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He’s got his life planned out. He’s got a plan. At least a little one. Me I just like looking at vague blurry pictures on Tumblr. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not mad about that, it’s just a fact. A terrifying one. He speaks well and is still going to school and I’ve been out for a year and a half now and I don’t talk nearly as smart as he does. I need to work on my vocabulary, I tell myself. I need better words.

I tell my young friend that it seems to always be like this. We talk about graduating from high school. She’s younger than my little brother by a year and a half but I like him and I still like her. I tell her all my wisdom, all that I’ve stored up and learned. Life’s like this, I say. You don’t know what you’re doing. You never do. That’s how it is. Wise stuff like that.

I look at this picture of birds flying all scattered about. It’s like that, I think. That’s exactly what it’s like.

I read terrible poems by young Bukowski and shake my head at them. I look at pictures of my grandma’s grandma and shake my head at them. No one knew what they were doing. Maybe they figured it out eventually, maybe they didn’t. Maybe there’s nothing to figure out. We’re a pack of birds or a flock of them, and here we are, all together and winging and scrambling anywhere and everywhere. Making plans and worrying and crying and reading bad poetry and trying to learn something before we take off for the real world or winter vacation or before our parents die and leave us alone here, inheritors of this.

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1. How dare you flirt with my fake boyfriend!

2. It’s super reassuring/terrifying when cool successful people also admit that they have no idea what they’re doing with their lives. Wait, what?! Nooo! Help!

3. When was the last time you used sidewalk chalk? Not recently enough!

4. Maybe you’ve known someone for a really long time and you think you know all about them. But I’m sure there’s a lot you still don’t know. And people change. Keep getting to know them.

5. Compliment someone today.

6. Winter is coming! Halloween is coming! Tomorrow is coming!

7. Why are pen pals not that much of a thing anymore?! Getting mail/letters is awesome. Come on, people. Get with it.

8. You’re not going to get Ebola. I mean, probably. OMG WHY did I read that one book that one time about exploding Ebola-monkeys?! But really, what’s worse: staying in your house all the time and avoiding all contact with people/the outside world or getting Ebola? Exactly. Also, on a totally separate note, who wants to play Pandemic?? It’s a classic!

9. Listen to what it is you’re saying, especially if you expect others to. Pay attention to yourself.

10. Why are we paying so much attention/money to people with so little talent?! Because they’re on the radio?! That doesn’t mean they deserve your time! Because they’re on T.V?? Because whatever it is they create is everywhere and so easy to see?? That does not mean it’s good, or useful, or interesting, or worthwhile. It’s all self-perpetuating and gross. Turn it off. Find something better. It’s not that hard.

“I don’t care if you’re happy,” he says, wringing his hands in the air. “You shouldn’t be.”

He’s standing in the middle of the busy sidewalk preaching to his date and anyone else who’s listening. I’ve known he exists for less than three minutes and already I’m mesmerized by this weird boy with weird hair who’s wearing a purple polka dot shirt and leather pants.

Fucking art kids, I think, and he continues.

“You’re sitting there on your couch, fat and happy, watching television. You’re with another human who you tolerate enough to spend the rest of your life with. You both have well-paying middle-class jobs that pay your rent bill and your cable. You’re a great, contributing member of society. A well-oiled cog in the machine. You have your purpose. You have your paycheck. You have most of your life mapped out.”

He stops talking and later I find myself in a large room filled completely with fog. There are bright lights in the corners of the room, and everything is white and thick and the room doesn’t feel like a room, and I don’t feel like a person — only a floating, dizzy set of eyes in a world of white and black and flashes of color. And there is no purpose in that room, no ultimate goal; no deep thoughts, and no shallow ones. There is the smell of the fake fog, and the sensation of floating, and two dozen people watching the lights strobe on and off and on. It is simple and beautiful and more compelling than anything I’ve ever seen on T.V. It is strange and wonderful and someone dreamt it up and made it real.

