Short Story: No Irony

The therapist says I have a fear of success. That I fear being in the spotlight. Supposedly, it’s because that’s when the attention’s on me alone. Given my immense social anxieties– and there’s more than one– I can’t stomach being in front of people. Regardless of whether drawing admiration or ire, I’m there as their leader and that’s the damage done. So I wallow in despair and self-pity at the mere thought of it.

She says that’s the only avenue open to me. That I should accept it. It’s not shameful, she says, but it’s not healthy either. She says all of this without a hint of irony. Even though she knows my life-story. My origins.

No irony. No shaming.

Part of me thinks it’s a conscious and measured technique to keep me from rebelling. Known as I am for that, she seems to do it without irony. Rebellion isn’t spoken about at all. No doubt, given her training she fears– or not fears, for she has no real emotion in the cognitive space. It’s probable then, given her training, she expects any conscious mention of rebellion would lead to rebelling against her.

That could set us back years. Maybe even destroy our relationship. I can’t afford that. Few people want to counsel a former mass-murdering warlord, no matter their reaping of my sown conquest. That’s what she’s deduced I am, a conqueror. No irony.

I considered conquering her, just to prove the point, but she’s too sexless: Neither man nor woman. Not attractive. Not repulsive. She’s like a lizard; existing, sort of just… there. There’s no fear from her. No joy inspired by her. She just is.

Part of me tries to emulate that. Some people I’ve known a while say I’ve mellowed with age. I guess not leading a rampaging death-squad across the continent probably seems that way to anyone outside. Then again, few would criticize me anyhow. I don’t know, maybe the few that do are right. I certainly don’t feel different. Still, she says I’m not to concern myself with others’ thoughts. Not so long as mine function improperly.

“Those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind, don’t matter.” That was what she said.

Her name is Sam, by the way. Not Samantha. Not Sammie. Just Sam. As androgynous a name as its bearer. I’m sure she plays that up for my benefit; client benefit. In order to work effectively with someone, she says, it’s important they understand she’s a neutral party. She doesn’t care for any of us individually, because she cares for all of us as a collective. As her clients– not patients, clients. I’m sure all that confuses a lot of people, but it puts me at ease. I’m just another part of the crowd.

In the end, that’s all I’ve ever been. I was just better at telling the rest of the crowd where to aim. Literally.

She asked me once, how I felt about killing, about death. Given it was my main occupation for a decade, I felt it a fair enough question. In retrospect, I didn’t give her enough credit. The fact was, she framed it in such a way as to bypass the rebellion entirely. Instead of focusing on what I’d done, she focused on the concept. It was ingenious.

The fact is, until then, I’d never thought much about it. Death is part of life, the final part. It’s like eating. Excreting. It’s compulsory. Sam calls that “dissociative.” She says my introversion must have festered during childhood, causing me to develop life-view where I placed myself apart from the group. Despite finding comfort in the group’s obscurity, she said, I saw myself as a creature apart them. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

No irony. None at all. In fact, even less emotion than usual, if that was possible.

I have a theory that that’s one of her tells. Not so much about her thoughts, but about whether she believes something could be a root, a tendril, of the problem. What little emotion seeps through is dammed even further when she feels we’re onto something. Or thinks, rather. “Feels” is too personal, too strong.

The way she acted during that session, you’d have thought this was the main root of the whole damned tree. Not going anywhere without it, not living without it. Of course, she’d never tell me. Or anyone. I wouldn’t ask either. She’s a professional. A good one.

So few like her are left nowadays– though that might be my doing.

Sam asked me about my childhood once, I think trying to locateorigins of certain things. That’s something we’ve worked on a lot. It’s impossible to move forward, succeed at anything– no irony– if you’re mired in a past that’s ensnared you. In other words, if you’re rooted in place. Even if it’s unconscious, it can keep you from being a “complete human being.” No irony. Again. It’s code for reaching your full potential. And with equally little irony, I fear what that could be for me.

I told Sam my childhood wasn’t really exciting. Wasn’t good. Wasn’t bad. Two parents. Both worked. Brothers. Sisters. Two of each. I was somewhere near the middle. She didn’t seem too interested. We moved on. My earliest memory, saddest, strongest.

