Sunday, October 04, 2009

In the woods

I jump over a log and scramble down a slope, and find a space where I can see through the trees to the stage below, and there you are, sitting in the forest duff watching the show beside your father. You are sixteen or seventeen years old, with ivory skin and wispy blond hair tied back in a bun. You are wearing a white dress with lace fringe, and a tan jacket with white pseudo-fur collar and cuffs to deal with the cold, and soft tan suede leather boots that look very comfortable. The fragility of your jaw, the fine bones of your face, fascinate me as do your thin wrists and the fragile bones of your hands. You are like a porcelain figurine, settled on the forest floor.

Then the musician on stage says to the audience, stand up! And you stand. The musician says jump. And you jump. The seat of your white lace dress is covered with dirt and leaves but you do not seem to notice. Your knees are thin and fragile looking under the dirty lace, but beneath them swell your calves, the calves of an athlete, participating eagerly in jumping. And I recall that porcelain can cover steel, as with porcelain-covered steel bathtubs or a roasting pan. Then I know.

You will go home, and change from your ruined dress to fresh clothing. Only the best. Your mother and father are determined that you shall not fail, that you will be the best at everything you do, and they will give you only the best to make sure there is no reason for failure. You throw yourself into it eagerly, basking in the approval of your parents. You are not built like a natural athlete but they enrolled you in soccer and so you do everything possible to excel and you do. You study late at night to make straight A's in school and if you are sometimes dizzy with exhaustion you do not show it because that is simply not done. You are Going Somewhere. But where? You don't know. You don't care, yet. You care only that your parents adore you and shower you with approval for performing.

One day you will graduate from college, a good college, and then what? The good jobs are being outsourced now, outsourced to China, outsourced to India. Perhaps graduating from a top college after several summer internships with major companies will land you a full time job. Then you will be on track to rise in the corporate hierarchy. Until one day you look around and look at your life and realize it has been one long pointless attempt to earn from the world the same approval that you once got from your parents. Then what?

Or you do not find that job, and, humiliated, move back in with your parents. You spend hours crying in your room as your disappointed parents flutter about outside urging you to go look for a job, clean yourself up, get a haircut, lose some weight, get some exercise. Then one day you go to the park just to leave the house and there is music playing, and you stop, and you listen. You listen. For the first time, you truly listen.

All stories should have a happy ending. But I do not know which ending, of the two above, is the happy one.

-- Badtux the Fiction Penguin

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