Cosmic Hero

Is it a push or a pull?

Is it a push? When we move is it with the momentum of a ship, wind at our back, sails a fluttering? While the destination may never be anything more concrete than the ever-shifting horizon, does it remain a force of our doing propelling us ever forward? Are we responsible for our own arrival?

Or is it a pull? Is there an unseen, unfelt, force yanking us forward? Are there binding webs hooked so deep their movement becomes our movement, that no resistance is truly enough to free us from its influence? Is resistance the best we can do or is resistance in this case as useless as resisting the wind, turning your sails in defiance, stamping your feet? Is it nothing more than a temper tantrum at randomness?

Are we a legion of fools on a deck forever spinning our sails, desperately holding onto the illusion of control? Or should we lean in, become helpless and lose ourselves in the comfort of such helplessness, giving whatever binds us the benefit of the doubt? As if to say, yes, you know best, or why would you pull so hard, why would you yank so ruthlessly, if for no reason.

Is it a push or a pull?

When you see that new car or those new shoes, when the new phone comes out or the new book or the new game, when you need a new dinette set or an island in the kitchen or the perfect couch for that weird corner, when you need a new dress for the wedding or shoes for the christening, when the old one is alright but the new one looks awesome, is it a push or a pull?

What about when you’re out, you’re walking around enjoying your day, your significant other on your arm. All the wants and needs in the world are there with you. She is wearing the new bracelet. She wanted it, you bought it for her. The satisfactory glow more than worth the price.

What is price anyway? You would have paid three times as much to see this face, to walk down this street, to share this moment. You get dinner in your favorite place. You order a salad, your doctor would be proud, your wife is proud, you’re proud. It’s a good salad. Why are you always so afraid of salads? She gets her favorite, happens to be a salad too. A couple of good, lovely, bracelet owning, salad-eating, lovers of life. You take the long way home, the babysitter can wait, you’ll give her a little extra. You stroll, the weather is humid but bearable, thank god for the light salad. You stop for coffee. Why not? You might not be able to sleep but you might not want to either.  They’re just about to close but you catch them. The place you used to go so many mornings when you lived in the city, where the bright bustle was enough to wake you up every morning before the subway. The coffee helped. You order, he remembers you, the old man with the wrinkled nose and the quick smile.

“Anything else? We’ve got your favorite.”

Your favorite. How could you forget? It’s been a while, but the word favorite brings it back. It comes rushing from behind those old rotten teeth and musty old man smell. Forty pounds ago and one heart attack, but it was your favorite. A cinnamon bun. A twisting, puffy, galaxy of dough and sugar, every morning with your coffee and paper. You made time for it, you carved out a part of your morning. Fuck sleep, give me my favorite with extra white oozing sugary goodness.

But you went with the salad, you know why you went with the salad, it was smart and logical and clearly the favorite is good, but even a thousand, a million of the little slices good could not outweigh the bad, could not outweigh the look you got from your wife and kids from that endlessly long hospital bed. So no, you don’t want the favorite, you can’t want the favorite, it’s not worth it to want the favorite.The favorite might not kill you on the spot, but it’s the principal, it’s a thousand favorites, it’s each little choice that either makes you eat salad on a beautiful night in the city or fall face-first onto the patch of grass in left field during the company softball game.

“Sure, why not, for old time’s sake.”

Is it a push or a pull?


Chad didn’t know if it was a push or a pull. He didn’t think about things like that. He learned long ago conjecture like that only mattered if it helped. He learned long ago it didn’t help. If it didn’t help, he didn’t do it. Simple as that.

Chad moved. He didn’t always know why. He didn’t care. He just did. He moved day in and day out. He tried not to think too hard. Things got messy when he got too lost in his own thoughts. Chad had a job and family. He couldn’t let things get too messy.

Of course, things were going to get messy quick, but he hoped he’d done enough planning to keep the mess contained. He was good at that.

Risk assessment. This was Chad’s trade. He assessed risk day in and day out. Chad put numbers and figures to all the variables of life, never leaving a stone unturned.

How many kids? Pets? Injuries? Illnesses? Hazards? Likelihood? Severity? It all factored in. Everything mattered. Risk is everywhere but it can be contained, controlled if you know how to identify it. There was a certain order to it all, and Chad was happy to help. He knew everything there is to know about risk.

