Don’t be worried by the title, I’m not quitting my Thirty Day Challenge of writing a blog post everyday. This is the title of a short story I wrote while living at the beautiful Skidmore College campus (the pretty picture below) this past summer while attending an incredible writing camp.
Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY
This story was inspired by an awesome TED Talk by Scott Dinsmore about refusing to waste your life and instead pursuing a job you actually care about.
“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”
Madeleine pushed the heavy door open like she did every day, but now for the last time. Stepping into the daylight, she let the rays of sun caress her face. She smiled at the sky, she hadn’t felt this good in years.
“What just happened?” Russell’s brows raised in confusion as he followed his co worker out. He was exactly a step and a half behind.
Madeleine turned to him, her smile growing as if she had just realized that outside the mundane realm of fluorescent lights and bleak cubicle walls there were birds and trees and blooming flowers. She finally returned to Russell.
“I’m free. I finally did it. I’m out of this insane asylum for good.” She said.
Russell’s jaw dropped, but he quickly regained his composure with a thin-lipped gaze. He looked like a disappointed parent, as if he was waiting for her to apologize and march, head bowed, to the corner to lament her mistake.
“So, you finally did it? Quit the job. I know it’s been a little stressful but no twenty five year old walks out on a job this good.”
Her mind reeled back to a week ago. It was a grim Wednesday morning. Fog hung in the air and she stood with her eyes cast down trying to avoid the casket being lowered into a pit. Her eyes were stinging but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t cry. There was no relief. She couldn’t make them come. She wasn’t close to her father. He was always one of two places, at the factory or drinking at the bar down the street. She’d been working since she was fourteen. She supported her family by chipping in for overdue rent or reluctantly giving a five for gas. I guess that’s where the rat race began, Madeline realized. She was always searching for the stability her father didn’t care about. Seeing for the first time in two years she felt a pang of sadness as she looked into his pale face. This was it? She felt that he’d wasted his life. And she wasn’t about to do the same.
Now she turned to Russell, “Yes. Yes I did quit my job. Ask me again, I love the way it sounds.” She had almost reached her car and the entire walk to the parking lot she hadn’t noticed his negativity. She was tired of it all. The dark mornings stumbling from her blaring alarm clock to her dripping coffee machine to her droning conference calls. She was free, thanks to her father. The best thing death can bring is a revelation. She had realized that she was writing her own story and she didn’t need to make herself the victim.
“Do you realize the implications that you will–”
She wasn’t listening to him. She was thinking of the offer she had received for an internship in Venice a month ago. It barely paid any money. But still, she’d always wanted to work at a bakery. To create something more than her own misery. “By the way, do you know how much plane tickets to Europe go for these days? God, it’s been forever since I left this city.”
“Um, well, no.” Russell mustered, losing his train of thought. “But as I was saying–”
He tried to continue, but she cut him off again, “Oh Russell, don’t you see? I don’t want to end up like my father. I need to change something about my life.”
“Then change something! But quitting your job? It’s ridiculous. You can do what you really want when you retire. After three years of working with you I have never questioned your sanity until now.”
“Russell, stop looking at me like I’ve lost my mind and just listen. We could be replaced with a computer programmed robot and our world wouldn’t look any different than it does right now. We could press a few buttons, instruct it to follow our daily routine, and sit back to watch our life pass by. I’m done living like this.”
Russell’s arms were folded across his chest. He wasn’t buying it.
“Just think about it.” Madeleine said, her eyes lighting up. “We don’t have to be trapped. This is our life and we can do whatever we want. The possibilities are endless, and exciting– yet how do we spend most of our time? Letting the days troop by, sleepwalking through life.”
He didn’t understand her. His father was a banker and his mother a secretary. He’d grown up comfortable and accustomed to this lifestyle. He asked, “But aren’t you scared?”
“Honestly… yes. But that’s normal. I’ve learned that the only thing people are more scared of than wasting their life is uncertainty.”
“Well Madeleine, I still think you’re a little crazy. Just don’t come crawling back to me when you’re unemployed and scrounging for money.” Russell turned abruptly and walked back in through the tinted door of the towering building.
Madeleine called back to him, “Don’t save up everything you want to do for retirement! It’s riskier than anything I’m trying to do.”
He didn’t turn back. He had an appointment to go to and he didn’t want to be late.
Backing out of the parking lot, Madeleine watched the hot sun reflect off the outside of the tinted building. The rays of light bounced off the glass in waves, barely letting any sun inside. Looking ahead, her past waving goodbye in the rearview mirror, she began to think that maybe her dad’s life wasn’t wasted because, after all, she was finally leaving.