I sat in a chair at the table in the corner of the room, and watched everyone else. Every now and then, I watched my hands. Sometimes, they shook, telling me, “Breathe, stupid. Just breathe.” I had a way of sometimes forgetting to breath properly. Started taking little, short, shallow breaths. One of the first steps along the path to a panic attack. At least I’d finally learned to recognize what was going on, and for the most part, I’d learned to respond appropriately. I seldom had an attack. Maybe one or two a year. Much better than the one or two a week I had at my worst.
After a few deep breaths, I found myself again, and smiled. Seems I was always right there. Just a breath or two away.
Once more, I watched everyone else.
It was sad, really. To watch them. Oh, I didn’t cry about it. There was a time I did. But that’s behind me now. I’ve faced the truth I found. I’ve accepted it. I know there’s nothing I can do about it. Except watch. At one time, I would have tried to intervene. And I would have been psychologically assaulted for having tried. I had been. What does it mean when you can’t count the number of times something’s happened? Hope springs eternal my ass. Hope keeps you beating your head against a concrete lined, cinder block wall in the mistaken belief you can eventually punch through it, as you slowly pound your noggin into a bloody pulp.
I’d learned. I could stop the oceans tides before I could stop them. So, I went into my observation mode. Like a scientist. Observing the behavior of others, and cold bloodedly recording it for future generations. I watched.
The group ten feet away. Mary, Helen, Wendy, Doug, Fred, Scott and Ted. Always friends. Always socializing as a group. Always telling stories about their kids, their work, their church. And always, at these holiday parties, acting like sponges trying to sop up all the alcoholic beverages they could get their hands on. I knew. If you asked them why, they’d all say the same thing. “Because we’re just blowing off steam, and having some fun!”
It was a lie. Every one of them knew it. They weren’t blowing off steam. They weren’t having fun. They were escaping. Running as fast, and as hard as they could to escape the traps their lives had turned into. Anyone could figure that out.
If you asked any of them how they felt at work, they’d tell you the same thing. “Fine.”
“How are you, this Monday morning, Mary?”
“Fine.” Then she’d smile, “And you?”
Fred’s son totaled the car one Sunday night. Fred showed up at work the next day. “How are you, Fred?”
“How’s your son?”
“I haven’t killed him yet.”
“He didn’t get hurt, did he?”
“No. He’s fine. They checked him out at the hospital. He came home last night, a few hours after the wreck. He’s fine.”
And all the while, you know what he wanted to say. “I’m gonna turn that idiot’s butt black and blue, and he ain’t gonna be able to sit down for a month!”
Lies. Lies, and more lies. It’s what people did. They lied. About everything. To everyone. Even to themselves.
I looked at the dance floor. The usual couples were there. Mike and his wife. Jill and her husband. Tommy and his fiancé. Dancing their legs off. Ever watch people do that? “Play another song! Play another song!” They’d dance until they couldn’t breathe, and sweat was pouring off them. Then, they’d go sit down, have a drink (usually wine, or beer, sometimes something with a little more kick to it), and after a few minutes, they’d march back out there. “Play another song!” And the cycle would repeat endlessly.
Ask, “Why do you dance so much?”
They all answer the same. “We’re just having some fun! It’s fun! We’re blowing off steam. We’re relaxing. Try it!”
It’s the same lie. Again. I sat there, in the corner, at the table, watching them dance themselves to exhaustion. Knowing they couldn’t dance themselves to oblivion. Knowing they’d wake up the next day, and tell themselves how stupid they’d been.
Hell, Tommy would be so dead on his feet, even if he wanted to he wouldn’t be able to screw his girl. They’d probably pass out fully dressed, and wake up the next morning, and go, “Oh, God! Why did you turn on the sun!”
Because they never faced the truth. They all knew the truth. But they never spoke of it.
Every one of them hated their jobs. Hated their lives. Hated the same schedule every week. The same work every day. Ted said it once, trying to explain things to me. “I hate it. I’d rather be anywhere else. But, it’s got to be done.”
No, Ted. It doesn’t. The world will not end if you don’t edit that fucking document. You might get fired. You might have to look for another job. But the world will not end. So, it does NOT have to be done.
He never spoke the truth. “If I don’t edit the document. If I don’t do the work. I’ll lose my job. And I don’t want to lose my job. It would be a bitch of a problem for me. It would cause my family a lot of problems. The wife would be angry with me. We’d have to eat in a lot while I hunted another job. I’d lose my medical benefits. My insurance. Everything.”
That was the truth.
“I’m an economic slave. An indentured servant. I’ll do what I’m told to do, so the world doesn’t beat me senseless, and make my life a living hell.”
That was the truth.
And that was why they were all at the party that night. And why they were drinking everything in sight. And dancing until they collapsed. And telling stories about their kids. They were escaping. Running. Fleeing the truth.
That not one of them was happy.
I sat. In the corner. At the table. And watched.
It was sad. Really. There was a time it would have broken my heart. But, after seeing it happen every day. After living with that truth, every day. My heart’s gone numb. And I don’t care any more. I just watch. And shake my head. And wonder.
Will any of them ever wake up?