“It’s only risky if you don’t see it coming,” Chad said on this, a sunny Monday in early June. It was his favorite line and he used it often. Most days, in fact. He said it to the countless customers who came into Joe’s Auto, Life & Home, where he’d worked diligently for 14 years. Customers with their nervous smiles and laundry lists of questions. They didn’t know risk like Chad. He was able to calm them with his deep well of sobering statistics. Chad was the best agent Joe’s ever had. He took pride in this fact, even if only about fifteen people had ever worked there.

“As you can plainly see, it’s only risky if you don’t see it coming,” Chad said again to formally end his pitch to Grant Wilmerson. Chad knew the Wilmerson’s for nearly thirty years. They grew up no more than a mile from where he now sat. Grant had already heard this line countless times. He trusted Chad. So much so that he re-upped his coverage, adding Life to the package. Chad was proud of himself for giving Grant the peace of mind he needed. The Wilmerson’s would never have to worry again. They were lucky.


It’ll be alright


Dinner was on the table when Chad got home. The forest-green plates Chad inherited from his mother sat atop the white table-cloth. Salmon, rice pilaf, corn on the cob, and potato salad spread evenly among the four brimming dishes. The weather was cool, a spring wind blowing through the kitchen. Chad was hungry and glad to be home.

Chad sat down across from his wife Marnie. She looked tired but happy. On his left, his son Avon. His right, Avon’s twin brother Aaron. Both with wavy blonde hair and freckled faces. This was Chad’s family.

They talked as they ate. Chad shared his day. More risk assessment. They kindly listened. He kept it brief. He knew his job was boring. He didn’t pretend otherwise. He’d always rather hear about them anyway.

Chad’s wife was an artist, a painter who taught at the local college. Her life was far more interesting. She didn’t assess risk. Marnie didn’t give a darn about risk. This was what attracted Chad so much. Risk was for worried people to worry about, she’d say, and she had no time for it. As far as Chad could tell she didn’t worry about anything. He envied her that. Chad was never sure why someone like her would get involved with someone like him.

“You’re too kind.”

This was the reason she’d give when he pressed her. He was never sure what it meant. Sometimes it came out as a compliment, sometimes not, but he could always tell she meant it. Marnie didn’t hold back. She meant everything she said. No matter what she meant, she helped. Chad learned to gravitate toward whatever helped.


It’ll be alright


Chad was up again. He couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t really slept in weeks. Not fully. There’d be a few hours here and there but nothing substantial. Tonight he wasn’t sure there’d be any. Given the circumstances, he wasn’t surprised.

People say you shouldn’t go to bed angry, but Marnie never had any trouble. He couldn’t blame her. What else was there to do but sleep. She was furious. He knew it. She wore it freely. There was nothing underneath. Marnie was all surface. Chad envied her that.

He understood her anger, more than he could ever explain. It’d been three months to the day since they last made love. She knew it and so did he, but it didn’t change the facts. It was her limit. She wasn’t going to take it any longer. Why should she?

“I can’t”

Chad knew it wasn’t enough but it was all he had. She wanted more. She needed more. She deserved more. He couldn’t give it. All he could muster was, ‘I can’t’. There was no way to explain it. No way to make it alright. It wasn’t about the love. It was never the love. There were a thousand ways he could show it, but this wasn’t one of them. She was furious. Chad loved her for her anger. He cherished every ounce of it. Anger was better than the alternative. He didn’t want to think of the alternative. Thinking about it didn’t help, so he didn’t do it.

The TV droned on. Sometimes it helped to ease him to sleep, all that white noise, but it wouldn’t help tonight. He could tell. Only one thing really helped. Only one thing gave these long nights the punctuation they needed. The urge was there, nagging, biting, toying with him as he tried his best to push it away. He vowed to be done. Chad was determined to keep his vow tonight. It wouldn’t be long till he didn’t have a say in the matter. He looked forward to that day.

Chad needed a distraction. The soft glow of the television wasn’t enough, so he opened his laptop and rifled through the usual sites. Diversion after diversion, nothing more. He let the mindlessness of it all take him over. He needed somewhere to put all his thoughts. What better place than the world-wide web.

Phils take it three to four in the ninth. Congress looking to pass budget to delay government shutdown. Messi scores twice in victory against rival Real Madrid. What the new Marvel movie gets wrong. The file. Check out our new fall issue hitting newsstands tomorrow. You won’t believe who shows up in the new Star Wars! The five biggest moves of the NBA offseason and what they mean for 2018. The File. Hollywood 2017: Apple and Amazon are bidding for James Bond film rights. Listen to U2’s new single exclusively on Apple Music. Congressman Benitez resigns amid sexting scandal. The file. Why the new Galaxy Note blows every iPhone out of the water. VIDEO: Pitbull and kitten playing like best friends is everything. The file. Check out some pics from our trip to Colorado! The best Office GIFS that will have you desperate for new episodes. The File. Must haves for summer BBQ season. The File. Top ten fantasy sleepers that will win your league. The file. The file. The file.

