A Puppet with Wings

8 December 2020

Dear reader, I hope that I do not bore you. If my life were a colour it would be a bleak salmon pink. If it were a sound it would be an alpha wave. But not those alpha waves that aid concentration when you’re trying to cram 170 hours of study into one night; I’m talking about the alpha waves that dig deep into your soul and rearrange your heart strings so that everything is felt with the disillusion of monotony.

Dear reader, I can’t get up. I’ve heard that jellyfish don’t have brains, but this jellyfish doesn’t have a mind.

Dear reader, last night I imagined a boy in my room. He wore a floral bucket hat and stood in the corner, grinning at me with empty eye sockets that had been rewoven with expectation. When I said hello, he didn’t respond. When I walked up to him, on my tippy-toes so as not to frighten the lonely mouse in the cupboard, he remained coy—like those band bros that smirk at you from the other side of the Tote front bar. When I asked him what was happening, I wondered if he was an alien from the otherworld sent to nurse me back to health. When I reached for the light switch, I watched him vanish into thin air.

Dear reader, I am scared. Lily brings me buttered bananas and a pot of hot chamomile tea, but I don’t thank her. I see the words in my head but I can’t push them into reality; I can’t fish them from the fog. She closes my door, softly and meekly, adorned with a concerned expression that acknowledges the process of renewal. I don’t look her in the eyes.

“Get up, get dressed” Lily asserts, swinging my door back open with the brazen intensity of an autumnal cyclone. I peer away from her and melt into the corners of my bedroom; a coffin brimming with negative space. Evidently fed up with my feeble characterisation, she marches over and drags me out of bed, props me up like a puppet. She changes my long pajama pants, which I stole from my mother’s closet in Domodedovo, for a long floral skirt that flows unevenly at the seams. She changes my Gordon Koang t-shirt, covered in last week’s tomato soup, for a collared top that opens just enough at the neck to see the star of freckles on my left collarbone. We walk to a local Ethiopian restaurant to have dinner with some of her friends from out of town. “Don’t worry”, she assures me, “they are the nicest people you will meet”.

“I’m Stella, nice to meet you”, I say as I insist on my right cheek for the kiss that has become customary. We talk about niceties, about the failed medical systems around the world, about the Russian Revolution, about why some people have a second toe larger than their big toe. I try to play the part. Oh, yes, the healthcare system in the US has failed the average casual worker and freelancer. Oh, yes, it was time for the oppressive, feudalist autocracy of Tsarist Russia to fall and discontent over World War I was just the catalyst. Oh, yes, I would sell photos of my feet for money if there was a big enough market for it.

“I’m just saying, electronic music is essential in the fight against digi-capitalism”, Lily rants as we return to our first-story apartment on Smith St. We enter from the back, where the concrete smells like piss and we have to step over people using the entrance to our courtyard as a shelter. “Just think about it”, she continues, apathetic to the bodies lying asleep behind us, “hundreds or even thousands of people gathered in collective spirit without their phones, without technology, without social media”, she pauses, fishing for the key in her sports bra, “to rave in the bush to the murky sounds of 160 BPM jungle”. I don’t remember getting so drunk. She probes a response from me. I feel like I’m performing all the same actions that are required of listening, and yet all her words go in one ear and out the other. Sleep comes quickly and my pillow rushes up to meet me.

“You just need movement and stillness: exercise and meditation. When you feel like you’re going to fall asleep during the day, go for a walk instead,” Tim says, smelling of oak perfume and a sleepless night with his office secretary. I nod apprehensively, out of manners rather than respect, and leave. Nothing ever changes.

Dear reader, I must not take the train home. If I take the train that means that I will have to walk 12 minutes from the train station. That equates to a journey of 40 minutes altogether. Instead, I must take the bus. To take the bus I must first take one train for 30 minutes. Then I get off in the south-east and I can ride a bus for 40 minutes. The bus stops right outside our apartment. The whole journey is 1.1 hours, but at least I do not have to walk. I don’t have the energy to muster one leg in front of the other.

“I think that you should ask for a higher dose,” Lily says as I clumsily wander up to our dining table so that we can sit in mutual agreement. The agreement is as follows: she cooks, cleans and looks after me. I merely exist. Buttered bananas again. One more scoop and I will melt too. My legs would go first, they lack composure already. Then my stomach, my chest, my arms… all that would be left is the membrane of a jellyfish in a pool of butter.

Dear reader, Lily left today.
I ask my doctor for a higher dosage.

Dear reader, will I ever move without strings? Sometimes the puppet master decides to get me out of his closet and take me on an adventure. On those days, I shower, I cook, I do my laundry. Sometimes I even make it to school or hand out a resume or two. On other days, the master leaves me in his closet. On those days I shield myself from the world, hiding under the duvet of regret within the caving orange stained walls of this apartment.

“Have you been going for walks?”, Tim asks. “Sure”, I answer. I don’t sound that convincing. “That wasn’t so convincing”, he responds. “Movement and stillness”, he asserts, as if he had all the secrets to wellbeing hidden under his chiseled beard and interlaced fingers. As if I hadn’t studied psychology for years. As if I was unaware. “Like yin and yang”, he says, self-assured in his words.

“You are yin and I am yang”, Lily had said to me years ago—when we went out drinking at Obarska for her 21st Birthday. “Yin is stillness and Yang is movement”, she explained, “when I move too much, stress too much, get too anxious, I just think of you and I know that you are there to keep me grounded, to keep me still.” We danced for three days straight to the sounds of slow, dreary ambient-techno, only leaving the dance floor for the occasional cuddle puddle or cigarette.

Dear reader, I like to be alone now. I used to wail, just loud enough to be heard, just physically obvious enough that maybe someone would see me and ask me how I was. Eating was a rotten chore; I couldn’t walk the grocery aisles without sitting before the cans of crushed tomatoes and silently letting tears fall. Now, I decide to revisit club Obarska—my first outing of my own volition in over twelve months, excluding my dreams.

“You smile like yourself again”, Lily says. I look into her eyes, wondering whether my strings will ever be tightened again.

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