"Why do you always look at me like that when all I'm doing is trying to relate to you?" Jon had wide eyes.
"Because relation is simple and easy. Relating is simple for most people, so it's too simple for you."
"That's not true. We know plenty of assholes who can't relate to shit."
"No, an asshole is relating his experience, too. An asshole usually thinks that whatever is going on, they have it worse than you do. If someone says something offensive or acts aggressively, it's because they think they're being victimized somehow, even if it's only because they have to look at you. Assholes are just heavy-handed with the ways in which they relate."
"I don't know if that matters. What I have to tell you is, life is not an easy thing to live with. Life is hard at times for every single person on the planet. We are born into our circumstance, and all our pains are relative to our solitary experience from that point on. Just because most people have the capacity to relate doesn't mean I'm not trying to help you out." Jon scratched his throat.
"I know you're trying. You can't change anything for me, though." He wasn't bitter about the relating or the empathy, and he couldn't expect his friend to play God. What annoyed him was, he knew Jon was subconsciously happy that he didn't have to go through any of it. Jon was smiling somewhere inside of himself, knowing that his only consequence would be listening and responding to the experience of another. The pain wasn't his, and the trauma wasn't his. After a while of thinking about how Jon's sympathy was based in bullshit, he finally said, "I know you probably couldn't be in pain for me, though you might say you wish it was you instead of me, or some martyr semantics like that. Regardless of what you're trying to get me to feel, you have to be happy that it's not you. But I'm okay with that because I know your life gets all kinds of fucked just like everyone else's."
Jon took a sip that eliminated half of his cup of coffee and said, "You're lucky you have me. Not only so you got someone to hear your bullshit, but also so you got someone to stick around afterwards. Nobody but me would put up with that kind of talk."
"Well, I've known you for a long time. When you tell people about your problems, if they are bad problems they are interesting. If they are really bad, they are uplifting because you are discussing it with someone who isn't you and will never have to be. You should thank me."
The room felt a lot less tense than it should have. Low jazz was coming from hidden speakers, and Jon guessed it may have been Coltrane. He listened closely until his thoughts took him away from the music, and finally he said, "Connection comes from shared experience. As humans, we have the ability to put ourselves in the position of another person. This is why books and movies and television are so enjoyable, and also why our relationships can sometimes be incredibly profound, shared experiences. It's important that we reveal ourselves to each other, and that we educate ourselves about each other by studying these revelations. By learning each other, we go beyond our limited experience. Our experience includes us alone, but our others have their own experience, and together we can transcend our personal limitations."
"But you aren't learning another person, you are hearing a testimony. It's not a revelation because it's not objective. I've known you for thirty years, that's why I talk to you. I talk to you because you know the people that I'm talking about. I reveal things to you about my thoughts because they might be relevant to your life, not because they will teach you anything. I tell you so I don't have to talk to strangers. Maybe I tell you so I don't talk to myself. But I’m not about to take your input as Gospel. You told me Sarah was a deceitful bitch five years ago and now you’re about to marry her."
"Well, keep talking. What happened last night?"
"I listened to my mom snoring in that bed, and every so often she'd take a gasping breath for air because she stops breathing in her sleep. What do they call that? I think it’s sleep apnea. Anyway, every single grueling, desperate inhalation brought back memories of that day, and the feeling of every tension. As if there were a taught line between Mom and each of us. If you moved even slightly, you'd feel the pinch. The trouble was, there were so many of these lines connecting people in so many variations, it felt like nobody could move or breathe without complaining of their personal torment. It was to the point where nobody was thinking about anybody else anymore. They were tired of doing that. They felt like they weren't getting any benefit from being selfless. They felt like they needed-- no, they deserved to speak their mind and take care of themselves for what seemed to them to be the first time in ages. I guess once you start thinking that you're the victim, it's hard to stop, but in reality, outside the solipsist dramatics, everyone was expressing a mouthful of shit. Everyone except Theo, who silently ate more than he should have at every meal and painfully struggled walking to every event. When we were walking to the ceremony today, he couldn't even move for more than a few minutes without having to sit down. Every time I stopped to make sure everyone was together and moving in the right direction, I turned around and saw him sitting. And when he saw that I saw him, he immediately stood up and began walking again. Later that day, he fell down pretty hard when he was trying to get a picture. He blamed it on weak knees. Even when he was in the hospital after his first stroke and he had a bucket for his piss attached to his bed because he couldn't get up to go to the bathroom, he smiled at all of us when we visited and looked like Santa Claus. A 350 pound Santa with important teeth missing and the most beautiful blue eyes you'll ever see. All he said was how fine he was, but we could barely understand him when he said it. He seemed ecstatic just to be looking at us."
“That doesn’t sound too bad. They just talk too much too narrow-mindedly or they don't say enough."
"After Theo’s stroke he left the club and walked 8 blocks to the hospital. He felt bad because he couldn't stay for the whole show."
"Do you think that's as bad as Gloria? She sends every meal back because it's never what she ordered. When it is what she ordered, it's not the right temperature. She's never the right temperature, even. Either she's too hot or too cold. I remember her coffee at breakfast one morning was not hot enough, and she acted so terrified that one waitress was going to give her warm coffee for a refill instead of steaming, scalding java that every time the waitress came over and attempted to fill her mug she would cover the top of it violently with her hand and say, 'No no no! I don't need any of that, thank you. Get away from me with that! That man told me he would give me fresh coffee and he said it would be HOT!' You can't have a meal with that woman. Nothing is ever alright."
Jon was getting depressed. He knew he shouldn't be. He knew that people just behave like people, and everyone has something unfortunate to contend with. He knew his fellow humans weren't all bad. He knew that even the worst person was capable of doing something good, and that great people often commit sinful acts. He knew he should love and respect people for their finer qualities, not automatically condemn them for their flaws. Despite all this knowledge, he couldn't help sometimes feeling like the gift of life should come with a gift receipt, because there were times when he just wanted to give it back.