2 snippets to celebrate completing 100 pages. Pure joy turns into absolute misery.
Tap, tap, tap, click, tap.
The sounds of typing echo throughout the house, all emanating from the mostly empty second floor bedroom. Four walls, sans decoration, serve to entomb both a bed covered in pure white and a computer desk framed by the lonely figure of a man hunched over his keyboard. Directly behind the seated man, next to his bed, a trail of little black lines lead to a small hole where the baseboard connects the wall to the wooden floor.
Nearly imperceptible, the only other sign of life is a spider hovering mere inches away from lowering itself onto the head of the unsuspecting typist. Fingers fly faster and faster across the keyboard, their speed indicative of an epiphany.
The spider lowers another inch.
Just then, the sound of a familiar ringtone emanates from the far corner of the bed and this winds up prompting two simultaneous events. The first is the head of a little white dog popping up from between the pillow and the sheets. The little Maltese’s eyes are only partially open, as if to express aggravation that the rude little machine had dared to rouse him from his sleep.
Unaware of the 8 legged danger that had just been narrowly avoided, the typist rolls himself backwards with a single push off. He closes his eyes, spreads his hands out and waits. The high velocity combination of chair and man roll parallel to the bed. His feet lower towards the ground but hover just above it, all while he hurtles towards the unyielding plaster..
Halfway to the wall and his eyes remain closed.
Three quarters of the way there and the phone rings again, alerting him to his proximity to the wall.
Still his feet hover.
His collision course with the wall seems a certainty. His eyes remain closed, hands spread wide and feet remain hovering until…
Both feet crash into the ground, bringing his runaway chair to a sudden stop. Both eyes open, he glances backwards and sees…
“Yata! A new record!!!!”
The wheel lies just between the hole and the nearest black line. Carefully, he stands, reaches for the phone and slides his finger across the green icon.
The conversation starts with a simple, “Yo bitch” which is said quickly, in an overly deep tone of voice.
“Ready to get smacked?” The response of the female voice, raised several octaves above what is normal, comes so immediately and is said so flippantly that it points to this all being part of some routine.
“What’d you just say to me!?” he practically shrieks with mock incredulity before bluntly ordering her to “Get the hell out of my house.”
“I’m not in your house!” She points out before issuing another empty threat “You wanna fight?”
He smiles at how her turn as ‘the aggressor’ makes it so that their normal role has been utterly reversed but the time for levity is at a temporary end.
“Maybe later, I’m writing. Typical bullshit. I’m thinking about how people see the world in different ways even when presented with something similar”.
“Oh, GOD! So lame!”
Playfully indignant, and outraged, “What the HELL!?” comes flying out of the typists’ mouth. Not long after the playful ribbing, at his friends request, he begins reading an abridged version of the following:
Desperate for a sliver of attention, a naïve boy tries to appeal to his mother’s demonstrated narcissistic tendencies by carefully mentioning that a woman touched his fathers’ shoulder. An uncomfortable stranger sitting right beside them overhears this and ever so slightly twitches. Another casual observer smirks with the kind of shit eating grin that would infuriate even a long-time lover. One man’s uncomfortable moment was another grinning idiots’ gain but neither man suffered or gained in any tangible way. Both individuals moved on from their observatory experience as if it had never happened at all.
That is perhaps the biggest benefit of being a detached or objective observer, isn’t it? The unfolding of events cannot really affect the observer in any tangible way.
“You just said that” she interrupts.
Knowing immediately what she means but unwilling to simply agree he presses her to clarify, “Said what?”
“You just said ‘tangible way’ twice in a row.”
“I said ‘tangible way, tangible way’?”
“You asshole, no! You know what I meant.”
“I’m not an asshole! I’m a good man!” and after a short pause he finishes by saying, “...and an even better friend” with the kind of cheesy schmaltz normally reserved for best man speeches at weddings. “Look, we aren’t here to talk about the symmetry in my work-“
“Symmetry!?” she exclaims with incredulity. “Look kid, you can call it whatever you want but I know bullshit when I see, hear or smell it.”
