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A Familiar Stranger
“Just hang it up, and clear your desk out by noon, your time is over here!”
The door slammed so hard to Silverwood’s office that he could feel the harsh, cold wind of rejection and failures gently lift his brown parted hair. The stench of disapproval was no stronger than the aroma of stale cigarettes and old Chinese takeout containers that possessed his sardine can, window-free, four by four office. He then gave a long look of wretchedness as he stared at his desk full of failed story ideas, failed dreams, and failed ambitions. He reached into his desk and got his pack of cancers. He took another sigh of self-loathing. Self-loathing. Everybody does it. Self-loathing is only the ability to feel sorry for yourself when everybody else around you has lost the human nature of “care.” He then grabbed one from the pack, lit his salvation, and took in a deep drag. Meanwhile amidst the loathing, the smoking, and that wonderful little reminder from the newspaper editor, a six foot two man in a yellow chicken costume named Charles observed this carefully. I should probably explain.
The story of Johnny Silverwood is not a special one. The story of Johnny Silverwood is not a happy one. The story of Johnny Silverwood is the story of a loser. The story of a man who will always be the runner-up, and live life in his own dark shadow. A story of disappointments that plagued and provoked a life into melancholy and constant let-downs. In fact, Johnny was a walking, breathing, eating, drinking, let-down from the day he was born. Johnny never met his biological parents. He was the result of failed birth prevention wrapping, and his loving, nurturing, seventeen-year old parents turned their little bundle of joy into a multi-million dollar lawsuit. The case turned into a media circus. Everybody from conservative Christians to the condom lobbyists seemed to have an opinion and a guest spot on CNN among the hysteria. To make a long complicated court case short, the court ultimately favored against the plaintiffs and left them with nothing. This left Johnny, who was still comfortable in the womb, to be destined to become the latest dumpster baby. Ultimately Johnny was born, but only before his parents hung themselves due to being exiled from their homes and being unable to pay for the harrowing debt from court and legal fees. Let down number one.
Little Johnny then became an orphan, and was placed in a catholic-faith based orphanage. There, Johnny learned life from a new pious perspective, and also picked up a deep lingering fear of being cast into hell. All seemed to go well as planned for the boy, until Johnny got himself into a little trouble at the inquiring and mere age of seven. During rec time, while Sister Samantha was taking a shower, Johnny crept up and stole her underclothes on a fat fourteen dollar bet. Johnny snagged the 100% cotton prize, and hoisted them over his head like an MVP trophy as he plowed down the door into his dorm and was greeted by a sea of high-fives and merriment.
“Pay! Me! My! Money!” Johnny cockily screamed.
He then collected his cash, flung the underwear at a friend, and ran out with all the other boys to get a game of stickball in. Only the underwear didn’t land on his friends nose, but rather on a hot light bulb which nobody decided to turn off after leaving the room. Which then in turn started a small cottony fire, which then spread to the curtain, which then turned the Saint Anthony dorm from a spacious living and eating environment into a flaming inferno that burnt down the joint. Let down number two.
Johnny was fostered off to live in another home with an elderly, affectionate, tender, cookie-baking woman named Susie, but the boy just called her grandma. The two had a great thing going. Johnny needed somebody to take care of him and who would cater to his sensitive needs, and Susie needed somebody to fill time with after her husband Alfred passed six years ago, and her cat, Muffins, recently ran from her. Sure they were blissful, but money was always a factor. They lived in a small two bedroom, one story house on the corner of Rio Street, which was in the heartland of a rough Latino neighborhood. Instead of having a Nintendo or a bicycle, Johnny’s presents were always handmade and from the heart. Nothing says I love you but I’m too broke than a hand knit sweater or one of her famous short stories. Oh how Johnny loved her stories. He would drop everything immediately and lose himself in a world of happiness. Her storytelling is what drove the boy to want to become a writer. But this wouldn’t be a story about a loser unless he had to overcome such an obstacle. One day while walking home he was confronted by one of the friendly and generous Hispanic gang members. And as usual he greeted the boy properly.
“Hey white boy, what do you have for me today?”
But today the boy was feeling just a little too fed up and maybe a little too prideful for his own good.
“Nothing, in these pockets for you.”
So the gang member did what any street abiding man would do. He grabbed Johnny by the throat and literally cut the sweater off his back. Threw the child to the ground and laughed hysterically as he scurried away bleeding and terrified. So Johnny then did what any revenge-seeking twelve year old little boy would do. He ran home, went to the tool shed in the garage and grabbed Susie’s late husband’s gun, which he then in turn used to return to the street corner and paint his masterpiece. The snub nosed pistol as his brush, his nemesis’ blood acting as the paint, and the hard pavement used as his canvas. The man was put in critical condition, and the boy was sent away from all he knew and the woman who cared for him. He was then sent to a mental institution to be evaluated. Let down number three.
After the evaluation and a couple of unfortunate tedious days inside a padded room, it became evident what led to his impulsive troublemaking behavior. He was diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia. This is the type that If not treated, mixes a seemingly normal life with abstract elements and hallucinations. He began to not be able to distinguish his altered perception from reality. In theory, this made Johnny lived and controlled his own little world. This is where I come in. Before the pill, Johnny and I would have a great time together. I would cheer him up when he was feeling sad and alone. We would stay up late talking about women and just shooting the breeze. He would go wherever I would tell him to go, and I would follow him around everywhere. Like a guardian angel if you will, only an obvious costume difference. I wasn’t the greatest influence and might have gotten him into some trouble. That’s when the institution found out about me and put a stop to me. The medicine prescribed just completely numbed him out. All creativity and basic human emotion was put to an abrupt halt. The fun loving good natured guy turned into a new man. But the institution didn’t care as long as he behaved to the system. And everything begins to fade to black, and then we go our separate ways. What happened next I couldn’t have told you. I say this because I was not around. I appear only after he stops the pill. So flash forward to little Johnny all grown up. A handsome blossoming successful young man in his third day of college. Johnny tells me in one of our first late night conversation in a seeming lifetime that he misses me and the fun we had. The enlightened man continues to tell me how socially uncomfortable and awkward he felt on the drug and he wanted off to better suit himself with his peers he was looking forward to meeting away in college.
