An old man came to me in my sleep. It’s funny because I didn’t even know I was asleep until I noticed I wasn’t in my room anymore. He wore one of those dirty looking robes that wise old people wear in the movies. He told me to come closer.
“Come. I have a story to tell.” I was scared at first but I guess you could say I’m pretty obedient. Even in my dreams, I take directions really well. I sort of levitated towards him. My legs did not move and there was no one around to tell me I had a funny way of walking (I do).
“Nowadays, people wear their hearts differently,” he began. “The romantic ones wear it on their sleeves. The jaded ones keep it hidden from plain sight. The bitter ones leave it at home. Back then, people had sticks with them. If you grew up in a nice home with a lot of love, your stick would look very nice. Those who didn’t have a lot of love would have little twigs that look like they just fell off a withered tree. No matter what your stick looked like, you had to bring it everywhere to show people just what kind of person you are.”
“If you found someone who had a stick that looked just like yours, it usually means you would hit it off,” he continued. “If you like the person, you would cut off a part of your stick and give it to her. If she liked you back, she would do the same thing. Your sticks, on the outside at least, would look exactly the same but you both knew that it wasn’t. Your stick would have a bit of hers and her stick would have a bit of yours.”
I looked at him with an expression of disbelief. What the hell was he talking about?
“I know you think I’m crazy but there’s something to be said here; a story to be told. A story you need to bring to the world. The ceremony of cutting and exchanging and bridging sticks was not exactly that common. Many people held on to their sticks, afraid to cut it because they knew it would hurt. It stings a little but I suppose it really hurts when the person doesn’t give you their part of the stick. It wasn’t uncommon to see people with little sticks- people who were so addicted to love that they had nothing left. There were also people who walked around with sticks as high as skyscrapers. They took and took and never gave their part to other people.”
“I’m sure that was pretty chaotic.”
“It was. People started crying out to the gods. ‘Why give us these sticks if they only cause us pain?’ they would say. The gods were quiet.”
“Something had to be done about these stick-hoggers.”
“Yes. The people with small sticks took matters into their own hands. They would climb up trees and break off other people’s sticks. The selfish ones with bigger sticks got hurt. You should know that the ceremony of breaking and bridging sticks stinged a little so it wasn’t a good idea to go breaking other people’s sticks.”
“Sounds familiar. I guess people just wear their sticks differently these days,” I said.
“The gods were mostly quiet but they knew something had to be done before people started getting seriously hurt. Their solution? Karma.”
“Karma? As in karmic retribution?”
“Yes. They said, ‘You must not break off other people’s sticks just because you unwisely cut yours. If you love someone and that person says he loves you back, then go ahead and exchange. But if that person does not give you part of their stick in return for yours, allow us to deal with him. We shall strike him down before he does it to someone else.”
“Did it work?”
“Somewhat. The gods would cause thunder to burn the sticks of the selfish people. But if the person had a legitimate reason for not giving his part of the stick, they would leave him alone.”
“That sounds fair. What’s the point?” I asked. I felt like I was about to wake up any moment now and I didn’t want the whole dream to go to waste.
“I was just about to get to that. Here’s the story that you need to tell. I once met a girl with a stick so small, you could put it in your pocket. She said she’s always played her cards right, never hurt anyone or nothing but her love almost always went to waste. She asked me about karma.”
“What did she ask you?”
“She was not alive when the gods introduced it to the people and no one really understood it well enough to explain it to her. She wondered- if karma was meant to punish stick-hoggers, what does that mean to people like her? Sticks don’t grow back, she said. The only way she could have her stick back was if she tricked people to give her parts of their sticks. She could no longer live life with a really small stick. Is it possible to take karma into our own hands?”
“It sounds like she wanted to justify hurting people. What did you say?”
“I told her that there are other ways to make your stick bigger. There was no need to trick people. Once you learn to love yourself, you won’t need to keep cutting your stick. Slowly and in time, the stick will grow back and when you’re ready, you can give it to someone who really deserves it.”
“That sounds fair. Why didn’t more people know about that?”
“Because they were so caught up in the game of bridging sticks. They forgot that love made the stick grow in the first place and if you didn’t have enough love, you run the risk of living the rest of your life with a twig instead of a stick.”
“So did she love herself?”
“Sadly, no. She died a few years later. Her stick had withered to the size of a splinter and in the end, that’s what killed her.”
I was silent. It was fucking depressing. Poor girl, I thought.
“She now serves as a precautionary tale.”
“What does that mean to me anyway? Sticks? Love? It means nothing to me.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. He reached into his pocket and took out a frail twig. From where I was standing, it almost looked like a reed-stalk.
“This is your stick.” His palm started to open and the reed fell to the ground.
“Take care of yourself. No one else will,” he said as his image started to dissipate. I woke up almost instantly, his words still ringing in my ear. Take care of yourself. No one else will.
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Fuck and Run
Exile in Guyville