Existential Terror and Breakfast 18.

Epiphanies taste better with toast.

Malcolm Steadman will dial the suicide hotline in 6 days.

The far away threat that Malcolm Steadman would be out on the streets was suddenly within view. With no job, and his savings in the double digits, the fear of becoming homeless was very real. This threat definitely weighed on his anxiety, yet it was somehow muted. The existential panic attacks were almost daily now, and the more often they happened the less a “real problem” seemed to matter. In perspective, what was being homeless compared to the vast cold and unfeeling emptiness of space? What was his health in the face of reality’s stark and harsh absurdities?

Did Malcolm not care that he was in danger of losing his apartment because he was mad as a hatter, or had he finally gained a sense of perspective? The line between genius and madman, Malcolm thought, is a very thin one.

Malcolm Steadman is not a genius.

Since Malcolm’s “episode”, he spent a week spending money he could not spend getting belligerently drunk. He spent the next week sending out his resumé to anyone who would take it, sure, but he also isolated himself from humanity which assured that any call he did get about a job ended with him sounding awkward and desperate. This last week? This last week was terrible.

Epiphany after epiphany assaulted Mr. Steadman’s frail psyche. Any moment spent not doing anything was an invitation for another wave of these high-powered crises to ravage his mind as if they were coked up bears surviving on nothing but salt. When they were done and had passed, Malcolm often felt incredibly drained. he was having heart palpitations, and breathing was something that was either very hard to do, or something he forgot to do entirely. Malcolm Steadman could find himself out on the streets with nowhere to go, but did that matter if one of these epiphanies could give him a heart attack?

If an inactive moment was all that was needed to be vulnerable, Malcolm did not plan on being inactive. For the fourth day in a row he sat cross-legged on his cold kitchen floor slowly trying to piece together a massive jigsaw puzzle. The same puzzle he had completed blackout drunk. Twice. The fact that he did not need the ever-present and oddly incessant roll of commentary that was consciousness to finish the puzzle terrified him. The fact that he was better at assembling a puzzle without it was even worse. Not only was his ego and self-aware nature not necessary, it was in the way.

Would Malcolm be happier without it?

No. That was a silly question, “Malcolm” would cease to be. Happiness is a part of consciousness. An end to himself would be an end to happiness.

It would also be an end to his misery.

Malcolm picked up a piece of the puzzle and laid it carefully down into place.

He was miserable.

The puzzle before him was slowly taking form. He had carefully and meticulously built up a border with the edge pieces, laying a foundation for the rest of the pieces to snap together. With this new piece where it needed to be, he noticed an obvious place for another. Malcolm laid the next piece into its spot.

His misery could end.

Though it was originally aesthetically pleasing, the puzzle had been through much. Like Malcolm. It had been violently kicked to pieces and now had dirty boot prints scattered throughout. Random rings of beer stains from the bottom of a bottle peppered the pieces like a pox. Colors were muted and slightly washed as Malcolm inevitably spilled his coffee on it. Layers of violence and strife abused the once cheery picture. The work that was being done now was less about piecing the puzzle’s original picture together, and was more about finding which grungy and sticky stain fit into the next. What was on the floor now only looked nice because the bright rays of sun pouring through the kitchen window created a bright glare on it, and thus much of it could barely be seen. Malcolm knew the strife was still there. He snapped in another piece.

His strife could end.

Malcolm was not aware of the Greek concept of eudaimonia, and had never read anything by Susan Wolfe. Having active engagement in projects of worth was not something that was on his mind, and he was unaware of the massive amount of philosophy written that suggested that his current project was virtuous or could make him happy. Aside from definitely having a panic attack about it, Malcolm would have scoffed and laughed bitterly at the thought of it. He had originally bought the puzzle as a futile attempt to end boredom and appear to be more interesting. What it had become was a symbol of his feverish and desperate mind and he now had to piece it back together, one stained broken piece at a time.

This puzzle represented not only Malcolm’s actions, but also his sanity.

Malcolm laid another piece down. It took him a moment to realize that his train of thought should have bothered him more. Any other day, this would be the crescendo to his existential terror and Malcolm would be paralyzed by it. Now? He was okay. Malcolm was fine. A sense of celebration was mired by a nagging feeling that this was only because Malcolm was tapped out. There was no panic attack because there was simply no energy for. It seems that Malcolm’s tyrannical epiphany was countered by his deep unrelenting depression. Hooray.

There was his answer. Malcolm could either live moment to moment on a raw nerve fearful of his next philosophical discovery, or he could be unresponsive from a debilitating depression. Choices.

Malcolm picked out the final piece. Without a sense of victory or pomp he placed the final jigsaw piece into the rest and completed the portrait. Every dirty footprint, every beer stain that smelled like rotten yeast, every scattershot of muted color strained by coffee, they were together now.

He stood up now, his unused knees creaking under the burden of his weight. Malcolm felt a psychosomatic need to dust himself off though their was no dirt on him. He just felt like it was something people did when they finished something. For the first time the puzzle was completed while he was lucid, and thus had lost its allure. Though excitement was not on the menu, Malcolm briefly admired the grungy portrait beneath him.

It was a large photo of bacon and eggs.

Looks like Malcolm forgot to eat.


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Rev. Fitz
Michael Fitzgerald (Rev. Fitz) is a writer, illustrator, and amateur Electrical Engineer who lives in Seattle.

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