IF YOU FOUND ME ON THE STREET and asked, “What have you done with your life?” my answer might be:
“Well, that depends on who you ask.”
Some people say I’m a murderer. Others call me a nasty nuisance. Then there are those who can’t go a day without me, and to them, I’m the only thing standing in the way of a complete mental breakdown.
I’m no hero, that’s for sure. I’m not even positive I have any control over my own fate. I am born, I grow, I change along the way, and then eventually I die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The only difference between me and you is this: I BURN SLOW.
I’ll never get a proper burial.
I met Doris Lynch at a Citgo in 1997. It was a good year. Gas cost $1.22 a gallon; you could go see a movie in the theater for less than five bucks, no joke. Doris Lynch picked me up after a fight with her estranged first husband. She was a little more colorful coming out of the apartment than she’d been going in. We hit it off pretty quick. I was there when she needed me.
Don’t get the wrong idea, here. I’m no homewrecker. Doris cashed in her chips long before I came around. The bags were already in the trunk of the car. The only thing she forgot was her purse––wouldn’t you know it––and she would’ve left without that if it hadn’t been for the pictures of her mother in the wallet.
Doris Lynch needed me, but I needed her just as much. I’d been in a slump myself; sitting in a gas station 18 hours a day with sweaty lottery addicts and the occasional junkie for company will do you in real quick, if you catch my drift. I was looking for a way out, and Doris just happened to come along at the right moment. It was love at first sight, if such a thing ever existed.
Doris took me places I’d never imagined. Most of all I remember her lips, the classic cherry Chapstick flavor, the way her tongue slid out to wet them from behind brittle, yellow teeth. They got more and more yellow in the years to come, I imagine.
We were standing in the parking lot, fast approaching midnight, when this guy came up to ask if Doris knew “The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He offered her a pamphlet. Her response was priceless: GOT A LIGHT?
“No thanks, I’m allergic.”
We were golden from then on, baby. It was the best thing, and the worst thing, and the shortest thing that ever happened all rolled into one. A brief moment of clarity; burning desire mixed just the right way with desperation, a volatile blend of agony and regret. This makes for a powerful concoction, one any down-in-the-dumps burnout would be hard-pressed to refuse, and Doris had never been a model for reasonable behavior.
She knew all the warnings. She’d read about this kind of relationship in magazines and on the sides of buses, on billboards and on TV. She’d heard politicians groaning on the radio, pressed by pundits and lobbyists to make outlandish statements, promises they would never live up to. In that moment, Doris didn’t care about all that. She went with her gut.
Her gut was telling her, “Well, I guess it can’t get any worse.”
She took the leap. Both eyes closed, lips parted, an eagerness on her tongue and an emptiness in her heart, she jumped in with both feet, and from then on, well, as they say: SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM.
The rest was history.
About seven years later, almost to the day, Doris Lynch came down with a cough. Nothing serious; the doctor said it was Bronchitis. She didn’t even call in to work that day. She worked the rest of the week, coughing into her fist. Then one afternoon Doris Lynch pulled her hand away, beet juice glistening in the crook of her thumb.
I heard about it through the grapevine. You know how these things go. You meet someone, you have a moment, and then the moment passes. Sometimes one leaves a mark on the other. Sometimes it just doesn’t stick.
There’s no denying I left my mark on Doris Lynch.
It’s true what they say: the small things are the most important. It was just this tiny thing growing inside Doris Lynch that did it.
She never stood a chance.
I have to say this: I didn’t feel a thing when I found out about Doris Lynch. Not a thing. No regret, no burning in my eyes, nothing. I went on about my day, laying in the crack of a sidewalk, like nothing ever happened. I’d been decomposing on the streets for years; hearing the news didn’t change anything. Life after Doris Lynch hadn’t been exactly kind on me. Apparently we had that in common.
Point is, I’ve moved on. The world has moved on. Doris Lynch rots the same as you will.
I don’t care what you think of me. You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to love me. You can outright hate me, for all I care. I’ve been around for a very, very long time, and I’m not going anywhere soon.
When you stroll over a crowded crosswalk, I’ll be there. When you settle down for a beer at the local dive bar, I’ll be there. When you walk through the hospital, any hospital, I will most certainly be there.
If you were to find me on the street and ask me, “What have you done with your life?” my answer might be:
“Nothing. Everything. Depends who you ask.”
I hope you enjoyed it.
If you think you know who or what the protagonist is (in other words, what perspective I’m writing from), drop a comment below and let me know. I’m curious to see how you all read it.
(Psst! I love you.)