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Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

Larry no longer had the social circles he needed to meet new women – you could see him as the kind of man who was going to live alone for a very long time.

The coming storm

The last pleasant argument he’d had with his last girlfriend … who truly would be the last woman in his life … had been about the existence of fate.  Things happen for a reason, she’d said.  Not everything, but some things.  There are big things that are going to happen one way or another.

“No,” Larry said, everything’s contingent.  We make choices … usually stupid choices … and things just happen.  It could go any other way.

He’d just gotten off from his shift as a technician in the hospital morgue.  He saw, written in the corpses, what it was like.  There wasn’t a reason that 16 year old kid bled to death:  he just hadn’t been wearing a seat belt that day.  He’d probably not bucked up lots of times.   People do that, and they don’t die.

That 29 year old woman hadn’t gotten sick from her ruptured breast implants for a reason – it hadn’t had to happen.  She’d just decided to get them, and gone to the wrong company, who had bought from the wrong supplier, and her doctor hadn’t looked into it.  Maybe he’d had a bad day.  Now she was gone, and there was no lesson to learn.  It hadn’t been inevitable:  it had been a series of stupid events.

“Some things, though,” she’d said, “you can see coming, like a storm on the horizon.  Maybe blaming chance is a refusal to take responsibility.”

Just the opposite, he’d said.  Looking for a reason, saying it was inevitable, that’s how you abdicate responsibility.  That’s how you shrug and say “nothing anybody could have done.”

They broke up three weeks later, in May, and Larry was dead in October.

The truth was he’d never had a chance.

Not especially attractive, not noticeably charming, and thickened to human needs from working with the dead,  Larry no longer had the social circles he needed to meet new women – you could see him as the kind of man who was going to live alone for a very long time.

Not having the social circle, he didn’t have many friends, and when you live in a big city it’s easy to lose touch.

You could practically pick him out of the crowd:  there.  There’s a man who is going to go to a movie by himself, then return to an apartment he’s been too depressed to clean adequately, and spend the rest of the night watching TV because he doesn’t know what else to do.  You could see it in the lines on his face, the haunted look in his eyes:  a man who is becoming a ghost.

No one wants to be friends with that.  No one wants to reach out and help someone like that, because such misery is contagious – it spreads, and is cured, by contact.  Once Larry passed a threshold of loneliness, a line that he had been just one break-up away from, he was going to hit bottom.

Larry, back in April, might have said there was no particular reason that no one inviting him to a Halloween party would be the thing that set him off, and he would have been right.  There were a million possible stakes that could have pierced his heart:  it could have been a happy Facebook post from his ex-girlfriend;  he could have read an article about people younger than him who had effortlessly claimed the love he desperately needed;  perhaps it would have been the promotion he was likely to have been passed over for;  certainly Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming up, and he had nowhere to go and a hard time counting blessings.

It could have been anything that set him off, instead of the feeling of shame that gripped him like a cramp when he walked by a crowd of pretty young people in costumes, drinking beer in front of a friend’s apartment, and had the sudden realization that no one had invited him to anything in a very long time.

Life is contingent that way.

But left on his own, Larry never had a chance.  It would have been something, and that something would have driven him just as surely to stand in front of his apartment window, Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” playing in the background, a bottle of beer in one hand and his father’s old service revolver in the other.  By then Larry would have been powerless, whatever the cause, not to raise the pistol to his face and put it is his mouth and think that at least this way, he would have some place to go.

So Larry lost that argument.  At least the first part:  some things are inevitable, and happen for a reason.  But he was right that people who tell themselves that are trying to avoid responsibility.  He could tell, at the moment she said it, that his girlfriend was the kind of person who … when she heard the news … would immediately say “There’s nothing I could have done.”


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.

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