The Tragedy of a Gastropod

January 24, 2013
Day 544

Goddammit. That was my first thought today. It's my first thought every day. I know, Diary, I know. It probably bores you that I start every entry off that way. I hear you on that. And I know you'd like nothing more than to cheer me up, to tell me that I should be thankful for what I have, that there are plenty of people worse off than I am. But, Diary, you know that there really aren't. For the love of god, you can't even include me when you say the word “people” anymore. But you know that already. What I'm trying to say is, I'm entitled to a little bitching, rest of the world be damned.

I’ll start by saying this much: waking up blows. I've told you this before, I know. But hush up, dear diary, this is important. When I was a human, waking up was the worst I'd ever have to face. A bit of drowsiness, a tad of regretting the previous night, and that was it. The day was all uphill from there. I'd eat some sugar-crusted cereal, hop in my climate controlled car, punch a few numbers into a computer, then head home, to a warm meal and a soft bed, all the while kept comfortable by tens of thousands of dollars worth of engineering dedicated to keeping me warm, to keeping me comfortable and, ultimately, to keeping me content.

But that's all the past, dear. It's all some remnant of a time that once was, but is no more. For me, things don't get better as the day goes on, and you know all too well why. But let me remind you. It's because I'm a goddamned snail now, that's why. It's not like I can go play some-- I don't know-- pick up basketball outside when I'm feeling blue. No, snails don't do any of that. You know what snails do? They eat rotting food. All. Day. Good day, bad day, rain or shine, I go out and I eat entrails from week-old animal carcass. I'd like to go back to two years ago, look myself in the face and give him a piece of my freaking mind. You want to give me that office job you always whine about? You think your life's so tough? I'd trade in a second, I swear I would.

Listen, I'm sorry. I know getting worked up about this won't help anything. It's just that... life's pretty crappy as a snail. Worse than I could have ever imagined, you know? I guess I held some messed up ideas about how nature works back when I was a human. But I've learned a few things. I've learned that there's no natural order. I've been a snail for a year and a half now, as best I can figure. I've never found peace with myself, never found a greater meaning in the world. And that's sad. I guess I just expected more of myself, and of the world, if I took society out of the equation. But I don't mean to get all deep on you, Diary, I know you hate that. But like I was saying, there's nothing too special about nature. There's not even kill or be killed, that would be far too interesting. It's the same monotone, repeated day after day. I curse myself for being intelligent almost daily. No one with self awareness should be forced to act like a machine, as I do.

They used to torture people by dripping water on their forehead at a steady rhythm. In a way, that represents my life now. The world has succeeded in stripping away almost everything that makes me human. There is no love here, no passion, no excitement. I scavenge, then I sleep. There’s no room for intelligence, for personality, for meaning. Only survival.

In a way, my life makes me appreciate all the bullshit that I hated so much before my transformation. I always yearned for what I have now: absolute freedom, time aplenty and the outdoors. And yeah, I guess that might've been fun for a little while. No more bosses, no more rent, no more tax returns, that all seems nice. But goddamn, I miss society. I miss waking up every morning with a sense of purpose, however insignificant it is in the grand scheme of things. For god's sake, I was a smallpox researcher. I studied a disease that hadn't seen the light of day in a quarter of a century, but at least it was something. I left my mark on the world, I wrote some papers that went over well at trade shows. But I still hated my job, I still hated my life. I hated waking up in the morning, knowing that I once again wouldn't be on the news that night. How shallow is that, right, dear?

But I'd trade for that life in a second. As much as I hated what I did, as much as I hated who I was, there was meaning in my life then. I lived for something, I lived to make my species better. In my own little way, I made life better for everyone around me. But what do I have now? I eat. And I sleep. And that's about all there is to my life.

Sorry, Diary, you're right. I am getting off track a little bit. The point is, I wake up once again in this god-forsaken bog, where one movement in any direction would leave me submerged in the thick, oatmeal-like sludge. But today, I don't even get to wake up on my own terms. Nope, some nimrod decides that it's a brilliant idea to come run into me with his freaking feelers. Telling me that brother, it is time to rise; brother, it is time to feed. Now you know how I feel about all this brother crap. And today, it really set me off. I could not stand one more ounce of these snails’ utopian-communist bullshit. It's all a load, if you ask me (but nobody does ask me about politics. Because I'm a snail.) I could not stand one more freaking tribal council, I could not handle one more community hunt. I honestly couldn't care less if it's “evolutionarily beneficial.” There's more to life than surviving, for the love of god. And these snails just don't seem to realize that. They're all dumb as bricks, I'm telling you. There's no love here, no art. And I'm becoming more and more convinced that these bastards don't even have feelings. That's one crappy way to live your life, if you ask me. I just couldn't do it. Couldn't take this whitewashed, perfectly orderly vision of society for a second longer. So I pushed him, dear. I pushed him and he fell. I couldn't see, but I could hear, hear as his shell shattered on the rocks on the shore below. Dead.

