So there’s this paperback anthology coming out called Sirens, curated by the wonderful Rhonda Parrish, and I have a short story in it! My story’s called “Is This Seat Taken?” and it’s about murder, obsession, and lust on the DC Metro. Basically all the things you need to have a good time. This piece was written in anticipation of that release, which comes out July 12th. I hope you enjoy! -ML
There’s this terrible moment in your life when you realize you aren’t right.
Nope. Not the good guy. Not Spider-Man. Not even anti-hero Venom.
You’re just a schlubby schmuck who, more than likely, just made a mistake. Otherwise you wouldn’t be having this moment of profound realization.
Now, this is a jagged but important little pill to swallow (thank you Alanis).
Most of us have it when we are very young, staring glumly into the milk of our uneaten cereal, reflecting gravely on yesterday’s events. Why…it’s insane and hard to believe, but sometimes we are wrong.
We really shouldn’t have sucker punched Jonathan for beating us at “Street Fighter II”, right? Knocked the kid right out of his chair, that wasn’t cool. That wasn’t Spider-Man. Shouldn’t have flicked staples into Stacy’s hair, shouldn’t have called Dad by his first name, etc, etc.
And however (and whenever) you first realize you are wrong, just be grateful you do.
The second the stubborn seeds of empathy and shame first taste water in your brain is probably the most important moment of your life.
It’s how you prevent that pesky duck and cover known as affluenza. How you learn when to defend yourself and when to say the words, “I’m sorry”.
(Worse still, sometimes the person you have to defend isn’t you at all, and sometimes the person you have to apologize to is yourself. So go figure).
And the thing about accountability is this: it’s hard. Hard, because you have no choice but to be you. You don’t get another body, another personality, another face, another past.
Those shameful mistakes? Embarrassments? Yeah, they’re yours, bud. You get to keep ’em. Forever. Like lumpy luggage you can’t quite juggle but you have to find a way. Eventually, if you’re lucky (and maybe if you own ’em), they’ll just become scars.
But occasionally you find yourself in a spot where those little mistakes have piled up. They’ve developed a rhythm all their own because of their frequency, and worse still, it’s a tune you can’t hear because you never realized they were mistakes to begin with. They just seemed like decisions, and if they didn’t sit right in your belly, maybe you drank ’em into submission if you had to. Drowned ’em in work and life and moved on, because that’s what life is, right?
Only then, maybe, you wake up one morning and realize that you aren’t who you want to be. Not where you want to be, not with who you want to be with, not doing what you want to do. No, you’re basically a stranger, unrecognizable from any of the dreams and hopes you had when you were a child, and the enormity of the bad decisions and bum luck is total and crushing.
This, I suppose, is a life crisis. The evolved Pokemon form of that moment with the cereal we talked about earlier.
It’s beyond, “I am not right.”
It’s: “I am not the hero of my own life.”
Not an active protagonist, but a passive victim to my own schlubby schmuckness. Or, like the hero of the Springsteen song “Spare Parts”: “Mama, sometimes my whole life feels like one big mistake”.
Underneath this crushing weight lives the main character of my story “Is This Seat Taken?” His name is Franklin. He is falling apart, unwilling (or unable) to confront the tangled mess his life has become. Instead, he is looking for a way out.
He makes me uncomfortable, to be honest. With all of his exposed nerves wrapped around him like a ready noose. The way he can’t seem to swim forward, but only putters around. I see the parts of myself there that I don’t like, that I’d like to capture and eject into outer space, and because of all this I rarely write people like him. After all, you’ve gotta live with the characters you create while you’re writing them (just like you have to live with yourself while you’re alive). So when I surround myself with fake people, I try to make sure they’re fake people I can admire.
Which is maybe a mistake, because this guy seems to resonate.
Surprising to me (but weirdly apt to this conversation) because he isn’t the point of his own story. The book is called “Sirens” after all, not “Franklin”, because that would be insufferable.
Guy’s lucky he gets a story out of his proclivity for self-sabatoge at all. Meanwhile, he’s gifted me a name for this particular kind of scar.
I’ll call it Franklin. A scrappy little patch of keloid that reminds you: as an active participant in your own life story, it’s your responsibility to untangle that mess that’s caught around your throat.
Before someone else comes along and ties the knot for you.