I am not lucky. If one were to be specific, I am rather unlucky.
I have come to this conclusion simply because there is no other way to account for my misfortune. I am single and out of work. I have few people I consider friends and fewer still that would consider me a friend. My contribution to society is, at best, a zero sum. I exist and yet I don’t. My universe, of late, has been reduced to my apartment. I have not ventured outside in I don’t know how long. I am safe here. Though my universe is about to collapse in one sudden contraction; rent has not been paid and eviction is imminent.
As I sit here, looking out the window onto a dreary and gray winter day, I wonder what other people do in my situation. I wonder and then quickly stop, because to assume there are others with my exact problem would take away from my uniqueness. My unluck is me and I, it. It has come to define who I am and how I operate in this world. I grasp hold of my unluck. It is a guide-dog that leads me through this existence, tripping and falling along as I do.
I walk over to the fridge and open it only to close it immediately; no food. That fact hasn’t changed for several days and I know this. I move on automatic at times and my mind’s ability to veto pointless motion has atrophied considerably. I walk to the cupboard and open the door. On an near empty shelf a near empty life looks upon a full can of corn. This is what I subsist on. That and water. How I hate the colour yellow. It represents so many things to me; cowardice, survival, reminder. When people get mad they see red. I see yellow.
I don’t fight for myself, because my unluck ensures that I have no chance; a blanket and a crutch. I am warm and hobbled at the same time. I realize this and feel trapped in a web of my design. I dare not look at the spider that crawls in my mind, moving toward my quivering mass. The black beast lurks in the recesses of my thoughts. The spider has grown large. It continues to grow. I race to the window and look out. I sigh remembering that at one time I was unrestrained. Employed and relatively free from my unluck.
The last job I held where I could safely say that I contributed was a mail clerk for a large engineering firm. I knew that system like the back of my hand, though I scarce examined the back of my hand. An announcement was made that everything would be paperless, all documents scanned and originals placed in storage. Computers, computers and computers. One of the partners had found nature, becoming a ‘born-again human of the world’ as he put it. I looked upon this change as a challenge to help the transition, unknowingly aiding my eventual replacement with a computer server.
No pink slip greeted me, merely a box with my personal effects on the floor in front of a security guard. A simple letter said my services were no longer required and it was signed, rather printed, with an electronic signature. Not so human now. Unluck.
My stomach rumbles and I clutch my gut. The very thought of the yellow corn sends my innards whirling. What day is it? I ask myself. They are a blur that only an abstract artist could appreciate. What have I been doing? There is no accountability for time when it is ignored. My stomach speaks to me, yells, and forces action. It’s Saturday. At least on the weekend I can venture forth into the larger world outside and pretend that this day, this part of the weekend, means the same thing to me that it does to most everyone else; a day off work. I cannot say the same about Tuesday. I stay in. But now I grab my coat and my useless wallet and leave the building. The air is cold. It shocks me to stillness. Breath drifts out of my mouth and disappears, obliterated by the wind.
I take several steps and look back at where I stood. The memory of my presence there is gone, was I really there? Did I exist in that spot? There is no proof to the human eye that I was ever there. Nothing. I changed nothing. If a person affects no change does he live? I’ve done nothing over the past two weeks. Made no difference to anyone.
I am hungry for more. More than food, more than mere existence. But to exist means to eat. As I walk I think back to the last best meal I had. A former girlfriend made a mouth watering Thai dish that sent my taste buds into orgasm. I did not affect enough change for her. I was going nowhere and taking her with me. Unluck.
I walk with no clear direction or destination in mind. Just walking. My thinking brings a blank unseeing gaze. Why do I think back on my unluck? It only serves to reinforce my mental anguish. Like a scab that one picks at, my unluck never heals to reveal luck. It is hard to move away from these thoughts. My mind is addicted to them and constantly seeks out the pain. Is that the spider’s bite? Is it poison? Will I become dead and totally useless as opposed to the undead and virtually uselessness of my current being?
“Watch out!” Someone yells and I feel my coat collar being yanked back. A car races by, splashing cold slush all over me. I turn around and see a man looking at me with a frown on his face. “Jeeze buddy,” he says. “Watch what you’re doing.”
