Time Wasted

Yesterday, I sat down to each lunch after I finished writing for today. Today, I realized that I never came back and posted what I had written! Oops!
Here’s yesterday’s post.

From the fourth grade onward — or perhaps from a bit earlier than that; her younger years tended to blur together in her memory — Silver had been particularly conscious of wasting her time. She hated it, in fact, and she avoided it with a passion.

This began with the admonitions of her grandmother, who, when she cared for Silver while Silver’s parents were at work or on vacation without her, would berate her for small, simple things that Silver liked to do, in which her grandmother saw no worth. This could be anything from sitting in the window watching the squirrels crawl up the tree, startling the birds away, to watching cartoon programs in which her grandmother saw no educational value.
Many people would have learned the opposite lesson from her grandmother’s harsh words, and defied her by “wasting” more of their time on the things she opposed, but Silver, because she felt such respect (read that instead as “fear”) for the imposing woman, instead took her words to heart.

This was exacerbated in the eighth grade, when Silver fainted in class and her parents took her to a doctor who told her something that immediately aged her by a decade. Silver found out she had a heart condition. More accurately, she had a brain condition that sometimes told her heart to stop working.

It was not dangerous until it was. It was so rare that there was no established way to treat it. At any time, Silver might pass out because her heart had stopped. Any one of those times might be her last, and the older she got, the more likely it would be both that her heart would stop working, and that it wouldn’t restart itself again.

After she found out about this, Silver started deliberately avoiding everything — and everyone — that she suspected might be a waste of her time. If she began a book and didn’t enjoy every word of it, she stopped reading it. She didn’t watch television or movies unless she felt like they taught her something.

She had a hard time focusing in school, because she grew tired of the slow pace of the instruction and the lack of lessons she expected to be useful later in life. As her grandmother had told her, though, learning was never a waste. If a teacher bored her or was failing to teach her anything new, she would read a textbook while they gave instruction, lending just enough of her attention to them to respond appropriately if asked a question.

This got her into trouble exactly once, before she knew to be discreet about it, and before she’d trained herself well enough to read and listen to her teacher simultaneously. She was reading a textbook from another class while her teacher was going over a review for their next test. It was all information that he had already presented.

“Silver,” he asked. “What are you doing?”

“I’m reading.” She could not hide the fact that she thought it was obvious out of her voice.

“I can see that,” he said. “We are studying for the test.”

“I know.” She went back to reading.

“Silver,” he said. “I’m asking you to join us.”

“I don’t need to study more,” she said. “We’ve been over all of this already.”

“Be that as it may, Silver, I would like you to participate.”

“I don’t like to waste my time.”

This earned her a detention, which, she determined, was an even greater waste of her time. She refused to serve it. Luckily, school policy required her parents to sign off on anything that would put her in school past regular school hours. She used guilt to bring them to her side.

“What if my heart shuts down while I’m serving a detention I don’t deserve?” she asked. “What if I spend my final moments in punishment for something that wasn’t even wrong?”

To the consternation of her teacher and her principal, her parents kept her out of that detention. In repentance — or rather, so that she didn’t have to waste time resisting another punishment — Silver became more careful about how she approached reading or otherwise occupying herself in classes. She also became far more tactful with her teachers.

Silver carried her desire to not waste time to work with her as well. She knew that she had to be employed in order to earn money to live, since she couldn’t live off of her parents’ money her entire life, but she hated every moment of it. The monotony of working in retail or at a restaurant all felt pointless and wasteful. She wasn’t achieving anything or improving herself or even serving a real purpose.

This came to a head one day in the twelfth grade. She had a job on weekends working at large store that sold clothing, and, because it was a weekend and there was a holiday approaching, the store was particularly busy.
“How are you today?” Silver asked a customer, a phrase that fell out of her lips so often it had lost most of its meaning.

“I’m good,” the customer said, presenting Silver with her items. “And you? You’re busy today.”

“We are,” Silver said. She detested this sort of conversation, because it brought nothing to either of them. It was just socially required.
“At least it makes your day go by quickly, right?”

And Silver stopped. Right there, in the middle of the transaction, she stopped. She tilted her head, looking at the customer but not really seeing her, because though she’d heard that phrase before, this was the first time she’d ever really listened to it.

Silver left. It wouldn’t look good to future employers, but in that moment, she didn’t care. The customer just stood there, mouth agape, probably wondering what exactly she had done to offend Silver so much that she had taken off her apron and her name tag and just… left.

She hadn’t offended Silver. Silver had come to a realization. If she ever came across something again that made her want her time to go by faster, she would avoid it. She would leave, and do something else. She could always find another job. She was smart and, when she found something to be worthwhile, hardworking.

