Inspirational Contemporary

Warning: This story contains themes about suicide.

Ralph Biggins woke in a cold sweat, convulsing uncontrollably, gasping for air, petrified he was about to choke. Not here, not like this, he begged the universe, struggling to breathe. In a few short hours, morning would come and steal another part of his life away. He would have to confront his corporate prison. And he would have to confront Her.


She was menacing, condescending and deplorable. She never said a nice word about anyone, unless it profited her situation. She wanted to be seen as sophisticated and glamorous, and popular, but most of the time she just came off as desperate for attention. She wrote extensive blogs about her ‘opinions’ – none of which Ralph Biggins respected – then harass him for his review. He would sit there blinking through the muddled prose and messy sentence structures, trying to decipher what she was getting at. “Simplify it!” he wanted to shout. “Stop writing so much gunk – NOBODY CARES”. But instead he would come out with “it’s fine – just take out that rogue apostrophe in the word it’s.”

This whole scenario might seem trivial, but that was the extent of Ralph Biggins’ life – trivial and small. Like most workers, he felt undervalued, underappreciated, and ignored, but for him, he also felt a profound emptiness, as if going to work each day was slowly squeezing the life out of him. He didn’t want to inflict self-harm (he was too scared for that) - he just wanted life to hurry up and end the pain of his rotting self-esteem.

“RALPH!” shrieked Jen from her office. “One sec!”

Ralph signed heavily. A second in Jen’s office usually took an hour while she rambled on about her latest ‘issues’ and bored him with her paranoid-fantasies about the so-called dirty tactics of their competitors.

He was right.

Jen ranted and raved for a good hour and 15 minutes, after which, fatigued and depressed, Ralph went back to his own desk.

Just a few more days, Ralph thought to himself, then I’ll do it...


Later that night, while Googling a remedy for his emotional pain, Ralph came across a funny looking picture of a stressed out office man, not unlike himself, holding a brick in one hand, and a phone receiver in the other. The caption said ‘When talking to the brick would make more sense.’

Ralph chuckled at that. True, he thought.

Then he found another. It was of a semi-attractive woman looking at a man with deep concentration. The caption on this one said ‘This conversation…will be recorded for quality and training purposes.’ Ralph spluttered with mirth. “Good GOD!” he said aloud.

That was totally Jen.

The third was the one that changed his life. It was a Mr Bean GIF, standing in a field, looking impatiently at his watch. The caption on this one said 'Me...waiting in the middle of nowhere…to take that bus to nowhere.' Ralph laughed so hard at that one, because he related to it so well. He often felt stuck in between nothing destinations, passing the time unproductively, feeling bloated with depression and worry. He was addicted to his fears, such as spiders crawling into his bed at night, or the phone ringing unexpectedly, probably tax agents, claiming he made some terrible mistake on his tax return five years ago. He couldn’t think straight about most things; when someone asked him a question, even a simple one, he would panic and lose his train of thought. Especially directions. He was awful at visualising the world and explaining it. He couldn’t articulate his own thoughts, needs, wants and desires, especially around someone like Jen who shut him down the minute he came up for air. He felt trapped by endless anxiety, guilt and shame, and had isolated himself from the human race. He could do the shopping, but he couldn’t decide if he liked chocolate or vanilla icecream, as icecream was ‘bad food’ and might give him cardiac arrest, which was ironic, considering how much he wanted to just give up and die.

And so, on that evening when Ralph first saw those memes, a strange thing happened. He began to create his own.


Admittedly, Ralph didn’t put too much thought into his early memes. He was just using it as a way to express his private frustrations with things that scared him, especially people like Jen. The first one he made was of a cat looking very surprised, with the caption: 'When your boss makes no sense…but you gotta carry on anyway.' Ralph created a few social media accounts under the name Biggins84 and posted his meme. It got a few likes and one comment: “True, lol.”

Ralph then created a few more memes over the next few days, reflecting all the stressful experiences he had that week at work. He posted:

A man drowning in the sea: 'Me...giving a presentation.'

A picture of a devil prodding a man’s butt: 'My boss...leading me to hell.'

A cow in a field, chewing peacefully, with a picture of a greasy burger underneath it: ‘I am this cow…gentle, peaceful…MINCED.’

And a picture of a man looking down in horror: ‘When you can’t unsee that booty crack.’ This one had happened entirely by accident when Jen walked in on Ralph attempting to clear out the storeroom like she instructed, but she got all huffy and berated him for ‘not doing it properly’, so she bent over and started shoving the boxes around aggressively, exposing her underwear. Ralph sighed heavily. Why did she complicate things? Why did she always make him feel so inferior and small?

