Abandonment – Part Two
A soft, stale pocket of perfectly-conditioned air greeted Nathan’s poorly-shaven face as he leaned on the cold doors of the Brower County Mall, relying entirely on the weight of his body to conjure the everyday magic of opening a door. Every movement, every twinge of his body screamed of fantastic apathy. This portion of the day was always a test of his spiritual endurance, the start of a marathon of the will that challenged his want to live on an almost hourly basis. The mall was quiet, unkempt, and unsettling. It appeared as though the entire building was in mid-repair, and the world, at the very last moment, had run out of repair men. Lights were burnt out, tiles were cracked, windows were caked with dirt, and the ceiling was spotted with wide, brown watermarks that seemed to get darker at their center. These marks were the most troubling feature of the mall’s current aesthetic, and they were discussed only by the least entertained of teen-aged loiterers.
As this elaborate detailing may have already implied, most of the mall was unoccupied by shops or any sort of businesses. The results of the Great Recession, coupled by the ever-rising popularity of big-box superstores, had greatly shifted the spending practices of the residents of the county, creating an effective poison-pill for the mall’s business. An entire clientele of shoppers, who had been almost religiously dedicated to the variety and glamour of the massive complex for decades, was lost to the advantage of increased convenience, and a series of managerial missteps assisted in the mall’s gradual downturn. It was only at the hands of a few optimistic (and woefully unaware) shop owners that this catacomb of catastrophic capitalism was even able to keeps its doors open, the last few undocumented sailors on a ragged ship, bound only for the ocean floor.
Metaphors like these entrenched Nathan’s mind as he currently, attempted to justify his simple existence. He felt surrounded by failure, encapsulated in a snow globe of lost opportunity, something out of a Springsteen ballad about a road or a river. He had convinced himself, many times before, that this was just a symptom of having a job that isn’t your dream career. Somehow, however, this was different. This wasn’t just the mild displeasure of entry-level complacency, or the rage-inducing rigmarole that could only propel him to try his luck elsewhere. This was a deadly, paralyzing reaction. It was the blinding, nerve-deadening emotion that only comes from a job that you hate but, for the time being, you cannot escape. It is accepting the task that must be done, but refusing any joy or satisfaction that could from the experience. It is the emptiest form of obligation, a form that feels less like opportunity and more like servitude.
This state of occupational immobility is often unwarranted and grossly exaggerated, but that never stopped Nathan. To him, this poison was far more venomous than any snake’s bite, and at this point, his body had developed an imperfect immunity to its effects. He would not die or suffer from a mass paralysis like true victims of poison; he’d only stay paralyzed from 8:30 to 5, and always in a stiff red vest with his name stitched on the left breast.
Nathan meandered past the large mall directory that used to show customers how to properly leave the premises without a dollar to their name. He dragged his feet across the cracked tile floor, and became convinced that the air was getting colder with every step he took. An uneasy combination of cooking pretzels and bleach invaded his nostrils, leaving him at once hungry and nauseous. The top 40 station playing on the sound system did little to fill the empty corridors, allowing a heightened level of intrigue to exist with every bump and tumble that occurred within earshot. Nathan passively observed the most recent victims of the capitalist jungle: a high-end hair and nail salon; a kiosk once used for selling hair accessories; a video rental store-turned-frozen yogurt shop. Every cubicle and stand-alone kiosk was dark, desolate, and even colder than the air gripping at Nathan’s throat. Some were shuttered by bars of metal; others were carelessly left open to the mercy of voyeurs and vandalizing teens. One or two had a single fluorescent bulb flickering in the center of the room; others were insignificantly illuminated the sharp red beam of light from the smoke detector and whatever paltry amount of sunlight could pierce through the mall’s neglected windows.
For Nathan, there was something peaceful about this walk. He had a particularly macabre taste for silence, solitude, an absence of humanity other than his own. When he studied in Barcelona, he made an effort to avoid the more common tourist traps and chose instead to be where he couldn’t be bothered. It was with this objective that he discovered the Cementiri de Monjuic, a massive cemetery that was walking distance from his campus. It was a busy attraction, but Nathan avoided the guided tours and double-decker buses to walk along the timeless tombstones alone. He was especially fond of the sepulchers lining the sides of the hills, which he frequented on days when he knew traffic would be slow. It was here where Nathan felt most at peace, and it was here where he felt he could truly be alone with his thoughts and his identity, free from holding the expected ceremonial mask of everyday social interaction. Among the thousands of memorialized deceased, in-between generations of the long-departed, a timeless meditation was possible.
Nathan longed for that level of seemingly-unnatural balance and bliss as he reached his own store, “The Use-ery”, and placed his hands on its cold metal bars. He unlocked the gate with the keys he had kept in his hand this whole time, rolled up the gate, and entered the dark, unwelcoming store.