*Featured Image: “In Motion” By Ishay Rossano
Life is a Fiction
By Brandon Daily
I stand in front of my class and ask them about Literature. “Why stories?” I say. “Why is Literature taught in every school around the world?” The silence comes. A few of them blink at me; others stare at their hands in front of them. No one speaks. No one dares try an answer that might be wrong (even though I’ve told them that this is a subjective question, that there is no wrong answer). The silence isn’t unexpected, though, especially since we’re at the beginning of the school year. In many ways, I embrace their silence—it’s what I’ve secretly wanted from them because it allows me to fill that void—lets me explain to them my Why. And it’s an important Why, at least to me it is. “Literature,” I say, “allows us to better understand our world. And those stories let us know more clearly our place within that world. It’s stronger than any ology out there because it’s all of them joined together: Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology. Morphology, even.” They stare at me as if I’m speaking some foreign language, but I don’t care. It isn’t for them that I say this. It’s for me. A reminder for me.
They must have known, my parents. They must have come into my room at some point during that year or so when I was finishing high school and starting college. Must have seen the plastic grocery bags balled up in the corner under my bed, each one of them ripped open in a gaping hole for breath. They must have seen them there, but they never let on. Never asked about them. Never once took them from beneath the bed, threw them out. Never drove me to a psychiatrist or suggested I “talk to someone.” I’ve often wondered which is worse: that they never understood enough about me to speak the trouble aloud, or that, by leaving those bags out, I was begging so desperately to be heard, but I never was.
The first time.
I took one of the bags from beneath the kitchen sink and walked up to my bedroom. I shut the door, even though no one was home; it just seemed the conscientious thing to do. Or maybe it just seemed that much more cinematic in my mind: Their slow walk upstairs. They call my name, tell me they’re home. The creaking of the door. The image burned in their mind after they walk inside.
When I remember it now, I try to separate myself from it. I tell it in the second person, but You is always me. I know that. But it just seems to make it easier:
You lie down on the bed and take a breath, nice and deep, and then cover your mind in the darkness of what might come. Next you tie it tightly around your neck, like you would a cape, and try to relax. Short breaths at first. The thin papery crackle of plastic in your ears. Then one deep breath. The bag gets sucked into your mouth and you begin to chew on it. Try to spit it up, spit it out, but you can’t. It isn’t how you thought it would be. It’s terrifying, not peaceful at all. Next thing you know, you’ve ripped the bag apart and now you’re sucking in air, laying there and staring at the ceiling, thinking to yourself My God, what did I do? This is not who I am. But in that moment, that is who you are. And you carry that thought with you until the next time you try. You tell yourself that you won’t stop so easily this time . . . but you do. And the next time. Because that is who you are, too.
Each One of Us
Take that story, I tell them, and question what it is to live their life.
Who? my students ask.
But it’s made up, they say.
But it isn’t, I reply. That story could be our life, each one of us. That character could be ourselves. When you read a tragedy, you compare your pain to others’ and you feel right about your life. You feel the joy in their defeat. It’s okay. You feel that joy because you are seeing someone else more broken than you. You feel that joy because that pain isn’t yours. You are not them, though you could be.
They don’t understand.
I continue: It’s the reason we laugh at other people’s pain—when we watch someone fall and get hurt. It is our sense of relief that makes us laugh. It’s that we’ve escaped the pain ourselves. Yet there is always, in the back of our minds, that fear that those other people we laugh at are simply mirrors to ourselves. And that means that we are flawed, flawed beyond saving. But we find joy in that hope that we are separate.
That is what I tell them.
This is what I keep from them:
When I read of Willy Loman or Prince Hamlet, I feel a strange kinship. I am the doomed salesman. I am the son driven to insanity by the world around me. I am these men, and so many more, and yet I am none of them. They are both within me and without. I remain on my couch, an onlooker to a doppelganger that might just be myself, but I can never be truly sure of that truth. I can shut the cover on their story, even for a moment, stop their world, run away from their pain, but me . . . I must face my own hurt and my own past, and I must continue on, not a fictional being at all, but one of blood and sweat, and that makes me capable of anything. And that is terrifying.
Look at yourself. Your reflection there. Hold your hand up to the light. Tell yourself, say:
This is me. This is my skin that combs the air. That brushes away all the sadness of the world. All the hurt stored up around me like bricks that wall me in or out.
This is me. Holding all possibility.
It’s a day by day process: slowly learning and moving forward, gradually getting better. Like turning the pages of a novel, I guess. Like turning the pages of a novel.