MINOT, ND—The best years in the life of Frederick Videk—veteran, husband, and father of five—are never going to happen, the 51-year-old broken man realized Monday.
"Well, I guess that's that," said Videk, sitting in his pickup waiting for the light to change, the realization finally smacking him full in the face. "This is it—it's not going to get any better. In fact, it's probably just going to be a gradual but steady decline from here on."
Videk, who for years had waited for something to bring him satisfaction, then pulled over to the side of the road and watched cars pass by for an hour and a half. By the time he returned to the split-level ranch home he purchased at a high mortgage rate in 1979 and has yet to pay off, his wife was angry with him, his favorite TV show was over, and his cold dinner had been given to the family dog.
"I guess I always just figured the really good years were right around the corner," Videk said. "What a pantload. I remember in high school, thinking that as soon as I got a car, the best years were really gonna kick in. I'd be able to go anywhere, get girls, maybe get laid, and people would think I was cool. Then, when I finally got a car, it was such a shitheap, I figured that once I got a better car, then everything would be fine. Well, you know what? I've owned 11 cars in my life, and I thought the same exact thing about each one of the fuckers. Not one in the succession of cars I've bought since I was 16 has ever done anything for me but drag my sorry ass to and from work every goddamn day of my life. That's it."
Shortly after returning home, Videk, feeling himself inexorably drawn into a vortex of despair, made his way to the upstairs bathroom, where, despite having no need to use the facilities, he sat on the toilet for approximately 20 minutes to avoid all human contact. The last seven of those 20 minutes were spent trying to ignore the pounding and whining of his teenage daughter Robyn, who pleaded with him to unlock the door so she could "get [her] face on."
Videk eventually relocated to the garage, where he stood next to his workbench and made patterns in the floor dust with his foot. While doing so, he pondered the fact that achieving his goal of getting laid merely resulted in the birth of another human being who wanted to get laid, too.
"I know Robyn thinks that if she gets one of the boys at school interested in her, she'll be popular, and that the best years of her life will begin," Videk said. "Little does she know she's just perpetuating an endless string of DNA replication that isn't going anywhere."
After nearly an hour in the garage, Videk walked to his driveway and stared at a rake lying on its side on the front lawn.
"After I graduated high school in '68, I joined the Navy. I thought the best years of my life would finally arrive because I'd get out of this boring hellhole of a state," Videk said. "I now see that the feeling was oddly similar to the one I had in '72, right before I finished my first tour in the Navy, and all I wanted to do was get back to North Dakota where things were so much better. Why couldn't I see it at the time?"
Over the course of Videk's life, each time he reached a milestone, he believed that his best years were about to begin. Among these life events were losing his virginity, getting married, fathering his first through fifth child, having his children move out, buying a better house, and getting his overbite fixed. None of these events, however, made the slightest impact on his overall happiness.
Compounding Videk's misery were depressing thoughts about the many things he has never gotten around to doing, including playing harmonica in a blues-rock band, breaking a 250 score in bowling, traveling to the ancient pyramids of Egypt, and learning to play harmonica in the first place.
"It's like you're thinking, 'The world's my oyster and anything is possible,'" Videk said. "'As soon as this next immediate obstacle to happiness is cleared, I'll be able to do anything I want.' Then the goals become less and less realistic as you pass 35, and you start to set more modest goals for the best years of your life, like making shift supervisor at the goddamn screen-door factory where you work. Eventually, even these pathetically scaled-down fantasies prove unworkable, since some asshole named Glenn Harrigan has seniority at the plant and obviously isn't going anywhere. Suddenly, you're 51, and at long last, you figure out that whatever it is you're hypothetically still waiting for, it's pretty much irrelevant. Then you go to bed and have to work at the screen-door factory for another nine hours the next day, and that's pretty much that."
"I guess I should stop thinking about life as something that even involves the term 'best years of my life,'" Videk told the rearview mirror of his car while parked behind a local Wendy's, eating a burger, Biggie fries, and Biggie Frosty. "I guess a more appropriate term would be something like 'least intolerable meals at fast-food drive-thrus of my life,' or something along those lines."
Still in relatively good health for a man his age, Videk then girded himself for the remaining 20 to 30 years before he dies.