Skewed Portraits - story one
Or Not To Be
- nancy jewell
- nancy jewell
I was kidnapped! In the middle of the night! Yeah. I know. Sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. In the middle of the night, five guys plowed in my room and stuffed my head in a pillow case. Still gagging from the sting of mildew in my nostrils, they cuffed my arms behind my back and wrestled me out of bed. God, it hurt. I smashed my knees when I tripped over my pajama bottoms and stumbled halfway down the second flight from my apartment. Do you think they tried to cushion the fall? They didn’t. They just let me plop all the way down the stairs even though they knew I couldn’t see a thing. And I'm pretty sure that's not all they knew. I think they chose me. On purpose. They knew no one would miss me when I didn’t show up for my morning shift at McDonald’s. They knew I had to quit school. I couldn't get any more student loans. My credit sucked. Hey, man. Don’t judge me. It's not my fault no one has compassion these days. Yeah. Compassion. The kidnapers probably knew my parents too, those wonderfully compassionate biological oppressors who disinherited me. They said I was a loser, “an embarrassment to generations of academic geniuses.” Yup. I’m pretty sure the kidnapers knew it all.
What they didn’t seem to know was I was going to suffocate if they didn’t take the damn pillowcase off my head. As soon as they shoved me in the vehicle, I lost feeling in my arms. I tried to tell them.
“Hey, man. The cuffs are too tight.”
No one listened. No one ever listened to anything I said so I don’t know why I expected my abductors to give a crap. I gave up on anyone paying attention to me a long time ago. It wasn’t my fate to be heard. I was one of those ‘dregs of society.' One of my freshman professors used to call us, "a conglomeration of individuals who wasted their potential in the golden inebriation of illegal substances." Ooh. He was eloquent. But you know what? I didn't care. Screw potential. What was it anyway but someone else’s idea of what you were supposed to be?
Still, while I listened to the motor gargle and began to asphyxiate in the pillow case, I started to realize I could disappear from the planet like a roach under a shoe. I kind of wished I had invested a little more of myself into myself – at least enough that someone might notice I had vanished and call the police in a day or two. I hadn’t quite figured out what the point of living was yet, but I sure wasn’t ready to die.
“You gonna kill me?!” I sucked what little bit of air I could through the pillow case. “Answer me! I’m nobody. Nobody! You got the wrong guy and you’re gonna kill me?”
Nobody answered. Did I really think they would? I said, “You’re wasting your time. I’m not worth killing.”
And I wasn’t. I hadn’t even lived. When the best piece of life you can carve out is a dung heap apartment in Queens, and the closest thing you got to a friend is your dealer, you ain’t worth killing. You just ain’t worth it.
When they pulled me from the car, I screamed like a girl. Then I thrust to the left, plunged to the right. I don’t know why. Did I really think I was going to escape these guys with my hands cuffed behind my back and my pillowcase plastered to my head? It must be something about human nature that makes you strive, even if resistance and life are both pointless. I only stopped struggling when someone took hold of my arm and led me into the building. Then they pushed me to a chair and finally took the pillowcase off my head.
For a second I wished I had suffocated. Glancing around the room, I couldn’t figure out where I was. The entire place was mirrored - the walls, the floor, everything. In the reflections were a million abductors, an entire society of replicated captors.
Then I saw the single black handle. A door! No time to think about it. My dealer was suddenly in front of my face.
“Buddy! God, Buddy! You’re paid up, man. I paid you up. Why you kidnapping me?”
“You are on trial.”
“Trial? God, man! What do you mean, trial? I haven’t done anything. What am I on trial for?”
“You live or die this very night depending wholly on whether or not you can prove you exist.”
This wasn’t Buddy. Buddy didn’t talk like this. All he cared about was his money. What the hell existence had to do with any of it, I didn’t know. All I knew for sure was that I was sitting in a stupid metal chair in the middle of a mirrored room with five lunatics wanting me to prove that I am.
“You can see me, can’t you?” I shouted, leaning forward. How was I supposed to prove I existed if they were looking right in my face and didn’t even know I was real? “Look at me!” I howled. “I’m alive! I exist!”
“You are an excuse for existence.” It was my boss at McDonald’s. “You are inertia, a blot of tedium on the soil of indifference.”
Oh my god. How could these people all look like someone I knew but talk like philosophical puppets? I was gonna die.
Lowering my head, I whispered, “I’m not an excuse. Look at me. I exist.”
My dad tilted a huge spotlight so I had to shy from its glare. “You think you exist in the present. What about your future? Do you have a future?”
“Yeah. I got a future. Come on, Dad. I'll go back to school. I just need the money. If you’d give me the money . . .”
“Do you have a future?”
“A future in what?” I didn’t even know why the question mattered. What kind of future did he want me to have? What kind of future did I want to have?
I guess that was the point. I hadn’t thought about my future. Did that mean I didn’t exist?
The cop said, “What have you done to save yourself?”
“Save myself? From what?” I could feel my shoulders spasm, surge in sudden anger. The metal chair hurt my back, the cuffs were too tight, had been too tight since they put them on. I said, “If you take these damn things off I’ll tell you what I’ll do to save myself.”
The cop came behind me, snapped the key in the cuffs, and let them splay open. I was free. What I was going to do then, I had no clue. I had no clue how to save myself even when I had the freedom to do it. Purple whelps of rebellion began to rise on my swollen wrists.
“What are you going to do to save yourself?” the cop asked again.
A wad of crap formed in my throat. I spit it at him. “You’re holding me hostage here. What are you? Fate? Destiny? I’m your prisoner and I’m supposed to save myself? Why don’t you save me? Huh? Why don’t you do it?”
That’s when the guy in the cleric’s collar came forward and slammed his fist into my face. I whirled from the chair and collided with the floor. Bracing my palms, I lifted myself and shook my head. I was losing consciousness. All the mirrors spun my image back at me. My only stability was the interrogation light. It alone was real. The light was real. I could see it burning through me, proving that beyond my flesh existed a being none of them could see. They had their own idea of what I should look like, but they couldn’t see inside me.
“Prove you exist!” demanded the cleric. “Prove it!”
I couldn’t prove it. Not to them. Not to anyone because existence is not about bones and bodies, but about fire and soul and bloodlust and rage. Inertia animated.
I staggered, stood. The high that pressed me was like nothing I’d ever experienced under the influence of anything but my own adrenalin. I existed.
Taking a step, I heard a roar of unified voices, but I can’t tell you what any of them said. I ignored them. I existed.
I focused on the black handle of the door, my exit, the only way out of the mirrored, insentient room. Ignoring the raging voices, I allowed my own soul to rage. I would not disregard it any more. Figuratively burning my acrid flesh, I exchanged the molt of non-being for Being and plodded toward the door. Why they didn't follow or make an attempt to keep me there, I don't know. I don't care. I twisted that handle and entered the luminescent night to find I had escaped my captors, all of them, without ever having to prove anything.