Sensing the kill, he launches an atom bomb of an insult “Yea, well it’s your mouths biggest export! Ooooooh!”
As he’s prematurely celebrating she counters with an anti-air missle of her own. “See! Now this shit is why you’re alone.”
Unwilling to make a further comeback he sadly relents by hanging his head and uttering a defeated “I know…”
Done with their latest round of verbal jousting, he continues on with an abridged version of the following:
What happens when the observer becomes emotionally invested? Perhaps that is the point where the experience of a simple observer morphs into a positive reward or a punishing burden. Think of a film crew safely documenting the progress of a young calf as it walks blissfully unaware into the waiting maw of a camouflaged predator. The predator feasts, the calf gets feasted on and the actual observers are neither helped nor harmed. Now let’s throw in emotional investment in the form of a 4 year old. A young child forced to watch these events unfold could be terribly traumatized. For the once well-adjusted child night terrors, anxiety and constant crying now become a part of the daily routine along with a lifelong aversion to blood and violence.
Maybe it is safe to say that most people would lament the gruesome fate that awaits the calf. Those same people would likely hate to be in the film crew’s shoes. Having to stand idly by and do nothing while watching that poor baby get attacked? Being an observer sounds like such an easy job but now it makes sense to think that being a simple observer could somewhat suck.
At this example an audible sigh of sadness leaps up from his listening friend. “Of course it would suck!”
“Wait a minute now” he interjects, “…that’s all a bit of an egocentric evaluation though, don’t you think?”
“Jesus!” She says before melodramatically exclaiming, “You…you’re a…a MONSTER!”
“Guilty as charged babe.” his voice drips with sleazy confidence as he gladly accepts the label . “Seriously though, who’s to say that any one person is the sole authority on how it should feel to observe a calf being mutilated? Sure, you could be all like, ‘Could you imagine viewing the evisceration of a calf as a positive!? Good God! What kind of sick, depraved mind could benefit from such a thing?’
You COULD be like that.” The melodrama starts to build as he leans into the obvious overdone bullshit inherent in his philosophical musings. “Consider a member of the documentary film crew receiving a nice paycheck for turning in the footage. Think of an ecology student gaining newfound knowledge by studying the hunting techniques of various predators! An edgy teenage boy, hopped up on hormones while in the throes of puberty might gleefully shout ‘Cool!’ Still other individuals may greet the scene with complete apathy. If there is ‘no wrong way to eat a Reese’s’ then perhaps there is also no wrong way to feel about an observation.” Just like that, he comes crashing back to earth. “Then again, candy slogans probably should not be used to try to describe how and why certain events illicit complex human emotions. In any case, it is my hypothesis that an observer must be ready to bear witness to moments that could illicit feelings of happiness, excitement, curiosity, sadness, confusion, frustration or anger."
After absorbing the message for a few silent moments, she finally is ready to deliver her carefully thought out evaluation.
“Whaaat a LOOOSER!”
Just like that, the good natured ribbing continues. During this next round of teasing, he finally marks the floor to reflect his new record and wheels himself back over to his desk where a spider waits to greet him.
"Oh" he says.
"What?" she asks.
There is clearly so much more being hinted at in his purposely overdone musings but she now knows better than to dig any deeper into it. Instead there is a moment of awkward silence as he, unbeknownst to her, shuffles the spider into an empty cup, stands up and heads to the open window.
After being stuck in silence for what feels like an eternity, she finally musters up a simple “Hello?”
"Nothing. Just a spider". He elects not to divulge anything further. He never does. Not with her. Not anymore.
Ready or not, the gauntlet has been thrown down. The part of his brain that is content to endure self-imposed social isolation is being overridden.
