The day before the birthday was thinking of all the people she would see and imagining the best versions of them.
This is the best time I’ve ever had, she said, on her birthday. Since yesterday.
She had decided to invite exes to her birthday after watching a Martin Luther King news segment, which ended, “and he passed away in 1968,” avoiding that uncomfortable bit about his assassination by the Government, when he started to talk about class… the segment wanted to inspire those everything-is-better-for-black-people-now feelings that white people get when watching violence in black and white… uncomfortable bits of truth bring too much colour to monochrome fantasies… we just want to laugh, and buy things. She invited people with whom she no longer spoke, to bridge the divide.
I would not rather be anywhere else right now, said one of her exes.
There was that: people made jokes at the expense of others, as though it would even out that they had once supported them and all their snot during the death of their cat, or when they peed on the wall when drunk.
I am so glad you came, she said.
I am really into fitness now, he said, and I have had sex with many new and conventionally attractive people.
That is so great, she said.
Some of the characters at the party were less forward. She wondered why they had come. She understood when the person following them entered: ornaments to their new selves. A new ornament had to be attractive, rich, or funny. She wondered if they identified as “ornament” on the government survey. It’s like a bunch of Christmas trees brought to life, she thought, walking around and shaking in front of each other.
One ex, across the room, gave her a smoky look, squinting as though having lost their glasses, as though it would erase all the embarrassing things she knew about them and their unnecessary knowledge of craft beers.
You’re lighting the wrong side of the cigarette, she yelled.
The ex made as though they didn’t hear. To her cat, all these humans might as well have been saying I’m hurt, no I’m hurt, totally incapable of expressing empathy for the other because of a perceived attack to their personality, that breakup. The ex kissed their ornament.
The wrong side, she said, to herself, as the person raised the lighter to the filter.
word by Liam Lachance
colour by Young Wavey
From the author: “The eyes in this piece struck me at first –sets of eyes looking everywhere but at one another. It made me think of your exes, how similar the attempt to seem better off is tied to our inability to empathize… we seem to walk around talking about ourselves, making jokes to avoid confronting our possibly flawed logic, educated to believe that never settling is a mark of success- not gross incompetence and immaturity.
Our inability to empathize seems to leave many of us looking to distract ourselves as we try to perfect the intricacies of some hobby that becomes a profession, or in finding pleasurable things to avoid confronting the difficult stuff of compromise. So many conversations are a bunch of monologues.
Without a focus on empathy I don’t think we’ll ever stop doing things to people, and miss valuable relationships as we pass by one another while yelling out our windows about our Selves or a thing that we like”