“You just don’t understand real stress until it is owning you,” he said in between puffs of his e-cigarette, it was blueberry flavored, “it is a thousand-ton weight pressing down on you. It flattens you. Squeezes out parts of you that you didn’t know existed. Bad parts. Ugly and alien parts. But with that weight pressing down on you, there is nothing you can do but watch as these strange parts of you come out. They come popping out in different directions and all you can do is try to breathe as everything that surrounds you feels like it is trying to drown you in concrete…”
His voice faded it as he took a deep drag. The light on his e-cigarette lit up, the way they had manufactured it to. His audience was silent. There was no response.
Probably because they were the fridge and countertop in his kitchen. A dishwater too, in the background. His girlfriend was out with her friends tonight, probably a good thing. He was not fun to be around these days.
“Even my face feels different. My expressions have changed. I struggle with smiling and moving my head. My neck feels like it has steel rods stuck in it. The way I think about time has shifted to a point of reference where it is now and then what next. I am dying, one ton at a time, beneath expectation, risk and any hope I once held dear but never realized I clung to.”
Still silence. The kitchen did not reply.
“You’re right,” he said, squeezing his face into a labored grimace, “I should go out.”
The bass seeped through his being. An elbow jabbed into his ribs but he looked at the lights and dreamt of what they might have looked like in a better world. He moved to the sounds rolling through the club but his shoulders felt fixed to his neck. His mouth twitched.
He needed another drink.
“Neat!” he shouted at the barman, pointing to the whiskey. The barman nodded and executed, obviously well-versed in the sign language of clubbing.
“What do you do?” an ethereal voice screamed in a loud whisper to his side. There was a hand on his shoulders now.
“I’m a trader, mostly stocks and futures,” he shouted, barely audible over the DJ telling everyone what to do with their hands, “Why?”
“You look like you need to relax!” the guy next to him shouted into his ear.
“I’ve lost fifty million of my clients’ money this year. Most of mine too. And you?”
The guy smiled and flicked his hand expertly at the barman. Shots started being poured. He was also well-versed in club sign language.
“Have one of these,” the guy shouted, “You can’t lose with this trade.”
The ceiling was white. Light crept in at strange angles through the blinds to cut the wall into abstract geometric formations. It felt meaningful, if only barely.
He immediately knew that when he lifted his head, the weight would be there. The pain. The world.
He resisted, knowing full well that he could not do so forever. It was the beautiful pain of the unsustainable moment hat haunted poets and mortals alike. He also smiled.
“Hey,” a quiet voice breathed to his side, “you awake?”
He was naked. He felt the linen against his thighs. He knew.
And now he remembered, mostly.
He left his eyes closed and squeezed the hand holding him.
He dared not move. Not an inch.
The weight of the world could wait just a moment more before squeezing him into unfamiliar shapes. Everything could wait, including the weight itself.