Nine Times Out Of Ten

I step out of my car and hold the phone away from me and look up at it, shielding my eyes against the harsh sunlight, then I press the button.  A little digital shutter noise sounds and I look back at the screen.  And I see my face.

“Nine times out of ten,” I mutter to myself, “I have a face.”

It’s my mantra.  You need one.  Something to keep yourself sane.  Something you can say to yourself that you know for a fact will always be true for when you’re unfocused or upset or anything.  Something that you know will always be true with such ridiculous certainty that you don’t even have to give it thought.  Something where your bets are hedged so well that you’re right even 110% of the time.

I look into the side mirror of someone else’s parked car.   And I see my face.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

I haven’t been feeling that well lately.  Like the jigsaw puzzle that is my world is missing a few pieces.  And maybe someone tried to jam some pieces from another puzzle in their places.

That’s not a bad idea, you know.  What if they made a line of jigsaw puzzles that were laser-cut, so that the pieces would be interchangeable between puzzles.  You could build a puzzle that was half-Monet, half-Picasso.  Maybe one-third Monet, one-third Picasso, and one-third Mount Rushmore.

But yeah, that’s kind of how my life feels right now.  Except not like that.  Not clean and fixed, but like the wrong pieces are being forced together.

I get to the pharmacy, but I don’t go in yet.  I stop and look at the reflection of the window first.   And I see my face.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

Then I walk through the sliding glass doors.  What did I want?  Aspirin, definitely, but there was something else.  Can’t remember.  Did it have something to do with my job?  No, that can’t be it.  I was fired last week, wasn’t I?

My head hurts.  I’ll get the aspirin for now, and if I remember what it was that I needed then I’ll come back for it.

There’s a security camera at the end of the medicine aisle.  The monitor is right next to it.  I look up.  And I see my face.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

I find myself at the checkout.  I notice the dirty apron, the dirty T-shirt that the girl at the register is wearing.  Her arms are lumpy, her hair is tangled and lopsided, and her face reminds me of the fat guy from Lost.  It’s weird how she seems so attractive to me right now.  That’s probably something I should be worried about.

“Just the aspirin, sir?”  Her voice could curdle milk, but if anything, that just makes her seem more attractive.  What’s wrong with me?

“Yeah,” I respond.  “But tell me something,” I say, giving a smile that I don’t intend to, “when you look up here,” I motion with both hands towards my head, “what do you see?”

“Your face?” she responds.  I nod back.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

And then I pay, and then I leave.  I know she thinks I’m insane now, but maybe if I’m lucky she has low standards.  Maybe I’ll try to talk to her again tomorrow.

I’m glad I have my little mantra.  It’s stabilizing.  Keeps me grounded in reality.  No matter what else is happening, I can say it to myself and I’ll know that it’s true.  I don’t have to think about it, don’t have to expend any resources.  I just believe, and let that belief calm my mind.

I open up the bottle and swallow a few pills dry, then I get  back into my car.  I look into the rear-view mirror.  And I see my face.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

Sometimes I forget which pedal is the brake and which pedal is the gas.  I figure it out quickly enough.  If I go forward, that’s the gas.  If I don’t, that’s the brake.  But in those moments, sometimes I panic.

But I guess the right one this time, so I’m okay.  I turn on my windshield wipers instead of the blinker as I leave the parking lot, but that doesn’t bother me as much as the pedal thing.  I get to a red light.  I know this intersection.  I’ve been stuck at this light for half an hour before.  I try to turn off my mind a little as I wait for the lights to rotate back in my direction, but I stop.

What pedal is my foot on?  I’m not moving, so my conscious mind knows it’s on the brake, but when I want to move forward again, does my foot move left or right? I need to calm myself down.  I take my right hand off the steering wheel and cover my mouth, clenching my jaw and feeling the movement with my hand.  I move my hand upwards and cover my nose, making note of the contours I find.  I cover my eyes, blocking my vision and my link to the outside world.  It’s my face.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

A car horn wails behind me, and I uncover my eyes to see a green light before me.  My foot moves in the right direction, and I  pass through the intersection.

I know it sounds like I’ve got OCD or something, but that’s not it.  I don’t have any compulsion to keep doing this, it’s just something that helps to relieve stress.  I do it when I’m stressed, and that’s it.  I’m not a crazy person, I just know what helps me to do the things I need to do.

Okay, so sometimes I do feel like I’m a crazy person, just a little.  But everyone feels that way sometimes, right?

My car instinctively finds its way back to my apartment complex and into my parking space.  I’m feeling better as I step out of the car: the aspirin has had enough time to start taking effect.  The sunshine doesn’t hurt my eyes anymore.  That’s a good thing, right?

The hint of a smile makes its way onto my face.  Not the kind I gave to the sexy ugly girl, just a little self-satisfied one.   I should go back and talk to her.  The koi pond in front of my building attracts me away from the front door.  It reflects back my face.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

Looking down at the orange and white fish helps too, more than just my mantra.  The bottle of aspirin in my hand gives a plasticky rattle as I take a hint from the water before me and sit down to reflect.

I’m a bit messed up right now, but it’s manageable.  A little stressed.  A little overextended.  That will pass.

Just as time passes.

I inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth, then I get up and walk into my building, posture a little better than it was before, smile a little stronger than it was before.  I press the button for the elevator and wait for it to arrive.  I chuckle as I see myself in the shiny metal doors before me.  I can see my face.

“Nine times out of ten,” I say with a smile, “I have a face.”

I feel the elevator lift me up, and I feel lifted up.  Almost home.  Almost to sanctuary.  The doors open before me and I step out into the hall.  My hall.  The hall that I’ve seen every day for three years.  I take the familiar path from the elevator to my apartment door, put my key in the lock, and walk in.

I breathe in the atmosphere of my living room.  My domain.  The bottle of aspirin in my hand suddenly feels heavy.  It’s the only thing that limits me right now.  I need to put it away.

The medicine cabinet in my bathroom is already open.  That’s how I left it when I went to the pharmacy in the first place.  I place the bottle inside and close the mirrored door, and see my shirt, and the wall behind me.  Where’s my face?

Where is my face?

My eyes widen, my pulse quickens, and I say my mantra again.

“Nine times out of ten, I have a face.”

And then I inhale.  And then I exhale.  Everything is okay: this was the tenth time.

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