Product of Society
"One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Anthony wanted to send me to military school so that I could learn to be “disciplined and submissive to authority”, as he said. When I tried to ask him questions about why I should be acting differently, he defended himself with either “that’s the way it is” or “you do not question your father”.
The first caused me to like him even less than I already did. It meant that he couldn’t give a real answer and he didn’t think that I deserved one. The second was both ridiculous and incredibly confusing for several reasons. I did question him, I had just questioned him, otherwise we wouldn’t be having the conversation…and why was he referring to himself as my father when he had told me that I wasn’t his son?
All of that aside, I offered an alternative suggestion in regard to where I should go to school. I wanted to go to a local charter school where I could both learn and develop the social skills that I would need for the rest of my life. He thought that I would be doing all of the same things that he now hated me for doing if I was allowed to that option, and thought a military school would provide me with more appropriate social skills.
I didn’t want to be forced to become a machine. I was broken enough already. Cindy came up with a sort-of compromise, and I was surprised that she said anything at all. She suggested that I complete high school online.
“You really think he has the self-discipline to do that?” Anthony laughed in coldhearted disbelief.
“Well, if he fails a class then off to military school he goes,” Cindy proposed. So there I was, sixteen years old and sitting in front of a computer screen in the darkness of my room. I was not allowed to leave the house to see my nonexistent friends, who might have existed had I been able to go out and find them.
Anthony and Cindy must have known about my childhood, so why would they keep me locked inside the house just like Mother and Father had? They both believed that they were being extremely generous, allowing me to stay at home and take classes online instead of being sent off to a military school. It was true that this was a slightly better alternative, but it was detrimental to my soul. If you give a starving man a bread crumb, he is still going to die.
An algebra equation sat open on my computer screen: problem four out of thirty from the homework section for that week. I had been sitting there for over an hour, but not because I found the work to be difficult. Actually math, so far, had not been terribly difficult for me to grasp. But I was lost somewhere deep inside of my mind. Anna walked up beside me.
“Tristannn,” she dragged my name out in a soft and tired voice. “Whatever shall we do? The world is scary out here. I can’t fall asleep.” She had been crying. She was really there with me, and I was with her too, wherever she was. She could see me doing and saying the things that I was really doing and saying. We were together doubly. I was off somewhere else with her too, at least in theory. She had her own Tristan to talk to.
“I don’t know. It’s almost like it was before. There’s no way out. No one cares about what I feel. I’ve been all alone, Anna…” I began to cry with her.
“So have I,” she began. “But we’re not alone now.”
“So much has happened, Anna. So much, but so little…I was hurt, but I’ve a little better.” I lifted my shirt, revealing the slightly healed gash in my chest. Her face saddened and she brought her hand up to gently feel it while I continued speaking. “It’s been so long…I tried to see you back in the orphanage. M. wouldn’t let me. The people here keep me locked up just like Mother and Father did. You’ll have to hide if they come. They don’t want us to be together.”
I spoke too soon. The door handle quickly jiggled and turned. It was all too fast. She wouldn’t have time to keep from being noticed. The door opened, and there stood Cindy. Fuck. At least it wasn’t Anthony.
“Dinner will be ready soon.” She stared directly at Anna, who was still looking up at me with a calm expression on her face.
“…I’m not hungry.” My voice shook erratically.
“You must come and eat anyway.” Now I was even less hungry. “Be down in twenty minutes.” She turned and walked away, leaving the door open. I got up, amazed that she hadn’t said anything about Anna, and shut the door. I walked back over to her and sat down in the small cold metal chair.
“I don’t have to hide,” Anna said. Apparently she didn’t. “I brought something for you.” She reached inside her sparkling midnight blue dress and pulled out a book, then placed it into my hands: The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
I stared at the cover for a long moment and realized that time travel does in fact exist. My eyes zoomed in and Mr. Caterpillar grew and grew until just one of his green eyes filled up my entire vision. Deep within the eye, a microscopic universe began to take shape. I zoomed in farther still and found the Milky Way, then Earth. I found the U.S.A., Florida, then the little woodland outskirts of the city. At last I found the house in which we grew up.
There we were, Anna and I, oblivious to the rest of the world. That existence had been quite dark and traumatic, especially in the eyes of the world. Society probably even deemed it horrible enough that it might make it all the way to Hollywood someday. But we had each other, and young Tristan and Anna didn’t yet know of the horrors that lay outside those walls. We knew only the ones within them. Father came into the room. He began to pull off our clothes…
“Do you want to read it?” Anna asked. I was back in my room again, mostly. I wasn’t sure if I did, but I took it and placed it in my wooden dresser drawer. It was safe.
