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Vicarious – Scene 1

August 28, 2009

Dear Reader,

The following is a work of fiction written by me. Enjoy.

They told me that the greatest thing a man could ever do was make someone else happy. The thing is, I do that everyday.

The name’s Frank Ryan, but I’m not really all that interesting. What I do is help people, and not much else. They’re the real stars of the show – all I do is aid them in achieving their potential and not much else. I mean, honestly, they’re usually much better people than I am… They look better, dress better, are happier, are smarter than I am, are more competent. In a sense, they are God, and I am Their lowly servants, catering to their will. My wish is their command; and I sincerely take joy and pride from my service to them, as it is my calling in life. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing the white smile slowly creeping its way across a person’s face, all because of an action that I took. I created that happiness for them, and what a fine craftsman – nay, what a charitable man I am. But, somehow, I manage to remain humble in spite of how well I succeed at my job – creating a glow in others. There is nothing quite like feeling the glow that others radiate, nothing quite like it at all… It is warm, it is reassuring, it is… Love. Yes, that’s what it is. Love. Love that someone like me can help them out and empathize with them so much, to really understand and appreciate what they go through on a daily basis… But, here I am being arrogant and full of myself.

It doesn’t help that life’s a drag most of the time. Especially when we’re alone, with no one to talk to, or help, or lighten the mood. What’s the point of even spending time alone? The more the merrier, right?

That’s why I *work* with people. I get paid to be sorry for them, to empathize with them, to pay them back. Yeah, I hate the heartlessness in the insurance industry, but, the way I see it, I bring heart and soul to the company. All the other guys, even the ones who work in customer service and complaints like I do, are just concerned with dollar signs – they’ve become good actors, faking empathy. At least my feelings are genuine – I mean, some of these peoples’ stories are incredibly heartbreaking. One guy had a stroke – 2 days after his wife was released from the hospital after heart surgery. We couldn’t cover him. Another story was a young woman, a student, got melanoma. We couldn’t pool enough funds to cover the surgery, so she got in serious debt after taking out a loan. Result? She’s graduated and is 60K in debt with that loan and student loans.

But, again, I’m speaking too much about my own life. I really need to keep my selfishness in check, I think. Hopefully you’re not put off by it.

So, what was I saying? Right. I’m leaving the office on Thursday after a meeting with a client. The meeting was standard fare:

Client: Oh, Mr. Ryan, me/my husband/child has been hurt really badly in a car accident!

Me: Slow down. How badly is he hurt? Don’t tell me there’s brain damage or anything like that.

Client: No, nothing that major, broken nose/hurt wrists/broken ribs are what ails him.

Me: I’m so sorry… Whenever one of these cases comes up, I always remember what happened to my friend Dirk. He got in a car crash, and got 4 broken ribs and a broken nose. 2 years later he was killed in a car crash. The other driver was a drunk kid, about 17 years old. So whenever one of these car crash cases come… I always remember Dirk, and I feel your pain.

Client: I’m sorry for your loss…

Me: I’ll make sure we cover you in this situation – in Dirk’s memory. I promise that your husband will receive the coverage. If he doesn’t, come back here again and bring him with you – I’ll be sure to make an impression.

Client: Oh, thank you so much!

At that point, I can really sense their glow of happiness – plus they usually beam at me. And who can blame them? I just helped them out. But, one smile, and I immediately see the reflection of this universal happiness locked within them. The glow… It’s warm and loving. There’s nothing like it… It feels like a ray of sunlight after a cold winter on your brow.

But I digress. Where was I? Right, leaving the office. It was Thursday so it was my last day of the week, since I had Friday off (God, I love my job), so I decided to check in with my closest coworkers to see where they were at in their lives.

I decided to visit Emanuel first, since he was in the most urgent situation of them all and is a blast to talk to. I said, “So, any progress since last time?” referring, of course, to his situation with his wife, who always rags on him for the most insignificant things.

“No!” he said, with a look of disgust. “I try to help out, and it just makes things worse, since she *knows* I’m just trying to please her. She says I-I-I don’t have a backbone. It’s like I try to go my own way, and she hates it, s-s-so I try to please her by doing the dishes and talking with her more, and she hates that more!”

“Emanuel, you didn’t happen to… uh, break any of the dishes while you were washing them, did you?”