I sat there for a while. Sat and looked and thought and let my mind run wild. Did I feel guilty? Could I really feel guilty for freeing someone from this life? I still don't know the answer to that, Diary. I still don't. I’m not a religious man. But maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong. Maybe there is reincarnation, maybe this snail will ascend in life, become something more. He deserves this. Nobody deserves to live as a snail. Maybe I did the right thing. Maybe I didn't. I’m not sleeping tonight.

Day 545

I could be a hero. For the first time since I became a snail, I actually have the opportunity to do something with my life. But let's go back to this morning.

It was a Tuesday (I say Tuesday because, frankly, screw the snails' lunar calendar. I may be a member of the most intelligent species ever to walk this earth, but that crap is beyond me.) Tuesdays, unfortunately, were the day of some great celebration. All the snails basically gathered together, bathed in filthy bog water, and ate whatever scraps of rotten fruit they'd saved from the prior week. As I wasn't too fond of bog water nor of rotten fruit, I decided to skip out. I set my path deep into the woods, heading away from the swamp. I imagined myself in some kind of car chase, fleeing the (imaginary) snails in hot pursuit. Childish, I admit, but after a year and a half as a snail you take whatever entertainment you can get. I continued with this game until I realized that high speed chases at one mile per hour weren't too much fun.

I stopped in some clearing, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Then I saw it, looming above the trees. It was almost ironic. Hell, here I was, just minutes from a massive snail colony, staring straight at a freaking salt refinery.

It was then, hidden in the leaves in some forest in the middle of who-knows-where that I had the most important revelation of my life. This was it. This was my life now. Forever. Bam. Done. Because, and I might as well face it, it’s not like the scientists of the world are putting a lot of time into researching how to turn snail-people back into people-people. And, even if they were, how the hell would I get it? I’m a freaking snail, living in a bog a dozens of miles from civilization. Oh yeah, and just to make things a bit more interesting, I also can’t speak.

And that’s when the events of the previous day came rushing back to me. The snail I’d killed, rushing back to tell you what had happened, trying to reason it all out. And, immediately, I knew what I had to do. The factory grew nearer in my sight, its smoke biting at me. And, with a leaf, I did the unthinkable. From the hulking mound of salt, I scooped up a small sample, holding it as far from myself as possible. I don’t mean to get all profound on you, but for the first time in my life, I felt truly powerful. I, and I alone, had the ability to free the other snails from this life, to allow them to move past this hell, hopefully onto something greater. And even if there was nothing else, at least they wouldn’t have to live this torturously confined life. It sickened me to think that they didn’t even know what they were missing. With this in mind, I trudged back to the bog, hoisting the salt over my head with pride.

It was a long crawl there, and it seemed even longer carrying the salt. But it didn’t really matter, I was somewhere else entirely. My mind was filled with images of myself, thinking how I would be the noble, yet unknown hero of the day. I was filled with the same arrogance that infected me back when I was a researcher, back before I was transformed. Only on a completely different scale. Back then, I worked towards finding cures that were years, if not decades off. Here, here I had the chance to save (in my mind) the lives of hundreds. After a career that had all too often seemed to lead only to dead ends, here I was, with the potential to act decisively and to have my actions felt. No longer were my actions part of some far off dream, they were here, they were now.

Like I said, I got a bit ahead of myself. Especially considering that I couldn’t actually bring myself to do it. I could lie and tell you that the salt spilled on my way there. But it didn’t. And there was no cinematic change of heart either. I just broke down, realized that I was about to end the lives of hundreds of innocents, just to prove to myself that my life had meaning, that I could actually change the world around me. I don’t have that in me, never have, never will. And that’s what scares me, Diary. That I’m doomed just to be some player in this giant game we all call life. We like to trick ourselves into thinking we can actually do something with our lives. They tell us it in movies, so it must be true, right? But it took me forty some odd years to realize that these movies couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t decide my life more than I decide if the sun will rise in the morning. Society tells us what to do, and we do it, no questions asked. We may stray along the way a little bit, but it’s of no consequence. Nothing I’ve done, nothing anyone I know has done has actually ever changed anything. I’m no more trapped as a snail than I was as a person. Sure, maybe now I can’t decide what movie to watch on Friday night. But, frankly, did any of that ever matter anyway? Maybe I could’ve bought a Mazda instead of a Jeep, married a blonde instead of a brunette. But I’d still be living the life society told me I ought to live.

It took being a snail to realize all of this. But even if I could somehow, someday be human again, would any of this even matter? It’s not like I could just take off one day, go live life the way I want to. No, things like “money” and “personal responsibility” and “parenting” tend to get in the way of that. So I’m trapped. Human or snail, I’m trapped. And there’s no way out for me. And that, that is what scares me shitless. That I was born one day, and that my life had already been decided. Knowing that, it’s pretty hard to see why I should go on living a life that isn’t my own, one in which I take the back seat to society.

Do you see it now, Diary? Do you see why I’ve been staring so longingly at those ominous smokestacks in the distance? It’s because they promise me freedom, for the first time in my life. And, scary as it is, that’s what I want. I hope you understand.

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