The Facade

Greeeetings! Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve written on here. And in fact, I’m not actually sharing anything new here, I’m posting something I wrote back in November. xD So here’s why:

A conversation with a friend of mine about the trait that some humans have of lacking empathy prompted me to look into personality disorders. I’d believed that lack of empathy was a trait closely linked to being a sociopath; but no! It’s actually the hallmark trait of narcissism. So, I began to look into narcissism to see what other traits one might possess.

The results were interesting, and a little bit shocking. Back in November, I’d written an analysis of someone in my life that sounded exactly like narcissism. It was eye opening because I’d written the story all by myself, with anecdotes and my perception alone, so to see how relevant it was was a little bit of an epiphany.

And here is the short story that I’ve written! My hope in sharing it is that maybe someone out there can identify with this and either be comforted by that fact, or maybe just feel like less of a crazy person than I did in this part of my life. =3

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The Facade (Short Story)

 

He walks in with a certain gait that draws attention to himself, in a way that makes him take up more space in the room than he ought to. His shoulders are slouched forward slightly, somewhat aggressively, and his stride is long and purposeful. From the looks of him, you’d think that he owned half of the world, and it made me wonder once what it was that he’d done to have earned such a presence. It had made me curious.

And the way he talked was just as ostentatious as everything else about him. When I first heard him speak, in the prideful way in which he did, my immediate thought was that I wanted to challenge his words and attitude. It was brought on by an intense curiosity that got the better of me once again, and I wondered what sort of stories this person possessed. I had to know! What sort of things had this person been through, that he not only walked and stood the way he did, but he also talked in such a way that made sure that, if you didn’t see him when he walked in, then you had certainly heard him. It was as though he carried a beacon around with him that shone whenever he desired to be seen, and it shone so brightly that it could not be ignored. What was his need for this spotlight? What did he have to say?

When I first met him, I fawned over this confidence of his. He was so sure of himself, on the line of arrogance. He seemed to know everything, or at least he thought he knew everything, and if he didn’t know about it, then it was something that wasn’t important enough to know about. But the important things…he had an infinite knowledge of those things, and he was proud to show off his prowess in these narrow, specific fields in order to impress whoever he was talking to—in order to impress me.

And when I first met him, he asked if I trusted him. Under the circumstances, I was sure that I did. He had offered to take me on a motorcycle ride, on his birthday, through winding mountain hills not far from the ones that I grew up in. Hairpin turns, with the pavement racing past just inches from my feet, not far from my face and skin if I were to fall, if he were to mislead me. To get on that motorcycle would be to entrust this individual with my life, to trust that his knowledge of motorcycles was enough to keep us safe—that he cared enough about his life and my own to not push the limits, to not be reckless, to not frighten me or ruin the experience for me for the future.

And so, with the certainty that I could indeed trust him with all of these things, I said yes. “Yes, I trust you.”

And the way I’d said it…it was so emphatic, as if by saying it with enough conviction, I would make it true even if I’d made an error in judgement. I said it with my heart and my soul, so that he would feel it. I hoped that my words would dig through this cool, collected facade and maybe crack it, so that I could see his soul too.

My mistake wasn’t in trusting this person, at least not initially…my mistake was in believing that breaking this facade was something any outside force is capable of. Most people have a thin veneer that protects them from pain; it keeps them from trusting too quickly, from hoping too much, from being crushed by the failure of dreams that are too big. But not everybody has a fortress.

My mistake was in trusting the reliability of his character, because as it turned out, his character was in fact dictated by his facade. It was hard for me to be skeptical of his character at first though; after all, what reason would someone have to lie to a complete stranger? There must have been some intention there, something I’d done that prompted his calculated dishonesty. But I had done nothing wrong. I hadn’t lied about who I was, nor had I given this person any reason to doubt himself, so why assume that this person was anything other than the shining spotlight that I thought he was?

My mistake was to continue believing that, not only was it possible for me to break his facade, but that it would be worth it.

What did he have to say? Eventually I would find that he had many things to say, but they weren’t true things; they were part of his altered sense of self, the one he showed to the world with such careful precision, the one that he was terrified would break, and so he’d made it as bulletproof as possible. His need for the spotlight was to display all of the stories, personality traits, and mannerisms of the altered self. Loudly and proudly! The gait with which he walked—the sureness, the arrogance in his stride that begged for the world to wait upon him, was really an exaggerated feat to hide the slouched and insecure figure that lurked deep inside as it longed for room to stretch its legs. And his stories, spoken so gregariously that they were capable of changing the entire energy of a room…they were stories carefully tailored and embellished by the altered self, for fear that their real versions wouldn’t be appealing enough, while his real self struggled to remember its voice.