“Y-yes. But it was an insignificant little soup bowl, it was nothing. But you gotta help me, man. She ordered me to let her do the dishes from now on, a-a-and I haven’t had sex with her in a couple of months.”

“Did you tell her that in a marriage love should be unconditional and shouldn’t be held back for something as petty as lacking a backbone or breaking a soup bowl?”

“Yes! 5 times! And it was no good! Frank, you gotta help me. I’d be happy to see her smiling again…”

“Okay, okay, try this. Saturday, tell her to dress her best (and you’ll do the same), and you’ll drive her out to some high-class restaurant with awesome food and ambiance. Don’t tell her where you’re going – let her find out when you’re standing outside. Alright?”

“You sure it will work? Do I need flowers or anything?”

“Relax. No. You won’t need them. You’ll be paying, by the way, so hopefully our boss Angel Eyes is paying you well…”

“Thanks, Frank!”

“No problem,” And with that, I was on my way to Bert’s desk. Except… Bert wasn’t there – he must have taken a sick day, which isn’t too out of the ordinary, considering he’s a hypochondriac. After Emanuel and Bert comes my last friend, the ever so sweet Saffron. She has family issues, though I can’t see why – she’s a total sweetheart, both on the inside and outside. Total beauty, very kind, just a radiant girl. Long, dark brown hair, and inquisitive, razor-sharp brown eyes are her distinguishing features at first glance. Later, when getting to know her, it’s her smile and energy that distinguish her from everyone else. Feeling her warmth, her glow, it’s something to behold. And her smile and her eyes are so wonderful, so full of honest beauty, that they make me feel as though I were glowing as well. Her smile is forever etched in my memory – it is that distinctive. That memory is something I cherish.

“So, how’s it going with your family, darling?” I ask. She frowns in response, preparing what she was going to say. That frown doesn’t belong on her face – it mars her beauty.

“Not great. Not good, even. Bad. It’s because they, they don’t approve of my thoughts or my work, or my decision to not to get married. They basically hate everything I do…”

“Awh, Saff, it shouldn’t be like that. This thing with your parents, I don’t understand. It’s not fair. You’re a woman, not a girl, and they should respect your decisions in life. I can understand them being upset after you broke off your engagement with Alex, but…”

“Frank, I didn’t feel anything for him. He was an empty suit with no real thoughts of his own.”

“I know, I know. Don’t think I’m criticizing you or anything – I respect your decision so much. And, quite honestly, I’d be very, very happy if I were your parents, seeing what kind of person you are now. You’re… Gosh, Don’t tell anyone I said this, but, you are the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, and I’m glad to be your coworker. Even if your parents think the insurance business is only for crooks and cheats.”

The way she looked at me and smiled after I said that is a sight that I shall never forget. I wish I could get her to smile like that, all the time, especially so I could take a picture. Nevertheless, I shall always carry the memory of that smile and that earnestness and that beauty and that glow – which is more depth than a photograph can capture. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a memory worth? Ten thousand? A million? However much it is, it is worth it entirely. My memories – of other people – are beautiful… And, by recalling those memories, it is like I share their beauty and glory.

Walking a way from the office, I spy a young woman striding down the street in the opposite direction, looking determined, resolute, and, strangely, a little upset. Her shirt is a nice blue pinstripe design, and her long, shining brown hair flows behind her, carried by the air. She must be upset that it’s only Thursday – when she woke up this morning, it felt like Friday. And now she has to go home, cook, and eat a meal, alone in her apartment, and crawl into bed and get up early for one last push at work the next day. After that, she’ll probably go out with her friends from school or work, or maybe her boyfriend. And then she lives it up on the weekend to return to the horrors of the office the next week. And so the cycle continues: work, fun, work, fun, work…

Another man appears: he’s wearing a tailored suit and some nice, Italian looking shoes – this guy is definitely a high roller, and is probably an executive in one of the companies ’round these parts. This guy, judging by the way he walks, has lived life well so far – he’s tried, failed, then succeeded. He’s in good company now, living in a good part of the city, just having a great time. He probably married his girlfriend from Columbia (University) and they’re raising two kids. In short: his life is good, and I’m happy that there are people like that living among us.

But what about me? Do I have as interesting a story as these people do? No, I do not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try to make them happier.

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