The Price of Freedom
Written by JennZub
This work was last updated October 3, 2019
To be successful you have to smile, they said. Put yourself out there, they told me. Always present the best version of yourself because no one will like you for who you are.
So I did.
I put on a mask, a simple facade, and crammed myself into the molds that they made but it’s cracking. It’s cracking like a glass that has been dropped, just barely holding together and yet could fall to pieces at anytime. Like spiderwebs they stretch across my cheek and one by one the fragments of my tears, my pride, my individuality start to fall as it breaks away. I can’t do this anymore.
Following the beat of someone else’s song is exhausting, marching in time to their rhythm makes my feet bleed. My face burns from embarrassment as I carry out commands whispered into my ear by a two-faced liar that looks like myself.
I’m only a shell of what I used to be, a carefully crafted marionette of lies meant to spit out a script of pleasantries like acid. All my movements are controlled by the puppetmaster and I feel like I will never be free of its command again.
They told me to listen, and not to speak. To watch, and learn, but never to ask questions for the answers might not be the ones I sought. So I did. I watched and I listened. I kept silent and learned. I never asked questions.
I let myself be led by the hand, dragged behind someone else who has much more experience than me for that is how things should be, right?
To survive in this world, you must find a group and stick with them, they said, but be careful; some of them are a pit of vipers and even a second of weakness will cause them to strike. Be wary of those that are brightly coloured, for they are the most poisonous and never forget that poison can be more deadly than even the sharpest of teeth.
I found a group, just as they told me to. A group of the plain and ordinary. They told me not to stand out too much, and I didn’t. Maybe I just wanted to be validated, to be told that all my effort wasn’t for naught. I did more than they told me to, I blended in so well that I was forgotten by almost all who know me.
Isn’t being forgotten better than being singled out, in a world like this one? Isn’t that what they told me?
So why does it hurt so much?
Why does it hurt when even those that I surrounded myself with, like a blanket, forgot and left me alone? Why do I feel hollow and empty inside, like I will never feel happy again?
What have I done wrong? Why are things like this? I followed every single goddamn piece of advice you gave me and yet everything that I’ve been balancing so precariously is threatening to topple out from my grasp and shatter. All the hard work, gone. All the time wasted uselessly socializing and interacting with snakes disguised as people, gone. Everything that used to be me is also gone and I’ve become a monster of someone else’s creation.
Voices scream at me ceaselessly inside my mind, reminding me of every mistake I’ve ever made and I can’t think without hearing them. Voices that sound like them, pointing accusatory fingers and screaming my failure over and over. Voices that sound like those who might have been my friends, hissing insults into my ears and telling me over and over again that I didn’t deserve them, that they made the right choice in leaving me here alone.
Voices that sound like me cut through them all.
They break through and speak clearly and yet…
All I tell myself is that they’re right.
I don’t deserve this, I don’t belong. I’m meant to stay here alone and wait for my life to fall to pieces as the shadows coalesce around me. They whisper too, sometimes.
Those whispers, though, are different. They aren’t angry, they aren’t malicious, they don’t tell me who is wrong and who is right. All they tell me is to listen, to tell them what is wrong, and to trust them.
They curl around me like a grotesque impersonation of a hug and I let them, thinking that maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time it won’t end in blood and tears. Maybe this time I can close my eyes and slip away while held in the cold embrace that gradually grows tighter.
It wraps around my neck and squeezes and I can’t breathe but that’s okay. The shadows care for me. They wouldn’t let anything happen, I think.
Every day I think the same thing and every day the shadows’ grip on me grows a little tighter. I don’t want to escape and I let the mask crumble away. It feels like a weight has left my shoulders and I feel more free than I have in ages, free of anyone telling me what to do.
The mask is gone and I am finally allowed to break down, to let out a scream and and lose my voice. Their hold grows ever tighter and I don’t struggle. It’s okay. This is safer than the world out there, the world that’s trying its hardest to destroy me from the inside out and remake me as one of them.
I won’t let it.
We won’t let it.
The shadows’ whispers permeate everything I do and soon I found myself floating in an endless sea of darkness. They have engulfed me, absorbed me and everything I am. I am them, and they are me.
Before I even knew it, those shadows had managed to dig in their claws and refuse to let go. My head pounds and it feels like it will explode and the only thing I can do to escape is to fight back, but I know - we know - that it isn’t worth it. Nothing I do will ever let me fully make them retract their claws and somehow inside I realize that the mask was better than this.
Even the screaming was better than the unnerving silence. My thoughts are no longer my own and that scares me more than it should.
What would it take to be left alone?
A step further than I’ve ever gone before.
Am I brave enough to take that step? No.
Am I confident enough? No.
Will I do it anyway?
It’s not like I have another choice.
For the first time, I rejected the voices telling me to stop, the voices telling me what to do.
I closed my eyes
And set myself free.