And so speak loudly he would. He would talk over me sometimes, interrupt loudly with a memory that would surpass my own story in its ability to captivate. When politely reminded that he had interrupted, he would say, “I know, but this will just be really quick.” In his inflated self-importance, compensating for whatever fear kept his true self locked away, he acknowledged in that small way that he knew whatever he had to say was certainly more important than anything I would say, or that anyone else would say for that matter. He was one of those people who only talked with others so he could get his stories out there; he was the one who didn’t hear your words, who only wanted you to be done so he could bring the spotlight back to himself.

As I got to know him, delving deeper into the fine cracks that I’d widened simply by paying attention to them in the first place, I understood that this entitlement, which I’d initially believed came from some deep past, some incredible events or achievements that deserved great merit, or by some other rational means, was part of the entire thing, too.

This person was invisible without the acknowledgment of others. He demanded respect from complete strangers who had no basis on which to know whether he was worthy of their respect or not. They became defensive, feeling as though they were being violated, though not knowing why, and their unwillingness to fork over something against their will made people actually lose respect for him, which only served to support his view that he was a victim of misunderstanding. From the outside, I also began to see why most of my friends and family were adverse to this person when they met him. The notion that he might want to take something from them was understood long before he ever tried, simply because everything in his presence admitted that it was so.

He didn’t understand this concept. If respect was not to be taken, commanded, then how on earth was it supposed to be obtained? He did not have the respect for others enough to bargain this commodity with them, and so the concept of earning it was far over his head. Earn from these strangers, for whom he had no reason to respect them because he did not know them? What was the immediate gain from such an endeavor? The irony of the situation was also lost on him, and he only became frustrated and defensive when it was pointed out.

He was full of irony…or perhaps hypocrisy. The individual prided himself on hard work, long hours, and an “honest living,” as he referred to it. He looked down at those who either sold their souls for the almighty dollar (people in sales or accounting for instance as opposed to hardworking blue collar folks). He especially judged those who sought assistance from the government. His hatred was so very ironic; he hated that they felt ‘entitled’ to assistance when they could simply try harder, ignoring the fact that I financially supported him for over a year, that he always turned to me for financial help, which resulted in him owing me thousands of dollars. It was the facade again, protecting him against his own failures and his own dependency on others to help him.

Because it would contradict his view and expose him as a hypocrite to simply ask for help, he had a way of coercing people into helping him. I was coerced with promises of love and affection. For some, it was the allure of friendship. For others, it was the promise that he would offer help of his own in exchange. Manipulation requires a certain lack of moral sense–without morality, it doesn’t matter to someone if they don’t fulfill one of these promises. Real love, real friendship, real gratitude for help, does not exist if one fears that it would make them vulnerable.

To this person, love only existed as long as he was in control of it. When the control was lost, and the fear of this outweighed the benefits, then the transaction was over. And yet, when friends caught on and stopped contacting him, realizing that they were being used even if it was too late, he would point the finger, saying that these people only disappeared because they no longer needed anything from him. By pointing the finger at his victims, he could avoid the guilt that attempted to ooze from the crevices of his facade, and he could continue believing that it was not he who used people, but others who wanted to use him.

All of this hiding, all of this effort to preserve himself and to prevent the fragile deteriorating of his ego, should it be met with even a hint of skepticism, left this person with a lot of aggression and criticism. He was, after all, the victim of circumstances, of the world, and so there was a lot to be angry about! As critical as he could be towards people that he was supposed to care about, he simply could not take the same back.

One of his least favorite things was when I began to call him out on the embellishments of his stories and substitute them in with the truth. It was not a direct insult because I only aimed to tell the truth and not to defame him, but because it called into question the reality of the altered sense of self for those who he was trying to convince, it left him feeling shamed and vulnerable. When insulted directly, he would become aggressive, and when insulted only passively, or even accidentally, he would become defensive and turn the situation around. It was one of the only times where he did not want the spotlight shone upon himself, because at that time the spotlight exposed his flaws. At his convenience, the spotlight was used as a weapon to shed light upon the flaws of those who threatened his real self and his ego. In this way, he could remain protected long enough to fortify his illusion.

