The Life Cycle of a Mayfly (short story)

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The Life Cycle of a Mayfly

by Nathan Goldschot

EGG

Hoping to alleviate my perpetual restlessness, I began restoring all the 2-cycle dirt bikes rusting in outbuildings on my family’s farm. By the time I turned sixteen I had returned four motorcycles to running condition. Impressed by my efforts, my uncle towed his 1966 Dodge Dart to a patch of dirt behind the farmhouse. He put the car’s title in my hands but warned me the engine hadn’t turned over in at least a decade. Undeterred, I pushed the car into an empty shed and started working on the motor. I had finally found the means to escape the small-town existence I found so stifling.

After two years of bloody knuckles and bent tools I still hadn’t resurrected the Dart’s Slant-6. To make matters worse, my backup escape route was collapsing around me. Although my GPA was excellent, a lack of extracurricular activities kept me from riding out of town on the back of a full scholarship. With my liberation from Boring, Oregon (population 7,762) becoming increasingly unlikely, I put down my socket wrench and picked up a bottle. I worked a series of under-the-table odd jobs to sustain a new habit of drinking myself under said table.

Relegated to my rut, I grew bitter and despondent. My belligerent behavior soon led to my expulsion from every available social circle. Frustrated with myself, I stopped drinking and concentrated on getting my life back together. Once my mind had cleared I refocused on fixing the Dart, vowing to finish what I had started. When the engine finally turned over I let it run for an hour, worried it may never start again. With every subsequent twist of the key proving reliable, I found a late-night gig delivering newspapers out of my trunk. I hoped to make enough cash on my route to put down a deposit on an apartment in Portland or Salem–anywhere I could find a decent job and make some real money.

The Flying F was a local truck stop I visited each night after finishing my deliveries. One night while flipping through a freshly printed newspaper and sipping coffee I spied a striking young woman I’d never seen before. To eyes acclimated to the sepia shades of rural life she appeared beyond exotic. The leather jacket she sported was covered in anarchy symbols and punk rock patches. Her moss-green hair gleamed like an oil slick. I knew she couldn’t be a local—perhaps a hitchhiker.

I was instantly enamored by the dirty truck stop angel. Any flickering hint of direction I may have formed fell away as my hormones elevated her above all other concerns. I was about to close my eyes to work up enough courage to approach her when I noticed she was already making her way across the checkerboard tiles to my booth.

She plopped herself across from me roughly, causing the chains laced through her epaulets to rattle. “Hey you…you got any creamer over here that isn’t spoiled?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, pushing a few tubs of non-dairy slurry across the table.

“Do you have any coffee to go with this?”

I nodded and handed her my cup.

Her icy blue eyes shined at me over the rim of the mug as she took a sip. “Mind if I just have this?”

“I don’t mind,” I replied.

She looked side to side suspiciously, then pulled a tiny flask from her vest pocket and poured a little booze in my…her…cup. “Screw the creamer. What’s a sip without a nip?”

After we talked a bit more (in truth, I mostly just listened) I learned my angel’s name was Amy Gillanders. Even though she hailed from a town in the Midwest I’d never heard of, we shared the same sense of ennui stemming from being raised in bucolic isolation. It wasn’t long before her sharp tongue and wild charms had me spellbound.

“So, you live in this burg?” Amy asked me.

I tried to answer but she stopped me by waving a hand in my face. “Wait…now I can see it.”

“See what?” I asked, taken aback by her stare.

“The steely-eyed look of an outsider trapped on the inside. Ever read Bukowski?”

“Nope.” I wanted to sound cool but I didn’t want to be trapped in a lie.

“You don’t talk much, I like that. Do you have a car?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Amy’s face lit up. “Great!”

I listened to Amy wax existential and political over an endless cup of coffee. By the time she finished her rant I too hated corporations and the corrupt government cronies that fed them. The very concept of money suddenly sickened me. I was an instant anarchist.

“Was Bukowski an anarchist?” I asked. Amy’s laugh filled the restaurant. She was mocking me but I was just happy she found me amusing.

