Lost in thought, I accidentally sprinted up eight flights of stairs this morning instead of six, passing my floor in a daze. I was thinking about the mistake I’d made when I was but a lad of eleven. Singularly well-burdened of intellect, I was, even then, wont to losing myself in contemplative spells, to the detriment of chore, courtesy, and couth. So it was that I found myself dangling from the business end of my stepfather’s clenched fist, my slackened feet leaving circular furrows in the gray mounds of his father’s ashes. One might conclude that my mistake lay in tipping his precious urn in the first place, especially as I was using it for balance as I sought the box of porn magazines in my stepfather’s den closet. But in hindsight the far greater mistake was my reaction to the fury directed at me.
In spite of my precarious position, I suddenly felt the urge to laugh. I tried to stifle it as soon as I felt it coming on, but it was like the onset of a sneeze. My field of vision contracted as time slowed, until all I could see beyond my elder’s immense white knuckles were his bulging eyes and quivering jowls. He was so consumed with emotion that it summoned in me a kind of dark joy. More! I wanted to shout. I wanted to see him combust into a plasma cloud of rage, as I shrieked with joy from the excess of it.
I tried to hang onto reality, mindful of the myriad physical repercussions that would surely befall me if I allowed myself to be swept into the throes of laughter. It seemed I had ages to imagine the gristly aftermath, but however inappropriate, I couldn’t help but to surrender to mirth. I felt the right corner of my mouth curl upward ever so delicately, in spite of my every determination not to allow it to end like this.
Reality! My stepfather’s countenance was a marvel of form yielding to function. He was anger incarnate. In a way he had transformed into something other than human. No longer was he digesting stomach contents, or pushing out fresh ear hairs, or suffering macular degeneration. At that very moment in time every process served the singular function of shaking me over his paternal remains like a ragdoll.
And yet the image of it became a cartoon taunting my mind, a vision of myself whooping like a retarded child on the Octopus ride, “Wheee! Wheee!” The laugh overtook me in a spasm, and I snorted through my nose as I averted my face. It sounded a bit like a sneeze, in a way. An awful lot like a sneeze, except for the trace smile now dooming my right cheek. Maybe he didn’t see though. From his angle maybe mine was an expression of abject horror, a grimace of fear, or of self-loathing at least. But a moment later I was choking with laughter.
My stepfather was incredulous, his nostrils purple and flared. In fact he lowered me to the floor and asked me outright: “What are you thinking?”
What, indeed! A philosophical question. Would that my brazen self-destructive act had derailed his rage one iota, but no such luck. He was merely distracted, demanding an answer just as the superhero’s nemesis does before the torture commences. Still, maybe I could appeal to his human side, his sense of mystery. “I don’t know where that came from,” I said, truthfully. “I wasn’t even thinking. I wasn’t laughing at you, I promise. It has nothing to do with you, or this.” I pointed to the ceramic shards, and that seemed to focus him again. Bad move. “I think my brain is broken,” I concluded, desperately hoping for refuge in pathos.
I believed then as I do now that people take themselves too seriously. Had I really broken anything? In fact his father’s receptacle was still there before us, it had just taken on another form. If he didn’t see the irony of that then he was beyond my ability to enlighten. We would all be a lot better off if we embraced these events with wonder. In such a world I might say, “I seem to have reorganized that bowl of dad dust that you were embarrassingly stashing. Isn’t it funny how things just happen like that? Now where’s that porn I was looking for?” In a way, I would be enlisting the other party to join me on a journey of mind. We were all swimmers in this soup of unfortunate events. It’s a wonder that we managed to find each other at all, isn’t it? So why shouldn’t we celebrate it?
Of course, my stepfather’s idea of celebration had nothing to do with starry-eyed wonder, and he soon commenced the business of discipline. By the time he wiped the sweat from his brow perhaps I was somewhat starry-eyed after all.
So that’s what I was thinking about when I missed my floor this morning. One mistake gives rise to another, and so on. I pushed through the door into the outer office, and realized my mistake only then. The carpet was the wrong color, to begin with, not to mention the fact that the air lacked that post-dotcom tang of on-the-verge-of-getting-laid-off perspiration. Even so, it was too late to execute an about-face.
The most damning thing about making a mistake lies not with the realization that you’ve made one, but in allowing people to see your reaction once you’ve realized it. It follows that the solution is to remain ignorant of mistakes. Never acknowledge them in any discernable way. Like drawing a picture using a single, unbroken line, you don’t get to lift the pen from the paper, and there is no erasing. Better yet, accept the consequences of each mistake until it appears that you’ve taken that course of action intentionally, and go about it with flourish. If you pull that off then you may even stir envy among your compatriots as they secretly wish they were doing exactly what you were doing.
It took me nearly a half hour to make it back to the stairwell without calling attention to myself as a hapless interloper. I took my circuit of the foreign offices in a graceful manner, and I made it look as if there were nothing that could provide greater satisfaction. That’s how a mistake should be made.