“Envy” — An Excerpt from the Upcoming Book, The Year of the Mite

It was dusk, just when the bugs woke up to bite. While awaiting a load of laundry at a laundromat, I sat on a wooden bench on the sidewalk facing a restaurant. I was dressed in thin clothes that were easy to wash, and I was cold. It was a chilly night, and I was a homeless person with a six-figure income.

As I sat on the bench, a man and a woman in their forties approached the restaurant. He was trim, looked like he worked out. He had dark hair and a pencil moustache.

She was slender too, had light brown hair, wispy and almost blonde. She was wearing a baby blue sweater, had it wrapped tightly and her arms crossed.

When they arrived at the restaurant, the man reached across and opened the door for her. They passed through, into a warm evening of good food and later, maybe sex, and almost certainly a cozy sleep. And here is the thing: the expressions on their faces as they walked through the door. They were so blasé, almost bored, as if maybe they were both trying really hard to play it cool. That is what I’d like to think: that they were finally on a date with each other, really did appreciate what they had, could not wait to be together, and were wearing their game faces because they were both playing hard to get.

But in the moment I saw their faces, while I sat there cold because warm jackets are too hard to wash every night, while I had no appetite and things bit me and crawled on me, I believed these two people were just as uninterested as they looked. And I had a flash of complete hatred for this couple I never met. I hated them more intensely than I hated my screaming alcoholic eleventh grade chemistry teacher. I hated them more than I ever hated anybody, and these were people I never talked with, people who had done me no wrong. I hated them because I envied their ability to take it all for granted. I hated them because they were innocent of what it was to be haunted. I hated them because their skin was unmarked, and nobody was in their hair or their ears or their belly buttons. I hated them because I wanted that. I wanted to be just that privileged. I wanted to not even notice how good I had it, and I did not know if I would ever feel nonchalant again.

It was a flash, one second, then the door closed and I never saw them again. I don’t know whether they noticed what they ate, or if they spoke at dinner or just sat, glazed over. For all I know they were run over by a bus that night.

I am not even sure now which laundromat I sat near, what restaurant it was. If I saw that couple again I would not know them. But I will never forget those blank expressions, those bland eyes, the man smug and entitled, the woman serene and self-contained.

And I wonder if, in that moment when I hated them, I was alive in a way that they were not. It is tempting to believe that awareness is the prize and contentment the booby prize. But really, of course, it’s the other way around.

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