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Seriously?

I have the same thoughts today as I did when I was 12…and when I was 14, and 18, and 27 and on and on forever. I think I have grown, learned some things, matured, but no. I am still a fucked up kid in an oversized body. My angst today is the same who am I what is the point in life angst I’ve always had. My vocabulary has marginally improved. My grammar has not.

I am SO SICK of everyone wanting me to be someone I’m not. I am fed up with ME wanting me to be someone I’m not. But for fucks sake, I REALLY want to be anyone else. I HATE myselft, every ounce of myselft. I’ve been through therapy, I’ve tried to love myself, but it’s like accepting that everyone shits. It’s true, but no one likes the shit. No one wants to talk about or deal with the shit. Shit is a natural byproduct of existence; we eat, we process the food, extract the nutrients and shit the waste. It’s messy and we potty train our children and domesticated animals as quickly as possible so we don’t have to deal with it. I am a natural byproduct of unprotected sex. Sperm fertilized an egg and, as my mother loves to point out that she chose not to abort me, I was born forty weeks later. Well, forty-one weeks. My mother loves to point that out too, like I was late on purpose just to piss her off. I was a fetus, not really sentient, but sure. The shit/baby metaphor doesn’t work for other babies and is perhaps a terrible metaphor, but I’m tired and depressed and I’m going with it. I probably shouldn’t publish this, but I’m going to because…well I don’t have a reason. Which is kind of my point. THERE IS NO REASON FOR ANYTHING!!

Every day I wake up and I’m forced to go along with another day, go to work, interact with people, find some way to fill the hours. Then I go to sleep and, if I don’t dream or rather if I don’t remember my dreams, I get a few hours of peace. Then I wake up and I have to do it all again. All I’m doing is wasting time, pacing the metaphorical hallway, waiting until I finally don’t have to wake up again. I’m not helping anyone, I’m not raising children, I’m not making any contribution to science or art or literature. When I die very few people will remember me and those few will forget very quickly. I’m not important. The majority of the human race is not important, but the other people manage to find a way to be important to someone in small ways. They have loved ones, best friends, significant others etc. The people in my life who are supposed to fall into the “loved ones” category pretend I’m someone else. They’ve created this image for me: easy to please, happy, quick with a joke, sarcastic, witty, kind. I know that’s who I’m supposed to be and I try. I really do, but I know that’s not really who I am. I am some of those things some of the time. I want to be able to fit into that mold, but I don’t and actually I don’t really want to fit that mold. I want to be arty, edgy, funny, smart, strong. I want to be the kind of person who is passionate about a band or a poet or an author or SOMETHING and knows about that thing or person. I want to be liked for who I am, or hated for who I am, but to actually know who that is. Instead I wait until my “loved ones” are around and then I fill the roll they want. I say my lines. I’m quiet and pretend I don’t exist when they’re tired of me. At work I do my job, am polite to my coworkers, and try not to get fired.

When I’m alone…I ache. There is this emptiness where a soul/heart/personality whatever you want to call it should be and the absence hurts. I want to fill it but none of the things I’ve tried over the years work. I can distract myself from the emptiness, sometimes for long periods of time, but I can’t make it go away because there is no point or reason for my existence. I’m empty because that’s who or what I really am. And I hate it.

Travel Angst

In two days I leave for vacation. My dad, mom, sister, and I will fly non-stop to Barcelona and spend a week sight-seeing. We have a side trip to Valencia planned where Dad will reminisce about his year spent studying (a little) and drinking (a lot) while he earned a degree in Spanish Literature before he got married. We’ll hear some of the same stories we’ve heard before and probably some new ones while we do a lot of drinking ourselves. Sounds pretty amazing, right? It is, and I know that. I know that I am extremely lucky to have a dad who can afford a European vacation and who is willing to bring his adult daughters along. I know I could never afford a trip like this myself and that I will see and do some great things. I know this. But what I feel…that’s a different story. I am grateful, truly I am.

I never express the anxiety these vacations produce because I don’t want to be a spoiled brat. I want to say I love these trips and leave it at that, but I just can’t. My mother and I do not get along. It’s a complicated relationship in which she pretends in public to like me, in recent years she’s begun pretending to even love me, but in private we both know the truth. No need to poke at that festering sore, suffice it to say that there is a lot of tension when we spend more than a few hours together. Then there’s the walking. I am fat, excessively so. I get around fine in my normal life but I am sedentary and don’t do much walking.  This week will be nothing but walking all over the streets of Barcelona and the surrounding towns. We’ll tour museums and churches, Dad has a thing for churches. We’ll climb towers for a better view and walk through the parks and gardens. My sister and parents will do fine. No one is in great shape, but they are all better off than I am and have been running and walking this past year. So I will be in the back of our little group, as always, struggling to keep up and knowing that I am holding them back. If they didn’t have to wait for me they could get a lot more done.