Chad shut the computer.


It’ll be alright


Chad loved Runnymede Lane. He loved the cobblestone. He loved the sprouts of grass popping up from beneath the jumbled surface. He loved the babbling stream running along its path. He loved the benches, one after the other, dedicated to grandmothers and loving sisters and nature obsessed mothers and fathers.

Chad was surprised he’d made it all the way to Runnymede Lane. He left the TV to drone late-night infomercials for emptiness and set off, no goal or destination in mind. It wasn’t quite light yet but the darkest hour had surely passed. Even if he turned around now he wouldn’t make it home before the first film of day slid across the gray sky. Chad wasn’t concerned. He was going to enjoy his walk along Runnymede.

Dedicated to Mark and Martha Styles: Who loved nothing more than strolling beside this stream.

Chad knew the Styles’, or he had when they were still in their strolling days. They were dead now. Chad sold them insurance when they weren’t. Life, home, and auto. The trifecta. The Styles’ were prepared for everything.

Chad remembered their retirement party. It was right about the time he secured their newly updated life policy. The Styles’ were a happy couple, the kind they would have smiling and laughing on the cover of an AARP magazine. They served good food. They made a loving speech. They cut a beautiful cake. Everyone had a fantastic time.

It was late but the party went on, deep into the summer night. The whole neighborhood was there, stretching even the impressively large home the Styles’ bought some years back to its limit. Chad was tired and he’d drank more than he expected. He wasn’t the only one. Everyone liked the Styles’ and they expressed this fondness by having the best time they’d had in a long while.

The volume continued to rise as the night wore on. The bustle in and of every room was feverish. No one was keeping track of anything. Wives talking to husbands, husbands talking to wives. Never their own and all with a hint a guilty pleasure. Kids running around unchaperoned far past any sensible bedtime. It was the party of the year.

Chad never meant for it to happen. He’d gone out to sneak a cigarette he bummed off a neighbor. He hadn’t smoked in years but the excess of the celebration had him feeling adventurous. Suddenly he was alone. Only he wasn’t. He was there with him. They talked. He seemed to understand Chad and Chad knew he understood him. There was nothing nefarious. They were friendly.

Chad didn’t do anything. It never got that far. But it could have, he knew it. He scared himself. He never thought it was possible. The temptation isn’t real till it is. It helped for him to believe it was impossible. He learned to embrace what helped but it was all thrown off that night. The real thing stared him in the face and it almost broke him. He almost gave in. He almost stopped fighting. He almost laid down in the river at last. He almost let the current take him. But he didn’t and he never would. He was making sure of that now.


It’ll be alright


Chad was almost home. The sun was sneaking its way up the horizon, the light seeping through the thick treeline surrounding his block. He was going to get home before his family woke up. He was happy for that, at least. Chad needed to prepare. To tie his thoughts together before it was too late.

He was going to make a big breakfast. An apology. A warning. A farewell. Eggs, bacon, hash browns, OJ, cinnamon buns. The works. He might as well go all out. Now or never.

Chad could hear the alarm going off in the master bedroom. The chirp of digital birds would soon wake his wife. She’d be up and showered and ready to eat in no time. The twins would take a little longer. He was cherishing every extra second.

They barreled down the stairs. Avon twitched with energy. Aaron rubbed the sleep from his eyes. His wife was beautiful, his wife was kind, his wife was innocent in her yellow, floral sundress. Chad served them all one by one. Crackling bacon and fluffy eggs. They thanked him, looking a little confused. Breakfast was usually Marnie’s forte. They adjusted. They were good at adjusting. They would have to be.


It’ll be alright


Instinct guided Chad through breakfast. His mind couldn’t possibly focus. It was a lovely breakfast. Thank god for his instinct. Avon had a big spelling test. Aaron was going on a field trip. Sarah was happy to have only a few weeks left in the semester. She had big plans for the summer. Her research paper on French Impressionism was going to blow her colleagues out of the water. Chad didn’t doubt her confidence for a second. His mind was elsewhere but outwardly he remained good old Chad. He smiled, he nodded, he consoled, he agreed, he dispensed fatherly advice, rational and wise. He let his years of training take over.  

