Because of my height, not tall-tall but lady-tall, general education/gym teachers/coaches were always after me to play basketball and volleyball. And this was back before ’96 when women’s sports were invented. I tried them both but I never got into either. Being part of a team never did it for me, even when was I was the clear leader of that team. Coaches don’t like being denied. Especially by a little girl. More than one of them called my parents to tell them to make me play. Sometimes they’d try to shame me into it. Saying that I was wasting my god given talents by not playing. They tried to frame it like I wasn’t playing because I was a scaredy-cat and if I didn’t face my fears I would be a loser my entire life.
One coach gave me a speech in that vein about how I shouldn’t be afraid of the pressure. Because pressure makes diamonds. You have to endure and then you become so hard that nothing can break you. It was an okay speech. I’ve heard better. The core of that speech and those like it is a strange concept that many people at least give lip service to – if you’re never tested how can you ever know if you’re cool? Suffering builds character. The hard way is the best way. God gives people obstacles to make them stronger so they can be better at sports.
Pressure may make a few people into diamonds but mostly it just breaks them. If there’s an afterlife I don’t think there are too many people there sighing and looking wistfully over the fields of celestial barley (or whatever) and wishing that their life had been harder so they could have been more awesome. On the other hand I bet there’s a ton of people there thinking something like “you, know I think my life would have been just fine, perhaps even better if I can go out on a limb, if my uncle’s friend hadn’t cornered me in the boathouse that time”.
What does this have to do with anything? Lately I’ve been imagining a motivational speaker trying to tell me how great it is that I’ve been thrown into a post-apocalyptic hellscape because this is my chance to really prove myself. I tell you this much, if suffering makes you a better person the Invincible that survived the battle are going to be the best people in the world when they finally die. I have to revise my earlier statement about these future people being dull and unimaginative, they’re coming up with all kinds of out of the box ways to torture prisoners. They’re showing real creativity.
The northerners are doing it for revenge. The mercenaries are doing it for laughs. Some are doing it just because other people are doing it. A few are probably doing it because they recognize that it makes them look strong. Why am I not putting a stop to it? I told Martialla that I had to let it happen to keep our side happy, morale and what not. That was a lie. The truth is that I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think anyone would listen to me. And then the whole thing would be over. Leadership, or whatever you want to call it, is more fragile than people like to think. If I stay “hey, stop torturing our enemies” what’s going to happen? Nothing much other than maybe I’m out on my sweet ass.
Think about the President of the United States. I’m now wondering who the last president was before the country fell apart, how long did old Lady Liberty keep chugging along before she collapsed for good? But that’s neither here nor there. Well it’s there but it’s not here. The President is (was) the most powerful person in the free world but really what could they do? I’m not one of those conspiracy nuts who think a secret cabal of rich cannibals established in the thirteenth century controls the country but the President doesn’t really run shit. There’s a cabinet and secretaries of this and that and Congress and all manner of functionaries that run things. The president is in a canoe heading downriver and they can lean one way or the other and maybe that changes the course of the canoe a little. That’s all they can do. And that’s the most powerful person around.
I was sitting on J-Lo’s hood thinking about the terrible burden of leadership and how much I wanted some pancakes with raspberry syrup when Martialla clomped over and tossed me a jug of some kind of thick purple-red slime. I know that because some of it slopped out and almost hit me as the jug flew through the air. I sniffed at it gingerly as she climbed up to sit beside me like teenagers in a 70’s movie.
“What is it?”
“Beet-sugar rum I think, tastes like fermented marshmallows. Burned fermented marshmallows. With a good amount of dirt mixer.”
I nodded “Now we just need some lime juice and mint and we’ll be crushing Mojitos in no time.”
I passed the jug back without taking a drink and Martialla’s eyebrows shot up “Why so glum? You don’t look like someone who’s just won a great military victory.”
“I’ve realized once again that this is it. I don’t know why I need to keep realizing the same thing over and over. There’s a part of me that still thinks that somehow we can go back. Back to our lives. Back to the way things were. That if we just survive long enough we’ll make it. But there’s nothing to make it to. We’re just here. This is what there is.”
Martialla took a swig, turning her mouth hideously red “A realization of that magnitude is like knocking over a vending machine, you can’t do it in one shove, you have to rock it back and forth and get it moving first before it will go over.”
“Is that from Seinfeld?”
Martialla frowned in concentration “Herman’s Head I think.”
“I was supposed to be Heddy Newman on that show you know.”
She raised an eyebrow “What happened?”
“I told William Ragsdale that I thought Fright Night sucked.”
She made a face “Ohh, that would do it. You remember when we met?”
I blew out a long breath “Let’s see, was it on the set of The Birds Three, Flock of Terror for Showtime?”
“Close, it was for a Showtime original movie, but it was When a Stranger Calls Back Again, The Answering Machine.”
I nodded “Right, I had just smoked a joint with Carol Kane and then she called me a hussy and kicked me out of her trailer. You almost ran me over like a rampaging warthog coming my way.”
“You remember what I said to you?”
“I remember trying to get you fired because I didn’t think you were good looking enough to be my stunt double.”
She chuckled “Yes, and now look at us, we’re the best of friends.”
I eyed her “I’d still fire you if I could find someone better but there aren’t many applicants these days.”
“I said to you that we’re stuck together so we’d just have to make the best of the situation. I feel like that applies to our current scenario was well. There’s no reason to give up hope.”
“Not even if things are hopeless?”
“Especially not then, that’s when you have to hope even harder.”