As children, we beg for attention, fight to be the favorite, scream at every injustice, and generally lead a daily existence that doubles as a constant plea for love. As adults, we feel the same needs, but shame precludes us from petitioning freely. Instead, we brush down our hair, choke down emotions, and play mind games. We read between the lines, scanning faces and phrases as though interpreting runes, and silently, bitterly pick at every hurt feeling with all the teenage pathos of a sad guitar coaxed into tears.
I have always been a little wary of keenly intelligent, emotionally mature people, a prejudicial tendency I have continued to dutifully preserve even if it embarrasses me deeply. First, I envy them. Second, I fear their probable skill at masking and shaping feelings, which I assume must be some part of success in adulthood. I don’t like to be honest with an avatar of sharply-dressed, polite, smart ambition, as I cannot hide adequately in front of one. They are infinitely better than me at the purposeful dance of adult conversation, and I know that, when I miss a step, they will see through the veil, into the big, sad eyes of a girl who didn’t quite grow up, who never got past the need to plea for love.
When you carry a fully developed cerebral cortex, but not an entirely matured heart, the most serious consequence is you make bad choices at bad times. As reliably as the chosen victim of a storybook prophecy, I choose all the wrong times to be unsympathetic, unkind, unforgiving. Other times, when I should be cutting, biting, on the attack rather than the defensive, I lapse instead into unwitting obedience. I never realize the mistake immediately. Weeks, months, or years later, something will trigger, realization will strike, an alarm will go off in my mind, and the noise will radiate backward into the past, bouncing off the walls of the house of Mnemosyne. In an inner chamber, a younger Emma will wake up in a cold sweat, sheets pooled around her like ripples from a stone chucked into water by a hand from the faraway future. A lesson in the form of a sermon and a prayer, sung in our twinned voices and forgotten immediately.
It’s dangerous to attribute the actions of others to malice, and those of your own to righteousness. It’s dangerous to spend too long intellectualizing your choices. A fallen angel at the center of my own vision of the cosmos, but unavoidably, an unfriendly demon, a non-playable character, a gaping maw, or a puddle of fetid blood, from another’s point of view. Come on now, Emma. I’m throwing a pebble at you. Listen to yourself—an angel, a demon. How could it be that black and white? How could it be that theatrical, that biblical? The truth is much less complex, and so much more boring. You will never be the best, nor the worst. Never totally pure nor totally filthy.
Bury the instinct to think of the world as a stage, and you as its protagonist. To want both love and power. To constantly succumb to self-pity for having neither in the condition that you desire. To punish yourself so harshly for the wrongdoings you forgive readily in others. To want to love and to hate yourself, both at once. To be unable to do either. Open your eyes. In the house of Mnemosyne, a little girl runs through the hall, a heart-shaped barrette nestled in her curls, and disappears around the corner.
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