22. Stuck

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22. Stuck
Now

“You see, Eureka is very simple. You’ve got two elements. Element One: other people define your identity. You must ask the permission of society to become a person.

“Element Two: By forcing yourself to act outside of your socially acceptable bounds and limitations, you break Element One and become an independent identity.”

Mr. Aschen is gray and drying; his skin’s drawn tight over tall cheekbones. He cannot properly twirl the pen, but he can shuffle it back and forth between gnarled hands and does so constantly. I can tell he wants to speak, so I ask him what’s on his mind.

“It seems to me like David found a way to keep each of you on edge, keep you unbalanced and unstable, and so you had to turn to him for comfort. He was the leader of this new religion, and you were lost souls without him. Because he was the one who created the game, so he must be some sort of genius, right?” Spit leaps from his lips onto my pant leg; the counselor notices and, in the ensuing fit of embarrassment, drops the pen. I’ve never seen him so passionate before.

“Go on,” I say. “I want to hear what you really think about Eureka. Sometimes, I’m not even sure myself.”

“Exactly!” I think he senses victory; his whisper is a harsh hiss that sends more saliva spraying. “I think David wants to keep you broken, keep you from having attachments. Make you weak, so you’re easy to prey on. And I think you’re close to understanding that, Jacob.”

I look at my socks so he can’t see me smiling. “It’s like we never had a fair chance. We grew up in this abusive shithole, our parents failed at life, and even if we tried as hard as we could, made all the right decisions, worked two jobs and saved up money—we could never have half of what was given for free to everyone around us. So, the life in store for us was already a shitty deal. Even if I did everything right, my life was still going to be second-rate at best. Why agree to that? Why let paper beat rock? We decided to do the one thing that felt good—rebel. Don’t try to own shit. Don’t look at life as a battle to hoard the most stuff. Instead, live. It was the one way we weren’t going to have a second-rate life.”

“But if you were building things…” Mr. Aschen raises his hands helplessly. “Careers, contacts, college—those are how you escape that trailer park. How can you throw away every opportunity you get, and then be upset at life for not working out the way you want it?”

“I don’t want it!” I lean forward, my voice rises. “I don’t want a manager position at Wal-Mart. I don’t want to be an accountant or a paralegal. I want…I don’t know what I want. But I don’t want any of that. There’s no option available to me that would make me happy, so I choose none of the above. Look at you, Mr. Aschen. Is your life perfect? Everything going flawlessly? What has your life of hard work gained for you? I’m willing to bet your life is still shaped by a series of coincidences over which you have no control. Eureka is my way of accepting that’s the way life is. I don't only accept it, I rejoice in it.”

My psychologist leans back and folds his arms.

*

Goddamnit, Emily.

My brain still hurt from the shock of giving away my car.

David had set a steep precedent. When I got tagged, I couldn’t settle for speaking my mind or exploring some new corner of Kingwood. I needed to make a statement.

But now I was trapped by an abundance of open air. I had plenty of options for what to do next, the issue was none of those options seemed to lead anywhere. It was at least ten miles to the next town, a couple hundred miles back home.

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