I will sweat. Not a normal “it’s hot out here and we’re walking around” kind of sweat but a “holy shit that fat lady is melting” kind of sweat. Any kind of heat makes sweat drip off me even when I’m just standing still. Add any movement and in about five minutes I’ll look like I just did the ice bucket challenge. My face flushes and I truly look like I’m going to die. I get a lot of stares from everyone and well-meaning expressions of concern from some. It’s embarrassing for me and my family and I never look decent going into nice places. So there I’ll be, huffing along behind them, wishing I could disappear and knowing they wish the same thing, trying not to drip sweat on anyone or anything and feeling my anxiety ratchet up as my soul dies a little more. I’ll try to make up for this by seeming like a worthy addition to the group. I’ll crack jokes, take pictures, grab brochures for the scrapbooks my sister and Mom will put together later. I’ll try to stay positive and happy. I’ll be grateful, I’ll accept every decision they make and go where they say.

Until the anxiety, tension, and discomfort are too much. Then I’ll lash out. Mom will say, within earshot of a stranger, “are you okay sweet girl,” while her eyes say “stop embarrassing me.” I’ll lash out.  I’ll hiss, “I’m FINE,” through clenched teeth and try to move away from her. I’ll deny that I need a break and will stomp on. Dad will hesitate on where we should eat, always wanting to check all of our options first, and all I’ll want is to sit anywhere so I’ll get snarky and make fun of him for being indecisive. My sister will just be there, not really doing anything to upset me, but I’ll be reminded that she’s the better one. The wanted one and, at the very least, the dry one. I’ll snap at her and say something hurtful. All of this is before lunch. Rest, eat, repeat. Every day for a week.

By the time we fly home I’ll be a mental and physical mess. My sister and mom will be barely speaking due to their own issues and my dad will be exhausted from trying to keep us all together and looking like a happy family. I’ll see the strain and regret in his eyes and it will stab me in the heart. I can’t do it anymore. I knew after the last trip that it should have been my last one. (We go every other year) I should have told them I was done but it’s just assumed that we’ll all go somewhere and I hate confrontation. I chickened out. I kept meaning to say I wasn’t going to go this time, but time piled up and suddenly everything was booked. I absolutely cannot do this again. This one has to be the last. I just have to survive it first.

Once Upon a Time

      She stood before him, clutching a well-loved teddy bear to her chest. Her brown eyes peered at him just over the bear’s now mostly matted ears. He met her stare, trying to match her serious face but unable to rid the smile from the corners of his eyes. Eventually she lowered the bear to reveal a button nose and what his mother used to call “pinching cheeks.”

      “I need a Once Upon a Time. Do you know how to do those?” She whispered, resting her chin on the bear’s head.

      “Oh, I love a good Once Upon a Time! Would you like to sit with me and I’ll tell you one?” He replied, patting the space on the couch next to him and very glad for the distraction.  He’d come to this party against his will, knew no one here aside from his sister, and this small girl was the first to approach him all night. She stood for another minute, once looking back at the crowd behind her. She looked at the space next to him, shook her head and sat down on the floor at his feet.  A few more minutes were spent painstakingly arranging the bear into a sitting position next to her.

      “Ok,” she said at last, looking up at him with the same serious stare, “we’re ready.”

      He cleared his throat importantly and began “Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a princess. She was not the most beautiful princess in the land. Oh sure, this princess had pretty hair and nice eyes, she just wasn’t quite as pretty as some of the other princesses and maidens.  This princess had something much more valuable than beauty. She was clever.”

      The story tumbled, unrehearsed, out of him.  In the beginning he listened as he talked, gauging her reactions and editing the story as he went. Soon, though, he simply settled back and let the words come. He was as surprised as the girl when the trolls attacked the castle and just as relieved when the clever princess came up with a way to trick them.  As the tale was nearing the end he noticed that the room around him was quiet.  Voices were hushed and crystal glasses held still. The girl was no longer alone at his feet; a few other children had joined her and several adults sat with them. Still more gathered around, forming a tight semicircle.  Midnight came and went unnoticed, somewhere around the time of the dragon wars, and when they reached Happily Ever After it was well into the new year. 

      The crowd clapped happily and exclaimed their surprise at the time. Belated shouts of Happy New Year resounded and the party picked up where it had left off. The other children disappeared back into the woodwork from which they’d crawled at the start of the story.  Only the girl remained, her bear now resting on her lap and the serious stare relaxed into a contented dreaminess he envied in children. 

      “Thank you, that was the best Once Upon a Time.” She stood up and climbed onto the couch next to him and planted a tiny kiss on his cheek. The childhood scent of lavender shampoo and sugar cookies allowed the smile to crawl out from his eyes and light up his face.

      “I’m glad you liked it. I hope Mr. Bear did, too.”

      “He did.  Say goodnight, Teddy” she said, waving the bear’s paw at him just before she turned and headed for the stairs.

      “Excellent story, thanks for saving her from a room full of boring adults!” The woman he recognized as the hostess and the girl’s mother stood before him. They’d met once, a friend of his sister’s. Was she the single mom he was supposed to meet tonight or was that someone else? The thought drained the last bit of energy from him.

