the problem is caring too much, caring so much you can’t ask for help because everyone else is already in so much pain.
another beautiful kick in the heart from tor.
this one is an examination of pain and compassion and damage and the guilt that comes from being a feeling person with the potential to hurt others.
it’s not a perfect story – it’s a bit navel-gazing and meandering, but the parts that are good are so good, whether it be flouncy poetic descriptions:
The water’s late-autumn cold, the kind of chill I am afraid will get into my marrow and crystallize there, so that later in life, curled up in the summer sun with a lover, I’ll feel a pang and know that a bead of ice came out of my bone and stuck in my heart.
or the earthier and all-too familiar feelings of anger and disappointment after heartache:
I wish I’d never met you. I wish I could burn up all the good times we had, just to spare myself this awful night.
That’s what I thought when he left. That it hadn’t been worth it.
but for the most part, its preoccupation is with the possibility of a way out; a way of undoing not only one’s own hurt, but of more specifically undoing the hurt one has caused other people. the wish for a sort of merciful suicide – not the kind where you remove your own pain and leave everyone else behind and mourning you, but a true erasure of self.
“Did you ever see It’s a Wonderful Life?” I’m trying to lighten the mood. I’ve only read the Wikipedia page.
“Yeah.” Oops. “But I thought it kind of missed the point. What if—” He makes an excited gesture, pointing to an idea. But his eyes are still fixed on the mirror surface of the table, and when he sees himself his jaw works. “What if his angel said, Oh, you’ve done more harm than good; but we all do, that’s life, those are the rules, there’s just more hurt to go around. Why couldn’t he, I forget his name, it doesn’t matter, why couldn’t he say, well, just redact me. Remove the fact of my birth. I’m a good guy, I don’t want to do anyone any harm, so I’m going to opt out. Do you think that’s possible? Not a suicide, that’s selfish, it hurts people. But a really selfless way out?”
I don’t know what to say to that. It’s stupid, but he’s smart, and he says it so hard.
it’s a story that depicts the awkward sympathy of near-friends, the regret of failed relationships, the jealousy of seeing them moving on, the nature of benevolence, the impact of good people burning out and just your garden-variety pain and futility and helplessness.
I have a stupid compassion that does me no good. I am desperate to help the people in my ambulance, the survivors. I can hold them together but I can’t answer the plea I always see in their eyes: Please, God, please, mother of mercy, just let this never have happened. Make it undone. Let me have a world where things like this never come to pass.
there are parts that are just a little too adolescent angsty:
But down in the zucchini roots I find a knot of maggots, balled up squirming like they’ve wormed a portal up from maggot hell and come pouring out blind and silent. And I think: I am only growing homes for maggots. Everything is this way. In the end we are only making more homes, better homes, for maggots.
but i have the cure for that!! because i can’t help where my mind goes, so i read that and it just automatically gets processed and sorted up in the skull and suddenly it’s coming back out to the tune of making plans for nigel and it turns emo teen-philosophy into a fun dance party!
this was a little uneven on my second reading and i ended up liking it slightly less than i had on my first go-round, but it’s still a better-than-average tor short and it’s more satisfying to get sad things for free than to have to pay to be sad. that’s just weird.
read it for yourself here: