As I sit on the edge of my bed, I ponder what my place in this world is. I imagine myself scratching my head at the thought — that’s what normal people do when deep in thought, right? Unfortunately, I’m anything but “normal,” and doing so would prove far too hazardous.

In a world where most everyone was born blessed with amazing abilities, I live a life of self-imprisonment due to my curse. While my friends and I were all born as “Normals” in our infancy, our abilities began to manifest with the typical aging process.

My best friend growing up was a mousey haired boy named Liam. He and his dad lived in the apartment across from us. I guess it was proximity that pushed us together and a number of shared characteristics that made up the catalyst for our friendship.

Liam and I had quite a bit in common. Both of us were raised Catholic, we were both altar boys, and both of our mothers died when we were very young. That’s the one ability I wish my mom had possessed; I wish she could have lived forever. I lost my mom to an incurable disease, evidently, it was genetic; passed down from mother to daughter. Being her son spared me from a painful, debilitating death, but it didn’t spare me from the fragility that comes from the loss of a parent. Liam’s mom, on the other hand, died in childbirth. Even though he never really knew his mom, he was the one person my age who could really empathize with me.
Despite the similarities we shared as kids, a stark difference became apparent as we grew older, and our abilities began to develop.
It started for him on a Tuesday evening. The two of us were sitting, as we usually would be after a school day, on the roof of our apartment building. We were there in part to admire a particularly glorious sunset over the Cleveland skyline, and in larger part to neglect our respective piles of homework.

Liam was eying the fire escape on the adjacent building, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“Hey, Tom, I bet I can jump from the edge of the roof to that fire escape,” Liam said giddily.
“Are you flipping crazy? You’ll die! There’s no way this is a good idea, man.” I was staring at him uncomfortably because I knew this was exactly the sort of thing he would actually try. Liam was always a bit of a daredevil, and he never hesitated to accept a challenge, especially those he develops himself.

“C’mon, Tom,” Liam said, mock pleading. “It’s really no different from the long jump in Track, you know I can jump farther than anyone else on the team!”

Liam was right about that, he was an amazing asset for our school’s track and field team. He often joked that his prowess in the long jump was his lame superpower. My main concern was the drastic difference in consequences between jumping in a sandbox, and a several story fall to one’s demise.
“If you want to do it, fine. I just want you to know that if you die, you can’t haunt me. I told you, no, and it’s no one’s fault but yours.”
“See, you say all that. But, all I hear is ‘go for it,'” Liam said grinning widely.

Liam took a few paces back and toned out my objections. He sprinted towards the edge and leaped. I stood stock-still and watched in fear as he came just short of the fire escape, his flailing body plunging to the alleyway below.
I ran as fast as I could down the stairs, bursting through the gate leading to the alley. There was Liam, standing up and examining his hands closely. Not a scratch was on him.

“Are you in pain?” I asked, dumbstruck.
“No,” he paused. “Dude, I think I’m indestructible.”

It turned out that he was. Soon I learned that I would become just the opposite.

**********

I was idly strolling the school grounds on my lunch break, looking for a suitable place to sit down and enjoy my meal. I saw Liam lounging beneath the overgrown willow that had erected itself at the very edge of school property.

“Mr. Unbreakable, I see you’re still smoking,” I noted the discarded filters scattered on the ground around him, a freshly lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. “You know, you may be able to take a fall from an apartment building, but those things will still kill you.”

Liam waved away my protests, exhaling a cloud of smoke. “You know you want one.”

Despite the warnings of my every health class I’d attended, and the stern conversations with my parents, he was right. Liam tossed me a half empty pack and his Zippo. As I flicked the wheel to produce a light, I winced in pain. Looking down, I realized the skin of my thumb had been torn away, blood running quickly down my arm.

“What the fuck?!” I exclaimed. Liam offered me a napkin and I wrapped my finger with it.