The issue was finding something worthwhile. She believed learning and improving herself that way was worthwhile. She also believed that finding a way for herself to contribute to society was worthwhile. She considered, when it came time for her to be selecting a college, going to school to become a teacher. She quickly dismissed the idea, along with every other thought she had that made it necessary for her to keep going on in school.

Teaching herself was far more efficient and, she believed, effective. She wouldn’t have to waste years of time and money getting a piece of paper that said she knew things but was not actually any proof that she did. If she found the right things to learn, she could make a profession out of it without a degree.

Silver taught herself programming. She got a job as a programmer at a large tech company, so that she would have a reliable income, then she began to work on her own projects on the side. Her first was a calendar app with time-management features, which was intended to help people make the most out of their time. Her second was a learning app intended to help people learn to code, which she tied to her calendar/time-management app to help people remember to use it daily.

She dedicated so much time to her job and her work that, by her late twenties, she realized she had never been in a romantic relationship, and that, in fact, it had never occurred to her to pursue one.

Silver spent many nights, in the time she should have spent falling asleep, debating whether or not she had the time to spend to try to find someone to love. Did love do anything to improve her? Would she be contributing to the world by loving someone? The answer to both questions seemed to be “no.”

Yet love was a positive experience, or at least it could be; and, as she grew older, she realized she had to make room in her life for those. She felt fulfilled, making apps that helped people, but she didn’t necessarily feel happy. Perhaps seeking romance could bring her joy.

To begin, she downloaded two dating apps and made profiles on both of them. She’d never bothered much with social media before, though she did have accounts to maintain connections to people she found useful or amusing, so she felt quite unpracticed in putting together her dating app profiles.

Men sought connections with her. She didn’t think about it much, but she was not unattractive; or at least, her appearance didn’t drive men away. She received many initial contacts, most of which she dismissed right away. If the men were uninteresting or unattractive, or they had habits that disgusted her — like smoking, drinking, or hunting — she blocked them immediately.

If men were vulgar, she blocked them, too. Many of the men on the apps seemed to be interested only in having sex with her. She was seeking a long-term relationship, not a single night of passion. The number of pictures of penises she received, which came with variable amounts of warning from none at all to a few paragraphs, astounded her.

She went on a few first dates with men who seemed promising. She preferred men who were kind and polite to her, of course, so she always at least considered giving them a chance. If they were kind enough, or sweet enough, she often gave them more of a chance than she felt she should.

There were times on first dates when she knew, only minutes in, that it wasn’t going to work out. She felt the need to leave like a physical itch that she couldn’t scratch, because though she’d promised herself never to allow herself to be in a situation where she wanted time to pass more quickly, she couldn’t bring herself to hurt the man across from her by standing up to go.

There were times when the men weren’t at all what they had seemed online. Those times — which were far more frequent than she had anticipated before delving into the dating world — she did stand up and leave. Sometimes she made an excuse. Sometimes she did not. Almost every time, the men were offended. If she didn’t judge them worth her time, she didn’t care.

Then came Red. She didn’t expect him at all. For one thing, she met him at her job, and not on either of the dating apps. For another, she didn’t expect the ease with which he’d make her laugh. She didn’t realize how little of her time she’d spent laughing until she began to grow closer to Red.

Red joked about their names, because wasn’t it odd that they both had uncommon names, and both of them were colors? She didn’t bother to tell him she’d always thought of her name as the metal, and not as a color at all, because it didn’t matter. When he asked her out on a date, he used their names as an excuse. He said they were meant to meet.

From that very first date, she knew she loved him. She didn’t say this out loud, because that might have driven him away, and then she would have wasted not only time, but an opportunity. He was handsome and funny and intelligent and she knew, by the end of that night, that no moment she spent with him could ever be considered wasted, even if they were just sitting idle on the couch, silent, holding each other’s hands.

They were doing that, watching a movie — something Silver had never allowed herself to do before, which Red had convinced her was worth her time — when Silver’s heart stopped. Red didn’t notice at first, thinking she had just drifted off, bored by the movie. Then he did, and, metaphorically, his heart stopped, too.

He rushed to her purse to grab her adrenaline pen. He threw everything out of it in his panic. By the time he’d returned to her, with the phone pressed between his ear and his shoulder as he dialed emergency services, she was too far gone.

He began chest compressions. He’d taken a class just after they started dating in preparation for this very moment. He’d known, like she had, that they could have been something special. He’d felt it. He didn’t care that he could lose her at any time, because to him, the joy of being with her was worth losing anything. Even her.

Silver had already passed when the EMTs arrived. They found Red curled up over her body, weeping, because the adrenaline and the CPR had done nothing.

Red couldn’t speak at her funeral. He was too distraught, and he hated speaking in front of people anyway. Not that many people attended. He came, and his parents, and Silver’s parents, and a handful of people from work. Silver had never taken the time to get to know many people.

She hadn’t taken the time to do a lot of things, and now she had no time left at all.

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