Chapter 9: Michelle

 

“They are mere words” Michelle was thinking.  “They’re just thoughts in my mind:  don’t panic” she remembered thinking in her mind long ago.  Back then, the only goal she really wanted was to never feel fear again; to get to that state of mind where tormenting thoughts would never trouble her any more.

“All I want is a sound mind” she would think.   It had been a long and painful season of psychotherapy and self reflection at first.  And then one day, she came to realize that the greater peace she could achieve had nothing to do material success – at least not completely.  But the road was not easy.

For years Michelle struggled from anxiety attacks.  It was such an oppressive state to be in: no outside forces technically affected her most of the time.  It was the thoughts and sensations that would come to her that felt no one would ever understand.  If she shared with her family how she could ‘feel’ the connections with the earth that no one could relate to, or get these strange revelations about the human condition that seemed to answer so many questions, Michelle knew they would have had her institutionalized.  It really boiled down to a fear of not being able to relate with anything around her – of not being ‘normal’ – even if being ‘normal’ would have driven her crazy anyway. Physically, she felt fine. But for years, it was the mere thought of these ideas that would drive her crazy with a fear that would afflict her.  Michelle would get tired on an otherwise perfect sunny day; she could not enjoy it whenever a mere thought would sprout out from nowhere and just plagued her in her head.

She knew how absurd it was, and the rational side of her mind grew increasingly frustrated being a prisoner of her own brain.  Deep down, Michelle knew it was merely just words.  The fearful thoughts that would spawn in her brain would cause her very physiology to go off in a state of panic.  Rapid heartbeat, decreased breathing: mere words resonating in her mind.   She longed to remember what it was like when she was a little kid.  Until one day, she realized her own intellect had been working against her this whole time.  Her long years of academic study and sophisticating herself to the stupid maturity of what a successful adult was supposed to think like had worked against her.  All that education in biology and medicine, and her upbringing to chase power had turned her into a hypochondriac, and the need to have control of everything had gotten in the way.

All she had to do was let go, and focus on the good.  Cognitive psychotherapy to re-learn how the brain can play tricks on a person had saved her.  The day she realized that, Michelle’s anxiety attacks lessened ever since.  Since then her love for life came back.  Michelle started to pick up books and read everything she could about life, the universe, and everything out of pure curiosity, not out of academic duty.  Soon she started to feel true freedom:  a love for life.  A curiosity of everything in a child like way again: she realized there was nothing she couldn’t do that’s not bound by the laws of nature.

Duality” she would repeat to herself often.  “Learn as much as you can, but never let the intellectual mind become a crutch for you again.”  All this sophistication – all these diplomas she earned, all this ego building knowledge that had puffed her up but imprisoned her at the same time – was bullshit as far as she was concerned.  She was so happy she had discovered her secret to fight these thoughts: she simply wouldn’t give them the time of day any more.   “Now that’s true freedom” Michelle  finally relented in her mind “love, joy, and peace.”  The world just seemed so much lighter when she wouldn’t let the pressure of competition – or those other curses — racism. economic strife, sexism, elitism and rat race envy imaginary or real, afflict her the same way again —  except when she would get caught having to fight the temptation of giving into mob mentality — which is why she had such mixed feelings about this protest.

“You sure this is the right spot?”  Michelle’s friend Tabitha asked the others.

“Just follow the crowds.  They’ll lead us to the highway” her friend Ryan said.  Michelle looked around.  This was something you didn’t see every day.  As if the night wasn’t surreal enough, this whole spectacle was taking place under a lunar eclipse.  Sometimes real life took such a turn for the fantastic that all she could do was shrug off analyzing these moments and just go with the flow.  But then again, she could hear her Uncle Lewis’s voice resonating in her head” “Just because a hundred million lemmings fall off a cliff, doesn’t make it functional” he would always tell her.

“Actually, that’s just a myth” she could hear the memory of her reply faintly answer back to her Uncle. One day long ago, she had finally decided to research this notion. “They rise out of the ground in large numbers when they have been cooped up so long.  Under those harsh winter conditions, they simply are just a mob” she told him.

