Show Some Skin | Thursday, October 4, 2018
For as long as you can remember, your father always told you that you could do even better. He wanted you to grow and so he’d always remind you of the room you had for it. He taught you to read when you were three and signed you up for piano lessons at four. Every day he would have you sit beside him and read. When you finished, he’d make you write a summary of the book and grade you. When you’d practice piano, he’d lie on the floor beside the bench, conducting your clumsy music and counting your mistakes. Nice job. You only made three mistakes. This time, I want you to do even better. After every piano recital, he’d tell you that you did great, and let you know how many slip-ups he counted. He’d bring home math and science and English and history workbooks meant for students one or two grades above you and make you sit beside him and work out problem after problem until you’d finish the books or cry trying. He’d grade you. He’d tell you that you could do even better. He was in America now, and he wasn’t going to raise a failure.
You learned to get used to this existence. Never jumping high enough, always having space above you. It made you exceptional. You thank your father for making you exceptional. And you thank him for making your relationship less than.
You try hopeless coping mechanisms, but all it does is make you wonder why you even want to be better. When things finally start to make sense, are you losing a part of who you are? Are you blinding yourself to what you really feel? What a boring life, to see things objectively.
When you’re at rock-bottom, you always want, desperately, to be better. You look up at the skylight and start to imagine a better life. The sun feels good on your face. The space above you goes for miles. You start to climb, but once you finally get your balance, you develop some sick twisted hunger for the earth.
It’s so easy to just lie there and stare into the light. It’s so easy to bury yourself, bury everything. Even better, it requires no upper body strength.
You let go and fall to the ground again.
You re-watch old television shows and reread books, and the stories are entirely different now. You no longer identify with the main characters anymore; they’re too naive, too predictable. It’s the moms that you feel more connected with, the underappreciated teachers, the older siblings off at college. Perhaps the shows have always been about them to begin with. This kind of focus makes for even better entertainment. And even more complicated stories.
Whose story is this? Whose world is this? The adults or the children? Are you just someone’s child, or are you, you? When are you old enough for this story to be yours?
Your parents came to America for you, and they tell you, “you have to be better.” They threw everything away so that you could be even better than they could have ever been. When they look at you, you feel it. When you fail, the pressure circles your head like stars. You are the beginning of the history of your family’s bloodline on this land. You are the link between one home and another. So be better.
Your first year in college you begin to think of yourself as less of a human and more as a product of your parent’s humanity. You recall all those years you considered yourself to be the main character in this world and you can’t help but feel so selfish.
Outside, the trees are cold and skeletal. You think, if this life is anyone’s story it’s theirs. They don’t think about birth or death. They don’t think about childhood or parenthood or time. Or love. How selfless, to actually experience your life without thinking of it as a life. That existence is nothing like yours, it’s even better.
What kind of story is yours? One where you sit and think about the process? Is your story a narrative of craft or a narrative of being crafted? Are you the writer or the written? The god or the human? One is a decent existence, but the other is even better. In the end, no one’s watching. So, which is better for you? Just choose. You must pick one to move on.
Theresa Azemar can be contacted at [email protected]