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Posted: May 6 2018, 10:00 PM
local advice god
Joined: 21-February 11
The process of preparing to die came very easily to Zelda: she had an unfortunate amount of experience with it.
Throughout her life, she'd gotten stuck periodically murdering the current version of herself and replacing it with a more polished substitute. The new and the old had at least one opposing desire or trait, and the old always came up obsolete; the trial was fixed before it ever began. Zelda understood that wanting one thing did not preclude wanting something entirely different, but it was necessary to have the willpower to bludgeon one want out of existence. It was with solemn surrender that she prepared to kill the version of herself that was in love with Troy. In only a month and a half, that version had made more trouble than it was worth.
He would not choose her - this was a certainty. Zelda went through a list of reasons why in her head. Maxine was weak - Zelda was strong. In these battles, the strong did not triumph over the weak, because the weak were seen as noble and deserving of care, while the strong were brutes who could stomach a loss. Men liked weak creatures, because they pitied them, because they wanted to save them. Maxine was simple, honest - Zelda was complicated, sometimes opaque. Maxine had done nothing wrong. Zelda had wrought wrong, by changing the object of the game halfway through. Troy would behold Maxine in her weakness, and he, too, would be weak. No matter how he claimed he felt - and there was a good chance he was lying - he would not be strong.
Maxine would visit for the weekend. Troy would get dinner with Zelda afterwards. Zelda went shopping to find the last thing she wanted to be seen in. The sales associate asked if she was going to a wedding. No, Zelda thought, A funeral. She would die covered in roses.
It was painful, every moment of it. The drive across town was an hour filled with sad music and her palms sweating on the steering wheel. Her mind wandered to crashing her car into one of the cement dividers, as to absolve herself of going. At the same time, she vibrated with anticipation. She would have an answer. She would wonder no more.
The beginning went as she anticipated, only she had misrepresented to herself how much she liked Troy. She had blinded herself to the contours of her love to ease her own death, and when she saw him, and they talked, and everything came easily, she realized she had not come fully prepared. If she had been a coward, she could have carried them forward forever, talking about nothing, feeling nothing, delaying the necessary. When the menus came out, and Troy began ordering, Zelda had sunk into pit of perfect despair. She liked the person she was with him; she liked his tastes, his sense of humor, the aesthetic he added to her life. She saw the two of them from a distance, heard their witty conversation. Now she was to lose all these things.
She waited until the appetizers came out to draw first blood. She did not know how long it would take to come to mortal blows, and she did not want to languish through the entrees. "So, how was your weekend?"
He hesitated, then answered. "It was good."
"That was an open-ended question, to provide you with the opportunity to speak at length, uninterrupted." She craved death.
He arched his eyebrows at her. "That's an extremely direct takedown."
"I believe in ripping band-aids off."
Of course, he had not been able to end things with Maxine. Of course, Maxine had not been able to end things with Troy. Zelda had predicted this: both of them were clearly quite stupid. Troy was stupid because he confused pity for love. Maxine was stupid because the best she could manage was to say that she would be sad if Troy left her, but she would understand. As usual, that left things to Zelda. She felt that a loaded pistol had been set down between them, and of course, she would have to be the one to pull the trigger.
"You realize this puts me in an untenable position," Zelda said.
He argued with her - another thing she had not anticipated. Perhaps she had expected greater humility from him, or greater intelligence: humility, in that he would act against feelings of greed, of wanting things both ways; and intelligence, in that Zelda's move to his counter-move was textbook, and inevitable. He would have had the time and space to accept that there was only one response, that from here things would proceed like clockwork, that this was a tragedy with its end written from the start. But apparently Troy suffered a deficiency in both, because he would not accept that the only sensible thing was for Zelda to leave.
"I told you how I feel," he said. "That is how I feel."
"Good to know it wasn't just drugs." He had ordered drinks for them, liquor as well as beer, and she poured herself a shot of sake before chasing it with the Kirin. She knew that she should not be drinking, but it was also she could do to keep herself busy. "But that doesn't make things better, Troy. That makes things worse."
"You said we could be friends." His tone became accusatory, sulky. "Were you lying?"
"No, I was very high, and I've had more time to think about how strong my feelings are."
