“He asked me, ‘How do you keep fighting?’
And the truth is I don’t know
I think it’s funny that he asked me
‘Cause I don’t feel like a fighter lately
I am too unhappy
You’d think I’d get perspective
Can I not accept that my own problems
Are so small?”
– Amanda Palmer, “Bigger on the Inside”
People probably think there’s someone living on my second floor because I’m far too lazy to climb the stairs and turn off the light. But the truth is that I live alone. I purchased a home independently and for a woman of 26, that’s not too shabby. I know that I should be proud of myself and feel accomplished.
But the truth is that I live alone.
In the novel Frankenstein, the monster admits, “I am malicious because I am miserable.” Conor Oberst expresses a similar sentiment in his song “Lovers Turn Into Monsters” when he writes, “Lovers turn into monsters at the loss of all affection, almost like it was the affection that kept them from being monsters.”
I am alone and miserable, and that makes me malicious, that makes me a monster. Unfortunately, I’m not even a beautiful one. I have the career, the house, the car, and my braces will be removed soon. I’ve published one novel and written my second. But what does that list of achievements really mean at the end of the day if no one else is impressed enough to single me out in a special and unique sort of way? My friend half-heartedly joked that I most likely need therapy because I cannot see, or assess, my self-worth unless it is validated by someone else. That’s weak, isn’t it? Isn’t it cowardly? Should I not be brave or confident enough to be alone, to be by myself, to be with myself? Romantic poets, specifically Wordsworth, talk about “blissful solitude,” which, for me, is a personal oxymoron. Solitude does not make me blissful, but is that because I’m my own worst enemy?
Last night, I ate dinner alone – as I do most nights – seated across from a vase filled with a dying, wilting bouquet. I’ve been trying to convince myself the scene was romantically tragic, like I can wear my loneliness in an ironic, fashionable way, like a worn and frayed denim jacket that’s adorned with many pinks, each one displaying incredibly funny and witty social commentary. Unfortunately, I’m falling short of that mark. I’m more of a sniveling, unsympathetic victim than an alluring, inspiring heroine.
My mother asked, “If you died, who would be affected?” To be fair, we were discussing financial planning and we all laughed because it was only poor phrasing and nothing more, devoid of malicious intent. But man – what a question.
WRITING PROMPT #22: “A couple of goth high school students get busted shoplifting and are sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity.”
To sixteen-year-old Morgan, everything looked like a nail, as she was one hell of a hammer, one that continuously shocked and surprised her mother who was baffled by the complete disappearance of the beautiful baby girl she had once held. The pacifier and dresses with bows and lace gave way to jet black hair and jet black nails and thick, black eyeliner that made Morgan look more bruised and broken than anything else. But Morgan’s mother supposed that was the look Morgan was going for, a tormented soul, as Morgan believed she was victimized and persecuted in only the way that a sixteen-year-old girl can. No one understood Morgan and as a result, everyone was out to get her and no, no one else possibly knew what that was like because Morgan was different; she was special and unique and sensitive and intelligent. For wanting to be accepted while simultaneously being an alternative to everyone else, while complaining about being ignored and not wanting special attention, Morgan could sure pat herself on the back. Morgan blamed those contradictions, and the competitive, capitalistic society that put possessions before people, for her shoplifting spree with Alexis.
Morgan claimed that she and Alexis, her best friend, had tried to steal the designer handbags to be ironic. Morgan asserted that the two girls were making a statement about the dangers of consumerism and the loss of identity, that she had only snatched the purse to transcend the lame chains of the reality that was created by everyone around her except her. Impassioned though her speech was, it was all bullshit, and the juvenile court judge knew it. Consequently, Morgan and Alexis were sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity. And now here she was, hammering nails into boards that created some sort of shell, or foundation, for a home. Morgan assumed the charitable deed should fill her with some kind of positive feeling, but it didn’t. It was a waste of time in Morgan’s opinion. After all, there were murderers and rapists who needed their souls cleansed more than Morgan needed it. The message, the point of it all, was utterly lost on her.
So she let her hammer fall to the ground. Morgan released a heavy sigh.
A moment or two passed and then a handsome man shuffled over, bent to retrieve the hammer from the grass, and handed it back to Morgan. “Here you go,” he said cheerfully.
Reluctantly, Morgan reclaimed the tool. She said, “Thanks.” Her tone was flat and even, nearly dead.
“Having fun?” the man asked, evidently entertained by the complete misery issuing from Morgan.
“That’s rhetorical, right?”
He smiled wider. “Oh, come on; the weather’s amazing, we have air in our lungs, and we’re helping our fellow man. Life is good, is it not?”
Morgan shrugged. “You could argue that we’re perpetuating competitive, capitalistic dogma that decrees my house must be nicer than yours for me to feel complete.”
“Why argue at all?” Morgan only blinked at the man. So, he added, “Besides, we’re not just building a house. We’re providing someone with a home. Don’t cheapen it by claiming materialism.”
“I’m not cheapening anything,” Morgan argued. “This family only thinks they need this house because -”
“What do you know about this family?” the man interrupted.
“Tell me; what do you know about this family?”
Sheepishly, Morgan hesitated before she admitted that she knew nothing about the family, not their names, not their background, nothing. Slowly, the man nodded. “This family thinks they need this house because they do. The father, the bread winner, died unexpectedly last year in a car accident, which left the ailing mother to care for five children. I say ‘ailing’ to be polite, but she’s dying. She’s dying of cancer. The youngest is ten and the oldest is 24, so they need somewhere to live when the mother dies in about a month. The oldest needs to house his siblings in an affordable shelter and then, somehow, he needs to figure out how to be an adult, how to be a father and a mother, and he needs to figure out how to be sacrificial without being bitter. He needs to find a healthy balance between being there for them and being here for himself.”
Morgan gulped. She was swallowing her shame. She said, “You’re the oldest.”
The man smiled. “I am. And it’s a beautiful day.” He clapped Morgan on the shoulder and continued on his way, walking back towards where he was helping to assemble the foundation of his future.