In the Moment by Lucy Zhang
Imagine you are thirty years old and retired. You didn’t sell any of the stock you acquired at the startup company you co-founded during the heyday of Silicon Valley, and now that company has IPO-ed and you live off a small portion of your earnings. You have little confidence in your ex-company’s future so you reinvest the rest into mutual funds.
You travel the world with your lover. You think the apartment buildings in Arakawa huddle too closely together, guarded by sliding shoji doors—barriers to the sloped streets, roads paved and free of potholes, white paint indicating a one-way path. You lament your over-two-hundred-dollar purchase of REI hiking boots when you step into bison poop every few strides while backpacking through Yellowstone, your eyes surveying the ground ahead rather than taking in the scent of thyme—like fresh roast lamb—rubbing against your legs and the sight of an endless plain where, had you been looking, you might have felt dwarfed by the world. Your lover captures plenty of photos of you with your neck hunched forward, comically attentive to the ground and the largest bison poop you have ever witnessed.
You are thirty-five years old and tired. You thought you were tired when you still worked—but in retrospect, the routine of waking up at seven am, getting into work with a cup of diluted coffee from the company grinder machine, filtering out junk emails at a faster pace than they came in, and then wading around meetings until lunch break after which your productivity only tumbled downhill set up the expectation of energy expenditure for the day. So long as your capitulation to the next day’s tried-and-true nine-to-five overtook the anticipation of your years disappearing to company politics, you found your days worry-free. Especially when you returned home every day to a mutual, politically incorrect snark session with your lover. From ridiculing incomprehensible accents to speculating about the one too many one-on-ones between the jeans-and-cardigan kind of pretty intern and her balding half-Italian senior director, you found participating in a daily bashing of the world therapeutic.
“Do you want to go scuba diving?” Your lover asks you during a rare couch potato moment of you streaming anime and eating a one-full-serving-of-fruit bar that feels like leather squeaking against your teeth.
“You can’t swim. Besides we just got back from Alaska,” you say.
“Where’s the fun in that?” A split-second pause. “Exactly. No fun.”
“No I don’t want to go,” you reiterate because maybe your mind half-concentrating on animated 2D images muddles your intent.
“Fine. I’ll go without you.”
You have conviction. So does your lover, who drives to the coast to join a twenty-some person diving excursion led by a marine biologist. Oh well, both of you know how to have fun by yourselves; the healthy pauses keep your chemistry alive. That same Friday night, you treat yourself to a rare, character-building, one-person date night at a Brazilian steakhouse, where meat demands your attention and you oblige to savor rather than devour, a foreign notion to those accustomed to slurping bowls of noodles during an episode’s ending credits—an empty bowl in hand by the time the next episode autoplays.
You are thirty-five and it is eight pm. You breathe, your right leg bobs up and down, the light from the other side of the room abandons you in a shadowed corner but you decide not to flick on the lamp by your side. You deem your belly too full to move, never mind fall into an existential crisis or contemplate death in the only way humans can: fathom their own non-existence by asserting their existence (and then proceed to feel depressed). Best to call it in for a night.
The phone rings, a sound out of place among the crickets chirping, cicadas singing, AC units thrumming; even the distant laughter of recent college graduates not old enough to need to be in bed by ten o'clock melds into a night-time lullaby. The amount of steak and potatoes and bread and butter in your stomach, your crashing blood sugar levels, and the night’s lull intoxicate your consciousness—you’re not sure you’re really listening to everything coming from the voice on the other end of the line. You pick up your iPhone, fortunately within arm’s reach.
“...inhaling just a teaspoon of water can cause the larynx to spasmand close, leading to suffocation...” Well that’s unfortunate. How do you inhale a teaspoon of water? “...inhaled a splash of water when the regulator got dislodged, lost consciousness...” Is the phone still ringing? It really needs to stop. It blares in contrast to the surrounding whispers. “...would be impossible to take a breath.” Breaths down your neck, sending goose-bumps along your arms as you run your fingers across the tiny bumps and feel more emerge, an on-demand sensation. “...indicate a drowning...”
You are thirty-five and attending a funeral. They say your lover panicked—even with a nearly full tank of air, and what could have been an easily recoverable situation turned tragic. But you don’t like these kinds of hypotheticals—your thirty-five years tell you that what happens, happens and the all-black garb you dug out from the bottom of your pile of clothing is just for show. The white chrysanthemums decorating the casket only draw out the black more; the fabric ink leeches into the air, waiting for you to inhale. You walk to the front to give your eulogy, your line of sight containing the path in front of you; onward.
You turn to face the crowd. You open your mouth to speak. But when you are about to inhale a lungful of air to fuel your poignant, literary, and painstakingly-crafted first sentence, you notice a black stream of particles, extracted from the threads of everyone’s mourning attire, caressing your nose—when did it get so close. You can’t risk taking a breath right now. Nothing comes out of your mouth.
Lucy Zhang is a software engineer and holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science. She watches anime, writes poetry and fiction (when patient enough), and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. You can find her online by visiting kowaretasekai.wordpress.com or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.