Francis drove to work every day in compressed rage. He was no different than anybody else. Life had backed him into a corner, slowly, limiting the real estate, the choices available to him, until he became a silent threat.
Rage burned inside him in a quiet, well hid corner of his psyche. Burned hot, the intensity focused like a laser beam, taking up very little space but offering the potential of a cataclysmic explosion.
The commute was forty minutes and gorgeous; back roads surrounded by woods so peaceful he could almost relax. Relax maybe, if he didn’t wrestle with repetitive thoughts. Thoughts that tortured him through their very repetitiveness. The same thing every day over and over again. Fueled by hatred of his selfish, cold hearted boss. Imagining the day he would blow up and reduce her to tears. Picturing himself ignoring her spineless, unintelligent approach to managing and moving ahead to do things his way. Always and in every situation. Getting her fired for her incompetency.
Life doesn’t work that way. Especially when you work for the state. Bureaucracy was on her side. The only way she would lose her job was if she got caught stealing while beheading a customer.
Francis was trapped and he knew it.
One morning on the way to work he turned to his left and saw a guy driving his truck across a spacious and picturesque field. The guy pulled over, climbed down from the truck and headed towards some farm equipment. Francis was past him in a flash but the image burned into his mind.
Seemed like such a peaceful way to make a living. Working on farm equipment, tending to his field.
Francis began to look for him every day. Sometimes all he would see was the truck, sometimes the equipment, other times the man himself walking through that field.
It was peaceful to imagine himself as that man. Comforting.
It was a nice break from the drive and Francis really wondered what kind of life this man lead. Pictured the whole thing in his mind. The farm, his wife of many years, an old and loving dog, his worn but sturdy house, the complete absence of stress.
Eventually the imagining turned into a dark obsession. Francis began to concentrate furiously whenever he saw the man, wishing with every fiber of his being that they could switch places. It was almost painful in intensity, his desire to become this man, to flee his own life and live in serenity.
It was a fantasy, but a fantasy that kept him from obsessing about the smallness, the bitterness of his own life. If only for a few short minutes every day.
It was a Tuesday morning, sunshine brilliant, wind gentle, when Francis realized he was in the truck. THE truck. He wasn’t sure of his name, but he knew for a fact that he was no longer Francis. The switch had happened. Somehow, someway, signals had gotten crossed, vibes had intertwined and he was the man in the truck. Driving down the road on his way to see the doctor. He knew that although he didn’t know how he knew it.
Francis, or whoever he was now, was joyous. Overwhelmingly happy. A feeling he had not experienced for decades.
He wheeled the truck into the medical center parking lot, parked, and wondered what to do. The thought occurred to him to play this thing out. Follow his instincts and see where they lead.
When he entered the reception area the receptionist, with forced cheerfulness, said “Hi Jock. Good to see you.”
Now he knew his name.
She said “Dr. Johnson is ready for you, just walk right on in.”
Dr. Johnson shook his hand and asked him to sit. He said “Jock, there is no easy way to say this so I’m just gonna come right out with it. As we discussed previously, your cancer is terminal and it is Stage IV. What I didn’t know for sure until today is that, at this point, treatment is futile.”
Jock sat in stunned silence. Eventually he got up the nerve to ask “How long?”
Dr. Johnson said “You’ve got about six months to live. I’m so sorry Jock.”
He staggered out of the medical center in shock and horror. Suffocating in disbelief, he fainted in the parking lot.
And woke up in his own car on his commute to work, as Francis.
Somewhere in the transition, in the changeover back to their real lives, in the in between, Jock’s and Francis’ spirits came face to face.
Francis looked at Jock; Jock looked at Francis, both in fascination and curiosity.
Francis asked “What just happened?”
To which Jock replied “I lived your life for one hour. At that point I concentrated with all my might to get my own life back. And I’m glad it happened.”
Francis asked “Why?”
Jock answered with conviction “I’d rather have terminal cancer than live your life.”
Francis’ commute that morning was the most miserable ever.