a hot load in the hand

My co-worker at my new job is a real annoyance. He’s a hefty man in his 60’s with a bushy mustache and even bushier nose hair. He has stubby Trump hands and is a big proponent of Dad jokes. He’s sarcastic to the point of being obnoxious. I like joking just like anyone else but I can’t even ask a simple question without him stopping to think of something smart to say. It doesn’t help that his material is dated, uninspired, and cheap.

He’s also the one who drives the smelly puke van.

He keeps a different pair of reading glasses in every room in our work building and can still never find a pair when he needs them. He’s a braggart. He compliments himself and his accomplishments almost daily. And he trails off into the most boring stories about his time in the military, electronics, and football. And when he gets going, he has a knack for seamlessly transitioning into one inane story after another with no pause and no chance for me to politely interrupt in order to get back to my work.

One of his recent stories involved him and one of his male friends going into the woods alone when they were younger. I flinched, readying myself for an uncomfortable coming of age story. From what I’ve gathered, young guys only go into the woods alone for two reasons: to shoot some squirrels or choke some chickens. I was only slightly relieved to learn he was actually talking about hunting. He launched into an explanation of the different bullets they were using: regular loads and hot loads. I had to stop myself from cracking up. Hot loads. He said his friend shot one of the hot loads and ended up burning his hand.

As he elaborated on the bullet types, I got bored again because I know nothing about guns or bullets and don’t care to know anything. I’ve shot a couple of hot loads before but I never used a pistol.

And while he yammered on, I was reminded of the different strategies to get people to like you. One way is to ask questions about their hobbies or profession. While I didn’t have to ask this guy about his life since he gladly provided all the information on his own, I realized that I should have appeared more engaged and should have asked follow-up questions.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just didn’t care. I mean, I honestly could not have cared less.

Over the years, I’ve found myself becoming more and more detached and unconcerned with other people and their interests. I try to remain present but it gets harder the more I try. I’ve just become jaded. My relationships, ranging from high school friends to college roommates to department store co-workers, have all faltered. I take responsibility for a part of those failures but more often than not, certain individuals have been apathetic, mean-spirited, manipulative, and in some cases, completely cruel.

Every time I thought I was forming a friendship, I was actually setting up a firing squad of failure. The more I tried to be liked, the more I was shot down. The few meaningful, deep relationships I’ve had have dissipated in time. There’s never been a lasting resonance of love or family. There’s not one person I can look back on with fondness, no one I can continue to call up in times of sadness or celebration.

Because my heart has been riddled with holes, no one impresses me anymore. No one catches my attention. I don’t crave people like I used to. I can get along with anyone but I have yet to find someone I want to be with (who actually wants to be with me, too). The decades of duo deterioration have definitely had a lasting effect on me. It’s not so easily shaken. It’s hard to love. It’s hard to pretend to care. And now, even my most basic social skills feel like they’re on their last clip.

When I converse with someone, it’s as if their face is covered in cling wrap. The nose and lips are distorted. The words are muffled. The light shines off the plastic, stinging my eyes and brain. I can’t see, can’t grasp, can’t comprehend. And I feel like I spend more time trying to decipher what they’re saying rather than absorbing it. The second I don’t understand, the second I lose interest, the second I want to take off like a shot.

As I grow older, circumstances become more complicated and it becomes easier to dismiss them all. That zest for others is all but gone and interacting with people is both terrifying and purely exhausting. You wouldn’t think faking fresh laughter in response to another stale story would be so depleting but it is. And when I see my co-worker gunning for me with another egregious error in comic judgment, I shrivel inside. It’s certainly a heavy load to carry but what other choice do I have? People are everywhere and until I can figure out how to support myself by being totally alone, I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just deal, nose hairs, NAVY tales and all.

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