Updated: Mar 21, 2021
I died today.
I found myself slowly falling back to the earth, feeling weightless as I floated down and down, stopping with a light thud as I entered the body that was laying on the bed. I kept my eyes squeezed tight and watched the black turn to red as the daylight hit the closed eyelids. How long could I delay the day that was going to come? Deep breath in. Long sigh out. I smelled the sheets as I breathed in again; a mix of fabric softener and morning musk and the color grey. The color grey... It floated around in my head trying to make sense of how to describe how a color smelled. It smelled like the dust that had built layers on a counter for more than a year. Or maybe like the pile of clothes that sat forgotten in a garage. Pushed into a box with the word ‘Donation’ scribbled on the side in a black marker. I kept searching for the word. Stale. The color grey smelled stale. My throat and lungs were dry as I took another deep breath in. Long sigh out. I continued to lay on the bed that had seen many years of my adult life. I read an ad once that claimed that an adult should change their mattress every seven years. I meant to. We spoke of it a few times but just hadn’t gotten around to it. This one was still comfortable and molded in just the right spot where my heavy body lay. I was warm under the soft comforter that she had purchased months ago. Or was that years ago? I opened my left eye slowly and tilted just my eye towards the wall; it was lined with the sun that was starting to pierce its way through the slits in the blinds. Enough to make the room look dusty and the paint on the wall show its age. I slowly pulled my arm out from under my soft pillow as I opened my other eye. My arms bent beneath me as I pushed my body to a sitting position. I swung my legs around so that my feet could land heavily on the cold plastic floor and I flexed my toes up and down trying to work the stiffness out of them. I looked down at my feet. Those are my feet? The nails are too long. The dark hair that grew on the top. Was that always there? I flexed my toes again and watched them move at my command. Those must be my feet. I looked at the cold floor that sat beneath them. There used to be carpeting in this room. It was an ugly brown carpet that was made in just the right way to hide years of wear and spills. I loved that carpet. It was worn over the years and soft under my worn toes. We remodeled a while back. She wanted a project and to throw herself into something to get her mind off… it didn’t matter. Out with the carpet. In with plastic slats that were carved and painted in a poor attempt to look like wood. For a moment I saw her standing there. Laughing at my frustration as I tried to hammer the damn things together. “Easy installation” said the guy at the flooring warehouse. Depends on who you ask, I guess. I had tried to look angry and annoyed but soon mirrored her smile. I shook my head and the image was gone, replaced by the present. I looked at the hands resting on my knees. At least they looked like my hands. They moved like my hands. But they didn’t feel like my hands. Deep breath in. Long sigh out. And still I sat. I heard the groan of the pipes as the shower was turned off down the hall. A mower engine reverberated to life outside of the window before slowing into a steady purr. The birds were chirping away like happy little assholes on the tree outside. I watched the minutes click away on the clock next to my side of our comfortable bed. Click. Another minute passed. Click. I finally stood up.
The soft sounds of every morning followed me as I stumbled down the dark windowless hall towards the bathroom. Hung along the way were photos of a smiling couple. At times joined in their posed moments by friends or family. Every one of them also smiling. Some mornings I would pause and stare at the eyes of the people behind the glass, looking for the truth or pain that existed hidden behind the smiles. This morning I walked past them. I knew the bullshit that lived there, masked by smiles of the past.
I made it to the closed door of the bathroom and paused, closing my eyes. A memory played in the darkness behind my lids. I looked down at the hand from the memory and it turned the knob. I walked through the doorway to find my freshly washed and damp wife standing there, naked and trying to unsuccessfully dry her long hair. Water dripping from the tips of it down between her breasts and tracing its way down to her belly button. I watched her for a moment before moving close and wrapping my arms around her, not minding the damp. She turned and smiled before she leaned in for a kiss, having to stand on the tips of her toes to reach my lips. The first kiss would turn into another until I finally pulled her back behind the sliding glass door to join me for my shower. I shook the memory away and opened my eyes with a dull hint of unexpected hopefulness as I reached out to the knob and wrapped my hand around it. It didn’t turn. I let go of the cold metal and stood there as I looked at my hand frozen in shape. My eyes closed again, and I shook the fog out of my head before closing my hand into a fist and tapping my knuckles lightly on the door. There was the sound of movement on the other side and the click of the door unlocking. It swung open slowly revealing her standing there wrapped like a tiny burrito in her soft grey robe. The light shone through the window behind her and for a moment the sun shone through her and she wasn’t even there. My wife. A soft smile in my direction. A dry kiss on the cheek. Then she shuffled around me and down the hall towards the bedroom I had come from. Towards our bedroom. I watched her walk away from me. Always walking away from me. Quietly in our own worlds. Deep breath in. Long sigh out. I walked into the bright room and closed the door before pushing in the button on the knob. That little movement of my thumb and I locked out the memories of her and I. The past that no longer existed.