“My boyfriend dumped me–literally–back in Boise,” said Amy, veering wildly off subject. “I’ve been hitchhiking my way through the northwest.”

“Wow.”

“It’s a hell of a lot easier to find rides now that Andrew’s out of the picture, but it also means I keep the little knife hidden in my bra strap on stab mode…just in case someone gets handsy.” Amy paused for a moment and used her fingertip to draw a little heart in a puddle of spilled creamer. “Hey Bukowski…do you want to leave town with me?”

“Yes.” The word rolled out of my mouth with no consideration of the weight behind it. My reply was so quick it made Amy laugh again.

“Don’t you even want to know where I’m heading?” Amy asked with a grin.

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.”

When you find someone’s snorting laugh endearing you know you’re in love.

 

NYMPH

I hit the highway with Amy in my rust-bitten Dart, ready to leave my Boring life behind. I made a quick stop at the farmhouse on our way out of town to collect a few things and let my grandfather know I was leaving. He had always supported me and was well aware of my ceaseless desire to bolt.

“I’ll be right back,” I told Amy as I stepped out of the car.

“What’s to stop me from just driving off with your ride while you’re in the house?” asked Amy with a grin. “After all, we barely know each other. Maybe you should take the keys with you.”

I honestly hadn’t considered Amy’s scenario. “I trust you.”

Amy leaned back and dangled her feet out the window. “Huh. Well, that’s your first mistake. Go on, then.”

I shook my head at Amy with a smile and walked up to the house. The front door was unlocked, like usual. Once inside, I carefully stepped over our old deaf dog as he snored contentedly in the hallway. I sneaked past my parents’ room, knowing we’d just get in a fight if I tried to tell them goodbye. After filling a duffel bag with some clothes I went to find my grandfather.

I found ‘Pop’ snoozing in his favorite chair in the den. I put my hands on his shoulders and gave him a gentle shake. He sat up with a jolt and his eyes popped open. His health had been steadily improving since his cancer went into remission but I still felt bad waking him up so late. “Pop, it’s time. I’m leaving…tonight.”

“Really? It’s a girl, right?”

My face said it all. “Pop–”

“It’s fine. You’re too young not to be impulsive. Just get out of here and don’t look back. Degrees and certificates are overrated; you’re capable enough to navigate the world without them.”

“Thanks, Pop,” I told him, feeling some measure of relief.

“Just tell me she’s pretty.”

I nodded. “She is.”

“Then she must not be too smart to be hanging out with the likes of you.” My grandfather winked and sent a weak punch against my shoulder. “You’re destined for greatness, boy. Don’t let me down.”

The man always thought far too highly of me. I hugged him then left, knowing I’d never be back.

Amy was still inside the Dart, waiting for me. Sometimes I wish she had made good on her threat.

 

SUBIMAGO

The Dart ejected a black cloud of exhaust and lurched to a stop just outside of Seattle. Lacking the means to fix the car, we left it on the shoulder of the highway and hiked into the city. We slid nicely into the ranks of King County’s local activist group, where we protested the pressing issue of the week in exchange for room and board in a variety of squalid squats. With Amy’s steady tutelage, I became filled with indignation over the state of the world. My passion for social justice was fueled by regular make-out sessions with my moss-mopped muse.

Amy kept me close as we climbed to the heights of self-importance together. We’d throw bricks, pass out pamphlets and hold placards on an irregular basis–the rest of our time being occupied by sex, weed, couch-surfing and the recitation of bad poetry to each other (most of which we wrote ourselves).

It pains me to recollect any words coming out of my mouth or pen during that time.

Just like all wildfires ours was burning out quickly. Amy had become enthralled by the alpha male of a flock of New York City based anarchists who had swooped into to our activist group. Jeremy Dignin’s apathetic attitude, lean physique, and vintage clothing were undeniably seductive. My hobo-cred did nothing to overshadow the man’s magnificent beard, fox tail accessory and stack of slightly-better poetry.

