I asked him if there was a time when his depression hurt the most and he said Decembers were always hard, but he used to be able to hide from the pain. Now Facebook fed him a steady stream of smiling faces as if to mock him. He was never close to his family so the holidays were just a reminder that another year had passed. There would be the obligatory trip home of course, what he called, “48 hours of parental badgering” but that never did much to brighten his spirits.
As Christmas approached, he figured he would keep track of all the things in his life besides coding, so he started a journal.
Tuesday: forgot to write something
Wednesday: Rain stopped
Thursday: Went to the Creamery looking for company. Pretty sure they keep the doors open so it stays cold to make people leave faster. I think this place is like the San Francisco version of Cheers. Everybody knows everybody else’s name, which is great unless you’re an extra. Cheers was always filled with extras who never talked to Sam or Woody or Norm. Nobody knew their name. I felt like an extra. Left after my coffee got cold.
Friday: Raining again
He came back from his trip home and just had to make it through “hell week,” the six days between Christmas and New Year’s when people go away and the city feels hollow. It was the quiet times when he couldn’t lose himself in the steady drumbeat of activity, no meetings, no pressing deadlines, that he realized how much the days he spent lost in lines of code had left him feeling isolated.
Saturday, December 29th. He wandered around the office and sat at another desk. They had toys. Robots and action figures and things to keep them company. He found himself having a conversation with Domo, that fuzzy brown Japanese monster, and a 4-inch tall Han Solo.
Sunday, December 30th. He was so tired. Not sleepy, but in that way when you feel disconnected from the world. He passed a hundred faces on Market street but nobody made eye contact. Lunch alone, again. 6-inch roast beef on wheat. Diet Coke. Baked Lays. At least Subway was open.
It was January now but things didn’t get any better. People were working next to him but nobody spoke. Most of them wore headphones and you could hear the sounds of Deadmau5 and Skrillex escaping from the noise canceling foam around their ears. He could still feel the hope slipping away. He stared at his screen. The retina display didn’t do anything to un-blur the lines of code. He toyed with his coffee and it tipped, spreading across his desk like an oil spill. As the warm brown liquid seeped through his cupped hands and disappeared into the stained carpet below, it occurred to him that trying to catch the coffee was the perfect metaphor for hope. No matter how hard you try, it always slips through your fingers. The tighter you hold on, the less remains in your hands. When the last of the coffee had dripped to the floor he stared at his empty palms. No hope remained.
I asked him if he believed in god and he said there is no god in tech. He said he didn’t believe in anything and that makes ending it so much easier. No religion meant no judgment day, no afterlife, no worries about disappointing the almighty. It would just end in a blink. Cut to black like the last episode of the Sopranos. He said at least this way people will remember him like that Russian kid who was working on Diaspora. I said, “do you remember his name?” He drew a blank and looked down at the coffee stain on the carpet.
He said that hope was the only thing that many people have. Hope for the future. Hope for our dreams. Hope that we’re not fighting in futility. And when the hope slips away, we’re left grasping at emptiness.
I asked him how his parents would take it and he said he read somewhere that no man is truly free until his father passes away. The thought both depressed him and gave him a purpose. His life wasn’t even really his own. He wasn’t even really free. But at least the obligation gave him a reason to wake up tomorrow. At least there was that.
[Image courtesy Rob Sheridan]