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You Will Find Yourself Buried Beneath Rubble

Matthew Sanborn Smith is a South Florida writer who grew up in New England. His work has appeared at Tor.com, Apex Magazine, and Nature, among others. He has an odd affinity for using the word "mango" in his podcast titles. Please visit him at matthewsanbornsmith.com.

Welcome to the world of the living, baby. I've come with a heads up: You should know that at some point you will find yourself buried beneath rubble. You will fall in love eleven times. You will accidentally find a new thing in math and will be given far too much credit for it. You'll drive hundreds of thousands of miles to work. Not all at once. You're not going to be working on a space station or anything, and even if you were, the road to the EarthCommunal Three station won't have been built until well after you're gone.
The eighth person you fall in love with will be the big one, the grandest and slowest burn. The one that makes you walk faster, that makes you slam doors, that makes you worry about mental health insurance policies, and go out to find cola-flavored ice cream at three in the morning.
You will run down a street with a phone that is on fire. You will prefer lemon cake to chocolate. It will all pass by too quickly. You'll bring up someone else's children as if they're your own. You'll never know what your own child might have looked like as an adult.
There will be music. You'll shatter your knee attempting to dance on a tabletop because you'll think that's what life is about. Lying there in the rubble, you'll know it was about people. There will be crying. You'll develop a cough that comes on so hard it hurts your head. You'll live three perfect days. Not in a row. You'll eat out a lot on that math thing. There will be warm, smelly dogs and noodles that once in a while have a texture that keep you coming back for noodles like a strung-out gambler.
There will be new types of life in your time, some built, some found far away, and one important one, coalescing from the thoughts many people think. You'll watch the heating element of an old stove burn out. A pocket of blinding white will cruise its W-shaped length like the most interesting part of a lit fuse. What's left will look and feel like ash cast in iron.
You'll have shirtless concerts you won't quite remember; pantsless breakfasts while your toes explore several inches of table leg over and over and over; and one shoeless three-hour walk down a cold, wet road in utter darkness, wondering if you've chosen the right direction. You'll have long blissful sleeps, knotted anxious ones, all-nighters with smoke-tired eyes, all-nighters at work prepping for the big visit, all-nighters with one person that by all rights should be out of your league.
Your tenth love will know your deepest artificial thoughts and will tell your eighth about the affair with your eleventh a month before it happens. You won't understand the break-up of your marriage but will feel justified and feel free to roam when you finally meet that last one.
Over time, you will disappoint seventeen brilliant mathematicians. One will challenge you to a thought duel. You'll lose sleep until an authority figure explains there are no such things as thought duels. You'll wonder why sex doesn't seem to be as important to you as it is to everyone else.
There will be sunlight piercing purple clouds, there will be apps that accurately tell you how many good years you have left, there will be poetry about lost things. You will inherit a slave and, because you'll be a somewhat good person at that point in your life, you will set them free. And, because you won't be a completely good person, you'll wait two and a half weeks before you do, relying on the excuse of administrative programs, which will exist, though that won't mean you deserve free house cleaning and cooking on another human's sweat for more than half a month. That delay will haunt you years later. The guilt will return for the occasional visit, like the pain around your receded gums will return, like the tides slowed down to one-thousandth the speed.
Once in your life, as a plus two to a wedding, you will find yourself on the vast green estate of a person as wealthy as a small state. You will steal one of the tree-crawlers from the garage and take your dates on a two-hour joyride to the highway and back, as you creep about, sixty feet off the ground, stripping branches and cracking limbs the entire way. One of those dates will be love number eight. The other, number nine.
There will be a duck named Aub.
You'll find late in life that you have an affection for rooftops. You'll eat more lentils than anything else, though those noodles will be a close second. You will climb around the framework of a ski jump. It will become your New Year's Eve habit to count your scars. You'll wish you could have been closer to your mother. Four people will roll your giggling body up a hill.
Your sixth love will be the freed slave who will live with you for many months while they acquire a jobs cloud, then while they save up to find a roommate who isn't you. You will develop an addiction to the less legal type of video game as you numb the pain.
That important type of life will begin to form around the edges of the second attempt at artificial telepathy. It will never be observed directly, but only by its effects, like a gravitational tug some astronomical units away. Because it will continually be believed to have been just missed, the going theory is that it has always existed a few seconds behind the present moment. There's a lot of room to grow back there, safe from all of us. Your obsession with it will be your number ten.
You'll lose your job. You'll lose someone else's job. Curls will be a recurring theme in your life. There will be a screen on your bedroom wall, displaying the flags of the world, one after another. Your first job will be for a ketchup manufacturer. No, not that one. You'll avoid stepping on manhole covers due to your friend's belief that those are the streets' most sensitive areas. That one show you hate will seem to last your lifetime. Your cousin, born just a year ago, will be a nun in the Catholic Church part II.
Number eight and number ten will mentally runaway together, into the past. They've always loved you.
Your nose will recreate a thing every few years that seems related to a smell but isn't, and each time it happens you'll replay the memory of walking into the downstairs bathroom of your parents' house when you were six years old. It's always the same four steps, just enough to get you over the threshold.
You'll be a great swimmer until that knee thing. The case of ketchup stolen from your first job will carry you through your first two years of college. The last couple of bottles will be expired by the time you get to them, but you'll use them, determined to get your theft's worth. You'll have a memory of flying a kite with a different cousin who's wearing a cream-colored sweater, and you'll never know if it really happened or if it was a dream you had. By the time you think to ask him, you'll be flying to his funeral.
You'll have time to reflect on all these things as you lie under the rubble, and you won't be scared. You'll understand it's a blessing in that moment not being able to feel anything. You'll wonder if that year you'll have to start counting on December 30th, just to get all your scars inventoried. You'll be very different afterward, but at the time, you'll just think, "What a funny thing life is, to bury me beneath rubble."
I won't be there with you. After the divorce, I'll have moved to Spain, and even farther away than that. You won't see me again until a few minutes ago. But if I could be there with you in the darkness, I'd say:
"I told you, silly."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 20th, 2020

Author Comments

This story bubbled up on a lazy Black Friday when I was supposed to be working on a different story. It's a rare day that I'm home in an empty house and welcome thoughts have the chance to wriggle into my head. An early form of the title popped into the forefront of my mind and demanded something be built around it: a list of experiences illustrating life as long stretches of mundanity broken up by explosions of the utterly bizarre. It was written in three sessions over a few days, the first two being little more than mad listing. The third connected loose pieces while gently spooning the underlying narrative to the top of the soup. I'll bet you didn't predict where the previous sentence was going. Vonnegut's classic "Hello babies" quote was the inspiration for the first line, and its spirit shines at the heart of the story as a whole. It was one of my most satisfying writing experiences and I'm glad I now have a chance to share it.

- Matthew Sanborn Smith
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