The tube lay hidden in the bowels of my bag. A gaudy red bag that I swing over my shoulder, ADIDAS written across the side in colorful letters. This bag is not a symbol. This bag means nothing yet something because that’s where I stuffed the fallen chap stick tube when I found it. I must have mistaken it for my own and hastily stuffed it into the front pocket where I keep pencils, flash cards, a calculator, and wadded up gum wrappers. In the bottom is a graveyard of used up chap stick tubes, the papered labeling worn and discolored. A new tube falls into the pile, maybe because I thought it was mine.
Months later, I’m reeling in my room, my lips blistering. Dry. Chapped.
Dry lips are the ultimate discomfort. You are allowed to forget your condition for some while if only you lick your lips and plug away at the internet. Or begin reading a book, becoming engrossed. Pulled away from your dry lips dilemma. As you sit, however, licking and licking your lips, it gets worse. Especially if it is winter and tonight is especially cold and your room does not have heating like the rest of the house. The best heat you receive is from an electric blanket that makes you sweat and doesn’t do anything to help your lips.
This discomfort, though, can be ignored for a time. Nothing like being stabbed. That hurts a lot. Or if you burn yourself. It’s impossible to ignore. Dried lips give the illusion that you’re not really in pain until they burst into fire. Metaphorically.
I’m digging through my desk, a wooden monster that takes up a fourth of the carpet space. The drawers broken and filled to the brim either with scrapbooking material (artifacts from one of my mother’s long-ago hobbies) or notebooks filled with scribbling. They’re not neatly stacked, instead crammed in boxes, placed every which way. In hopes one day I might go back to read everything I dropped into the drawers. Spiral notebooks mixed in with fancy journals, whatever the paper is, it’s overflowing with poetry or some story I wrote in the fourth grade. Odes and tall tales and bad emulations of famous writers.
No tubes of chap stick. My lips burn. Ever kissed a hot stove? The pain is nothing like that, but hyperboles offer themselves up freely at times like this. I begin scavenging through the bag, turning up moldy flash cards and broken pencils until I grasp a tube of chap stick.
I don’t look. I pop the top and apply it to my lips. Oh, heavenly moisture. Hallowed be thy purpose. I smear greasy wax to my puckered lips. At that moment, the whole universe rips open. I lower the chap stick. My lips cool. I examine the tube and realize, this is not my chap stick. But what does it matter when you feel this good.
I hold this crusted tube of Burt’s Bees up for inspection. This brand is far too expensive for me. I buy the cheapest, so this tube must be someone else’s. And by some strange chance or slice of fate, this tube came into my bag. My gaudy red bag. My wallet would never finance this.
I, desperate and chap-lipped, press the cold wax of the tube to my lips again. Sweet relief. I am experiencing pure ecstasy, even at someone else’s expense. You get that shiver of connection. Trembling up your spine, spreading its spider legs over your skin. You feel both fantastic and uncomfortable at the same time. You share something with the universe—a beautiful, foreign tube of chap stick. And you have that connection with some stranger. More intimate than a kiss, using someone else’s chap stick. Passive lip-rape. This is beyond sensual.
I am stumbling with chapped lips, searching for someone else’s chap stick. I’ll smear whatever I can find to feel that rush. That heavenly connection. That dynamic surge of relief. I am free. You are free. Yet then our lips dry again and we keep searching.
This same relief, people spend their entire lives trying to find. Even if it means using a stranger’s chap stick. We think if we can just apply some grease to our lips, we’ll feel loved. We’ll feel relieved. We’ll feel better. We do. But only until the grease makes it worse and the icy winds blister your forlorn lips. We need our lips to cry out, to express anything and everything.
You search for it, the feeling, even when the chap stick fails to give sensations. Hitchhiking even though you have money to buy gas. Slipping in and out of stranger’s bed, intoxicated with the feeling of connectivity. Some find it in lust. Others in love. No one is sure who feels it better, secretly jealous of the other. Living in constant suspicion that somehow your neighbor is having an ethereal experience in his bedroom, putting on someone else’s chap stick.
Sure, it’s a mistake. A folly. But you begin to wonder what strange strings of fate orchestrated this moment in time right now. What decisions have you made to bring you here? Begging on your knees for relief. Some find it in a bottle. Others find it in a gun.
Scouring the earth for the next great high, the next moment that will make the universe stand still. That will allow for the meaning of humanity’s existence to encroach upon your mind, if only for a second, before flitting away. So close, so simple to understand. Yet ungraspable. Always the smoke you can never catch. Always the sun: floating right there above you, yet so very far away.
Such is the relief we seek, spend our lives seeking. We begin to suddenly understand that we are indeed conscious. You feel it, as if you’re looking through a window or a mirror with two sides. This is suddenly your world in a third-person POV. You are not of yourself, but of the air, the earth, the universe. And in these rare existential moments, you understand you are alive. And that you have a soul that God created. And that though your body will die, your soul will exist forever. Some part of you will exist forever.
And whoever once owned this chap stick, his or her soul will go on forever. And somehow, your paths have intertwined in an almost insignificant way. Yet at the time, it’s amazing. You must be thankful that some person dropped his or her chap stick. Or set it down on a desk for you to pick up, thinking you might have placed it there moments ago. And in that moment of confusion, you bridge two souls across this small and vast universe.
Imagine living your entire life like that. Always being so awake, so conscious, so alive. Not merely breathing, but living. Every second of your life, you manage to appreciate the treble of someone’s voice, even if the person is only instructing you in Calculus. Or if you look away from the computer screen and absorb the intensity of colors around you. Everything on this earth is very beautiful, if you only look. Every time you eat, appreciate the taste of what you eat. Experience the rush of relief that chap stick can give.
Every experience you ever have comes not just because of your decisions but the decisions of others. So your fate and all our fates are tangled like vines. Your experiences are the indirect effect of some estranged cause. This is not always about butterflies. Sometimes just about someone else’s chap stick.
If we manage to appreciate this, we will not go searching for relief. We will not lick our lips until we are desperate. For that feeling of… anything. Some find it in lust. Others in love. Some find it in a bottle. Others in a gun.
But really, that feeling is all around us if only we can manage to remind ourselves. We are alive. This moment is only one moment in time for me and there will be an endless amount of moments ahead. Even when I die, I will live. And then without a body, I will feel always like this. Immortal. Invincible. Alive.
Wake up. Open your eyes. You are not a robot. You are not mechanical, to be wound up to operate until you need to sleep again. You have been given life so that you may experience this feeling, the feeling you get when you use someone else’s chap stick. And you can feel that forever. When we do, we finally understand what it means to feel so connected, so pulsing with entropy. We feel infinite.