“Did you hear the news?” was the question du jour. I heard it when I got up in the morning, it came blaring out of my alarm clock by way of some annoying morning talk radio personality whose name I didn’t care to catch. After I showered and ate a sensible breakfast of pop tarts and a shot of whiskey, after I locked my apartment door and took the stairs because of the elevator that hasn’t been fixed since I moved in, once I hopped into the back of a cab, I heard it again. The cab driver had to repeat it, his accent was thick and awful but not from the country you might be thinking of. I like to remain silent in taxis, I find you never know who knows the driver and it’s generally best to stick to the minimum amount of small talk required in those situations. I stepped through the door at work and I heard it from three different people in as many minutes and then I heard it last from the man who signs my paychecks, the only time I’d heard the question and actually felt obligated to give some sort of answer.
“Did you hear the news?” he asked. I coughed and muttered something. “What?”
“Yeah.” I said, “Damn shame.”
“Another pop star gone from the night sky of celebrity, eh?”
“Absolutely.” I said, “Well put.”
We exchanged niceties and he cobbled together a few more Frankenstein worthy phrases using a smattering of buzz words and pop culture references before he had to leave to catch an important phone call. I was glad to see him go but afraid of what our chat meant for the rest of my day. Did the others see me acknowledge the latest news story? Did they hear me converse with this skinny tie wearing douchebag with a five dollar haircut about which retroactively beloved celebrity passed away yesterday morning? Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t, but if they did they might approach me and try to use that to strike up conversations of our very own. I hate conversing with co-workers because of the futility of it. We might as well be speaking foreign languages at one another, for all the looks of confusion that pass across our faces. I never have anything to talk to them about and all of the topics they bring up are things I’ve no interest in ever hearing about, let alone hearing about while I try to smile politely and nod.
“Tim, hey.” said the round man with glasses. Here we go, I thought.
“So, big story huh?” he said. I fought the urge to scream and nodded. “It really makes you think.”
“How so?” I asked like someone who cared. I don’t know why I asked it or what sort of answer I was expecting, but it happened and now it was too late to do anything about it but smile and listen.
“Well, I mean there are people holding candlelight vigils and donating money to charities doing everything to make sure that no one forgets the name of a singer or an actor.” he said. “It makes you wonder who will remember you when you die, you know?”
The round man with the glasses was right, though I hated to admit it. Listening to his words, they made a lot of sense, too much sense. That was the end of me for the day, those last words of his, It makes you wonder who will remember you when you die, you know?
It did make me wonder, it did make me think, I wandered the halls from that moment on, lost in my own mind. After all, who were these people? These singers, these actors, the rich and famous and out of reach of the rest of us. No work was completed that day, there was simply no way I could focus on anything other than the existential crisis I had just stumbled into. The thought of calling in sick crossed my mind that morning, as it does all mornings before I pry myself from bed, but never before had I regretted not doing it more than this day. I sat at my desk and sipped from my coffee and cursed when I realized, all too late, that it had gone cold.
“You got a minute?” asked the man who signs my paycheck, leaning into my office without a knock. I nodded and motioned for him to come in, which he did. “I need to know when you’ll be finished with that piece I asked you about. Hey, are you okay? You look worried about something.”
“Hmm?” was the only noise I could make. “I need to go home.” I said.
“What are you, sick?” he asked, taking a few steps back and out of my office door. “I don’t want to get sick.”
I slid my jacket on and patted his shoulder as I walked by him.
“We’re all sick. We’re all dying of the same disease.” I said. He didn’t respond.
I made my way through the building slowly as I thought hard on the subject at hand. Am I becoming jaded? I thought, No, that happened years ago. But why? Why did I care about so many people throwing their love and attention away on the passing of someone they had never met or even been in the same room with? Why did the thought that an actor or a singer or a television personality would be remembered more fondly than I would after finally kicking the bucket make me feel sick to my stomach?
I took the elevator to the lobby floor, more a luxury than a convenience given my living conditions, and the questions kept flooding my mind. It wasn’t that I wanted a million people to miss me or light a candle for me or hold a moment of silence to commemorate my death, I didn’t want any of that. I only wanted for one person to grant me even a fraction of the love that these famous bastards, these Hollywood martyrs, received and ignored. Not in death, but in life. That’s when it hit me, an epiphany from the depths of my own mind, as I stepped out of the building and on to the sidewalk. None of these people even know my name. I thought, They call me every name under the sun that is not my own. Tim, Joe, Rich. These cretins see me as a meal ticket, a dispensary of words that they can turn into money. They don’t know who I am as a person.
I was alone when I stepped off that sidewalk and into the street, not just as a singular person performing a seemingly harmless action, but as a person who has realized that he has no true friends or family in the world, no one who truly knows who he is, and thus no one who would truly miss him should he leave the physical world.
I heard the truck’s horn fill the air before the screeching of it’s tires and as I saw my reflection in the metallic teeth of it’s grill, moments before it struck me, I shouted one thing.
“My name is Roger Phillips!”
Then it all went dark.