Existential Terror and Breakfast: Day Zero

Epiphanies taste better with toast.

 

Malcolm was thinking clearly. Clearly, Malcolm was thinking, and thinking clearly came with clearly thinking. Malcolm was thinking.

Everything is okay. Nothing is wrong with Malcolm and everything is going to be fine.

Malcolm was thinking clearly. It really was a great idea.

Malcolm’s breakfast looked incredibly alluring as steam rose from the freshly cooked scrambled eggs and bacon. This pairing of food was a normal breakfast, if not the most normal breakfast, and Malcolm was perfectly normal. Adding Tabasco sauce on his eggs was a popular thing to do and though his third cup of coffee might be excessive plenty of people needed an extra kick to start their day. The whiskey in the coffee just meant that, aside from being your everyday average person, Malcolm Steadman was also fun! He was unemployed, a little bit of day drinking was okay. Malcolm was having fun!

Malcolm was decidedly not having fun.

Feeling intensely self-aware, Malcolm ate his breakfast quickly, intending to get the task over with so that he could move on to the rest of his day. Normal people did things with their day and he had every intention of being a productive member of society in spite of having no job. As soon as he could figure out what that productive thing was.

For a time, Malcolm considered walking the streets and keeping an eye out for any “Help Wanted” signs that might be loosely cradled in a window. This idea ended quickly though. Sure, he needed a job, but he was also incredibly unsocialized. The last person Malcolm interacted with for any length of time was the liquor store clerk when Malcolm decided to spend a week binge drinking. He had easily been alone and without human contact for weeks now, going out in public to look for a job would be disastrous. The simple abstract idea of him exchanging eye contact made him flinch. If only he could go back to his “old ways”.

Malcolm Steadman was perfectly normal so the very idea that his attitude towards calling customer service was akin to an old drug addict bargaining for their fix did not seem out-of-place. No, that was a perfectly normal disposition. It had to be. Malcolm was normal.

Though he would never admit it to someone in person, Malcolm greatly missed the satisfaction and validation he felt after calling customer service, and calling them now would help to socialize him and ease his anxiety. He knew that if he could only call his precious hotline, he could easily go outside and look for a job without being so self-conscious. This was no longer an option, however. His go to hotline, his internet provider’s customer service, had cut him off. A call would either end immediately, or it would end before Malcolm could get to the heart of whatever existential nightmare had gripped him that moment. It wasn’t enough.

He looked down at his very normal breakfast and noticed that he had been vigorously playing with it instead of eating. Maybe three cups of coffee was too much? Malcolm poured himself a shot of whiskey to counter balance the caffeine.

Originally, before the calls began, Mr. Steadman wanted to talk to some sort of councilor or therapist. A professional trained to deal with someone’s problems would have been ideal, but a professional of any kind was expensive. As far as Malcolm was concerned, mental health services was the domain for a more wealthy class, and it certainly was not something he could ever afford. There was a reason that a higher percentage of the homeless was schizophrenic or bi-polar. The ever looming threat of loosing his house was getting closer, would Malcolm join them?

No, of course not, if Malcolm Steadman was going to be a homeless man, he was going to be a normal homeless man.

The customer service hotline was a concession. He figured then that he could call them up, explain his terrifying anxieties and grizzly epiphanies, get some sort of catharsis, and be able to go about the rest of his day normally. For a time, it worked. He felt better afterwards, and no matter how intense or existentially stark his panic attacks, he knew that a simple phone call would set him right. For a few weeks, Malcolm Steadman was able to find a job, go out on a (terribly failed) date, and mingle with co-workers. Then they started hanging up. Everything got far worse.

Without his “fix”, everything in his life spiraled out of control, and he was utterly consumed by his existential terrors. Without someone to talk to, Malcolm’s days became the same nightmare put on repeat. He would wake up, eat breakfast, have a panic attack that would tear at the foundations of his very reality and being, drink, and assemble the same exact jigsaw puzzle until he either passed out from exhaustion or from the drinking. God. Damn. It. Malcolm Steadman was not normal. This is not what normal people do. This is what only the either incredibly mad did, or what a modern artist did with a camera rolling. Malcolm Steadman did not have it in him to bullshit like a modern artist.

He needed to talk to someone. He left the rest of his eggs on the table as he began to pace. He needed to call someone. He needed a fix.

Then, Malcolm Steadman had an idea.

There was someone he could call, someone who would not charge him, who was a trained professional, and someone who absolutely could not hang up on him for any reason: the Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Malcolm was thinking clearly!

Malcolm’s day suddenly got brighter. He could call the suicide hotline, bitch about everything that was troubling him, and get the sort of catharsis and validation he needed. He would not only get his fix, but he would also get some socialization before looking for a job! After he was sober, of course. Malcolm did not want to do anything rash.

