She just stared bored at me and said: „I‘ll earn six figures or more by that.“
„And what do you want to do with all that money?“, I asked while we paid for our food and left the restaurant.
„New car, the latest iPhone, a new computer, more clothes, a nice big home with at least three dining rooms.“
„Come on. Why would you need three dining rooms? You are single!“
„To be happier!“, she shouted at me. Some people on the sidewalk turned around and stared at us.
„You can‘t buy happiness“, I said calmly to take out the heat of the moment.
„Of course you can. I do it all the time“, she yelled even louder.
„That doesn‘t sound like you actually believe it yourself, girl. What do you try to prove? Who do you try to impress?“, I asked, still chill.
„The entire world needs to see that I have the best sex, clothes, and life. I have everything and I am so happy about it. And I want more! I work 16 hours per day to get more. Don‘t you dare say to me that I don‘t deserve it.“
„I never even implied that. I said you can‘t buy happiness. Do you even like what you do? It sure does not sound like it.“

The following is my last memory: I remember that she furiously pushed me onto the street and I got hit by a truck. I just lay there in agony for a couple of minutes until I lost too much blood and everything went dark. Since the 12th February 2019 at 8:47 pm I am dead, killed by the woman who once was an innocent girl with the courage to help me. Just like me, that girl doesn‘t exist anymore.

(c) 2019 Johannes Scherbel


photographer – by Henric Silversnö (CC BY 2.0)

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