I'd love and deeply appreciate all feedback, criticism, and opinions on this story. I don't profess to have a lot of experience as a writer, but I hope you all enjoy this.
“I am a bad person. I care not for others, for their benefit is not my own. I am happy when you fail, because it makes my failures seem smaller, and my successes that much greater. I pretend to be happy for you when you succeed so as to not come off as selfish, but when I congratulate you, my insides smolder with envy. When I suffer personal loss, whether it be my wallet or my pride, I focus even more on my own needs and desires, finding ways to place blame and responsibility on you for my troubles. When you do the same, instead of understanding that I am the same way, I am critical of your selfishness and I look down at you as a lesser, weaker specimen. I am insecure. I am weak. I am human.”
Weariness has taken a hold of me. I can’t be sure why. Logic tells me it came from fear, but fear was a luxury that I had long forgotten, and had since been replaced by apathy, a far more dangerous state of mind. Still, I had been cooped up in the small room for months, and I should be eager to get out, breathe fresh air, and return to normalcy.
Perhaps it’s that I’ve grown comfortable with the surroundings, plain and grey. Grey cement walls, grey cement ceiling, grey cement floor. The cans of food and water weren’t grey, but they were colorless and bland, so they fit in perfectly. Even the rainbow floor mat I’d placed to counter the featurelessness of the room had a dull feel to it thanks to the dust that had invaded its’ threads.
Still, however crude, this has been my shelter for months, and it isn’t too absurd to assume that it’s grown on me. Maybe I’ve just grown to feel the need to stay here in my safety nest. Yet as reasonable as those answers may be, gun to my head, I’d say the apathy leaves me here.
First arriving, I figured I’d be out by morning. The alerts had been going off for weeks, with nothing coming of any of them. I figured it would be like all of the others. I didn’t even touch the food or water at first, assuming that any minute I’d be out, not wanting to need to replace it. But as time went on, I began to realize that this wasn’t like the others.
The explosions continued, with long lapses in between, for what felt like days. I couldn’t be sure, as my watch had stopped sometime during that span of days. Inability to tell time can be difficult to deal with and leaves you with a strange feeling of confusion.
I made my first tool right then. I fashioned an hourglass out of dirt, metal remnants of cans, and empty bottles. It took a while, but it was a welcome distraction to the boredom and worry. The boredom was unbearable, and I had nothing to occupy myself with other than some books and my own thoughts.
Still admiring my hourglass, I realized that it was of no real use as I had no way to make sure that my eyes would catch each time the last speck of dirt drops. I probably should have left a watch for myself in preparation for such a scenario. Oh, well.
I hadn’t touched the books at that point, not wanting to submit to the fact that I may need them to pass time, but when I finished making the hourglass, I caved in. I had left five books there in case I had to stay in the shelter for an extended period of time. In hindsight, I probably could have selected better reading material.
I took notice that human nature has regularly found a way to praise that which they don’t understand. If you don’t understand it, at least when it comes to older literature, it will usually be pegged as a great work of art. You’ll be told that if you read it and understand it correctly, you’ll learn insights on life and how to live it properly. As far as I see it, that may be so, but you are also likely to nod off before the lessons are learned. However childish, at least comic books keep you awake. I was stuck with classic literature, which was superbly written, lavishly praised, and incredibly boring.
Deep thought was probably my main form of entertainment. Successful or not, the theory behind prison is certainly logical. Being stuck in a room with nothing to do is a fantastic way to look back at all of the **** you’ve done. You try and focus on the good stuff, but good memories are difficult to enjoy when you realize that you won’t be creating any new good ones until the missiles stop falling.
I’ve spent most of my time daydreaming, or more correctly stated, dreaming, as I couldn’t really tell day from night. I would daze off for about a few hours, not sleeping, yet not quite awake, and relive some moments from my past, while also imagining a few from my hopes for my future. My hopes for my potential future were a lot happier and were thoroughly more enjoyable than the ones from my past.
