The Person You Could Have Been
Story by Eric Martin
Photography by Adrienne Pike Adelphia
First you call the number in the classified ad.
Then you get the “unassembled materials” in a 2 x 2 box.
Then you put together the jewel cases for blank dvd’s by hand, one by one, until the box is full again.
Then you send the box back to where it came from, somewhere in Florida.
Then you supposedly have a life or an income, if those are different.
It’s not the dream and it’s not the choice that you make when you are twelve or twenty, but it is the reality when you are half-way into your thirties, your back went out fifteen years ago, and you still want to make a life for yourself. The only thing to do is look around you, find out what is there, and take what you can get.
You pick a place cheap to live – Alaska – where the people you know only know you for what you are now, not for what you were or what you might have been.
The danger comes in thinking too much about that last person. When your back aches during the rain storm. When your girlfriend gets another raise at work. When you eat the same Hillshire Farms sausage-and-potatoes meal for the ten thousandth time. When your most uninspired high school classmates start having kids and posting pictures of their chubby smiles on social media.
You pick some place to live where that person can’t go, the person you might have been, and where the accident that ruined your back is four thousand miles away. It helps to have some space.
You set up a pair of digital binoculars. Point them at a glade way out behind your house. Hook up the binoculars to your TV. Watch the bears come and go.
Think about being in Alaska as you assemble jewel cases, one at a time.
It was his girlfriend, home early from her job at the bank.
Downstairs was where the “work room” was, with the TV, and the binoculars, and the work. The room looked out over a slope that fell away slowly for miles until it hit a river out of eyeshot.
“Did you go to the store?” she asked.
“Was I supposed to go to the store?”
You lose yourself in the landscape. You lose yourself.
Faces pop into your head, old faces – or young faces from a long time ago. You only remember the good times and you try to make them the best times and if you are lucky they will be your only times until something better comes along.
“I just thought you might. I’ll go. I got off early.”
She hadn’t come into the work room. She could picture him, standing at his work table, gazing into the glade by virtue of mankind’s newfound digital power.
The front door closed with a swish and a thunk.
You try to wait without waiting. You meditate by just being alive but out of time. You wonder why the song that has popped into your head has popped into your head. You decipher meanings and watch the workings of the mind.
Even when it is not close to Christmas, John Lennon’s “Merry X-Mas” comes streaming into your consciousness. You picture Yoko and all those kids from the video standing in a small room like this one, somewhere in Alaska, waiting for the war to be over, chanting about how it already is.
You wonder if they are right.