When people disagreed with her at length, Zelda often found it useful to reframe her decisions in a way that spotlighted the advantages for the other person. She felt it was a bit of a cowardly move, a tactic that forced her to abandon the simple virtue of wanting things that she wanted and not catering to others, but it was useful in prying people's fingers from things they clung to. She told Troy that he had destroyed the boundaries between them, that now she knew how he felt and there was no recourse. She told him that she would be unable to accept friendship. She told him that she was ambitious, and that she was motivated. She told him in the most delicate way she could muster that she would advocate his cheating on Maxine. Zelda did not want to be that person. She refused to be.
His attacks withered. "But I care about. I talk to you every day."
You'll live, she wanted to tell him. I'll live. We'll both live. This will be a bad dream. "Again, that is a problem, not a positive."
They fell into silence. They engaged in a competition to see who could avoid crying at the dinner table the longest. Zelda realized later that she could have let things die there, that she could have changed the subject to something banal and frittered the next hour away; she could have simply been silent. If she had been stronger, she would have given up on dinner and left then; she would have quit while she was ahead. But when she looked at Troy, something in her brain fizzled out, and something else, some malevolent back-up generator, came online. She felt an overpowering urge to save him, to save the both of them. If he loved her, wasn't he worth saving?
"Well," she snapped, "Do you have any better ideas?"
She worked out her own theories as she drove him. He asked her for parameters; she said she had none. He said he'd never been in a position where he cared for two people at once; she told him to get over it. He said he'd always made fun of people in polyamorous relationships, that they were awkward and socially maladjusted; she agreed with him, then told him to eat his words. He said he needed time to think; she told him to think now, think fast, and think out loud. In truth she was only filling the silence, drawing up her own plan. She excused herself to the bathroom, and polished the details while washing her hands.
"Fine," Zelda said, when she came out. The restaurant was closing. "You're lucky I'm a genius. Here are the rules."
The rules were terrible. Zelda realized this the morning after she'd failed to murder her past self. She had utterly compromised herself. She had been a coward. She had insisted on saving something that should not have been saved, and, worst of all, she recognized the tendency.
With Roisin, Zelda had resurrected their relationship more times than she ever should have. In fact, both of them had. They elevated the virtues of loyalty and persistence above all other feelings; only at the very, very end had Roisin broken from their private religion. For ages they had conspired to make their relationship into something unbreakable. They had observed the fights and failings of others with almost sadistic glee, and sought to reverse-engineer an immunity to all the common pitfalls of relationships. In doing so, they became inhuman. Still, years later, Zelda retained the ability to make a living thing from dead parts. She knew how to keep a dying thing alive, even against its will. She had begun to kill the old versions of her and Troy, but had recoiled halfway through.
"I don't want to be humiliated," she had told Troy. "I don't want to explain this to anyone." She wanted to introduce Troy as her boyfriend without asterisks or footnotes. She wanted to speak to Maxine directly about the situation. She wanted to retain her freedom to see whoever else she wanted. Go, she said, and present my terms. Talk to Maxine.
But it was madness. It was insensible. No sane person could - or should - accept those terms. No sane person would have offered them. Zelda thought she had left her Dr. Frankenstein habits behind with Roisin, but here they were again. It was frightening, to see that those habits were as strong as they had ever been, though there was something strangely reassuring as well. She had thought that whole parts of her personhood had vanished with Roisin, and yet, here they were. They had been here all along, only sleeping.
Still, Zelda found herself unable to withdraw her offer. She felt that would seem ignoble, and worse, indecisive. It was better to be evil or incompetent than to be unable to make a decision. Instead, she decided that, if she was not given an answer immediately, she would recuse herself from the situation entirely.
It was not a difficult battle for her to win. That day, Troy came and said he'd spoken with Maxine, but that she needed more time. Take all the time you want, Zelda told him, both you. But leave me alone for two months, unless you have the answer that I want. Troy took that one in stride.
The day after that, Zelda woke with a sigh of relief. She laid the first flower on the grave. One day, she thought, I will wake up, and I won't love him anymore. She had thought that feeling love again would liberate her, only to realize that what she called love was something much more dangerous than the garden variety, and that this danger lay sleeping within her, and not the object of her affection. Love lay within her, waiting for favorable conditions, before it exploded into view, laying waste to her principles, drawing her towards oblivion. Love made her want to turn inside-out, and vanish in a wink. Love was to hollow herself out with fire and grow poisonous things from the ashes. It was love, if love was what she had felt for Roisin.
But she could still do it. She could still assassinate this version of herself, and put a better clone in its place. She just needed time. If she could not die fast, then she would find a way to die slowly. She would a way.
Hadn't she always?