When you look back on the past, you tend to focus on all of the more difficult memories, as your mind has a way of shoving the good ones to the back of the head. At least until you lose something or someone you loved, in which case their memory will repeat itself many times over.
I find myself coming back to a memory from my childhood. When I was in sixth grade, a kid in my class was diagnosed with cancer, and eventually died. They figured that his classmates would have a hard time dealing with loss, as many of them hadn’t experienced it, especially at such close proximity. All of our parents demanded that the school, a private one, help us get through this tragedy.
The school responded. They sent a psychologist to our class to work with all of us. The psychologist, a clean-cut man with graying hair, started to fix us at once. We had one on one sessions, but mostly, we worked together in groups. He had a lot of techniques, one of which involving us closing our minds and imagining Timmy, the boy who died. Most kids were busy thinking about the upcoming recess, while the large chunk of the remaining ones were already daydreaming about the girl to their left. I tried to get myself to think about Timmy, but my head kept taking me to more entertaining thoughts.
The irony of the whole situation is that none of the kids really needed help, as none of us were really fazed by the loss. Sure, we all knew to pretend that we were struggling with the loss of our fellow classmate, and some of us did great jobs at spewing out what we’d heard our parents tell us we were feeling at the dinner table. But none of us really cared. We replaced Timmy with other kids, and the only difference we noticed was missing class time for the psychologist.
Hell, our parents only really cared for one of two reasons. They actually were worried about losing their own children, who they truly did care for. But mostly, it was society telling them to be sad when people passed away, especially innocent children.
SoI kept thinking about that exercise. I wanted to think about Timmy. I wanted to feel bad for him and his family. I was told that I was worried about death. Apparently, this worry was natural. Instead, I, like my classmates, just wanted to go outside and play.
I live in a country called the United States of America. That country has a history of being worried about other countries. They have a history of acting on those worries by sending a lot of people to other countries to kill the countries that worry or annoy them. This is called war.
This time they were annoyed with another country that was threatening them. Both countries had a lot of meetings to solve their annoyance with each other, These meetings led to tons of ideas on how to improve their hostile relationship. None of those ideas were implemented, but they continued these meetings and came up with even more new ideas on how to theoretically fix their discord.
Nobody is quite sure where the problems between the two nations stemmed from. It came to a point where the issues stopped mattering, as did their solutions. It came to a point where the only thing that mattered was the impasse. Needless to say, they didn’t resolve the issue.
When issues aren’t resolved through meetings, countries may resort to starting wars. That is unless those countries are too weak to start a war, and then they act upon their anger by attacking their enemy however they can. They shoot innocent people, blow themselves up in cafes, and fly planes into prominent buildings. This is called terrorism.
America did the former, as they had plenty of less important people to send out to war. These people didn’t really watch the news or know why they were fighting, but they had tons of patriotism and pride for their country, so off to war they went.
These brave men were usually more kids than adults, old enough to vote for their leader, but too young to drink responsibly. They were too young to have a beer while watching the game, but old enough to die for their country. Disregarding the age of the soldiers, the countrymen staying back were filled with pride in their army and soldier. Faces of brave men headed to war were printed in newspapers and magazines across the country and these men were proclaimed heroes.
The war went on for a while, and large numbers were killed. The faces of those aforementioned heroes were replaced with numbers and people began to stop paying attention to the war, turning their attention towards the newest celebrity couple of the month.
That couple, Bryan Deschenes and Maggie Green, would last about three months and would be followed by paparazzi for all three. They were an adorable couple and were madly in love. They got engaged, destined to last forever, until Maggie met Noel Hayes, broke off the engagement, and left Bryan alone to do magazine interviews about how heartbroken he was. Maggie and Noel would do their own interviews about the situation as well. Throughout all of this, all three would whine immensely about the paparazzi giving them attention that they never asked for.
As for the war, a lot of parents mourned over their dead eighteen-year-old heroes. The parents were joined by politicians who mourned alongside them just long enough for a photo op and a handshake. They would tell the parents that their sons’ valiant efforts shan’t be forgotten, at least until the next couple of the month.
