Day Seventeen — Emotional Liability
“You didn’t find any other place for this?” sister Jove asked the group of children who had dropped a basket of cookies on her desk and were getting ready to leave.
“Oh, no, sister Jove, these are for you!” a cheerful seven year old clarified, grinning from ear to ear to reveal the gap that took the place of her upper front teeth. She had lost her baby teeth the week before and she was brimming with pride about it. She couldn’t stop touching the gums with her tongue, trying to feel the jagged edge of their permanent replacements.
“You baked me cookies?” sister Jove asked, touched.
“No,” the seven year old answered, matter of fact. “I brought them to you because you need to wrap them, Ms. Lily said.”
“Wrap them in what?” sister Jove asked.
The girl didn’t speak, she just pointed to a stack of tulle squares and a ball of ribbon.
“What are these for?” sister Jove asked.
“I don’t know,” the girl replied, eyeing the cookie basket with a covetous gaze.
“Have some!” sister Jove prompted her.
“I’m not supposed to, sister. Ms. Lily said,” the girl hesitated.
“Tell her I said so,” sister Jove laughed and switched to the interlink. “Can somebody please explain the basket of cookies on my desk?”
“They are for the kids, to keep them occupied during the ceremony so they don’t get antsy,” Sarah explained.
“Why am I wrapping them, then?” sister Jove asked.
“Gives them something to do with their hands,” Sarah laughed.
“What’s going to happen with all the wrappers after they eat their cookies?” sister Jove asked.
“Oops! Just forget the wrappers, too much trouble. Has anybody given any thought to the children’s outfits?” Sarah asked.
“Don’t tell me they all have to be lavender,” sister Jove started.
“Not entirely, just the girls’ dresses,” Sarah replied.
“This thing looks more like a baby shower with each passing day, add a few rattles and stuffed animals and we’ll be all set!” sister Jove noticed.
“Not if Lily has a word in it, we just dodged the ball gown bullet, just be thankful you joined a convent!” Sarah said. “This is the fairy tale ball of the century, Cinderella has nothing on her!”
“I have a little case of the butterflies, to be honest with you, that Bonding Ceremony seems pretty intimidating. If I understand correctly it looks like a giant bundle of light, with energy strands pulling in all directions. The energy field alone is bound to make us emotional and disoriented. Are you sure we’re ready for this?” sister Jove asked.
“If we weren’t you think they’d reschedule it?” Sarah asked.
Sister Jove didn’t answer.
“How come nobody else is concerned about this, we’re going to stand next to a miniature star, not fifty feet away. Why aren’t you nervous?” sister Jove asked Sarah.
“I’ve seen Humon change states, it’s going to be the same thing, only on a larger scale. Once you get used to the fact that their natural state is a gas the rest kind of comes with the territory, don’t you think?” Sarah answered, placid.
“What happens if one of the dragons decides to fly through the Fusion Cloud?” sister Jove asked.
“First, the wisps will never let us hear the end of it, I’m sure, which is why we have to make sure it doesn’t happen. If it does, however, I would assume the dragon would become confused. I’m not sure how that affects a creature with five heads, what am I thinking! Why aren’t you nervous about the five headed lizards? Fog doesn’t bite!” Sarah tried to find some rationality in the conversation.
“Where is Purple going to be?” sister Jove asked.
“I don’t know, ask Lily,” Sarah replied.
“I just wanted to make sure everything works smoothly, no surprises, no mess-ups,” sister Jove continued fretting.
“Stop jinxing it, sister, you’re worse than Lily!” Sarah chastised her. “Everything is going to be perfect!”
“It’s just that there are going to be so many clouds around! I’m nervous when they’re each their own separate cluster, I can’t imagine the power of their assembly cloud! They are, for all practical purposes, moving the Simplex here!” sister Jove continued revealing her misgivings.
“So?” Sarah asked.
“They can move planets at that focus cluster magnitude,” sister Jove continued.
“You think they can’t control their own Bonding Ceremony?” Sarah asked.
“No, it’s not that, I’m sure they can handle it just fine, I’m not sure we’re equipped for it.”
“Ael participated in the Simplex. She’s ten,” Sarah argued.
“She’s a wisp,” sister Jove replied.
“Yes, she is. If anybody should be terrified, it’s Lily. She carried her wisp daughters inside her belly and she’s not the worse for wear,” Sarah argued.
“Has it ever occurred to you that all of us are dangerously insane?” sister Jove asked Sarah.
“Of course. A million times. We’re all crazies here,” Sarah laughed.
Landing Bay, Terra Two, July 19th, 3245
I don’t even know how to start this, but it is the advice I wanted to give you. Nobody talks to young people about distressing or broken situations, not the day before an event that’s supposed to be the most exciting day of their life.
We all carry our baggage, the lucky ones are aware of it, most people don’t even acknowledge its presence. Our emotional liability balance.
People think that bad, unsettling feelings are best kept locked into a corner of one’s emotional closet, like the ugly sweater you would be embarrassed to be seen wearing in public, but you keenly hold on to, just to wear when you’re alone.
We all have our drawer-fulls of emotional ugly sweaters. We wear them in solitude, they become our guilty habits, we wear them even when the weather is warm, just because we’re used to the idea that they’re ours and in a perverse way we feel comforted by them. We’re secretly haunted by our insecurities, our past failures, our mistakes, we don’t want to let them go. The latter are the worst, the entire universe may forget your misdeed, but you’re willing to hold on to it forever, that tombstone of your lost ideals.
I’m not advising you to throw away your ugly sweaters, because I reached the wisdom to know that you can’t. None of us can, our mistakes are part of what made us who we are. I’m just advising you to drag yours into the light and never contemplate them alone, it is a lot less damaging to be embarrassed in front of people than to be ashamed to look at yourself in the mirror.