The day had been as wonderful as it had been long, allowing him to acknowledge several ugly truths he’d have never been able to recognize just a day prior. Imagine being in pitch black darkness for hours when, out of nowhere, someone suddenly peels away the entire ceiling. Rays of sunlight explode forward, rapidly filling the void of darkness in a manner that temporarily blinds the retinas.
Small, emaciated and pale, the outgoing and social part of Gray’s persona lives in this darkness. Due to the events of the night, this part of his psyche is experiencing an illuminating event on an exponentially intensified scale.
To meet a person is one thing. A simple “hello” and a few basic pleasantries act as nothing more than a single, barely perceptible beam of light.
Tonight is not a simple,” Hello”.
This person, she can spend an entire night with him and engage him in an actually enjoyable, deep, emotionally resonant conversation.
Tonight is no miniscule beam of light.
The nights events have essentially lifted the veil, ripped away the ceiling, set off a flashbang in front of his eyes and catapulted them inches away from the brilliant core of the center of the sun.
At a certain point his brain succumbs, finding it all to be too impossible to process. So, in an act of self-preservation, the processor shuts down. A stream of tears fall down his cheek and his body slowly lowers to the floor, leaving him staring at elongated wooden panels in stunned silence. From time to time, a few gentle nudges elicit movement from his hands as he engages in the absent minded petting of his two dogs. In the periphery of his senses, he registers the vibrating of his phone but he is terrified to check. This continues for roughly an hour until, finally, his brain boots up just enough to prompt him into a simple action.
I need to write.
He feels compelled, subconsciously registering that this will bring some semblance of calm to the mental turbulence. Hearing his computer boot up and watching the screen slowly come to life soothes something fundamental in him.
This was a good idea.
This will help.
With a long low sigh, he begins.
Tap, tap, tap, click.
Words materialize on screen at a breakneck pace as the sounds of typing echo throughout the mostly empty home. The words help to organize a torrent of long abandoned notions and recently resurrected emotions. Once the words are organized, they lead the cavalry charge in the battle to wrest control away from what is, until very recently, the only thing maintaining his sanity: self-imposed social isolation.
Why did I live like this for so long? Because it’s safe, that’s why. All of the torment, along with the abuse and the feelings of betrayal were guaranteed to stay in the past. I felt so safe knowing that I was insulated. Nothing could happen and no one could hurt me. Sure, all of my bad thoughts and awful memories were knocking on the door. Even though they were always reminding me that they were there, I never had to let them in.
After tonight? Ha!
Forget about ignoring the knocking because all of the memories that have shaped the last few years of my life might as well be on a trip to Mars.
In their place comes a newfound appreciation for something he forsook during his period of withdrawal: meaningful social interaction. He cannot bring himself to ignore the gift he now has. The best thing about this gift?
I earned this all on my own. I…am actually…happy.
Again overwhelmed with emotion, his head droops down and a few tears gently pool on the lenses of his glasses. He watches them collect through a watery gaze.
During a further round of reflection, he has to admit that, in a way, the cursed wishes are at least indirectly responsible. Had it not been for them, he’d have been content to continue carving out a hollow shell of an existence buried in his little room, his little life cubicle.
Tap,tap, tap, click.
Four walls and a computer. Sure, there were discussion forums, video games and websites that provided me with a nice distraction. Sometimes though, the vision of what I must look like…it haunted me. A single person hunched silently in the corner of a room that could be characterized, sadly, as mostly wide open, empty space.
Fitting emptiness. So hollow.
Being online is nice but when connected to the entire world I am still alone in the ways that truly matter.
There was always this fantasy that some of the familiar usernames on my forums, reddit subgroups and game lobbies might belong to people just like me.
We were brothers in arms, connected by a lifestyle of solitude!
Those notions would always end up being dispelled. Some people might strike up a casual conversation with each other about their families and the joys of parenthood. Others would register complaints about school.
Oh God and these were the worst moments, serving as double whammies. For one thing, I’d end up realizing that I’d gotten muted in-game or had some of my forum privileges temporarily suspended while shouting down a kid who hadn’t even graduated high school yet. For another thing, it helped show that for all of these people, unlike me, they led meaningful lives that existed beyond their fandoms.
