The Mallard God Complex (3)
3. Aloneness (1 Month Later)
Three things survived the ten plagues of Sheryl. The first was an old record player that was likely too heavy for her to lift out of the window, or too wide to fit through. In either case, the point was that it survived. Along with it, one record: Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlantacism; also known as the worst album for a newly single man to listen to. The third was my guitar, an instrument that I had not picked up in over a year. These items became and remain my new life. They lay scattered around the apartment in various states of what can be considered disarray for three items.
The four walls around me are foreign. I have never really lived alone. For the most part I have managed to string together a series of relationships back to back so that the time spent alone feels more like camping rather than a permanent state of residence. This time is different. It has been one month since the infamous day it rained toasters and records on 32nd street. I have been living by myself for a month .
As I sit in my new studio I look at the bare walls and feel truly lost. The mattress below me feels too firm as new mattresses often do, and the walls are just too damned egg-shell. Death Cab plays a melancholy tune about love lost from the corner, and in the other corner my guitar sits, wishing that someone would play it. I’m not even sure if I can. My fingers have atrophied from lack of use. My eyes on the other hand have grown bulgy and blurred from watching far too much Netflix on my phone.
I turn over and pull out my phone once more. Another night spent watching the goings on of cancer ridden drug dealers and oppressed housewives seems more comforting than dealing with the empty space around me. I think about bounding over to the guitar, re-stringing it and writing the great American sob-song, but instead pull up Netflix and return to the comfort of television. Music could have been a productive choice, but one that I have no energy for. My life can be described as a series of moderate to good ideas, followed by the decision not to follow through on them.
My thoughts wander back to the old apartment. Did she eat the cereal? Or did she just throw it out. It may seem trivial, but for some reason it really gets to me. The idea that she threw out my frosted mini-wheats, rather than just eating them, or god-forbid giving them back; the waste of it, the vindictiveness, the sugary sweetness that would go uneaten. What would she even use the milk for?! That’s two things she’s wasted now. That’s the last straw and I break down. My entire body shakes with the rage and injustice of it all.
In that moment I really think that it is all because of the cereal, but deep down, that’s not the reason. Human beings are not meant to be alone. As a species we spend our entire life attempting to be accepted by as many people as we can. Those who doubt me are only lying to themselves. Every job promotion, every altruistic act, carries with it the approval of others, and thus the drive for doing it. In a world without relationship, motivation would be at an all-time low, and we would all get fat.
Just as I’m about to slip into despair, there’s a knock on the door. My first instinct is to roll deeper into the blankets and ignore a potential threat. For a moment I do this, attempting a crude cocoon from the five-dollar Goodwill bedspread. I succeed in nothing other than irritating my skin. The knock comes again, this time with more authority. Whoever it is clearly has business, and for some reason thinks said business would best take place in my apartment.
The knock comes a third time and I jump out of bed. My heart is pounding in my chest, sweat beads down my forehead. Light streams into the darkened room from the loose corners of the door frame. Shafts of it cut through the static dust in the air. Death Cab continues to play from the corner. Whoever it is, they know I’m home. Why did I have to pick today to play music? Why couldn’t I have just sat silently in sorrow, moping in a corner, or quietly contemplating the multitude of ways I could take my own life? Depression hits some people harder than others.
“Are you going to let me in?” The voice is unrecognizable. I’m fifty-percent sure that I don’t know who it is. The other fifty-percent of my demented brain is convinced that I’m slowly dying of a brain tumor and there is no one at the door. Both possibilities are equally frightening, made no better by the frantic drumming of my heartbeat against my chest. I stand in silence, hoping that in turn my uninvited guest will do the same, or better yet just leave.
“I’m coming through that door one way or another so you might as well open it - would be a shame to cover that nice new floor in plaster and splinters. I do know how much you hate getting splinters.”
True, but that’s beside the point. I had a rather strong aversion to splinters that could only be explained by a variety of playground incidents in my early years. “Look, I hate to be an ass about this, but I will break it down if I have to. At the risk of being cliché, I’m going to give you to the count of three.” There’s a brief pause as I contemplate this. “You do understand what’s going to happen when I hit three right?”
