#MWBB Week 3.01 : Freedom

You, with your job.
Your house.
Your cars.
Your children.
You do not see
Or understand.

You go to work five days a week.
Through endless weeks.
And months.
And years.
In a job you hate.
A job which slowly nibbles away
Your very soul.

Until there’s nothing left.

You know the truth.
Somewhere.
Buried under all the lies you’ve told yourself.
The pictures you painted of success.
Of the American Dream.
A dream the tells you how to live.
What to think.
And what to dream.

You, with your job.
Take your headache pills each day.
To numb the aching in your head.
An ache that always starts
Once you get to work.
One you never have on weekends.
Or holidays.
But every day at work.
And you never wonder why.

You sit at a desk five days a week.
Wishing you were somewhere else.
Belittling yourself.
“You have work to do, damn-it!”
“Get your lazy ass together!”
“Do your fucking job!”

You know the truth.
Somewhere.
It tries to speak to you at night.
On those long, sleepless nights.
When you toss, and turn.
And stare at the ceiling,
In the darkness.

There’s nothing wrong.
This is how things are.
How they will always be.
How they’ve always been.
You’re a grown up.
Mature.
Responsible.
You have a good job.
It pays well.

Damn.
Anyone would love to have your job!
Anyone would love to make
The money you make.
Hell, the benefits alone would make the job
Worth any misery for some folks.

Everyone knows that.

You know that.

As you stay up late at night.
Studying for that test next week.
That certification test.
The one you have to take.
Have to pass.
To keep the job you have.

It doesn’t matter how you feel.
It never has.
The truth lies trapped inside you.
You dare not let it out.

Because you can’t afford
To lose your job.

Remember the times you wanted to scream?
To call the boss an idiot.
“You don’t know what the fuck you talking about!”
“That can’t be done!”
“You want it when?”

You never did.
Never said a thing.
Instead.
You ground your teeth together.
Until your jaw ached.
That ceramic crown on your molar,
The one on the top left.
You know how you got that.
That tooth cracked under the stress.

You know the truth.
Somewhere deep inside.
Pretending you are free to do
Anything you want.
Knowing you’ll do anything you have to do
To keep the job you have.

Swallow your pride.
Do what you’re told.
Be where you’re told.
And be there when you’re told to.
Wear this.
Not that.
Shave every day.
And wear business clothes.
After all.
You have to look the part
Of a professional.

All you are is a little cog.
In a big machine.
And if you break.
If you don’t do your part.
You’re easily replaced.

For the truth you’ve buried
In the ground.
With your heart and soul.
Is something you’ve always known.
And can never talk about.

The people you work for.
The job you’ll do anything to keep.
The life you’ve worked so hard to have.
The wife and kids.
The house,
The cars,
The yard.

That life is who you are.
It’s all that’s left of you.
It owns you.
You have no freedom left.
And all you’re dreams have died.

So, lie awake in bed each night.
And wonder why you cannot sleep.
And wash your pain pills down each morning
With an ocean of caffeine.

And lie to yourself.
Until the truth is gone.
And you believe once more.
You’re free.

And everything’s exactly
Like that dream you had.
So many years ago.

620 Words
@LurchMunster


Welcome to year 3, week 1 (Week 3.01) of Jeff Tsuruoka‘s Mid-Week Blues-Buster flash fiction challenge. This week the prompt is the song, “Freedom” by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton. Please, go read the other stories in this week’s challenge.

Memories : Look At Me When I’m Talking To You!

It was a lesson I learned
A long time ago.
Before so many
Of the people I know now
Existed.

A lesson I learned
In seventh grade.
When my father was
The Protestant Chaplain
For the US Naval Support Activity
Across the Severn River
From the Naval Academy.

I learned it on a Sunday morning.
After the church service.
While I was experimenting with sound
On a piano
In the church activities building.

That’s when a full-grown male
Of the human species
Sat down in a chair
To my right.

He started talking with me.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate
To say he talked to me.
Whatever.
It doesn’t matter.
And it never did.

I heard every word he said.
Clean down to the times he asked
“Are you listening to me?”

I told him what he’d said.
Told him every word.

