My Wasted Days Back

I never wanted to be one of those guys who were defined by their jobs. I don't want to be known as "A Janitor" "A Housepainter" "A National Branch Division Database Manager." Furthermore, I never wanted to be one of those guys whose entire life hinged on their jobs. I always figured that there would be something more important in my life than my job.

College was a nice little distraction, getting me from point A (high school) to point B (unemployment). I'm sure I made my mother proud when I stood in front of the entire family holding my diploma case, wearing my navy blue oversized gown, my sharpest Tazmanian Devil tie protruding on the front. But sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had joined the army right out of high school. Where would my life stand now?

What brings you by, Mrs. P?

Oh, please Mitch. Call me Samantha. Mitch closed the door behind them and led Ricky's mother down the stairs. So, how's school going Mitch?

You know, lots of fun, but it's pretty tough work too. Ricky didn't know how to talk to his friend's mother, so he tried to put on his best mature demeanor as he put on his cleanest, albeit pizza sauce stained white t-shirt.

Well, I'm sure it's good for you. How's your mother doing? Samantha placed her purse between her legs and took a seat on Mitch's kettle-black futon, right next to puffed strands of futon innards seeping through an ominous knife-hole. This is quite a house you've got here. Do your housemates give you quiet to study?

Mmm hmm. Ricky nodded his head. Yeah, mom's great. She just switched companies and got a big raise and everything. She's got tuition paid through the rest of the year, which is nice.

Oh, that's good. Samantha stared down at her hands, nervously fumbling with the bottom button on her sweater, ready to get to the gist of her unfamiliar visit. Have you spoken to my son lately?

Not since last week at the speedway. Mitch stood up to get a bottle of water from his mini-fridge. You want anything to drink?

No thank you. Samantha held back tears with rapid eye blinks and a heavy sigh. I'm just asking because, well, he hasn't come out of his room since that night, and I was wondering if you boys got into a fight or something, because he won't talk to me and I'm starting to worry. She might have been more concerned if his room didn't lead to a bathroom, and he didn't have a mini-fridge stocked with food, not to mention a closet full of non-perishables with more than enough to last a month.

Well, to be honest, Mitch took a seat on a footstool three feet from Samantha, I don't think we're gonna be hanging out much anymore.

Samantha's eyes widened. Oh no! Why?

I've been trying to be a good friend and everything, but ever since he got back from boot camp and he ... had the accident and everything, he hasn't been the same. Mitch took a gulp from the water and looked past Ricky's mother, to the poster of Jennifer Lopez directly above her head, avoiding eye contact at all costs.

Yeah, I know what you mean. It's been three years for Christ's sake ... Samantha wiped a tear from her face. Mitch looked around, then gave her a Pizza Hut napkin. Thank you. I just don't know what to do.

I mean, I know he's only got one foot, but that's no reason to just let yourself go! Mitch stood up to make his point. What is he now, 350 pounds?

Yeah, something like that. Samantha sat silently for a few moments, pondering. I just wonder sometimes if he didn't ...


Well-and I hate myself for thinking this - but sometimes I wonder if he actually meant to shoot his foot off. He's never really expressed any displeasure with the result. It's almost like he's happy it happened. Samantha blew her nose with the napkin and Mitch handed her another.

I know what you mean! Actually, I wasn't gonna say anything, but he told me before he left to go to boot camp that he didn't know if he could handle it. Maybe it was a bad idea to make him watch that Vietnam War movie marathon. I think Full Metal Jacket got to him a little bit.

Yeah, I suppose. I just wonder sometimes ...

Well if you're worried about his safety, I wouldn't. I mean, if he wanted to, he could have just killed himself then. Why would he do anything now? Especially when he's got it so good-

Actually, we don't have it all that good. Since his father left us last year, I've barely been able to make the mortgage payments, and now I've got to worry about my other son's braces. My work doesn't have a dental plan for Matthew.

Mitch didn't have any response. He took another drink of water in silence. A minute passed before Samantha spoke again.

