May 28, 2010

The Tiny Voice

She was filled with such hatred.

Early 40s, she wasn’t bad looking or out of shape, had a decent sense of fashion and fair skin. But that flimsy facade had been slowly chipped and cracked by years of accumulating the frustrations of life and the desolate cascade of her own choices.

She couldn’t ever figure out what she’d done wrong. She’d went to school, had gotten an education from a recognized institution, found an administrative job and worked her way up the corporate ladder from 8:00 to 5:00, steadily. She’d secured a husband from early on, an active promising young man fresh out of the Ivy League. She had two children, 11 and 13, a house, a dog, a car of her own. Pictures in her wallet.

So much comforting background noise, so much normality had to quiet down her inexplicable anxiety. That tiny, aggravating inner voice with its hundreds of impossible interrogations. This microscopic lingering feeling of unease that would surface even in the picture perfect moments of her life, slowly gnawing on the image of what she was supposed to be. That guilty annoyment she felt lurking under just about everything.

Every time, she’d suppress it. It was easy, at first. A little scoff, a condescending smirk at her own thoughts would suffice to wipe off the unease and replace it with the warmth of conformity. But it always came back. Always.

As time passed, it got increasingly difficult to silence the tiny voice. But she thought she had a lifelong bagful of tricks to avoid it. She was clever. She was rational. That awkward offshoot of her mind was nothing she couldn’t iron out. So over the years, she had her little shopping sprees, some secret dream projects she’d stir around, these shallow courses she took to avoid some of her home time and responsibilities and even a couple shameful binges when it got too bad. But it always came back. Always.

She’d be in the car taking her kids somewhere and cross a smiling girl on a scooter, hair in the wind. She’d be rushing to a meeting in her high heels and pass by a fountain with little splashy bathing birds. She’d be in the last train getting back home after a grueling day and sit in front of a cute couple on a first date. She’d get smiles she wouldn’t return. See posters of dancers and frown disapprovingly. Smell baking pastries and stress out about her waistline.

Caught in the oblivion of her self-control, she was slowly shutting off. She was drying out, like a lush green plant you’d forgotten to water. An old postcard of a place you don’t remember anymore.

And time was on the side of the tiny voice. With every frown and every denial, something wrinkled. Years of this treatment slowly turned her into a bitter, intolerant, brittle little person posing as a prosperous middle-aged superwoman. But her subtle tics, her nervous stride and that movement on her lower lip had started to transcend her carefully-composed image.

No more did she wear her clothes with elegance; she displayed them. She didn’t live among the people of the city; she forcefully tolerated their proximity. She didn’t smile; she contracted. She didn’t love or kiss; she’d get uncomfortably close for the shortest possible amount of time and swiftly draw back, feigning the sudden need to attend to something else. She didn’t eat; she counted calories. She didn’t discuss; she stated. She didn’t think; she judged. She didn’t live; she toiled.

But still, she was staying the course. For every consequential flaw she suffered, she avenged on the world around. She’d let her relationships starve a long time ago. She’d slowly surrounded herself with selfish, ironic, mean acquaintances she called friends. The extent of her material needs had risen to disproportionate heights. Every time she felt it legitimate, she acted unthankfully, because everything was owed to her. She was entitled. She’d even started getting an almost sexual pleasure in making random people, from her employees to the young man at the coffee shop, suffer her mood swings.

That’s how the bitter diva was living her life. On that very morning, a specifically awful one on her scale – sunny, warm, a couple days after the end of school, just when the first vacationers start getting into town – everything was adding up to her stress.

The noise of the cars on the street. That despicable woman in the train showing off her summer dress. These good-for-nothing slackers already lying down at the park when she was just starting her day. The stain she’d gotten from cleaning up the breakfast table. These 400$ shoes that slowly ripped her heels. This disgusting teenager with tattoos and piercings. That staring man on the sidewalk. The fact that she had to pick up both the kids later because of that idiotic golf lesson her husband is taking. That stupid crack on the sidewalk she just almost ruined her shoe in. That hair salon appointment they cancelled. They didn’t even get the color right the last time.

She didn’t care about the heavy traffic on the busy street corner. She just stood there, clenching her jaws, chewing on the string of frustrations rising from all around. Stomping nervously for the pedestrian light to turn on, clinging to her designer handbag, sighing out loud. She wouldn’t wait a micro-second more to cross the street, as soon as that goddamned light would ever start flashing. She’s a pedestrian. She had right-of-way. And she would claim it.

In an instant, the light turned on. She raised her hand straight against incoming traffic, like an officer would, and without ever looking, started to cross in the most self-assured stance she had ever mustered. It was a culminating point. An overwhelming sense of victory flooded inside her, invigorating, intoxicating. She was justified, and she was taking control.

Her second foot didn’t reach the ground. The desperate hurling, screeching truck smashed her off the pavement, sending her dislocated body flying like a ragdoll thrown by an angry, obnoxious kid.

Her breath left her first, then any physical feeling. She was almost surprised at the length of time she remained there, suspended. Quiet seconds were carrying her from the air to the ground. She hit it in slow motion, painlessly, still trying to gather enough presence to realize what had just happened while the screaming and the noises around faded away.

As she felt the life escaping her, at the last possible moment of truth, she turned inside to get something to cling on to. A place, a memory held dear over all that time. Something that would make sense out of all the hardships, the sacrifices, the unhappened. The beaming light of a final answer to a question she never asked.

She found nothing.

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