“I can’t tell you’re listening to me!”
I could tell he was angry.
“You’re not listening to me!”
And getting angrier.

That’s when I learned
What to do.
When I learned
What humans expect.
What humans demand.
As a signal of some kind.
That makes them think
Makes them believe
You are paying proper attention,
Expected attention,
Required attention
To them.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Have you ever had that screamed at you?
I have.
I had then too.
More times than I can count.
More times than I can remember.

But that time.
That Sunday.
It was different.
That time I realized
What humans expected.

So, I looked at him.
Straight into his eyes.
Dude.
He was angry.

I wanted to look at the wall behind him.
To look at the ceiling tiles.
To look at the floor.
The piano keys.

I didn’t.

I looked that human in the eyes.
I watched his mouth move
As he spoke.
I observed his facial expressions.
All of them.
I watched how he behaved.
I watched how he moved.
I watched everything he did.

His tie was perfectly tied.
Perfectly.
The collar of his shirt
Looked like it hid a noose
Around his neck.
The jacket of his suit
Was still buttoned up.
Hell,
It even had that fake tie
Stuffed in one pocket.

I saw every detail.

And I learned.
I learned how to shut him up.
How to keep him quiet.
How to make him happy.

A lesson I remembered.
A lesson I mastered.
In those few moments of time.

Pretend you’re looking at someone
While they talk to you.

That way.
They’ll shut up.
And leave you alone.
Because they’ll believe
You’re a good one.
Well behaved.

They’ll think you heard
Every last word.
And understood
Everything they said.

That human never knew
What I learned that day.
No one ever knew.
No one could ever figure out
What I’d learned to do.

It’s a memory
I can’t forget.
I never have.
I never will.

It was the day I learned.
Everybody lies.

Will Any Of Them Ever Wake Up?

I sat in a chair at the table in the corner of the room, and watched everyone else. Every now and then, I watched my hands. Sometimes, they shook, telling me, “Breathe, stupid. Just breathe.” I had a way of sometimes forgetting to breath properly. Started taking little, short, shallow breaths. One of the first steps along the path to a panic attack. At least I’d finally learned to recognize what was going on, and for the most part, I’d learned to respond appropriately. I seldom had an attack. Maybe one or two a year. Much better than the one or two a week I had at my worst.

After a few deep breaths, I found myself again, and smiled. Seems I was always right there. Just a breath or two away.

Once more, I watched everyone else.

It was sad, really. To watch them. Oh, I didn’t cry about it. There was a time I did. But that’s behind me now. I’ve faced the truth I found. I’ve accepted it. I know there’s nothing I can do about it. Except watch. At one time, I would have tried to intervene. And I would have been psychologically assaulted for having tried. I had been. What does it mean when you can’t count the number of times something’s happened? Hope springs eternal my ass. Hope keeps you beating your head against a concrete lined, cinder block wall in the mistaken belief you can eventually punch through it, as you slowly pound your noggin into a bloody pulp.

I’d learned. I could stop the oceans tides before I could stop them. So, I went into my observation mode. Like a scientist. Observing the behavior of others, and cold bloodedly recording it for future generations. I watched.

The group ten feet away. Mary, Helen, Wendy, Doug, Fred, Scott and Ted. Always friends. Always socializing as a group. Always telling stories about their kids, their work, their church. And always, at these holiday parties, acting like sponges trying to sop up all the alcoholic beverages they could get their hands on. I knew. If you asked them why, they’d all say the same thing. “Because we’re just blowing off steam, and having some fun!”

It was a lie. Every one of them knew it. They weren’t blowing off steam. They weren’t having fun. They were escaping. Running as fast, and as hard as they could to escape the traps their lives had turned into. Anyone could figure that out.

If you asked any of them how they felt at work, they’d tell you the same thing. “Fine.”

“How are you, this Monday morning, Mary?”

“Fine.” Then she’d smile, “And you?”

Fred’s son totaled the car one Sunday night. Fred showed up at work the next day. “How are you, Fred?”

“Fine.”

“How’s your son?”

“I haven’t killed him yet.”

“He didn’t get hurt, did he?”

