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A few seconds before Tucker Millis felt his heart ripped from his chest, he’d been quite happy to sit across from his lovely girlfriend of five months and dream about forever. But a few seconds can change any situation and in the time it took her to blurt, “Sorry Tuck, I changed my mind. I guess I don’t want a serious relationship after all,” life as Tucker knew it ended.
He didn’t say much back. Who knows if he said anything at all? All he really remembered after that was a feeling of fearlessness, carelessness. Yes, it was wrong to put all his eggs in one basket; he knew that, damn it! Tucker glanced down at the palm of his right hand. It was bleeding. He’d dug his nails into the flesh again. Great! Now his therapist would insist he be back on meds.
Tucker walked down the busy city street in a fog. The faces around him morphed into smeared orbs of disappointment. The rustle of the fall leaves in the street, which on the way to the café had made his heart race in anticipation of the full onset of his favorite season, now brought only images of death. Now he saw cigarette butts in the sidewalk cracks, gum stains on the pavement, noticed the smells of urine and vomit as he passed the alley. All was ugly; all was dark. Tucker knew he was rushing headlong into depression and should see Dr. Gregg right away, but he needed to get back to work.
“You can do this, Tucker,” he said to himself, barely below his breath, hoping he wasn’t saying it out loud. He checked the people around him but no one noticed, even with his bleeding hand and I-wish-I-was-dead demeanor.
A body smashed into Tucker’s right side and broke him from his trance. “Sorry,” the guy said, muttering to himself more than Tucker. The man was about sixty and looked about as downtrodden and overwhelmed with life as he did. His hair was gray and disheveled, his trench coat wrinkled. Dry cracked lips gave way to cigarette-tinted teeth.
“It’s okay,” Tucker replied, giving him wide berth. The other guy opened the door to the cell phone store and then disappeared inside. A cell phone. Not having a phone was one of the many reasons Donna had dumped him.
“Join the rest of reality, Tucker,” she’d said. “Get a cell phone so you can get in touch with people. You don’t even have a landline. You lock yourself up in that stupid apartment and wait for life to happen to you, wait for me to stop by, wait for adventure. I can’t be a part of your nothingness anymore.” That was about when she’d gone from lecturing to yelling, about when he stood up in a daze and meandered out into the gloominess.
“A part of my nothingness,” he repeated now as he pressed the elevator button to return to his office. When he arrived at his desk, he sighed. Besides office supplies and Donna’s photos tucked symmetrically under his clear desk blotter, nothing in his cube spoke of life at all. Most of them he’d taken when she wasn’t looking. He would have been up front about it but—
“Millis, you got the report?” His boss Fred resembled a walrus. When Tucker got very upset, when he started to lose hold of the very tenuous grip he had on reality, sometimes people changed before his eyes.
His mother had told him he just had a vivid imagination, bless her heart. “You should be a writer when you grow up. The way you see things is a gift,” she used to say. Of course she died in a mental hospital, made a tourniquet out of her underwear and a pencil and strangled herself in her sleep.
Tucker looked up at Fred with his bushy mustache. The man stretched out his puffy hand/flipper. “The report? You know what they say, ‘If you show up late, don’t show up empty handed.’”
Tucker looked around his desk. The report? He barely remembered coming in this morning. All he could think of was Donna. “Here it is.” Thank God, for autopilot and the antipsychotics that kept him stable and functional. Wait. When did I last take a pill? He handed over the report and mustered a smile.
“What the hell, Millis?” Fred dropped the file to the floor. “This has got blood all over it. What the hell is wrong with you?” Tucker looked down at the fingerprint-covered folder. Guilty as charged.
He opened his drawer and retrieved some baby wipes and cleaned himself up. “Sorry, had a rough lunch. My girlfriend—” Of course now it wasn’t just Fred standing there but several of his coworkers.
“Are you okay?” Debbie asked. She was a sweet little thing with curly red hair, always had smiles and cookies for everyone. Her mantra was “a smile and a little sugar can change someone’s whole day.” But she didn’t have a cookie handy and didn’t offer her sage words today.
“No, I’m not actually.” He laughed a little. “I don’t think I am okay. Apparently I don’t even have a life. Thought I did, but I guess I’m just waiting for life to happen!” Tucker stood and took them all in, watching them study him. He remembered enough about his mother to know this is how she looked the last time she ever set foot outside the walls of Sallowwood.
“I quit, Fred. You’re an ass. Debbie, you’ve been wonderful, thank you. The rest of you, I’m sorry that I’ve been here seven years and don’t know who any of you are. Maybe that does make me crazy. Maybe Donna’s right.”
Tucker elbowed his way through the crowd, enjoying the protests and complaints. Reveling in the bridges he burned with every step. Fine, he didn’t have a life? He’d get one. He was creative.
He’d just make it happen.
He pressed the elevator button and refused to turn around, despite their judgmental stares burning into his back.
By the time he hit the ground and emerged back into the street, he felt somewhat lighter, hopeful, as if the shell of a man he’d been was left behind with Donna and his coworkers.
A body smashed into Tucker’s left side this time. “Sorry,” the same wrinkled, cigarette-grinned man said again. Now though, like Tucker, he seemed different, resigned. Maybe he’d just tossed away the life he knew too, to pave the way for something much more fulfilling, a life he could be proud of. Or maybe that was just Tucker’s overactive imagination, assigning lives and pasts to people he didn’t know. Admittedly, sometimes those lines blurred.
“Here’s to new beginnings,” Tucker said to him, going out on a limb.
“For better or worse, yes. Here’s to a whole new life. To new beginnings,” the man said. And then the man extended his hand. Tucker hesitated, ashamed of his palm until he looked at the other man’s hand. His nails were chewed to the quick, his hangnails exposing red flesh underneath.
We’re not so different.
“Have a good journey, Brother,” the man said as they shook.
“You as well,” Tucker replied.
As they turned and parted ways, Tucker knew he’d made the right decision.