“Kind of like this” she then thought to herself in real time as she scanned the scene. Nobody here seemed to have any idea if this was ultimately a good idea.  This was the coldest night possible for a protest. She could see hordes of people – nearly a thousand immediately around her that were hell-bent on disrupting the boredom of this stifling existence.   Hundreds of young men and women holding signs of all walks of life against the current political party running the state of Wyoming. “Bored – with nothing more significant to do, maybe” she thought to herself.  “Just like us this night!”  It’s a good thing they got rid of the law that protected motorists of manslaughter against highway-blocking protestors, but Michelle was certain this kind of thing was going to make the government reconsider.

“Michelle!” her friend Tabitha called out to her.  Despite the flamboyant display that she had put up ten minutes ago when she got the crowds around them to chant a chorus of expletives against the new Governor, there was a slight look of concern on Tabitha’s face that slipped her face for a few seconds. “Stay close to us!  The crowds are getting thicker.”

“My uncle told me this kind of thing used to happen all the time when he was my age” Michelle told her friend Gabrielle walking beside her. “But that would have been over two decades ago” she added. “He said it didn’t make any sense then, and when he had shared that with me three years ago, I thought that his talks with me trying to describe these situations didn’t make any sense.  But now I’m feeling like, ultimately, I agree: none of this makes much sense.”

“So you’re against the right to protest now?” her other friend Tabitha asked incredulously.  “That makes no sense: why are you here then?”

“No, I’m not against protesting at all” Michelle stammered uncomfortably. “I’m just wondering, how anybody thinks this is going to be effective. It’s flippin’ freezing cold out tonight.”

“And there’s hardly anybody on I-25” her friend Carissa put in.  Just like Tabitha, she was also a local resident of Cheyenne. And she was a Brazilian girl who loved the tropics but got dragged up here when her Dad accepted a job at a new law firm.  “Tabitha, nobody with any clout is probably still hanging out in this part of Cheyenne on a weeknight in the business district — except us!”

“Us and about a thousand people, I guess” said Gabrielle.  Gabrielle had come to visit Michelle, who in turn, had come to visit her hometown friends she had made here in Cheyenne while staying at her Uncle Lewis’ place during college winter break.   Although Michelle warned Gabrielle there was not much to do around there , she tried to sell the idea of a visit to Cheyenne as a relaxing time to unwind “because there was nothing to do but finally rest” as she put it.  Gabrielle, ever the wise-cracking observer, didn’t buy it:

“If a bunch of zombies had a parade during a zombie apocalypse, this is what you’d end up with” she bellowed.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” asked Tabitha. Gabrielle looked around. “This place has got all the shitty charm of the third world without all its exotic landscapes and hospitality. It’s like the worst of both worlds.  Bizarro third world, if I had to describe it.”

“And minus the people” Michelle pointed out.  With that attitude, Michelle remembered why she had convinced herself to join this protest: after two days of sitting around her uncles and playing outdated video games, she knew it was going to be difficult to get Gabrielle excited enough to do anything .  So when her hometown friends announced there was a massive protest happening that night, Michelle found herself dragged into this spectacle that – as it appeared to her – was horribly organized.   As she observed the look on everyone’s faces who were not chattering their teeth from the cold, it seemed to her that anyone else that wasn’t shivering was on some sort of drug.

Michelle wondered why she inevitably felt the need to mentally nosedive back into these absurd escapades.  Truly, she hated getting caught up in stuff like this – she just always seemed to keep forgetting, and it was obvious that Gabrielle was barely enjoying this at all.  The piercing Wyoming cold was just too intense for her southern taste. As the crowds started to form too thick around Michelle and her friends to keep away from, Michelle catatonically stared at the bright colored winter hats of everyone in front of her as they headed towards the highway.

“What is it?” Carissa asked her.  Michelle wanted to share with her how she was starting to realize that it never seemed to profit her anything to waste time in an event like this.  Thanks to her own personal trials trying to make sense of life, she felt she discovered the metaphysical answers to the problems that everyone here was likely looking for:  world peace, equality; understanding. But she just smiled at Carissa and walked ahead.  Why ruin the moment?

