photo of a floating Styrofoam lunch box

You Were Born to Die by Melissa Darcey

You took a philosophy class once and now you think you’re so smart. You can rattle off names with accent marks above the letters, which you think is proof of brilliancy. But you have no idea who’s a communist or who’s a creationist. You’re a narcissist and maybe that makes you a philosopher too. Yet you never realized that you were born to die one day.

You’re determined to be known, to be written about in newspapers as a hero. You’re the kind of person who would try to drown a kid in a lake just to rescue him.

Here’s how it would go: you’d knock out the kid and push him into the water without anyone noticing. Then you’d nudge someone nearby. “What’s that in the water?” you’d ask. The bystander would shout, “Oh my god, it’s a person! Someone is drowning!” A crowd would build. “Someone needs to save him!” And that’s when you’d say, “Let me do it!”

You’d love the chance to emerge from the lake with your crisp white shirt clinging to your skin, a young boy in your arms. They were $600 dollar shoes you were wearing, you’d tell the newscaster, but you weren’t thinking about that when a life was at risk. You’d dazzle them so much they wouldn’t even think to question why you were walking along the water wearing $600 leather loafers.

“All in a day’s work,” you’d smile. Your white teeth, which you’d had whitened the previous week, would glisten. They should look white as bleach, you’d told the dentist.

After your day in the spotlight you’d return home, your mouth sore from smiling for pictures. Massaging your jowls, you’d order takeout – a beet salad with low-calorie vinaigrette. “On the side, this time for Christ’s sake,” you’d instruct the man on the phone. “Last time there was so much dressing on the salad I thought I was eating fucking soup.”

Waiting for your meal to arrive, you’d pour a glass of wine, an expensive Cabernet but nothing special. You save your best wines for company. “I’m a bit of a wine snob. I can’t drink just anything,” you often boast. “I only drink vintage wines sent directly to me from the vineyard.”

Your $20 beet salad would arrive in fifteen minutes but you’d only tip a buck. You don’t believe in supporting blue-collar jobs. Only after the delivery boy left would you realize there are almonds in your salad. You fucking hate almonds. You have sensitive teeth and refuse to eat anything hard. “But you never said no almonds,” the man on the phone would swear. “I can’t eat this. I’m allergic to almonds. I could have died. You just ruined my night, asshole,” you’d yell into the phone, slamming it down but then grabbing a fork.

You’d still eat the salad. You’re not allergic to almonds but you’d have to say you are in order to make a point. You’d be so pissed off you’d eat straight out of the Styrofoam container, which you would normally never do. You’d be pretty sure Wittgenstein or one of those Germans would have something to say about the idiocy of blue-collar, brown-skinned boys (who are probably all immigrants). Or maybe a Russian? Probably a Russian but all the names run together. You can’t really be expected to remember who said what at a time like this, you’d rationalize.

You’d think about how, if only you could have thought more clearly at the time, you would have shoved some philosophical theory down the throats of the bastards at the restaurant. You’d be so busy thinking about this that you’d forget to pick around the almonds as you inhale your salad in large bites. Along with oversized spinach leaves and thick slices of beets, an almond would find its way onto your fork and into your mouth. Your teeth would slice the almond in half and the hard crunch would startle you so much you’d gasp. While the spinach and beets would contort and find a way down your throat, the sudden inhale would lodge both halves of the almond into the back of your throat. Without thinking, you’d try to breathe more, which would only make things worse.

Then you’d realize you were choking on a fucking almond that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Your mind would go blank. Philosophy books couldn’t help and you wouldn’t ask the neighbors because you hate them. Your perfect bachelor’s loft has everything except another person to save you. You’d dial 911 even though you’d know they’d never get there in time.

Your eyes would widen. You were eating out of a Styrofoam container like a common animal. An idiot journalist would mention that in the article they’d write about you. You couldn’t let that happen and, as much as you’d just want to collapse, you’d push the salad into the trashcan.

And as you die you’d realize you never thought death would take you, especially from something so trite as choking on an almond. You’d refuse to believe that, like everyone else, you were born to die one day. The blue-collar delivery boy would outlive you and, since you had thrown out the salad, he would never know that it was his fault you’d be dead. And so you die angry and concerned about how they’d find you. Please make my obituary larger than anyone else’s, you’d wish. Please write that I was a student of philosophy. Please write that I had a great wine collection. Please write that I was born to do more than die alone and unnoticed. Please write that I died after saving a child.

You’d die alone, no shining lights or weeping women with lighted candles – your greatest fear realized if only for a moment.

Melissa Darcey is a writer based in San Diego, CA. She has a soft spot for Southern literature, breakfast foods, Audrey Hepburn films, and her orange cat, Milo. A stray cat that has taken residence in her yard is currently stalking her. He stares at her for hours on end through windows and leaves his mark on glass patio doors and under her car just to piss her off. When not writing, Melissa is petitioning for a restraining order against her feline enemy. She has previously been published in The Higgs Weldon, Empirical Magazine, HelloGiggles, and elsewhere.

Lead image“Floating Styrofoam lunch box, rural Baja California, Mexico” (via Flickr user Wonderlane)