Days went by, slowly, gruelingly turning into weeks. I excelled in all of my online classes. They were hardly even challenging. I learned about Napoleon, quadratic equations, ionic bonds and onomatopoeias. But apart from these I had nothing. I had made no new friends except for a few in chatrooms on the internet. I doubted that I would ever get a chance to meet them in real life.
Where was the ‘teenage experience’ that I had heard and read so much about? I had never heard a story that went “when I was a teenager, I sat in my room for years at a time and wasn’t allowed to have friends”. I knew stories like that were out there somewhere, but I hadn’t heard them. I didn’t want to, and I didn’t want that story to end up being mine. But I supposed that most of those stories didn’t include being stabbed, pulling apart dead animals, and watching a girl that I almost had sex with murder a guy who stabbed me in the chest. And I was stoned for all of it.
Yes, Marcus was dead. Cindy told earlier in the day. When Veia stabbed him the last time, the glass sliced apart his heart and a lung. She broke his heart, quite literally. That’s what he fucking gets for trying to kill me over stupid high school drama bullshit. That’s what he gets. I was sad though, only because Veia probably wouldn’t be back anytime soon.
At least Anna was with me now, but she came and went. I wasn’t really sure where it was that she went to, or how she went there, but I decided not to worry about it. I supposed she went back to her new family. M. said that she now had one. She would come and go in and out of our front door was somehow never noticed. She must have mastered the art of stealth.
I looked over at my computer screen. I was logged into Facebook, looking at the profiles of people who were my age and lived nearby. They all seemed to be in relationships, always going to some kind of fun and crazy event. I looked at all of them until I felt extremely sick and entirely excluded from a life that desperately wanted to be a part of. What did I do to deserve this? Why couldn’t someone else’s soul have been condemned to live as Tristan? I didn’t even think that I believed in souls anyway. Fuck them. Fuck me.
That night I walked into the bathroom and turned on the sink in order to mask the noise that might soon be coming. Hot and cold were both turned all the way on. I took the bottle of Tylenol out of the cabinet above the sink. I had looked online earlier and found what the lethal dose apparently was. There was a bit more than that in the large, still nearly full, bottle. I took it all. I cut myself again with the same knife, in the same places, the same way that I had before…only worse this time. I didn’t think I would feel it after taking that many pain killers, but I still did.
I was tired of sitting in my room, watching life pass me by. It was the new millennium. The world had made it to the twenty-teens, and it would continue on. It would breathe and it would pulse. There would be laughing, living, loving… embracing, debating, kissing and dating, dancing, singing, joking, playing, learning, building, writing, being, fucking, feeling, speaking, listening, touching, teaching, running, walking, slinking and thinking, and thinking while slinking…it would shake, shift, and shimmer. The energy of life would flow through the billions of hearts and hands and faces…without me.
It would all happen while I lived out my time, my time of vitality and virility, locked away just the same as I had been before. I closed my eyes and sat down on the bathroom floor, waiting for the weight to be taken from me. I was standing outside in the rain. My arms were outstretched. I was falling…falling…falling…the air blew in flurries across my face as I flew downward, faster and faster…I was at peace. For once, I was finally at peace. I was unafraid…
The room began to spin as my blood poured out onto the floor. I was dizz-dizzy. My vision began to fade. My stomach began to ache. So much for pain relief. The ache grew stronger and stronger but now I could hardly see. I wouldn’t be in pain for long. I couldn’t stop myself from grimacing, but it would soon be okay.
“Right on time,” Shadowshade said. What the fuck did he want? The time for talking had passed.
“Go away,” I said slowly, softly. “I’m no longer here. You have the wrong address. I’ve moved on.”
“Not just yet, but it is true that Tristan shall soon die. He will not survive much longer, rest assured.” Shadowshade’s reply was as cryptic as always. Good, I thought. At least we were on the same page, except that I wasn’t planning to wait until later. I hoped he knew that his ‘much longer’ meant ‘the rest of the night’.
“Suppose you weren’t going to die tonight,” he said. “I’m not saying that you won’t. In fact, you’ve done a decent job of destroying yourself. But if you did survive, what would you want to do?” I thought for a moment. I wasn’t really sure. I hadn’t had the opportunity to think of those things. I didn’t have the right to.
“It doesn’t matter what I want if what I want is impossible for me to have.”
“It is only impossible because you are still Tristan, the boy who is unwilling to have the things he wants and needs because he is too weak. You’re too afraid…too scared to take what will not be given. You accept all of the things that turn your life into one that isn’t worth living. You do absolutely nothing about it. You have been conditioned, trained to be submissive, to play the role of the victim. You’ve allowed your life to turn to ruin. I’ve watched you the whole time, waiting for it to bring you to the point of being unable to go on.”
