Mid-squat above my dented desk chair, the one painted black, its wood from some long lost oak poking through, I realize I’ve left the kitchen light on. Its glow casts austere shadows down the hallway, disrupted only by a brief flicker—some fault in the fuse or simply the ghost of my better self, scolding me to be more conscientious. I am in the home office, mug of fragrant green tea sweating on the desk, The National blaring from the speaker in the other room, distant, my phone face down on the ottoman, which I am hesitant to call such, given the stubborn scars of my inheritance. A footstool, maybe.
I am not without faults. I am in fact defined by them. Contradictions that reveal a lack of will power or a blessed willingness to fluctuate. How I’ll reward two weeks of vegetarianism with a fast food cheeseburger, a mountain of chicken nuggets flooded in a river of barbecue sauce; the way I convince myself my short weekday showers are reason enough to settle in beneath the stream after a long Sunday run until the hot water loses its muster.
My wife tells me I choose unusual places to draw my environmental scruples. I’ll carry around an empty plastic cup, a gravel of ice at its bottom melting fast as a glacier, filled with cold-brew coffee mere moments ago, until we find a recycling bin, no matter the neighboring trash can is full of its comrades: plastic bottles and aluminum cans and cardboard mugs with their textured insulated sleeves and mushy discarded newspapers and rotting food; banana peels and apple cores galore, their odor heavy in the humid air. I want to want to sort it, to get my hands dirty and dive in, ask my wife to walk the dog the last half mile home, I’ll meet them in the backyard when I’m ready.
We have one car for the time being, a hybrid model if you’ll allow me a moment to be self-righteous, but both of us are prone to walking until it is inconvenient, a habit carried over from our years in Chicago without a vehicle. Yet, I have been lazy as of late. Now, whether I’m burning gasoline or calories on my route to campus depends on the rust marring my bike’s chain or the bite of the November air or if I worked myself into a fatigue that morning. I dream of more delight and fewer emissions, of odes to fruit trees and wild horses. Even in the moments I am left awestruck and teary-eyed by nature’s fleeting gifts, I can’t help but cling to some funky sort of cynicism, the liar in me calling me a liar until the truth is I don’t know what I can do to help, if anything at all.
I look around the room to my plants and dog and fear that in all likelihood I will outlive them. My parents call on the phone and tell me who to contact when they are dead. I am starting to think I might live just long enough to watch things go to hell or high water, the latter much more likely. Our demise will be aqueous. I don’t have the resolve to sink into my own murky depths. I still have not calculated the environmental footprint of my morning coffee. I continue the routine of brewing it without reflection. When I flip the kitchen light off, a buzz of appliances holds steady.
I stand in the darkness, waiting for a flood or tornado or hurricane, any natural disaster to shake me from this complacency, but the wind outside remains gentle, unconcerned if I smile or howl or wail. The electric hum never wavers. I dream of approaching the front door, more dented wood slathered in paint, its hinges squeaky with age, where through the nine panes of foggy glass I find I am at the bottom of an aquarium, the water all around me, heavy, waiting for the house to collapse.