My eyes open. I look at my phone. It’s 4:59 AM. A few seconds later the time on my phone changes and the alarm starts to chime. I switch it off and get out of bed. It’s Monday. That means I am operating under the work routine. I go take a shower. I get out of the shower and fix my hair, brush my teeth, and shave. After that, I get into my work clothes. I pick out my usual Monday colors. I start off dark and get progressively brighter as the week goes. I finish off the outfit with a tie. It’s 6 AM. I brew some coffee and sit down to read the morning news. Political scandal, war, the markets are up, and the sports scores. The news is always variations of the same theme. The coffee is ready. I drink my cup and finish my reading by checking the weather to see if I need a coat or umbrella. It’s 6:45 AM. I get my keys and turn on the car and off to work I go.
I pull into my usual parking spot. I walk in and go up the stairs. I go to the time clock and punch in. It’s 7 AM. I walk to my cubicle and take my seat. I check my messages and as usual, there is nothing. I check my emails. At 7:05 AM my desk neighbor shows up. A simple exchange of good mornings and we move on.
At 7:25 AM I head over to the conference room for the weekly Monday morning meeting. I take my seat at the table. The room is filled with chatter. A variety of conversations float around the room. Talk of the game this weekend, or the occasional wedding someone goes to or perhaps some gossip about Jane from accounting and what she posted on Facebook. All the conversations just begin to blend together. I play along with the morning ritual. The meeting is supposed to start at 7:30 AM but it always takes 10 minutes for the idle chatter to die down. And then the second ritual begins. Like a classroom of kindergarteners, everyone around the table gets there turn to talk. Some are quick and to the point while others just go on and on with pointless information. Most if not all that is said is pointless. Most of it was said the week before. At this point, the coffee is already beginning to wear off. Finally, at 9 AM everyone has had their chance to talk. The meeting has lasted an hour and a half longer than it needed to.
As everyone walks out of the post-meeting meetings take place in the hallway. Everyone just repeats the same chatter that was just said. I keep my head down and walk to the pot of coffee and refuel. I sit at my desk and go to work on my computer interrupted by the occasional phone call or someone coming in to ask a question.
It’s 1 PM. I finally made it to the afternoon. It’s lunchtime. In the warm months, I leave my cell for lunch and take a walk to get some fresh air. In the winter I am trapped by the cold weather. Today it’s sunny with a few clouds and a light breeze. I take a walk to the beach. There are a few people with small children. Other people are walking dogs. Everyone avoids eye contact. Occasionally I exchange an awkward hello. Time is running out and I make my way back to my cubicle.
I sit down for a few more hours of work. At 5 PM I go to the time clock. Everyone is in line waiting their turn. We are like school children walking out single file.
I go to my car. I need to pick up groceries for dinner. I sit in traffic and crawl slowly towards my home. I pull off at a grocery store that is along the way. Cars are darting in the parking lot. As I walk through the store people are crawling through the aisles like ants. Each one focused on their mission. I throw myself into the fray. I do not have the will to cook so I go by the prepared food and get a rotisserie chicken that will last me a few meals. I get a number from the counter. I have number 37. I hear someone yell 23. Then comes 24, 25, 26, and so on. I don’t know how much time passes until they get to 37. A young man in his 30’s is the one to call my number. His eyes barely seem open and he trudges towards me as he sees me raise my hand. “What can I get you?” he asks in a monotone voice with no energy. I point to what I want and ask for a small container. He fills the container with one scoop, weighs it, and prints a label. “What else?” he asks and I motion that it is all I need. He looks back and yells the next number starting the whole routine over again.
I make my way to the registers. I get in line. Slowly the line moves. There is noise everywhere: the ring of the registers, the sound of change, and empty conversations going on all around. I make it to the register. “Hello. Did you find everything you needed today?” the cashier asks but before I can answer the bagger is already asking paper or plastic. I look back and the cashier has already moved beyond the conversation. “Your total is 15.39”. I put my card into the pin pad and answer the questions without looking. He gives me my receipt and on my way, I go.
I leave the store and continue on my way to my house. I get close to my house and have to stop at the next red light. I look to my right and there is a man just sitting there. He is looking straight ahead. He is oblivious to the fact that I am looking at him. He stares blankly ahead. I am distracted by that blank stare. The light turns green and I continue on my way. A couple of more turns and I make it home.