So, what happened last week between you two anyway?

It's just a lot of little stuff, you know? Mitch leaned forward. He's always having me push him around in that wheelchair. He always wants me to drop everything and run over there to take him places. Bottom line, I've got a life of my own now; this isn't high school; and he needs to get his shit together or he's gonna end up miserable and alone. He knows this. He's bitching about it all the time. I guess I yelled at him pretty harshly, now that I think about it. Mitch's face grew more concerned, thinking. If I were you, I'd make sure he's still in his room. You know-break the door in. Because I pretty much reamed him a new one, and he wasn't speaking after that.

Samantha stopped crying. She took a deep breath and said, Thank you, Mitch. I'm gonna go check on him right now.

Yeah, I could totally see myself ending up like that. Hell, I've never been bigger than 160 in my life, but I'm sure if I had not a foot, not a reason to work or get out of bed, I'd be slogging it up, washing myself with a damp beach towel. Mitch is wrong, though, I think I might be capable of killing myself. After dad left us, I was in a pretty shitty place, but somehow I managed to survive. He ran south, I assume, he always talked about how much he loved the hot weather, and never spoke to us again. That was in my second year of college. Ever since, I had to get a nasty part time job to help pay for the completion of college. Thus my disdain for the working life.

I know I couldn't cut it in the military life. I could never follow direction, nor could I stand someone chewing a new asshole out of me on a daily basis. So, I always figured I could go the other route after college. Complete and utter bumhood. When you think about it, there isn't that much shame in it. I wouldn't live at home. I wouldn't be a burden to my family. Sure, I'd make the scenery look that much more grimy on the mean streets of Portland/Los Angeles/New Orleans/Pittsburgh, but I'd be independent.

Listen mom, I'm gonna have to take the car with me. That and whatever of my shit I can put inside of it. That way, I can sell the shit for gas money, then when I get to L.A. I can sell the car and live off that for a while. Ricky slammed all of his t-shirts into his black Corvette duffel bag until it bulged, then he carefully zipped it closed while trying to hold the zipper as close together as possible.

Samantha stood in his doorway, eyes a-glaze. Why do you "have" to do this, anyway? I told you you could stay with me, didn't I? We'll make it work somehow. I'm sure I can get you a job at Denny's. You could wash dishes for a while until you found out what you wanted to do with your degree.

Ricky grabbed as much contraband as he could from his bedroom, anything of value he could shove into a bag with handles, cds, movies, stereo equipment, video games, watches, his father's old coins, and pushed past his mother into the living room, where the rest of the loot sat. This is just something I'm gonna have to do. I told myself during college that, after I graduated, that would be it. I would cease to sponge off of my mother. I don't want to be one of those guys who still live at home at 30. You've got to understand that. Samantha started to break down and Ricky softened. Listen, if it gets too bad out there, I'll do whatever I can to hitch my way back up here. I'll stay with you. I just need to see if I can do this on my own.

Samantha's face anguished. But you're gonna be a bum! Is that what you wanted to do with your college career? You wanted to live on the streets, eating out of dumpsters, constantly drunk or high or infected with some sort of STD or bug-transferred virus or mystery sores?

Samantha's words had grazed in Ricky's brain on his own for many weeks before he came to his decision. After making a week's worth of lunches, Ricky set out to pack up his 84 Ford Mustang. I'm sorry mom. I'll call you when I cross into California.

Ricky had no intentions of ever calling his mother, or of ever returning home. The way he saw it, if he completely cut contact, the misery of the loss would end quicker. Plus, the whole point of this excursion was to avoid any threat of home-living. So, a return would equal another failure in his life. And he'd be damned if he would wash one dish for that God-forsaken diner.

Mrs. Paddio?

Yes? Samantha grasped the handle of the phone with two hands. Not three weeks had passed since her son had promised to call her. She had been waiting anxiously ever since.

My name is Julio. I was a friend of your son's. I've got his ID tag here. It says who we're supposed to call in case of illness or death. Well, I've got some bad news.