I was surprised when Jeremy approached me at the annual Solstice bonfire. We had barely spoken a word to each other. I had gone out of my way to avoid him after seeing the way Amy’s eyes lit up like fairy lights when he burst on the scene. Thankfully, she had decided to stay home and print flyers that evening.

“You’re Bukowski, right?” Jeremy asked, handing me his joint. I took a puff from it reluctantly. Even his weed was better than mine.

“Yeah, that’s what they call me,” I said with a cough.

“Right. I just wanted to let you know that Amy’s agreed to come back to New York with me to conduct activist work in more populous, high-value areas. She thought it would be easier to just leave without telling you, but I figured you had the right to know.”

My shock eroded my desire to knock him out. His declaration was so matter-of-fact and beautifully succinct I couldn’t even respond.

“You can keep the joint,” said Jeremy with a sympathetic nod. I stared at his distressed leather jacket as he walked away, wondering how much it must have cost him.

The words “activist work” kept running through my brain. The next day I gathered my peer group together, hoping they’d rally behind me as I decried Jeremy as a sell-out but my pitch proved unconvincing.

In truth, although I loved Amy dearly we were already drifting apart by the time Jeremy arrived. Clinging to hope, I prayed she’d eventually see how the blinding light of my sincerity outshined my rival’s grimy patina. I returned to Amy in a state of denial and we reentered our daily routines as if nothing was about to change. The writing was on the wall, right next to someone’s spray-painted tag.

“I’m going to New York with Jeremy,” said Amy, apropos of nothing one morning. We had just finished sharing a box of stale fruit loops together in a stranger’s house.

“Oh,” I replied, hamstrung by my inalienable emotional distance.

Amy gave me a kiss and got up from the couch. I still remember how pale her skinny legs looked jutting from my…her…black t-shirt.

“So, this is over?” I asked, as if I didn’t know.

“Yeah. Try not to dwell on us because I won’t,” said Amy with her back toward me. It was obvious Amy was feeling some measure of guilt, which I found a little surprising. She had endured years of abuse long before I met her, which made her loathe to give too many damns about anyone but herself. It was an understandable response to trauma–one I had steadily come to terms with–or so I thought.

After Amy informed me of her intentions she walked into the kitchen. She turned her head slightly and gave me a pained smile. I realized our nights of couch surfing together were at an end–you can’t occupy a person’s heart once they want you out of their lives.

A few minutes later I heard the back screen door of the hovel slap shut. I never saw Amy again.

 

IMAGO

Extended moping followed our breakup until my pre-Amy mindset returned. I was done with anarchy. My Idealism had been much easier to maintain with constant bouts of wild sex and the thrill of an uncertain future. I had quickly burned through all my cash and favors while lost in the haze of love. All my friends had been Amy’s first, which meant they were no longer mine. My destiny seemed certain. I was going die alone and penniless.

The pain of losing Amy sloughed away my resolve and altered principles I once believed were unshakable. My values took a 180 degree turn. I no longer cared about revolution, sustainable practices, renewable energy or social justice—I wanted my own couch, a steak and some goddamn cash. My knee-jerk response was shallow, but honest. I had hooked my cart to Amy’s manic momentum, and with her gone I was spiraling out of control.

Greed gave me newfound purpose, and purpose had always been my drug of choice. I was driven, thick-skinned and ready to leave my mark on the world. Having become the Bizarro version of my recent self, I managed to scrounge and scam enough money to get into a halfway decent business school in southern California. I came out armed with an adequate degree and a chip on my shoulder.

I began acting purely in my own self-interest, impervious to the judgments of others. Knowing an altruistic life was the only path to lasting happiness, I instead opted to embrace the lessons of The Fountainhead and do everything in my power to get rich. My self-loathing was already all encompassing; a few extra layers of guilt springing a series of selfish decisions weren’t going to change anything.

Utilizing a list of business contacts I had acquired by kissing the ass of one of my professors, I established a clean energy startup while the industry was balancing precariously on a bubble. Knowing an oil boom in North Dakota as well as a shifting political landscape was about to kill many a green dream, I sold my startup’s ballooning shares to my shocked associates. Afterwards, I quickly invested all my capital into a firm specializing in refinery technology and energy exploration. I endured the tectonic shifts of the energy industry from the safety of a pile of cash, taking pride in my sense of timing–and irony.