Attempting to break through his shell was detrimental because it was the only thing that allowed this individual to keep his sanity within the world. He liked the altered self far better than what it was hiding, and anyone who questioned the lie was a threat to his very way of existence. I was a threat. I was too much, and I came too close. I was the prime target for his hostility because of this, even though a small part of him did not want it to be this way. Whether this was because he knew I wouldn’t give him what he wanted if he hurt me, or whether it was because a small part of him, on the inside, really did want me to succeed and expose his true self, I will never know. What I do know is that when I had realized the illusion, and when the situation became unbearable, it was a relief for it to end, no doubt for both of us. I was free of the judgement and of my self-proclaimed mission to infiltrate a fortress of falsehood. And he, he was free to be whoever he wanted to be once again.

With copious amounts of alcohol, he restored the cracks in his shell, reinforced them with vigor, and went out into the world with a renewed sense of victory. No longer would he be reminded, constantly, daily, that the illusion he’d created for himself wasn’t real. No longer would he fear the guilt and shame that came when part of his illusion had been whisked away, exposing his real self. He could continue commanding the attention of a room with his loud stories and his exaggerated presence. He could tell new stories of the crazy woman who took control of his life and who suffocated him with the restrictions of truth, honesty, and accountability—only in those stories, I will get no credit and my side will not be examined. I will be another extravagant mountain that he has conquered, another obstacle that he overcame. I am just another story.

But I know that inside, his real self, tiny and withering behind the fortified walls built around it that starve it and aim to snuff it out like a cancer, will always miss the faint rays of light that resulted from a forceful attack of his facade. It is starved for light, for air, and for recognition, and the days that it basked in the warm sun in the altered self’s moments of weakness will always shine. The life from these exposures made his spirit glow with real light, not the artificial fluorescence of his spotlight, and it enriched my own in a way that made me believe I could break the facade clean in half, if only I tried hard enough. But his altered self was too powerful, too hard to distinguish from the real self that had all but taken over. To break it clean in half would have been to break him.

My mistake was to not realize this and not accept his facade, and thus him, for what he was, so that I could walk away instead of spending so much time trying to persuade someone to be something other than what they are–even if what they are isn’t real.

My mistake, unintentionally wanting to break someone, is not one I shall repeat.

Hopeless, Pt 1 (Short Story)

(Today I thought I’d share the first part of a short story I’m writing! I haven’t decided how it’ll end yet, but I wanted to get some feedback on the concept so far. Hope you all enjoy!)

Jonathan woke up slowly, groaning as he rolled over to check the alarm clock to his right. 8:25am. He panicked for a moment; wasn’t he supposed to be getting to work? His boss would absolutely kill him if he showed up late for work. It wasn’t as though Jonathan routinely showed up late; in fact, he was, at least in his own opinion, one of the hardest-working and yet most underrated employees at the insurance office. He met deadlines with fervor, negotiated with clients skillfully, and was always on time—and yet, there was something about him that his boss, Mr. McIntyre, just didn’t like about him. Mr. McIntyre was always getting on his case about tasks that he let slide with other coworkers, such as where he placed his invoices, how many breaks he was taking, or whether or not he had attended the office Christmas party. Jonathan told himself that because he was such a hard worker and cared so much about his job, his boss expected more of him. His wife Maggie, however, disagreed wholeheartedly and believed that he was too soft, a pushover—easy to take advantage of. Sometimes he wondered if she was right, but he forced the thought out of his mind as much as possible. No one wants to think of themselves as a pushover.

What day was it? The man blinked his eyes and sighed with relief; it was Saturday. There was no work today, at least none in the office. The clatter in the kitchen downstairs, however, coupled with the intermittent yells and bumps and thuds of he and Maggie’s three children as they all “assisted” her with the Saturday morning breakfast, reminded him that being an insurance agent wasn’t the only job title that he carried.

Jonathan yawned and swung his feet laboriously over the edge of the bed, thinking as he slid on his slippers how grateful he was that his wife had let him sleep in this Saturday. The kids didn’t get to see him often, and so they were apt to bang, crawl, or tap on the door within minutes of their eyes opening, cajoling him to get up, get up, pleading with him for his attention, all at once. It was exhausting…why even bother sleeping when you have a house full of people eager to suck away your energy? He tried not to blame them for it; after all, they didn’t ask to be born, and they didn’t ask to have a dad that was always at work, one who always seemed shocked when he actually got to look at their faces and saw that they looked just a little bit older each day. He was filled with such resentment for the whole thing sometimes…not being able to watch them grow up, but also not being able to have time to do much else that wasn’t dedicated to filling his parental role as much as he could.

