Character study for later use

It is cruel to be kind at times. And the best characters are flawed.


She’s eager to please and acts like a Jewish Fraggle. Not quite a hippie, but definitely an air of that Southern California “hang loose, brah” vibe. This is who she shows to the world to be liked–a happy-go-lucky woman of the people, so contented to bake and hang around ambitionless people of color who will not ask her about a five year plan or what she will do with the graduate degree she has or advise her that she can always go to law school as a fallback. Only it is not that they lack ambition. It is that they do not impose with advice as her own people would do.

She eats off your plate, nay, sops liquids off your plate with bread, and will take anyone’s leftovers, to be eaten until unidentifiable under a layer of mold. Is she poor? Was she raised in a barn? Or during the Great Depression? The answer is no. She was raised by new money. And new money cannot buy class. It can buy a pied-a-terre in Liguria. But no amount of fancy ice tea spoons in the drawer will ever calm the mind of someone who knows the fear of wolves at the door. Somewhere deep inside her, she knows this. She rejects it, but the voice inside her head creates havoc.

She can’t make a plan. Not because she isn’t brilliant or has a mind of her own, but because she is pathologically eager to please and incredibly opinionated at the same time. She likes to ask for suggestions and ideas. But when help is offered, you see how she struggles to maintain the cool exterior while her central processor overheats. You only see shadows of her opinions when you pepper her with solicited ideas and she says no to all of the ones that don’t fit with what she’s too afraid to actually admit. This can go on for hours. “But what do you want to do?” is her constant refrain. She never relents and tells you what she wants outright.

She’s woke. At least woker than you. But she can’t put together a coherent argument that doesn’t involve some vague, convoluted retelling of a podcast, some philosophy class she took or taught and possibly a reference to the Mexican woman who worked in her house as a maid but was more mother than her own mother, whom she will use as a trump card to win an argument, no pun intended.

At four a.m., she races towards bad decisions like a vampire looking for shelter from the inevitable sun. Only it isn’t the sun she fears, but her anxiety. Because at four or five or six, her medication will wear off and she will most definitely not “hang loose.” When it does wear off, she gets bossy and has definite opinions of what not to do. She will herd a crowd of multi-national ethnics out of a happy place and stomp on heels like a diminutive Italian tyrant. Only on her it looks cute and petulant. If you ever mention this behavior to her at a later date, she will never admit it. But she knows she has been seen.

She is a scholar who gets high and plays dumb to achieve that ephemeral cool affect that will make her accessible to others. “I am one of you,” she pleads. Until she needs the upper hand. And then suddenly, she is not. The upper hand usually involves gross one-sided, pot/coke fueled lectures wherein she believes herself to be charming and brilliant. She is mistaken.

She prefers the company of non-intellectuals so that she can feel slightly superior. When people of color reveal their intelligences to her, she rejects them. Especially as lovers. This isn’t racism. This is the self-hatred of someone who was just a little less brilliant than the intellectuals she grew up around and now, as an adult, she has chosen to not play the game.

She dresses poorly because she is still dressing the adolescent child whose mother fat shamed her instead of the grown woman she is now. You’d never know it, but there is a figure under that amorphous flour sack from Old Navy. Even her makeup is second hand, and quite possibly from the turn of the century.

She faults her aimless older brother for being a piece of shit, but she’s doing the exact same thing, except backwards and in DSW heeled boots. When you lose your idealistic father way too young and way too tragically, you learn not to get too invested in anything or anyone because the eventual loss will just hurt too much.

She’s missing that thing…that internal moral compass of right and wrong. She is a sophist. Anything can be justified with words. But this isn’t because she lacks a soul. It is because admitting she has a soul in the first place would mean acknowledging all the unresolved pain of a dead idealist father and a cold, terrified mother, of an adolescence unobserved by anyone who could have helped, of an adulthood spent hell-bent on tearing everything good down, of now entering her thirties with little to show for it.

You can tell her she’s amazing. And she really, really is. But it will never be enough. She will let herself be hurt. She will identify with the worst of humanity. She will pretend like nothing bothers her. The only thing she wouldn’t do…is let herself be touched. Feelings, she’s learned, are a weakness to be stuffed down with anxiety, with pharmaceuticals, with junk TV, with drugs, with aimless sex, and with a running narrative of “none of this matters anyway.”

Only when you know the truth, you know just how much it all really does matter. And that will break your heart. You love this girl. You want to see her shed all the bullshit and feel light at last. How do you liberate someone from the narrative web they have constructed to keep sane in a mixed-up world? You don’t wake a sleepwalker. You can’t pull one thread without the entire web coming loose and sending her into temporary free fall. Her problem is that she doesn’t know that the free fall is temporary because everyone around her has been clutching onto these false narratives out of fear. Fear is like mother’s milk to her. Deprive her of that…and she wouldn’t know what to do with herself. But I can tell you, it would be legendary.

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