The Millennials Are Getting Worse

Maybe it was Tuesday or maybe it was Monday but you can’t shake the feeling that earlier this week you almost suffocated in bed.

This happens frequently enough that the days bleed together. Dust-choked carpets and smog-choked air mixed with brushfire ash from Chino Hills, kitchen smoke from Penny who lives alone downstairs. Dog hair from that barking labradoodle with the bulging neck tumor dancing in unholy unison with thick plumes of dandelion seeds that drift in from the park where that girl disappeared.

Your housemate tells you that vacuuming helps but she hasn’t lived here very long despite her own assertions to the contrary — this city is oppressive in more than just business. The air itself is a dead-eyed cabal waiting for the right moment to smother you in your sheets, to pull the air and hope right out of your lungs and smash their infant skulls across the pavement — though you would never tell her that. She has issues when you eat her Frosted Flakes. The higher level stuff would get a hand wave.

You lie in bed, sheets stained a mealy blue from such-and-such’s crushed velvet dress (her name was Eileen) and you slide through news stories illuminated by the tiny cracked screen someone paid for years ago but whose name you can’t really remember (it was your mom). Election news, gang news, police brutality, black lives and red lives and brown lives and young lives and you’re glad for a fleeting moment of your middle income whiteness, comforted by it, protected in this bastion of elderly liberal property owners who hate that you live here but can’t do anything about it until the lease runs out.

The other day you saw Penny downstairs and were briefly reminded of the man who lived with her until he didn’t. She’s in her late sixties now and slow and old and you avoid her when you can because every word she says is a small wrinkled hand reaching out for whatever fleeting comfort she can wrest from you and you won’t have it. You don’t want to look at her. You will one day become her and that thought is the tail end of something hateful and ugly growing inside of you that you’d rather not confront, until that distant morning you look in a mirror and realize that you, too, have withered away.

“Did you travel this week?” she had asked in earnest.

You kept walking.

Work is not labor intensive but you’re still having trouble breathing. You note the bags under your eyes. They’re getting deeper and darker and sometimes when you look at them long enough sound falls away and your center of gravity gently rocks back and forth on an ancient, unknown axis. This was frightening at first but now it’s almost comforting; a cradle swaying under the weight of your chronic insomnia. A coworker enters the bathroom and says hello. You blow your nose. The day continues.

There’s a meeting about an ad your company ran.

There’s a meeting about an event you have to be at.

There’s a meeting about an application of VR tech that you don’t really listen to because when you look down the floor is swimming.

Your manager tells you that you look terrible and you agree. You go home and climb in bed as your housemate talks loudly over the phone with her most recent boyfriend. His name is Leopold and he lives in Europe. You’re sure this one will last.

As your eyes close something round and featureless moves just below the far left edge of your bed frame. You watch the spot half an hour longer, motionless, waiting for the emergence of a thing that isn’t there. Have you seen it before? Is it real? You lie still and take small, shallow breaths, hoping it was just your imagination. But the air is too thick, and the sun is too warm, and the birds sing in honeyed poetry that massages your eyes until the will to fight wanes and you drift peaceably into the dark, gentle embrace of slumber.

You get two hours of sleep, and wake up screaming.

Your article for the day is ‘Millennials Are Ruining Bananas.’ Millennials are not ruining bananas.

Most evidence suggests millennials are having no net positive or negative effect on global banana sales, but your manager thinks the headline is funny and you have a pull quote from a local Ralph’s manager where he compares 27 year old women to tropical spiders. You are 27. You are a woman. The irony is not lost on either of you.

You spend the rest of the afternoon painting a myopic portrait of friends and acquaintances for an audience who at best ignores you and at worst openly reviles your existence. Your byline is small and your portrait is a drawing of a car. You take a check for forty dollars and ride the bus to the thirty nine year old girlfriend whose insecurities and emotional outbursts have driven off most of your social circle. This is the life you’ve lived since you graduated six years ago and you’re still waiting for the opportunity to break through to something better, something fulfilling, something that gets you away from the grey shape that crests the back of your sofa like a shark, smooth and low to the ground.

You start up in bed at three in the morning. It’s getting harder to breathe.

At night you go to the long pier where poor families pull whatever barely-edible spoils they can out of the water and you stare silently into the deep indigo of a horizon you can’t quite reach.

Somewhere far from here are the solemn temples of Haedong Yonggungsa and Seokbulsa, the towering cathedrals of Vaud and Grossmünster, the sun-kissed altars of Cristo Redentor and Sando Sebastian. You picture the rolling sunflower fields of Boit-de-Chenes and the sprawling, endless gold of Gaillard’s rural wheat farms. You’ve never been to any of these places and probably never will, but you see photos of them sometimes on Buzzfeed. They have filters. It’s nice.

You close your eyes and inhale. Something long and sharp is lodged in the back of your throat; a ferocious stabbing pain dances across your vocal chords and forces something out of your mouth in a language you don’t understand. The stuttering, lone lamplight roars into a blood-red crimson, each plank of hundred-year-old wood grain beneath you swollen under distended piles of rotten, alien fish.

You keep breathing.

Out in the dark a vast grey shape bobs against the waves, unmoving, soundless against daylight that isn’t daylight, stars that aren’t stars. Your hands are burning. Your skin vibrates. Your eyes won’t open, yet you see everything.

A text notification goes off — the part in Childish Gambino’s Redbone where Donald Glover croons ‘stay woke’ — and you look up to a normal ocean on a normal pier on a mild, temperate evening. It’s hard to tell how long you’ve been standing there but the families are gone. Their catches lie undisturbed. Their gear is scattered and abandoned.

“It’s embarrassing because I’m not woke at all,” you mutter, leaving to meet with your last smattering of self-interested twenty-something frenemies. Each is equally rabid, equally defeated, equally Etsy storefront, Netflix Original, and unfiltered Twitter feed. Their dour eyes gaze into the halogen glow of middle-generation cell phones, tiny bulwarks against a whispering chorus calling them to purposes both terrible and whole.

“Maybe they can see it too,” you ask yourself. A familiar shape follows you across the reflective windows of a dozen oceanside storefronts, looking back at a long, sharp figure you don’t quite recognize. “Maybe they can’t breathe either.”

The old skin sloughs off your shoulders, and you begin to run. Down the quiet streets and cracked alleyways; beneath choked highways and over dusty sandlots. Each step is lighter, faster, the world a bleeding pinpoint within an endless, ageless tapestry.

Your friends are waiting.

Maybe they will change with you.

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