After becoming chairman of the board, I pushed the firm toward a philosophy of aggressive profit mongering. I stepped on, over, or through “the little guy” without hesitation, eager to see just how big we could get. When things weren’t moving fast enough for my liking, I became the sole shareholder of a rival company and drove my former partners out of the industry. If I couldn’t be a true oligarch, I at least wanted to hear the accusation being bandied about in the press.

Fading remnants of my time with Amy Gillanders caused a few moments of weakness. These crises of conscience compelled me to give back to the world and attempt to make it a truly better place. Eventually, I realized such charitable pipe dreams are more suitable as tax breaks—fully deductible stepping stones on the path of success.

I can’t bring myself to fully reject the ideals Amy held so dear. The truth underlying her fashionable faux anarchy was undeniably potent. Even at the peak of my “ethical egoism,” I am fully aware of the shit-storm of corporate greed and corrupt political policies wringing every last cent from our fragile planet.  I couldn’t help but think of Amy as my new company began contributing to the world’s problems.

 

SWARM/DEATH/RENEWAL

All of us know about the incredible damage being wrought upon the Earth by human hands, but most people find a way to ignore the truth so they can move on with their lives. In fact, choosing to disregarding the problems facing our planet may be the only sane decision in this modern age. Besides, if we were all honest about wanting to step off the path of mutually-assured destruction wouldn’t we have done so by now?

To accept reality, to remain truly focused upon the havoc humanity is wreaking, is the telltale sign of a damaged mind. Amy was damaged. I’m damaged. If you’re reading this, you’re probably damaged as well. We’re part of a select few of fucked-up individuals who are unable to ignore the truth. If you find yourself in this camp, you are left with just two choices: You can either (A) struggle against reality and attempt to change it, or (B) embrace reality and use it to your personal advantage.

I’m in column B. You might think the most successful business men would turn a blind eye to the harm their industries promote, but you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, one needs to appreciate of the consequences of every action to stay ahead of the competition. Because I understand the machinations of the world–good and bad–I’ve been able to insert myself between the cogs and change the way the engine runs.

I may seem like a monster but I’m simply a realist. I’ve accepted that my happiness must be obtained on a surface level, mostly because I cannot face the prospect of leaving a world like this to anyone I truly cared about. I have no kids, no obligations to pass on, and no personal legacy to speak of—which leaves me in a prime position to utilize the truth for my advantage. I may never experience love again and that’s okay. I found it once and that was enough. Life is comically short and I plan to live it to the fullest before I am returned to dust.

I no longer regret my efforts to maintain the status quo. If my brief stint in the counter culture taught me anything it’s that apathy is cheaper than empathy. Pessimism is the world in its resting state and there’s little use fighting against it. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself while my company, Mayfly Corp, makes millions fracking oil from shale deposits deep within the earth. 150 billion more barrels are stuck beneath “protected” lands, but it will only take some lobbying money and a few pen swipes to alleviate such problems–but I digress.

If you find me in the wrong, please don’t blame Amy Gillanders. While her rejection may have been the tempest pushing my ship off course, I was the one who kept up the sails. I take full responsibility for my actions—past and present—or I would if I still believed the gesture carried any weight.

It’s time to own up to your own personal damage. Your ability to drift through life in ignorant bliss has long been compromised. Because you are unable to ignore reality,  the truth will always bring you pain until you make The Choice.

Will you seek love and struggle to repair the damaged engine of the Earth? Are you willing to keep all your hopes wrapped up in a nebulous future as you fight to provide stability for the people and places you care about?

Or, will you live your life solely in the moment, beholden to no one as you strive to become the ultimate version of yourself. Are you willing to work hard in the service of your own happiness, obtaining all the riches you can from the world as it spins toward its inevitable conclusion?

I made my decision. Amy made hers. What choice will you make?

 

 

END

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