Existential Terror and Breakfast: 9

Epiphanies taste better with toast.

Malcolm Steadman will dial the suicide hotline in 69 days.

Right now, Malcolm Steadman is shaving. He will cut himself later, so there is that to look forward to. This is not the time or place where he will have an existential crisis. Malcolm will not deal with the ineffable struggles of being conscious nor will he experience a debilitating sense of ominous dread that will stick with him for the rest of the day…Well, at least not yet. This panic attack will happen later, while he interviews for a job.

Malcolm was currently shaving for that job interview. He had scheduled the interview during a morning that he was supposed to work at his current job and was confidant enough at that time about his prospects for being hired that he just did not show up to work and did not call in about it. This was not something that he had done before, but this was the new Malcolm, this Malcolm was taking charge and would change his life for the better! Of course, he will not get the job because of his aforementioned panic attack, and because in reality there was no “new” Malcolm. Malcolm dipped his disposable razor into his sink to wet it and began to shave.

“New” Malcolm was confident and started to whistle merrily as he slowly stroked his razor down his cheek. He was upbeat this Morning and for once in his anxious life enjoyed a tinge of anticipation. This, he thought, was going to be a good day. What Malcolm did not know yet was that he will bump into his manager from his current job in the lobby of the building that he will interview in. That meeting will be step one towards his avalanche of dread. It will actually get better after that before it gets exponentially worse.

What will shock him when he meets his manager is that she will be equally shocked and embarrassed to see him as well. As it will turn out, she was not happy with her job either and applied for the same job as Malcolm to change her life. What will shock Malcolm even more, is that the conversation he will have with her will be perfectly pleasant. Malcolm did not think of his manager as a pleasant person, and had actually wanted to quit his job in part because he thoroughly disliked her. The conversation that they will have will start with an air of awkwardness as they both realize that neither of them showed up for work, and that only one of them will get the job. This will pass quickly though as they will talk as equals for the first time. It will be surprising to both of them to find out that they have so much in common and time will seem to pass quickly before Malcolm will be called in for the interview first. They will both wish that the conversation lasted longer. On his way to be interviewed a terrible realization will seize him.

“New” and “empowered” Malcolm was no longer paying attention to his shaving and instead was focusing more on whistling. He pressed his razor roughly against his skin… But he was fine. He won’t be when he freezes mid way through his stride to the interviewer and realize what an unfeeling monster he had been to his manager. He will find out through their conversation that she hated her job because she was a manager and that it forced her to act cold towards her subordinates. She was constantly hounded by her higher-ups for results that were not possible and when her bosses made a mistake they would put the blame on her. She was miserable and she despised herself. Malcolm had never considered that his manager was a vulnerable person. She was always just a source of stress for him. Here was a perfectly pleasant woman who Malcolm had dehumanized and disliked for such trivial reasons because she was his manager.

The razor was not being held tightly during Malcolm’s second run at his face and would slip… out of his hand. He was fine.

Both of their jobs could have been better if Malcolm had just reached out to a clearly stressed individual and conversed with her casually. Where was his empathy during that time? Could Malcolm’s sense of empathy be so easily turned off because of a preconceived social role that was entirely constructed by his job? Was the line between him being an empathetic and caring person, and him being unfeeling and cold be so thin? If it was that thin, how close was unfeeling and cold from being a psychopath? Malcolm will recall how often he took part in schadenfreude every time he saw his manager fail. He would muse delightfully with his peers and celebrate every failure behind her back. None of this seemed cruel or antagonistic at the time, it would be a fun part of his day and Malcolm would often look forward to it. He will resolve that these feelings were sociopathic in nature because of the general lack of empathy. Anyone who looks forward to someone’s misfortune and pain, Malcolm will think, is a monster.

His razor cut Malcolm just behind his jaw. Pain! A sharp and demanding pain grabbed his attention now as blood dripped off of him and became diluted in the sink’s water.

Malcolm stopped whistling.

When Malcolm leaves his apartment and walks to the bus stop to carry him to his appointment, while he waits tentatively for the bus to arrive, he won’t think of the other passengers in front of him as people and will be annoyed at how slow they were getting on. When he finds himself a seat he won’t think of the old man beside him as a grandfather who can’t afford his pain medication. He will see him as an obstruction in the seat that he wanted, and he will touch the band-aid on his neck and focus on his own pain. When he bombs his interview because he is too busy feeling guilty for how he treated his manager behind her back and arrives back on the bus, he will see things differently. He will not be annoyed. The “inconvenience” of the schizophrenic homeless man beside him? He will see how lonely and tragic that human’s life is. The “incompetent obstruction” ahead of him having trouble paying its fare? A woman and a mother.

But he hasn’t left his apartment yet, he has not learned those lessons. Malcolm finished shaving and, despite his wound, admired his work and smiled. There was a full day ahead of him and he was excited for his prospects. He left his bathroom with pep in his step and laughed to himself as he imagined the look on his manager’s face as she found out he was not coming to work.

He imagined it wrong.

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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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