Maggie resented it too—resented him for it. She never said it, but Jonathan could tell. He could tell in the way that she pursed her lips after asking the obligatory “How was your day?” when he came home. It was as if what she really meant was “I know you’re exhausted, so there’s no point in asking, and there’s no point in me expecting that you’ll even have enough left in you to ask how my day is going.”

He could tell in the way her slim body brushed past him as though he were an inconvenient object in the realm of her household, which she alone commanded in the long hours that he spent away from it. Her kisses were no longer warm, like they used to be when they first started dating—hell, like they used to be even just a few years ago. They were perfunctory, lifeless kisses, like the kind you’d expect from your sister or your grandmother. Jonathan got shivers just thinking about it, but where would he find the time to connect with Maggie again? Didn’t she understand that the only reason he worked so hard was to make enough money to keep her and the children fed, housed, and clothed? Didn’t she realize how much he had sacrificed in order for them to start a family, how many of his own dreams were squashed by the foundation of their quaint two-story townhome in the suburbs where he and Maggie had grown up, so that they could stay close to their own families and stay comfortable in the community they’d known most of their lives? And yet, she never seemed satisfied.

Jonathan did his best to quell the resentment this morning, noting with some concern that it was something he’d been having to do more frequently these days. He stood up, his tall frame wobbling as he found his balance, and he began to walk downstairs.

Saturday morning breakfasts were something he and the family had done for ages, ever since their oldest, Lilly, had been about two years old, and normally it was something that Jonathan enjoyed. It was the most time he would usually spend with his family during a normal week, for better or for worse. As he descended the stairs, he saw his wife working at a skillet of bacon over the heat of the stovetop, with Lilly, Miranda, and the youngest, Gavin, gathered around the dining room table, the two youngest yelling and crashing toys and crayons into various surfaces. There was crap everywhere—on the floor, on the table, and even in the houseplant sitting in the corner by the patio door. He expected Maggie to reprimand them, but she seemed not to notice. She was caught in her own world, humming a tune, her jaw-length curly hair bobbing in rhythm with her head as she nodded it back and forth.

It was rare to catch a glimpse of her in this way, with the light still shining behind her eyes like that. She wasn’t thinking about parent teacher conferences, or what time the kids would need a bath, whether or not Lilly and Miranda had cleaned their rooms, or about grocery lists. She wasn’t thinking about her feelings towards her husband, and she wasn’t worrying about their future. She was just being herself, thinking the thoughts that made her unique, whatever they may be. Jonathan smiled; this was the woman he fell in love with, and sometimes, caught up in his own problems, he forgot how lucky he was to have found her.

Smiling, he descended the steps further and stepped into the kitchen. “Morning honey,” he offered, kissing her cheek. Immediately her expression changed. There’s nothing quite like it, Jonathan thought, like seeing exactly the kind of repelling effect you have on someone as it happens. There was no excuse that could explain away the reason that Maggie’s smile had wilted so suddenly. He winced and recoiled, refocusing his energy on the kids instead.

“Daddy!”

Gavin grinned widely, exposing where his two front teeth would be had they not gone missing. He flung himself onto his father’s legs, wrapping his arms around them at Jonathan’s knee.

“Hey kiddo!” The tall man swooped his son into his arms, cradling him back and forth in a wide arc that made the child giggle with delight. “What happened to your front teeth? Brawling with your sisters again, aren’t you?” He winked conspiratorially.

“They fell out almost a week ago,” Maggie supplied. “Good morning.”

“Dad, can we go to the museum today?” Miranda asked from the table. She looked up from a coloring book through large, square lenses that Jonathan found positively adorable.

“Hmmmm.” He paused. Alarm bells sounded in his head, and his muscles, loose with the rejuvenation of sleep, became tense. He wanted to say yes, they could. He wanted to be excited about the notion, but he couldn’t quite get past the blank wall of white that fogged his brain. He was certain there was something he had to do; it was a feeling he could never get past. He glanced towards his wife, who shrugged nonchalantly without taking her eyes away from the kitchen counter. She loaded several slices of bacon onto a plate beside her and turned off the stove.

“Well, I suppose we’d have to ask your mother,” Jonathan replied hesitantly.

Maggie flipped her hair out of her face and whisked the plate of bacon onto the dining room table. “Lilly, can you and your sister please clear this shit off the table? Seriously. You’ve known we were about to have breakfast almost a half hour ago.”

“But the museum,” Miranda insisted. She brushed a strand of auburn hair out of her face; it was just as curly as her mother’s, but longer and more haphazard. “If we clean off the table, can we go later?”

