I was just at the gym, where I delighted in the potential for tragedy implicit in little ordinary situations.
I’ve been trying to make proper use of the rowing machines they have over there, because those things are gorgeous and expensive and tire me to the point of tears. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep induced by the exhaustion of rowing. But this time, as I was settling into a sweet, intense groove, using what I suppose must have been pretty good form, this young woman comes to sit at the rowing machine next to mine, chatting on the phone. (No, this is not going to be one of those “Can you believe people talk on the phone at the gym?” posts.) She stretches her legs out and just sits, not rowing, not even sweating.
That’s cool. Most people are like that at my gym. They go there to socialize, to flirt with the attractive personal trainers, to get suckered into buying expensive protein shakes that aren’t nearly as good as other expensive protein shakes, and to use the sauna.
But what this girl is saying on the phone is fascinating. Here she is, in her pretty little pink top and baby blue gym shorts, telling whoever’s on the other line that Tony committed suicide. She’s saying this in a cool, detached, neutral, only mildly bemused tone of voice. “Tony killed himself.” A pause, then: “About three days ago. Yeah. Yeah. I know, it’s not the funniest thing. Very sad. Yeah, he had a wife, well, an ex-wife. I think he was really depressed. Who knows, he was Tony. Right?”
Then she changes the subject.
Now, I know it’s none of my business, but I want to know exactly what were the circumstances that led to this woman talking about this recently deceased man in this way. I can’t help it. It’s just too enticing.
Who is on the other end of the line? Who would know Tony, but not know that Tony killed himself? Presumably, someone Tony did not know well. That would also explain why that person didn’t know that Tony had an ex-wife. But then, the woman on the rowing machine clearly didn’t know Tony well either. At most, she seems to have known Tony a little better than her friend on the phone. Since she’s clearly not hugely distressed by Tony’s suicide, I gather that she wasn’t surprised to learn about it, which in turn suggests that there was a “thing” about Tony that people knew about, like his depression, which made him a likelier suicide than someone else.
So. Did they work together? Was the young woman next to me hiding something about her relationship to Tony? Can he really have been the only Tony that she and her friend knew in common, so that it was perfectly possible for them to talk about “Tony” without specifying which Tony, while still making clear to an eavesdropper that neither of them knew much about him?
What I want to believe about Tony, in my voyeuristic fascination, is that he was lonely. He was the kind of lonely that goes beyond simple emotion. Tony was the kind of guy, I want to think, for whom loneliness was a central part of his existence, second only to his face.
Tony was so lonely, for so long, that he became agonizingly sensitive to any signs in the world around him that he was irremediably isolated, cut off from everyone and everything. He was so convinced that he would never find someone to see him as he really was, and so fascinated and horrified by this thought, that he became incapable of making sense of any contrary evidence. He refused, unconsciously, to believe that every single human being is lonely, in similar ways, and that one of the great paradoxes of loneliness is that the more it grips you, the less you realize that your loneliness is one of the things that most unites you with others.
I imagine that when he met people who tried to reach out to him, perhaps sensing that he needed a friend, Tony’s response was to push them away, perhaps because he misinterpreted their friendliness as condescension, or mockery, or a well-intentioned but naïve attempt to trick him into feeling better.
Tony so strongly identified with the feelings that came from thinking that his loneliness was uniquely powerful, uniquely incomprehensible to others, that eventually he decided it was time to die, to die alone, in the one way he could think of that would show everybody how little he could relate to them: he killed himself in his barren, silent apartment. And his body was only found three months later. I want to believe that the girl sitting on the rowing machine next to mine this evening hasn’t even understood that the Tony she is gossiping about did not kill himself three days ago, but three months ago, and that it was his body that was found three days ago. And it was found, not because somebody wondered where Tony was and went over to visit him, but because the smell coming from his apartment had become intolerable.
And, because I’m in a mood of special schadenfreude, I’d like to believe that this girl on the rowing machine next to mine had to been perfectly friendly to Tony, and even willing to have lunch with him, in a platonic way, but that Tony by that point could only believe that women hated him, because they had all heard from his ex-wife that he was exactly as unlovable as he felt.
Sleep well, Tony.