I wrote a quick note and posted it by the kitchen light switch.
I rolled my eyes as I imagined friends and loved ones puzzling over that choice of last words for years after I was gone. Was I being sincere, like I was commanding them to be happy now that I had rid them of myself? Was it a sardonic tribute to the many times people had told me to just get over my hopelessness and “be happy”? Were my best intentions in mind?
I scoffed. It didn’t matter now. I was halfway down the block and headed for the bus stop.
Nothing mattered anymore.
I stood in the chill autumn air wearing multiple layers to hide me from the cold—and from any familiar faces. I didn’t want to deal with small talk on my way to my predetermined death.
The bus came screeching and rumbling to a halt in front of me and I paid for the ride in cash. No need to give away my whereabouts by using my bus pass.
As I shuffled to the back of the bus and seated myself across from a grizzled, smoky fellow, I shook my head at my unobservant girlfriend for not realizing what was so blatantly obvious to me. I had been pulling away for some time, not just from her, but from life; from this mess we stumble through and pretend we understand or care about.
I smiled despite myself. That had been what had attracted me to her in the first place: the wide-eyed belief that life is sacred and meaningful and joyous. And at first, I had believed her.
“Can’t do nothin’ right,” the old man coughed, distracting me.
But, like all my relationships, it began to fade in grandeur. We moved in together a few months ago in an unspoken attempt to ignite it once again. And I will admit that for a while, seeing her get dressed in the morning and falling asleep together after long work days was more than pleasant. The problem was never her; no. I know that. Not my sweet, vanilla girlfriend.
It was me.
After all, I’m the one with the shadows dancing against my eyelids. The one with dark memories and faithless approach to the future. The one who, despite deceiving my trusting lover into thinking I was going to buy us some ice cream to watch a movie in our apartment, still marveled at her gullibility.
She would be worried when I didn’t come home, true, but I couldn’t get too worked up about it because she’s the type of person that everyone loves. People want to be around her, unlike me. When we get invited to parties, I know deep down that it is for Vicky and guest. She would make it through losing me, easy.
I surprised myself with a sudden, lopsided smile. How did I ever end up with someone named Vicky?
The bus made a sharp turn and the tire connected loudly with a curb. I glanced out the window—the darkness was swallowed completely by advertisements, headlights, street lamps, and store fronts. I recognized the road. If I had borrowed her car, I’d be approaching the grocery store in a matter of blocks.
Something twisted inside me, a rare jolt of emotion after so many weeks and months of pain and anger, always masking it with a smile or a shrug because I had to placate Vicky—protect her from my reality of inexplicable rage and relentless sorrow.
I could rewrite history, take back this choice. Buy the stupid ice cream and go home to my waiting girlfriend. Watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers because, according to her, “It’s a classic.”
He started coughing again, wheezing out, “Nothin’! Nothin’!”
The other passengers and I pretended we couldn’t hear him, but his words pounded in my ears. Nothing. Nothing. I reached for the cord and the buzzer rang out. The bus decelerated violently and I was almost thrown to the floor until I grabbed a handle to steady myself.
In ten minutes I was out by the bus stop again, shivering, a carton of vanilla ice cream cradled in my arms. I cursed myself for moving through self-checkout so fast I forgot a bag.
Soon I found myself climbing into another bus—What’s going on in your head, Alex?—and heading back toward our apartment. My brain ached as I tried to rationalize this behavior. It doesn’t make sense.
Nothing. Nothing. Did I want nothing more than pain and sadness and Vicky?
I shook my head. No, it was never about wanting. It was an escape from an uglier reality—the greater of two evils. And even if everything came down to chemical reactions in my brain, and life and death were never mine to choose, I was headed home now.
I ran up the staircase and opened the door to a delicate squeal.
“You scared me!” she scolded me. “What took you so long?”
“I decided to take the bus and save some gas money,” I said, smiling sheepishly. I amazed myself with my ease at lying to her face.
She walked over and folded me in her arms.
“You’re freezing,” she announced, releasing me and taking the carton from my hand. “Vanilla? You know I like more flavor than that. Something nutty or fruity.”
“Or something a little of both?” I said, smiling.
She laughed at my joke. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Okay, I’m going to go put on pajamas. Will you pop some popcorn?”
“Sure,” I said.
She left the room and I remembered my note by the door.
“Be happy,” it told me.
I pulled it down, crumpled it up.
“I’ll try,” I said.
“What?” Vicky called from the bedroom.