Sometimes, he thought it was rather like flying through a tunnel. You know, one of those underground tunnels in big cities like D.C. or New York, with the flashes of light you get from the large overhead fluorescents? He would be listening to someone speak, his boss, or his wife, and he felt as though he could barely hear them, like a strong wind was rushing by his head, and he had to struggle to pay attention to what they were saying. He found that if he nodded enough, and kept moderate eye contact, he could get away with paying no attention whatsoever. “That’s awful” or “that’s wonderful” were the only two responses that he ever needed to end a conversation, and once he said them, he would turn and walk away, farther down the tunnel. It was a dark tunnel. Not like cave dark, but as dark as the garage or basement was when you were a kid, complete with that lurking feeling at the pit of your stomach that something in the darkness was about to grab you and take you away from everything you loved. Sometimes there would be a flash of light in the tunnel, but it was only there long enough to dilate your pupils so you couldn’t see as well when it was dark again. That was all he was doing, rushing headlong down an endless tunnel, trying to run from the boogeyman which lurked right behind the service door.
He’d read in a kid’s story a long time ago about this kid who couldn’t eat his food. It all tasted like sand in his mouth. Well, the kid had something pretty wrong with him, because the food wasn’t that bad, it just didn’t matter. He could eat if he wanted to, but he’d probably have to later, and maybe he wouldn’t have a chance to work out, so perhaps he’d better just wait until later. But then it was later, and he realized he’d have to eat in the morning. He wasn’t that hungry, so what was the harm in holding off until morning? Then he’d shove a bar through his teeth, drink a few cups of coffee (the best part of the day, typically) and head to work.
Up until last week, he’d loved his job. He worked as a repair technician at an uppity technological giant, and spent his days fixing the phones, laptops, and tablets of those who were stupid, or unlucky. It was almost always the former, he had realized two months into the job. Working retail makes you realize how stupid people really are. George Carlin said it best: “Think about how stupid the average person is, and realize that half the people in the world are stupider than that.” Regardless, he had enjoyed talking to people, getting to know them, and fixing their minor tech problems. He was an ENTJ, and he liked talking to people. He thrived on it, really. People run on food, water, and a proper balance of chemicals resulting from human interactions, and he ran on more chemicals than the average guy did. He loved his job. He really did. Honest to God. But then, he saw an advert.
It was on Facebook; one of those “Promoted Posts.” He didn’t remember exactly what it said, or what it was for, but he saw one of his high school classmates on the advert, declaring to the world that he had made “it,” “it” being success. His classmate had done what he had wanted all his life, and had made a movie, or a book or something or other, while he was fixing smart phones at a cool $16 an hour.
“I love my job though,” he told himself. “Well,” he thought, an hour later, “maybe not love, but it’s pretty great. I’ve got wonderful managers and my coworkers are fantastic.”
Then he went into work the next day, and realization struck him seven months late. This job was sucking the soul out of him, and he’d hated it since day one, or maybe day two. Fix a phone, and it will break in a few months or years. Talk to a person, and never see them again. Make one person’s afternoon better with customer service, and their happiness flees in rush hour traffic twenty minutes later. It wasn’t as bad as serving tables, but it wasn’t sustainable. He needed to do something meaningful. Something that would mold him, and something that would leave a mark, like his classmate. It might be a horrible movie or book, but the classmate was doing what he wanted.
So he told his friends, and he told his wife, and they smiled and said that was all fine and brilliant and that would come to pass, but he needed to stick with what he had and “see it as a temporary stepping stone.” He sat down with his guitar, and decided to prove them wrong, staying up for a week, until 3 or 4 every night. At the end of the week, he had written several songs, all of them uninspiring and flat. He would keep trying though, and he wouldn’t give up, couldn’t give up.
Work went on, but it was the same thing every day. The same repetitive task, like eating and sleeping. But sleeping was better, because you didn’t care about making a difference when you were asleep. You weren’t making memories of wasted time when you were asleep, but if you slept too much, once you woke up, you hated yourself for sleeping through precious time. Every moment of work crawled by, taking up time that he could be writing music, discovering brand new chord patterns, and grouping words together by sound and meaning.
And then it was his marriage. Food, work, sex. That was the order in which his life fell apart. It was the same thing over and over again, and as long as he didn’t think about it too hard, it was fine. Once he started thinking too much about it though, it was all rather pointless. He needed to do something that lasted longer, something that would carry his name through space, but more importantly, time.
So he worked from 8-5, and he wrote from 545-1, and he slept from 1-7, and he got ready for work from 7-8. The tunnel was far more real now, and it was smaller. He found himself drifting out of conversations unless he was absolutely focused on the person, keeping their face in the center of the tunnel at all times. And all the while, the boogeyman knocked on the service door, begging and calling.
It was a second advert that changed everything. Life has a narrative, so it’s only fair that an advert ended what an advert began. It was a chance for a new life, free from dreams. He immediately realized that was the problem, dreams. If he couldn’t dream of anything, he wouldn’t want to be known. He wouldn’t care about the state of his food, or his job, or his wife. It was a weekend course, a meditation in contentment and the ceasing of dreams, and it was seen as a cure for all forms of sadness. After all, if he couldn’t dream about the future, then he would be fine with what he had.
He did it. One Saturday morning he went into the cold, metallic room, prepared to give up his dreams. He came out, and he wasn’t sad anymore. He wasn’t happy either, but he was content. Not a positive content, like when he used to sit next to his wife and watch some mediocre film, but the most neutral of contents. He hadn’t cared about things before, but now he didn’t have a reason to care about things, and he felt nothing.
He used to take out his moleskine journal and write “I don’t care, but I want to,” but now it was all “I don’t care, and that’s alright with me.” And he was fine with that, because he wasn’t dreaming anymore.