Was nostalgia all he had to look forward to now? Was looking back all he had ahead of him? The thought had not gone away. He had done his best to repress it, and considering his history with being overwhelmed by existential dread, had actually done a good job at it. Until now.
After his incredibly awkward interactions with the shady looking boy at the bus stop, Malcolm Steadman kept his cool and was able to collect himself before his interview. Though the thought had done its best to demand his attention, he was able to ignore it and excelled at his job interview. Malcolm seemed calm, personable, and most importantly: sane. He was able to answer every question with ease, even as he was playing a sort of whack-a-mole with the sentiment he was trying to ignore. Malcolm was at his best, and it had paid off, he walked away with the job. He walked away with a more secure future, he walked away with a guarantee that he could go on to enjoy the comforts he had become accustomed to. He should have walked away with a sense of success and pride, but the thought was like an infection, and it was spreading. Was nostalgia all he had to look forward to now?
Malcolm was on the bus again, this time on his return trip. The sordid and cold atmosphere of the bus burdened his mood and was only broken by the warm and brightly colored fast food container Malcolm had purchased for breakfast. It contained one solitary breakfast burrito and about a dozen hot sauce packets. This was a victory meal, his celebratory feast for accomplishing his goal for the day. It was as disappointing as it was non-perishable: infinitely so. It was even more disappointing that he was unable to eat it on the bus, he could feel it getting cold. It was succumbing to the sordid atmosphere of the bus, just like Malcolm’s mood.
After having left his phone at home, Malcolm had nothing to distract him. It was this exact situation that the thought needed to cultivate. Was looking back all he had ahead of him? He had no choice now but to consider it. His existential angst from earlier in the day had cropped up like an unwanted weed because of his unfulfilled life, and though it had reached its peak, it had sown the seed for the one that was growing now. Malcolm’s most reliable source of happiness was a comforting sense of nostalgia.
Malcolm realized now that nostalgia was a powerful force in his life. Aside from driving him to purchase the plastic dinosaur, it was likely the only reason he had seen any recent movie on the big screen. In fact, every movie he had seen in the past decade could be attributed to Nostalgia. Every single title he could think of was either a sequel, a reboot, or a property based off of something he had enjoyed from his childhood. Each movie had characters and plots from comic books he had read, or cartoons he used to watch. Malcolm chose to spend his free time, and his money, on something that he already knew. They were safe. Malcolm was actively shielding himself from something new.
Why not? The new and unknown could be frightening! They could be disappointing! It was just easier to wrap yourself up in a warm memory, one that you knew you could trust, than to let something knew have the chance to disappoint you. Nostalgia was a for sure win, the unknown is a gamble. Nostalgia was a cheap panacea that kept out anything different, and what scared Malcolm to his utmost core, was that he had willing, and repetitively, taken it.
With nothing new in his life, would Malcolm spend the rest of it with his head in his past? Nostalgia could be a comfort, but he realized now that it had slowly become a god in his life. It was something that he worshiped and begged for. Whenever he was sad or unsure in his life, it was nostalgia that he had turned to so that he could feel better. Had a bad day? Malcolm would unwind by watching a show he had already seen. Depressed about his lack of a love life? Malcolm would listen to the same cheerful songs he always did. Malcolm was inadvertently idolizing the past to avoid the discomforts of the present. Here was the crux of it: the past? It objectively sucked. The picturesque 1950’s that America so loved and that so many wanted to go back to was rampant with segregation laws. The lucrative and prosperous decade that was the 1980’s was really filled with an overwhelming fear of nuclear annihilation and an AIDS epidemic. The disenfranchised had less rights than they did now when Malcolm’s grandparents were his age. Hell, the disenfranchised had less rights than they did now in Malcolm’s short lifetime. Technology, medicine, and even the entertainment he felt so nostalgic for were worse. The only thing the past had over the future, and the only thing that made nostalgia such a powerful sedative was that it was a known. But was it worth the price of admission?
By actively worshiping the past, by letting nostalgia be his security blanket, Malcolm was ensuring that his best days were the ones behind him. He had let the sense of wonderment and adventure about the future be replaced by dread because it was an unknown, and with it he had replaced hope with nostalgia. The bleak and terrible ocean of Wednesdays that he had seen before him in a previous epiphany was suddenly more horrifying as he easily saw himself spending them looking back into the past. Nothing new would happen. Nothing would change, and it was Malcolm’s own fault.
His epiphany did not have the same sort of paralyzing effect that the others had. Malcolm did not feel like the earth beneath him had vanished and that he was free-falling helplessly into a vast void of existential terror. No, this time was different. There was an opportunity here. As the bus crept to a stop Malcolm stood and descended off of it with a new sense of guilt for his actions, and he embraced it. He had every reason to feel guilty about letting nostalgia replace hope in his life. It was not existential terror he felt, it was a sense of disappointment that he had so easily given in to fear. He had time to change course, he could embrace the future and make it so that the best days were once again those that were ahead of him. Was nostalgia all he had to look forward to now? Was looking back all he had ahead of him? No. Not if he had his way.
Malcolm ate his burrito when he got home. It was the kind he always ordered. It would be the same kind he ordered the next day.
…and the day after that.