WRITE YOURSELF ALIVE - DAY 2
Writing Prompt: Today, break up with "your" perfectionism in a dialogue.
Two friends sit on a small while loveseat, holding glasses of Zinfandel. A pink candle flickers.
“We need to talk,” the shorter one with curly hair and a hint of a southern accent says with less assertion than she had hoped.
“Oh yea? What about?” replies the taller one with long legs, bright green eyes, and no hint of insecurity at hearing these words.
“You see…I’ve been thinking. I really appreciate your drive. I love how you get shit done and the way you make a room look when all the towels are folded just so, the corners of the sheets tucked into neat triangles, candles lit. I admire how your waist is always narrow, your arms always toned, and how I’ve never seen you with lipstick on your teeth. When you speak, people listen because you’re articulate, smart, and, at times, damn funny. You’re standards…they’re high—“
--“and that’s a good thing, right? I mean if it were not for my standards, you’d still be with that guy who talked down to you. You’d probably have an ugly apartment. You might have never written or published anything. Hey, without me, you’d be fat.”
At this, the first friend puts down her glass of wine and folds her arms across her chest. Maybe she’s write. He did always make me feel bad about my past. And when I pushed her away, I gained a few pounds. My guys says he likes it, that I’m beautiful. But she’s right. My hips are fuller.
“Fair enough…but not exactly! You’ve never helped me write.”
“I always keep you from writing sentimental, embarrassing shit,” she says, now too putting down her wine and pointing her finger in a gesture between giving emphasis and giving the bird.
“Okay, you do. But you also keep me from writing anything. Essays, poems, sentences. Once I feel you leaning over my shoulder, checking the words on the screen, I stop writing. And the thing is, maybe I need to write ‘sentimental, embarrassing shit’ to get to words with beauty and sentiment. Maybe that’s how I write. I build a colossal mountain of sappy, over-indulgent, hallmarky, small “r” romantic shit, and then I revise and tear it down to the stuff that matters, the story that moves people. The part that’s true, and has some beauty. But I’ll never know that if you keep pulling my hands off the keyboard with your eye-rolls and judgy sighs.”
The tall one sips her wine—even its raisin purple not staining her teeth—and does a little eye roll, suddenly noticing the layer of dust along the window sill, where crystals clutter what could be a clear, clean space.
“I’m not going to dignify that with a response,” she says, tight-lipped and cool.
“And I’m not going to keep doing this.”
“This!” She says, throwing her arms out as if flinging confetti. “I’m not going to keep trying to be like you. I’ve tried for years, but I’ll never be everyone’s friend, every guy’s fantasy, every student’s favorite teacher, every teacher’s favorite student, every publisher’s best discovery, every father’s “special” daughter. I’ll never have long legs or symmetrical eyes or kink-free hair or a reasonable appetite. I’ll never be able to spell recieve. I’m just not as put together as you.”
She rolls her neck, as if she’s really going somewhere now.
“I’ll never be like you because you do not exist. You’re a simulacrum of perfection that changes every day, according to what I feel is the best in that moment, which is often what is most elusive. You’re a mirage. Even now, I can see you shapeshifting before me, tans and nudes blending into some magazine model’s airbrushed form. Your hands, they can’t even hold anything—not a pen, not a man, not a child. You’re not who I even want to be because you’re not curious. You think you know how everything should be, how every story unfolds, but you don’t. I don’t, and I think that’s a good thing.”
“I never knew you felt this way,” she says, placing her hands in her lap, listening patiently for her turn to give a scripted reply.
“So, I’m going to ask we go our separate ways.”
“But I want to say…”
--“I’m no longer going to listen to what you want because for the first time in a long time, I care about what I want more than you.”
“You’re making a mistake,” she stands up now, so tall and lean, elegant even as she’s angry. “What will you do without me?”
“I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.”
“I’ll tell you. When I walk out that door, you will devolve into a lump of lard on the couch. You’ll never write anything that amounts to anything. You’ll disappoint people. You’ll never get out of this apartment. You’ll be sick on a feast of regrets. You know what, if you ask me to leave…You will be alone.”
At this, the short one braced herself a bit, as if expecting a bullet in her stomach. But there was no bullet. Now black hole opened beneath the couch and swallowed her whole. Alone.
“Alone,” she said it out loud as if saying it for the first time, as if saying it like any other normal word. “Alone,” like “plate” or “cloud” or “maybe,” and it did not scare her like it had all thirty-six years of her life. It was just a word, not a sentence. She said it over and over, alonealonealone until it was just babble, baby sounds that meant nothing.
Or a mantra that meant everything.
As she looked around she realized she was in fact alone. The tall one gone now. She alone sat on the white loveseat, holding a glass of red wine, the pink candle flickering. And it was fine because she knew she could cuddle with Lucy, her soft puppy ears like a child’s blankie. She would see her guy tomorrow, and he would kiss her neck, the right side that makes her giggle because it’s so ticklish. She could call friends for coffee. She could open books. She would see her students in the classroom, the yoga studio. She could sit at her desk and write words that keep her company. Words that just want their time on the page, in the air, on someone’s lips, and later, in their memories.
She finished her wine. Left the empty glass on the coffee table and went to take a bath. Alone with alone, having never felt so good after a break-up.