Jack was leaving. He wasn’t dying or anything, he had just got another job in a different city and all of us were going to go have some drinks later and say our goodbyes. I didn’t care much about Jack. He talked a lot but he was a good guy, I guess. I rather go home but I had gone home one too many times and now they insisted I should come. Besides, its good to see people off, I heard.
I waited for the clock to let me out. My thoughts are so meaningless, I think. They are always the same ones and I try to think of different things, try to imagine a different life, a life in which I did not rest as much but then soon, my thoughts regress and settle back to what I want for lunch. That question took up much of my time, especially when the work becomes tiresome. I can sit in my work chair and stare at the same spot on my desk and think about all the different things I could eat for lunch. The forty-five minutes that I have to eat. I thought those forty-five minutes to be so precious before I got to them but when I get to them, those minutes seem to go by so quickly, as if I forgot to use them. But before I get there, I think and think of what I want to eat and always after so much of my time has been wasted, I settle on the same meal and then I go on with my day.
I eat with my coworkers. Usually the same three. They would talk and I would sit there and eat, occasionally agreeing with something one of them said. It was not that I did not like them but rather, I could care less if they were there or not. Either way, I was always thinking. I thought of all the other things I could be doing with my life. I thought of the work I still had to do. I thought of how much I hated my work and how much I hated myself and my life and I thought that I should have gotten something else to eat. At least the bar had the television working and I could stare at the men playing football or tennis. Sometimes the television showed the news and I would read the lips of the anchormen as the news headlines crawled at the bottom of the screen.
The clock told me I could leave and Jack and the guys put on their winter coats and stood talking to one another by the exit. When I approached them, Jack confirmed with me the time and place and I nodded.
Glad you can make it today, he said.
Wouldn’t miss it for the world, I replied.
Jack patted my shoulder and he and the others left.
I waited a few moments, pretending to have forgotten something on my desk so I didn’t have to walk with them and keep the conversation going. When I was sure the guys were far away, I followed their path to my car.
My coworkers were good people. At least I thought them to be good. None of them had killed anyone or anything like that so, they had to be somewhat decent. I always thought about what they really thought. I heard them speak about clothes and who slept with who and who bought what and heard them make jokes that weren’t that funny but people smiled anyways because why not, better than not smiling but then, I would think, what did they think about when they were alone?
I thought when I was with people and maybe that’s why people didn’t really like me. They could sense that I was never there. But these people were there. They were engaging one another, building upon the conversation, being human beings. But when they were all alone, driving home, taking the bus, walking, whatever, whenever it was just them and their thoughts, did they hate themselves too? I didn’t hate myself because I didn’t achieve what I wanted in life. I learned long ago that there was nothing that I really wanted in life. Of course, money is good and expensive cars are nice but I didn’t work hard enough to get them, so, I didn’t really want that stuff. These people were living the same life as me so, did that mean they were as hopeless too? If they were hopeless then why did they talk so much?
Perhaps what is my permanent, is just there temporary. They were not like me. They were better and that’s why Jack was leaving. I was here because what else was I going to do with my life? You had to do something.
I thought about the bar we were meeting at later and I thought about how crowded it would be because it was Friday. I thought about the drinks and I stopped thinking.
They called me the silent type. At least one of my coworkers did. He had read some personality test and forced the rest of us to take it too and I got the silent type and they all agreed that the test must be accurate but then, some of the others got told they were something that they were not but they believed it because they wanted it to be true. I thought then that either I was too honest with my test or that I was even more disconnected with people than I had believed myself to be.