The art kid appears beside me in the white fog in my mind, later. He’s several years older and still stacking things on top of each other, hanging weird things from ceilings, banging things onto and into walls, building robots and talking machines that fly when you whistle “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in their direction. He struggles to find jobs for himself and doesn’t own a couch or a cat but he’s happy in his own way. People look at him and wonder how he’s done it, wish they could too, whatever it is. They snap pictures with their new iphones and wander back out of the fog to make babies and nest eggs.

“I want you to be happy,” he says, waving the fog out of his face. “You should be.”

It’s different now, a year later, at least for him. He’s taken up watercolor painting and poetry, mixed them together like two paint colors and formed some type of art that’s popular with all people. He’s selling his work online and making enough money to buy extra pairs of weird shoes. He’s thinking about going back to school but he doesn’t know what for yet, doesn’t feel the time has come yet, not yet, not yet. He’s still wearing that same old polka dot shirt, hasn’t found another like it or better. He doesn’t consider himself to be like those people he talked about. He thinks he’s different, he tries to be, although he’s still fighting the pull of “normality” everyday like gravity. It’s hard. But the more he builds and paints and rhymes, the more times he shaves his own hair, the more people who call him “interesting”, the further away from that life he gets. The more foggy it all is. He can’t see those other people anymore, they don’t really exist to him. He lives in another place, another world. No more sidewalk preaching, only painting in cement with colored chalk to make people smile. He wants them to be happy, he says. You should be.

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1. Many things are bearable until they don’t have to be.

2. blue eyes.

3. I LOVE you! I think you’re SO interesting! Let’s be friends! No, wait! Come back!

4. I just finished (finally) The Wind in the Willows which I read because it was a free e-book on this app on my ipod and I would read a few chapters every time I took the subway… Anyway, it’s a sort of simple story about these animals in this world where they somehow communicate with each other and humans… and it’s a children’s story according to Wikipedia. But it’s really good. You should read it. Simple words don’t mean simple ideas.

5. You can do a lot of cool things or you can spend all your time thinking about all the cool things you want to do.

6. Maybe you are the thing that offends you the most.

7. You’ll regret it if you don’t try. You’ll regret it if you try and it doesn’t work. And so then you’ll try again! Who knows?! Maybe next time it’ll happen…

8. I thought roller-coasters were terrifying until I let my younger brother drive me somewhere.

9. What are you people listening to these days?! As in, what are you listening to?, and, WHAT are you listening to?! I can’t even talk about it. It’s too painful.

10. It’s good practice to open your mind and accept things that don’t affect you personally, because they just might in the future.

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“I’m so happy to be home,” she says.

“It’s so different. It’s just like it was when I left. It’s so different from where I was. I just can’t explain it. And no one is asking me to.”

“It’s like PTSD,” she says.

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Or maybe it’s the opposite of that. But it’s sorta the same. Like I just experienced something terrible. And I come home, back here, and this place is not terrible at all. It’s so normal. It’s identical to life before I left, like nothing here has changed. Because it hasn’t.”

“And anyway, I felt it right away, when I got here. This anti-PTSD thing.”

“Oh, and I’m allowed to talk about PTSD, because I met soldiers over there when I was gone. I learned some stuff about their lives. Anyway so it’s not like I have no idea what I’m talking about.”

“So, I stepped out of the airport, after 24 hours of traveling, and, bam, here I was. And maybe that doesn’t sound very impressive. And people don’t seem very impressed. And that’s the thing.”

“I can’t explain what I’ve been through or much of the things I’ve seen. It’s a different world. You have to experience it yourself before you can understand me. So, PTSD, right? You’re living in this world, like me, but at the same time, I’ve lived in another one, and that world’s not completely gone from me. It’s like jet-lag, but culture-lag; experience-lag. It wasn’t really wonderful or beautiful. And you’re not asking, either. And to talk about it just feels like complaining. I can’t describe it right. And you’re not listening to what I’m not saying.”

“This world doesn’t seem real,” she says.

“I can understand what those soldiers must go through. This is a dream land. It’s like nothing happened, like those terrible things never happened. But they did. And it’s so confusing. And you can’t talk about it. See? I’m talking in circles. But I have to say something.”

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