Prompt: a written caricature of a coworker

He asks me how old I think he is, and he is old, but not elderly, and so he is the type of person who puts you into that sort of position, where he asks you how old you think he is, knowing that he is old. I think this question says a lot about him, and I think he has considered that as well.

I say he is between twenty and eighty, giving an extravagantly wide range, and he laughs and says something about the ‘twenty’ comment, as if to take the start of my range as a compliment about his appearance, which is still fairly smooth and seems healthy, although he has aged himself in other ways – ways that place my honest, unspoken guess closer to the range’s other end.

He went through a divorce. It took ten years. He talks about it, and I listen, and so he talks about it more. They were too perfect together, and so they drove each other crazy. He is crazy now, but perhaps less so than before (although he feels no better for it). She was controlling, he says, and manipulative, but I am sure he had his fun as well.

There are those who thrive in chaos, and take pride in their ability to remain calm, and he is one of them. He focuses on details and procedure. Meticulousness distracts him from the constant ache being otherwise without purpose and control; it eases an anxious mind’s own chaos. Aboard the Titanic, he would stand tall and alone and read aloud the protocol of how to properly drown and/or freeze to any of many clusters of panicked loved ones writhing within earshot, rather than acknowledging that he too is going down on a sinking ship.

He was a chemist before some accident in a lab. It didn’t leave him disfigured, as far as I could tell, but it turned him away from the field. This time, he spares the details to those who haven’t asked, more resolved about this life shift’s outcome.

He works at a computer now, diagonal from my own. He analyzes lines of code, looking for points of failure. He is good at this – so good, that he has been forced to practice mindfulness to avoid turning his skills inward. He has read books on the subject. He has read and highlighted and taken notes in many books on many subjects while lying in bed unable to find sleep.

He offers me a book on meditation, able to infer the speed of my thoughts, but not the thoughts themselves. The thoughts themselves he attempts to decipher through ticks on faces and body language cues, but I am unconvinced that he can read them well.

He holds his mouth slightly open, on an inhale, holding breath while I talk, always reaching for his chance to speak. He doesn’t get much joy out of hearing himself speak, but he can’t help but explain something more about something else. I pause, and he starts. I cut him off to finish a thought. My words hit him, and he stumbles, before he begins again.

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