Last month, my mom asked me what my plans were for my birthday.
“I get off work at 3 and then I’m headed out of town to grab a pizza and cake,” I said.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing. It’s just pitiful you’ll be by yourself and picking up your birthday dinner.”
“Well, I don’t have any friends, so…”
And that was the end of that conversation.
I know my family isn’t the closest but that small exchange really brought home how emotionally cold we can be toward each other. She didn’t offer a sympathetic look or any word of condolence for my loneliness.
I suppose it could have been because she has a lot on her mind. My grandmother had to have another doctor’s appointment on my birthday. Another 3.5-hour drive. And maybe I’m being selfish for feeling a little neglected but I still left the room feeling like the various hints at hurt I give her go ignored.
It wasn’t the first time I’d given her a heads up on my heart. It’s hard in general for me to open up to her because any time I do, she criticizes me, makes it seem as if my feelings are invalid. So instead of outright letting her know how I feel, I wait for her to initiate an inquiry into my feelings or I’ll throw out a random comment on my discontentment and see if she responds. She never does.
I woke up on my birthday (three weeks ago) and had to get ready for work. The work day was kind of long but fortunately, I didn’t have too many rude customers or any complications. The lunch was catered and we were allowed to wear tacky Christmas sweaters and jeans so I was well-fed and comfortable.
I got off work and went home to open up my birthday cards. I was tired and didn’t want to go out of town but my favorite pizza place is located out of town. I’d been dieting and exercising and had done so well and I wait all year long to eat this pizza. It’s so good that I only want to have it on my birthday to make both the pizza and my birthday all the more special. God, what a loser, eh? So, despite my fatigue, I freshened up and got back on the road.
I thought about finding a place to sit and write once I got into the city. I don’t go out of town often and when I do, I want to explore, to visit the various shops and find a nice, chill place to write. The change of atmosphere really helps boost my creativity and productivity. The problem with that is I was tired and just wanted to pick up my pizza and go back home. It was already dark by the time I reached the pizza place and when I factored in the writing time, pizza eating time, picking up my cake, and the long-ish drive back home, it would be well past midnight before I made it back to my bed.
I thought about writing at the pizza place. That way I could eat the pizza fresh and get in some writing time but when I pulled into the parking lot, the place was packed. I knew I didn’t want to be the sole stranger surrounded by friends and family. Especially not on my birthday, especially when it would have been nice to be surrounded by my own friends and family. So, scratched the writing plan, grabbed the pizza and ate a slice in my car before it got cold.
I work in a retail clothing store. There are only two other places to shop for clothing in the town and they have less options than our tiny store provides so the majority of people come to us.
The town I work in is filled with older people. There are no opportunities for jobs or fun things to do for youth so as soon as they graduate high school, they hightail it out of town and find a larger space far away with more choices. The whole town is basically a nursing home.
Because of this, I see a lot of death and decay at my job. There aren’t many companies here that require its employees to wear suits and the employees that do wear suits can afford better quality than what we provide. So every time a younger person comes in to buy a suit, it’s usually because someone has died. And if it’s an older person, they are usually buying something new to wear to church.
It always goes one of three ways:
“I need a suit for a funeral and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for church and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for my husband for church (or funeral) and I don’t know what size he is.” They go on to tell me how the husband has lost a ton of weight due to illness and/or advanced age.
And the illness and/or advanced age will then lead to the wife to want a pajama set for the husband while in a nursing home or for recovery after surgery. We don’t carry pajama sets. We never have. No one else around here does either. That only adds to the stress of a sick spouse. And I have to be the recipient of their frustration.
I am constantly bombarded with older people and their disintegrating bodies. They’re always shrinking in size and health and when I look into their pale, watery eyes and observe the folds of their skin and the stray eyebrow hairs and sun damage on their deeply lined faces, it’s almost as if they’re sucking the life out of me as well.
It’s hard to always hear about how someone is sick or someone has just died. It’s awkward for me. I never know how to react. I don’t want to seem cold but I also don’t want them to fall apart on me so I try not to let them focus on grief. I express my condolences but then I get down to business, measuring their necks and arms for sizes, smelling their stale stench, assessing the misshapen bodies due to years of hard labor or disease and wondering how I’m going to fit their many bumps and grooves. It doesn’t help that our suit selection is piss poor. And oftentimes, so are the customer’s attitudes.
I’m young to them. But to me, I feel as old as their weathered faces and limp gray hair convey. I’m going gray myself and finding my eyes are crinkling more and more when I smile, the creases in skin not plumping back the way it used to. I see myself in them, tired and broken down and sometimes just angry to be alive.
I feel like an old, defeated man. I’ve led a privileged life but I hesitate to even call it a life. I’ve filled up my short years with decades of despondence. I peaked at 23 and my life and body has gone downhill since. It’s been a combination of bad luck and admittedly, a bad outlook on my part. I’ve lost friends and faith and a passion for art. I’ve lost some opportunities and passed up on others. And now I work in a dead-end job with half-dead customers. I have made no difference to anyone. I’ve put myself in a debt I cannot get out of and I have burdened my family with my lack of finances. I’m not talented enough to reach my readers. I am not kind-hearted enough to keep friends.
And most of the time, I don’t even feel well-suited to suit up a customer for a casket or convalescent home.