A beginning of a story that I have never finished to my liking:
“What does my happiness really matter anyway?” Jon swings enthusiastically, wailing the golf ball into the cotton candy sunset horizon.
“Well, it matters to you, right?” I lean on my club instead of teeing another ball. I don’t like the driving range half as much as Jon does; I come for his aptly stated philosophical discussions. Driving golf balls may very well be his Zen exercise, which is all the better for me. I just need to feign interest long enough for him to start sharing his thoughts, then his mouth will run like a faucet.
“Well, fuck. Yeah, man, it matters to me, but not much to anyone else.”
Jon confuses me sometimes. I know he has reasons for saying what he does, but I usually can’t foresee what kind of philosophical path we’re headed down. “That’s not true.” I quickly assert. Maybe too quickly. His pause and slight twinge of the eyebrow challenge my statement. “I care if you are happy.” I assert once again. My tone is less assured, and I have shifted so the club acts as a crutch for me as well as a barrier between us. I am aware of these nonverbal changes, and so is he.
Jon is observant. He knows how to read just about anyone; he can adapt accordingly. His chameleon-like qualities always piss me off, partly because I am envious, and partly because the pit of my stomach becomes dense when I think about it; I find it somewhat unsettling. I cannot control my colors and mannerisms quite like he can. People have called him a good actor. I don’t think of him in that term. After knowing him for a good (or at least interesting) eleven years, I would like to think that I’ve experienced the essence of “Jon.” I fancy myself astute in the Jon-ness of being. Others see whatever role he is currently playing; I’ve seen them all.
“You care if I’m happy?” He delivers a slightly exasperated chuckle as he smacks another ball into oblivion. His eyes follow the ball, then follow the club, follow the movements he makes as he tees another. “How do you know if I’m happy?” He doesn’t make eye contact. “Because I tell you? Or maybe it’s the way I talk or move. Maybe it’s a certain twinkle in the eye.” Another singular sigh-laugh. “What matters is that I appear happy. Not whether I actually am or not. If I appear happy, no one will question it, and then I will be free to feel however I choose. If don’t appear happy, people will harass me. They’ll ask ‘why’ or how they can help. They’ll tell me how to get happy like it’s fucking available at any grocery store, right in the produce isle. Or as if they know something the rest of us don’t. They have the secret… even if they do go home to an empty house… or screaming kids, whatever … and try to convince themselves why they should bother waking up in the morning to go to a dead-end job that leaves them miserable as they suck down another Prozac.”
“Ah, Jon: the eternal optimist.”
“You missed my point. You got lost in all the terrible mundane storm-cloud shit.” He’s getting to the bottom of his bucket.
“Oh?” I am being slightly sarcastic to play off the fact that I’m not sure what he is actually getting at after that sour rant, besides the obvious embitterment with society’s prepackaged ideals.
“Point is,” he turns to me for melodramatic effect. “Freedom is in the act. Act happy; be free to feel whatever. Act normal; be free to think whatever. Act strong; be free to indulge in vices. Act caring; be free to remain emotionally distant.”
“Are you saying that a person should act in a manner that is completely the opposite of what they think or feel?”
“No, not necessarily. I’m saying that if you act in a manner that is expected, socially acceptable or even above expectations, then you are granted more breathing room.”
“Isn’t that inauthentic? And how does that give you more ‘breathing room?’ I would imagine that it is actually stifling. Pretending to be something different, feel something different, how is that allowing more space for your actual ideas and feelings?”
Jon smiles whimsically as he launches the last golf ball. With satisfaction, he watches it soar. Before putting the club down, he says in a slow, wise, professor-like voice: “Ah, young student, you must be creative with your chosen realms of expression. Much can be found below the surface, between the lines, within the spaces and realms others choose to ignore.” He lowers the club and returns to his normal twenty-six year old voice. “Plus, if you do what’s expected, or above and beyond, hardly anyone will question you on it. They’ll accept it as the Reality or Truth, partly because it’s too much effort to figure out what’s really going on with an individual if things are not apparent. I mean, why pry, right… when everything seems fine and dandy? Also, they accept the more favorable behaviors because they want to believe that rather than anything dark.” He looks at me for a couple seconds. “As far as the inauthentic thing: I don’t know if it is or not. I don’t think it’s inauthentic. It’s just…” he moves his hand in a circular motion, perhaps to generate the appropriate words. “A survival skill or… a technique… for some sort of betterment.” We return the buckets and head to the car. He’s losing the thought. “Whatever, man. Why are you so hung up on that authentic business anyway?”
I unlock the car door as I search my brain superficially for the tip of my obsession with authenticity. Jon removes his beanie once inside the car and gives his head a good scratch as I stare off into the indigo haze of twilight. “Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.” I say in a monotone voice as I clutch the wheel.
“Who said that?” Jon asks, breaking me from my trance.
I start the ignition. “Albert Camus.”
“Ah, yes. And here’s Mason Stark: obviously accepting exactly what he is by quoting someone else.”