“And so like, I just watched it, the baby duck, as it hopped and hopped at the median trying to catch up with its mother and its little duck siblings. And I didn’t get out and help it, didn’t honk my horn at oncoming traffic or switch on my hazards for it. I just sort of watched it and thought about helping, and then I didn’t, and I drove away.”
“I’m sure it got around just fine.” She says.
“But that isn’t the point. The point is that I’m driving, exhausted from the day, thinking about work, or the clicking noise in my engine, or how I’ve gained 10 pounds recently, and here’s this opportunity from the universe to think about something other than myself probably for the first time all day, and I just up and drive by.”
“And what’s worse is I see the truck behind me, a big one pulling a massive boat, a real o-zone molester, the type of truck hauling a person that I would assume would just like run the duck family down and not a think a thing of it; well this guy throws on his hazards IMMEDIATELY, gets out, and transports the little guy to safety. I see this all from my rear-view as I drive away from the scene feeling like the Earth’s biggest piece of human shit.”
“And then the whole way home all I can think about is me, and how a younger and better me would have done something about it, and how I’m just all circumstance and responsibility these days, all breakfast-bowl coupons and student loan payments – just self-awareness and preoccupation. I’m too young to feel like this, Mags.”
She smiles. “Well I think you’re pretty great.” She says.
“Babe, I’m serious.” He responds.
“I am too.”
“I just drove right by the thing, cat-eyed and uncaring and it's not the first time something like this has happened.”
She smiles on and nods.
“God, I want to smoke right now.”
“No!” She says. “We’re not doing that during the week anymore, remember?”
She sits on his lap and leans into his chest. They’re both still in their work clothes and they just sit there in the quiet, dull light of the toughest part of the day, when all of the work is done and everything pivots to that dirty little habit called tomorrow. As the moon begins to show up, it paints the room anew with millennial dread, and thoughts of age, and a longing for something so difficult to describe, that one finds it utterly impossible to decide whether it exists in the future, or in the past, or at the bottom of a bottle of something that could very well ruin a life. Puking, would be preferable to feeling this way.
She kisses him on the top of the head as she moves toward the kitchen to begin preparing a meal her mother would be thoroughly ashamed of. They do not eat out during the week either. She lets him sit and ache, knowing that if the roles were reversed, she would want him to do the same. Maybe it’s just been too easy for them all along; maybe a whole lot of walls crumbled before they even had to break them down; maybe a harder life is what they should have wanted all along. They eat up and watch something on TV that is mind-numbing and calorically-empty, and then they kiss one another goodnight before an early bed – the downhill trudge resumes tomorrow morning.
But she finds him awake when she gets up to pee; he’s been awake the entire time, he hasn’t slept a wink. He’s still thinking about the duck and its family, but really, he’s thinking about himself and how he fits into the world. He wonders if he really fits in the way that he thinks he fits in, or at least in the way that people tend to see him fitting in. He’s vocal on an array of social issues, and he posts about them and tells his friends what the answers are when they’re talking knowingly at bars about stuff like that. But today was hard for him, because when the chips were down, he didn’t have the answer. When he was given his shot, he failed, and he thinks about that now, late at night. The fearful thought that keeps hitting him is: “what if I was just a microcosm for everybody there?” What if everyone, in every situation just looked the other way like he did with the ducklings?
When he was younger, he was secure in the idea that if he missed the opportunity to do something important, then it was okay because sooner or later somebody would come along and cover for him and it would all get taken care of in the end. But he’s not a young kid anymore, and the weight of being an adult is beginning to make him feel like he’s become a pretty pitiful adult after all. He wants to think of this as just an isolated incident, he wants to feel like if he got another chance at it that he would do the right thing; but then again, he’s felt this way before.