This was a hobby for them, not a lifeline.
In this moment, he begins grappling with a familiar internal debate. This is something that he frequently contemplates during forum visits and game sessions but it is a debate he never truly settled. Now, during this period of upheaval, he tries to definitively decide whether he prefers to be the only one living this way. In the end, all he can settle on is acknowledging that the notion of people living a life cooped up in a cell of their own making leaves him feeling more sick than anything else.
No, life was not perfect.
Yes, loneliness does come with its own special kind of pain.
Understandably, loneliness paled in comparison to the constant abuse, betrayal and abandonment he had been forced to endure by the people in his life. That said, it’s not like he lived in truly complete and utter isolation. Right on time, his phone appears in his hand with his exes’ number a touch away from initiating a phone call. He could call her and give her the good news! There were always the occasional phone calls from the ex girlfriend after all, but they were a cold comfort. Just like that, a gallon of bile rises in his throat.
She had already proven how little she gave a shit.
He could neither confide in her nor could he engage with her on a personal or emotional level ever again. She abandoned him and punished him for being a victim.
All that was left of their relationship was a performance. Each conversation was infested with callbacks, catchphrases, bits and inside jokes. Every phone call served as a chance to seek momentary respite from solitude by acting out the same old shit. Despite the lingering resentment, in practice, it felt good to retreat into what used to work about their relationship, pretending everything was A-OK.
In reality, neither could really ignore the distance that was there. Their interactions carried no emotional depth and no honesty. During each conversation, he wore a mask, acting like the man he used to be. Simultaneously, ironically, these little moments helped mask the truth of how lonely he was. Just try to laugh, try to have fun and use that fun as a shield to deflect away the bitter reality. Living for fun sounds like such a solid plan doesn’t it? But when it’s all that a person has to live for…
How long could he have lived like that?
Well, that is a question he no longer has to ask himself which is just so strange, isn’t it? With all the money he has and with the accompanying freedom from a career, it should be easier than ever to melt away into a life of quiet anonymity.
So why is there this radical change?
Why is he no longer content to live within that safe little bubble?
Simply put, the bubble has burst. The more his wishes fail, the more unhappy he is with his life of solitude. The key reason for living a lonely life, for him, is that it shields him from rejection, anxiety and most of all, pain.
Without inheriting the burden of wishes, what lies ahead is the unpredictable, wild and oftentimes vicious nature of the individuals he is unlucky enough to have in his life.
Ah! The comparatively sweet bliss of absolutely nothing.
Moving ahead, naturally, seems quite unappealing by comparison. Retreating into nothing makes so much more sense. Sure, life is hollow and unfulfilling but there is so little risk of intense pain.
Unfortunately, a lonely retreat doesn’t work quite as well when you’re running backwards off a cliff and you need a hand to reach out and save you. Having the burden of wishes, unsurprisingly, changes everything. The crushing weight of enormous guilt and suffocating cloud of anxiety is transformative in all of the worst ways. Now, the dull throb of loneliness twists into a serrated blade, carving out a path of acute agony. In its wake it leaves behind a constant, awful feeling of emptiness in his chest, the symptom of a brutal panic.
Tonight, for the first time since the moment his first wish went horribly wrong, the hollow ditch in his chest feels like it is filled. Having someone in his life who cares serves as an unexpected but very welcome panacea. He cannot help but gently bob on a puffy cloud of lovely memories. “I wish for 3 more wishes tomorrow.”
The words felt so foreign and odd to him. His eyes peer ahead but see none of the scenery laid out in front of them. His world is silent, eerily so.
He laughs, powers down and lies down. The clock reads.9:55 pm.
When’s the last time I was able to sleep so early?
Then the screaming started.
His body launches itself out of bed.
Did I fall asleep? How long was I out? Where are my glasses. Goddamn dark…piece of shit.
