Joe bit into his bar of expensive dark chocolate, turning it over in his hand and reading the label’s description of the experience he was meant to have. His black hood covered his hair, which was also black, curly, and tied back in a sloppy bun. Very loud electronic music filled his ears through headphones. His gray desk was cold and reminded him of sickness, maybe because of hospitals. The silent air, or something else, made his body feel stiff and out of place, like a blemish on the cheek of a national park tour guide: something to politely ignore.
While idly finishing his chocolate, Joe watched, through glasses, a YouTube video of the South World Trade Center tower on fire filmed from an apartment building by an old-sounding man and his wife. The old man said “oh my god.” His wife gasped and later gave a soft, short yelp. Bodies fell from the smoky steel, softly arched, like something held from a point by a thin string being cut.
Joe’s History of Science essay was due at 9:30 AM, which was in seven hours. His dormitory room was dark and the white light of his computer screen, now displaying a Microsoft Word document, reflected a soft mask onto his face, illuminating the soft flesh & shimmering off his wet, hard eyes. He fantasized about explaining his feelings regarding the YouTube video to Kat, imagining the empathic speech and acting it out with quick gestures and a rushed whisper, but he knew he couldn’t. Nor could he ever have. He walked to his bed, kneeled for a second, then collapsed onto the floral comforter with a thump. He writhed until he was tightly wound into a black dome under the cover of his blankets, facing downward. He could feel his fast heartbeat. He decided he felt good as long as he was not moving. It was better when he closed his eyes. Thin music played from his headphones across the room.
Joe jumped up and walked barefoot down three flights of stars into the November cold. He meant for the night sky to reassure him. He lay on his back in the middle of the cold street and looked. There were no cars, but he only thought about cars. He didn’t want to die; he wanted to see the stars. He noticed it was raining a little. A small drop stung his eye, which recoiled. He stood up and ran inside. Breathing heavily, he handed his ID to a student worker, saying thank you twice, and then again.
Back in his room, he thought about punching a hole in one of his walls, which he had never done before, and which seemed wild and exciting and without negative consequences. Instead he sat down at his desk, releasing his body from his feet. He thought about the probably five hundred people sleeping in his building, invisible behind closed doors, maybe struggling. He wrote the rest of his essay while watching a History Channel documentary about a maximum-security prison in Colorado on YouTube, the second season of Adventure Time, several episodes of a YouTube cooking show and a pirated copy of The Social Network. A lot else happened. It didn’t matter. Everything was OK in the end.
Alex Wennerberg is president of The Monitor, which is the publication you are currently reading.