He was an anxious man…

         Years ago, when he was still in therapy, he and his therapist decided that he should plan his runs for the end of the day, after all of his

Peter Howson
human interactions had occurred. “I have all of these thoughts floating around in my head. I question my interactions, always wondering if I should have said this or that, and always second guessing conversations. Running helps me sort through those thoughts,” he used to say, “I feel like every step I take, those wild thoughts that had been floating around haunting my head all day are compacted into something more manageable by the time the run is finished.” Due to his increased anxiety, he began running in the mornings too.

         While the origins of his morning runs were anxiety induced, they were more specifically tied to his being hired on as a garbage man, or sanitation engineer, as he preferred to be called. He found that when he tried to sleep at night, his mind was filled with thoughts of his trash route the next morning.

         He would wonder if there was something he would have difficulty lifting, or if someone failed to properly distinguish their yard waste from their recycling, or if there was something that he was not allowed to throw into his truck, like an old computer screen, or a tub of used car oil. He feared the clients on his route would call the office because he left something behind, and then what would he say to his supervisor? What if they lied and just wanted him to come by to pick up trash that they forgot to take out earlier in the morning?

         That’s why he ran his garbage routes every morning before he had to drive them with the garbage truck, just so he knew what to expect, just to ease his mind. And it worked. He saw everything he would have to do that day. He knew exactly what to expect…usually.

         It was on a rainy spring morning that the unexpected happened. He was running as a car rounded the corner behind him. He heard the thick sound of tire rubber gliding across wet road. He was conscious of the change in sound when the tire connected directly with the pavement and began to skid, making a high pitched squeal. He felt the car bumper catch the back of his legs and he instinctively put his hands out to catch himself as the car folded him to the ground. He was surprised that this did not stop his fall like he had expected. As his head hit the asphalt, he was conscious of an inner sound, what he imagined the sound of a baseball bat striking a watermelon would sound like, and then there was black.

         Coming to, he was conscious of was the soft sloshing sound of shoes on wet pavement. When he opened his eyes, he saw a white pair of woman’s shoes walking quickly around the parked car nearby: It was the car that had hit him. He thought he saw a thin woman smearing mud over her license plates, making them impossible to read. He said, “What are you doing? Don’t leave me here... At least call someone...” His voice felt like a yell, but sounded like a raspy whisper. He thought he could feel the pulsating warmth of blood spilling onto his scalp with every beat of his heart. She turned, seemingly shocked to hear his voice, and quickly pulled her jacket hood over her head. He was sure he would die. She got into her car. The tires buzzed on the soaked road as she pulled away.

         He would often tell anyone who would listen about how that accident changed him. Those who would stick around long enough to listen would quickly realize that the change wasn’t for the better. “She was so fearless, so decisive. She knew exactly what she had to do, and she did it,” he said. “I’d be willing to bet that she doesn’t lose any sleep over what happened.” People would ask him if he was angry at her, to which he’d reply, “I don’t think so. I think I admire her.”

         He had to stop running due to his shattered kneecaps having been replaced with artificial ones. He no longer gathered garbage for a living, as a matter of fact, he didn’t do much of anything but collect a disability check. He had a television with the expanded cable package, he had his groceries delivered by Pea Pod, and he had high-speed internet. What more could he ask for?

         After he recovered from the accident people stopped coming by, and he found himself alone with his thoughts. They were no longer anxious thoughts though, they had become obsessive thoughts. He filled his days with Google searches for clues that would lead to the woman who had been driving the car that nearly killed him. He had pretend conversations with her daily, sometimes hourly, each one with differing results, and he was happy. He was as happy as he expected to be.

Jason Fisk lives with his wife and two children just outside of Chicago. The Sagging: Spirits and Skin is the title of his first poetry chapbook published by Propaganda Press. For more information check out www.jasonfisk.com

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