As time went by, the number of fatalities rose, and the civilians grew fearful of the war coming to them. Threats of missiles being dropped were sent back and forth, and soon enough, most Americans with enough money had a shelter stocked with food and water. Those without enough money weren’t important enough, as they should have tried harder to make more money. They just didn’t have enough drive or initiative, and therefore, didn’t matter.
Eventually, the missile threats became reality. Within minutes after the first missile fell, the government first declared the country to be under alert. Everyone who had a shelter was to enter it. Everyone who had a house or apartment was to go to their cellar. All of the homeless were to pray that they survive outside, because they were smelly and weren’t worth the burden of their odor.
The first missile fell at 5:04 PM on a Tuesday. At 5:04 PM, there is usually a lot of traffic on the roads, because everyone is going home from work, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. Ironically, this regular traffic issue is called rush hour, but nobody gets a chance to rush anywhere.
I was stuck in rush hour traffic at the time. Earlier in my life, rush hour traffic had consistently caused my brain to release catecholamines, increasing my blood pressure, heart rate, and speeding up my breathing. Increased blood would flow through my body, preparing my body to take physical action, usually slamming down angrily on the car horn while shaking my hand, all as a way to communicate that I’m not satisfied with the situation around me.
By this stage of my life, however, I was no longer bothered by rush hour traffic. A few years back, it just stopped upsetting me the way it once had. It wasn’t that I had matured and that I realized that there was too much great in life to complain about getting home a few minutes later. Nor was it my coming to terms with the fact that I’m stuck with rush hour traffic.
Instead, it was my lost desire to get home quickly. Though the loud beeps of the horn were quite bothersome, rush hour was an hour of pleasure for me. I had nothing to go home to, and though I was still alone in my car, the cars surrounding me were a vacation from the isolated environment of my home.
I relished those hours to the point where I’d find ways to extend my rush hour. My drive home from work started off taking me about 35 minutes. A few months after I realized how valuable those drives were, I took the longest, most congested paths home. Then my drive started to take well over an hour. I settled on a path that took an hour and a half, with a tollbooth on the way. The extra time it gave me was well worth the spare change.
A few times, I’d stop in at a diner or bar to satisfy my craving for company. Though it places me in a closer proximity to others, it didn’t work as well. The trouble was that I was too visible. People could see me sitting down to eat alone. In my car, I was with people, but people weren’t with me. It gave me a feeling of companionship away from the spotlight of the eyes of strangers.
The missile fell during rush hour, my daily moment of companionship. I was sitting in the car, feet on the dashboard in horrible traffic due to a pile-up a bit ahead. I was listening to 105.7 FM, a station specializing in jazz. I don’t profess to be a jazz fan or know anything about it, other than the miraculous soothing vibes that it generates.
Right in the middle of a Lee Konitz hit, a buzz came on the radio, followed by a voice. The voice had a serious, plain sound with an under taste of nervousness. The voice said “Listeners, America has been attacked. It is believed that this was a declaration of war, and all are urged to keep safe.”
The radio station, assuming that its’ listeners were curious and distraught about the announcement, immediately began to broadcast voices discussing the attack. I promptly turned off the radio, and drove home.
They say that home is where the heart is. For me, there is little in the home. My home consists of faceless, meaningless objects, all plainer than the next. Some were stylish and modern, but they still seemed mechanical and their presence expressed nothing about my personality, except perhaps that I didn’t care to decorate my home. The only items that displayed any sort of personality were my blue computer chair and a poster I had above my desk.
The poster was of a painting by an artist named Salvador Dali. The painting is of some clocks melting. Some people interpret the painting as meaning that memories are timeless. The bending of the clocks is supposedly meant to show that time is flexible, and not rigid, like most believe.
