I don’t often like strangers. Hell, I don’t like people in general, but I was intrigued by Matthew’s philosophy. It was simple, direct, and the fact that he needed to get away to get what he wanted rang close to my own heart. What appeared at first to be a bumbling oaf was, in fact, a man powerfully in control of destiny.
Damn, that’s something to be admired. But happiness is not always a fish that can be caught. We’re on separate journeys, albeit for the same reasons, to different places. Will I always have to roam to find what’s missing, always in search of that mystic voice calling me West…
“Ahhhggghhh!” Matthew lumbered his way back into the coach-class chair. He seemed no worse for wear—actually, much happier since we’d taken off. He began our conversation as if it never ended.
“So, are you going straight into the city or is this just a connection for you?”
“I don’t know.”
He seemed puzzled. So was I.
“Oh, on business?” he asked relentlessly.
“Truth is, Matt, I don’t even really know myself. I freaked out today and decided it’d be a good day to go off grid. Just, kinda, quit my job, grabbed some essentials, and headed out th’ door. Leavin’ town felt like the right thing to do, but that’s about as far as I have gotten.”
That extra layer of skin wasn’t enough to hide his surprise. We both contemplated the truth sprung upon us. I could only imagine what he was thinking; a man who knew his destiny had just stumbled into a wild-card conversation with his counterpoint, and the gravity of the situation was weighing on us both. There was a long pause before he asked the inevitable follow-ups.
“Why? Is there a cause? I mean, are you in trouble or something?”
“Well, no. It’s much more an instinctual decision than a rational one,” I said. “Long-story-short, I just grew tired. Unlike you, my job was dead end—no raise for the past three years, none in the foreseeable future. Anyway, I was bludgeoning myself with juxtaposing, repetitive behavior and walking away empty. No self-gratification, no feeling that I’ve made a goddam bit of difference in anyone’s life.”
“So, then, why not change careers?”
At this, I had to choose my words carefully. I’d gained a newfound respect for this fat bastard, but he asked this as if I’d never thought of it before. Maybe it was the flow of conversation, or maybe he just didn’t think the question through. Or maybe—maybe—it pissed me off because I’d been asking myself the same thing for years.
“Well, a career’s a career; they’re all gonna suck. Right, Matt? Besides, like you said, there’s more to life than work.”
“And is that what you’re in search of?”
“I think so—yeah.”
“And so what is that? What pulled you from life today? What’s sending you across a continent? Seems like it must be important.”
“Well, it’s the fucking American Dream,” I said with absolutely no hesitation.
“And just what the hell is that?” his face twisted as I enlightened him to a dirty, little secret.
“Oh, I guess you wouldn’t understand with that accent, would ya?” At this we both had a laugh. “The American Dream: On this side o’ the pond, most of us believe that if we work hard enough, one day we’ll be rewarded with the perfect family, the white-picket fence and a house, multiple cars, all the neatest gadgets, debt free. ’Course that dream probably died somewhere back around LBJ or Nixon, but it’s something to believe in when there’s nothing else.”
He raised his eyebrow mulling this over, expecting a showcase of philosophy at hand. Serve. Fat Man.
“Oh, that American Dream. Where I’m from we, just call that greed.”
I like this sonofabitch more every minute.
Matthew continued. “But in all seriousness what ‘dream’ are you chasing? Must be somethin’.”
At this, the conversation came to a failing halt. I contorted and hiccupped, my stomach retching uncontrollably, eyes rolling back! I trembled violently and foamed furiously. I … I did none of these things, but it’s what I felt like every time I heard that question. My innards turned to mush, my brain to goo.
“I don’t know,” I responded and turned away.
The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful. Matthew attempted twice to continue our conversation, but he was adept enough to soon realize that time had passed. There was nothing offensive or crude in what he said. In fact, my shirkishness stemmed from embarrassment.
For as long as I could remember, the West had been whispering in my mind. I couldn’t explain why, only that, for years, I had envisioned places I had never been and people I had never met. It was a yearning that my soul slowly embraced with no cause, a belief that my dream, my peace was nestled away amongst some smoky hill neighboring the Great Wide Ocean. But I felt it impossible to say to this man who was so oddly put together and focused—someone who understood his dream. So I shut down and eventually the plane touched down.
As is customary, Matthew and I waited patiently in our seats as those before us manhandled their luggage from overhead compartments, all in a mad rush to wait in line for the rest of their items to be thrown haphazardly on conveyer belts in the terminal below. I felt gauche in the moment, obliged to acknowledge Fat Matthew who’d engaged me for part of this flight, yet far beyond words. He stood, turned, and reached above, shuffling a few bags around.
One last opportunity…
He reached out and placing a warm hand on my chest, grabbed my attention. “I want you to know that, while you might not know what it is you’re after, you do know what it’s not. And that’s somethin’. Good luck, my friend.”
And with that, Matthew squeezed down the aisle, and I smiled following after.