I thank him and shiver. I feel the cold water drip into my boots, freezing my feet. I consider returning home, but the can of corn is less appealing than freezing. I soldier onward. ‘Why am I here?’ I wonder. I feel like curling up in a ball and squeezing my eyes shut. Treason of the mind challenges my resolve. Each step takes me one step further away from my universe. My stomach rumbles again, angry and insistent. A mom and pop grocery shop is where my feet have dragged my body. I step inside and as the cold lingers about my body I assess the store; clean, bright, and full of colours.
My mouth waters and builds culinary expectation. I reach for my wallet and open it. $10. I then proceed to wander the aisles looking for the best deals that contain no yellow. So much to look at, so much of the same. What defines one brand of pasta sauce from another? Names mean nothing, content is king. Row after row of ketchup. Suddenly, I bump into an employee stacking a cereal I’ve never heard of before. He turns and says excuse me… Recognition strikes instantly. Bob, an engineer from my former employer. The one who would look at me and joke, saying ‘Your bitch face would make a perfect match for my bitch slap.’ The one who laughed at my job. Here he was before me, with stained shirt and lowered eyes.
“Hey,” he says.
“You work here?” I ask.
“Have a change in your ideal career?”
“The firm was sued to oblivion. Something to do with bribes, tax evasion and other such things.” He turns to his stacking.
“Surely you could find other engineering work.”
“Not when every person was named in the suit. I’m wiped out.”
I open my mouth to say something, but somehow I don’t want to console in any fashion. I don’t want to appear glib either so I back away. I leave the store with $10 worth of food. Not much, but more than I had at my apartment. I step lightly over the slush in my soaked boots. My head is down as I struggle to keep my face covered from the wind. Headlong I bump into someone. I just want to avoid all human contact, but my unluck forbids it. I mumble an apology and attempt to skirt around the person I collided against.
One thing against another. There it is. The law of Newton played out in the most inauspicious way. For every action there is an equal, but opposite, reaction. Humanity is nothing more than a mass of forces circulating, combining and splitting and canceling each other out. Society is friction, constant and painful.
I turn around startled. How is it the people I least want to see are the ones I bump into? “Darlene?” The Thai cuisine expert.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?” I want to hide. I don’t want to see anyone I know. I can’t pretend I have a job with someone who may know I’m unemployed. I hunker down for the barrage of questions, of judgement, of her ‘I was right, you’re going nowhere’ look. She averts her gaze from mine. Her nose is red and her coat is torn. When did I see her last? Two years? She fidgets and hugs herself to keep warm.
“I’m good,” she replies.
“Well. I gotta go,” I say and quickly leave. I hustle down the street quickly and enter my building.
The climb up to my apartment is slow and treacherous because of all the melting water on each stair. I carefully reach my floor, lucky I didn’t break my neck after slipping several times. Once inside my apartment I quickly take off my boots and pants. Though what I will wear is beyond me. Most of my clothes are dirty; no money for laundry. I eat the food I bought and finally my stomach sleeps. I think about Darlene and how once she was the most able person I knew. Not egotistical in an imagined superior way, but confident and bright. What happened? Bob the engineer though, is a different story. His deflated arrogance seems like karma. Is it deserved? I don’t know.
Both Darlene and Bob are living, working, surviving. And suddenly, I understand my fall was not as severe as theirs. Granted I was lower in the social order to begin with, but now, somehow I look upon them as equals. What’s the German word for being gleeful at another’s demise? Schadenfreude. Except, I don’t take pleasure in their fall. I take solace that there are others who have fallen further than I. That even in my poor state there would be others that look up at me and wish they were in my shoes, as soaked as my boots currently are. Is my unluck changing or I’m I viewing it differently?
I sit down and look out the window. The sun peers through a cloud and bursts forth; an explosion of light. I squint and laugh. The warmth, as meagre as it is, feels good upon my face. I exist. I feel the heat from the sun, the lingering cold from the wind, and the stained sofa beneath me. That is it, I realize. If a person is alive then that person is inherently lucky. We’re lucky to be alive.
I stand up and put on my best pants, the ones that are the least soiled. I pause for a minute. I realize that the moment I came into being the promise of a million other souls perished. We all start life at an instant of extreme luck. We don’t make our own luck, we are our own luck. I understand this unluck is all in my head. That’s where it lives. If I give it no food it will die. “A new day.”Photo by Aron Balogh from FreeImages