I didn’t know that when I bought it. All I knew when I bought it is that it was a painting that a lot of people respect, so I figured that if I put it on my wall, people would respect me more for having it there, or at least think I’m knowledgeable when it comes to art. Instead, people tend to comment on it. They tell me how beautiful it is, and how meaningful it is to them.
I was in college when I first bought it and hung it up, and my roommate Ted studied it for a few minutes afterward. Ted wasn’t the deep thinker type, but he was the type to describe himself as such if you asked him.
After a few minutes of studious silence, he turned towards me with a shake of his long locks. He was currently in a stage of wearing cultural clothing to display his worldliness. He wore baggy threaded pants with elephants on them and a multicolored reggae hat, which he bought at K-Mart.
“Do you think Dali is trying to tell us that time melts away quickly, and that we should strive to get what we can out of it?”
“Really? I think even the ants make that point, as ants tend to quickly swarm over to food and enjoy it quickly. It seems as if he’s telling us to do the same.”
“To act gluttonously?”
“No. To make sure to savor every moment of life.”
“What does that have to do with ants?”
“You’re missing the point. He’s saying that we should aim to savor life and it’s pleasures the same way ants rush to food.”
After that, I ended my side of the conversation. I don’t enjoy getting into deep and drawn out conversation about something’s artistic value. To me, the whole value of art is that it’s for you to interpret, and it upsets me to have other people measuring it’s value and meaning as a piece of art.
Along the same lines, when art is deciphered and looked at too carefully, flaws are always discovered. The decoding of the art turns the art into an emotionless drawing. It takes away the true artistic value, and turns it into an unconscious message, a mechanical piece of paper to be appraised and measured by a pro, just like one would do with any other object.
Despite feeling that way strongly, I still act otherwise. The prime example is my purchase of that very poster Ted and I discussed. While I didn’t buy it purely to impress others, I certainly didn’t buy it because I felt the need to hang it. I not only supported the expressionless art opinions and reviews with my buying of that esteemed piece of art, but I also allowed the evaluation of the critics to influence my own. In that way, I am contradicting my own comments with my actions and vice versa. Still, while I don’t act as I preach, I preach as I believe. It’s my inner strength to blame, not my belief system, for the faulty actions.
Inner strength is a character trait that has become among the most admirable. Society has a high regard for the child who stands up to peer pressure, the politician who makes waves by going against the stream of public opinion, and the like. It’s become so admirable to be unique that uniqueness has, in a certain sense, become for the masses.
As for his reaction to my sudden disregard for what he had to say, by then, he had gotten used to my impatience for certain discussions and it didn’t faze him. I didn’t mean it to be rude or as an insult. It was just challenging for me to continue a conversation that had lost it’s meaning. This hurt me greatly when I attempted to make small talk with others.
When people make general comments meant simply to make conversation, I have trouble responding sociably. People often make these general comments, querying about the weather or other surroundings as a pretext to start chatting with someone. I never saw the use for these comments. I presume that they are a way to ease into conversation and to feel more comfortable talking to someone. Still, I lack the ability to react to small talk properly, and often come off to others as a jerk for this very reason.
Allow me to illustrate this problem of mine. One Saturday afternoon, I was in an ice cream shop and ordered a cone with two scoops of chocolate truffle. A woman in the store, waiting behind me in line, must have wanted to initiate a chat with me. And to accomplish this goal, she small talked me.
“A chocolate lover, eh?”
Before I continue the story, I must tell you that this woman was an attractive one. She started talking to me because despite all my eccentricities, she still knew nothing of them. In most cases, when an attractive woman starts to shoot the breeze with the average man, he jumps at the opportunity, and finds a way to respond to whatever should come out of her mouth. They’d see that comment as an opening, and use it as a way to further the conversation. I simply answered “yes.”
Usually, small talk would end there. Other times, one partner in the small talk would have the desire to continue chatting about meaningless information. This woman had such a desire.
“You always make that same order then? I’m usually a chocolate girl myself, but today, I’m feeling like something more out of the ordinary.”
