It was a few weeks ago I made the conscious decision to start trying. After that things went miserably downhill. My girlfriend that I now realize was hardly my girlfriend – more like girl I slept with semi-regularly – left me; I was fired from my mindless dead end job – which was somewhat liberating until I realized it meant I was unemployed; I was broke – which is surprisingly common among twenty-somethings but that didn’t make it any more tolerable; and I was having mood swings that made me question my sanity. I was feeling the dreaded weight of the real world settle on my shoulders and I knew this wasn’t something I could just shrug off.
Without a job, girlfriend, or any money, I did what any responsible almost-adult would do and moved back in with my parents in my hometown of Vancouver. My parents were cordial, and kindly informed me I had two weeks to find a place before they would start charging rent.
At least I had my piece of shit car. My entire net worth could be summed up by the rusted four wheels that got me from point A to point B. I liked driving: it was relaxing and gave me the illusion that I was actually moving forward in life and accomplishing something; it provided my directionless life with a heading, however temporary or trivial that heading may have been.
I could do that. I could do that very well. Driving was a great distraction and helped me forget everything I wasn’t doing with myself until I ran out of gas.
“Why not just fill it up?”
“So where’s your car?”
“Where I left it I hope. Corner of Broadway and Main with no gas.”
“What if someone steals it?”
“Then at least it’d have gas in it. And I’d probably be reimbursed for the car. …that’s a great idea actually. Know anyone who could steal it for me?”
Henry took a long drag on his cigarette, held the smoke in his lungs with a look on his face that he might know just the guy and could help me solve all my problems, but then he exhaled and in a cloud of smoke his face fell to a frown.
“Damn. That seemed so promising.”
One step away from becoming a college educated vagrant, I had been hanging out with Henry more and more frequently who was a self proclaimed vagrant but was not college educated. He said he had been moving around a lot and mentioned something about tearing the tag off a mattress as an act of defiance against the government and how he had been eluding the feds (or our Canadian equivalent) ever since.
“I don’t know… maybe I should stop trying.” I said leaning back on the grass and looking up at the orange night sky.
“That’s the smartest thing you said all week.”
The combination of light pollution from the city lights and an overcast sky above had crushed any hope I had of watching the meteor shower that was forecast for the evening.
“Do you want my advice?”
I mumbled “no” but Henry chose not to hear me.
“Stop giving a shit. Honestly, nothing good can come from caring too much. You’re just setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. Expect nothing and you’ll always be pleasantly surprised.”
“That sounds bleak as hell.”
“It works for me.”
I turned and looked to Henry: despite it being just after midnight he wore tinted sunglasses that covered most of his face. He was languidly stretched on the grass beside me and sipping chocolate milk from a two liter carton between drags on a cigarette.
“You should get a hobby.” Henry suggested. “Have you tried smoking?”
“You should. I really recommend it.”
As we sat chilling in Dude Chilling Park, I wondered if passersby saw Henry and myself as the dudes who were chilling in Dude Chilling Park, or if they considered the two homeless men across the park who were most certainly conducting a drug deal as the dudes who chill in Dude Chilling Park, or if they categorized anyone in the park after dark as dudes chilling in Dude Chilling Park.
Henry snubbed his cigarette in the grass and fished out another from his pocket.
“You ever walk through graveyards then become furious, and just have the urge to defile tombstones out of jealously – or is that just me?” he asked.
I slowly turned my head and blinked at Henry for a moment.
“That’s just you.”
Henry took a sip and another drag.
I stared at him for a beat, waiting for him to continue, but he seemed to have lapsed into existential brooding. He was quiet for almost a full minute before he spoke.
“I’m just so envious of them.”
“Dead people. I’m telling you, the deceased have it made. Zero responsibility and instant respect. What’s not to love? I can’t wait to die.” Emphasizing his point, Henry leaned back and lit his fourth cigarette of the night.
“Henry, why are you wearing aviators?”
“Because they’re on my face.”
“Is it?” Henry tilted his head forward and let the sunglasses slide down his face. “Huh. So it is.”
