The Life We Want
Clancy McGilligan

I was walking down a residential road in my hometown when something struck me in the head from behind. The force of the blow sent me staggering forward, then to my knees. When I looked up, only a second or two later, I saw a large sedan—a Cadillac or maybe a Chevy—screeching away with what looked like a golf club hanging out. The golf club withdrew into the front passenger window as I watched, but nobody looked out, and it was too dark—it must have been nine at night—for me to see inside the back window. I don't play golf, and in any case I couldn't recognize the club from so far away, but it felt like one of those big, solid ones. I'm not sure though.

I just sat there for a while, on the gravel by the road, as there was no sidewalk in that part of town, not really understanding what had happened to me. Which is to say I couldn't come up with a reason that anyone I knew would attack me like that. Finally I grasped that someone had hit me with a golf club as a kind of sport—for fun—but I still couldn't understand why. It didn't make any sense to me that someone could completely disregard the rules of daily life in this way.

I had been walking home from my girlfriend's house. I was seventeen then, a senior, and getting ready to go off to college. I was considered a well-adjusted youth—I remember that's what adults would say about me when they thought I couldn't hear.

Eventually I got back on my feet just to see if I could, and I felt my head all over and my hands came away clean—no blood. And so I continued walking home. It was a good fifteen minute walk, but it seemed a lot longer.

By the time I reached my house I realized my smartphone, which was at that point only four or so weeks old, a pre-graduation gift, had fallen out of my pocket, probably while I was seated on the gravel. But I didn't feel like walking all the way back, and I didn't want to ask anyone—especially not either of my parents—for a ride. And so I went inside and straight to my room and locked my door. I never did get my smartphone back.

I remember I felt so embarrassed about being attacked like that, as if I should have known better or as if it showed how weak I was. I didn't want to tell anyone about it if I could avoid it.

My mom came to my room and asked through the closed door if I was feeling alright and I said yes, I was fine, but that I wanted to go to sleep. She acted as if I were behaving strangely but eventually went away and left me alone.

It was after she left that my head really began to hurt—I mean like my skull was vibrating against a piece of concrete or something. And I couldn't help it, I began to whimper. And then I was weeping. So I took a clean white t-shirt and bit down on it.

But the pain kept getting worse. I realized that I needed to man up and go to the hospital or I might suffer some serious consequences, might even die. Soon I was convinced—I had somehow convinced myself—that I was going to die. But I couldn't bear the thought of going into a hospital and saying I was hit by a golf club held out of a Cadillac—I felt as if that just wasn't good enough.

There I was, convinced I was going to die. And I didn't die—I'm here right now, obviously. I woke up the next morning with a headache and that was that. But I had convinced myself that that night was my last night on earth, and so I decided to write a letter to everyone I loved. Then I figured it would be hard to write a letter while I was dying, so I took out my laptop and decided to record a video of myself saying what I wanted to say. And I've never shown anyone this video—I'm too embarrassed to show it to anyone—but I haven't deleted it. In this video I'm crying. I say that I love my girlfriend, Hanna, even though I broke up with her later, and my parents and grandparents, and my brother Jared. And I go on and on, blubbering, listing all the people I know and saying I love them. This takes about ten minutes. And then I lie down while the video is still on and appear to go to sleep—I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at this point. By the next morning the recording had autostopped. I woke up and remembered what had happened and realized that I was alive—I was so happy even though my head still hurt pretty bad—and I watched the video, which mortified me, I was such a weepy mess. I decided then and there that I could never show the video to anyone, but I couldn't bring myself to delete it, either. And that day was pretty much the same as any other, as far as what happened—I went to school, etc.— but the whole time I understood that I loved everyone, or thought I did—I'm still not sure which. And the day came and went and more days came and went and I never found out who hit me with the golf club or why. But I still have the video. Sometimes when I feel down I watch it by myself with my headphones on so nobody can hear anything if they happen to be nearby, and oddly—or maybe it's not odd at all—the video always makes me feel better.

Clancy McGilligan has worked as a journalist in Cambodia and Wyoming. This is his first published fiction.

Read his postcard.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Joe Flintham.

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