This went to a weird place.
[Everybody loves a good listener, no-one wants to listen]
He was, they said, a good listener. A good soundboard. A good person to have around if one needed to vent. For his part he didn’t really know whether this was true or not, but people did seem to talk at him a lot and they did seem to feel better afterwards, so maybe they were onto something.
Not that he ever got much of a chance to talk back. Not given to complaining at the best of times though occasions he did feel the urge sympathetic ear he found there none. Those who came to him to pour out their troubles proved distinctly unwilling to return the favour.
They had suggestions. Lots, in fact. Endless reams of solutions to his problems. He had these solutions too. He’d thought of them all by himself, usually while the problems they’d solve were already happening to him. Hearing them again from someone else did not help him in the least, though ingratitude was always received poorly so he nodded and smiled and said that sounded good and that he’d do that yes thank you kindly.
What he did not get was sympathy. A very specific kind of sympathy. He knew exactly what it was because he often dispensed it. He just didn’t receive it.
People – when complaining – are often aware of the best ways the things they are talking about could be handled, just like he was aware of the solutions before they mentioned them to him. What people wanted when they complained was someone to tell them that what they were complaining about was okay to complain about. Being given a solution made you look like an idiot as it implied you couldn’t figure it out yourself. It was worse, in fact; it either painted you as a lazy idiot unable to think of how to fix something simple and too slovenly to do it if you could.
No-one wanted that. People wanted to be told that they were in right, that whoever they were complaining about was in the wrong or that the situation they’d found so unbearable really was as bad as they said it was and they were perfectly allowed to go on at length about how bad they had it. No-one wanted to told their problems were trifles and easily solved. That made them whiners. No-one wanted that.
That was what he got, however. Every bad day was simply a brief, simple to-do list away from being turned around. In practical terms this was fine and dandy. Fixing things was better than simply complaining about them. But complaining about them, being told they were bad and you were fine for saying so and then fixing them at a later date and after venting was far better. He was being cheated out of a step and he could feel the most terrible pressure building somewhere inside himself that he had no way of releasing.
At least until he stumbled upon a solution to this particular problem. A problem about problems. No wonder it had eluded him so long, and no wonder no amount of prompting could coax it out. It had to occur to him naturally, and so it did.
It came to him as he was consoling another friend about their bad day. He realised that the things he was saying to them – nods, agreements, commiserations – was exactly what he himself needed to hear. He had the knack for it as they alway said, but it had never occurred to him to make use of it for himself. That he had no-one to deliver them was the primary issue, but in a flash he had the perfect way around this.
Once finished being vented to by his friend he moved off on his own, procured a pen, paper, glue and a hand-drill. The first part would be the hardest.
He wrote down some nice things. When rolling them out for someone else nice things were easy, but for himself nice things were hard to think of and his nose bled as he put them to paper. He managed it all the same. The trick was imagining who might be saying the nice things, who he might have to vent to. He had no-one real he could put into this position so, with some difficulty, he made one up. He imagined the sort of person he would most like to be saying these nice things to him. They were fuzzy and indistinct in his mind but they were there enough for it to work
In his head they had a nice smile, and they kept their ideas to themselves knowing that they weren’t needed at that time. They just listened, told him to go on and said that things would be fine and that he was alright. That was all they needed to say.
With that part done he rolled up the paper as tightly as he could, gluing it shut so it wouldn’t unfurl. Setting it to one side he settled down into a cross-legged position and picked up the drill.
What spot to put the hole in was unclear. He trailed the drillbit across his scalp looking to see if inspiration would strike but it didn’t and so in the end he picked a random spot and hoped it would do just as well as anywhere else.
Going through the flesh of his head hurt a little, but curiously the skull did not, and he didn’t even notice when he’d reached the brain other than developing a sudden and impossible-to-suppress twitch in his left leg. That told him he’d gone far enough, so he pulled the drill out. It had stuff on it but he didn’t look at that.
Taking up the neatly rolled cylinder of nice things he very, very carefully maneuvered it into position. Cunningly he’d kept a finger on the dribbling, bleeding hole he’d drill and so didn’t have to find it again. Instead, all he had to do was gently feed the cylinder home, which he did. It was a snug fit, and he could feel it sinking home with a semi-solid kind of reassurance. He smiled.
Inside his head, he thought he could feel. The sort of relief that came from having an ear to kvetch to and a shoulder to cry on. It was an unusual and unfamiliar voice in his head but that was to be expected from someone he’d made up. The warm blanket of platitudes and bromide wrapped around him, meant nothing, and comforted him. Some of the pressure began to hiss away.
But something was wrong. Something nagged at the very edge of his mind. Something about this didn’t fit, didn’t feel correct. The voice seemed louder now and as it got louder it got clearer and as it got clearer what was wrong with it became impossible to ignore.
They were lying. He could tell they were lying. Their comforting words and nods and smile were in his head and he could feel them but he knew they were false he knew they didn’t mean it not for a second. He scrabbled at the hole he’d drilled but the paper had already slipped inside and beyond reach.
The comfort he’d built for himself swallowed him up and grew in sincerity and as it grew how false it was grew faster still. It turned the words of agreement and understanding into snide jabs at his expense, him into a punchline, a living joke. He couldn’t get the hole any bigger with his fingers and so he picked the drill up again.
He couldn’t get it out. The drillbit went through the hole and he worked it around but he still couldn’t get the hole big enough to fit a finger through. He drilled a few more – eyes watering with the pain but that was irrelevant – and tried to get them to link up but it was hard; the blood kept making it slip and cut gouges across his scalp where he didn’t mean to. The noise in his head was impossible to ignore he had to get it out get it out.
After the drill slipped one too many times he screamed in frustration and hurled it across the room, breaking something he couldn’t see because of how much his eyes were watering. Reaching up he found his hands were too slick to be of any use – or was it is his head? He didn’t know. Bits of hair and bits of stuff that was not hair came away but no paper. He looked around for something, anything that might be use but found nothing.
Those kind, comforting words lashed at him with every breath. He couldn’t stand them. He had to purge them, had to be rid of them. Then another idea occurred, just as spontaneously as the first. Staggering upright he stumbled blind out of his room and down to the kitchen, swiping a head across the counter until he found the kettle. Still half full. Perfect.
Sinking to his knees on the linoleum he defied decency by keeping a close eye on the kettle until it boiled (though he dimly remembered it was pots you weren’t supposed to watch) and the very instant it clicked off he was back on his feet. Grabbing it in one hand he used the other to probe his tender head to find the largest hole, the one he’d worked open with the drill. He found it fairly easily, and once he did he moved the kettle over, trying his best to hold it steady though his arm was shaking badly.
There was a moment – barely a split second – before the boiling water hit his brain where he could fully and comprehensively appreciate his folly in not simply accepting a life of not complaining but just as quickly as it came to him he shrugged it off. To do anything else would have been whining, and that just wouldn’t have done at all. Other people had it harder anyway. Probably.
And then his skull was steamed from the inside out and all his other problems became somewhat inconsequential.