Symptoms

I’m sitting here with one leg crossed over the other, a steno pad on my lap where a pen is moving in a way that would certainly imply I’m writing something down.

Thomas is talking about how he couldn’t buy something that was on the counter at a convenience store. See, he didn’t know it was there when he’d gone in and so he’d picked up something else. By the time he saw it, he was near the register. He couldn’t get it because he was only going to get one thing. He couldn’t put the thing back that he had because then he’d have to get out of line, put it back, get back in line and then actually get the item at the register.

Thomas’s issue – if I’m being entirely honest – has nothing to do with the problem he’s explaining because Thomas’s issue is not doing, but being seen doing.

Had the same item been somewhere on route to the counter, he would have had no issue. The problem has nothing to do with his idea of rules or restraint. He isn’t obsessive-compulsive but some people probably think he is.

He doesn’t want to be seen being who he is because he doesn’t want to see himself being who he is.

He mentally measures what he’s doing and how he’s doing it. He pays attention to how he might come off to others by way of aesthetic – the way he walks and carries his weight. He applies extra thought to what he’s purchasing and why so that the fictional narrative that strangers aren’t even having about him might hopefully conform to the fictional identity he’s crafted for himself.

Thomas is irrational.

He’s talking about how he knows it’s irrational. Problem is, he’s talking about the problem he doesn’t have instead of talking about the one he does have because he still doesn’t know what the problem is.

Even if he did, the irrational is hard to repair.

It’s right there in the name.

It can’t be easily rationalized. The person can’t be easily reasoned with even if they’re paying you to help them reason with it until it becomes rational.

See, if someone believes that we’re all living in a snowglobe, there’s not a lot to be done. Your explanations will never seem like enough and your inability to resolve every question in life will give them an infinite number of unrelated, manufactured fail points to use as the equivalent of “you didn’t actually prove me to be absolutely and unequivocally wrong within the constraints of what I’ve decided must be proved for me to be absolutely and unequivocally wrong.”

The only real option, if we’re being honest – and I’d like to think that we can be honest here – is to somehow pull the person out of the snowglobe. Even then, we’d likely just be dealing with another Tobias Jenkins situation.

But you probably don’t know about Tobias because I haven’t told you and that’s a shame.

It’s a real shame.

For all intents and purposes, I’d like to believe that your mind – clever as I’d like to believe it is – can follow the context to the conclusion that it needs to find.

It would be the reasonable conclusion.

The rational one.

Even if the metrics aren’t exact, I think that if we could assign a number or a color to the narrative denouement in this moment we would all be thinking of relatively similar things even if we would all feel a bit too sheepish to voice them so casually.

Thomas is done explaining the way he likes to explain so that other people understand what it was he’d like to pretend he was doing because Thomas has learned to talk about his symptoms for so long that he has mostly mistaken them for the underlying condition.

I’ve seen it often enough.

He is, however, like a man trying to take cough syrup because all he knows is that he has a persistent cough while having no idea that he has emphysema.

There was a man three years ago in North Carolina.

Roger Arlington.

Roger Arlington went to a doctor at 9:37 AM on a Tuesday morning on a regular spring day. He left the building at 11:13 AM with a prescription for medication because he thought he might have the flu and the tests didn’t seem to find anything terribly worrying but what symptoms he did have seemed to be in line with what one would see from the flu.

Roger Arlington died at 6:22 PM three days later.

See, around two months before that, Roger had started taking a supplement that he heard was really helpful for something. It seemed like something that would be good to have. He was, after all, not getting any younger.

Supplements, unlike drugs, don’t have to be cleared by the FDA to prove that they do (or do not) do anything at all. They mostly just have to not cause enough harm to get in trouble. Most supplements disappear not because tests are being done and people are making sure things are safe, but because they end up being unsafe enough that it causes enough problems for enough people that tests are done and the product is found to be unsafe.

Essentially – supplement users are the beta testers for the supplements they’re using because the alpha testers didn’t die of anything.

And because this wasn’t a drug, it didn’t say that it could reduce blood pressure.

Had Roger known this, he might have mentioned it to his doctor.

See, Roger had something else, and the “something else” he had should have presented with elevated blood pressure. That blood pressure – which would have been an irregular spike on poor Roger’s record – would have likely caused concern and more questions. Had they asked those questions, they might have run some more tests.

They might have found out that Roger did not have the flu.

Roger would not have purchased prescription antibiotics that shouldn’t have been mixed with the “something else” he had. But then again – in all the ways that mattered to anyone who was paying attention, Roger just had the flu.

They call things like that a perfect storm.

A confluence of variables.

The point I’m trying to make – if you can believe that there is one – is that Roger was trying to treat a symptom he didn’t even have which created a symptom.

That symptom hid a real symptom he was actually having from an underlying condition far more consequential than the one he was trying to treat.

This made his most identifiable symptoms look like a problem he wasn’t actually having which led him to take medication for a problem he didn’t have.

The symptom of having done so is that Roger Arlington died at 6:22 PM on a rather unremarkable spring day.

There’s a lot to be said about that word: Symptom.

What it is.

What it isn’t.

Right now Thomas isn’t saying very much.

It’s to be expected. No one can talk forever, after all.

I’m still sitting here. I’m certain I look like I’m writing.

You, well…you’re just wondering where it goes, right?

You’re waiting for me to take the ribbon and tie the bow.

As Thomas is leaving, I can hear him speaking to a woman. I know there’s a part of him that’s still rationalizing the act of what he did and didn’t buy on a random Wednesday at 3:16 PM even if his mouth has moved on to some other story where he doesn’t sound like someone who worries that the world will see him.

The interesting thing about when people believe they’re living in a snow globe is that they believe that they’re in a snowglobe.

This might seem to be less of a revelation than I’m making it out to be, but I assure you that it’s deeper than it seems. A little Atacama Trench in the center of your teaspoon.

See this is important because they have to actually believe that that’s the case.

You might be nodding to this as though you’re already breaking the surface, having risen from the pretentious depths of my previous assessment while you’re resting comfortably within your snowglobe.

There’s a lot to be said about what is said.

What is not.

It only takes water falling by one window to make a man think it’s raining, after all.

The rest of the customers have mostly been doing what customers do. They’ve been there as set dressing. Little pictures on the wall that weren’t really instrumental to the song that I was playing. Even now, their only function is to be revealed.

Melissa always seems to think it’s funny when Thomas explains why he is the way he is.

She’s with him mostly because he’s a little bit broken. He’s broken in that way which will allow him to gladly determine that it’s all much better if she’s there to make it just a little bit better. He’s decided that if he can make the broken part of him fit the shape of her, then everything will line up.

Still trying to treat a symptom. Still not aware of the underlying condition or that there is one to be aware of.

She likes that he needs her even if he doesn’t really love her.

See, Melissa’s problem is that she wants to be needed. Feeling needed feels like love and she wants to feel that more than anything. If she can’t feel loved, then she’ll feel needed because as long as she’s known how to breathe she’s never known those to be two different things because she’s only ever known one of them.

I feel certain that if you had to guess which one, you’d guess correctly even if you weren’t really paying attention.

At the end of the day, none of this probably matters.

After all, I haven’t been writing anything and as far as I can tell everyone’s snowglobe is still giving the gift of swirling white because it’s easier that way.

If I had to guess, Thomas won’t be getting better anytime soon.

See, Thomas doesn’t have anything else going on in his life to make him fearful and he’s likely to see minor discrepancies in the variegations of life as largely inconsequential. It’s never a problem until the bone is outside of the skin, so the saying goes.

As a result, Thomas probably won’t notice anything as a symptom that needs treatment. Likely, he’ll mention it to Melissa and go from there. After all, even if he’s not sure if he loves her, he feels like he needs her.

He won’t go to a doctor and no one will notice the increase in blood pressure. They won’t run more tests and well – you don’t need to know everything to know that we’ve got another Tobias Jenkins.

Melissa – well, she won’t be needed much longer. In the long run, she never seems to be.

But she’ll be okay.

She was after North Carolina.

Still treating a symptom. Still not aware of the underlying condition because she’s not aware that there’s an underlying condition to be aware of.

And me? I’m leaving the mini-restaurant that sits next to the building that used to be a record store back when those were a thing but is now a store displaying oversized hubcaps in the window and I’m wondering where it goes from here.

I’m like everyone else, after all.

Just a different set of symptoms.