Again, my inability to pick up cues to talk shone brightly there, as I stood silently in response. That didn’t stop her.
“Hmm... Seems interesting, but I may end up disappointed that it doesn’t taste like actual pecan pie. And if it does, I’m not really sure pecan pie makes a great ice cream flavor.”
“You could always get one scoop of pecan pie and another scoop of Belgian chocolate.”
“Clever,” she said with a wink. “Safe and adventurous.”
From there, our conversation flowed rather nicely. Something about her made me far more affable and sociable than I usually was when making conversation. It wasn’t that I was socially awkward, but I rarely had the desire to talk; yet she had a force about her that changed that in me.
“So you from here?” I asked her, surprising even myself.
“About a half hour from here, but I work nearby. And it’s this or Chinese during my break.” She smiled, and added, “And working on a weekend, I earned a little ice cream.”
She smiled again, and I couldn’t help but join her. “I’m also treating myself in a way, you know. You see, yesterday, I ate a salad for lunch, so this is my way of rewarding myself.” I cracked what I figured to be a charming smile at the end of my joke.
She laughed, alleviating my worries that the joke would fall flat. “You have an interesting diet,” she said, brushing a stray hair from her forehead with the back of her wrist. “So what do you do?”
I thought about that for a bit, and wished I’d had worked harder throughout school just so I could have given a more impressive answer that very second. “You know, nothing special. Marketing.” I sighed quietly. “Well, I wanted to be a photographer, but I guess I never really tried to make that work. Went the safe route.”
She nodded her head, and stared out the window, as if daydreaming. “I always dreamed of working with animals, and then when I was in high school, I sort of gave that up. Decided it was just a childish pipe dream or something.” She looked back at me with a half-smile. “Life happened, I guess. Reality set in. Or something.” She stopped to think. “Not really reality, I guess. More, doubts, and concerns, and worries.”
She glanced back out the window, and we both sat and though for a moment, and I continued licking the edges of my ice cream,”
“I never even really tried taking pictures. I just always loved looking at great photography. I knew I could do it, but just, I don’t know… I guess I wasn’t sure that I was right.”
I frowned for a moment. “I guess I do that a lot. Too often.” I took the first bite off of the cone.
She put down her spoon and sucked in her left cheek, forming a small dimple. “I guess we all do.” She smiled for half a second, and then frowned. “We’re only human.”
We continued talking long after we’d finished our ice cream. The strangest thing about the whole ordeal is that I never had to think about something to talk about during the entire conversation. There was no empty silence or forced conversation. Words would just leave my tongue before I knew it, and she always received them well.
“I have to go,” she said, glancing worriedly at her watch. “This was nice though, talking.”
“Yeah.” And then, for the first time during our talk, my words stopped flowing freely. I wanted to ask her for her number. I wanted to ask her to meet me again. I told myself how simple it was. What’s your number? The words flowed from my head to the tip of my tongue and melted away, evaporating right before departure. Then, as if reading my mind, she handed me a slip of paper with her name and number in green ink. 956-7052. We said our goodbyes and out the door she went, leaving the chime of the bells above the door to allow her departure to sink in.
The next day, I spent hours by the phone, debating whether or not to call her. I didn’t. Nor the next day, nor the day after. I’m not sure exactly what went through my head. I am sure that it was something along the lines of her not really wanting me to call. Not that she was hoping for me not to call, but I just didn’t think she cared one way or another.
Behind all that, there was a little bit of me fighting. There was a little bit of me telling the rest of me off. Saying: call her. Tell her you want to meet her. What’s the worst that could happen?
The worst that could happen? A bad question to ask to a generally negative person.
I imagined her answering the phone with a bunch of her friends around and putting me on loudspeaker so that they could all laugh at my ridiculous proposition.
I imagined her as a professional heartbreaker, going from man to man for the sole purpose of destroying their self-esteem. I imagined myself as her next victim, an easy one. When she saw me walk into that ice cream shop, she probably thought to herself easy as pie.
