Empty Spaces

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


This story is about a young man, likely in his early twenties, who is revisiting a past of excess and struggle through the places he grew up.



In writing this, I hope to develop a character of complexity and sensitivity, who is searching for sources of meaning in his life and a greater understanding of who he is. It is written fairly
spontaneously, and so might be surprising and quite dark in places.

Submitted: May 31, 2018

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Submitted: May 31, 2018

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Moonlight filters through the leaves, creating a dreamlike quality in the path ahead. Every now and then, the trees shudder, as if recoiling from the cold winds. Not much has changed. It still feels like the same path I walked hundreds of times in my youth. I would come down here to get away from my dysfunctional family, and spend hours imagining things, drawing, listening to music, or simply staring out at the offing. I was always sad to leave my secluded enclave, with those beautiful granite boulders draped with lichen. The walk back would always be punctuated by attacks of anxiety, wondering nervously if I would somehow invite my family's contempt in the way I spoke, or the way I looked at things.

Walking there now feels different in one important way: I no longer have to fear leaving. The house fell into disrepair when we moved; no one wanted it. 15 years later, I bought the property and set about renovating it. Despite my memories of the place, I still wanted to hold onto it. It was somewhere from my past untouched by the more appalling excesses of my parents.

When we moved, I started college. I was just seventeen at the time, and took charge of my independence with an eye to seek the same kind of escape I had in that enclave. Nothing could have been better at the time than to finally have an excuse to not come home; I would stay with my friends regularly, smoking weed or drinking cheep beer. My dad had no idea.

It was by pure chance that he found out. I was out with my friends in town, and we’d been drinking and smoking. He drove past, and stopped. Not in any mood to don the mask, I acted as I normally would. No evasion, no diffidence: I spoke to him directly, and when he asked if I had been drinking, I admitted it with a grin. I guess I didn’t expect him to lose his shit like he did.

We had a fight right there, in the middle of the street. People watched us, not intervening. He won, and I got in the car. From then on, my life became worse than it had ever been.

I couldn’t go out to see my friends or invite anyone over. They were all scumbags in his mind, and I was one too for not seeing this. Until I was eighteen, this would be the arrangement. It was his house, after all, and he’d spent seventeen years already installing himself as the de facto rule-maker.

Of those rules, one was that I should always respond politely and with a smile to any comment or question made to me. It was like being held verbally hostage. Another concerned clothing; I would not wear anything that was trendy or fashionable, or that showed the least bit of individuality, since such clothing showed vanity and self-love – two feminine, and so forbidden, qualities. There were many other rules like these, and he enforced them with an iron fist, threatening to throw me out onto the streets if I didn’t comply or to take away my possessions.

Given that I was gay, and had a flamboyant and effeminate streak, the self-censorship, matched with the complete lack of freedom, was crippling. I fell into bouts of depression, cutting myself in the privacy of my room and fantasizing about suicide. Life felt like a contract I never consented to. Consciousness became a prison. The only relief I got was at college, when in free periods I could hang out with my friends and get high.

At college, I’d get my hands on pills like Valium and Xanax, which I’d take late at night when my parents were asleep. Contrary to my dad’s stated altruistic goal, I didn’t let up on the drugs: it got far worse. Each morning I’d wake up in a daze, barely feigning my way through the routine artifice. Given that my opinions or input weren’t in high demand, it was easy to wear the mask. I pretended to be reformed, pretended to care about work and to want to help with chores, and they were none the wiser.

Sometimes I’d slip up and show my true alienation. I wouldn’t respond as I’d been told to or I’d fail to conceal my hatred for them. My parents both noticed, but neither showed the least concern. I still don’t know how they justified it. I think my suffering was the guarantor of their authority, not a challenge to it. Each emotion I expressed was translated into the paradigm of the ungrateful son, so if I was sad or angry or depressed, it was only because I resented taking on the obligations I had.

Their parental instincts were rigid and stilted. Everything was a matter of obligations and contracts – never feelings and emotion. Now, when someone tries to tell me I ‘ought’ to do this or ‘must’ do that, I feel some distrust towards them. Such language of inescapability and necessity silenced me in my youth, and became associated with fear, intimidation, contracts – of unfeeling transactions and lack of agency. As a matter of principle, I now base my morality in feelings of sympathy and empathy, regarding everything as an expression and application of these. These are the only foundations needed for morality.

Surviving that year by dint of drugs and good friends, I was desparate to escape to something better. I left as soon as I turned eighteen. I alternated between staying at friends’ houses or going to cheap hostels. It wasn’t so bad. Within a week I landed a job – they had taken pity on my situation, I think – and started earning decent cash. Not once had my parents tried to contact me. It didn’t matter, though; their absence from my life was alleviating.

When I came to get my stuff, my dad told me he had done everything for my own good – as if vilifying and tormenting me had made me strong and independent. In response, I told him that I would never see him again, and that I’d live a life worth living, one where I express myself fully and unreservedly. To make me point clearer, I came out as gay there and then. I’ll never forget how pale he looked. I left without hearing his seething diatribe. His opinions were worth nothing to me at that point.

I reach the grassy cliff edge. The sea looks beautiful in the twilight, and the sounds of waves hitting the rocks below rise from the enclave. As I climb down the moonlit steps to the shore, the susurration of the leaves behind me fades, leaving only the rhythm of the sea. I inhale the sharp ocean air. It’s been too long.


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