My wife and I stood waiting at the self-checkout while a woman finagled with one of the dead-eyed teens working at the Stop And Shop for when she should put her coupon in, and it was like you hear people who’ve had a near-death experience talk about. All of my life flashed before my eyes, but instead of looking back on the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been and the people I’ve known and been fortunate enough to love, I saw forward, to my future.
It went by me like a blur, but I could feel a lifetime of quiet disappointment. My own and that of those around me in me. Years of failure, not even knowing where to try to start to make it better. Quietly making the wrong decisions. My wife leaving me. Having children and failing them as a father the way I was failed. Resigning myself to that failure as the primary feature of my existence—as the thing that would outlast me, be carried forward. My genetic code. Decades to come of being inadequate, wasted, the uselessness of reflecting on misspent days, feeling like I had something to offer but not knowing what it was or to whom. I saw myself grey, bald, bitter and alone in some cold place that couldn’t ever be home. That cold was in my hands, like when your blood slows down.
I watched a deterioration of years play out on weathered skin. Privilege misspent—how lucky I was to have been me—all lost to solipsist, self-centered victimization. Someone who didn’t know how good he had it. And at the end, death. Humiliating, dragged out. Some cancer eating me or some meaningless drop-dead heart attack to underscore the utter pointlessness of it all. Why bother? A couple years back, I had my wisdom teeth pulled, was put under anesthesia, and I hallucinated that I was chasing light across the universe. This was the opposite. I chased the murk through my own blood vessels. Desperate. Cloying. Miserable. Never any better.
That’s what I saw. The descending jowls of my wretched, sad face.
All around were the noises and the cruel fluorescent purple light of the grocery store, the stale smell. People bagging, that woman getting her coupon sorted, my wife who I love and against whose arm I wanted to cry and tear my skin off so that the raw flesh could walk away from the person it’s become. I didn’t do that though. We scanned the groceries, I told the dead-eyed girl I’d bag them. We paid by debit, got our receipt and left.
In the parking lot, someone had left a dirty diaper folded up next to the car.