The problem was a real problem. It really really was. The problem may have been something as basic as how you were running out of Xanax. Or maybe the problem involved dinner reservations, had they been made or not? Or the problem may have been something more complicated. But this much was clear — the problem was a real problem.
It was not entirely clear where the problem ended and where the problem began. The problem being like an industrial accident — like toxic waste in that way. Could the problem be traced back to its original source like toxic waste? Traced back to whatever godforsaken place in Ohio or Pennsylvania where the rusted train container had cracked and spilled, tumbling toxic goo everywhere, as the train conductor shrieked no-oooo. For the problem was a problem like that; something that had infiltrated an otherwise orderly life, coming from some godforsaken rural place. Like Pennsylvania, or Ohio. Or, hell, Texas or Tennessee.
Here is a problem: You go to a concert at night. A concert with your friends. Across the crowd, you see a pretty girl. Looking at the pretty girl, you are inspired to nod at her. Then to grin at her. The girl sees you and steps back to reveal a hitherto unforeseen boyfriend, suddenly looming out of nowhere like a creature in a monster movie, the creature from the black lagoon. The boyfriend does not see you, but the girl scowls darkly at you. Such a scowl it is!
You cycle your way back home on your bike, sloping down hills and sloping up hills, but you cannot get the scowl out of your head. Such a thing to do, to scowl at someone like that! Are people no longer allowed to smile at other people like that, you ask yourself. What, is flirting suddenly verboten now, you ask yourself. And how could you see the boyfriend like that? She was blocking him, like a door. And now you are at home already.
And now you are lying in bed, but you cannot get to sleep, which is an additional problem. You keep thinking about the girl and being violently pissed off at her. But then you think, maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she has problems of her own. Are there any Xanax left in your bottle? No. Maybe her boyfriend just knocked her up, but she doesn’t want the baby, and she’ll have to leave the baby at an orphanage, without ever telling the boyfriend, wandering over hill and dale in the pouring rain to reach the orphanage. Wandering through desolate moors to reach the orphanage, like Cathy in Wuthering Heights.
…And so, she may have all of these awful problems, like maybe her mother just died, and then what of her dickwad boyfriend? Does he not have problems too? If you cut him, does he not bleed? He must have problems too, because who is immune from problems, and now you can see the problems spiraling ever outwards, an endless chain, like the starfish arm of a galaxy — or like the arm of a starfish itself, with all of those starfish dots on it, each dot representing an individual problem.
And you cannot get to sleep and you have work early the next day, which is a problem.
Now, are all of these problems real problems, or is the real problem instead the time spent worrying about whether they are real problems or not, or is the real problem something else entirely, or not? Or not?
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It started with a right swipe, a little green heart. Tinder of course.
Though I acknowledge and appreciate the differences in human experiences, and while your heartbreak is (and always will be) uniquely and completely your own, I must urge you to consider that I have been where you are.
With his hat cocked back, body tilted away from his cane, and right forefinger pointing directly at his audience, Joseph Ducreux commands the attention of those viewing his self-portrait.
I was born in 1990; he was born in 1973. I’m 23; he just turned 40.