“I’m ready to deal with the side effects again.” Said Johnny.
“It’s good to have you back kid.” I gladly replied.
So once again everything seemed to go as planned. Johnny enjoyed his creative writing class with Professor Applebaum and was making a fine impression on the student newspaper. And surprisingly Johnny happened to be quite the charmer. In no time he turned out to make friends left and right. He already got two different phone numbers from women and figured maybe he could break a couple of hearts. It was no time before he got invited to his first college party.
“So you think I should go? I mean I’m a little nervous.”
“Yeah, yeah kid. You don’t pass up an opportunity like this. Isn’t Jennifer going eh?”
“Well I guess that settles it then.”
So Johnny went to the party and was introduced to the university party life. Here, Johnny was given a hazy introduction to drinking. Johnny, meet alcohol. Alcohol, meet a nineteen-year old unpredictable schizophrenic. Johnny then received an unpredictable boost of confidence after an hour of over-friendly mingling and went and approached a woman. Now I can’t tell you how this happened, I was over in the other corner listening to some stories, but it appears our man Johnny swindled some poor girl into coming home with us. We were heading outside as the two were attempting to passionately kiss, which just turned out to be more sloppy and repulsive than romantic. The dorm was only a five minute drive, so Johnny decided to have another introduction. Johnny, meet your new dean of students who you swerve into head on and end up totaling his Lexus. Johnny meet your unsuccessful and unfulfilling life. Uh-oh, red and blue lights.
“Uh, John…. I think there might be somebody else worth meeting.”
Let down number four.
Another fifteen years in their system. Another fifteen years of staying living in a seemingly infinite sea of darkness and isolation, I’m happy to say that I’m back. It was sad to see how much Johnny had changed. The bright young eyes of opportunity I used to look are now bloodshot, tired, stressed-out, and ready to give out. It seems reality has caught up and derailed Johnny’s once ambitious dreams of becoming a famous fantasy writer. He informs me that after his arrest and accident he was thrown out of the university he so strived to be accepted into. After that he spent most of his time working odd jobs to pay off student loans but only ended up falling straight backwards into credit debt and things didn’t help exactly with his string of lousy stock investments. It’s a shame to see dreams to get crushed by the real world. He found a job in writing, but it was far from one he loved, and his creativity wasn’t exactly being put to the test. He writes for the metro section of the fourth most circulated newspaper in the city. So you know the scene where some poor drug addict got his melon blown off in some secondhand apartment complex and the cops are scraping brain matter off the wall and there’s a nagging journalist behind the yellow tape with one pad one pencil desperately trying to get a quote from the chief of police for hours? That’s our man. As a writer he wallowed in the reality that he work was unread and unappreciated. But after missing another deadline, he is being kicked to the curb and remains unemployed once again. So as Johnny walks out of his office towards the elevator as his co-workers look at him with remorse and sympathy as he takes probably his last stroll down the hall. Dead man walking. We get in the elevator. John hits the R button instead of the L button. We are going to the roof.
“What brings us up here?” I ask awkwardly. I’m afraid I already know the answer.
“I’m going to erase myself.” He replies grimly without blinking.
“Ah I’ve heard this story one too many times, just like the time you tried to overdose of children’s Tylenol? Or let’s not forget the time you tried to hang yourself with an old belt and ended up banging your head on the end table.”
I tried to liven the situation up with a little dry witty humor. He had a look in those empty eyes as he stared at the floors going up that he was really going to do it this time. I panicked. He cannot do this to him. He cannot do this to me. He cannot do this to us. And it takes a pretty large failure to not kill himself from jumping from thirty-six towering floors. The doors open and I think to myself if this is the last memory we will share together. John proceeds to pull out a ballpoint pen and a notepad. He modestly writes without emotion the words “I am truly sorry for whoever has to clean this ” and sticks the paper in the pocket of his faded stained white collar work shirt. John then began to position himself upon the ledge holding his arms out and embracing all that surrounded him. The dark grey clouds. The cold blistering wind. The abomination of a life that amounted to nothing. He looked down and thought to himself that whoever he landed on will probably have a worse day than himself. I realized that this was my time to shine and that Johnny needed to hear something nobody has ever told him before. I scream out before it all fades to black again.
“John please, just because society has turned its brash rejecting shoulder on you, never give into yourself. Reject their moral standards. Everybody is lied to at some point in time. You live life one unsatisfying moment at a time. You were promised a life of happiness and rewards if you worked hard and set your mind to it but it was a lie. Growing up only makes you resentful. So be the odd man out. Slack off. And just remember to never confirm and lose yourself Johnny Silverwood. Life is always going to be one let-down after another for you and all you can do is roll with it and soak up as much sunshine as possible John then looked over with two wet eyes full of truth. He then stepped down from his perch of death and despair as he looked at the tall man in the chicken suit like no way he has before. He walked away from the scene and thanked his friend figuring out what he would to next to fill the void of his constant uselessness.
“You know Charles; you’re the only one who has ever really kept me sane.”