Saturday, August 1, 2015

it's ok to be happy

Lohbado remembered final evaluation, the last yearly review, when as a PBE (Push Button Expert) he was called into the Chief’s office. A pudgy man in a neat pale blue shirt and pleated black trousers about sixty sat behind a computer. A motion of his hand towards a chair indicated Lohbado should sit down. He glanced at Lohbado, without saying a word and swiveled the computer monitor so Lohbado could see his file on screen, a chart with statistics. Lohbado knew the real file was hidden. The chart was a front, so Lohbado wouldn’t insist on seeing what people wrote about him. He knew he had enemies in the department. Someone warned him a year ago.

After preliminary small talk, Lyle Clark leaned back in his padded chair on wheels and suggested Lohbado should look for another job. His contract would not be renewed. Lohbado remembered that moment years later as he sat in the kitchen at the end of the day. It was time to brush his teeth and go to bed. He was tired and had a headache. As he gazed into the bathroom sink drain the words “washed up” popped into mind. A voice in his head told Lohbado he was all washed up, down the drain, empty. So what! Nobody cares as long as you maintain decorum.That’s a rule of the game, to be a good sport. Don’t grumble. Don’t criticize. Don’t be glum.

Lohbado put away his tooth brush went back to the kitchen table, opened a sketchbook. Making texts and images provided a focus during moments of panic and dissociation. He tried not to think. Let thoughts come and go. Don’t react. Draw, write texts. The notebook provided a place to release tension and worry. Don’t lose your nerve. Panic starts as nausea, then the urge to vomit. Sometimes Lohbado trembled and could see stars. An anguished sense of doom darkened his mental horizon as he recalled events of the Apocalyptic War. He avoided active duty. He’d never had to make contact with the enemy to put the heat on. He’d never used a gun. He refused to have anything to do with guns. The thought of killing someone made him sick. That was years ago. The worst was over. Lohbado was a retired veteran. He served as a Push Button Expert for six years in the Secret Desert. He had been a glorified instructor and data entry clerk. He collected information, translated it into statistics and pushed buttons at a push button console.

    He signed a statement of confidentiality. He could go to jail if he ever disclosed the nature of what went on inside the Department of Regulation. Lohbado spent most of his time alone. Being alone protected him from the danger of talking too much. When a sense of doom took over his mind, he drew in his sketchbook and recorded his fears. Many of the people he met during the years after the war had fallen apart. It was easy for the mind to be blown. He remembered Helix, or Heli. He might as well be named Hell. Helix invited Lohbado to spend the night in a musty basement in a small city on the plains, as Lohbado was travelling through. Helix was in the guidebook as offering accommodation to lost wanderers. Helix, a bit overweight, wide shoulders, a low forehead and thick stubble on the jaw repeated a handful of sentences: “People are rotten. Life is hell.” Then he told Lohbado he was wasting his life. He finished the monologue by trying to convert Lohbado to his religion. His eyes bulged. Saliva sprayed from his mouth. He waved his arms about and was virtually shouting in attempt to get through to Lohbado. If only Lohbado would listen and stop being so stubborn. Helix would show Lohbado the way. Helix knew where Lohbado had gone wrong. He was only trying to help Lohbado.

    Helix infected Lohbado’s mind for a few days after Lohbado continued down the road. The words played in a loop... Life is hell. People are rotten. You’re wasting your life. Read this book and learn the truth. Everything you’ve been doing is futile. This book tells you everything you need to know...

    Lohbado partially agreed that much of his life had seemed futile. Often his life did seem pointless. He wished his heart would suddenly stop beating, or that he would be afflicted with a quick-acting cancer. He wanted a quick death with little pain. Maybe a bullet, if he entered a conflict zone... it had to be fatal. He didn’t want to be wounded.

    Such thinking made him depressed. Don’t give in to such thinking. Don’t wallow in misery. Such thinking is life-denying, a violence to the soul. It’s useless to collapse in a heap. If you lie on the ground long enough, you’ll get cold and hungry. Your bones will ache. Whoever wants to live can live. Nobody is obligated to feel miserable. Often Lohbado got the impression that some people preferred it when he was unhappy. To be happy was an insult to miserable people. How dare you smile and relax when there’s so much misery in the world! You should be stressed and miserable like me! Those words sent shivers up his spine. Lohbado wanted to have fun. He didn’t see the point in being miserable. Anyone who exists has the right to be happy. Lohbado often caught himself putting on a mask of sadness to avoid provoking jealousy when he smiled. Don’t appear relaxed. Tell everyone you’re busy and stressed as hell. Tell them you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown and they’ll be nice. Tell them you have things under control and they’ll spread nasty gossip. They’ll accuse you of being arrogant, irresponsible, lazy...

    Lohbado laughed, then drank a glass of water before heading to the bedroom. He massaged his feet and legs. They were sore after a few days of  hiking on rocky terrain. He avoided blisters by stopping at least once an hour to remove his boots and socks. If there was a water supply nearby, he would soak his feet to cool them. His feet tended to sweat as he hiked with a heavy pack across uneven ground. Lohbado crawled into bed and slept like a baby.

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