Skirl lived in a state of near-perpetual ecstasy. Whenever he tried to pinpoint the reason for this elevated state of mind he returned to the same thought: he couldn’t find a reason to not be ecstatic. He felt tired sometimes, or hungry, or sore, but nothing could dent the impenetrable wall of joy he’d built around himself over the course of a life that was, to him, the universe’s most hilarious invention. Recognizing the fact required only one thing: the constant recalibration of his sense of humor.
Joe was a depressive. Not bi-polar; uni-polar. There was no up to his down.
Life was simple to Skirl. His was a philosophy that balanced hedonism and altruism with an effortlessness that confounded Joe. “Do whatever you want to do,” Joe remembered Skirl telling him one hazy evening, “as long as you think it’s right. Be honest and pure-hearted. Trust yourself to do the right thing and whatever you do will be the right thing.
“But what if it’s not the right thing?,” was all Joe could think.
“If it turns out it’s not the right thing, admit it and try to learn from it.”
Life was anything but simple to Joe. He couldn’t trust himself to do the right thing, he second-guessed every move he made, and he was paralyzed by the fragility of the reality he’d created with his endless series of decisions. Each decision was the wrong one, if only because it caused the death of every other decision that he could have made. Even if he changed his mind and went back to undo a decision, he discovered all over again that each choice became unalterable the moment it was made. Each change of mind, or heart, was a stumble that left him less confident of his next step.
Together Joe and Skirl found a balance that neither could achieve on their own. They met in school at such a tender age that Skirl couldn’t remember a time when Joe wasn’t in his life. Joe, on the other hand, remembered everything. He remembered every day of his school years and felt again the sting of each anxious, embarrassing incident as he remembered them.
Joe was trapped by his own life, stuck in his own cement, his every move thwarted by, and ruled by, fear. Fear of decision and indecision. Fear of people and fear of loneliness. Fear of moving on and fear of standing still. Fear of betrayal and fear of clinging dependency. Fear of death and fear of change. And, of course, fear of fear.