Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.
For 15 years, Jonah’s days were pretty much the same. He couldn’t resist pushing the snooze button even though that would make him have to rush to get to work on time. And he had to leave a cushion for his unpredictable commute. Its only predictability was that it was getting ever longer—no new freeway lanes had been built nor would be, and mass transit would take much longer still.
At work, Jonah survived by working hard, not sticking his neck out, and being friendly to everyone, even to bosses he didn’t like. At the end of his long workday, it was back in the car, drained, too tired to even care that the commute was ridiculous. Then it’s home and to the second shift: some housework, quality time with his wife, Hannah, and the kids. Complaining would solve nothing.
Hannah worked outside the home too, so their typical dinner was a quickie salad, broiled meat, steamed veggies, and fruit for dessert—efficient but hardly inspiring. Pizza and Chinese takeout were considered treats. Then, if Jonah didn't have to tackle a honey-do list, he'd crash in front of the TV or a video game, glass of wine in hand. When his head finally hit the pillow, involuntarily, he always uttered a sigh, yes, of relief. He had made it through yet another day.
Jonah and his routine were remarkably consistent… until one night. That day was no worse than usual but he got home to find the credit card bill hadn’t been paid—It had gotten buried under some papers and now there was a $75 interest charge and $35 late fee. That mote of life’s realities pushed him over the edge. After Hannah said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s only money,” he stared at her, then out the window. Thoughts of his childhood seeped in: the Crayola 64s, playing a tree in the class play, stretched out on the cool grass staring up at the clouds floating by.
After a few seconds, Hannah asked, “What are you looking at?” Jonah just pursed his lips. She hugged him but his reciprocating hug was only perfunctory.
"What’s wrong?” He just stared, impassive, into her eyes for what must have been 10 seconds. Then he stared at their bedroom door for some more seconds but that must have felt much longer to Hannah. Then he stared at his kids' bedroom doors, then at the front door.
‘What’s wrong, honey, really? Tell me!” He couldn’t make himself respond. He stared at that door for three hours.
Finally, figuring it might help if she tried to lighten the mood, she quipped, “Are you going crazy?” He kept staring.
Does life sometimes overwhelm you? Do you have escape valves? Should you stay in lane or exit the middle-class highway, at least for a while? Is the price of a middle-class lifestyle worth it any more? Was it ever? Does another life, for example, that of the poor creative, feel wiser?
The longer I’ve been a career and personal coach, the more I’ve come to believe that other than being ethical, there are few shoulds about how to live life. How do you want to live yours?