“Dude, what the hell was that?” Liam asked, eying the makeshift bandage as it was slowly dyed with my blood.

At the time, I thought it was nothing. I must have caught a sharp corner on the lighter, nothing more. However, as Liam’s introduction to his “ability” was much more impressive, this was mine. As time went on, I realized my body was becoming more and more fragile. My skin had taken on a thin, paper-like appearance. My bones were as brittle as my grandmother’s fine glassware. As my disability progressed in severity, I found it difficult to accomplish even the most mundane tasks.

Dressing became more and more difficult, especially socks. Socks were the worst, even more so after getting out of the shower in the morning. I resigned myself to wearing nothing but those stupid fluffy cabin socks they sell when winter rolls around.

How could two people with so much in common be so disparate in their abilities? It got to a point where I could no longer keep up with my best friend, or any of my other friends for that matter. I became closest to my kin — books and other various papers. They gave me some sense of solace. Just because something is easily destroyed, it is still of immeasurable worth. That thought is what keeps me alive, and what has brought me the motivation to write books of my own. I chronicle the accomplishments of those who have the strength to rend apart burning cars, saving the helpless victims inside. I tell stories of so many heroic deeds, that I begin to notice something new.

With each story that I wrote, their names followed. The lives that were saved by my friends, the heroes you all look up to, their names scrawled themselves into my skin. I became their chronicler, their scribe, the living reminder of the importance of their work. In this, I became indispensable. I counseled them through their struggles and their crises.

This is my place in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Tangled

I find myself sitting mindlessly, mouth agape and eyes crossed. I scroll past the endless sea of stories and statuses that I’ve become far too disconnected to peruse, confused. I am swallowed by the pointlessness of it all. In my infinite connectivity, I feel hollow, seeking but a spark of meaningful contact.

I am drowning in a sea perpetually purposeless performances, each competing for my increasingly fleeting attention. It is a grotesquely choreographed dance, lacking any of the contexts of life’s infinite complexities. The show stars a cast of cadavers wearing painted smiles. They dangle limply, reminiscent of a marionette. Despite my attempts to escape, I become more and more tangled in this mess of wires and strings.

I submit.

I find myself sitting mindlessly, mouth agape and eyes crossed.

Epitome

In response to Daily Prompt (Epitome)

It was hard for me to understand exactly what my words were worth. I spent so much time comparing myself to those around me, by aspiring to the greatness achieved by others. I never once took the time to think introspectively.

It seems like such a daunting task to emulate those who came before me, but so much more terrifying to try to be myself.

The most important thing one can do as a writer, in my humble opinion, is to focus less on the external. Don’t worry so much about who you compare yourself to, be the epitome of yourself.

Epitomize greatness, in such a way that only you can. No one else can understand your tragedies and triumphs. No one else can view the world through your eyes. No one else can wield the pen in your hand quite like you can. If that’s not greatness, I don’t know what is.

Epitomize curiosity. You are here for a reason. You pore over texts innumerable, write pages unfathomable, see scenes from a perspective that belongs to no one else. You analyze the works of others through the measure of your experience. The lens with which you are equipped is unparalleled, don’t allow the endless murmurings of others to engulf them in fog.

Epitomize courage. If you think it’s an easy task to take a piece of your soul and give it to the world, you’re sorely mistaken. As writers, anything we publish — big or small — is a piece of ourselves. That in and of itself is an act paramount to being a paragon of pluck! There are so many out there who will judge this, I am sure there are quite a few out there who will hate it. They’ll find it mediocre, boring, poorly constructed. All of that may be true, but I’ll be damned if I won’t publish it. Waiting for a piece to be perfect would be to ensure it is never seen by another. Have the guts to try and fail.

The best and worst parts of you as a person materialize through the letters that dance across the screen or page as you compose them. Don’t waste time attempting to master another’s form. Your dance is worth remembering. Make no mistake, if you are the epitome of yourself, you will never dance alone.

