Dad came home around four. Adam was chugging steadily through the brick of a fantasy book and daydreaming about the future, when he saw Dad’s brown station wagon pull into the drive. Adam had been thinking to himself that maybe he would go to the tabletop game night with Chuck and his friends. It would be good for him, like Chuck had said. He needed more friends. Damn, he might end up with a girlfriend and a friend group. He smiled. His life might end up being awesome. He could very well be at the end of the tunnel, the end of this long, slow slog of sadness that he’d been trudging through ever since high school had ended.
Grinning, he set down his book on the trunk beside the rocking chair, and waved as his dad came into the room. The old man gave a tired smile and settled onto the blue couch. He groaned and then sighed, easing himself down into the cushions. As he always did, he winced when his knees bent. Poor old dude was really feeling his years.
Adam’s eyebrows furrowed. His eyes skittered over his father’s outfit: a pair of brown dress slacks and a beige button-up shirt, a matching brown and beige tie painted with paisleys, black leather dress shoes. Dad’s white hair was neatly combed. He’d done it over to the left of his head, the way he always did when he wanted to hide his bald spot. And in his hand, the suitcase he used to carry to work each day. He placed it on the couch beside him and kicked off his shoes. Adam shot him a questioning look.
“Where were you?”
Dad cleared his throat and reached up to loosen his tie. “Nowhere special.”
A shrug. “Looks that way.”
“How do you think it went?”
Another sigh and then the tie was on the couch next to the briefcase. “I try not to get my hopes up about these things anymore. You never can tell how it’ll go. I’m a middle-aged white man competing with all the young college grads and biracial lesbian feminists.”
“What? Don’t act like it ain’t true. It’s hard for a white man in his fifties to get himself gainfully employed. Now….if your mother would go back to work…”
Adam picked up his book and flipped through the pages, fingers tense. “She says she won’t.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“Maybe if you can’t go skiing again this year. Maybe she’ll go back then.”
Casting a hesitant glance at his dad, Adam watched the old man’s red lips pucker up into a scowl. “That woman ain’t worked since Bush was in office. We always planned she’d retire early. She spent all them years raising you three. When you were old enough to make it on your own, there wasn’t a lot of time left for her to play catch-up. That’s the way she put it anyhow. She said since she couldn’t have a career either way, she’d rather just leave off work as soon as we could afford it.”
“But you can’t afford it anymore.”
A dismissive wave of a large hand. “We can afford it. For now. We saved.”
“What are you going to live on when you do retire? What will you have then if you’re using up all your savings now?”
The old man’s eyes touched the rain. Blue irises watching blue water.
“I can’t ever retire. That’s not the way of it for me.”
Dad’s words were still spinning in his brain later that night. He fumbled through his new clothes, trying to pick the best outfit for his date. His dad knew he wouldn’t ever retire, all while his mom wasn’t even trying to find work. She deserved to stay at home since her career had a setback? Well, Dad had himself a setback too, when she was fired for a stupid misunderstanding. The new bosses were massive dickheads and didn’t care at all what they were doing to Phil Donaldson or his family. When a guy works in a place for thirty years, he ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. Adam didn’t know the whole story. Dad had been pretty vague about it all. But snapping at his bosses? Forgetting to file a few reports? And one venting email he’d meant to send to a colleague but had actually hit ‘reply all’ and sent off to everyone in the company. It was bad. Adam knew his dad deserved some kind of punishment. But fired? It was too much. The old man could be a bit much. He got a little wacky at times, filling his head with Infowars conspiracy theories and bad jokes he picked up from the sitcoms he watched. He could be a little boisterous. A little heavy-handed. It wasn’t worthy of a firing, and now the old man would struggle to find a new job, struggle to learn the ins and outs of a new company, and work until the very last day that he was alive. It wasn’t right.
And because his mother had birthed some kids, something his dad physically could not do even if he wanted to, because she’d spent a few years raising children (more like watching Ellen and reading mommy blogs, while Adam and Chuck found various ways of fucking themselves up), she could rest easy. She could grouse about the bills and call Dad lazy, all while she sat on her ass doing the same uninteresting bullshit she’d been doing for years. Filling time with screens until she died.
