The Long Walk Home

Michael Collins

 

     A teenaged boy was walking home in the cold, lonely night.  The road he was travelling was long, seemed to be neverending.  Trees lined the edge of the road;  their leaves glimmered silver in the moonlight.  His entire vision seemed to be in grayscale, as if the painter of the world had fallen asleep with the rest of its inhabitants.  The constant sound of his slow footsteps was like that of his heart beating, an unending, continuous rhythm.  It had recently rained, and he could smell the scent of wet grass lingering in the chill air. 

     The boy was a little taller than average, with a medium build.  Black hair fell low over his eyes, ordinarily spiked with gel but now flat and soaked with rain.  He wore a thin grey jacket over baggy shirt and pants that were the color of the night he walked in.  Black was his favorite color. 

     Lost in his thoughts, the boy noted that it was not much further to his house.  But for him, someone who had always been more introspective and sentimental than his friends, this last street was always the longest to traverse.  As always, he wondered. 

      What happened today—you could have said something, could have done so much more.  But why didn’t you?  The moment you’ve been waiiting for—but you didn’t do anything.  It’s like that job commercial on TV.  You only get so many opportunities, and if you pass them up…well, your life will end up being crap.  Like it is now.

     He always referred to himself in the second person when he thought of himself.  It as as if two separate instances of his personality arguing and debating in his mind.  He knew it was probably a little insane.  But he had always doubted the sanity of the world. 

     Why’s it such a big deal, though?  What’s going to guarantee that if things work out like you planned, that you’ll be happy again?  Sure, you’ll be good for a little while.  But what if it went wrong?  What if it’s not as good as you expected?  Then you’d be in a worse state than you are now. 

      On the road to his right, a solitary, lonely car passed, headlights fading into the darkness. 

     What are you thinking?  he admonished himself.  ‘If things worked out?’ You screwed up, man.  It didn’t work out, you didn’t do what you told yourself you were gonna be doing.  You made a fool of yourself, and even though no one else knows, you do.  You can now categorize yourself as ‘Grade-A Fool.’  Top Quality Idiocy.  Only the best. 

     A biting wind blew, a short gust.  His skin burned with the cold.  He pulled his jacket closer to him.

     Great, the boy thought.  Now, not only am I meat, but I’m in the ‘Frozen Foods’ section. Ha, ha, ha.  Yeah, right.

     Sardonic wit came easy to the boy, who had never lived a minute without criticizing his own actions.  Sometimes he deserved it;  most of the time he did not.  Such was the nature of his personality.  Being a teenager and the associated stresses involved sharpened his cynical outlook even more. 

     Oh yeah.  ‘The teenage years are the best you’ll ever have.’  Well, if they’re so great, then I’m missing something.  But what is it?  Freedom?  Well, once I become ‘a respectable adult’  I’ll be able to do whatever I want.  But that’s not really true, is it?  They want freedom from their jobs, or their whining kids, or from paying bills.  And when

 you finally get rid of all that responsibility, your life is over.  So is that what life is?  An endless, futile search for freedom?

     His foot kicked a beer bottle off of the sidewalk.  It made a clanking sound that irritating his ears, breaking his reverie.  He walked for a short time, forcing himself to stop thinking about everything.  It didn’t last for long.  The person in his brain couldn’t leave him alone.

     You get too philosophical, he told himself.  That’s why you’re never happy.  Everyone else is having fun, while you’re like, ‘What is the real meaning of fun?  Fun, happiness doesn’t have substance, and you can’t sense it…so it must not exist!’

     So what would you have me do?  He asked the person in his mind. What’s the solution for the ‘I hate my life’ syndrome?

     An image flashed in his mind of a girl with fiery red hair and laughing eyes.

     Yeah, of course.  But you screwed that up today, didn’t you?  As far as you can tell she’s nothing more than a friend.  And you haven’t really showed any sign that you wanted it to be any different.  Sure, you had a chance today.  And you passed it up.  You screwed it up, as usual.  So forget it.  She deserves someone better, anyway.

     But ‘forgetting it’ is the same as giving up.  ‘You can’t achieve anything if you give up.’  That’s what they taught you in school, isn’t it?  ‘All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Life Management Class.’  Well, they didn’t teach you how to get your sorry self out of depression.  They didn’t teach you how to live without destroying everything you try for. 

     I just wish I could have done something.  Not been so afraid of what she might say. 

     Yes, there was his house, across the street.  He turned off the sidewalk and walked onto the road, still wondering about his life and the girl in his dreams.

     His last thought before the car hit him was I wish I could have had another chance…