I stood behind glass doors that led out into the world. My backpack was over my shoulders, causing a damp sweat to form along my shoulder blades. It was raining outside, the downpour intensifying, the patter of water on concrete just barely audible from behind the cover of the glass. I had somewhere to be, off-campus, a journey to make into the city, into New England. Looking out at the cold and the rain, I considered turning around and returning to my bed.
Earlier that morning, I woke up expecting to see a full orchestra crammed shoulder-to-shoulder inside of my room playing “The Ecstasy of Gold.” That’s the kind of stuff that usually happens when I have a column to write. But when I woke up there was nothing but the quiet of my room and the slight stench of day-old pizza. It felt terribly empty.
As I went through a mundane morning routine, I kept expecting a dark, terrifying figure to jump out at me and start yelling, or maybe I would faint and have a conversation with a crazy dead relative. Would the ghastly, unmentioned creatures of Nyarlathotep rise from the toilet bowl and chase me from my room? Or would the tree people burst through the windows, seeking their bloody revenge? Something had to happen, something had to drive me to inspiration and spark a few hundred words of Boston-loving good times. If there wasn’t anything odd or amusing going on around me, I didn’t think I had the motivation to leave Walsh. I didn’t know if I could face another normal day.
“Hey,” I said to my roommate, after preparing myself for the day. “Have there been any sightings of flying giraffe monsters, or disgruntled detectives who have a bone to pick with me, or even washed-up rock stars with heroin habits desperately seeking my wisdom?”
“Nope,” my roommate said. “Are you going into the city today?”
“I don’t know,” I said, slightly disturbed by the lack of disturbing events.
I made my way to the dining hall and sat in a corner booth, nursing a small cup of coffee and waiting for the insanity to begin. Sitting in the emptiness I began to wonder what kind of column I could possibly write. What did I have to tell people? What did anyone want to hear? What was the point? Why confront the world when I could just hide myself away?
That was when a man approached my booth and sat down across from me. He rested both elbows on the table and looked at me.
“Oh good,” I said. “You must be another hallucination who’ll tell me what to do and provide some lighthearted insight into various Boston landmarks and events.”
“Don’t bother with the shtick,” he said. “Tell me what you want to do in the city, why you want to go in this first place. Why should anyone want to go?”
“Because—” I began.
“And don’t give me that ‘appreciate what you have’ crap,” he said. “You haven’t gone into the city in a damn long time, but you keep writing about the city and you keep assaulting readers with weirdness. Why is that? You have a forum to speak to people, in some capacity. Now is your chance. What do you actually have to say?”
I stuttered and my face turned beet red, as it often does, “I … I was just going to get some pastries or something. Who are you anyway?”
“You were going to sit in your room the whole day and read, and then write a column about how to live a worthwhile life. Don’t lie to me.”
“I like reading,” I said. “Come on, leave me alone.”
“You owe whoever’s reading this column some honesty,” he said. “Writing is a pure way to communicate and establish an honest connection with someone you’ve never met.”
“What do you want from me? Why are you here?”
“I’m here to say that maybe beneath all the insanity, the wacky characters, and pretentious literary allusions, all of that, you’re just a scared, uncertain child who’s afraid he has nothing to say and no one to say it to. Maybe you haven’t yet been able to truly grasp the fragile nature of life and the constant shedding of the old to bring in the new. Maybe you’ve never admitted to another human being that the first two weeks of college were two of the most frightening, sad weeks of your life because you know your anxieties are small and you think no one else cares. But, in these printed words, you have some sort of responsibility to communicate something real to someone else, be that fear and pain or love and laughter. Admit that you don’t wake up every morning excited to be in Boston, full of joy and appreciation for the city. Be honest. Let everyone know that you’re insecure and afraid and just trying to make everyday a little bit better.”
“I … okay?”
“No, listen to me,” he said. “Everyone has the temptation to sit back and let life pass them by, especially when they don’t feel so great about it, but that doesn’t mean you can just go back to your bed and watch yourself grow old. I know that you’re afraid to admit openly to other people that a big part of what gets you through the day is a firm belief in God because you’re afraid everyone will stop taking you seriously. What does that say about your world? Just tell people the truth and see if you can help them, however indirectly, get out of bed in the morning and do something to make themselves better.
That’s about all I can tell you right now. There’s no five-paragraph, neatly-packed lesson that can show you how to live your life. There’s only one person communicating with another and whatever truth can be gleaned from that. But no matter what, you have to live your life, be unafraid and confront the world. Now I know that was a lot of over-serious stuff I just spewed at you, so I’m sure you’re going to end this with a joke. You can’t help it, can you? There has to be a punchline. Go on then, make me laugh.”
I stared at him and opened my mouth to speak but couldn’t think of anything to say.
In the late afternoon, standing behind the glass doors, I watched the rain beating down.
I lifted my head and looked at the dark sky. Taking a slow breath, I pulled my jacket tight around my shoulders, lowered my head, and stepped out into the storm.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic