The Act of Erasing Oneself
Today was another day. I try to be thankful for what I have.
A girl I went to high school with has breast cancer and it’s spread to her liver. They put a GoFundMe up on Facebook and I donated 50 dollars, bringing the total to 500 dollars raised so far. 5 people in 7 hours. They want 15 grand.
I haven’t seen her in years. In fact, the last time I saw her was in our old high school auditorium before a play. We were talking about Myspace. That tells you how long ago it was. We were still children then, practically.
“You should try this other site out when you start at Eastern,” she’d said while all the other kids chattered around us. It’s called Facebook and it’s way better.
Everything seems really brightly colored and innocent to me in that memory.
After I donated the money to her I submitted another short story to an Isaac Asimov science fiction magazine. I’ve never been published, but they pay eight cents a word. I’ve submitted to more than ten magazines in the past few weeks and I’m going to keep submitting.
I made myself some steaks on the stove and ate them, and ate some baby spinach out of the fridge. Then I called my friend.
“Hey, man,” I said. “How you doing?”
“Oh, I’m good, man,” he said. “I spent all day on the roof, just worn out from the heat. We’re about to eat dinner.”
He’s been re-siding his parents’ old house recently, burning and scraping off the old paint with a blowtorch and scraper, then priming and painting three coats of white paint over it.
“How you doing?” he asked after a second.
“I went to the doctor today, actually,” I said. “I had a stomachache this morning and I didn’t know what it was. They think it might be IBS but they did blood work so I won’t know til then.”
“I had that,” he said. “IBS. I got it from stress.”
“Is it like a dull ache in the center of your abdomen, right under your ribcage, and it feels like you stomach is turning to stone? Like this muscle cramping?”
“No, it’s just, like, ‘Oh shit, I got diarrhea.’”
“Yeah, that’s not it,” I said. “But yeah, I wanted to see if you wanted to play UNO tonight.”
“Eh, probably not, man. I wanted to go kayaking after dinner for exercise. What time were you going to bed?”
“I got work tomorrow so 9 or 10.”
“I don’t know, maybe if you came over. I might be done around 8:30. Sun’s going down faster now so maybe if you come over later we could after I take a shower.”
“Yeah, just send me a text or whatever.”
“Yeah, will do.”
I hung out with my parents and youngest brother yesterday. We went canoeing on the mucky lake across the street. It was nice. There were lots of fat lily pads and the water was brown and stank of rot and mud but there were patches where the water was clear and the canoe slid through the water quite nicely, and they drank beer and I drank Coke.
Dad said he wanted me to teach him some new songs on the guitar, like Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie and some other ones I’d never heard of. I don’t really play anymore but I said I’d look them up and try.
Later, my dad was talking about bad emotions.
“If you’re gonna feel that shit, feel it all the way,” he said. “And then move on. Don’t deny it. Just acknowledge it. Then get through it. All you can do.”
He talks about rhythm and poetry.
“Life itself is rhythm and poetry, and parts of it rhyme,” he says. “So let the bad parts rhyme and let the good parts rhyme.”
I put my shoulder against the truth. The fact that there is no fucking way in hell my sweet old classmate is raising 15 grand, which is a minuscule sum of money to people with actual money in this world. That unless I get lucky and impress a gatekeeper, I’m not going to be getting paid for writing my stories for another couple years at least. That natural selection never went anywhere, it just got more complicated.
Then there’s the harshest truth — my social credit is down past baseline and has been for a while now. That’s why my friend doesn’t want to hang. I know I won’t hear from him. The only reason he answered the phone is that he’s afraid I’ll downgrade him. I won’t. I don’t want him to go through this, not with his depression acting up. But it is nice to talk to someone about the doctor. I didn’t tell my parents about my stomach because I want to know what’s wrong with it before I do.
If I don’t bring my credit score back up, I’ll get sent to a socialization camp. No one comes back from those. It’s really hard to re-learn socialization once you’ve sunk past baseline. I hope that my donation and my active pursuit of my goals will bring my score back up. I’m not that far below the baseline.
Everything you do is based on your social credit. Your identity itself, whether it's positive or negative, is determined by your social credit, whether or not people generally like you and find you useful. Being a black, fat lesbian with high social credit is good — you should be proud of being black, fat, and lesbian. But if your social credit is low, then you should be ashamed of being fat, being black, and being a lesbian. It’s all that matters, your contributions. It’s not a bad way to run a society. Anyone can be anything or do anything. Who you are doesn’t matter; what you do is what matters.
My dad was telling me that rhythm and poetry stuff because he knows I’m stressed out. He’s had his score below baseline before, and every time it goes below, it gets harder to drag it up. It kept happening to him because he kept trying to help people who had low scores. Now he doesn’t do it anymore, but he’ll still talk to me. My brother and my mom are too afraid. My brother didn’t say anything while we were on the canoe. It really hurt, but I didn’t say anything because I understand.
The evening comes and my friend doesn’t text. My phone is dark and quiet, and it’s not surprising. The only emails I get are spam and bill reminders. I don’t mind.
All I can do is try and be social, but it’s hard when no one wants to talk to you. I haven’t talked to anyone — not really — in weeks.
I try to stream something off YouTube but the only free thing is clips of that one show where women with low social credit get to compete in horrifically violent weaponized wrestling matches. Three to a match.
The worst part is when losers of the first match are tied down naked, head to foot with losers from previous matches, all of them in a row, and the participants who placed first and second are given hacksaws and have to saw off all the losers’ limbs at the joints one at a time, and whoever gets everything off first gets to go home with renewed credit and the other gets tied down in the next show.
The women who are tied down are given a chance to chew through a leather strap and if they get through it before all their limbs are sawed off they’re given another chance to compete.
Human skin looks like wet foam rubber in that type of situation, somehow, like it’s got supermarket plastic stretched over it, like supermarket pig-meat that’s still moving. The women who are tied down never win the races, of course, and the crowds are so loud, and the lights are so bright. Blood pours everywhere off the sides of the ring like a fountain, and the saws are moving so fast because the other two women are still desperately fighting for their own lives, and the tied-down women are always struggling right up until they cut their heads off which are almost always the last things to be severed, both to give the tied-down women a chance to chew through their straps and also because the producers tell the women with the saws that’s what the crowds want.
Every clip of that part of the show always ends up looking like two frantically-sawing women in tight colorful onesies crawling over a writhing, squirting, leaking mass of flesh with yowling, thrashing heads attached to it, right in the center of a wrestling ring like you’d see at WWE, all while a referee in black and white (usually female also, but with a shaved head) watches intently with a whistle between her teeth ready to blow for any fouls. The clips have hundreds of millions of views.
As I walk across the parking lot of the Plymouth Rock I see my friends from high school, Shane and Katherine. Katherine runs up and hugs me, and seems genuinely happy to see me, and Shane cracks wise about something but I can’t understand them because they’re both strung out on something and then they’re off again, darting across the dark lot under the streetlights past a magazine vendor’s ramshackle booth and they’re gone. All of us were in the same class with the friend who has breast cancer.
Inside the Plymouth Rock it’s dark and there’s a band about to play. The lights are blue and yellow and mostly red, and I walk past the stage because I’m feeling a tad overwhelmed by everything and my stomach is starting to hurt and my face is hot. I find a nice dark corner in the back hallway past the bathrooms. While I’m collecting myself, I look to my right and in the dim red light, I see a torn sheet of paper duct-taped to the wall. The entire message is long gone but the remaining words are “ — the act of erasing oneself”.
I go out the back door, deciding I don’t need to spend any time around people tonight. I can try some other time soon.
On the way home, I try to ignore my stomach which feels like it’s turning to stone. I think, which is about the only thing I can do. I think about how you can only care about so many people. There’s too many of us, that’s the problem. Human life got too cheap. You can care about your life and a few people you know but after that, it gets hard to care about what happens to anyone else, especially when there’s nine billion of us.
But I’ll try and let the bad parts rhyme with the bad. I’ve never had my score below baseline before, and I still have another month to bring it up again.
Today was another day. I try to be thankful for what I have.