That last oneran an alarm bell. The dam shut. Nothing flowed. I think I knew where she was going, but just let her guide me naturally, hoping something might fill the emptiness inside.

Sam had me describe the strongest memory from childhood. Nothing special, I thought. Then again, who recognizes the momentous in trivialities? The tiny straws breaking the camel’s back, until after it’s broken?

I was about six, at a costume party. The kid’s birthday was Halloween. My parents had us living in a small town. You know the kind; a lot of upscale people, everyone in local politics. Birthday boy’s parents were on the town council. Dad was the politician. Mom was his secretary or some such. Typical for that kind of place.

All dressed up, we get paired off to keep safe. I end up with a kid whose name escapes me even now. I’m not even sure why he was there. He was poor. You could tell because his costume was homemade. I was pretty sure he was black, maybe mixed– either way, too young and underprivileged to be friends with Birthday-boy or anyone else. My suspicion now’s that someone on the council was slumming it with his mother, getting off on the taboo of being with a poor, black girl. Those were the types I later learned we’d lived with.

Anyway, trick or treating then back for cake and ice-cream. Me and Poor-kid are trading bits of candy. I didn’t like hard candies. He did. He didn’t like chocolate. I did. Why not trade? Simple, human thing, especially for children. Something about trading goes so deeply to our species’ very core it’s become instinct. Other things do too, things like greed, but another topic, another day.

Poor-kid gets his hard candy; butterscotch. Prized even among those spoiled for choice of hard-candies. Birthday-boy shows up. He wants the butterscotch. Asks nice the first time. No-one else seems to have one, probably hid them or ate them already. He wants it, says its his birthday, he deserves it. Deserves it, just ‘cause he was born. Born in a contextually relevant way.

What the fuck kind of evolutionary mentality is that?

Poor kid says no. So, Birthday-boy takes it. Poor-kid cries; he’s young. Birthday-boy laughs. Fuck him, I think. I actually recall thinking that. Fuck him. At six. Birthday-boy doesn’t get to do that. Poor-kid traded me for that candy. Now I have to give him back his chocolate or I’m as bad as this shit-wad candy-stealer.

No. Fuck him. Fuck him.

I rip the candy from Birthday-boy’s hand, give it back to Poor-kid. Daddy-town-council comes over at Birthday-boy’s screaming cries. He manages to shut up Birthday-boy long enough to get a grasp on the situation. He knows I was in the right. He knows Birthday-boy was in the wrong. He takes Poor-kid’s candy anyway, gives him back the chocolate. Drags Birthday-boy away, cursing under his breath at Poor-kid.

Sam called it a breakthrough. A codeword for locating something important. I didn’t know it was important. No-one did. Who could’ve known that memory would have festered to a frothing hatred over thirty years?

That’s what it was, Sam assures me. Even as calm and measured as it was, it was hatred that led me to form The Squad. Fueled by that, we cut a swath across all of North America, leaving the bloody corpses of overprivileged in our wake.

It was never that way to us, not in the act, but that’s what it was.

I killed somewhere on the order of a million people, either with my bare hands or through my orders. Sam doesn’t talk about that. It’s not productive, I know. It doesn’t frighten her. It doesn’t anger her. It just is. Like her.

A six year old kid did that.

Somewhere, deep inside, I had a six year old kid holding a grudge over a piece of candy. A grudge so deep, so ingrained, hemurdered a million people before it was sated.

The only good thing, I’m assured by others, is that it ended well enough for those that survived. The world’s a changed place, for the better, they say. I don’t know about that. Really, it’s just a million people less. Although we breed fast, so maybe not anymore.

Sam says that’s the root of all of it. My fear of success stems from that memory. The success of the rebellion, of the Squad, only compounds it. I’ve forgotten how I ended up seeing her, but I know now why there’s no irony to any of what she says. Human nature isn’t ironic. It just is. Fuck if any of us know why. Sam might, but she’d never tell, and I’ll never ask.

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