Slide that glass down the bar to me, Tavern Keeper. My day has been long, as has my week, my year, my marriage, my divorce, my melancholy and life. Slide that hand-filling vessel of liquid salvation my way, so that it may whisper softly to me that all will be well once I consume it. It will light a comforting fire in my gullet as it soaks into my body, and caress my mind with satin fog as it soaks into my thoughts. Slide that glass of surrender and escape to my waiting palm, even though I realize it is merely shackles and sorrow in disguise. I will hold you blameless for the shame I will wake to, and the disappointment of my loved ones. Slide me that perfect, precious potion, and look on me no more. Perhaps if no one is watching, it will wash me away along with my senses, reason, and pain.
You don’t recognize me. I can tell. You see something that rings a bell, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t place it. Only when you look beneath the surface, under the skin, will you start to put it together. Let’s pull back the curtain together and take a look. You just sit right there, and I’ll walk you through the process step by step.
Are the chains too tight? Yes? Good.
We can start with the smile. Right now, seeing you trapped as you are, my smile is real. But behind it, you can see a few others. The nervous smile, the fake smile, the smile eager for acceptance, all the smiles that one wears to cover up the trembling lip that comes before the tears. You and your kind forced me to wear it every day. For over a decade I carried those fake smiles with me everywhere I went. Not to protect me from the names you called me, or the taunting comments. There is no protection from that. But they hid my true reactions, and that saved me from the additional mocking that would have ensued. And it denied you the pleasure of seeing me break.
Keep struggling if you want. You’ll only hurt yourself, and I am fine with that.
Let’s look at the eyes next. I know it’s hard to see them now, being cold and dark like they are. But behind them, you can see there used to be ambition, and hope, and light. Can you tell what kind of light? Would you even know? Of course you wouldn’t. That light comes from kindness and compassion. Your kind aren’t really known for that. You’re better known for making people like me think that the person in the mirror is less than worthless. That we’re too fat, or too skinny, or weak, or ugly, or awkward for you to waste your time on, regardless of the fact that you spent quite a lot of time focusing on us in order to do it. You gambled on us being so distraught by your torture that we would believe there was something wrong with us, and not notice that you were doing it for no other reason than for the perverted fun of it. And you were right. We did. For a while.
You’re sweating. Are you figuring it out? Are you realizing who I am? I assume you are, considering how pale you just became.
Still, I saved the best for last. Behind everything else, behind the smiles and the eyes and the years and the growing, look at the soul.
I said LOOK, you coward!
Look at the scar tissue. Look at the missing pieces. Look at the wreckage left behind from your “harmless fun.” Sure, it’s still alive. It still works. But not the way it could. Like the way a car never quite runs properly after surviving an accident. It’s crippled now. You saw to that. Every time you pushed us aside to get through the door first. Every time you called our talents “gay” because you didn’t like them or share them. Every time you insulted the best clothes we could afford because they weren’t as cool or expensive as yours, you stabbed us. You stabbed into our souls. We were singers and band members, actors and artists, readers and poets, gamers and fanboys, but it would never and could never be enough to buy us out of that Hell, because we were also the kind ones, which is why we could never be like you. Cruel, selfish, and unkind. At least, not back then. See, these days we are all adults now, and since we learned back then what it was like to live with pain, fear, and derision every day we have a better appreciation for decency. We also learned a few things about how to make people feel like they’d rather die than wake up in the morning and do it over again, and again, and again, and oh dear God please just let it stop for one moment, just one quiet moment of peace and happiness!
You’ve figured it out, haven’t you? I know who you are. You are the High and Mighty; the Jocks, the Style-makers, the Rich, and the Popular. But what about me? I am the rest of us. I am the Outcasts; the Drama Club kids, the Choir Geeks, the Band Geeks, the Comic Book Nerds, the Goths, the Emo Kids, the Poor, and the Lonely.
You act like you never ruined our childhoods. We have never forgotten. You think you’ve done nothing wrong. We do not forgive you. You trapped us in Hell during our most vulnerable years, and We are finally free of you. Between us? A bonfire, burning with every painful word, every heartache, every dismissive look You tortured us with.
You are bound by chains and locks, and We have the key.
Come on and take it from us.
He sees all his friends, old acquaintances, even his family, navigating life like masterful downhill skiers. Slicing between flags at blinding speeds, looking as calm as they would were they walking the grocery aisle. But then he looks to himself and sees a one-armed man trying to juggle for the first time. With axes. Blindfolded. And upside-down. Nothing comes easily except gaining weight and procrastinating. He doesn’t know why he can’t right himself on this river of existence. But at the same time, he does. Admitting to himself that he is lazy and unmotivated is not the hard part. It is sadly easy. What is difficult for him is fighting that truth. It is easier to stagnate and be mad at the universe than it is to stand up and cut your way through the jungle between yourself and your ideal. But there is always something missing.
If he had a better job he would be happy enough to make changes.
If his job had a better schedule he could be more creatively productive.
If he had a girlfriend he would be confident enough to take the steps needed to grow.
If he had more money he could work less and use that time to work out.
If he had higher self-esteem he could maintain a relationship.
If he wasn’t this, he could be that.
If he was here, he could go there.
If one, then the other.
If up, then down.
If future, then present.
If he had motivation, he could write. So he stood up, took a step, and he wrote this.
I was born here.
The door creaks and moans its protest as I enter. The floorboards cough dust upon my bare feet with every step. I lay my hands on the old furniture, still covered in the yellowing bed sheets, looking like so many corpses, and wonder why I bothered protecting sofas and chairs that I thought never again would receive guests.
I was born here.
I pull the curtains back from the dirt-coated windows and turn to see the now illuminated living room and, for a fleeting moment, it looks as it did once upon a time. The cat stretches on the new carpet, the Christmas tree blinks and shines in the corner, my family gathers around the television, my nephew thumps across the floor in search of new adventure. When I bat my eyes the years reassert themselves, and the cold clenches down upon the house once again. It takes me several seconds to realize that my mouth was open and my breath was drawn, ready to speak to these old ghosts. A loneliness the world has never known settles into my chest.
I was born here.
I light the candles. I remove the sheets. I clean the windows and the floor. I make everything come to life again. I sit down in the old recliner, preparing the stories I will tell. The door creaks and moans its protest as you enter. Come in. Sit down.
I have so much to tell you.