I want to know what it is that makes a person exceptional. There has to be something, some sort of formula or an equation I can’t master, which makes someone worth fighting for. I see people — Okay. I see women. Women who are ‘attained’. They sit on their pedestal, up there with the roses and diamond rings I keep hearing I should want, and I find myself wondering: why her instead of me? If I wore my hair down and listened to Elvis Presley instead of Elvis Costello, would that do the trick? If I traded my roughed-up trainers for a pair of high-high heels, put down the Sylvia Plath and picked up the Cosmopolitan; if I took the effort to cover up my masticated cuticles, my ever-dwindling acne, the cock-eyed bend from busting my nose so often it finally quick growing straight, would that put me in a position where I was wanted? Would that cross me over to the other side, the side of the Woman Who Must Be Won? Would I, too, be sporting a ring people secretly think is ugly and planning a wedding that will indebt me for life?
This isn’t about her. Really. I know it’s not serious, at least not yet. It’s just a few dates and a couple of laughs. Still, she makes perfect sense to me. She’s light years beyond me. We belong to different galaxies in universes that never would’ve met if we didn’t happen to share a star. (That’s you.) She’s incredible. Honestly, she is. And I’m just…average. I’m okay. I know that; I’m fine. I could’ve gotten it a lot worse. Look at my brother. But I’m not…‘Wow’. I don’t stop traffic. I’m not an Audrey Hepburn. She is an Audrey Hepburn. I’m more of a…Bette Davis? Though Bette Davis is much more attractive than I could ever dream of being. Come on, she’s stunning. Now that I think of it, I actually think she might be hotter than Audrey. I mean, damn, girl! Bette Davis!
Okay, that metaphor isn’t working at all.
She– She’s a Cannes Festival Winner. Five stars. Internationally recognised. BAFTA, even. And… I’m, like, Pantagraph Reader’s Choice. Okay, on a really good day, maybe Good Housekeeping, but I don’t go much above that; let’s be realistic here. I’m pretty much stranded in the theoretical Heartland of America along with a whole lot of casserole and Jell-O salad and County Fairs. It’s not bad. There’s a lot worse places you could be. Kosovo? ‘98? That’s a good example. The Grand Café is a Pantagraph Reader’s Choice pick; it’s quite respectable. Not my favourite, but more than edible. Really good beef and broccoli, actually. Their Egg Fu Young gives me indigestion, though.
I don’t blame you. I’m not mad. At all. I wish I was, but I’m not. I like her. Jesus, I don’t think it’s possible to not like her, she’s so damn likable. Lucky for her. And she likes you. She clearly likes you. Like likes. I’d be doing the same thing if I were in your position. Maybe that’s what bothers me. It doesn’t even bother me that much.
But I do kind of wish I could branch out from The Pantagraph. I mean, hearing Dan Craft say that your masterpiece is worth five stars and ‘two enthusiastic thumbs up’ isn’t exactly what you aspire to during the gruelling hours of your cinematic training. I’d much rather go to Cannes. I’ll be their Festival Winner. Please, lay it on me, Cannes! Fuck, man, I’d take a compliment from the AV Club, Variety, even the Chicago Reader. Something – anything – above the Pantagraph Reader’s Choice. And why the fuck shouldn’t I have that? What makes her so much better than me, anyway? I mean, I know I’ve got it. I know how to please. I can make people laugh and I can touch their heartstrings. I’m a goddamn family classic. And I know you got pretty excited during the swimming pool scene in my second half at least once during the long torment of your high school years. Oh yeah. You know which one I’m talking about. There’s a reason why you stopped watching me with your mother.
I know your secret. You shoved me on a shelf in your basement, but there’s not a lot of dust on me; my shit gets watched. It’s Saturday afternoon, it’s raining, you didn’t really want to mow the lawn in the first place. So you come down to the basement. You pick me out from all the rest of those battered VHS tapes. You cradle me just a little as you take me to your den and stick me in your VCR. And you love every second you spend with me. We have a ball for those sweet, brief hours, just the two of us, a bag of popcorn, maybe that ratty blanket you made in Home Ec a thousand years ago. And afterwards, just as we’re parting ways yet again and you return to the life you show the rest of the world, you smile at me. ‘We should do this more often,’ you say. ‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘I’d like that.’ Oh. I know your deal. You won’t show me off to your hipster friends; you won’t set aside valuable time just to study the subtleties of my composition and the splendour of my script; you will never discuss my beautiful complexities at artistic cocktail parties when your shoes are killing you and you would murder for a drink without an olive in it. But I bet you money that when my name comes up at a bar or on the subway after work, you will quote every quip of witty dialogue like it was Holy Scripture. And you laugh hysterically with all of your friends.
I may not be exceptional. But for you, I am significant.
See, that’s the advantage of being trapped out here in Pantagraph land, drowning in the average wasteland that is Midwestern banality. You won’t ever admit it to anyone else, but we both know it’s true: nothing feels better than going to your old favourite place, where you were safe and you were happy even when you were hurting and the whole world sat on your shoulders. And now when things get lonely and your life gets rough, you lay awake and think about those things: the things I mean to you.
So when you tire of studying the otherworldly exception that is your albeit stunning Festival Winner, do what makes you happiest and come down those creaking basement steps. Push back the cobwebs and throw off your corn-crafting party shoes. Wash off the make-up and quit worrying about your hair. I’ll be waiting, sitting right here, always on this painfully ordinary shelf, you know the one: next to the cases of PBR you pretend you don’t drink, the beat up sneakers you swear you’ve never worn, your dusty, sweet-smelling books that will never, ever replace the crap you buy in the CVS every morning. The memories will flood you. The joy will feed your soul. And you’ll go back to being all the boring, average, everyday things that make you the radiant, brilliant, marvellous enigma that will never stop fascinating me.
© Charlie Pevensie