I thought about all of this for a moment, barely holding onto consciousness. Maybe he was right. Maybe I could have been stronger, braver, more resistant to those who opposed me…those who prevented me from having a life that I would have wanted to keep living. But that realization was entirely worthless now. It was too late for me.
“What do you want, Tristan?”
“I want to be free, to simply be left to my own devices. I’ve never told a single person what they were supposed to be doing with their lives, yet everyone always has something to say about what I’m expected to do with mine. Isn’t existence too short, too fleeting, for us to be kept from experiencing what we can of it?”
“You and I believe this to be true. Most of the others, the Homo sapiens, the ones who make up the rest of the society, usually disagree. They will try to force you to…’do culture’, shall we say?”
“Well I can’t. A life of ‘doing culture’ isn’t worth living to me. A life full of doing things that I see no reasonable reason for doing…that isn’t worth staying here for. I’m not meant to exist in this world. I never was. I don’t see things the way they do. Maybe I’m not even human.”
“See, this is Tristan talking. You’re so weak. You’re a bitch, you know that you’re a bitch and you still keep living as one.” What the hell?
“…Not for long.”
“Do you really want to die like this? You want to die as nothing?” I began to understand what he meant. I was allowing everyone else to make all of my decisions. I was allowing everyone else to determine my future. But that was ‘just the way things are’, Anthony had said. The society made it that way. I didn’t get to choose where I was going to go to school. They all told me that I didn’t have the right to make choices. Freedom was an illusion.
“I get it. I’m the society’s bitch. I’m Anthony’s bitch and Cindy’s bitch just like I was Mother and Father’s bitch. I was Mrs. M.’s bitch. I’m the government’s bitch. I’m everyone’s bitch.”
“You choose to be.”
“I have no choice! I. Have. No. Fucking. Choice.”
“Maybe not, but someone else does…someone that you could become, someone who gets to choose.”
“I would be killed, tortured, or something horrible beyond the limits of my imagination. I would be completely destroyed.”
“Well, child, Tristan is going to die. That has already been determined. He is unable to handle a life without choices and is too afraid to go against the grain. He’s so incapable of dealing with the life that he has been handed, so afraid of what might happen if he took the life that he wants, that he has chosen death instead.
“So now you have a choice. Let the body die along with Tristan, or choose to let it live on as something else. Be the taker, the product of society, the one who is willing to face whatever obtaining his desires may bring. Be the one who avenges his former self. What do you have to lose? What if they do kill you? You’re already dead anyway, living like this. Time is the only adversary that is formidable enough to consider, time and time alone…not any of these people.”
I blacked out completely. Consciousness left me to fall face first from where I was kneeling and onto the tile floor, though I couldn’t feel it. I didn’t know. I had entered the abyss and was waiting for the light so that I could walk into it. This was finally the end. But I could still hear his voice. It was loud and clear.
“Choose. Live freely and fully for as long as you can before something is done about it or die right here, right now, having lived and died all for nothing. Fight or concede.”
Maybe I would be killed if I lived in a way that I considered to be worth living. Maybe I’d only last a single second, but even that would be infinitely longer than all of the time I had already spent living a life that was worth living to me. I couldn’t go back in time and prevent the world from giving birth to this raging fire, but I could burn until I was extinguished. I would not extinguish myself. They would have to do it themselves. I would go on as something else, someone different; someone less afraid and more willing to take what he wanted. It was time for Tristan to be pushed aside.
“Okay. I will try. I’m ready.” Nothing. Total silence. But then something changed…everything changed. I could see again, but it was not the scene that I was expecting. I was walking down a dark and eerie looking hallway. Papers and pencils littered the wobbling quivering floor. This place seemed to have a mind of its own. A little girl ran past me; she looked so very afraid.
Wait. That girl, I had seen her before, that day at the abandoned school. The hallway opened up into a large room that…holy shit, this was the school. This was where Veia and I…I looked at the ground. What was left of Mortimer was still there, but he had mostly rotted away. What was happening?
“Now it is time,” Shadowshade said. An outline of what looked like the spawn of a man and a demon appeared in the back center of the room, near the broken glass window. It was him. It had to be. Then the outline began to shift and shake faster and faster until eventually it split into two separate beings. Both of the newly born silhouettes took on the form of the initial one, though the doppelganger looked a bit different. It was almost transparent. Were there two of him now? Maybe I was just seeing double.