“No. He’s fine. They checked him out at the hospital. He came home last night, a few hours after the wreck. He’s fine.”

And all the while, you know what he wanted to say. “I’m gonna turn that idiot’s butt black and blue, and he ain’t gonna be able to sit down for a month!”

Lies. Lies, and more lies. It’s what people did. They lied. About everything. To everyone. Even to themselves.

I looked at the dance floor. The usual couples were there. Mike and his wife. Jill and her husband. Tommy and his fiancé. Dancing their legs off. Ever watch people do that? “Play another song! Play another song!” They’d dance until they couldn’t breathe, and sweat was pouring off them. Then, they’d go sit down, have a drink (usually wine, or beer, sometimes something with a little more kick to it), and after a few minutes, they’d march back out there. “Play another song!” And the cycle would repeat endlessly.

Ask, “Why do you dance so much?”

They all answer the same. “We’re just having some fun! It’s fun! We’re blowing off steam. We’re relaxing. Try it!”

It’s the same lie. Again. I sat there, in the corner, at the table, watching them dance themselves to exhaustion. Knowing they couldn’t dance themselves to oblivion. Knowing they’d wake up the next day, and tell themselves how stupid they’d been.

Hell, Tommy would be so dead on his feet, even if he wanted to he wouldn’t be able to screw his girl. They’d probably pass out fully dressed, and wake up the next morning, and go, “Oh, God! Why did you turn on the sun!”

Because they never faced the truth. They all knew the truth. But they never spoke of it.

Every one of them hated their jobs. Hated their lives. Hated the same schedule every week. The same work every day. Ted said it once, trying to explain things to me. “I hate it. I’d rather be anywhere else. But, it’s got to be done.”

No, Ted. It doesn’t. The world will not end if you don’t edit that fucking document. You might get fired. You might have to look for another job. But the world will not end. So, it does NOT have to be done.

He never spoke the truth. “If I don’t edit the document. If I don’t do the work. I’ll lose my job. And I don’t want to lose my job. It would be a bitch of a problem for me. It would cause my family a lot of problems. The wife would be angry with me. We’d have to eat in a lot while I hunted another job. I’d lose my medical benefits. My insurance. Everything.”

That was the truth.

“I’m an economic slave. An indentured servant. I’ll do what I’m told to do, so the world doesn’t beat me senseless, and make my life a living hell.”

That was the truth.

And that was why they were all at the party that night. And why they were drinking everything in sight. And dancing until they collapsed. And telling stories about their kids. They were escaping. Running. Fleeing the truth.

That not one of them was happy.

I sat. In the corner. At the table. And watched.

It was sad. Really. There was a time it would have broken my heart. But, after seeing it happen every day. After living with that truth, every day. My heart’s gone numb. And I don’t care any more. I just watch. And shake my head. And wonder.

Will any of them ever wake up?

She Doesn’t Know

I took a chance.
I admit that.
I deliberately broke the rules.
Me, the married guy,
Choosing to sit with her,
The divorced woman.

Everybody knows,
You don’t do that.

I took a chance
To show a friend
How I felt.
What I felt.
About her.
I deliberately broke the rules.
I knew it then.
I understood the risk.

I’ve never been
Much of one
For the rules of life
I see people following.
I suppose it’s because
I’ve seen how those rules
Rip out a person’s heart,
And burn their soul
To ash.

Then I broke one more rule
On that Sunday morning.
I actually put my hand
On one of hers.

I’d say I walked her to her car.
Because that’s what I did.
But I can always claim
I had no real choice.
Her car was between
The church’s doors,
And mine.

There are those that would declare
I knew what I was doing
When I parked where I did.

I can only shake my head.
And wonder.
Will any of them learn?
Will any of them ever change?
Will any of them
Begin to grow again?
Or are they done?

And I know
From the way my heart aches,
And the tears of my soul,
I know.
They never will.
They’re done.
They’re where they want to be.
They’re where they’re safe.
Where they’re secure.

And there,
They choose to stay.

It saddens me to know
She’s that same way.

Unable to acknowledge
What her heart tells her.
She lets no one in.
No one close.
To protect herself.
From pain.