Samantha expected the worst and dropped the phone. She quickly retrieved it, then whimpered, What is it?

Well, it turns out that your son sort of stopped eating. And, after a weeklong shitfest of beer drinking, his heart sort of ... stopped beating. I'm sorry to lay this on you like this, but I figure Ricky would have wanted you to know now, so you didn't sit there wondering for years. I'm sorry Mrs. Paddio. I've got to go.

Well, that sucks! I figure I would have lasted longer than three fucking weeks on the road. I guess any way you crack it, I'm gonna end up helpless and alone and dead. I wasn't made for life outside of the home. Even at college, the umbilical chord stretched far and wide, providing not only financial, but also emotional support. And now that I'm at home, well ... let's just say it isn't far to the nearest meal. I may be short on hugs, but I'm OK with that. I've got a roof over my head, and it's not like I'm not looking for work or anything. My mom has seen me go out, panhandling the local shops for some kind of job opportunity out there.

So, what's the worst that could happen? I could get a 9-5 job. I could find a wife and settle down. I could father two kids and move into the suburbs and adopt a mutt and install underground sprinklers. I could work six days a week until I was 65, utilizing my only off days from a job I would perennially hate to plant my ass in front of the television with a cooler full of Coors Light, not speaking, not socializing with any of the friends I made from high school or college, ranting inside my head about how I have to get up and go back to fucking work the next day, sitting at some buttfucking desk for seven hours, my only salvation being the lunch break and the two hour drive home in the sweltering sun with the radio that can only get smooth jazz from the 90's.


How you doin' mom? Ricky's wife Dana placed her hands around the right hand of the 92-year-old woman.

Oh, you know. I'll be all right, I guess, I just ... where's my son Ricky?

Mom, Dana looked away for a moment, then returned her eyes to her mother-in-law's. Ricky's gone. He died, remember?

Oh, oh yeah, I remember. Samantha looked down, forcing recollection. Where's Gary and uh ... Shawn?

Well, Shawn's getting some punch, and Gary is in Minneapolis. Remember, he's working as a chief advertising executive for that local television station over there? He couldn't make it. Dana stood up, getting ready to greet some of the other mourners.

Is this it? Is this all there is? Samantha looked irritated.

Is what it, mom?

Is this all there is? Where is everyone? My Ricky was a special boy. Where are all his friends? Why aren't there more people here? Samantha tried to stand, but Dana grabbed her by the shoulder, leading her back down into her seat.

I'm sorry, mom. They tried to make it, but they all had plans. But, as it is, we've got, Samantha stopped to count, 12 people here. That's pretty good, isn't it?

Samantha tried to grasp this around her mind. Yeah, I guess it's pretty good. If they're busy, they're busy, I just don't know why they didn't want to see my boy one last time, that's all.

Dana smiled in agreement, then walked to her sister, who was speaking with the preacher. She couldn't help thinking about how much this experience would cost her. A funeral. A burial. A preacher. Flowers ...


Damn kid, not going to my funeral. We'll see about that! Sure, that's what I want to have in my life. A funeral with NOBODY there. A great way to be remembered.

Any way you look at it, I'm screwed. I can die young, and not suffer the lifelong torture of work and slavery and loneliness within a familial structure. Or, I can live long and get that wife and live that American way of life and contribute my skills to a job that will have no effect on anything in the future of this country, and die as I lived, insignificant. It's really a choice I have and I've got to make it now.

So, I can sit in this car, as this garage slowly fills itself with these noxious fumes, and slowly pass away into nothing. Or, I can get out. Lay on the grass. Bask in the sun. Wait for mom to come home and grab the classified section of the newspaper from her. She's got an hour left on her shift. I think I'll sit here for an hour. Let her find me. It'll only be fitting. We'll see if I can last. If she gets home and I'm still alive, I'll go out and get that job and meet that wife and have those kids; since I know I won't be able to hack it as a bum or a private. If I'm not alive, then my purpose will be served.