After a week or so of posting memes, Ralph had 10 followers on his social media accounts. He wasn’t interested in the number of likes, just the anonymity of having a safe space to vent. It certainly felt like much more fun than eating too much food and watching too much television, procrastinating about all the things he wanted to do that he thought would actually help him get better, like going for a walk, or clearing out his place, or visiting the ocean. You see, Ralph used his anxiety as an excuse to procrastinate his enjoyment in life; he always thought he wasn’t entitled to relax because something would creep up and take that happiness away from him, making him feel foolish and indulgent for enjoying himself. He acutely knew where this feeling came from (he sat in the corner weeping as he recalled these thoughts): he had a very aggressive, mentally unstable mother that didn’t like seeing him being happy; whenever he had a birthday she would demand that the focus was on her and her success as a party host. Ralph was forced to do things her way even as a grown man. He didn’t want to be a Momma’s Boy (God forbid!) but that was the deck of cards handed to him: an overpowering, abusive mother who yelled a lot, was never satisfied, and whipped her husband into an untimely heart attack at the age of 60. Ralph was now in his mid 30s, unmarried, never dated, and not ambitious for anything than to just let society dictate when and where he should go. He desperately wanted freedom, but every time he ventured out to do anything for himself, he was met with a terrible misunderstanding. Like the time he volunteered to be a trauma counsellor and was cruelly ripped to shreds by one user on a forum that claimed he ‘knew nothing about what true trauma was’ and he ‘should keep his useless mouth shut’. Ralph kept to himself after that, being anonymous online and in real life, never stating his opinion and not daring to dream that he could be successful at something he actually liked.


“RALPH!!!” screeched Jen from her office. “PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS?!”

Ralph jolted, spilling his deliciously smooth soy chai latte all over his new tie. He had felt a bit better about himself this morning after spending the night weeping and memeing, and discovering for the first in his life, that people actually did care about his trauma. “It will get better bro,” one user assured him, after Ralph posted a picture of a man jumping off a bridge. “I know how you feel,” said another. “Just hang in there, sending good thoughts your way x,” wrote ChrissyX. Ralph decided that if people did in fact, care about him, then at least he had some hope of caring about himself. And so he decided to do one nice small thing a day that couldn’t possibly hurt or backfire on him. Like buying himself a nice, large hot coffee on his way to work.

Ralph put his coffee down and sulked into Jen’s office. “Hi…what’s up?” he said meekly.

Jen’s eyes were wide and furious. “This blog...I asked you to go through it and make corrections and apparently it’s full of typos…this looks REALLY UNPROFESSIONAL RALPH, I’m DISAPPOINTED IN YOU.” Jen loved using that word, ‘disappointed’.

Ralph’s face went white. “Ummm….” he stammered, trying to recall whether she had asked him to proof read this particular blog. It certainly didn’t look familiar. For all his perceived faults, Ralph had a pretty good memory, though he didn’t always trust himself, even when his inner mind was screaming IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT RALPH!!! SHE NEVER ASKED YOU TO READ THIS ONE!!!

Ralph ignored logic and resorted to his inner critic: “Oh geez, umm, Jen, I must have missed that one…I’m really, really sorry, it won’t happen again.”

Jen huffed and sighed and berated him some more about his lack of professionalism. Then she eyed the coffee stains on his brand new tie. “And look at you, you’re a complete mess!” Jen snarled. Ralph didn’t remember much what she said after that, something about being threatened with termination, was it? Or something about doing what he could to fix this blog pronto? Or both?

“Well I certainly don’t get paid to mill around and tell you how to do your job,” Jen snapped. She wound back in her chair. “I’m super busy right now - that’s all I’ve got to say.”


That evening, slumped on the bathroom floor, Ralph searched ‘how to hang yourself’ on his smartphone. The first thing that came up was a warning message: DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS. IF YOU NEED HELP, PLEASE CALL LIFELINE. Ralph scrolled straight past it and examined step-by-step instructions. He had to tie something high enough to make a loose knot that would tighten as soon as he put his head through it. Ralph didn’t have anything by way of ceiling fixtures, but he did have a handle on his bathroom door. He was going to use his nice brand new tie as the noose. For how long he would be there till they found him, he didn’t know or care. He visualised being dead for weeks, or even months, until some bill or other was overdue and they came knocking on his door. By then he would be badly decomposed, and the only intact thing left on him would be his tie…

As Ralph was preparing the knot, he wondered whether he should write one final message to his small group of followers, to say thanks for their support and this is what he had chosen to do. Ralph always liked closure on things, it gave him certainty in a world that was so painfully ambiguous. Ralph didn’t like ambiguity, it always made him nervous that some bad news would fill the void.

"Sorry guys," he would write under his latest meme of the man jumping off the bridge. "But I’m really struggling here. So I’ve decided to do something about it."