I can understand that.
I really can.
I’ve been hurt myself,
Time and time again.

But that’s all it is.
Hurt,
And pain.
Like when you make that mistake
At the oven now and then
And stand there staring
At your bright red fingertips
As the blisters grow on them
Again.

It happens.

Even the best fall
Every now and then.
Like the time the favorite
For the gold medal
At the Olympics
Never reached the end
Of the race
He was in.

It happens.

I know how badly
She’s been hurt
By events in life.
The one that left her
On her own.
With their daughter.
She raised their child
On her own.

The way people talk
About those women.
You know the kind I mean.
The divorced ones.
Looking for another man.
The ones that might just settle
For a fling.

People are so ready
To believe
Lies and gossip are the truth
When they don’t understand
Something.

It was on the day
She spoke those words to me.
Told me she had an image
She had to maintain.
So people wouldn’t see things
The wrong way.
Wouldn’t say things about her
Behind her back.

She had a reputation
To uphold.

In a church.

Of all things.

It was on that day
I knew.
My days there
Were nearly through.
And the time had come
For me to stand
And walk away.

For I will not live my life
Afraid
Of what the blind,
The ignorant,
The ones afraid of life,
Will say.

Will I get hurt again?
Hell, yes.
I will.
It’s part of life.
Like love,
And laughter,
Tears,
And pain.

You aren’t alive
If you can’t be hurt.
You’re simply hiding.
In a cave.
In a box.
In a little space.
Where all there is to life
Is what’s around you,
What’s in your room.

So you live isolated.
Hidden from the world.
But safe.

The saddest part of all
To me?

She doesn’t know
She lives that way.
No one in those rooms,
Hiding where it’s safe,
Knows at all.

Because nothing they’re afraid of
Gets within those walls.
Nothing can ever change.

I turned and walked away.
Never to return
To that church.
To her world.

But to this day.
And through my life.
If she should ever call,
And ask for any help from me
At all.

I’ll find a way.

Because to me,
She was
And is
My friend.
And my friend
She always will be.

Even thought
She doesn’t know.

How Can I Trust You?

I took a walk today.
Through the flowers.
And the trees.
Through the garden
Filled with roses.
By the side of the canal.
Through the Camellia trees.
By the duck pond
With the fountain in it.

As I walked
I remembered.
Lies.
Oh, so many lies.
That I’ve heard
All my life.

Things no one talks about.
Because no one doubts.
No one questions.
No one wants to.

I remember all the years
I stayed indoors
In December.
Because it was cold.
And everybody knows
Nothing grows this time of year.
Nothing at all.

The leaves have fallen
Off the trees.
The flowers have all died off.
Bulbs hiding
Underground.
Beneath the frost.
Safe from the cold.
The birds are gone.
They all flew south.
In their annual migration.

All that’s left are evergreens.
Pine trees.
Holly trees.
Juniper bushes.
The other trees are bare.
No leaves of any kind.
They look like skeletons.
Or those line drawings
We all made as children.

And all the grass is dormant.
Or dead.
Unchanging,
Or shades of brown.

It’s the time of year
When nothing’s outside.
That’s what I was always told.
That’s what the behavior
Of everyone I knew
Taught me was the truth.

Now…

Now I know
It was a lie.
Because for the third December
In a row.
I’ve got pictures.
Of flowers.
In bloom.

Strawberry trees.
Camellias.
Pansies.
Even daisies.
And roses.

I took a walk today.
Through the gardens.
And I saw.
With my own eyes.
The truth.

Just one of many truths
I’ve come across
In the past 2 years
And 2 months.

I’ve learned success
Is not what you do.
How much you make.
The things you have.
The trinkets,
And the toys.

It’s not how you dress.
How you cut your hair.
That you shave your face
Every day.
Even on vacation.

It’s not what you drive.
Not an Audi.
Not a Porsche.
A Benze or BMW.
It’s not a truck.
Or an SUV.
Or that hybrid
You’re so proud of.
“I’m doing my part
To save the environment,
I’m being green!”

Yeah, right.

It’s not that house you live in.
With the two car garage.
And more bedrooms
That there are people
Living there.

It’s not all the things
You have in your kitchen.
So that you can push a button
And make dinner.

It’s none of those things.
None of them at all.

It’s friends.
People you can trust.
That in turn
Trust you.

People you care about.
People you love.
People that matter
More than all the things
There are on this Earth.
People that feel that way
About you.

I know this the truth.
I used to have a job like that.
One where people said,
“I want a job
Like you’ve got.”

If only they knew.
If only they knew.

I lost that job.
Until that job
Got rid of me.
And the funny thing is
I’m happier today
That I’ve been in 3 decades.
All the years I held that job.
That slowly,
Painfully
Ate my life away.

I have more people
I can talk with.
That I ever had before.
When I was the definition
Of success.
In the corporate world.

So many things I thought I knew.
Things I’d learned
From years of watching
How people behave.

I’ve learned they were flat wrong.
I’ve learned so many things
People accept as true
Are lies.
Are false.
They don’t exist at all.

But most of all
I’ve learned
So many of the people
I once knew.
So many of the people
I encounter ever day
Even now.

Don’t know.
They quietly live
Within the framework
Of the truths
I’ve learned are lies.

And never once
Dare question
If those lies are true.

For the grandest lie of all
Is the one I keep running into.
Time and time again.
The one they follow
Without knowing they do.

That is safer
To stay within the rules.
That to question anything
At all.

And after all the things I’ve learned
Are lies.
That your social world
Your corporate world,
Your material world,
Wants me to believe are true.

How can I trust you.
When you never question
Anything
At
All.

What are you afraid of?
No.
Really.
What are you afraid of?

The truth?

Demons : Grocery Shopping

I never sleep, you know. Never. I sleep, I miss all the good stuff. And humans provide such good stuff. All the good stuff I could ever want. More than enough for me, and my entire family.

Today, I went to the grocery store. I believe that’s what they call it. Where they sell their food supplies. Lots of them gather there. All different kinds. Once there, I waited. And I knew I would not have to wait long before the humans started providing all kinds of good stuff. Nourishment. Yum.

This girl walked in. She was a tiny thing. Maybe five feet tall. Perhaps a touch more. She had blue hair! Yes! And wore a spiked dog collar. Black short pants, with a chain draped across each hip. And a shirt that had silver buttons on it. And another chain that connected the pockets. She had on black lace fingerless gloves. And black platform wedge boots that came nearly to her knees, with buckles all the way up the sides.

“Gothic. Perfect,” I thought. And I commenced collecting good stuff. I followed her through the store. Everywhere she went, I caused other humans to turn their heads. To notice her. It was beautiful! The way they all reacted!

There was this woman there. A few years older than Goth Girl. Goth Girl’s presence just tore her all up. The woman kept looking at Goth Girl. The confusion! Oh, the confusion!

“Why would anyone dress like that? It’s so… So… Wrong. She looks like she’d sleep with anyone.” And yet, she kept watching. With me, relishing ever moment, as she thought, “She’s actually interesting to look at.” And I could feel her urges. The urge to abuse. The urge to say something. “Go home! Get out of here! Why can’t people like you leave us alone!” And the urge to say, “Where can I find clothes like that? I wonder what I’d look like?”

It’s so grand, when humans see someone different. the way it brings out the wishes they have to look different. To be different. To stand apart. “Notice me! Notice me!” And the way it brings out their terror. “Everyone would notice me! I can’t. No. It’s just wrong.”

And then the woman’s deeper thoughts came through. “I bet she sleeps with other women, too.” Oh, the beauty! The sheer ecstasy! You should have seen the images that flashed through her mind when she thought of that! Oh, my! Naked bodies. Oral ecstasy. Exploring fingers.

Then, there was the shame. “Stop it! You know that’s wrong. To think that way. What’s wrong with you today?” And the blame. “It’s all her fault. That bitch. Dressing that way. There ought to be a law, so people like her can’t upset good, honest people like me!”

There was this man. Shopping with his wife. The child in the basket seat. He kept staring at Goth Girl. Watching every move. Especially when she turned away from him. The way his eyes locked on her ass. Oh, my. Delicious. “My wife would never dress like that.” The disappointment. The longing. The urge to explore something different. Someone different.