Then again, was it really any better than sitting at a desk until death’s door appeared? What would make a life worth living? He held up a blue polo shirt and a pair of dark jeans. He didn’t have a mirror in the basement, so there was really no point in holding the outfit up. He dropped it on his bed and stared at it. Was it nice enough? Was it too nice? Becca might decide he was lame if he tried too hard. He ran his hands through his hair and paced around the basement. It was so hard. Fuck. If only he knew what he was supposed to do.
In the larger room of the basement, he threw himself onto the leather couch and stared up at the ceiling. He wondered if his mom and dad had always been the way they were. They barely seemed to like each other and Mom could be such a damn bully. Maybe, even if things did work out with him and Becca, it would still be all bad. Really. Dad had managed to capture the interest of a female. He seemed even more miserable than Adam half the time.
Adam didn’t know if this was the right move. What made a life worth living? What if it wasn’t taking girls on dates. All of the excitement he’d felt throughout the week was now dissipating. He almost wanted to throw arms out to catch it as it left, but a greater part of him reasoned that it was better not to get his hopes too high. He was so, so sick of being let down.
Life probably didn’t mean anything, no matter what you did. Go to work, come home, watch tv, die. Hardly anyone did anything else.
But then, if anything was ever going to convince him to buy into the illusion of meaning, it would be a pretty girl who loved him. A pretty girl who laughed at his jokes and slid her tongue up and down his cock. No. It wasn’t only about sex. Although, shit, that part would be nice. He pictured Becca’s shy hazel eyes blinking up at him, those pert lips in a circle and in the center….
He unzipped his pants on the way to his bed. Something about the fact his fantasy was an actual possibility made the next ten minutes the best fap of his life. Normally the sound of it bothered him so much. That pathetic soft flapping sound. It made him hate himself. Tonight though, he was able to ignore it. He thought of Becca’s sweet smile and shining black hair. He wondered if Becca would let him kiss her…
But by the time he was stuffing a wadded up sock into the hamper, his nerves were messing with him again. How would he know if he should kiss Becca? He’d kissed a girl before. Monica. He hadn’t even really been nervous about it. He wasn’t a KHHV, as the dudes on the incel subs would say. It had been such a long time though. Back then, he’d been a better version of himself. How fucking sad. Five years out of high school and he was worse off than he’d been as a teen. It was true though. He’d had friends and gone out on the weekends and done everything a normal high school kid would. Some of the incel dudes posted about terrible teenage years. Being bullied. Being ignored. Never going to prom or to parties. Not that Adam had lived a high school movie or anything. He’d only gone to a handful of birthday parties and the graduation party his friend Christine had held the day after their graduation ceremony. Those kegger parties in the movies probably didn’t happen for anybody. Least not in high school. College, maybe.
Why was Adam such a goddamned loser when his teenage years had been painfully average? Those incel guys had an excuse at least. A lot of them were bullied. A lot of them didn’t have a lot of friends in school. Adam didn’t have an excuse. Twenty-three-year-old nobody and not one fricking excuse for his sorry ass.
He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the blank computer screen. His hair was sticking up wildly from the center of his head. Fury overwhelmed him without warning. He kicked the side of his bed. He turned back to the shadow of himself in the black screen and attempted to smooth his hair down. It resisted his efforts. Stupid fucking haircut. He looked like a tool. Like a massive tool. Like a fucking retard. He hated it. He should have never let that idiot hairdresser talk him into it.
In five swift, consecutive movements, he thrust his foot into the bed. Kick. Kick. Kick. Kick. Kick. Each one successively more forceful than the one before. That is, until the very last one. That one was weak. Because Adam wasn’t angry by the time he reached that one.
He was sad. Sadder than he’d ever been.
He dropped onto the bed and gave into it. He didn’t fight it.
When he was done crying, he wiped his eyes and went to his computer.
He wrote a post on r/braincels. He remained at the computer for hours and he read all of the responses. He hoped, hoped, hoped that the incels weren’t right.
“Don’t ever fall in love with a foid. They’re heartless. They’ll mess you up forever. A woman can never care about you. Not the way that you want.”
He couldn’t get it out of his head. Being alive was so terrible. Nothing was ever going to make it feel okay.