The counselor urged us to talk.
“It’s a chance for you to tell your story.”
This wasn’t a story to me. It was my life and I was still living.
I sat in the circle with other damaged people. We listened to talk about what was wrong with us and how we could save ourselves. If we heeded the words being spoken, we might be able to heal. A long shot because we were diseased, nearly monstrous, but without the terrible will and determination to be real monsters. We couldn’t even get mutancy right.
One speaker said the truth was being shined right in front of us. Were we too stubborn and blind to see? We hadn’t been born blind. We’d chosen to live in darkness. Another speaker said our lives were genetically mapped for us. We had to redraw the lines. We were our own cartographers. Next, we were fallen sinners, our lives moved by judgment.
I thought of my mother, heard her words from when I was fourteen in the emergency room getting my stomach pumped. She’d leaned in, hissed, “I hope you know how much this little stunt is costing.”
I looked at my shoes. The polish had worn off. Salt stains showed like chalk dust.
“Do you have a problem right now?” the counselor said.
Yes, I did. I was in the circle in that room under duress. I was there because it had beaten out death by a narrow margin. Now the consciousness I hadn’t ended was being bombarded.
I was annoyed but tried to look placid and placate the staff. If I played along, I would stand at my graduation––the only graduation I’d ever had––and be applauded and given a certificate, a slice of store-bought sheet cake, and a plush toy bear wearing a collar adorned with a valentine heart locket engraved So-Bear.
The truth was what I loved about myself were the things I’d been told were bad. The need to fix life and be happy was militant and all militancy was born of fear.
Of course, I was afraid, too. I was afraid of what came after this place.
Tomorrow would bring more speakers who quoted great thinkers and not great thinkers and told anecdotes, parables, and riddles. The anecdotes would have points. The parables would illustrate the points. The riddles would be solved. Mysteries vanquished, we would eat bland foods and shuffle to our rooms where we were not allowed to close the doors. We would read the literature and fall asleep to wake in the night and think of words we had heard until we became ventriloquist dummies. My mind would repeat the words it had every night since I’d arrived: Never explain yourself to others, it only leads to confusion.
Nate Lippens lives in Wisconsin. His writing has appeared in Catapult, Entropy, Fugue, Hobart, New World Writing, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and the anthology Queen Mob’s Tea House (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019).