I imagined her saying no and breaking all of the dreams and hopes I’d envisioned for us over the days since we’d met.
I imagined her saying no, and that was enough to stop me from calling.
I guess that when I never called the girl from the ice cream shop, I figured that if it were really meant to be, we’d run into each other somehow. I even tried to speed up my potential destiny by visiting the ice cream shop more than ever, particularly during the hours in which I met her.
I’d like to tell you that I ran into that girl several weeks later by chance. About when she told me about how she was waiting for me to call her, and I responded by saying that she made me too nervous to do it. My heart was at its’ highest tempo to the point where my toes were shaking from the beating organ. Yet I wasn’t tense. I took her hands in mine and said I loved you the first time I laid eyes on you, and I love you even more the second.
I’d like to tell you about how when I said it, her eyes were fixed on mine and I could feel her glare; yet mine were stuck in place, and any attempt to shift my glance was futile. I can’t explain to you how I know, but I know that it was the same for her. Everything going on around us sped up, and despite being in a room full of people, we were alone to ourselves, rising above the crowd and leaving them blurred to our sides. No sounds or movements penetrated our audible range or cone of vision. And after I professed my love for her, I didn’t feel stupid or ashamed, though I knew I should for telling a girl such things after seeing her for just the second time.
The moment, one my mind played back often during those days, was powerful. Simultaneously, I was both whole and complete, invincible and defenseless.
I’d like to tell you all this, but it never happened. Chance never had planned for us to cross paths again. I can’t tell you what happened that night because I never had the guts to call her and because chance is a fictitious pretense for hope when there otherwise would be none.
By the time I had left my temporary home in the cellar, I had gone through ____ bottles of water, ___ cans of tuna, ___ cans of pickles, ____ cans of asparagus, and ____ of sliced peaches. I never wanted to see any of those food items ever again, and definitely not for a few weeks.
I left because I couldn’t take the boredom. Above all instincts a man has; lust, gluttony, etcetera, is boredom. I had had enough of keeping myself amused by deep thought and reading the same books over and over.
Deep thought can lead you to a few conclusions. Either:
A) You screwed up.
B) You screwed up badly.
C) You didn’t screw up yet, but you probably will.
Hence the term over-thinking. I do a lot of that. My deep thought led me to believe both A and B, and though I was almost certain that the latter part of C would happen anyway, I held out hope that it couldn’t be much worse than in the cellar. So, I left.
Seeing sunlight for the first time after not seeing it for a while can be a very clichéd experience. You’d imagine the man leaving his cellar to take a breath of the fresh outdoor air, staring up at the clouds and smiling. I squinted and coughed for a little bit, before getting used to it all again, like a fish out of water.
Considering that the situation I had needed to take refuge in a shelter for as long as I had, I had expected to come back to a post-apocalyptic scene. I figured that I’d see a ground stained with black residue and collapsed buildings everywhere. I assumed that I’d see a woman wearing torn clothing, blackened by soot, crying on the floor after losing her child.
Part of me expected to see this depiction of biblical destruction to happen, but not fully. The larger part of me, the more hopeful part, clung to the knowledge that it could never happen like that. It was too barbaric and ancient. In our world full of chirping birds, sunsets, and snowy mountaintops, how could something so ugly exist?
It didn’t. That isn’t to say that I didn’t see an awful scene full of sobbing mothers and blackened, debris-covered earth. It was beautiful.
I was entranced by the unexpected grace of it all. I walked through the wreckage in a daze, tripping over rubble and ruins as I twirled through the remains so that I could see it all. Then, tired from all of the aimless wandering, I slumped down onto the ground and laughed and laughed, for no reason at all.
I woke up engulfed by a bubble of silence and stillness, no longer in a daze. The silence was pure. It surrounded me, swallowing me and my thoughts whole. It reverberated constantly, so as to cause a ringing in my ear. There was noise, but the noise sounded faint and removed, however close it may have been physically.
