I sat there and stared at it. The alien disc reflected the winter light that streamed in through my kitchen window. Other than that there was nothing. So there we sat, me and my dead artifact, as the hours slid by. I put it in my mouth – one more time – just to see if this time would be different than the last ten times. There was nothing. It was dead. The doorbell rang. “C’mon.” Maggie opened the front hall closet and handed me my coat. “You wasted Saturday looking at that thing.” She pulled my winter hat down over my eyes. “You’re not gonna waste today.” “I’m not in the mood.” I mumbled. “Good. Out the door.” She dragged me out into the bright, chilly day. “Well, whatever. Where are we off to?” “The Snowflake Festival. You’ll love it – it’s boring and cold – just like you.” “Easy for you to judge.” “Yes it is; especially since I’m your sister.” I looked out the window as the pre-fabricated, cookie cutter houses rolled on by. The snow muted any traces of individuality that the owners instilled in them. The homes in back of them were just as bland and identical. From the air, the whole area must have looked like one giant, featureless spread of small, middle class dreams.
We pulled into the parking lot. There were snow and ice sculptures everywhere. The only thing I could think of is how they would melt when it warmed up. I looked over at Maggie. She pulled my hat down over my eyes and giggled. “Maybe that will help!” I pulled my hat off. “Oh all right. See?” I forced a smile.
We strolled down the snowy path, sipping hot chocolate. “Mitch – c’mon! What you did in that week was incredible. No one else on the planet could’ve pulled that off. Think of it like some wild vacation or something.” “But just a week?” “Yeah, just a week. You did more good in that week than some people do in a life time. You really did save some lives.” “So now what?” “You be grateful that you got to play hero for a week – and that it didn’t kill you.” We entered a vast field, with a few trees here and there. Snowmen were emerging from the wet snow, being urged on by laughter and squeals of delight. Maggie started rolling a big ball of snow. “You’re kidding, right?” I took another sip of hot chocolate. “I’ll do the bottom part. Go on! Get started on his middle.” My part was actually kind of heavy. “Ugh! This would be easier if I had my strength.” She sighed. “Look. It would be easier if you had your super strength. It would be easier if it were 70 degrees out; it would be easier if we had an army of elves building the snowman for us. Sometimes life is easy, sometimes it’s not. You’re starting to sound like dad.” “Ouch! I’m not that bad.” “’Cause I won’t let you get that bad. Now put a face on Frosty here.” “Does he really need one?” “He deserves one.” “What kind of face do you want on him?” I stepped up to our chilly friend. “Any face will do – even yours!” She pushed my head into the snowman. “Why you little!” Soon snowballs were flying and we were laughing like kids. That’s why I loved Maggie. No matter what it took, where she had to go, or what she had to do, she would make sure that I wasn’t sad for long.
The next morning, I got up slowly, almost aimlessly. Yesterday was great, but today it would be another Monday – just like so many Mondays before it. I looked up at my college degree on the wall. What happened to all that enthusiasm? What happened to that exciting world that I just couldn’t wait to dive into? I turned on the morning news.
“…..a ceremony honoring our community heroes. An award was given to firefighter Mike Franczak for pulling a ten year old boy from a burning house eight months ago. Another award was given to police officer Josh Smith for performing CPR on an elderly man in a local grocery store. These are only two of the people who make such a big difference in our communities every day. We at channel 10 just want to add our thanks for your service.” I turned off the TV and finished breakfast in silence. The alien artifact was still sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. What should I do with it? I didn’t feel like taking it with me to work, but I didn’t feel like tossing it either. It felt kind of like an ex-girlfriend that refused to talk to you, but that you just couldn’t avoid. I picked it up and felt its weight in the palm of my hand. “You know, that could’ve been us at that ‘Heroes Ceremony’. We could’ve done so much. I guess I just don’t understand why you came into my life.” I tossed it unceremoniously on the kitchen table and left the house. I brushed the snow off my car at the same time as my neighbor. We must have looked like a comical, demented version of synchronized swimmers. I could hear it now: “…next in the Olympic Synchronized Suckers event: ‘what’s-his-face and you-know-who. Two bums who never figured out how to rise to the next level in life.” I got into the car and drove through the same old suburbia; I saluted the same old traffic lights like old friends; and fought through the traffic snarl that was so familiar that it was no longer dreaded – it was simply accepted.
At work, there was a little white cardboard box on my desk. Well, this was a pleasant surprise. I opened it up and pulled out a name plate. After three years, someone finally cared enough to get me my own name plate. It read: “Mitchel Harrison”. I quietly put it back in the box and got on with my day. Jamie, my supervisor, came over. “Where is it?” “What, the name plate?” “Don’t you like it? Let’s see it.” She opened the box. “Hey that’s pretty snazzy. I wish I had one like that.” “It’s missing an ‘L’. That’s not me.” “You have 2 ‘L’s in your name? Ooops! Sorry Mitch. We’ll get you a new one. In fact, I think I’ll get one for me too!” She smiled and then whisked herself off to continue on with her busy day. I looked at the name tag and muttered: “Nope, that’s definitely not me.”
But for the rest of the day, I was haunted by the question: “Who am I?” About a week and a half ago, I told a complete stranger that I was someone who cares. Did I mean it? Was I really someone who cares, or was I just some kid who wanted to have super powers? For the rest of the day, I gave 110% - to my customers, my co-workers, and the company. As I shut down my computer and headed for home, I whispered to myself: “Well, all in a day’s work.” When I realized that I was only here because of a paycheck, all the enthusiasm and idealism that had gotten me through the day was promptly flushed down the drain.
The room was cold and bare, but that would change soon. My paint roller flowed effortlessly over the fresh drywall. I stood back and slowly turned around; what was once a ‘roach palace’ was now a bare room with a new coat of beige paint. Tomorrow, the donated furniture would show up; and not cheap stuff either. I could hear the guys working on the plumbing in the cellar. It was only one house, but it was a start in a place that didn’t get many new starts. The Grunge was a little less grungy. Later in the day, we raised the banner over the front of the house:
HOPE – HABITAT – HUMANITY
I don’t know about any other day, but today I was someone who cared. I had a face – and it was smiling.
© 2014 Benjamin F. Kaye