the saddest man
Imagine this: You are born into a middle class family in a middle class town in the Middle West. Growing up feels really hard until you have grown up enough to realize that it feels this way for everyone. At eighteen, in college, you talk to your friends and begin to notice that the stories of their youths are filled with more struggle, more blood, more romance than you had thought could be real. Their lives feel to you like movies, and you start to think that your real hardship was not having a hardship at all.
You study business management. You are not terrible at school, but you are nowhere, nowhere near good. You blend in. You estimate that you are in the top thirty-five percent of your class, but you cannot break the top thirty percent no matter how hard you try. You briefly consider the idea that office life isn’t for you. You take up painting.
You can’t paint.
It is on those lonely blank-canvas-filled adventures, however, that you meet a girl who actually can paint. She sets up her easel next to yours by a lake and she transfers the images in her eyes into colored replicas. You are in awe. She seems to like you. It feels like romance, and then you fight, and it feels like struggle, and you are excited that both of these adjectives have entered your life. You marry young.
Your lack of artistic ability leads you back into the office, where you ride on the wave of a company’s business boom for long enough that no one notices you are one of their weakest sellers. You take brief pleasure in the home you are able to provide for your wife and the things you are now able to buy, but you can feel her begin to resent you for all of it. You live just close enough to the less privileged side of town that you sometimes have to walk through it, and you hear people mutter about you under their breath. You are just average enough, it seems, to be hated.
Your wife’s resentment grows, as you knew it would, and she leaves you. She takes you for half, which is somehow a great deal of money, and you manage to get fired the same week your divorce papers are finalized. It is the first and only time in your life you manage to do anything poetic. Left with nothing, you look to continue that drama by turning the oven on and letting it finish you off. You have heard that this is what the great poets do. As it happens, you can’t bring yourself to do even that, and so you are stuck in your own purgatory of being too average even to quit.
You are, of course, the sister’s ex-husband from Tom Petty’s truly remarkable song, “Yer So Bad”, and all of the above is why I believe you to be the saddest man in fiction.