He pushed the aviators back to the bridge of his nose and made no motion to remove them despite his newly obtained knowledge of the nighttime.
“How did you not notice?”
“I thought they were mega-polarized. I’d rather not contract an ocular lymphoma. They sound pretty shitty.”
“Can you even see anything?”
In the most lazy way possible Henry rolled slightly so he could reach his pocket and pulled out his phone. I looked across the park and watched the two homeless dudes continuing what must have been the slowest drug deal in history.
“I don’t know… don’t you just wonder what the hell you’re doing with yourself?”
Henry grunted without looking up from his phone. I studied him for a moment, then nudged him with my foot.
“Huh?” Henry mumbled without looking up.
“Don’t you ever wonder what you’re doing with yourself?”
“I’m texting.” Henry said while texting.
“I mean with life.”
“Oh.” Henry continued to text and sip chocolate milk without answering me. A ghost of a friend; he was beside me but not really beside me. His attention was captive to the four inch screen of his smart phone and whatever booty call he was trying to set up.
I nudged him again with my foot.
“What are you doing?”
“Planning my night. Now that I realized it’s late and not early I should probably be doing something.”
I nodded and thought how stupid I had been thinking this was our night. It was well past midnight and we were two dudes shooting the shit at Dude Chilling Park, but no, this wasn’t our night; this was a pretense of what would come – which for me likely consisted of staring at the ceiling wondering what I was doing with myself, and probably drunken sex with a stranger for Henry.
While Henry typed on his phone, I scanned the park for lack of anything better to do: the two homeless dudes had finally completed their drug deal and were going separate ways, and a vaguely familiar skinny silhouette sat by himself on a bench across the park.
“Is that Ryan? That totally looks like my stoner friend Ryan.”
It was indeed my stoner friend Ryan, but being my stoner friend Ryan, he was incredibly stoned and was engaged in a serious conversation with a statue. I considered getting up and walking over to say “hi”, but that seemed like a lot of effort.
“Did you say something?” Henry asked.
Henry leaned back and let his phone rest on his chest. Cigarette lopsidedly hanging from his mouth, he turned to face me.
“Do you seriously want my advice?”
“Be selfish. Do what you want. Now is the time for you to do what you want as well as you can do it. You don’t have any serious commitments to tie you down. You’re a good guy Lewis, and I know in five years you’ll have roots caught up in something and you won’t have the flexibility. This is a rare blink in our lives that we’re expected to be selfish. Most people waste it either in school educating themselves or drinking their pay cheques away at the bar every weekend – one is just as selfish as the other. Trust me, I’ve tried both. If you’re going to be selfish about it, may as well do something you like. So, what do you like to do?”
I blinked and stared at Henry’s aviator covered face. In the years I had known him I had never heard Henry string more than two sentences together – I hadn’t expected him to say anything helpful let alone give me preachy advice.
“I don’t know…”
Henry nodded and took a quick swig of chocolate milk. He coughed slightly and a thin line of milk dripped down the side of his face.
“Figure that out first. Find your why and go from there.”
“What’s your reason?”
“Oh I don’t have one. I fall into the category that drinks every night away and I’m ok with that. At least I’m aware of what I’m doing. It’s the oblivious ones that think they’re going somewhere you’ve got to watch out for.
I blinked at him.
“We’re all just falling through life Lewis, the trick is to make it look intentional. Pretend you know what you’re doing, because no one else has any fucking clue.”
Henry’s phone vibrated from his chest. He placed the carton of milk on the ground beside him, checked the phone, and began composing a message. I settled back on the grass and wondered what I liked to do, and what my “why” was. A few minutes later Henry pocketed his phone, finished the last of his chocolate milk, and got to his feet.
“I’ve got a thing. Good talk Lewis. Good luck with your life and all that shit.”
Without waiting for any sort of acknowledgment, Henry left Dude Chilling Park. I sighed and looked back up at the orange sky, deciding I would chill here for a little bit longer, and try to ignore all the decisions that weren’t making themselves.