I missed a deadline in there, two weeks ago, I believe. I know that’s not really a good way to start going off on my writing endeavors, but I don’t think that was too terrible since the deadline fell in a somewhat unfortunate time for me. In the past three weeks I have: graduated from pharmacy school (thus becoming doctor jerkpriest), moved from Las Vegas, Nevada to San Antonio, Texas (if you had told me I would ever live in either place I would have called you a liar), and managed to secure myself a position as a pharmacist (at an enormous chain), been pre-qualified for a pretty decent home loan (provided I manage to pass my boards), and left my wife and dogs in Vegas for the next few months (which isn’t very fun). This meant I haven’t really had time or ambition to write anything, especially since I’m trying to get used to living in a completely new area that is drastically different from the area I used to live in without my favorite person and my two little boys. I’ve also been furiously studying for my boards, so that I can practice my job in a way that both maximizes my money and allows me to purchase my first home (not too bad for a snake person, Eh?). So I’ve got a little story I’ve whipped up to hopefully make it up to you guys in some small way, even if it is a little bit Twilight Zone.
The man sits quietly.
The man sits quietly by himself.
The man sits quietly by himself on a park bench in an empty park.
It is just before dawn and the man is sitting on a park bench in a park with no one else around. He reflects that he does this quite often these days. The man then reflects that he reflects quite often these days. He also reflects that he does things that he does quite often quite often these days, and then reflects that this is starting to get a little ridiculous.
There are a lot of things that are ridiculous about this situation, The man thinks to himself.
It seems like a long time since The man has seen a person sitting alone on a park bench, besides perhaps in movies or television shows. Seems like people nowadays are too busy running around with their jobs and technology, working out how to use little handheld devices to figure out how to make their lives simpler and endlessly more complicated. Using smart phones to precipitate a rube-goldberg like assortment of expensive bits and bobs to perform simple actions like turning on a light, an action which would take seconds using a device that admittedly took millenia to develop but is issued to most humans in double digits (which The man realized is a reasonable pun, since he’s thinking of fingers). Ordinarily, The man would have a better things to do as well, but things had changed a reasonable amount in recent weeks.
The man realized he had gone several days without speaking to another human, not that he had particularly enjoyed the company of humans in the past, but to a certain extent, a person always needs at least some casual interaction with others. Humans are absolutely creatures with a social nature, and as such consider absolute solitude to be anathema.
At this point, The man’s imagination gets the better of him, and he imagines complex histories for a number of people he has seen recently. The young lady who looked perhaps like she was part of a large family: maybe the oldest child who had responsibility and expectation thrust upon her at an early age, or perhaps the youngest child who had to fight tooth and nail for any small measure of respect for her accomplishments. Perhaps she was lost in the throng of middle children, forgotten in the complicated lives of those older siblings or the constant basic needs of those younger. Perhaps he was wrong, and she was an only child: knowing little of the petty rivalry, but reveling in the attention and affection of her doting parents.
The middle aged man, face marked by times implacable advance. Were they lines of laughter, etched with the joy of a life full of joy and love? Or were they the remnants of recurrent scowls, the trademark of a sour, sullen man whose only joy was in the sorrow of others? It becomes impossible to tell, when a face is viewed in a passive state, as the one worn by the sleeper. A single line could be the result of any impossible combination of stories, known only to the bearer (and then only in passing, as a life’s worth of memories is a burden beyond the ability of most brains to process, much less maintain).
It is amazing that humans have lasted as long as they have, The man thinks, due to this last fact. A person can live their entire life around another, and have long, involved discussions on every subject with them and still know only so little about them. A person behaves as a kind of bizarre mirror, after a fashion, reflecting back upon the viewer a vision of that person tinged and tweaked for the sake of the viewer. This is accepted, as each person views others through the film of their own perception. In this way, one can experience another only as a kind of twice distorted ghost, The man thinks. A person mostly exists for others as memories. Memories both of the two people together, and of memories shared between the two people. Movies played through one’s mind into the others, transmitted on the waves formed in the words of a story. The man discovers he likes this image, of sharing memories of experiences like one would share episodes of a television show, perhaps.
When a human meets another, they are treated to a view of the person that person wants them to see, The man decides. This sort of thought is probably why he has such a difficult time relating to other people, The man thinks. It may also contribute to both the fact that he hasn’t seen anyone in several days and the fact that he is sitting here alone on a park bench on this freezing pre-dawn morning. People have found him to be alternatively compelling or off putting, though he tries to meet people in as earnest a way as he can muster, and hasn’t given more than a passing thought to conforming to other people’s views since he was considerably younger. Mostly, The man had done it as a means to overcome their preconceived notions of him in school, when he was not entirely confident of what he wanted or who he was. Briefly after this, when The man went away to college, he entertained the idea that he could become whoever he wished. Escaping, as it were, from the previously formed ideas about who he was, and what he might be capable of. He reveled in picking and choosing who he might be at each juncture of meeting a new person, swapping and changing personae as one might change an outfit or a mask. A hyperkinetic child with a bag full of costumes at a halloween party.
But this became tiresome and hollow quickly, as each new mask felt dull and muted, and keeping the act going became too much effort. The man decided honesty was best, with the exception of preserving social niceties. He would hide bits of himself behind a mask of slate grey: dull and flat almost emotionless. Revealing bits of what lay beneath when it became apparent that the person could accept it. Safe, was a word that could be used to describe it.
The man had always concerned himself with safety. Worrying from a young age not about animals, monsters or other fantastical creations of the mind, and instead worrying about the very real risks other people posed to him: concerned with burglars, kidnappers, and ultimately that which comes to us all in the end. That which is here already for most. The man worried about death as a child. Adults quickly tried to assuage his fears, the religious explanations were numerous and unimaginable. Eternal damnation or joy? Those didn’t seem terribly likely. The concept of forever is just as foreign to the human mind as the concept of nothing (real, true nothing, not the kind thought of by mathematicians or physicists). The man realized eventually that living your life in constant fear of death, watching what you do to please some invisible taskmaster, invalidated the life as it was lived. A life devoted to thinking about death is hardly a life at all. That living a certain ascetic lifestyle in order to experience eternal happiness or avoid eternal suffering seemed like a kind of cruel joke, especially when presented with the temptations and tribulations suffered by those around him on a daily basis.
The man decided to live how he wished now, as there was no surety about what comes after.
The man realized that what comes after was coming sooner than ever. Well, that’s always the case, isn’t it?
Each second ticks down inexorably towards the end, unable to be reclaimed. An hourglass that can never be flipped, each morsel of sand a moment to be savored and lived within, as it would never return.
The man was freezing.
The man was burning up.
The man seemed to be both at once, his traitor body incapable of deciding which series of electric impulses to send to his failing brain.
The man was dying.
The human was dying.
Each human was dying, or dead, or in some transitory state between the two.
Thinking back, the last human he had seen had been The child. Young, so young, and full of potential and waste. The child was crying, gripping at his shirt’s collar and desperately begging for help. The child had been sick, as had been every person The man had seen before it. The man knew almost certainly that he had been sick, or about to become sick. The plague claimed all and spared none. No matter how careful, or smart or safe.
And certainly, no man.