Then, I felt a tugging on my shoulder. The silence ended in a burst of sound and movement, my surroundings catching up to me. A shaken older man was shoving a picture in my face. Have you seen my daughter? Have you seen this girl? I pretended to glance at the picture, but never really did.
As I walked away, I thought of the sadness I must have caused him. In my head, I pictured a man who walks over to person after person with a picture of a missing loved one, hoping just to hold them once more. I imagined the man who hopes, as he walks to each passerby, that they may be the one to recognize the face. I thought of the recurring waves of dejection he must suffer each time with each shake of the head he receives in response.
I thought about how I would feel, and felt more and more guilty by the minute. I thought about going back to try and comfort him, but never truly considered the option. I decided that it was too inconvenient. Had I known then what I do now, I would have put all my effort into finding that man’s daughter.
I walked for a while. Some areas were wiped out and desolate, others were relatively untouched. As I walked, I wondered about how long it would take to rebuild the cities. Then I wondered about who would be doing the rebuilding and how they would do it and how much it would cost. Then I wondered about the people who had first built up these areas, which, when they first arrived, were probably barren.
I reached the woods near Brad’s apartment complex, and it smelled like summer. The peaceful quiet of the area had entered via my nostrils along with a fleeting moment of nostalgia. Nostalgia of when our families would go to Alaska. Brad was my bunkmate. He always demanded the bottom bunk. It never bothered me. I always liked the top bunk better anyway.
One morning I had left the window open, and a bird flew in, landing on the windowsill next to my bed. I woke up to its’ stare. It blinked at me, and flew away, in search of adventure. I left the window open every morning after that, always hoping for more birds to fly in.
I told Brad about this, but it didn’t seem important to him. He would just shrug it off. What’s so special about a bird? I could just walk outside and watch a flock of them chirp away.
As we got older, we’d continue hanging out by default. In high school, I showed him a picture I had taken of the sunset. “It’s very scenic,” he said. “You did a good job of capturing it,” but as he spoke, I could see his eyes straying from the picture, looking anywhere but at the sunset.
Ina way, I always envied Brad. Where I was pessimistic, he was always seeing the good in things. He firmly believed that everything would work out in the end, and never seemed to waver in his opinion. No matter what would happen to him, he’d just pick up and move on, shedding no tears.
With time, though, we found different crowds. The seasons would change and our fascinations along with it, yet however much our disposition would alter, our friendship continued. We each had our cliques and friends, some passing, others enduring, but all built on a foundation of similarities between the two. Ours, on the other hand, was lacking a core source on which the friendship was based. We were friends simply because that’s how it always was.
When my mom collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, I called Brad. He came over and sat with me silently, his presence making feel a bit less alone in the world. If I was dumped by a girl, Brad was there telling me how great a guy I was and how much of an idiot she was for passing me up.
Flattery perhaps, but always uplifting.
And when I didn’t have the courage to call the girl in the ice cream shop, he was there to convince me to call her.
“Dude, I hear you, but you’re making this seem bigger than it is. All said and done, it’s a phone call.”
Turning away from the mirror to hear his response, I shook my head violently.
“That’s like saying nuclear warfare is just pressing a bunch of buttons. It’s technically true, but everyone realizes there’s more to it.”
“What’s the worst that can happen?”
I thought. “She’d say no.”
“My ego isn’t in tip top shape as is. The drop may not seem like much, but when it’s already damaged, you tend to shy away from taking more hits.”
“Man, I just don’t get you sometimes. You’ve got no reason to be this insecure.”
I disagreed, and turned back to the mirror, examining myself. I’ve always found mirrors to be strange objects. It’s essentially us trying to see ourselves the way others do. We tend to think that we examine ourselves through rose-colored glasses, so it’s our way of taking them off, and wearing someone else’s pair for a change.
I often wonder what it was like the first time someone looked into a mirror. I wonder if they saw what I see in it; differently sized eyes, a couple of zits, and a poorly shaven chin. I wonder if it met their expectations, or if they were surprised that they were uglier/prettier than they had expected. I secretly hope that at least they were happy with what they saw, because today, human encounters with mirrors are mostly disappointing ones.