Then I began to feel something that I had never felt before. It was like my brain and all of the organs in my entire body were being torn to shreds. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists, trying to fight the unbelievable pain. What the fuck was happening? Something emerged from my body and I was pulled along with it. It was another one of me. I now had a doppelganger of my own. It was transparent too, almost like a ghost, and its face was frozen in a cold blank stare.
As this was happening, the little girl ran over to the left corner of the room and crouched down…she was hiding from something. Shadowshade disappeared but his clone remained. The two of our ‘others’ walked toward each other, seemingly about to collide. Instead, when they at last collided, they merged together. The see-through Shadowshade completely disappeared. He had gone somewhere inside of my alter, though the final result still looked just like me.
A woman charged into the room. M.? Mother? She had been here before and I knew what she was after. This is why the girl was hiding. Maybe I could save her this time. The angry woman reached inside her large raggedy mismatch of dresses and aprons and pulled out a metal stick. Was it Mother after all? It had to be.
I thought I was ready, but she caught me off-guard. I tried to move around to hit her from behind but she was too quick. Crack. Right against the back of my head. The room exploded into a million pieces. I fell to the floor instantly, but I wasn’t done yet.
I tried, through the delirium, to crawl back onto my feet. I didn’t have enough time. Crack. The same place, but it was wetter this time. Her aim was deadly. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I couldn’t get up. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. My skull shattered. My brain was just a big canister of pinkish-grey Play-Doh that a young child had pulled apart and thrown all over the room in a tantrum.
Sayonara. Finito. I exited the cruel world of the living, but my vision returned. I was definitely dead, yet somehow a part of me had lived on. I floated up into the air and then slowly glided around the room. Was I a fucking ghost now?
Mother was walking toward the girl. She would be the next to die. The now less transparent, more materialized, doppelganger thing was still there and standing perfectly still. Why wasn’t it doing anything? I had an idea, and I had to be quick. I flew straight at this new being, this part me and part Shadowshade spectre. I slammed into it at as hard as I could. First darkness…then came feeling. I could feel arms, hands and fingers, legs, feet and toes. My eyes opened. The thing’s eyes opened. It was me and I was it.
“Hey, bitch!” I screamed at the horrid woman. My voice was a little lower than it had been before. I felt more confident. Maybe it was Shadowshade talking for me. Was I him now too? Yes…I was him now, at least partially. She was almost to the girl, but she stopped for a second to look back at me.
That was enough. I picked up the chair sitting next to me and ran toward her, smashing it into her upper body. It splintered and shattered, sending all of its many bits and pieces flying into the air. This time it was she who was falling to the ground. I bent down and pulled the metal stick from her hand.
I blinked once and we were back in our old house. Anna was shaking and crying, kneeling behind me. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. It was Mother’s turn...her turn to feel what it was like. Her skull caved in and gave way. The light vanished from her eyes just as it had years before. She was dead! Finally dead! I stared in shock at what I had done, then looked at my bloodstained hands. They were smaller than they were supposed to be. Had I become younger?
But they began to grow. I was back in the room in the school, staring at the body. I spun around, but the girl wasn’t there. Anna wasn’t there. Where could she have gone? In the place where she had been crouching stood Veia and I. I turned my head slightly as I moved my hands around her waist, pulling her into me. I could feel my heart shattering in my chest like a scar being torn wide open. Fuck. I didn’t want to see this. I turned away and faced the center of the room. There we were again.
“Ooh, is it a ghost, or a demon maybe? A spooky spook?” she asked. “Hmm,” she continued. “It’s a shadowshade then, a shady-shady shadowshade. It shall be called Shadowshade. Is that good? What does Mr. Shadowshade say?” I blacked out, leaving Veia and the school behind. I was starting to get used to sudden total darkness.
“You’ve been reborn,” Shadowshade said. “Now you are ready to truly begin your journey.” I wondered what that might include, but it was up to me to decide. “Shadowshade…” He began again. “A fitting name, I suppose. You didn’t want to see yourself and the girl intertwined in each other’s arms? It haunts you, pains you, unwantedly occupies your mind. Yet I am Shadowshade. That is what you call me. That is who I am to you, yes? But the name is also a reminder of the one who you seem to be trying to forget.
“The name was born in her mind, not yours. Every time you say it, in a way, she returns. It is the same as it would be if it were a thought, a phrase, or an interest. Maybe an image, a random object or place, a piece of clothing…maybe a frog hops by on the sidewalk and ‘ribbits’. Just some food for thought, you know how I enjoy fucking with our mind. But we’re done here now, aren’t we? It’s time to go back.” And back we went. Things were going to be different.