Four walls peremptorily shouted back the round’s thunderous crack into the muzzle. Gaseous and ruthless power pulled the round backward with all the gentleness of an angry god, and simultaneously its respective cartridge case shrank, unplugging the breech. Propellant followed suit of the primer and calmed from eruption. Like a mechanical John Henry, the primer punched the firing pin and the hammer arced backward. The twisted spring strained under pressure, and the trigger lever pulled my index finger.
But first I anticipated relief.
* * *
I’m glad this never happened. It’s been six years since I considered self-termination. They call it the coward’s way out. I’m not a coward. Is it cowardice to guess and fish for affinity and brotherhood and returnedly fail? Seeking for rapture and only finding mediocrity? To strive to overcome but be shackled by fetters of doubt, self-loathing, and guilt? They say that insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results, and that wisdom is to learn from one’s and others’ mistakes–but what if you don’t know which you’re doing? Am I alone?
Call me Ahab. Yes, that’s my real name. My parents are devout Orthodox Latter-day Saints, and they chose the name so I would chase the White Whale of perfection. Is it funny that Alice chased a white rabbit into insanity? In no way did they think that this Moby Dick may likewise be my quietus. The question demands to be asked if perfection can be had in mortal life by mortal people. Is it ambitious or disastrous?
They raised me right. I can’t attribute anything to wrongful beatings or being chained up in the basement without hydration or nutrition save urine and dog food. Cruel words are absent from my past. Nothing of this has to do with them. Except maybe genes and misguidance. But they were doing their best, as all parents do–I mean most parents. I’m grateful I didn’t draw a short stick and be born to parents addled with abhorrent vice or who didn’t want me and simply have to rough it out till I’m eighteen. This is all against the point.
The point is that without an outlet like a podium or oil paints you’re just crazy. You can have much of the same attributes as Warhol or Shakespeare, yet sans fame you’re hopeless and intolerable. Those motivational posters that say Einstein was a failure at school because his teachers just didn’t recognize genius make me laugh bitterly. I didn’t miss out on the right teachers, and I’m not a genius. But the posters just go to say that it’s okay to be crazy because you could be the diamond in the rough. Doesn’t that give false hope? “Get famous and you’ll be lauded.” The trappings of narrative.
Yet isn’t the narrative the American illusion? No one is actually out there telling us what to do. Sure, there’s people that would like to, but they only are if we listen. Demagogues, pop stars, health gurus, Sqweezy-Cheese® all tell us how it really is, but the liberating thing is that none of that is real. There are a million choices to listen, and you get to choose which one you hear and heed. Life is what you make of it, and you’re only enclosed in the trappings you choose. At least that’s how I decided to come out of this . . . funk.
I was twenty-three and at college. She had long brown hair, and a face that begged you to protect her innocence. She never noticed me, but was always friendly when we’d collide in a group project or at the vending machine. Studying in the same discipline, we grew into the humanities together–I alone more than she. She had my company, but she didn’t know. As creepy as that sounds, it’s not that. A day that I saw her at the quad getting harangued by someone who must’ve been an ex-boyfriend, I leapt upon a bench and started singing, to the general student body, Sixpence None the Richer in my best Rick Astley baritone, thus providing her a distraction to get away. Upon turning back around to finish and seeing her gone, the ex kicked in a trash can, and I bowed my way out once he stormed off.
A month later, I stopped seeing her in class. I thought I may see her coming out of other classes in the art building, but despite my hours spent doing math homework in the gallery, I never saw her through the room’s glass that showcased the hallways. It was another month before I was gassing up and saw her working behind the register with a tacky red polo with an even gaudier road-stripe logo on her name tag. The space provided for her name was empty, but she had obviously been working there long enough to get a cadence. “Alice,” it would have said. I watched her as she helped the spud farmer in front of me, put the proper amount on pump #2, and with a nuanced ambiguity of forlornness–just a hue cooler than her Sunday-morning self–she told him to “Have a Route 66 day!” I stepped forward as he exited. She took the crinkled and near fuzzy Andrew Jackson from me and rang me up methodically, her eyes focusing on something more distant than the register display or the till as the drawer opened. She didn’t recognize me. I could see those eyes had bigger problems than identifying me outside the classroom or the Fibonacci Sequence in Renaissance works. But she was still exquisitely graceful and maintained reverent beauty. I saw she needed respite. I took the shot and interrupted before she could wish me her obligatory farewell.
‘Listen, I don’t–forgive me for being forward, but do you like Thai food?’
She was caught off-guard, understandably; but she regained poise faster than I could have, and said she loved it.
‘Excellent. I’d like to have lunch with you at the place by the skate park,’ I smiled the offer.
I’m grateful that A) I have unusually charming teeth for my family, and B) the college is an LDS one, fostering a community of trust and an eager dating scene. An attempt like this many other places wouldn’t have permeated her initial skepticism, and rather earned me something far less enjoyable than her flattered laugh and accepting reply. I comforted her that we have share a class, and she instantly seemed far more at ease. That is, at least until I told her my name. And then she thought I was joking.
Thanks, Mom and Pop.
‘Or Abe. Just call me Abe.’ The finesse lost a lot of ground, so I moved on by asking if tomorrow at 12:30 worked. It did. She wrote her number on my receipt and I said I would call her.
She had never been to Thai-phoon, and liked the fusion peanut burrito I recommended. The ensuing walk through the audible autumn leaves was bracing. We got to know each other more and the chemicals between us paired well. Her countenance brightened. She laughed at my obsession for blaxploitation films, and I teased her for her honorary Hogwart’s graduation certificate she said hung at her parent’s. Turned out that she was a local. I decided not to ask why she hadn’t been coming to class, or school at all, for that matter.
I saw a girl that I did the same thing to and repeated the process and then