I stood in the shower, the hot water stung my face as I watched the steam lazily float away and work its way along the corners of the ceiling. How long could I possibly stand in here and avoid the next moments of my almost finished life? Five minutes? Fifteen? Before long, she’d be back up here, knocking on the door and questioning what I’m doing or how much longer I’ll be. Not for any reason other than basic curiosity on the lack of the routine that has become my life. I turned the water off and grabbed the oversized grey towel with the J on it. Everything was labeled in our home. I used to find it endearing. The laugh when I bought her a label maker to continue her obsession throughout the house. The water trailed down my body and I raced to pat it off before walking over to the double sink vanity. My hand wrapped around the toothbrush and paste. I methodically put a small peak of white cream on the bristles before trying to scrub away the fuzziness that grew overnight. Then I stood in front of the mirror, toothbrush hanging between my lips. And I looked at my reflection. The odd shaped folds, the patchy hair, the spray of freckles, I recognized myself in the glass. Like I recognized myself in a photograph on the wall. This was an older version of myself than I remembered from yesterday. I was slightly more worn. But it was still me. I made eye contact with the man looking back at me. Who was that? I didn’t recognize that man at all. It was a stranger living in the empty shell of my worn-out body. I was nothing but a host. The strange eyes stared back at me as I leaned my face closer to the glass, caught in their gaze. There was nothing living behind them. I leaned closer. Maybe if I could just see something within them. A spark of life. A reason to keep living. I blinked and the eyes blinked back, emotionless. And I leaned back to finish scrubbing my teeth.
I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a time when I had trouble engaging with situations or people I didn’t trust. It could have been the impact of things from when I was small. No matter the reason, I chose to stay hidden amongst the people and then one day, a teacher told me that it came across as ‘cocky’. I asked him what I could do to fix that misconception. He told me to smile. If I felt that I didn’t trust the person in front of me, sad, angry, or even felt nothing at all – I should smile. That the perception of seeming happy for others will start to make me seem more relatable and would even help me feel happy inside. I knew it was bullshit, but it still stuck with me and became a part of my routine. So, like every morning, I finished getting cleaned up and looked back into the face in the mirror. My lips widened and I smiled at him. The stranger in my eyes did not smile back. Asshole. He watched me, emotionless, as I walked out of the bathroom and down the hall. I looked back once to see if I had left him standing there; alone in the mirror without me. But just like every day before he followed me out.
She was already dressed and gone from the bedroom by the time I opened the closet. My side of the bed always freshly made; the blankets pulled tight. I pulled out the outfit of choice today… the same as every Tuesday. Grey slacks. White oxford. Dark tie. I might not have gotten meaning or joy out of my routine, but it did make sense and made the days easier. She used to tease me about my routine outfits, but she didn’t say anything about it anymore.
I walked down the stairs to the open kitchen and saw that she had filled my cup with black coffee and placed it on the counter for me. The steam still rose from the ceramic mug that used to be white but was now stained with age and coffee. I heard a soft noise behind me and turned around to see her putting on her grey jacket, just a peak of orange coming out the bottom where her dress lay against her legs. She gave a little wave as the door opened. And she was gone. I looked back at my coffee sitting on the clean counter. How long had I stood here? I took a sip of the cold coffee before pouring the rest of it down the drain. I watched the brown liquid disappear as my head filled with a single thought, “how could anyone miss anything that was already gone?” Deep breath in. Long sigh out.
