Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Five Things I Know to Be True, Fred Feldman

Audiodiary of a Neurotic: Elsie Speaks
By Frederick W. Feldman

[click]

hey, it’s . . .

hang on . . .

[hum of people]

so, uh, this is Elsie’s audiodiary. hi.

[rustling]

i’m walking out the door right now.

[automatic door opening. traffic sounds]

five things I know to be true. i’m walking away from the wegman’s to my car.

[brief pause]

my car is blue.

[pause]

if the sun hits it right it makes a starburst on the rim around the back door. it’s old. it doesn’t look beautiful. it looks like a poor person’s car. not super poor, just, like, inconsequential. rich enough to buy cheap food and housing and live in america; poor enough to be unworthy of notice. rich enough to buy a meagre independence, but too broke to afford friends. friends are expensive—meals, movie tickets, gas, etcetera.

[car alarm. beeping]

that’s not mine, just fyi. if you can hear that. the car alarm.

i joined this writing group. they give us prompts and things and we have to respond to them. so I’m supposed to come up with five things I know to be true. what kind of greeting-card nonsense is that. i probably don’t even know five true things. the bag is splitting. an apple fell out. it’s rolling down the road. should I get it. it rained recently. there’s rain on the road. puddles, I mean. i won’t get it. how much did I pay for it.

too much, since it rolled down the road and I can’t eat it anymore.

[door slam]

i know I am unimportant. i wonder if all the other people walking past me in the parking lot and the people who were walking in the wegman’s know they are unimportant too. they are going to die and I’m not going to care, not even a little. unless they’re on the news or in the paper and the paper makes it sound sad. then I will care and I will feel sad that they died—for about five minutes maybe. and then I will remember them once more at lunch and that will be it. maybe I will remember them once more, by accident, a lot of time later, or if I am on purpose thinking about things I forgot, like now. but I can’t even remember anyone now.

[ignition]

i was born in a honeycomb. i hatched out of it like a bee. we all come from somewhere, and any history is the same as no history.

[sound of engine]

are bees actually born in honeycombs, or do they just put honey in there.

[silence]

here is something I know: rabbits, when they get run over by a car, leave a dark stain on the road. i know that for sure. you can see their redness beneath where their skin was stripped apart, like they got opened along a seam. They get split open, just like a little stuffed rabbit, except someone (God, I guess) stuffed them full of red meat and now it’s all coming out. and then something I thought I knew (a rabbit) looks like something I don’t know at all. and when I first see a rabbit on the road, i don’t realize whether its a rabbit or a pile of trash because it doesn’t look like a rabbit. sometimes I think I see a dead rabbit on the road but it’s actually trash, just some trash that’s wet or a tire or something i don’t even know. so I guess I don’t know rabbits at all because i didn’t know they could open up like that. They don’t even seem like rabbits then. that’s not something i know to be true.

[pause]

i know all four volumes of plutarch’s lives. i read them all in college when i was taking a history course and i decided to go above and beyond, totally go crazy, and read all four volumes of plutarch’s parallel lives. i felt that, in order for success, i had to take on some difficult task. i wore myself out reading all that in one semester, in addition to my other classes. but i thought that, once i had that knowledge, no one could take that away from me and that would be the building block that could take to . . . wherever it was i wanted to go. a writer or a scholar or something maybe. i thought that would lead me to it, and help me find out what it was.

once i went to a speaking event with a group from my high school class (this was during high school and it was at princeton university. i don’t remember what it was about, honestly. no, I didn’t go to Princeton. just a visit.) and there was supposed to be a lot of waiting and i was afraid i would get bored so i brought a book. it was a Wodehouse. this and that happened and i ended up only reading about a chapter, but i had the book with me the whole time our group spent traipsing back and forth across the campus on a warm day and my hands are clammy anyway so by the time the event was done my paperback was all warped and rippled from my own palm sweat. that’s my knowledge of plutarch: my soggy destroyed book i thought i would need but didn’t but still had to carry around everywhere.

actually I once met a guy who was really into greek and roman history. i forgot how it came up. it was at a college thing. He was kind of cute and i would have liked to not part ways forever, but i was too embarrassed that i knew so much about plutarch, so i let him think i didn’t know much about the history but had just, like, a casual interest and let him explain things i already knew and then we parted. I can’t blame him. why would he be impressed with some dilettante who didn’t seem to know anything. I wouldn’t have been impressed with myself. if was another girl looking at myself i would have had scorn for me. but if i knew that i was hiding my knowledge because i was embarrassed about it, i would have felt a sort of tender pity for me, even maybe a bit of admiration. that’s dumb, i know. but i would be able to relate to it.

