I distinctly remember coming by your house before heading off to Harvard. You invited me over for one last talk before I went off into the big leagues, and wanted to make sure that I didn’t lose myself up there – that I remembered where I came from and wasn’t changed for the worse after being surrounded by so much wealth and privilege, that I didn’t turn my back on the community that’d helped raise me.
At the time I was pretty confused, because I knew exactly who I was and didn’t have any interest – and never have – in becoming some rich asshole.
And yet that talk stuck with me, and came rushing back as I was waiting in intake at MCTC. Now your talk mattered, here’s where it’d be tested – would I lose myself in a situation that in many ways was the exact opposite of Harvard?
But the opposite of what you’ve warned me about before going to Harvard ended up happening on my way out of the system. The society I left behind didn’t have any interest in me anymore – I had broken the rules, and so it was time for me to be discarded.
Which stung for a bit, but then I thought back to a lesson that was far more important than the one you tried to convey to me. The thing is, it turns out that entire suburban upbringing, seemingly ensconced in so much support and joy and privilege, was pure bullshit.
It was never Real.
Because if it had been, my failing would have been understood and seen as something that is part of all of us. I would have been held even tighter and loved all the harder if the relationships around me hadn’t been pure illusion. I spent my life doing everything I could to protect your son and grow up with my arm around him and everyone else, and yet at the first sign of trouble – nearly all you motherfuckers cut bait.
I am shabby and broken now. But that’s a good thing, because I get to spend the rest of my life with the rest of us broken, discarded folks who know what Real is.
Who want to hold the shabby and broken tight, because they know in a matter of time that may be their fate too.
The life I left behind, the society I left behind – with the unnecessary luxuries you tell yourselves are more important than your neighbors having enough on their table, your mindless consumerism and illusions of meritocratic success – that isn’t Real either. You hide your disdain for your impoverished neighbors by donating to disasters across the planet, and have time to eat 4-hour brunches but not to tutor some kids whose parents are alcoholics.
But the thing is, nothing that isn’t Real lasts all that long.
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
– The Velveteen Rabbit