Malcolm did not want to do anything he would regret.

Finding the number took him no time. A quick search on his phone’s browser and he was instantly pointed in the right direction. He tapped the number and eagerly waited as his phone made a connection. Malcolm got an endorphin rush when the connection was made and he heard the familiar muted cacophony of voices and phones ringing that made up the constant background of a call center. Pavlov would have never imagined this scenario.

Malcolm was chipper. The operator asked for Malcolm’s address first, and seemed taken aback that Malcolm answered so quickly. This was not Malcolm’s first rodeo. “How can I help you sir?” a soft melodic voice asked Malcolm. The owner of that voice was not prepared for the consequences of that question.

Malcolm Steadman spent the next ten minutes detailing fourth dimensional shadow puppetry to the operator, only being interrupted once to explain what a tesseract was. Malcolm had not been this animate in months, he paced back and forth, laughed heartily, and occasionally lapped up a fork full of eggs and pulled back a shot of whiskey. With his rant about the fourth dimension coming to a close, Malcolm described to the operator how tragic and absurd it was that Malcolm’s sad and meaningless life could just be a way for fourth dimensional beings to pass time.

“Do you think your life is meaningless?” The operator asked.

“Oh of course it is meaningless!” Malcolm replied, “That was like the very first epiphany I had!” he continued. To anyone else, Malcolm’s lighthearted reminiscing might sound manic.

The details of burnt toast and the whole potential energy of the universe wasted on the permanence of reality television broadcast into the great abyss spewed out of Malcolm quicker than the operator could parse.

“…And that” said Malcolm, “is the, the fucking tragedy of carbon!”

“Have you been drinking?” The operator asked.

“Jus’ a ‘lil..” Malcolm replied. His next shot he poured in a fresh cup of coffee. He didn’t want to get too drunk.

Nostalgia, and how it’s opiate effects had lulled him from thinking forward was described to the operator in full. The depressant effects of alcohol had finally mellowed Malcolm, and to anyone else his sudden drop in mood might sound like a despondent depression. If Malcolm wasn’t so normal, he would come off as being bi-polar.

“Are you depressed sir?” said the operator.

“Check ‘an mate!” a drunk Malcolm responded.

“Do you ever think about ending your life?” asked the operator.

“I think ‘bout the end all of the time!” Malcolm replied, preparing the story about his unplugged toaster and the immanency of entropy in his mind. Before he could relate the anecdote, the operator stated: “We don’t want you doing anything rash. We do not wanting you doing anything you would regret sir”.

Malcolm felt embarrassed. Had the operator sensed his intentions? Malcolm was clearly drunk now, going out looking for work was no longer a sensible thing to do. Malcolm was a normal, responsible man, he would wait until he was sober before looking for a job, that was certain.

“Listen, listen..” Malcolm said, almost whispering, “you don’ have ta worry ‘bout me okay? I’ll do it in the afternoon”.

The pause on the other end of the phone was tense. The operator broke the silence now with urgency. “Sir!” the operator said, “I can send you some help”.

Malcolm hung up. Panic blossomed in Malcolm’s mind like roses on a sped up time-lapse. Help? Malcolm made a mistake. Malcolm made a BIG mistake. For some reason, Malcolm thought in a drunken haze, that man thinks I’m going to kill myself. The terror he felt was familiar, though for the first time in three months it was not attributed to something abstract. No, there were real consequences to what Malcolm had done.

No no, he thought, everything will be okay, it was just a phone call. Malcolm replayed the mad conversation in his inebriated mind. The first thing that the operator had asked for was his address. The first thing that the operator asked for was how to find him. Malcolm sat down, he tried to calm himself.

A moment passed, then another. Malcolm sat in his kitchen chair and stared at his now cold breakfast. He breathed slowly, trying his best not to give in to his panic attack. A long moment passed.

Then the sirens came.

Distant at first, the high-pitched klaxon of an emergency vehicle grew in tone and volume. Malcolm froze.

The glare of the sun coming through Malcolm’s kitchen window was now overwhelmed by an alternating light of red and blue. A moment passed, Malcolm did not move. He watched as two Emergency Medical Technicians and two police officers approached his apartment building. Malcolm suddenly rose to his feet. His apartment was a mess.

A hefty knock shook Malcolm’s apartment door and a husky voice yelled his name, saying “can we come in? We are here to help”. Malcolm quickly tidied his apartment and answered the door. The conversation was polite, and to the point. Malcolm Steadman was deemed a danger to himself, and it was best if he came with them. Everything was going to be fine.

Malcolm Steadman did not protest, it was simply not in his nature. Malcolm is a normal, average everyman. He is polite and he is a model citizen. He did what he was told. He was led to an ambulance, and he was taken to a hospital for observation.

Malcolm Steadman will become homeless in 90 days.

 


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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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