Rain Check Ruminations & Cafe Catharsis 

On a Saturday morning, the best place I could have come was this little cafe. I was originally supposed to be meeting a girl here, but things fell through approximately 30 minutes before the date. C’est la vie.

That’s been my luck of late. Oh, and when I say, “Of late,” I mean for the last year or so. I feel as though I’m sending off some ubiquitous signal to all the women of the world, and once this signal is processed, computed, tabulated and filtered through their minds, they come to the conclusion that I am completely undesirable. C’est la vie.

Alas, the life of a bachelor can be lonely, but it is not without its benefits.

Think of all the money I’m saving, not bound by the obligations of anniversary gifts or paying for someone else’s dinner. Think of the heartbreak I’m saving myself when the girl ultimately comes to the conclusion that I am entirely too eccentric to take home to her parents. Really, I’m coming out on top in this arrangement. Say it with me, “c’est la vie.”

That’s enough about my non-existent love life, let’s discuss this cafe in a little more detail.

It can best be described as a down-to-earth vignette of a bygone era. The walls around me play host to portraits of all of Delaware’s past serving Governors. One, in particular, placed purposefully behind a small light in the corner, is a silhouette. “Joseph Maull, 1846,” the inscription reads. I wonder why, of all the governors here, he is the sole soul who is displayed in shadow rather than light.

Ahead of me, I see a small, squat man donning a cheese cutter hat. He mixes a Jameson and Ginger Ale behind a simple oak bar. A bit early for a drink in my opinion, but to each their own. The bar itself is only just visible through an antechamber adorned with a simple chandelier. The bar doors are painted in bright crimson, a departure from the dark creme color which every other doorway seems to sport.

The employees, all of whom are dressed completely black, dart in and out of view like shadows dancing behind candlelight. It is strangely beautiful in its simplicity. The most beautiful visions can arise from the most unassuming things, like early morning dew on cobwebs, or a patch of oil spilled on parking lot pavement, reminiscent of a rainbow. I sat there for a moment, engrossed in this shadowy dance. I just wish there were someone with whom I could share this scene.

It is far too dreary of a day for dates or disappointment for that matter. I am thankful for this time, for this cafe, for the comically large coffee cup beside me and for a little inspiration. Most of all, I think I’m thankful for the shadows.

My mind drifts back to the Jameson and Ginger. I wonder who might be ordering such an innocuous drink at such a conspicuous hour, in such an inconceivable place. Never before in my experience, albeit limited, have I seen a fully stocked bar in a coffee shop. It seems to be a bit of a dissonance of purpose, offering both stimulant and depressant. Granted, as I can attest to quite well at this point, mixing intellectual stimulus with a tinge of depression can have an unforeseeable, albeit auspicious outcome.

Seeming so out of place, I recall that the bar is marked in kind, the entranceway of which is jovially decorated in that curious crimson shade. A departure from its drab surroundings, it offers a pleasing alternative, an escape. Perhaps that is another thing to add to the list of things for which I was thankful for this waterlogged weekend, escape.

I sit back in my chair, taking a long pull from the long cold coffee sitting beside me, wondering if my life were in need of its own red door. Of all the things I’ve encumbered myself with, all the projects left half-finished, the invitations accepted and disseminated, the additional duties undertaken, the bits and pieces of my soul given to those who truly don’t deserve it. I was in need escape. I needed a moment for myself. I needed, funnily enough, a rain check.

Pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose, I pondered this new angle of viewing a previously dreary day. I believe the requested rain check was the best thing that could have happened to me at this point. I honestly think that what I needed most was not a Dulcinea, but rather a drink.

ASIDE

Now, dear readers, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m seeking my red door through a bottle. Fret not, that is not at all the intention of the most recent, non-italicized line. Take a deep breath, and keep reading.