I sat under the florescent glare of the rectangle light that hung above my cubical. I was staring at the bright computer screen. I shook myself and rubbed the dryness from my eyes. What had I just been working on? Oh yeah. I looked down at my hands as they typed out the words ‘I’m sorry –J’ to finish up my letter. I had drifted off, thinking about the life that I used to have. That we used to have. The hope and desire and the unwavering belief that I had a purpose. That we would do something amazing. Was that really so long ago? We weren’t those people anymore. She might still be more than a host, but I was not. I looked at the fabric on the cubical wall. A small piece of paper stuck to it with the four simple rules of management. My eyes drifted to the photo that sat directly next to the monitor. I glanced at her before moving my eyes to the man. Is that me? I leaned in to stare at the smile. Was that real? I think hers was. How long would it take her to move on? To find someone that made her smile like that again. I leaned back in my chair and focused on the light shining above me. I focused past the glow and saw the corpse of what must have been a roach, long dead. It had had been there for at least the six years I have. I named him in my first year. I called him Rupert the Roach. In those six years did anyone else ever noticed the little empty shell of death named Rupert? No. No one notices the dead once they are gone. I focused back on my screen. The silence only broken by an occasional distant conversation between people who were never my friends. I tapped the mouse and waited for the question to show. Would I like to print? I looked around me. Deep breath in. Long sigh out. There was nothing in this cubical I wanted. I left my computer on, the cold coffee sitting in the mug just waiting to form a green moss over the next few weeks, the jacket on the hook, the photos in their frames and I clicked the mouse as the arrow hovered over ‘yes’.
I slowly stood up from my worn desk chair, keys in hand, and I grabbed my note from the printer on my way to the elevator at mid-morning on a Tuesday. No one stopped me from hitting the down arrow. Hell, I don’t think anyone looked up from their fucking desks. How long would it take for any of them to notice that I wasn’t there the rest of the day? How long before they noticed that I wasn’t coming in anymore? A week? Probably more. The most likely scenario is that no one notices until she calls looking for me. Then they will turn to each other, confused, and say “No. I don’t know when we last saw him. Last week maybe?”
I stepped off the elevator and walked through the revolving door, unsurprised when the man at the front desk pretended that I wasn’t even there. Not even a slight raise of the head from his paper. Hell, what did I expect? I never even learned his name. I had named a fucking corpse of a bug and couldn’t even tell you what the security guard’s name started with. I doubt he’ll even remember my face when I’m gone. I stepped outside and my eyes narrowed against the white sun before walking towards my little silver sedan and sliding into the driver’s seat. I liked this little car. We had bought it together. It will be a shame that it will probably be sold at a fair price to some little kid who is just learning to drive. Hands at ten and two. I remembered my uncle yelling that at me every single time I left the house when I was a teenager. Driving the same truck, he drove each night after a few too many beers. He wasn’t worried about driving drunk, but he sure was worried about my hand placement. Still must have stuck with me – because even when I wasn’t thinking about it – there were my hands. Ten and two. It didn’t help to keep me from forgetting to look behind me before I crawled backwards out of my space or get me to pay attention to anything going around me on my autopilot drive back to her house. But dammit my hands were at ten and two. As I drove, I tried to think about what I was about to do. I should have felt sad or ashamed or disappointed in myself and my life. I was giving up. I knew that. But I felt nothing. My hand instinctively clicked the button to open the garage door and the car pulled into my spot. I left the car running as I sat there wondering if I would ever feel regret for not being patient. Not waiting to see if this life would get better. If I would start feeling something again. I looked at the hands that looked like mine and pulled them off the grip on the steering wheel. The key turned and I slid out of the quite car, leaving the keys swinging in the ignition and the garage door open.
It was time to prepare. How does one prepare for something like this? I changed into my routine Saturday clothes – my grass tinted jeans and a worn-out shirt with a logo of a college I never even went to. I walked through the house that we had built for our future family that had never come. That would never come. I said goodbye to the walls and useless items that we had collected through the year. I refused to look at the smiles that would remain locked behind the glass and waited for the reality of the situation to hit me. I waited for the guilt or the second thoughts. I waited for the desperation or realization that I was having just a mid-life crisis and how going I leave my wife like this. Nothing. I shrugged. I took the cash out of my wallet and put my wallet on the entry way table along with the note that had been typed up for her to find. I forced my gold ring off my finger – no longer a symbol of anything but a simple circle – and sat it on the note. It looked strange and lonely sitting there on the white. The house echoed with the emptiness that I felt as I stood close in the entryway. I saw us walking into the house for the first time. Her immediate joy over it before detailing the shades of color that we would paint the outside. We faded into the dust and I looked up and saw the stranger staring back at me from behind the entryway mirror. Deep breath in. Long sigh out.
I opened the front door and the empty sounds were replaced with birds chirping, another mower running, the world passing. I hesitated. Is this the right thing to do? There was no answer and my right foot made it out the door and into the light.
And I died.
(c) Kassie J Runyan