But because the test proved what they all thought of me, they did not bother me much when I didn’t talk. They probably thought I was just being me. However, I wasn’t being silent for the sake of silence. I didn’t know what to say. All I thought about was how I wish I had done something different in the past. No, that’s a lie too. That thought came and went but it never lingered. What lingered was my memory of me hitting the punching bag. I did that every morning and then, the rest of the day I would think about myself and visualize myself hitting the bag as if I were watching tape on myself. I would imagine my foot twisting, my hips turning, my fist connecting with the bag and feeling the bag wrap around my strike and then hear the metal chain creak as the bag swung and I hit it again and again. I don’t know why but I thought of this often. I thought of the different combination I can throw, about my foot placement, about my head movement and all this shit that didn’t really matter but I couldn’t get it out of my head. The one-two combination, I told myself I needed to use my jab more, use it to set up the combination and don’t forget the body, you never dig those hooks into the body, you gotta start practicing that, getting better at that. It always came to me. When I showered, when I drove, when I worked and when there was silence. Always these useless memories of me playing some game or doing nothing and a thousand different ways to become better at being useless. Yet, when I did improve, when I did strike the bag better, I felt some surge of accomplishment.
This accomplishment was just a joke. I would think how pathetic my life must be to feel good about something so useless. I should be doing something else with my time. Getting more work done. I should care about my future. I should be a good boy and overachieve so I can get promoted and make more money and move to a better neighborhood and make my parents proud and buy Anne some nice diamond earrings. She would be working late tonight and sometimes I thought she was cheating on me and I don’t even know why I thought that. It just came to me when there was silence and then I would start hitting the bag in my mind.
That evening I joined my coworkers at the bar. Jack embraced me like we were old friends, the kind who knew everything about one another but I barely knew his last name. I suppose leaving does that to people. Or perhaps it was just what his personality test told him. Maybe it said he was a hugger, a good guy, so he’s playing his role. I thought I should play mine so I started drinking.
I didn’t think much that evening for the liquor kept on coming and when I drank I did not think. That was a good night. We drank and we laughed about things that I can’t recall and then when it came time to say our goodbyes, Jack took me aside and said that he can get me a job at his new place as well. To think, he had seen me staring at one place for hours and believed I was hard at work the whole time. He listed the benefits, the pay increase, the better neighborhood, the school district, he said he knew Anne and I want children someday and I thought how the hell did he know something I didn’t even know.
I said I would love it and I thanked him.
When I got home, Anne was already asleep. I thought even if she were cheating on me she’s still a good person. Most cheaters keep their partner up all night worrying about where they are but not mine, mine is sleeping safely. I went downstairs and had another drink and when the drinking stopped I started to think again.
My life wasn’t so bad. I had a good house, Anne was good, had some friends and work wasn’t overbearing. I thought how it would be if I went to the new city. What if Anne couldn’t make any new friends there? What if she made too many new friends? Then, the new house would need new furniture and I liked the furniture I had for it knew me and I knew it. I also liked the painted walls and the wooden floors, I had gotten used to the creaks of the floorboards, I knew which ones to avoid in the middle of the night when I went out for a quick smoke so as not to disturb Anne. I also was used to the work. It was the right amount for me to spend most of my time thinking and dreaming.
Here people already knew me. They knew not to talk to me. They didn’t think it odd that I didn’t talk much because they knew I was the silent type. Everything was routine here to my liking. Then, why did I hate it?
I turned the television on and switched to the sports channel. They were playing some old boxing match. I vaguely remembered seeing it and I knew who won but I watched anyway. I turned the volume down so Anne would not wake up. I got another bottle out from the fridge and sat back and drank as I watched these two men beat on one another for my satisfaction. Once the bottle was finished I was on my feet. I thought I was one of them. A fighter that came from nothing who had everything going against him and yet, he made it through, he fought through it all and won. That man was prideful. He had accomplished something and I mimicked the footwork of the boxer and I threw a jab when he did and I ducked when he did and I put up my guard and eyed my opponent over my knuckles, eyeing my opponents movement and I slipped and countered and I slipped and countered and I was thinking how great I am, that this man doesn’t know me, that I got some fight in me and he could never match my fight.
The round ended and the channel cut to a commercial break. I was breathing hard so I sat down. I thought about how I should have gone for the body.