I stood up from my seat, pausing to twist out a few creaks and cracks from my back, which had spent the better part of two hours hunched over my laptop. The motion elicited a pleasing ripple of pops from my stressed vertebrae. I meandered away from my temporary workspace, stepping through one of the drab doorways into the main cafe. I allowed my eyes to linger on a particularly delicious-looking macaroon.

Its eggshell like sheen captured perfectly under the fluorescent lights installed about the counter. I shook my head, remembering one of the essential commitments I had made, the commitment to my wallet. The red door came to the forefront of my mind once again, and I came to my lack of senses. I ordered a fresh coffee, and one fateful, bright red macaroon.

As I returned to my seat, I felt overwhelmed with childlike glee. I took a bite of the macaroon and let the flavor of raspberry flood my mouth. I closed my eyes, making a conscious effort to avoid making my enjoyment too audible. This simple morsel served as a simpler gesture. I felt as though I was far too tightly encased in a shell of expectations to aim for the red door immediately. Instead, I took a simple, pleasurable, measurable and easily repeatable escape. Small though it was, its impact was noticeable immediately.

I realized for a moment, the burden of my worries were somehow lessened. I was no longer concerned about the fifteen briefings I had to deliver, the pieces of training I needed to complete, the emails to grind through, the projects to develop, the company to keep, the words to speak. No, in that moment nothing mattered — nothing more than the sweet tang of that raspberry macaroon.

In this moment, I’d like to address the shell that has ensnared me, the crushing weight of my responsibilities and general grievances. Do you think I could have a rain check?

Living The American Dream

I’m living the American Dream. I say that quite often. As a matter of fact, I say that every time someone asks me how I’m doing that day. I’ve been told the expression makes people sick. They believe me to be a liar, they say no one believes me, they say that it can’t be true.

Why?

I’ve made mistakes, I’ve fallen farther than I ever believe possible, but I pulled myself up. I take the opportunity every day to stand a little straighter when they try to bend me. I speak a little louder to rise above their malefic murmurings. I smile a little brighter when they try to cast their failings on me because I’m living the American Dream.

But that can’t be true.

And why not? Because you’re not living it? Sorry to say at 21 years old I have more self-assurance than you do in your advanced years. My deepest apologies that I have conquered the tumults, the tragedies, the existential despair that you have become ensnared in because I AM living the American Dream. 

It makes me sick when you say that.

Do I make you sick when I say a simple phrase? Or is the cutting reality of your own weakness what sets your stomach in knots? What’s more nauseating, my optimism or your perennial pessimism? Take a moment and think about it, I implore you.

It is so easy, I promise. The American Dream isn’t having a McMansion, a white picket fence made in China, 2.5 kids in an unhappy marriage. No, the American Dream is knowing you have the choice to make tomorrow just an inch better than today.

So yes, I am living the American Dream. Won’t you stop complaining about it and just join me?

Tripe

How can one who has seen your soul find your presence so profane?

How can one who has breathed deeply of your secrets show so much disdain?

While that may seem to be folly, you wreath it with garland and holly. Praising it as an Olympiad would be, favoring those who look but do not truly see.

But who am I?

Do I stand for any virtue? My very presence seems both welcomed and abhorred. Your indecisive nature I’ve far too long endured. The time of my yielding has come and gone. Through the shadows of dread I greet a new dawn.

(TRIPE)

Nero

I occasionally struggle with being a horrible person.

You see, most people struggle with self-control issues; drinking, gambling, eating too much cake. But me? No, I struggle with being venomous, callous, arrogant, eating too much cake.

I don’t know where I first began my contention. People go about every day being but twice removed from Nero without a second thought. But me? Sometimes I leap from my bed wanting to be kind and nurturing. But sometimes I want to play the fiddle while I watch my city burn.

Is that a character flaw? Maybe, but I will contend I am not as near to Nero as those who stoke my city’s flame.

So, yes, I occasionally struggle with being a horrible person. So if the day comes when you hear the haunting tones of my fiddle, know it was you who struck the match.