Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 36

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

2012 was the year he’d made all the bold changes.

Unfortunately, he had never been a bold, big change kind of guy. They were all formed in some romanticized notion of how life would be there, in the non-denominational spiritual retreat center. He couldn’t envision it without imagining how grand it would all be. He wasn’t a programmer! That was where he belonged. Or so he told himself.

He left a semi-secure position with the jewelry store where he’d worked for a dozen years. His ambitions were low, and he hadn’t cared about programming for some time. Programming, sensing his lack of commitment, matched and then doubled his lack of interest in him. He once similarly described engineering that it was a young person’s) game., that it didn’t age well. The long hours, the hectic, compressed schedules, the design and fabrication phases, the testing, and integration – it was all a lot of mentally challenging rigamarole. So he left engineering for programming.

But he lacked the vision and discipline to be a good programmer. It was a field that was forever changing.  

When he heard about the handyperson opening at the retreat center, it seemed like a ‘good fit.’ Which it was. It was a good fit for someone trying to run away from something that changed endlessly.

It would’ve been a dream job, but he foolishly brought himself along. He brought all his unresolved baggage, his issues, and worst of all, his addictions.

The work was a refreshing change of pace, at first – plenty of fresh air, sunlight, and exercise. Then it steadily wore him down. He was tired and ached constantly. He liked the inherent structure with the meditation periods throughout the day that the staff was supposed to observe, but even that can become a bit of an escape he learned after a few weeks there.

The work felt beneath him. He’d done similar stuff for his father, a carpenter, but that was in his youth. And any aptitude he’d had for it had long since vanished.

So he acted out with his addictions; he self-medicated in whatever fashion he could. It got worse, and he knew the situation was untenable. So, in an ill-advised moment of honesty that he would quickly regret, he confessed to Sister Josephine the stresses he felt and the fact that he was an active addict.

She was stunned but sympathetic. She made it abundantly clear – he could not continue working there. She would have to replace him. She thanked him for his honesty and his service.

It was only afterward that he panicked. What had he expected Sister Josephine to say? He surrenders to the spiraling panic and anxiety. He leans into the twin whirlwinds of nauseating uneasiness, basking in the glorious wretchedness his ruminations were causing.

Run! That was the obvious answer! Duh! Runaway!

So, like a thief in the night, he stole away from the center. Though it was the afternoon as he quietly, stealthily packed up most all of his belongings and drove away, vowing never to return. How could he? His embarrassment and cowardice would be too hard to relive. So he jumped in his car and drove.

He drove and drove and drove. He stopped for gas, bathroom breaks, and sugary snacks. He had no plan at all. But he remembers he had a friend in Missouri, so he calls her, begs her for sanctuary. She shows him mercy and tells him he can stay with her until he gets back on his feet.

He feels impotent, like a sailor on the dead calm seas. He drives to his friend’s house and tries to regroup the best he can.

He hadn’t had many failures in his work life. He decided he didn’t care for the taste of it.

For years afterward, he is filled with shame when he remembers how he had run away.

But he is also puzzled. Many of the details of his escape are fuzzy to him. When he tries to remember them more clearly, the effort exhausts him, and the memories never come into proper focus.

Well, he was panicked, he tells himself. But that only goes so far. If someone had interrupted him while he hurriedly packed up his car while the rest of the staff were in meditation, he would’ve likely calmed down, listened to their pleas for him to be ‘reasonable.’

He remembers his residence there in the wooded region of Nebraska. The tiny one-room cabin with an afterthought of a bathroom attached. He remembers the walk-in shower with a plastic curtain that never closed all the way. He remembers how he used to fantasize about turning on the hot water, sitting on the floor of the shower, with his knife, and with just a single swipe, he could drift away forever. The cessation of existence had always pulled at him fiercely.

When he considers these thoughts and the fuzzy details which refuse to resolve in a coherent narrative, he wonders if it had just been a fantasy. When his life never seems to go the way he plans, he wonders if he ever actually left that place. He remembers leaving there, but there are gaps. Maybe he never left? Did he pack up his car the way he remembers? Or did he perhaps pick up his knife and sit under the shower head? How the red water had swirled down the drain until it was no longer red. How long before it was over and the light left his eyes. Is he alive now? Or does his lonely spirit still wander through the thick, hot Nebraskan woods while only dreaming he is alive?

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