Most aren’t satisfied with what they see. We look at ourselves. We size ourselves up. Check our hair. Fix it. Check it again. Part the front slightly more to the side. Realize that we need to wet the back because a bit is standing up in the back. Become worried that people may notice that you are spending too much time fixing your hair, and that they will think you are insecure. Decide not to wet hair. Attempt to restore natural, out of bed look. Fail. Become increasingly frustrated. Quit frustratedly. Return to mirror. Fix hair again. Still not satisfied, but less disappointed, let hair be. That’s usually when we notice the unsightly bags under our eyes.
Deep down, everyone these days recognizes the clear superficiality in all of these actions. Most recognize their lack of importance. Still, we do it anyway. We’re weak that way. Human. We fake who we are, and expect that the truth will never come out. But it always does.
I knocked three times on the green door to Brad’s apartment. It opened. Hey. I was about to respond, but the bruises on his face had caught my eye.
“What happened to your face?”
The tense quiet of thought was his initial reply. The only sound was the faint turning of gears inside Brad’s head. I looked around. His apartment was messy, but otherwise untouched by the attacks. I looked at him again, still awaiting a reply. He turned to look at me. “I was in a bit of a fight.” I wondered what combinations of words his brain had churned together before he picked that particular set.
The fight itself, or the consequential bruises, was of no surprise to me. Brad was an outspoken type, and those who speak their mind tend to run into trouble here or there. Physical fights weren’t common with him, but they weren’t rare, either. I thought nothing of it. Still, he seemed uncharacteristically nervous. I didn’t ask why. Instead, I forced conversation.
“So where were you during the attacks?”
“In the basement. There were a few others from the building there, along with a bunch of their friends and families, so it wasn’t too bad. How about you?”
“I just went to the shelter my dad had built when we were younger,” I mumbled, trying to hide the fact that I had been alone for the entire period. I’m not sure why that was embarrassing, but I chose to hide the fact anyway.
Unfortunately, when someone knows you long enough, they tend to see right through you. Or at least you think they can. In this case, the twinkle in Brad’s eyes as he said, “I see,” said everything.
Later that night, I began wondering why being alone was so embarrassing for me. I came to a conclusion that night that humans aren’t so unlike peacocks. Just instead of fluffing our feathers to make ourselves look big, we tend to hide our insecurities to make ourselves seem less small. Some are just better at it than others.
We head outside the next morning, just wandering our wholly changed environment, wowed by how quickly things had changed. How drastically. Wondering how we’d get it all back and continue our lives.
“What are we supposed to do now?” I asked Brad, knowing that he always had some sort of plan being formed in his head.
He hesitated for a moment, thinking.
We sat around the next morning, not really sure what to do with ourselves, unsure of how everything would ever get back to normal. Our jobs, our friends, our lives. We went outside, and overwhelmed by the significance of it all, we just walked around in a daze. No goal in sight.
All was bleak. Blackened streets, demolished buildings, and dozens of other wanderers mystified by it all. We walked past the diner I usually got breakfast in. My barbershop. My pharmacy. Inside each: tables tossed, glass broken, chairs strewn about. Mess. I felt betrayed, as if someone had revealed my deepest secrets. These stores were little parts of my life, and gone, I knew it had all changed. My life. My world.
Brad saw this all and broke down sobbing. He cursed the world, the bleakness of it all, and wondered aloud how God let all this happen.
As I watched his outburst, I looked up at the clouds. I thought about the girl in the ice cream shop. Her number was still in my wallet. I stared at it for a minute, and remembered how scared I was to call her. I laughed at my past self, and shrugged off the missed opportunity. So much had changed, and I no longer cared about any of it. With so much having changed, I resolved that nothing was worth clinging onto or preserving. I resolved to fully throw myself into my new world, and forget the old. And I looked down again, smiling.