He’s told, by email, that he’s expected to move so that they can be a family again– but in Saudi Arabia. Great. This time, it’s a country he doesn’t even speak the primary language to, and to which the second language is his distant second. So when his English tutor asks him to write an essay about what he wants to do when he grows up, he writes: “I want to die. I am in pain. My life is terrible.”
The ball bounces, a few dozen blades of grass whispering “shiff, shiff, shiff” as they volley it further, to the sidewalk, onto the street. The young boy follows, just in time to meet the car bowling down the street.
His family tries. What? Everything, I suppose, but can’t do anything.
He tries to get up, but he can’t– he might have been able to endure the kick, but something about the way that he fell through the black board backwards has hurt his back. Not that the physical pain matters– he’s had worse– it’s just enough to keep him down, and even as his friend, his sparring partner for this round, hesitantly comes to check if he’s okay, his face flushes red with shame. Because he sees that his friend, even as he comes forward slowly to see if he’s alright, is scared of him. Because, moments ago, he gave in to his anger and wanted to hurt his friend, and his friend noticed the murder in his eyes, but couldn’t understand why.
He tries to scapegoat it, thinking that it’s her fault– but that makes him feel even more wretched inside, and he refuses his friend’s hand.
She hears his excuse. It’s not that she’s not listening, she is: she would always try, for him– but he’s talking in the way that you can’t listen to. He talks in that way, the one that nobody who ever learned from a mistake could ever take you seriously while looking you in the eyes, much less listen to your flapping jaw.
Not this far down the relationship. He used to treat her like a princess– and now, even as he argues his innocence, she knows that the prince is lying.
He’s not young anymore. He’s worked these sorts of jobs since he was a teen, almost a half century now, and somehow his wife and he managed to put a couple of great kids through school on a salary that kids a quarter his age could top nowadays.
He asked them if they were joking. They weren’t, they replied gravely, carefully. It was a brief moment where the arthritis in his bad wrist and his tired back shut up. He was famous for his temper; he didn’t chew bubblegum, and when he needed to, he’d been known to kick some ass.
He went home, took a nap. When his wife got home, she asked why he was home so early.
The letter felt ridiculously light between his fingers. The university had bothered, at least, to be polite about it, but he was beside it all.
He’d been in school for most of his life. The letter regretted to inform him though that this was the end of the line for someone who wasn’t taking studentship seriously.
Fuck it all! he thought.
In a game of chess, the progression of moves that bring us from the start to finish of a neck to neck battle are loosely definined in terms of the opening, the midgame, and the endgame.
There are different strategies to develop each part of one’s game. Some people are in effect better at one stage of the game than others.
But let’s face it– not everybody’s a pro chess player. So, you don’t always see what’s coming up, and, furthermore, what you don’t see coming is what’s most likely to change the tide of the game completely.
There’s I use loosely in chess for a situation that occurs in chess– it’s called “getting fucked.”
Theoretically, if you play your cards right, it shouldn’t ever happen to you that anything catches you off guard. Isn’t that true? That all the worst things that happen to us, you can look back with your 20 20 hindsight and say your ‘if onlies’ about this or that.
When you get fucked in chess, this usually brings you the the endgame. Few people survive. Most people lose the game if they’re dragged into an endgame when they’re still playing their opening or midgame.
But what’s worse is that some people lose the willingness to play anymore at all.
Life comes with these events, these triggers. These moments of rock bottom where we just get fucked.
And it’s not always something bad that happens– sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes it’s an epiphany, it’s acknowledgement, it’s blind dumb luck.
A girl is standing next to a brick wall outside of a store when suddenly, a drunken driver comes straight at her. Ironically, all that safety gear– a mess of polymer side panels, airbags, childproof locks and seatbelts– just makes it a more potent killing machine.
But somehow, the car bouces off a concrete barrier and flies up, missing the girl’s head by inches before forming an angle that slams into the brick wall hard enough to destroy a part of it. She isn’t even scratched though.
She presses 1, and the message starts to play. She imagines a face to the annoyingly chirpy voice at the other end. She expects them to thank her for her time, as usual. Which they do. On par for the course.
But then they congratulate her. She swears to herself, telling her pulsing heart to stop being so loud– did they just say she’d gotten the job?
She hits the rewind key to be sure.
He was pissed, to be sure– nobody ever gave his papers such low grades. But this was different. This man, this, teacher, was telling him that his piece was total fluff, and that he wasn’t fooling anyone.
He’d been found out. So what?
But then the teacher told him to sit down, and listen to how to make it better. He hesitated, wondering if he could make an excuse to get through what sounded like a lecture.
“No really,” said the teacher, “you have the words. You just need to know what you want to say.”
Somewhere on the edge of the Mediteranean, after weeks in the deathly heat, he finds a moment to fish through his pocket and take out the little ring box that’s been weighing him down since this whole adventure started.
When he asks, she cries, and agrees.
The thing is, we go through events in our lives that change us. Irrevocably. Definitively. We can still look back at who we were before the event and pretend that we’re no different– but if an event of that magnitude happens and we are the same, then we might as well be dead.
I don’t have a clue of the math behind it– but I do know that the most interesting people I know are those who have been hit by these events, who have worn many coats and many skins over the years. If we are to find happiness, it definately doesn’t lie in sadness, anger or shame– but we might not find it among happiness either. Happiness is somewhere at the turn. The sharper that edge, the deeper the blood of that happiness.
Therin lies the inherent challenge in living.