      “Actually, she saved me from the room of boring adults,” he replied as he walked past her and out of the house. Princesses, trolls and dragons kept him company on his walk home.

The Shooting

They walked down 71st street headed toward Central Park.  His limp hand rested in her firm grip as she gently pulled him along. Last night had been another long one, he didn’t see the reason to get out of bed at all today but she insisted and his fear of losing her trumped all others. She was saying something; he turned at looked at her and saw the beginning of fear crawling into her eyes. He braced himself, sure that this was finally it. She was going to say she was leaving him. He shook his head, trying to focus on her words when he heard two loud bangs. People began to scream and someone yelled “get down!” He was reaching out to push her out of the way when he felt punched. He clutched his chest and fell backward in one motion, striking his head on the concrete. Blood poured out of the dime-sized hole, seeping between his fingers. Disembodied faces floated over him, mouths moving quickly but there was no sound until his grey eyes found a pair of sea glass greens and his free hand instinctively reached out for hers. With contact sounds came rushing back and bodies returned to their proper places among the faces but he only looked at her.

 “I had no idea,” he said breathlessly. “Life is draining out of me. I had so much…I never knew…”

“Shh…I’m here,” she said in that practiced calm while placing one delicate finger over his lips. The sea glass eyes filled with water as she took in the reality of this situation. This time the crisis was not imagined. Tears tumbled down her cheeks but her voice remained steady. “I saw the life in you when you couldn’t, it was always there.” She placed her hand over his and intertwined their fingers. The blood washed through them both as she leaned over him.

“I feel it now, so much hope and joy…I stole it all from you…” his voice collapsed into a sob and she rested her forehead on his. They stayed this way feeling his heartbeats slowing and listening to the sirens and screams around them.

“Borrowed, not stolen.” She whispered at last, her breath warm on his cooling skin. “You only borrowed hope until you found your own. I told you I’d be here when you did. I just wish it wasn’t this way.”

“I should have found it sooner, you showed me every day. Why couldn’t I see?” His voice was barely audible now and she did not reply. There was nothing left to say. Her tears covered his face and his blood soaked through her shirt on onto her chest. In this they exchanged their last—this time her fear and uncertainty for his life and peace.

Did I ever tell you how you saved me? Could you have known all along? I don’t think so. I guess you could have known, you always surprised me with how much you knew, but on this…it’s so hard to tell. I suppose that doesn’t matter now. What matters is how gently you caught me before I even realized I was falling. You wrapped me in stories; novels, essays, classics and contemporary. Sometimes, my favorite times, your own stories. Of course I wasn’t done falling, not even close. Hell, I’m still not. Every time I think I’ve hit bottom it turns out just to be a cloud and I burst through; my own soul thundering and raining down in so many pieces. And yet you were there in the beginning. You saw me drift of course, stumble and fall before I even knew I’d taken a misstep. So each time I remember that, at least once, someone noticed.

Revealed

It wasn’t until the overheard phone call that he realized how broken his marriage was. The Wife quipping bitterly to one friend or another how awful her life was. He stood back in the shadow of a tall house plant, peaking through the leaves as if he were an explorer catching an animal in its natural habitat.

“Oh, look at that! The Wife reveals her true colors when she is alone!” He could almost hear the excited whisper of the khaki clad nature host.

A sudden movement brought him out of the jungle and back to his much less exciting and yet still incredibly dangerous life. The Wife swung her arm as though she would slam the phone down and then let it rest gently in the cradle. It was then that he witnessed the most amazing thing in his life. The Wife began to tuck herself in and apply the only face he’d ever seen, now revealed to him as only a mask.  She put herself together piece by piece like one of those ten thousand piece jigsaw puzzles so carefully assembled that from a distance the tiny cracks couldn’t be seen.

“Ah…” he sighed in realization, almost loud enough to blow his cover, “so that’s what she really is. All these years and I never got close enough to see.”

This last thought pulled the plug that unleashed a flood of questions, the last one swirling the drain refusing to be dismissed. Who’s fault is it that I never saw, mine for staying too far back or hers for not letting me in?

 

Sunset

The sky is eating away at the horizon bit by bit, quickly and greedily; almost hoping no one will notice. First the trees, tasty little snacks filled with birds and whispers. Next the mountains topped with cold snow and smothered in dreams. Then the last bit of sun spooned out, refreshing and bright as a sorbet. A perfect dessert at the end of a perfect meal. The darkness fills the void after the sky is finally satisfied for the day and all is quiet.  Just as fear begins to creep in the stars crawl out of hiding. Sneaky stars, so full of delicious wonder they knew they’d be gobbled up first so they hid behind the sun like children clutching at their mother’s skirt. Only after the sky is sated do the come out to play. Some standing proud and bright, others bashfully dim and still more leaping across the expanse in streaks of sheer pleasure. They are free to play until the sun creeps up and calls them home. The horizon returns to taunt the sky, spilling forth its bounty for all to behold until once more the sky devours it bit by bit.