The theme behind these protests was interesting.   From her friend’s point of view, they were there fighting against the persecution of cybernetic people had that had had computers implanted in them. These implants were chips that made critics distastefully call these victims ‘cyborgs’.  Persecutors from all walks of life detested these ‘cyborgs’ — all because these they had the advantage of artificial intelligence that stimulated certain parts of their brain to perform better.  With that kind cognitive advantage, cyborgs didn’t have to study as hard at school or develop abilities before they joined the workforce like other’s did.  Critics argued that although the chips originally had been implanted for victims suffering from brain trauma or psychiatric disorders, they were arguably making the users reap the benefits of these performance enhancing abilities. Michelle, for her part, could sympathize with anyone who had decided to get the procedure.  She knew how difficult it was fighting the thoughts that would work against a person without any medication.  She had always hated medication: she hated its side effects – even if her journey was long and arduous.

Actually, Michelle and her friends were part of a counter-protest movement that was protesting against an even larger crowd of protestors located further down the exit ramp.  Those roughly two thousand individuals they were about to clash with were the real protestors: they were part of a new wave movement happening everywhere that were called ‘Cyborg protests’. According to Tabitha, their greatest transgression was that they were livid at the idea of these ‘half human’ cyborgs living amongst respectable people in society.

“Everybody is a person” Tabitha rightfully explained to Gabrielle. “No matter what they look like!”  Although it was too late to turn back now, Michelle secretly thought the entire need to protest against protestors protesting against this technology absurd.  And to be fair, she wasn’t sold that cyborg implants was such a good idea for society.  Despite years of proven success rates, no one knew what the long term side effects would be for a user.

As Michelle and her crowd of about nine hundred counter protesting allies neared the exit ramp, they could see many of these ‘Cyborg protestors’ holding tasteless signs.   A lot of them were chanting that the ‘implatees’ were merely sub-human robots, since their brain power was no longer natural, and they were a threat to humanity.   And ever since the Governess of Wyoming had signed a law recently to legalize this kind of surgery procedure, she was considered the devil by a lot of the people blocking the highway right now: according to them, a pawn for the globalists that were secretly trying to introduce the anti-christ into power.

Don’t let robots take over the world!” read many of the signs held by the protestors ahead.  “Jobs! This is how it starts and ends. Sign O’ the times!” read some others.  As they watched some of the louder protestors scream how this is what a police state looks like some  other jokers came in with tambourines and ukuleles, and added a little melody to the chants.  Michelle found it hilarious.

“You know, I thought these protests blocking highway had been banned years ago” she had to admit to the others.  As they looked around the scene, they could see ripped apart signs littered all over the ground that smacked of irony: “Unity, not division” seemed to be an especially popular theme.

“I bet these things recycle every twenty twenty-five years or so” Michelle observed.  As she and her friends watched the mob of Cyborg protestors start to approach the counter-protestors, the crowd around her started to hurry in unison up the exit 83 ramp to meet them.

“Overdramatic.  And I bet half those people over there aren’t even fundamentalists” Gabrielle said to Michelle with a chuckle.

“You’re enjoying this shit?” Michelle asked her friend with a grin.

“Well, not completely – but sort of.  Even though I’m freezing my ass off, this is kind of amusing.  How does this whole implanting chips in your brain thing work again?”

“My friend Peter, who is a physicist, explained it to me once” answered Michelle. “Luckily, I can actually remember a lot of what he said. The implants work like a drug: by using electrostatics, instead of an actual chemical reaction taking place, information bonds into the synapses of readily available neurotransmitters in the brain… even if it is technically the same process at the subatomic level. ‘Everything interacts because of photon exchange particles.’ Peter explained to me.  I have no idea what that means, but it sounds right.   When I first heard about this technology, Peter explained why I should never really freak out about this, but as you can see, everyone else who grew up watching movies of robots taking over the world apparently did.   Now you can see the for yourself the stupid phobias trying to be neutralized right now.  But at the same time, I can’t help wonder how equally as stupid it is for all parties involved here to organize a protest during the coldest night of the year.”

“Creeping shit Michelle… it’s not so black and white!” Tabitha added.  She must have been eavesdropping again.   “Why don’t you just encourage Gabrielle to become one of these crazy protestors over there? Stopping injustice is not stupid. Don’t be an idiot.”

“How does trying to understand the absurdity of this make me an idiot?” she protested back. “By joining a riot you know nothing about”  Clarissa jabbed right back incredulously.

“Why am I taking part of this?” Michelle agreed out loud to herself.  “Oh yeah: something for you to do” she turned to Gabrielle.  “I’m glad you’re enjoying this though: I couldn’t think of anything else we could do – believe me, I tried with all my heart.  Everything but the damn Star Bucks closes at eight.  None of the bars were open, thanks to these riots:  New Governess’s order.”

