It's the little things.
When bad things happen, I mean really bad things, the human brain has a built in defense. Get fired? Found out someone murdered your family? Caught a raging disease that will slowly kill and give you excessive flatulence? No problem. Such life-shattering events are too much for the brain to handle, so it doesn't even try.
A kind of numbness sets in. Few people, when they find out they're now an orphan, or a widow, or a widower, start wailing right there and then. Your first reaction is a kind of stunned stare. The first thought in your head will be "I can't believe it." And really, you can't. It's precisely this reaction that prevents you from going totally nuts. Oh, you might experience a kind of minor insanity--I know people who have gone through stuff like having been betrayed by their loved one, lost their job, found out they owe $54, 000 in taxes, and that the state of Atlanta is getting a hockey team. All in the space of about 45 minutes. What did he do? He had a giggling fit. His whole life crumbled in the time it takes for his favorite pizzeria to deliver a hot n' spicy one. And he was laughing. This temporary insanity is what saves you from permanent insanity, the kind of insanity that makes people from Reichs and stuff like that.
The human soul can't handle heavy trauma, so your brain breaks it into you in segments. Spreads it out so you can handle it. You will cry and howl and demand "Why? Why? Why?" but it will be spaced out so that you can gradually recover. It takes awhile, and while you're going through it you think this is the worst possible thing, but trust your brain, it's smarter than you are. It'll pull you through, just give it time.
Unless you get hit by little things.
This whole healing process is extremely delicate. And ironically, you can take as much heavy trauma as the world can dish out. But... add one little thing, and you snap.
Little things are actually anything but. These are the things that cause people to lose it, and go over the edge. That's why a person can jog merrily along knowing their lover has been having an affair with their Saint Bernard, their best friend secretly planted cocaine on them and called the cops, and the local revenue service is considering selling off their organs in order to cover old debts. A person going through that may be depressed, but will go on nicely. But suddenly, add to that the fact the person in cubicle behind them at work drained the pot of coffee without setting a new one brewing, bang. Homicide.
Those little things are what's getting you by. Okay, so you're unloved, unemployed, unwanted. Big deal. There's only one last nice cold bottle of your favourite beer waiting patiently for you when you get home. Everything is okay because of that one bottle of beer. Hell, have the mob put a contract out on you. Have the government outlaw oxygen. Have an alien species bent on the destruction of the human race invade the planet right now. Give another hockey team to Texas. That won't change the fact that there's one cold bottle of your favourite beer in your fridge right now.
You open the door, and spot your roommate laying on your couch, picking his nose, and in his hand is a half empty bottle of beer.
This is the kind of thing that inspires you to acts of violence and cruelty that has Freddy Krueger saying "Whoa, that wasn't very nice."
Check the papers. Whenever there's a mass killing, you often find out that thing that triggered the killer's rampage was something incredibly stupid--like the fact that his computer crashed just as he was about to beat level 12. You think "How senseless!" but in fact it makes perfect sense. The killer was managing the serious stuff, but take away that one respite, one break, one source of pleasure, and the boundaries of sanity are gone. As long as your little thing remains intact, you're fine. Pile on the trauma, who cares? But take away that little thing, that bottle of beer, your favorite CD, and it's postal time.
Like what happened to me yesterday.
I've been through the wringer lately. Sparing you the gory details, my job has been hassling, and I was supposed to get married in a few days, but instead I'm a not-so swinging bachelor again. I was going through the usual healing process. Yes it hurt, but my brain was working diligently on getting me through it.
But yesterday, I was at work. I was carrying my favorite pen. I went to the washroom, and I had my pen in my back pocket.
As I flushed and stood, the pen fell out of my pocket.
Into the toilet.
Initially I panicked--I thought it was gone for good. But it lodged in the bowl and didn't go down. I fished it out and was considerably relieved.
Then it occurred to me.
I am notorious for chewing on my pens.
It's a habit that will always be with me. And I knew that there was no way that I could remember every time where this pen had been. Sooner or later, it would slip my mind, at least until the moment my teeth clamped down on that pen.
Oh, I could wash it, but there would always be the memory. I had no choice.
This pen was perfect for me. Hard rubber at the end to endure my constant gnawing, a clip that could removed and used to scratch your eardrums. It had a firm, tough point that was great for puncturing packages and tearing away cellophane.
And I had to throw it out.
Up until then, I was fine. Wounded, but walking. Then I dropped my favourite pen in the toilet.
Two minutes later, everyone on the upper floor of my work was dead.