I made a habit of not suggesting to others something I am not willing to do myself, so here goes, my ugly sweater.
After an endless sequence of transgressions and misbehaving, my parents decided that boarding school would be the best place to set me straight, so that I finally learn the universe does not revolve around me ( I have to stop here for a little digression and point out that according to Purple’s theory of existence and energy, the universe apparently does revolve around each and every one of us. Every time Roberta brings this up, however casually, I take a little victory lap inside my head.)
There were eight of us in the common bedroom, and I was the oldest and by all accounts, the least redeemable. If you want an exercise in absurdity, try to understand the supervisors’ logic in giving me responsibility over the group’s behavior, a leadership position of sorts. I don’t know, I guess they figured out if they put a younger kid in charge I would act out and things would get worse.
We spent a lot of time together and became very close. None of us were perfect but we liked and stood up for each other, and in that environment we were the closest any one could get to a family. The other kids took my leadership role seriously, and wouldn’t dream of being on my bad side. We were always together, whether working, playing or getting in trouble, and there was no shortage of the latter.
They decided to surprise me and made me this ring in the metal shop, a steel mounted solitaire with a dark amethyst. Everything was fashioned by hand, including the amethyst, which they found in the rough and polished in a rattling can for days. I was touched and never took that ring off, it meant a lot to me, I was their protector and role model.
Anyway, as a portion of our reeducation program we had to do heavy chores every day, carry wood to the quarters, water buckets to the garden, load baskets of grapes and sacks of grain into trucks. The task that day was to move some marble tombstones from the little courtyard at the back of the school, which served as a stone carving shop.
I was a fountainhead at that time, overflowing with ideas, all of them ill-advised and purposefully disrespectful. This was the glorious occasion I was waiting for to pull a prank on the young’ums and I spent many hours in preparation, grinning in anticipation of their reaction. The main idea was to place a lattice of ball bearings connected with wires underneath one of the tombstones and tie them to the hay barn pulley, and just at the right moment, flip the switch and have a tomb open all by itself, a fake one, of course, but what did the kids know?
Everything went exactly as planned except the operation of the barn pulley itself, which wasn’t entirely up to me: the farm hands came in early and started it at just the wrong speed, which turned the very heavy marble slab into a makeshift projectile. It broke through the back wall like a wrecking ball and disintegrated, exploding into a million little shards that blew everywhere and at the end of this little endeavor the place looked like a battle field.
For a moment everything seemed surreal, the noise, the dust, the falling debris. I fell to the ground, my ears ringing with a metallic, eerie sound that still haunts me some times. My hands were bleeding from all the glass, brick and marble shards that blew everywhere and for a moment I couldn’t tell up from down, left from right, it all melted into a blur, all I remember is that I was staring at my hands, helpless like broken toys and trying to grasp onto the crumbled rocks, with the gemstone of the ring gleaming in the sunlight. For a moment, that gemstone was all that mattered to me in the world, I don’t know why, sometimes reason doesn’t come into the equation. It meant something very important, life changing, but I just couldn’t remember what it was, and it hurt, because I really wanted to, had to, it was my duty.
All eight of us were present at the scene, but one of the kids, a little thing whose sins I didn’t have enough time to learn, looked like the perfect suspect. She was closest to the scene, she’d been working in the metal shop the previous week and she was kind of good at putting things together and making them work.
After we regained our wits an investigation was open, where all of us were grilled generously. It wasn’t one of those slap on the wrist occasions, somebody was guilty and that somebody was going to be expelled and held accountable for the damage. The younger kids were scared and easily intimidated, they cried and tried to exculpate themselves. I was a lot more hardened, after years of getting in trouble I had absolutely no problem lying my way out of any situation. They didn’t believe in my innocence but couldn’t prove my guilt either, and since somebody had to be held responsible for this feat of monumental stupidity, they blamed the kid closest to the scene.
I didn’t say anything when they took her away, she didn’t even try to defend herself, the decision had already been made; I didn’t say anything to the other children either, not then, and not in the years that followed. I just kept wearing my ring, the symbol of my group’s trust in me, as a reminder of the other six lives I was responsible for.
I don’t know what happened to any of them after we left boarding school, we all went our separate ways, but I still have the ring, and it still means the same thing to me, the fact that I was responsible for seven and I ended up with six, and that it was my fault. There is an almost perceptible void in the sparkle of that ring that no amount of time, rationalization or encouragement can fill.
We all wear our ugly sweaters, our emotional liabilities. If you are lucky enough to have real friends, they’ll have you, ugly sweater or not.
After that event I changed. What wouldn’t my parents have given to bring forth this emotional epiphany! They never found out what happened, but were so grateful to see me turn into such a responsible adult. I studied, I worked, I met Roberta, she introduced me to the other sisters, and the rest you know.
The truth is, if I had to do things over, even now, I don’t think they would go any differently. This is what makes it harder, the fact that I did something I’m ashamed of, and if I had to do it again, I would do it just the same. Do you understand my ugly sweater, baby? That’s why it’s called liability, not because you can’t fix it, in the present or the past, but because at any time you are presented with the situation you will make the same choice.
Understand that you’ll have ugly sweaters too, you can’t avoid them, not in a life as long as ours. If you can’t learn to live with them you won’t be able to do anything other than go in circles around a losing hand at cards, a hand whose all possible outcomes are bad.
Well, I think that was enough depressing talk for a young graduate with a bright future in front of her, but in my experience emotional liability sneaks up on you and shocks you when it happens, because these things only happen to bad people, right? People who deserve it, but you’ll never be like them, after all, you follow the straight and narrow, you would never be so stupid, you would know better, right?
I love you baby. Be happy. Life is not perfect, but so what?