There is this whole world of people that are all trying to do something with themselves, to quite simply tire themselves out so that they can go to bed again satisfied. I number among them. I have black hair and brown eyes, I am nearly six feet tall.
I don’t have a face that a lot of people see as friendly – I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and although I think happy thoughts, I’m scowling. When I get on the bus, people move for me. On the street, people instinctively clear the path, like I have an evil penumbra that they don’t want to touch.
It’s possible that I’m evil. I watched violence and didn’t stop it. I found a wallet and took the money out before returning it, telling myself I needed it. I punched people on different occassions because they insulted me. I never thought all of this was evil, though. I thought they were garden variety misdeeds. But I’ve never thought about what they might add up to.
When I moved to a big city, I found an apartment listing for a roommate and answered. We met over a cup of coffee to see if we could live together, and all he could talk about were money complaints from the last roommate. The last roommate didn’t pay for milk, even though he used it in his coffee. The last roommate wouldn’t pay for cable, even though he sat down to watch when it was on.
The last roommate paid rent for a year and took advantage, it sounded like. I tried to tell him I was different, that I don’t drink milk, even in coffee. It was a joke – he didn’t laugh. He didn’t look me in the eye while we conversed, and I was convinced it wasn’t going well, but we shook hands afterwards and I moved in a day later. He didn’t have furniture in our living room, just a folding chair in front of a television. He didn’t want to buy any either. “I bought pots and pans. So.”
So I buy a couch.
I’ve never met anyone so self-absorbed, someone less interested in the world around him. He would spend almost the entire day away from the apartment, then come back and he would go on his computer. He never said “Hello.” He wrote notes for me on a little white board on our refrigerator. He ordered new clothes and new appliances online. I didn’t know what he did for work, because whenever I asked him a question, I got a long, winding response that never fully answered what I asked.
When I went places, and walked down the street or went on busses or subways. I spent the ride wondering how many of these people were like my roommate. Is that why no one met my gaze? Is that why no one wanted to talk? I knew from movies and high school and books and pop songs that we were all supposed to find someone, and yet here everyone was surrounded by someones, even living with someones, and we weren’t even making an effort. I would open my mouth and people would turn away. I convinced myself it was me, until I thought maybe it wasn’t.
I read travelogues about American tourists who were surprised at the friendliness of the inhabitants of foreign countries, who greeted such friendliness with suspicious glares. Surely, to them, all of this nicety was a prelude to violence. Or at least pick pocketing. I don’t know why these Americans go to different places only to reinforce what they do at home.
I’m not an openly friendly person, but when people are friendly to me, I latch onto it. I’m friendly back. I’m all smiles. When I smile in the mirror at myself I feel like a crazy person.
About six months into the lease, our very unpleasant landlord asks when I’m moving out of the apartment.
“At the end of the year.”
“So you’re not staying any longer than that?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Jesus, Adam, you can’t keep a roommate!” Our landlord says. My roommate isn’t named Adam. He doesn’t look up from his screen.
Even though it explicitly states I’m not allowed to in the rent agreement, I sublet my room for a couple of months. I ask the roommate, he nods and asks if he can email the new occupant a list of rules. I tell him sure, and tell the girl I met at a bar who is taking my room to ignore any email he sends her.
When I go to Cancun, I skip the hotel checking in and throw my duffel behind a fern. No one talked to me on the bus to the airport, or on the plane, or on the bus to the hotel. I feel like I reek of desperation – no one wants to talk to me, and all I want to do is talk to them. I remember hearing somewhere that when cells die, they smell of ozone, and I wonder if that’s what everyone can sense when they get near me. Dying of loneliness seems hormonally morose, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
I don’t know where I’m going, and I’m mordantly aware that looking out into the ocean while I contemplate where to go or what I’ve done is a modernist cliche. All I can think about is my roommate and his failure at being a human being, and the constant reinforcement of the idea that maybe everyone is a failure, and then if everyone is a failure, then I am the failure.
The waves crash and leave. I can hear laughter from above and I think about flopping down in the sand just to make an imprint, but I don’t. I’ll do what everyone else does and drink and watch the ocean until it’s time for my flight home, and I hope someone will change my mind about everything.