When

by Faith Harris


Our shoulders are the shoulders of kings.

When Tyler talks, the world listens.

Our shoulders carry the burdens of every generation before us.

When Tyler talks, I sit in the shadows and try to block out the sound.

Every slight made by our fathers is a reason that we wish we could afford chiropractors. We'd stand tall if it wasn't for cricks in our back from the last century or two.

I used to be able to listen and pretend to care. I would force myself to swell up with pride. If you hold your breath and smile long enough, you can make yourself excited. Go ahead. Try it. Just take the deepest breath you possibly can and hold it.

Hold it. There. The wider the inside of your chest feels the more excited you get. Actors do that. Mimic an emotion long enough and you can start having that emotion. It's the only way I have emotions nowadays. Right now? I feel bored. I don't remember how I started to fake that.

Our shoulders are the shoulders of revolutionaries, but we use them to help us hold food trays for CEOs.

When Tyler preaches, I nod. I am not sure whether or not I have ever agreed with a word he's said. His words come out hollowed and impassioned. It's soap opera acting. You fake offensive by being loud and tensing your body. Clenching hands into sweaty fists like fighting. Those fists slam against wooden tables. Plastic tables. Walls. Faces. Sinks.

Right now, it's fists slamming against sinks. Tyler preaches even when there is no one there to hear him. He knows that I don't listen, but he continues anyway. You mimic excitement by pacing. Fast movement. Loud voices like taking offense. Excitement catches, and when Tyler preaches to an audience, they catch it.

I nod and sit in the shadows. The shadows are a bathroom stall, the door swung open while I sit. I hold Tyler's cigarettes for him and pretend to listen.

Our shoulders should be held high. We should stand taller than skyscrapers. But we can't. And do you know why we can't?

When Tyler teaches the establishment crumbles. I take the time to unwrap cigarettes and sprinkle the tobacco on the ground. Tyler would refill the cigarettes with some sort of poison. I would hope that he smoked those cigarettes himself. Tyler would likely give them to a lung cancer patient instead. Or someone's grandmother.

In Tyler's world there are no senile old men. There are no lung cancer patients. Those are special categories. The only categories are him, me, and everything else. I do not believe that i am a separate category. It is us and the space monkeys. We are not worthy of being that low. To lead we can never hit absolute bottom. This is what Tyler tells me. I almost believe it.

Because we are afraid to do the taboo. To break the mold. To shatter mirrors and relish the seven years of bad luck. Are you ready for those seven years?

When Tyler speaks, I obey. As I sit, Tyler speaks to his own reflection. I watch his back so as not to see his lips move. He does not practice these speeches so much as he needs to say them. Suffers withdrawal when he doesn't. He used to be subtle about this. Tyler Durden used to start with charm. With drinks. With a punch. With a promise of a community.

We are now a community of two. We have not reached the level of enlightenment needed to become hermits, but we are too enlightened to be a part of the flock.

I stand up and chuck Tyler's now empty pack of cigarettes into the toilet. When I flush it, Tyler turns. I've interrupted the lesson. He stares at me for a moment. He smirks, slow and lazy. I mimic interest. I hold his gaze. I raise my eyebrows. I stand expectantly.

I am Tyler's only real student. The others are lessons for me. He thinks I don't know that.

Well? How are you going to break the mirror today? How are you going to start your seven years of misery?

When Tyler walks towards me, I stand still. I pretend as if I am holding my own against him. I fake self-assurance. Cross my arms. Stand a little taller. Tyler keeps smirking at me. He is inches away and he puts his hands in the pockets of his jacket. I do not shake or shiver. For the next few minutes, I forget how.

What is the most shattering thing you've done? The most shattering thing you'll ever do? Do it. Stand tall, with your shoulders squared, and do it, dammit!

When Tyler spurs me on, I almost feel excitement. For that moment I almost feel alive. I can imagine myself smiling and feeling more than aching cheeks. A hearbeat that speeds up without me thinking about it and intentionally breathing harder. I do not have to think about breathing harder because I already am.

When Tyler is this close, I can almost taste smoke.

There is nothing more beautiful than when you take that mirror you've been holding up and you throw it to the ground. The glass splinters, and you bleed and you own those seven years, then. You become those seven years.

When Tyler wants, I have learned to dread. Of all the lessons that I've been given, that is the one that I've taken to heart. Tyler stares, my throat clenches without warning. I do not have to pretend. I do not have to mimic a single emotion. I no longer remember how to.

I do not listen to his words. I do not hear Tyler. I do not care about his speeches and messages. I only understand this. I only care that he stares at me and I can almost smell the cigarette smoke. I wipe my hands against my pants. They are sweating. I can not fake this.

Tyler leans in and his smirk stinks. It does not smell, but it reeks of him and everything he wants to teach me. If I look away, his eyes follow me.

Tyler is my reflection. The mirror is dirty.

Come on, do it. Impress me. Make an impression. Prove to me your shoulders belong to kings.

When Tyler whispers, I lean in. I am hypnotized by the lack of volume. He is pleased at my rapt attention. I want to take Tyler's words literally and throw him. I do not dare.

His eyes are brighter than mine have ever been. This fact twists in my gut. This fact is why I never listen.

Tyler leans in further and pushes past the mirror. I am not given a choice. He breaks the mirror for me. For a second, I am convinced his lips taste like lye, but all that is there is cigarette smoke.

When Tyler talks, I do not listen.

He does not care.