Your Own Best Friend
By Esme Benet

Forty-eight is a terrible age to find out the truth. You stand in front of the window on a bleary morning, and you look even worse than the world at which you stare. Your eyes are bloodshot wrecks and your hair is scraped back from your face into an ugly bun that shows every exhausted shadow. Your skin feels like it's sliding off your body the way your youth is falling from you. Your shoulders sag with the weight of your life and the need for the medication.

It wasn't always like this. You used to stand and stare into the distance, a little smile on your face, pleasantly lost in a world of your own making. You would listen to the voices in your head, little friends that kept you company through all the lonely days. Oh, of course you knew they weren't real. You knew that the voices were just the way that you thought, just the way you perceived the world. Still, they were company, and you loved them, and they were better friends to you than any living human has ever been.

But now they are gone. The medicine got up in the middle of the night, the terrible sleepless night, and pulled the voices out of your head and flung them against the walls and beat them until they died.

You used to be able to tolerate the world with them, but now you have to live in the world without them. Chicago's a cold place.

You don't want to take the medicine. You imagine yourself flushing the pills away, down the toilet, and you’re gleeful, free. You may not get your skin to stop sliding off your body. You cannot get your youth to court you again. Time can't be undone. But you could be free of nights without sleep, of mornings creeping over to the bottle.

But you don't flush the pills. Times are tight. Salaries are being cut. Jobs are being lost. You take the medication to start your day, so you can walk through the world the way society wants: quiet, focused, subdued, and more utterly alone than you knew a human being could be. The Company will no longer be happy to let you work at your own pace, so long as you get everything done. In the past, the boss lady walked into the room, and if she saw you staring out the window with a faraway smile on your face, she laughed and reminded you that you have a home, and you should go to it, so get your work done. That kindly reminder, that playful acceptance, that's gone. Now she comes in, grim, snaps "What the hell are you doing!" She gives you the proverbial hairy eyeball and you jump to it. You wait until she's gone, and you take your second dose of the medicine and you focus, and you produce, and inside your body, your heart breaks into a thousand thousand pieces.

It's a hard thing to learn you are not who you always thought you were. All these years, you thought you were just dreamy: a pleasant, kind, thoughtful, scattered sort of girl. Your friends loved you as much could be expected in this dark and haunted world, and they accepted you for who you were, and even delighted in the quirky way your whimsical nature inspired you. But now, they are gone too. The childlike nature that came with the dream of yourself has gone to sleep, perhaps even died, and the friends you thought you had were really just your audience. You aren't entertaining any more. You crunch through your life, doing your best to live with having sacrificed everything you love about yourself to hold on to a job in these treacherous times.

When the day is over, and you punch out, and you make your way back to the solitude of your house, you stare out the bus window, isolated amongst the passengers, and wish for the day when you can stand on the shore of the freshwater sea, your toes in the sand and your eyes wet with tears and turned to the far horizon, crying "My loves! My darlings! My dearest friends! Come back, come back, come back! All is done, and I may lay down my burdens. I pray you, don't leave me here, now!”

But that day is not here yet. Maybe it will never come. The bus rumbles and shakes and you hit your head against the hard glass as the rough streets destroy your balance. All this time, you haven't been who you really thought you were. It was all a lie. Those dreams of your heart were just out-of-control chemicals, and all these years you've been living a delusion. You close your eyes, rest your head on the bus seat, and smell the stinking diesel of conformity.

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Esme Benet wanders the corridors along the southwest shore of Lake Michagan. She likes reading and writing, and is just now starting to try Things Experimental. She's probably too educated for her own good, but that doesn't stop her from trying to be a perpetual student.

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