UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 01/2010
DE LA CRUZ
Slipknot To Suicide
His body slammed spread-eagle onto the gray, gum-stained concrete thirty-nine stories beneath his office window. Moments before, he watched the ground and the entrance to the subway station speed towards him, his silver, blue, and white-striped tie fluttering madly in his peripheral vision. Crunch.
“He had everything going for him.”
“He seemed so happy and so together.”
“He’s the last person I would have expected to do something like that.”
No one expected John Joseph to shut his burgundy office door, crouch down in his pressed Dockers pants and take a running start from his desk before leaping out of his office window with one shiny silver-buckled, black leather shoe out in front of him.
John sold his soul on an ordinary summer day in late July. It was no momentous occasion. The ground did not split open beneath him and there were no rapid, maniacal whispers pulsating over his eardrums. The pockets of his indispensable khaki shorts failed to swell with thirty pieces of legendary silver.
The pact was complete when John uttered five syllables, “MBA? Okay,” and walked out of the Windex-swiped, automatic doors of South City Mall, his hands leisurely placed in his pockets, serenely whistling a nondescript tune while his loafer-clad feet strolled towards his SUV.
From an outsider’s point of view, John looked like any other guy on a day off from the office. If he had committed a crime, his police description would have pointed to every other 20-something year old man: commonplace brown hair, average height, medium build, polo shirt, khaki shorts, and loafers.
Inside, John’s mind was a fury of thoughts and numbers, one identity shoving knotted arms against another, a battlefield of indecision, what-if scenarios, images flashing, regrets replaying, mouths whispering, voices shouting, musical snippets looping, buzzing, one after the other, spinning, twisting, throbbing out of control.
Serenely, he strolled back to his SUV.
Quite some time had passed since John passively agreed to get his MBA as his father had suggested in the domineering way of giving commands in suggestion-form that only John’s father could do. There were only six months left to go before finishing business school, and although he would have to deal with everyone’s eye-rolling criticism and incredulous disgust, John quit. Unceremoniously walked through the glass doors of the mothball-scented, university library and didn’t even bother to glance up at his rearview mirror as he drove away.
This was not the life that he had chosen for himself. It was a life he had chosen by default because it was guaranteed to win him those coveted nods of approval, looks of admiration, and words of praise. He would be respected, have job security, a sense of identity, and money. Mom would be proud. It was all laid out before him, shimmering in front of him like a glittering island mirage, an alluring easy life. All he had to do was take it. But he couldn’t.
As he walked out into the parking lot, he knew that he did not intend to come back. He climbed into his car and the door whirred, snapped and clicked shut.
His black, loafer-clad shoe pushed forcefully into the metal pedal of his SUV. The car lurched forward and visions of the life he had wanted synchronously materialized. He saw himself in a bright orange raft on the water, piercing the white-foam of the water with a commanding, wooden oar. He pushed the pedal closer to the floorboards of his car. The colors in his vision sharpened into focus. He saw distinct blades of green grass mingling with gray pebbles and spike-tipped pinecones poking out of green-needled trees. The pedal met the floorboard of his car. He now felt himself skydiving, the wind flapping his cheeks against his face, surrounded by nothing more than simple sunshine and a lucid, cerulean blue sky. He was driving, driving fast down the highway, escaping. Speeding towards the end of the road, to Mexico, to Canada, anywhere, everywhere, wherever he ended up when he ran out of highway. He was free. He closed his eyes and let the pure air and authority of his self-directed emancipation whirl into his lungs. He opened his eyes.
The black rubber wheels of his car were slowly crackling against gray pavement. His driveway.
It was the same dreary, gray driveway that matched every driveway of each mass-produced, identical house in his suburban neighborhood.
The next morning, John opened his eyes and blinked twice. He stared up at the ceiling for a moment and in the haze of his half-asleep and half-awake semi-consciousness, he remembered how he had walked out on class the day before and had planned to drive to the end of the world. Somehow he had ended up at home again and today was the day he was supposed to start his accounting internship. As he stared at the ceiling, he slipped into a daydream and thought about not showing up at the office today. He had walked out on class rather abruptly the day before with the intention of quitting and never going back, so maybe they would not expect him to show up at the internship anyway. Maybe they kicked him out of the program already, flunked him, and now he was free. He smiled. He could leave right now. This time he could really leave, really drive away and finally be free of everyone’s unspoken expectations.
Three minutes later, John’s alarm went off and he reluctantly pulled the blinds down on his daydream. He got up, and out of the corner of his eye, he spotted his blue jeans and sandals crumpled in a corner on the floor. He stared at his closet and felt himself in an out-of-body experience, floating, foot after foot lifting him towards the abyss of suits and ties. He heaved out a robotic, deep sigh in an attempt to lift the invisible heaviness he always felt pressing on his back. As the air flowed listlessly out of his lips, he realized that he was already at his closet, and he helplessly watched, as though he were watching a movie, his hands automatically reaching out for a dress-shirt and tie.
His feet lugged him into the silver and hematite-colored office building and his eyes stared listlessly straight ahead as he rode up the musty elevator, thirty-nine stories to the office where he had been assigned for the next six-months. Six months. Only six months. That’s what they all said.
“Only six months more to go, John!”
“Aren’t you excited to be so close to the finish line?”
“Just finish up those six months. Why not? I mean it’s just six months.”
No one understood.
It wasn’t just six months. It was the rest of his life, the rest of his life living out a passive choice that he made because he believed that other people’s opinions were more valid than his own.
Didn’t anyone understand that? It’s not six months. It’s the fact that John doesn’t matter! John doesn’t exist! John is dead!
John is just an empty can with everyone else’s desires filling it up!
It disgusted him. He disgusted himself because he knew he would always sit back, powerless, doing what everyone else wanted, motivated by a desperately sad need to please everyone, win everyone’s approval, doomed to helplessly watch as his hands reached for a tie every single morning until he retired an old man or died.
A life lived by default.
He sat down at the desk. Bored already, he double-clicked the Internet icon and the window popped open to Google. He typed, “John Martin,” into the search field.
The results read, “1-10 of 44,500,000 for John Joseph.”
Several moments later, John’s decently muscular arms ripped through his dress-shirt as he charged at the sunlight, crashing his way through millions of glittering pieces of crystal. He spread his arms out in skydiver-form as a robust rush of wind came straight towards him, zigzagging through his hair. Against the force of the wind, John lifted his arm to loosen his tie, and as the slipknot unraveled, a stray gust of wind sent his silver, blue, and white-striped tie fluttering away.
He smiled and laughed.
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