Chad always followed instinct. He followed instinct when he was growing up. He followed it the day he approached Marnie after one of his high school baseball games and all the way to the altar. He followed it to Bloomsburg University then into his uncle’s insurance company then into his two-story Tudor on Wishniak. He followed it to the day in the hospital when they brought out his two, beautiful baby boys. His instinct was strong and good. Chad’s instinct led him to this very moment, this perfect, serene breakfast with his ideal family.

Of course, there was more to Chad’s instinct. An insidious growth clinging to its side like a tumor. A side no one could ever see. Day after day of following instinct as he woke up, following instinct as he went to work, following instinct at the kitchen table and in the living room and in the his-and-her bathroom. Why should he stop? How could he stop? It was always there, haunting every good instinct, poking and prodding him at every turn. Chad knew it was wrong. Chad knew he could get hurt. But the instinct had no idea. The instinct was just a firing synapse, there was no turning it off, no ending it for good. There was only one way out. Chad was thankful to be so close to the end.


It’ll be alright


They were out the door by nine. Chad told his wife he had a doctor’s appointment and would be going into work late. It killed him to lie, but it was unavoidable. He watched them go, piling into the family SUV. He watched Aaron slip on his way in. He watched Avon give him a shove. He watched how his sons would change. It would be a lot, at first, but they’d survive. There would be a hole, but holes get filled in. Life would go on. He saw them growing and changing and forgiving and forgetting. He was glad they’d have Marnie. She was strong. She’d need to be.


It’ll be alright


The car pulled out a view. He didn’t have very long now. Chad walked around the house, taking stock. He wasn’t nearly as scared as he imagined. It didn’t seem real. Not just the future, not just the end, but everything. The couches in the living room, the carpet leading up the stairs, the door-frame marking his sons’ heights, the Friday nights watching movies and eating pizza, the little league games, the birthday cakes, the Christmas mornings, the first day of kindergarten. It was all a memory, like some shaky recollection Chad recreated. He was thankful he’d made it this far and seen as much as he had. He just wanted it to be okay. It would never be okay. Chad was broken, he knew it. He’d tried to pretend he wasn’t. He’d done a hell of a job. He was done pretending.


It’ll be alright


He needed to take care of the file. It might not have mattered. The darkness might have never found the light. But he needed to make sure. If it did it would spoil it all.

It took longer than he would have liked. He just hovered over the icon. He swore he pressed the button dozens of times, but there it sat; undeleted, begging to be opened. One more time bounced around his brain. He swore never again but he’d done that before. What’s one more broken promise?

It was everything. And he knew it. He couldn’t pretend it didn’t matter. It took him a while, but the file was gone. Into the ether. A mercy kill.


It’ll be alright


Chad grabbed the keys. His plan was in motion. He couldn’t stop it now. He wouldn’t. Chad backed out of the driveway. He was careful. He went slow. If anything happened now it would throw everything else out of alignment. Chad needed to keep everything together for a little longer, before he let it all fall apart.

309 was clear. The morning rush was over. The serene late morning hush fell over Chad’s familiar route. No one knew. Only him. His own little secret, spilling down the highway ten miles an hour under the speed limit. He had it all planned out. He wasn’t sure when the blueprint starting forming. It was a slow build. A hint at first. A nagging itch he was terrified to scratch. Until one day it wasn’t. Until one day he knew he had to scratch and keep scratching till it was gone. 2.3 miles till the itch was scratched, once and for all.


It’ll be alright


His hands were shaking. The steering wheel was the only thing holding him in place. There was no one on the exit. He was glad. If there was too much traffic he’d have to postpone, turn around and try again. But it was clear. It was perfect. Everything was ready. Chad wasn’t so sure he was. He told himself he didn’t have a choice. Taking the future out of his own hands helped. Chad learned to do anything that helped.


It’ll be alright


Chad put the turn signal on. The steady click hypnotized his senses. He was able to calm his hands. He started drifting. This was it. His sons wouldn’t know. They would assume an accident. So would everyone else. His biggest fear was his wife, who seemed to know everything. But she didn’t know everything, of course, and she’d take the first good answer she got. She’d have to, as a way to move on.

An accident. A slip of the senses. A mistake. It’s all too bad. Such a nice guy. A family man. A hard worker. Never did anything to anyone. Such a tragedy.

The embankment came quickly. The section with the guardrail and the steep drop. He prayed he didn’t underestimate the fall. He prayed this worked. He was ready to be done with it. No one could say he hadn’t done his best. This was the only permanent solution. He closed his eyes and let go. This was going to help. Chad learned to gravitate toward anything that helped.

It’ll be alright. It’ll be alright. It’ll be alright.


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