Thirteen Steps To Understanding Something You Can't

Fandom: Fight Club
Written for: tsmari in the Yuletide 2005 Challenge (yuletidetreasure dot org)

1. apprehension

Marla Singer grew up without a father. She had a mother, of course, one who never washed the dishes but always made sure to have make-up on. A mother who ate and ate and ate, and then paid fortunes to get the fat sucked out of her. Marla's mother visited the surgeon as often as most people change their sheets.

Beauty aches, she used to call them. And Marla was left with a nanny or to the neighbor next door, the weird lady who talked about Jesus a lot. Her mother would return after the weekend, in more pain than before.

Marla stopped trusting doctors very early on in her childhood.

2. bile

If Tyler had written a manifest, it would've included this:

People don't just need mirrors, they need kids and pets to inflict their personal problems on and then watch as those issues are reflected back at them as their kids start stealing or the puppy chews on the couch. The ultimate social mirror of our time is the shrink or the animal behaviorist who is hired to look at your misled offspring or study your psychotic dachshund and then tell you what is wrong with you.

3. celestial bodies

She never grew up to be fat, or beautiful, both to her mother's dismay. At one point Mrs Singer wanted her daughter to become a ballerina. Marla was limber and thin, but she had no grace, none of the poise required from a ballerina. Next her mother made her try modeling, then acting. Marla succeeded in neither as she didn't like standing still and preferred to watch movies, not act in them. She got into arguments with her mother.

She was sixteen and started dating boys just to get out of the house.

4. decay

Tyler is too busy running his own revolution of angry young men to see the other side of the coin; the Marla Singers of the world.

Whereas the men lost their primal urges and became dead bodies in suits and white-collar jobs, IKEA catalogues as their mental masturbation, their leather wallets replacing their souls, the women got caught in webs of self-hatred, in the post-feminist fantasies of being exactly like men but not. They hated each other but especially men, all this while reading cock-sucking tips in Cosmopolitan, popping pills to not have babies while secretly dreaming of motherhood, falling into depression, plastic surgery, fear of aging, wrinkles wrinkles wrinkles, death.

While Tyler planned blowing up buildings and husbands came home to wives not explaining their Fight Club bruises and cuts, the women fell apart and in-between. But Marla Singer isn't a victim. Marla Singer is a drop-out.

Marla dropped out early on.

5. elude

Marla has never dated an anarchist before.

The house is filthy, old and filled with people breathing Tyler's mantras (like guided meditation, she realizes, and understands why Tyler stopped coming to the support groups). They all have shaved heads and bruised faces, and they all glare at her but look up at Tyler, who glares back at them. That's what it's like with them; him, her and the space monkeys.

They walk in the garden, drinking and smoking, and watch the monkeys work. The flowers are used for the soap, Tyler tells her. Scents, color. She finds it morbidly adorable, kind of like Tyler himself.

Every night they go to the room opposite Tyler's, and lie in bed in silence. She tries to kiss him, take off his clothes. He doesn't let her, saying, "I'm too sleepy." His eyes say, "That's wrong, fuck off."

Like he's cheating on someone by being with her. Tyler doesn't really have anyone else. Just her and the space monkeys. She knows.

And he never sleeps. He closes his eyes and opens them again, grins up at her. They fuck and it's great, like they fit or just know what they're doing. She falls asleep and knows he's not next to her but doesn't mind.

6. freudian

She had a taste in men that required them to be more bizarre than she was. So she could help them, she figured, and they wouldn't try to help her. She didn't want a savior.

OCD, mother syndrome, drug addiction, repressed homosexuality, fascination with diapers, vaginaphobia, excessive body piercings: she dated all the fuck-ups, weirdos, nutjobs and disturbed people the city held in it. It made her, with her support group tourism and compulsive stealing, feel normal. The men in her life became endless ramblings, like twisted stories of band camp.

"I once dated a guy with no legs," she tells some new boyfriend, "no legs at all."

"Funny," he says. "Can you put the apron on now already?"

7. gamble

"What's going to happen, Tyler?" she asks one night, after the sex, sweat drying on their chests and throats and foreheads.

"Just wait and see," he tells her.

8. heart-to-heart

Some nights he stays up longer before closing his eyes, and she tries harder.

"I might have a tumor under my pelvis. Does it feel compact but soft on the inside?"

He reluctantly feels her below her waist, clinically, as if really feeling whether or not she has a tumor.

"I don't feel anything," he tells her.

"Tyler, I--"

"Did you just call me Tyler?" he asks, tired, not focused, hand slipping away from her skin.

"Shut up. Do you feel it?"

"It's a bone." He tries to withdraw his hand but she puts her palm over it.

"A bone tumor?"

"Marla," he says,. "You're not going to die."

As he rolls the other way and she feels it herself, he mutters, "..unfortunately," and she pretends doesn't hear it.

9. ipsation

At first Tyler was just another fucked-up boyfriend in a long line of disturbing tales about semi-functional relationships with weird sex. She can imagine the story, at least the way it begins.

I once dated an insomniac with a terrorist organization.

But Tyler was always special to her, not in a mushy, romantic way, but in the fact that he was only slightly more whack than she was. They were similar. That, and the fact he didn't like her that much most of the time; at least behaved like he didn't.

10. juvenile

She tells Tyler, "They tell suicidal basket cases, hold on. Don't do it. We love you. So many things people do for love, selfless, brave acts. How many selfless acts of love does it take to kill a person?"

"Ever heard of Romeo?" Tyler asks.

"That's my point," she replies but isn't sure what her point is.

11. kennel

Marla, like Tyler, is a product of a nightmare that someone had about the future.

Tyler is never quiet until he dies, but Marla, Marla's scream is always silent.

12. like

I once dreamed I had a tumor called Marla. Or maybe it was Tyler sleeping and my daily routines filled with passing thoughts of a girl that became a lump beneath my left testicle. Or the strange area in an X-ray. The doctor looks at me with pity, hating the fact he has to give the bad news. Like the delivery doctor who has to tell the mother the baby is retarded or was born without any legs. This is one of the downsides of making $400,000 a year but I bet he never thinks about that.

Marla. The strange lump on my body, soft tissue on the outside, hard tissue on the inside. (I often imagine what a tumor might feel like but you don't find this information in books and at the support groups I don't dare grope anyone's tumors during group hugs. There's something unholy about that.)

My doctor tells me, "Stop touching it."

I ask him, "Why, will it only make it worse?"

"It won't," he says, "but that's not the point." The point, and this he doesn't say, is my sick fascination with something that'll end up killing me.

But that's not what Marla was to me, not just a weird lump, getting bigger and bigger with time. The things you love end up killing you. That was the ultimate premise to life, right?

I know what Marla is. I think.

13. marla

Marla Singer is a symptom in a society that has all these modern characteristics of progress; the unhealthy beauty standards, the useless therapy sessions, the unnecessary medication, the legal addictions and legal drugs, the continuous lack of human comfort.

The ultimate social mirror; you need someone to inflict your own problems on so they can reflect them back at you with their behavior. Your criminal offspring, your psycho dachshund puppy crapping all over your Scandinavian furniture set. A disaster.

(Marla Singer is just a little strange.)