After a brief moment of fumbling around, the click of a switch heralds the arrival of an initially blinding burst of light. One dog is sitting up in bed, none the worse for wear despite being woken up unceremoniously and the other? A sick feeling overwhelms him as he realizes that the screams are coming from under the bed. Quickly, his mind works out exactly what’s happening and what to do.
“I wish for my dog Benny to be ok, with no negative consequences for anyone or anything.”
It was a risky wish, one he did not have much time to think about and as the screaming continues, he realizes with horror that it is one that, for some reason, is not working.
Eyes wild with desperation, he looks over to the digital display of his clock to see 11:55. Without missing a beat, he gently removes Calvin from the bed before violently lifting the entire thing into the air and throwing it to the side. Lying there, howling and crying in agony is Benny, barely clinging to life. He calmly talks to his boy, showing an admirable measure of restraint. In between words of encouragement and reassurance, he continues to reiterate the same wish over and over. His thoughts, on the other hand, betray how near to a full blown panic attack he is.
Please, please. There’s nothing I can do. Please, PLEASE!!!!! THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO!
11:59 pm and the noise abruptly stops, along with all movement.
“No stop, STOP!” he loudly whines and begins to beg like a child. “Please? PLEASE! PLEASE!”
His eyes look over at the clock, taunting him and mocking him. His bargaining turns into a violent rage that becomes embodied by the repetitive invocation of a single number.
“Twelve.” His voice trembles with barely concealed rage as a punch collapses the TV stand door just below the clock. “TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE! TWELVE!” Wild punches and swings of the now ripped off TV stand door send pieces of wood flying in every direction. A minute has never taken this long. A minute has never taken this long.
It’s on purpose.
He no longer knows what is breaking, no longer feels much of anything at all. Blood replaces the skin that normally covers his knuckles and numbness replaces the pain that normally trails just behind the blood. All this waiting and all of this clock watching was prolonging his boys suffering.
At that exact moment, a local emergency warning system test goes out. The cable box loudly clicks and the time display is shut off. Like being doused with freezing fire, everything from his head to his feet feels like it is either burning or has been turned to ice. The amount of hatred emanating off of this man in waves could melt steel were it to convert into heat. Fueled by that hatred, he explodes towards his dog and baseball slides right next to him. His arms cradle the pup who is now lying so incredibly still. Knowing twelve o’clock to arrive any moment he wastes little time. As he runs, slides and cradles Benny he begins to repeat himself.
“I wish for my dog Benny to be ok, with no negative consequences for anyone or anything.” He manages to choke out in a voice that has been reduced to something guttural.
He thinks of finding his phone, knowing it to be among the pile of rubble that is his bed but it can wait. There's less than a minute left until midnight.
“I wish for my dog Benny to be ok, with no negative consequences for anyone or anything.”
He only needs to wait one minute until his wishes renew and so much of that minute has to have already passed, right?
“I wish for my dog Benny to be ok, with no negative consequences for anyone or anything.”
So it goes. For what feels like an eternity he lies there.
But it is just a minute. Just a minute.
When trying to gather his beloved dog, he can’t help but register how limp he is. As if all of his muscle have become spaghetti. Scared of damaging the dog, he elects to just lie right next to him, all the while petting him and repeating his wish. Calvin lies his head down just parallel to Benny’s, waiting for his buddy to rouse from this terrible sleep.
When the cable box clicks back on, Gray does not look, afraid that it will tell him something that his very soul needs to deny in order to keep from falling apart. When his voice begins to crack under the strain of hours of use, he simply lowers it to a whisper.
When the first light of dawn peeks through the now broken blinds and another round of tears begin falling, he stops wish-making for the first time in what feels like forever. His pause lasts only long enough for him to apologize for making it so that the back of Benny’s head will be wet with tears when he wakes up in less than a minute. Afterwards, like a mantra, he mindlessly repeats the same wish over and over and over and over and over and...