Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wooden Box

Looking back always made him anxious. Like willfully walking into a haunted house, waiting to be terrified. Like nothing good could come of it. It's a trap every time.

It had been a bad year for Mark. A bad decade, more accurately. Not much to look back for. Nothing worth remembering. And thinking about the past only highlighted the despair. Why bother? His parents had passed away within months of each other, leaving no plans in place to settle the arrangements. Those damn wooden boxes cost more than his first car and he hated himself for thinking it.

The bad decade had started with his father's death and ended with the collapse of his marriage. Somewhere in the middle was that one DUI charge that he could never seem to hear the end of. One stinking ticket. God.

"Things will come around," his co-worker/only friend had told him. As if he knew.

"Yeah," Mark replied half-heartedly, "maybe you're right." Knowing full-well that he wasn't right. The things we say to get people off our back.

They both sat and stared at some horrible piece of "art" in the company break room. The kind you could pick up for twenty bucks at Office Depot in the back with the bulk Red Hot candies. The kind of picture that "inspires" people to give you over half their lives to sit at a desk and input data into a computer. That's some "art."

Breaking the silence, "What is that supposed to be anyway?" his co-worker ventured, motioning toward the picture. But no one answered because they both knew it wasn't really a question. Just words to fill the empty space. Were there any other kind of words?

Words stopped accomplishing anything useful years ago when no amount of them could smooth out the disjointed past with his wife. Nothing could please her. Nothing made her happy. She would scream, "You are not hearing me!" And he would scream back, "I can hear you just fine!" And then, they would retreat to their corners and wait for the courage to file for divorce. It came sooner for her than it did for him, and still, he was legitimately surprised that she'd actually followed through with it. He knew they had their problems, but he didn't realize the problem was him. All those papers. All that money. What a waste.

Every Sunday, he'd pull his red four-runner out of the garage and into the sunlit driveway. He'd spray it down with the hose and give it a good scrub. Something that always went well. Something he looked forward to. Something that didn't require talking or empty words or remembering. He'd busy himself with a detailed buffing of his front grill. It was the only thing that brought him any pleasure any more.

And he had so many things to be despondent about, "How could he ever be happy again?" Or that's the story he told himself for the final decades of his life until someone else paid for his damn wooden box.