The first wave of counter-protestors finally met head-on with the ‘Cyborg protestors’ and clashed together past the exit ramp.  It got ugly fast.  Somebody had brought smoke bombs that made the counter-protestors scatter, while some counter-protestors hurled piss bombs at the larger angry mob.  Ryan chivalrously tried to protect his friends from the giant mosh pit that was forming all around them, but nobody wanted his help.  Tabitha did end up gasping with shock after a while: this was more than she bargained for.  Straight ahead she saw a young woman they had been walking next to get punched in the ass so hard by a ‘Cyborg’ protestor that the woman buckled down on her knees and hobbled away on all fours in pain.

As rioters clashed, Gabrielle calmly asked again for an explanation behind the whole history of this ‘Cyborg’ movement, but Michelle could not hear her:  there were too many people screaming at each other.  Nobody within earshot seemed willing to have a rational debate.  There was plenty of debris being callously thrown at each other from both sides.

Michelle looked around with disgust.  This wasn’t adventurous.  This was just…stupid.  And freezing. As Gabrielle pulled her shirt and asked her questions again, Michelle found herself shouting above all the calamity while trying to explain everything that she could remember about this entire movement: this had all escalated from the idea of defending cyborg equality.  Michelle went on to explain to her friend that the cyborg community, as they were rudely called, were really starting to feel threatened by this new movement. Nowadays, cyborgs identified themselves as humans. Or was it the other way around?  “I can’t even remember” she muttered to Gabrielle. “I forgot which one it is.”

“Look out!” cried some counter-protestors to her right.   Somebody had scaled up one of the highway lampposts and tied a rope to it.  Now, the thing was in danger getting pulled down.  Unfortunately, there was a sea of protestors right below the lamppost, and this didn’t look like it was going to end well.

If she stayed calm, Michelle knew in her heart that, really; this was all very comical.  But if she let her adult-intellectual mind take over, this was all becoming very terrifying.   She turned around and looked at her friend Gabrielle again, who continued to look at all of this with the curiosity of a child and seemed completely immune to the chaos going on around them.  “As for a further explanation about the whole history of this movement” Michelle told her sincerely “I don’t think I can tell you anything else.  Me, personally: I feel this entire reality could have all been avoided if people exercised more and took better mental and physical care of themselves, but these three goobers here would probably start accusing me of hate speech” she concluded as she looked at her three other friends throwing trash at the ‘Cyborg protestors’.

There were also some unfortunate motorists that had become victims of this inconvenience.  They had been forced to park their cars and wait in the shivering cold.  Some of them stepped out of them and yelled at the mob to get out of the way, but no one listened to them.  Luckily there were only eight of them on this side of the highway, but Michelle could see the high beam lights of an approaching truck that looked ready to slam its breaks as it got closer to the blocking mob.

Trash continued to be thrown from both protesting factions.  Sure enough, more trouble ensued. Suddenly from out of nowhere Michelle could see another  procession of people approaching:  a chorus of boos could be heard coming from the other side of the highway.  Soon they were blocking the poor motorists on the other side — like something out of dream.

“Huh” Clarissa pondered out loud.  “Are they on our side?  They seem to be attacking the Cyborg protestors!”  But soon they appeared to be on nobodies side.   There were about seven hundred of them, and the signs they were carrying said it all.

“Oh, creeping shit!” cried Tabitha.  “Not them!  And where did they get off protesting on the same night?”

“What is it?” asked Gabrielle.  Michelle went on to explain to her who these people apparently were.

“Idiots!” cried Tabitha. “They had picked the same damn day for their protest!”

“I guess there had been confusion on social media about a protest going on tonight” Michelle said to Gabrielle.“Cyborg protests and ‘Robot love’ are sort of two similar themes in a way.

“Yeah, they sound exactly alike” Ryan added sarcastically. “The ideologies are completely polarized.”

“So who are these ding dongs?” Gabrielle insisted.  She was not satisfied with Michelle’s explanation.

“They want a protest, soon they’ll see a real one!” cried Tabitha. “Look!”  It was true: instead of protesting against the unethical view of people becoming robots, these people were on the other extreme.  They wanted awareness and equality for robots… but not exactly like the counter-protestors.  It seems this had been another fanatical subculture of the population.  Except they had taken a liking to robotic androids, not cyborgs.  Since Michelle herself didn’t know much more about what was going on, Ryan went on to explain the whole problem arising to both her and Gabrielle.