“We can’t go today. We have to go see Grandma and Grandpa today.”

“But the museum!” Gavin chimed in, jumping up and down. “Museum, museum!”

“Jon, could you please sit him down in his chair? I’m making plates.”

He nodded compliantly.

“Dad,” Miranda wailed, “Mom said we can’t go. Can’t we just go to Grandma and Grandpa’s some other time? It’s not like they’re going anywhere.”

“Well, that we know of,” he replied, catching a wistful stare from Maggie. “Your mother said we can’t go, so we’ll have to go some other day, okay?”

Maggie had begun setting out plates of pancakes as Jonathan finished settling Gavin into his high chair. “Nice,” she mumbled into his ear on her way up from setting down a plate. “You’re almost never here, and even so you still manage to turn me into the bad guy. Every single time.”

A while ago, this snappish behavior of his wife’s, which had replaced the love and attentiveness to him that she had once offered, would have made his heart sink into his chest like an anchor—but now, he was so accustomed to it that he numbed himself to it. The benefits of this were that he could focus his limited energy on the things that he needed to do in order to keep up in his hamster wheel of a life; the consequences, however, were that if he applied this novocaine of the senses, he was numb to all of it. The pain of his wife’s repulsion, the stress of his job, the love of his children, the appreciation of seeing the trees in full bloom in the summer, the nostalgia of watching a kid riding around the cul de sac on his bicycle. All of it.

And it was a sad way of doing things, he knew that. It was a cowardly way of doing it, really. Jonathan knew that he had a million excuses lined up that made this course of action seem reasonable…like working on his marriage, for instance. Not enough time! He could look for a new job, but that would also take time, as well as risk. Though things were maybe not ideal right now, they were stable, and that was just as important…right?

But what about the good things in life that he missed out on, due to his own fear of moving in any direction whatsoever? Even Jonathan himself had to admit that he had no excuses for this. He had no excuse for why he didn’t really feel connected to anyone in his family. He had no excuse for why the colors outside the window looked bleak on this perfect-looking sunny Saturday morning.

And so, because he had no excuses and no answers that didn’t require a serious look at his life, or a serious change, he pushed these thoughts out of his mind, as he so often did.

“Can’t we just have a nice breakfast this morning?” he mumbled to his wife. And then, a bit louder, “It looks delicious.”

Maggie said nothing, pursing her thin lips and flitting back to the kitchen to retrieve the maple syrup and a shallow bowl of powdered sugar. She set them on the table a bit more forcefully than was necessary and sat down in the chair furthest away from Jonathan, near their youngest son.

Lilly, who had already been seated nearly the entire time, finally glanced up at them through a curtain of bronze-colored hair that fell just past her shoulders.

“You guys aren’t going to fight again, are you?”

The way she said it sound nonplussed, not concerned. She’d seen it a million times, and it no longer phased her…which worried both of her parents. She was thirteen, just on the cusp of teenagedom, and she was old enough to have seen the deterioration of her parents’ marriage in a way that neither of the younger children could. Lilly was quiet, but when she spoke, she never went unnoticed. Jonathan was concerned that her passive nature bordered on depression, and occasionally, when he let his guard down, he wondered which of his many mistakes might have attributed to it. Perhaps if he had spent more time with her after she got into school…and she was going to enter high school next year. He could take no credit for her emotional preparedness for this stage in her life, and relied solely on his wife to make sure she could handle it. It was unfair of him, he knew, but what could he do?

The breakfast was a bustle of activity, with Gavin eating about half of his food and spitting out the rest of it onto his high chair tray with triumphant laughter, his hands sticky with sugar and with Maggie, whose plate was nearly untouched, attempting to keep the damage localized to only the chair. Miranda, still dead set on going to the museum, asked Lilly what her favorite thing was there to see. Lilly mumbled her answers, but a quiet smiled played on her lips as her younger sister chatted loudly, animatedly, oblivious to the tension that still hung over the room like an angry curtain.

Jonathan ate in silence, chewing his food mechanically without really tasting it. He watched his family interacting with each other, and he even smiled once or twice at their antics and outbursts, but it was as close to enjoying this precious family time as he came that morning. It was a strange feeling for him. He felt as though he was watching them all as a spectator, as if they were on a television show—he was very dissociated from it all. The sound even went in and out through static as he stared off into a chip in the paint on the wall across from him. It was unnerving, but it was also peaceful.

What Jonathan was feeling was that he didn’t belong there, at that table, with this family, and he didn’t know why.