A few days after my forced retirement, I got a GoLearn visor delivered. With it, I could learn about any subject in fully-realized virtual reality. All I had to do was put on the visor and the greatest experts and specialists and geniuses in their fields would give me, ordinary Jerry, access to lifetimes of accumulated knowledge.
The first class I chose was Importance of a Diverse Microbiome because of my ongoing issues with acid reflux. I donned the visor and instantly found myself floating around a gut. I met various bacteria types, got a tour of the lower esophageal sphincter, and learned more than one could ever want to know about the colon.
I whispered facts to my husband, David, who’d begun spending all of his time in our garden. “David, did you know that our gut flora co-evolved over tens of millions of years to break down fiber that our bodies can’t digest? Did you know that if I got a fecal transplant from a skinny person, I’d get skinny too? Isn’t that neat?”
“That’s neat,” he said, preoccupied by his blueberries and squashes.
“What’s fecal?” our daughter, Jean, asked, blueberry stains on her mouth.
“Poop,” I replied.
Jean squealed. “Daddy said poop!”
I glanced at David, hoping for a grin. But he was busy stroking a squash.
After two more five-hours sessions, I graduated from Importance of a Diverse Microbiome, an expert on all things digestive. But I wasn’t acting on what I’d learned. I still drank Coca-Cola, knowing full well that the sugar would wreak havoc on my bacterial diversity. Wellness wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Instead, I decided to become a history buff. I’d always wanted to be wise, but I just never had the confidence for it. Or the time. So, for my second class, I chose Envisioning Imperial Rome During the Golden Age. With my visor on, I took a tour of Rome in 18 BCE with a simulated Augustus Caesar voiced by a snooty British actor of some renown.
By the end of the three five-hour sessions, I was first-rate at identifying columns. Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, you name it. Thrilled with my know-how, I went onto an online Roman architecture forum to chat with other GoLearners who’d taken the class.
On the forum, I wrote: What we need is more amphitheaters!
I had grandiose dreams of building an amphitheater in my humble town and imagined myself leading a ribbon-cutting ceremony with oversized scissors. There was even a great spot. All you’d have to do was tear down the caved-in Pizza Hut off Route 80.
My hands buzzed with excitement. I was breathless. But it didn’t last long. In reply to my post on the forum, I received numerous links to in-progress amphitheaters built by GoLearners inspired by the class, including one in-progress amphitheater right on top of that caved-in Pizza Hut.
How hadn’t I noticed the amphitheater construction? Where was my head?
That put me into a bit of a funk, but I decided the best way to deal with rejection was to find a rebound. I proceeded to take additional GoLearn classes. Unfortunately, every time I became passionate about a certain subject, I was already too late to the game. Everything had already been done. I just kept listlessly accumulating knowledge.
I took off my GoLearn visor and staggered into the living room. Then I found the couch, plopped down, and spaced the heck out.
The search for my next great endeavor wasn’t going very well. GoLearn had begun to feel a little pointless. Sure, I enjoyed my latest class: Happy Shrooming: Fungi Foraging in Nature. I enjoyed gathering first-rate virtual wild mushrooms. I could now correctly identify the distinctive shading of a Death Cap. But for what?
I thought of the last time I was happy. I thought of that moment often.
A memory of myself coming home from work: I walk into the house and David kisses me and asks how my day was and I tell him all the office drama and we laugh about my coworker’s stupid, tutu-wearing schnauzer and Jean gets on her tippy toes and says with a pouty face: “Is that why you won’t let me wear a tutu? Because of a schnauzer?”
That memory happened the day before I went into forced retirement. It was true; I missed working. Not that I loved working. I wasn’t some stooge who came to the office park with a big, happy-go-lucky smile every day. Some days were hard and boring. But I still found it satisfying. Work supported my family, gave us a good life. Now my family had a perfectly good life, and it had nothing to do with me.
As I sat there scowling on the couch, Jean came into the living room. She was on break from SchoolHood and had her visor off too.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?” she asked, poking my calf.
“Hi, sweetie. Nothing’s wrong,” I said.
“Liar, liar,” she said.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “You’re right.”
“What is it?”
I avoided her gaze, not wanting to offload my dumb problem on my sweet kid. But then I did it anyway. “I just don’t feel like I’m doing anything important,” I said.
“Were you before?” she asked.
“Well, maybe not. But it felt like it. It felt like I was essential.”
“You want to be essential again!” she declared. “E-s-s-e-n-t-i-a-l.”
“Thanks for spelling it out,” I said.
“No problem, Daddy,” she replied. Jean twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “I’m gonna go back to class now,” she said. “I hope you feel better.”
Then she put her visor back on and zonked out.
It made me sad seeing Jean like that. I felt even worse after realizing that this was what I must look like to David. I wiped a little bit of drool from the corner of Jean’s mouth.
After that, I put away my GoLearn visor. I buried it deep in the closet behind all the other junk. I took Jean out of class, and we joined David outside in our little garden. He was happy to have us around, but it didn’t distract him from his work. We watched David caress bell peppers. We watched him pat tomatoes and whisper sweet nothings into their ripe, juicy flesh. We watched him bring new life into the world. We watched him thrive.
This work was first published in Apiary Magazine at https://issuu.com/apiarymagazine/docs/apiary-11_final/12