I Call All My Exes Darren

“Bad,” a short story by Chelsea Martin

I Call All My Exes Darren

“Bad” by Chelsea Martin

I feel like I’ve done something wrong, but can’t put my finger on what. I lie in bed trying to recount all the dumb things I’ve said recently that might blow up in my face. Then I think of all the things I have that are worth keeping and how I might fuck up and lose them. There are a lot of possibilities. But I can always move away again if I want to.

Darren used to say blaming myself for bad things I had nothing to do with was a form of self-flattery. He said I shouldn’t give myself so much credit. I call all my exes ‘Darren,’ and I imagine them as one large mass, bound together by some sticky solution that they contract from sleeping with me. I probe the mass with an extended finger the way I’d probe a Jenga tower, looking for something that feels vulnerable that I can displace for my own gain.

Darren used to wear socks to bed but not underwear. He moved all the way across the country when we broke up and I never talked to him again. After I reinstalled Chrome on my laptop, months later, I realized I lost his Netflix password. It’s sad when things end.

Another Darren started a punk band with my brother while we were going out and they still play shows. Sometimes I go to the shows when I’m back in town to cause petty drama. I pretend I want to get back with Darren. I flirt with him in the green room, where I’m not supposed to be. I compliment him on his cargo jorts. I wave to Darren’s new girlfriend as I leave the venue in the middle of the show.

“Their new songs are so good,” I yell to her. “Your face is pretty.”

I’ve been waking up late due to staying up late, which gives me little time in the morning to relax before work. I like to make coffee and walk around my apartment, and move objects around until they feel right. Last week I put a giant hole in my wall trying to hang a picture. I cried. That wall was so easy to take care of before I broke it. Lots of things in life aren’t as easy to take care of as a wall. I know I’ll never take that wall for granted again. I will use all my mental energy making sure.

Darren, the real Darren, the namesake of the mass of exes, if I’m remembering correctly, was from Wisconsin. He liked bands I had never heard of, but not in a cool, obscure way. Like, bands with bagpipe players in them. He worked in a building I could see from a distance. He was very proud of being able to ride his fixed-gear without touching the handlebars. I remember thinking, “Deep down inside, everyone is this guy.” I never think of him anymore unless I need a ride somewhere. He was one of those guys who had a working vehicle. Many men before and since have arrived to me on a skateboard reciting the Street Artist’s Code of Ethics. They get indignant when I explain how to use soap. I’m not an expert, but the subject interests me.

Darren invites me over and we have sex in his bunk bed. Our bodies are very close to the ceiling. I keep touching the textured paint, as if it is my duty to involve the apartment in our act. But then I get distracted thinking about the possibility of someone lying on the floor in the apartment above us, less than three feet away. I almost never cum and I think it’s terrible that Darren pretty much always does. It’s completely satanic what men get away with. But in the moment I want what’s best for him.

The next morning I brag about the importance of my work, how noble I am, how great it feels to be needed by others, how feeble and gross old people are, how there is a kind of crust that grows on their scalps.

“It’s not cancer,” I say, but I don’t know if that’s true. I look up from my hands to remember who it is I’m talking to. Darren is spilling frozen hash browns into the sink. I go back to picking my cuticles and try to think of all the storm metaphors. Perfect storm. Stormy waters. Calm before the storm.

“Oh my god, I am bacon master,” Darren says. I think about going home but I don’t want to miss the bacon.

“One of the old ladies at my work loves bacon,” I say, knowing I’m being boring.

Darren starts laughing at his phone and then walks over to me and shows me the screen. I can’t see what’s going on in the video because he is laughing so hard it’s shaking his phone, but the audio sounds like things falling and crashing. Maybe a tool chest going down some stairs. I laugh heartily. Haha! It’s my fault as much as anyone’s that he doesn’t know sex stuff.

After breakfast I walk home. Storms a-brewin’.

The farthest I’ve ever moved at one time is 40 miles, but I live like 800 miles from where I grew up, so you do the math. I like to think of my life as a line extending to the right and upwards, like an unlabeled graph showing positive growth. I freely and openly admit I’m running away from bad memories. I don’t need constant reminders that I’m a bad friend and a bad person. They inhibit my self-esteem.

The town I live in now is unexceptional. Like, in an impressive way. The doctor I see got not-great grades in school. He told me that. But he put the time in, he said, hardly ever missed class, and earned the right to be the sole interpreter between me and my body. He pronounces ‘congested’ like ‘congestured.’ He will not prescribe me Xanax.

“Maybe it would help me sleep,” I say.

“But Xanax is for anxiety. Oh, I see what you mean. But no.”

When PetSmart fired me, I didn’t leave my apartment for days. I did not know how to proceed with life, knowing I wasn’t good enough to be a PetSmart clerk. Several days later, I walked to Walgreens to buy tampons. Just seeing the craggy street again made me feel hopeful. We’re living in a special time on this planet, in the ruins of something that was never good. There is a blatant display of mediocrity everywhere you look. PetSmart would eventually go out of business, I understood with sudden clarity. I could practically smell Office Depot executives drawing up plans for the PetSmart building, like vultures flying over weak prey.

As I walk home I get a text from Darren. It is a photo of a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries and a pickle, with Darren’s hand entering the frame to do thumbs up. We literally finished eating breakfast 20 minutes ago. I don’t know how he had time to get to a restaurant let alone work up an appetite.

“Oops, meant to send that to Roger,” Darren said.

“Lol,” I text back. I have no idea who Roger is.

I shower and prepare myself for work. The residents at the senior center have recently found out I do not volunteer my time, and in fact get paid to serve them dinner, and they are now happy to offer a critique of my work performance. They’ve commented on my punctuality and demeanor and how much food I give them. They’ve shaken their heads in disgust at my shoes, my breath, the way I pronounce ‘ketchup,’ and my arm hair. Everything, to them, is the reason I’m not married.

They’re convinced their dues might go down if I weren’t piling steamed carrot slices so high onto their dinner trays. If I give them slightly fewer steamed carrot slices, they start rumors that I’m stealing food. If I were so hard up for food that I was stealing steamed carrots, you’d think people would have a little compassion. One lady told me I should work on my physical appearance. She was spreading butter onto a roll with a potato wedge instead of a knife.

“Thank you for the constructive criticism,” I said.

“Rat’s ass,” she said.

People can tell I’m bad and that’s why they don’t like me.

When I go home I go straight to bed with my laptop and open the website where I’ve been watching bootleg Star Trek. The longer I lie in bed, the less sleepy I am. The screen makes my eyes hurt, but pain doesn’t scare me, and I hate the idea of closing them.

About the Author

Chelsea Martin is a writer and illustrator living in Spokane, Washington. Her website is jerkethics.com.

“Bad” is published here by permission of the author, Chelsea Martin. Copyright © Chelsea Martin 2018. All rights reserved.

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