. . . well, obviously.

[mirthless chuckle]

love is not something i know to be true. i like the idea of it, but i’m not sure what it looks like and I don’t know how to love anyone. i don’t love other people like I should, don’t love myself, don’t love God the way I ought.

[brief pause]

if I know anything about death, I know my goldfish is dead. sixth grade. forgot to feed him. Smelled bad. looked worse. his name was alfred. poor fish. hope he swims happily in the river lethe now. probably not. he’s probably eating poop and weird fungus in acheron. and it’s all my fault. the fate of fish’s souls are determined by the goodness of their owner’s care for them. forgive me, alfred.

[pause]

I know that consciousness is a . . . a f------ miracle. if I could take the miracle of consciousness and sell it in a foaming soap push-bottle, I would. then people could buy it if they wanted it and take a little bit when they felt like it, and it would wear off after a couple hours and they wouldn’t be bothered by it when they were trying to sleep.

[engine. pause]

i work at the movie theater. i got a degree in philosophy and now I work as a shift supervisor at the movie theater. all the folks who got “practical degrees” snicker at me. “She should have studied something useful.” i am their object lesson, their fool. but this is the only thing i am good at. scholarship, thinking, writing. but not good enough to distinguish myself. i suppose i knew what i was getting into. i had problems i wanted to solve and a b.a. in phil seemed like a way to explore those problems. and I wanted to take the history of thought upon myself. the philosophers of yore would be my fathers and I would be their daughter. the idea, I guess, was to write books or something. or go on for a master’s. but now I can’t afford a master’s degree, and I’m stuck in this job. all the employees, they just stay all day at the theater. they’ll be off their shifts and just be hanging around on their phones. i ask why they’re still here and they say “just hanging out.” don’t they have anything better to do? but then, I go home afterwards, and I don’t have anything better to do there.

[pause. engine puttering]

that’s why i’m in this writing group. to focus on my craft, ostensibly. a perpetual beginner. i will begin, and begin, and begin until I give up or die. Probably the latter, since in the former there’s a certain hope made possible in despairing of possibility. but I’ve always thought that despair is commensurate to the degree of hope that goes unfulfilled. such that someone going through the entire life, suffering, with a single hope leading them on, only to have that hope dissipate into the washpot of eternity as they die—that’s unimaginable despair. usually i get a weird kick out of despair, but not that. that keeps me awake at night.

i think I’m as afraid of visibility as I am afraid of obscurity. there: I psychoanalyzed myself. all my problems should solve themselves now. i’m afraid of dissolving. i’m afraid of my essence dissipating like puke in the rain. i write, i think, i struggle—to make something of myself, to carve a little niche in the world where I fit. but the world proves surprisingly resistant, and so does myself. other days I don’t. i’m too tired, or too depressed, or too wired. either way, whoever “I” am would be lost to everyone whether i ended up on everyone’s coffee table or alone in hovel. There’s no solution, but i have to eat. i guess.

[jingle of keys. quiet.]

what do I know is true. for a while I thought I wanted to die (this was shortly after I got over the fear of death, and I’m not even sure I’m over that entirely. i think mostly I am), but a couple months ago I was driving down the highway, there was snow, and for whatever reason I was totally spaced out, and someone pulls out in front of me and I don’t notice until I’m almost on them. i pound on the brakes and skid and I come this close to hitting them, missing their bumper only by sliding into the next lane, and seeing the headlights of oncoming traffic coming straight at me, and the cars in the other lane swerving just in time not to hit me. and that was when I realized that I didn’t want to die. that surprised me more than nearly crashing. but i recovered and pulled back onto the road and drove to wherever I was going. or maybe I didn’t. i don’t remember. i just remember being shaken and flabbergasted by the will to live. so honestly I don’t know what I want anymore.

[birds]

do I smell bad?

i wonder sometimes. sometimes after half a day i smell my underarms from my shirt. i wonder if people think I have offensive body odor. but i can’t ask anyone that.

[birds]

i’m home now. i’ve just been sitting in the driveway.

this didn’t help me at all. the “talking cure,” they call it. it’s no cure. more like a sickening grinding, a wearing down. honestly, i don’t even know if i want to be a writer. this is a silly and cruel writing prompt. i don’t think I’m going to participate in this one. i can make up some excuse. i think I’ll do that.

i’m feeling blue now. i’m going to watch tv.

bye audiodiary. i don’t like you; i think you’re gross.

[click]

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