It’s 6:15 PM. I walk in and put the food in the kitchen and go to my room to get out of my work clothes and get comfortable. I walk back to the kitchen and get a plastic plate. I cut off a piece of chicken and serve myself some of the pasta salad I got. I sit down and play a podcast.
By 7:15 PM I am done. I clean up what little I have to in the kitchen. I go to the bathroom and clean myself up. I go to my office to grab a book and read for an hour. I get up to go to my bed. I sit read some more and slowly my eyes get heavy. By 11 PM I am sleeping.
Tuesday, the routine starts all over again. Then comes Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and the cycle continues. The weekend comes and I trade in office work for housework. This has been my routine and it continues to be my routine. It is my default setting. It is the path of least resistance. And I keep this up like a robot that has been perfectly programmed. It has taken me many years but everything is exactly as it should be. I have a good job and a nice home. I have food and clothes. I don’t need anything else. Everything is as should be.
This continues on and on. I am on my grocery store visit. I have navigated through everything as usual. I get to the register and wait my turn. The cashier asks, “How are you today?” and the bagger interrupts with his usual paper or plastic. “So how did you say your day was going?” the cashier repeats. She isn’t following the script. “Got any fun plans tonight?” she continues. “Nope”, I answer. “Have a great weekend and I hope you find something fun to do” she says. That was an odd moment but I continue.
And I continue back like normal for a few more weeks. The weeks become months. Everything feels normal. Then one day as I was at a stop light I see that same man from that Monday months ago. He still has that same blank stare on his face. The light turns green and he goes without blinking. I forget to accelerate. The car behind me honks. He doesn’t take his hand off the horn until I finally move. And I continue on my way. For the second time, there is an odd moment. But I continue.
Everything goes back to normal. The days continue. The days become weeks. It’s Tuesday and I am driving towards my office. I am driving towards my exit. Yet as I get closer and closer something feels different. My hands don’t put on my turn signal and they don’t turn the wheel. I keep driving and my car misses the exit. I keep driving straight. I come to the next exit and I pass that exit up to. And I keep going. I drive till my tank is close to running out. I stop by a gas station and fill up and drive back. I don’t bother calling my work. I don’t go back.
The next day I wake up to the sound of my alarm. I don’t wake up a minute before like I usually do. I turn it off and back to sleep I go.
When I wake up again it is already dark outside. I grab my keys and go for a drive. The road is pretty empty except for a few semi-trucks. As I drive I come to a realization. These lines painted on the road can’t keep me from driving wherever I want. The speed limit on the side of the road is just a number on a sign. I press done on the accelerator. I just go for it. Nothing can stop me. As I drive I see a pair of headlights. I turn the wheel in that direction and line myself up. He honks. He flashes his brights. At the last second, he chooses to swerve out the way. I feel my heart beating. My hands shake. I bead of sweat goes down my forehead. And for the first time, I feel alive. I find an exit and make my way back home. I make it to bed.
I don’t know what day it is anymore. I wake up and the sky is dark. I don’t even know where my cell phone is anymore. I go outside and a cold wind blows. My stomach grumbles. I go to the grocery store and get something to eat. I see a delicious donut with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles. I grab it and a bottle of strawberry milk. I go to register. It is that same cashier. She asks, “How are you today?” I respond, “I’ve never felt more alive.” She smiles back and looks me in the eye and simply says that’s great. “I am glad you’re feeling so alive. Take care”, she says as I walk away. I scarf down my donut and chug my milk before I get to my car.
As I drive away the sun begins to peak through the horizon. I drive towards the beach. I get out of my car and begin to walk towards the beach. A strong wind blows off the lake. I have goosebumps all over my skin. The sun is higher up. It begins to paint the sky orange and gold. I kick off my shoes and feel the sand on my feet. It is cold and rough. I walk towards the water. I feel the cold water like a knife on my feet. I tremble. I keep walking forward. The waves hit my legs. I feel my muscles almost freeze but I make every effort to continue forward. The waves get stronger and hit my body. The sky grows more brightly as the sum fully reveals itself. I stop trembling. The waves finally knock me down. The water begins to fill my lungs. I do not struggle. I look up one last time at the bright sun in the sky smiling at me one last time.