18. Hate in Healthy Doses

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18. Hate in Healthy Doses

“How devoted to David was Emily?” Mr. Aschen asks.

“I don’t know,” I say tonelessly. “She was willing to take the fall for him when we broke into the office. She was having sex with him. Hell, David might’ve been the only person on Earth Emily didn’t feel superior to.”

“So when you say David let you decide the fate of Eureka, did he really? Or did he ask Emily to make sure you tagged someone?”

I press my lips together. I don’t want to think about it: could Emily be so shallow she’d take my virginity because David asked?

“I knew you were going to try and make David out to be the bad guy. There’s more to the story, though. Let’s talk about what led to his death. Let’s talk about Eureka.”

“I think you're deflecting, but very well. As for Eureka, well Jacob—I have a very hard time wrapping my mind around the game. I can’t think of a single reason to go along with David’s experiment except David himself." He grew excited now, a rare occurrence. "It just seems like you are giving up the things that make life worth living—a family, romance, a job, building a foundation! Those are the things I treasure in life, Jacob. I just can’t…” Mr. Aschen holds his chin in a gnarled hand, skin like bark. “Personally, I think Eureka is a tool David used to earn your devotion.”

“I disagree. It was easy to start playing,” I explain, “It was easy to want to change things when everything was bad. But, in the end it’s about loyalty to a higher ideal. Maybe the highest ideal. You get one turn at life, and you’re more or less assigned a role from the start. For some people, it’s a nice one. For us, it was a bad one. But, it should be true for anyone. If this is your one opportunity at life, isn’t the ultimate homage you can pay to its creator—to God, or even to yourself—to systematically explore every possible dimension of human existence? Isn’t that a nobler ideal than raising a family? There are plenty of families. Maybe if you live in a time or a place where life means something, where you’re fighting in a war or rebuilding after one, or something with some narrative…but here in America, here and now, life has no point for us. The only causes available to join are corrupt ones. So why not do the best thing possible and explore every dimension of life?

"Isn’t that what everyone worked so hard for? Isn't that the big dream, to spend life experiencing it? Well, we're here. We accomplished the dream, life in America is easy. It's time to live a little, because nothing is coming next. And if there is a God, and a Heaven, you should ask yourself: what have you done with this life that's so great you deserve another one? Would you spend your time there counseling angels? Do accountants dream of crunching numbers on clouds?

“Could everyone play Eureka? No, society wouldn’t function. But should everyone who can play Eureka? I don’t know. I don’t know. But me and mine, much as I can hate them, I know: we are the result of all this quality of life that has taken the place of the actual quality of your life.But, I also think it requires you to be a sociopath. So, maybe I am a sociopath, or a narcissist, or whatever you said David was.”

Mr. Aschen leans back, as though my diatribe backed him into the opposite corner of the boxing ring. He leafs through the manila folder of notes, perhaps looking for inspiration to launch a counterattack. After a moment of staring at nothing in particular, he lurches forward.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Jacob. You care about other people, no matter how hard you try to deny it. It’s engrained in you, because you’re a healthy, normal, intelligent young man. If anything, out of your whole crew of misfits, you care most—and they used that against you. You’re looking for acceptance, and David managed to convince you he was the only one who should provide that. You’re a smart kid; I can see it in you. I can’t understand why you can’t apply the same intelligence to look at your life objectively and see that David controlled you. Look past the narrative—look at the math. The numbers don’t lie. At the end of the day, you’re still here defending David, after everything that went wrong, even though he’s dead.”

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