You would have loved the images that lingered in his mind. Being tied up, with Goth Girl doing anything she wanted to. She’d even brought a girlfriend. And the two of them had fun. Right in front of him. Wet fingers everywhere. Exploring tongues. And when they finished with each other, they explored him.

Fantasy. Such a marvelous invention of the mind. And all the while, the fear. That his wife would find out. Would see the way he looked at Goth Girl. Would see the thoughts in his head. Of getting naked with a stranger. “No, it’s wrong to have such thoughts. It’s all that bitch’s fault. Dressing that way. So disturbing. So sexually disruptive. As if she’s begging to be raped. There ought to be a law.”

Then there we the people who just avoided Goth Girl. They saw her coming, and it was like Moses. Parting the waters of the sea. People just scattered. Cleared a path for her. Left the aisle when she entered. The hatred. The mistrust. The fear. So yummy. Oh, the thoughts! “Avoid that slut!” Oh, the thoughts! “I bet she’s into drugs too. And even takes money for sex.” Oh, the thoughts! The thoughts! “Her kind should just be shot. So we can all be safe from them. From people like her.”

It was beautiful! Gorgeous! Like mining a rich vein of gold! The bounty just went on, and on, and on! Not one single person in that grocery store failed to provide good stuff that day. Oh, what a haul!

When I got home, I invited over everyone. And we celebrated. We got drunk on the emotions, the fears, the fantasies, the hatred I’d collected that day. On that grocery store trip.

The best part? The best part is how humans don’t believe we’re real. Don’t believe in demons. Don’t believe that we hide, in the shadows, in the dark, in the corners, watching. Waiting. For them to lie to themselves. For them to pretend they don’t have dark thoughts. For them to deny their nature. Their fantasies. Their dreams.

Oh, the havoc they wreck upon themselves! Oh, the beauty of their ways!

Not one of us has ever starved. And so long as humans behave the way they behave. None of us ever will.

The Diverse And Tolerant Workplace

People speak to me of tolerance.
And of diversity.
They tell me
Where I used to work
Was a diverse place.
A tolerant place.
And they have the paperwork,
And all the records that they need
To prove that.
After all,
They’re in compliance,
Completely,
With the government’s rules,
And requirements
For diversity,
And tolerance both.

But, they don’t know.
They don’t see
What I see.
They only see a set of rules.
A set of requirements
That they have to follow.

That’s anything but
True diversity.

No one seems to notice
The things that happen
In the halls.
In the rooms.
Where people talk.
Like people talk.
When they don’t have to behave.
When they don’t have to worry.
When they can let down
The guard they keep in place
Day after day.

When the lie they live
Is set aside.
For perhaps one moment.
Perhaps two.
And say the things
They can’t say
In public.

“I’m never going to use that restroom
Again.
Not after it’s been in there.”

“That arrogant prima donna will get
What he deserves.
You just wait.”

“I get so tired
Of having to be nice
To that fagot.”

The list goes on and on.
Things people say
Every day
When they think
Everyone understands.
They’re just being normal.
In every way.

That the lies they perpetuate.
Of civility in the workplace.
Of respecting diversity.
And tolerating other people’s differences
From them.

Are the way things are.
The way they’re meant to be.
And everyone around them knows.
And understands.
And life goes on.
With a wink.
And a nod.

So that everyone believes
The workplace is OK.

Except for those
That are different.
We know.
For we see the lies
For what they really are.
We see the truth
Of what’s going on.
And know
That no one in the workplace
Would bat an eye.
If one day
We wound up dead.

For that’s just the way life is.
People die all the time.
And the show of work,
In a diverse,
And tolerant workplace.

Will just carry on.

And as everybody knows.
A lie perpetuated long enough
Becomes the truth.
It disappears.
And the lie becomes
What is.
And everything’s OK.
‘Cause everybody knows.
The workplace is a diverse,
Tolerant
Place.

As I’ve asked
Many times before.
If the intolerance is woven
Into the fabric of existence.
Does anyone notice
That it’s there?

Answer that one
For yourself.