I’ll never forget the first person who gave me a job. His name is Drake.
The job was at a store that sold CDs and DVDs. Drake was the owner. It offered a unique contrast to the chain stores that existed in my city. It had a cool vibe. My oldest sister had worked there during her teen years as well.
I was a sixteen-year-old with no particular talent. I played guitar sometimes, but got frustrated and gave up easily. I could write but hadn’t found my voice yet. I wanted to buy a car, or so I thought. (I had no clue how to save back then. I probably spent the money I earned on food, clothes, and books.) My mom took me to my interview.
I don’t remember most of what he asked me; my main memory is a sense of awkwardness that pervaded the entire ten minutes. It was my first job interview, and it was in a smoky room located in the back of the store. It was a bit dark. There were photos on the wall of the store employees through the years, enjoying their time at work and away from it. Many were female, and I thought most of them were prettier than me.
I knew he might ask me why I wanted to work there. I tried to explain why, but all my words felt stupid. I explained my background in music and how I was ready to take on some responsibility. Drake only nodded after I spoke, going on to the next question. I omitted that I wanted an excuse to be away from my mother sometimes, but I expect he sensed it anyway. He knew my sister, after all.
He was a genuine guy with a strange sense of humor — most of my family described eccentric things they had seen him do. The thing about Drake was, he didn’t care at all what anyone thought of him. It seemed paradoxical that was what people loved most about him.
I cared very much about what people thought of me. I still do, but it seems to fade with age.
To my surprise, he gave me the job.
I hated some of it.
I could tell the girl I worked with on the first day was annoyed about having to train me. Some of the customers gave me funny looks when I hadn’t heard of the music they requested. Everyone else who worked there seemed to flow. They easily charmed the customers and could find an artist that was obscure to me within seconds. I felt I didn’t belong, and Drake was good at picking up on people’s feelings. I could never hide from him.
Sometimes, on my difficult nights, he had me sit in the back with him and clean discs. He never explained or verbally acknowledged my mood. I suspect he knew it was a respite for quiet, awkward me, who felt like a fish out of water at the front of the store. He was usually silent until I talked, the phone rang, or a customer came over to ask a question. I tried to learn by listening to him or my coworkers interact with customers, but this was hard. Everyone had their style, their seamless way of flowing with other people. I did not know who I was, so the most I could be was the obligated quiet girl who tried and usually felt like she failed.
Still, Drake never offered any criticism or made me feel as though my job was in jeopardy if I didn’t change. I became openly annoyed with a customer once — still, I had a job the next day and no one said anything about it to me. I’m sure they knew. It was a small town and a small store.
I kept in touch with Drake sometimes after I graduated high school and left that job to move away to college. He was one of the few people who didn’t make me feel like a fuck-up when I couldn’t graduate after four years. I had to have an extra semester to get all the credits I needed, probably due to a combination of my indecisiveness about my major over the years, switching schools and moving, and the schedule for essential classes not quite aligning.
“I see,” he said when I explained about the schedule on which the classes I needed were offered. “You were dealt a difficult hand. That’s all.”
After a couple of years of hearing from others how I should have handled my schooling or how I should have picked a major other than creative writing, this offered a sense of comfort and relief that I greatly needed. My partner at the time criticized most of the decisions I made, including the ones I made intending to be closer to him. I changed schools because he was moving, and I wanted to be near him. “Why would you do that?” he asked me. “I wish you were more independent.”
Everyone who asked what my major was looked at me with an incredulous expression. I got tired of people asking me how I would pay the bills. After that constant feeling of not being able to do anything right, this moment of understanding from Drake (of all people — Drake, who was never serious) meant the world to me.
It was a rare moment. He usually cracked jokes and was never one to wear his heart on his sleeve.
His shop closed permanently around this time. From what I understand, it was because one of his suppliers went out of business.
Anyway, I talk of him as if he is already gone. He is dying now. He’s had health problems related to limited mobility and his blood not circulating well. I don’t get the sense that these in themselves are fatal and irreparable, but he hasn’t had much will to go on since his partner passed early last year.
After she died, I e-mailed him and told him he could call me any time if he needed someone to talk to. I left my number in the body of the message. A few days later, he did call. We didn’t talk at all about his partner. We remembered old jokes and laughed for a couple of minutes, and then, in pure Drake style, he said, “Goodbye, Heidi.” When he was ready to end a conversation, he did it just like that. Without formality, without trying to lead into it.
It seems, for most of the deaths I’ve been around lately, people’s will just peter out. Life gets too cumbersome and lonely. It’s not a sickness that takes them. It’s something else — exhaustion that goes beyond the physical, heartsickness, grief. All of these combined.
There’s the line in the song “Unchained Melody” about time going by so slowly. It has always stuck with me, but it’s not true. Of course, we have an abundance of time. It doesn’t seem that way, though. We get stuck working forty hours per week at something we’d rather not do because we need to survive, need to be self-sufficient, need to not be a loser. We get impatient with those we love or feel debilitated by sadness. From what I’ve seen from my parents, much of it stems from selling our time and trading our passions to live.
Maybe I’m projecting my feelings onto others, or maybe I’m scared of how much I can understand one’s will petering out.
It’s impossible for me to feel angry that Drake did not seek medical care for a problem that was fixable. It’s impossible for me to feel angry at my mother for smoking and drinking her way into an early grave. I can’t shake my head at terminal patients who decide to stop treatment and want only pain pills to get them through. I get it. When you’re done, you’re done.
And since I’m the youngest sibling, and my partner is older than me, one of my biggest fears is of being left alone in the world, having no will left for the things that used to bring me joy.
I hear about Drake or visit my mother’s empty house and see my future.
I’m afraid of petering out.
I don’t know when Drake will go on to the next part of his journey, or if he already has. He’s been a Dumbledore figure to me — influencing me with his silent wisdom, his way of understanding without my need to speak.
This is for him.
I hope he’s able to perceive it, wherever he is.