I’ve seen far too many action movies to not comprehend his intentions. When an unknown intruder counts to three, something bad will happen. All I can think about are the thousands of terrible things he could be plotting to do to me once he gets through the door. I want to run and hide, get out of the apartment somehow, but the one window is too small for a record player (a precaution I had made sure to take), much less a human body.
Well I suppose if he breaks down the door he’s getting in either way. If I’m going to die I’d rather do it with no splinters, and with a clean floor. Leave something pleasant for the coroners to find. It’s always so much harder on CSI when they have to deal with excess debris. That’s me, always being considerate about the situation…
“Alright, hold on! I’m opening the door.” I walk over to the door and unclick the one, flimsy deadbolt that holds the intruder back. Against my better judgment I pull open the door and let the man in.
“Well that took long enough” says the man stepping into my apartment. He is six-foot tall, in a dark blue suit with a garish pink tie. His hair is black and slicked back. It looks as though it’s had its fair share of grease slopped on it in the past few hours. His eyes are a piercing gray, and something about his face is serious, yet upbeat. He looks as though he’s about to diffuse a bomb, but he’s going to tell me a joke while he does it.
I check the hallway to see if I will be receiving any more un-invited guests. The hallway is empty and I shut the door. The man strolls right into the middle of the room. “Bit small don’t you think? Quite a bit smaller than the other place at least. Well one really can’t be choosy when they’re in between relationships can they?” He says it all as if it’s a perfectly normal time for conversation. It’s as if he doesn’t think that he is intruding in any way. Just as I think he isn’t going to mention the other elephant in the room, he does.
“Transatlantacism really is one of the worst albums to listen to after a break-up; you of all people should know that.” He walks over to the record player, gingerly lifts the needle and removes the record. He turns it over a few times in his hands, examining it, and then suddenly smashes it against the wall.
“Hey! That was one of my favorites!”
“Oh yes, I’m sure it was, and would have continued to be if I hadn’t smashed it against the wall. It is maddeningly depressing in here and I just can’t take the sound of Tiny Vessels playing one more time. What is that, the fourteenth time you’ve listened to it today? I mean, really Michael, come on; this truly is a pitiful state of affair, and that’s not something I say lightly. A studio apartment furnished by a record player, a bed, an unused guitar and some very used takeout boxes. No, this won’t do at all.”
I’m beginning to get confused. While he has addressed the admittedly morose feng shui of the apartment, he has gone no further to explain his presence in it. Everything he has said is true, but there is still something very wrong with the idea that there is an unknown, semi-well-dressed man standing in the middle of my apartment like he belongs there. “Would you like a cup of tea then?” I find myself asking. Not: What the hell are you doing in my apartment?, not: Get out now!, not: I’m calling the police, simply asking the man if he would like a refreshment. Inopportune awkward hospitality has always been a strong suit of mine.
“If you’ve got the resources to make it I would love it, but I can’t say that I see them hiding anywhere in this wreckage.” I stroll over to a pile of boxes and unpack a brand new kettle that has been sitting there for the past few days. “Ah! So you do have other belongings, it’s just an aversion to unpacking and moving on that’s the issue. What a wonderfully drab conundrum you are.”
I continue to unpack the tea pot and find an unopened box of tea bags. “I’ve got green and Earl Grey.” I say timidly.
“Ooohf.” He says heavily. The decision or lack thereof is weighing heavily on him. “I wasn’t aware that just because you got your heart broken that you have to live in a Gulag Michael. I mean really. Green or Earl Grey? I think it might be better if we just went out for a cup instead. Do you have a coat hiding in one of those boxes?” I point over to the corner where my jacket has remained unmoved for more days than I care to count. “Words may hurt Michael, but it wouldn’t hurt you to use them once in a while.”
“Yes, I’ve got a jacket.”
“Wonderful! Then you should grab it. It’s quite cold outside, and I would hate for you to catch hypothermia just when we’ve begun to have so much fun!” The sarcasm in his tone is overwhelming, but he’s already on his way out the door. Inexplicably I am rushing to grab my coat and follow him out the door.
“You do know what they say about curiosity and cats, right?” He says, laughing his way down the hallway. There’s a brief moment where I hesitate and contemplate running back and dead bolting the door, but then I remember that he’ll just kick it down.
“Right now I really wish I didn’t.” I said, walking down the stairs behind him and into the night air.