Ralph went back to his living room and logged in, and saw that he had a few notifications in his inbox, and a few more followers….whoa…no wait, more like….600 followers to be exact. Were these just fake spam messages, sent by the universe to taunt him? No, no, these were genuine, legit messages of people reaching out to him to see if he was okay after posting his meme of the man jumping off the bridge. "Hey man," said one, "saw your picture and just wanted to say, if your thinking about killing yourself, please don’t do it, my brother did this a few year’s ago and our family has never overcome the shock, my mom is still hurting for him." And another: "Yeah, life sucks, but don’t do it, not that you said you we’re going to, but if you are, PLEASE DON’T WE LOVE YOU!" For once in his life, Ralph didn’t get aggravated by typos and misplaced apostrophes, he was just awed that so many people had shown some genuine understanding of his situation.

I really should write something back, Ralph thought, because he was always taught by his teachers to be punctual and responsive. He found that kept him out of trouble with most people.

So he sat down at his computer and wrote:

"Hey everyone, thanks for your kind messages. I honestly didn’t think so many of you would take an interest in this meme, it was a reflection of my state of mind which lately hasn’t been in a great place. I’ve been under ridiculous pressure at work from someone who keeps bullying me and I can’t see a way out of it, and I was actually going to end it all tonight, but your words are giving me life right now. I’m going to stay strong and push through this. Love you all, Ralph Biggins xox."

And with that, Ralph created 20 more memes, expressing all the sadness and rage he had felt that day towards Jen and everyone else in the world that had hurt him. He used all kinds of hashtags, and discovered he could even set up his own blogging site to home all his memes together. Within hours of his posts, Ralph’s number of likes escalated and he started getting huge numbers of followers, including very popular social media influencers who had up to 80,000 followers. A few of them even shared Ralph’s satirical posts.

It made him feel good that people were sharing and commenting on his creations.

After four hours of his meme binge-fest, Ralph fell asleep at his computer.


By morning, Ralph had 2,000 followers and reached Gold status in the meme community. Ralph decided that whatever was going to happen that day, whether he would be humiliated and fired, was just another day and he would use it as inspiration for his memes. He set off to work, feeling good.

When he got to the office, he saw that Jen wasn’t around as usual in her office. Perhaps she was at a meeting. But no, his phone started ringing and he saw it was Jen.

“Hello Jen,” he said cheerfully. “How are you?”

Jen rattled on about how she had suddenly come down with sickness and had to delegate all her blogging duties to him. For how long she would be sick, she didn’t know, but Jen liked to complain about her travesties. Ralph listened politely and with empathy.

“Do you think you can handle that?” she said finally.

“Yes, I can do that,” said Ralph confidently. And he knew he could do it.

Ralph spent the next few days while Jen was away writing beautiful blog posts. There were many things he was unsure of, but rather than call Jen, he decided to make decisions on his own, and suffer the consequences later. He felt a rush of exhilaration and freedom with his newfound responsibilities. He even managed to buy his favourite coffee again, and enjoyed sipping it slowly while thinking of his next idea.

Jen was only gone a few days, and didn’t thank Ralph for holding the fort. But Ralph decided he wasn’t going to get upset by this.

In fact, he decided he wasn’t going to get upset by her ever again.

The next time she tugged him into her web of accusations, Ralph stopped her cold.

“There’s a few things I want to say, too” he said. “But I will let you finish first."

Jen was taken aback, but persisted: “You haven’t done anything I said. What planet are you on? Where are you getting these ideas from that have nothing do with the way we work?”

Just then the phone rang. Jen answered it. Ralph began to leave but then decided, no, he had every right to sit there and finish this conversation.

Jen seemed genuinely happy by the news she was getting on the phone. Finally she hung up.

“Well apparently our blog has been nominated for an award,” she said. “They particularly like the articles we wrote while I was away”.

(You mean I wrote! thought Ralph. I wrote those articles while you were away!)

City Chat want to interview me,” she continued breezily. “I need you to talk me through the ideas, because of course, I get so busy I can’t remember all the details. Now….what were you going to say?”


Six months later, Ralph stood on a large trademark red circle, blinking at the lights. He opened his mouth and heard his voice echoing through the microphone.

“Today I’m going to talk about how memes changed my life. When I first started six months ago I honestly never thought it would get this big."

Ralph heard the audience roar with laughter at the image projected behind him. It was the one of the cat looking surprised.

“After quitting my job I was invited to visit the Worldwide Meme Convention in Ohio. What a game changer that was! It is now my sincere and incredible honour today to be giving you this TED Talk."

January 09, 2021 01:57

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Masha Kurbatova
23:04 Jan 20, 2021

love the dark humor in this one! it's dramatic, yet relatable, and i love how you approach contemporary things and issues! great job


Liv F
01:49 Jan 21, 2021

Thank you so much, we all need a bit of (dark) humour these days :-)


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