“I don’t understand” said Gabrielle. “You mean like when people take a liking to animals, and then get too attached to them and then replace their love for animals over humans?”

“Something like that” said Ryan.

“Robot love” muttered Michelle.  She really had had enough lunacy for one evening.

“You don’t mean” Gabrielle asked with revulsion  “in a sexual android way, do you?”

“No but, if so, who are you to judge people’s alternative lifestyles?” Ryan answered.

“How sheltered are you?” Tabitha teased her.  “You’ve never heard of Fembot fetishes?”

“I guess” Gabrielle agreed.  But try as she might, both she and Michelle didn’t seem to appreciate the mantras behind some of their signs.  There were plenty of signs that equated motor oil to the lifeblood of lovemaking, and even stupider to Michelle, there were other signs that some of the protestors in the ‘Robot Love’ crowd were flaunting against unfair treatment that some of these ‘droid’ robots had to endure as programmed house servants: robot submitted slaves some signs said.

“This is what happens when you don’t have enough real human friends I guess” Tabitha sneered.  “What the hell has the world come to?” Some of the new protestors were passionately mentioning the names of their exploited friends to the Cyborg protestors — some robot or another that they had become friends with — too emotionally attached.  “Slavery of all kinds should be abolished!” some kept crying.

Tabitha looked at Michelle to see the reaction on her face, but Michelle just shrugged.  “I know” she muttered back.  “These idiots have no perspective left.”

Soon it became apparent how this whole clash started: the social media announcements for both protesting parties had been infiltrated: some hacker’s idea of a cruel joke.  What had thought to be a ‘peaceful demonstration’ by the Cyborg protestors blocking the highway had turned out to be a riot thanks to the counter-protestors.  And now a full-fledged turf war had arisen as all three protesting factions clashed together on I-83.   The mosh pit of belligerents around Michelle and her friends kept getting rowdier.  Nobody absolutely from any faction had any interest of listening to whatever the other parties had to say.

The crowd got so bad that by nine o’clock the national guard had been called in – even though there was only a record low in the papers of 84 cars that had been inconvenienced that night on the highway.  For the next four hours authorities tried to restore order and disassemble the increasingly cranky crowds.  Hundreds succumbed to frostbite later. Some idiots had actually brought giant sticks and were swinging them at their enemies – but luckily, before that happened, Michelle finally had had enough. She beckoned her friends to follow her.  And while hundreds of rioters were still shouting at each other, or getting beaten, or frozen, she did, however, decide to remain calm, and like a firefighter leading her team out of a burning building, guided her friends through the tumultuous mosh pit until they were all safe.

“Has everyone just gotten looney?” said Tabitha as she looked back. She was still shaking. Behind them, they could see the dull glow of light pollution from all the police sirens diffracted by teargas from the local national guard.   They had escaped just in time.  Twenty more minutes in there and they would have probably made the news.

While the others paused almost sadistically to watch the chaos of sirens and smoke continue the light show, Michelle found herself squinting at the sky – almost as if wanting to escape to the heavens for comfort from all of this madness.   And as she did, she thought she saw something that felt like a glitch. She couldn’t explain it: it looked no more than a very opaque red dot in the sky.  It hovered like a lone cloud and in her mind’s eye, always swirled like a bit.  She thought it was a red cloud—or a quasar she inexplicably could see all of a sudden, and it made the hairs on her already goose-bumped arms stand even straighter.   Suddenly the cracking of some sort of gunfire could be heard in the direction of the protests that got everyone’s attention. As soon as Michelle looked at Gabrielle and then at the police sirens flashing more lights to blind everybody, she looked up to the sky again — and the dot was no more. “Did anybody else see that?”

“Too busy trying to watch the police attack rioters… for real this time” said Ryan. “No, really…”

“Come on” called Tabitha. “I’ve had enough: let’s get the hell out of here.”

 

***

They were now walking towards the direction of Ryan’s car, ready to go home.  They could see each other’s breath come out like dragon smoke as the temperature kept dropping even lower.  Tabitha, Ryan and Clarissa were walking fast to stay warm.  Soon they were half a block ahead.

“How is it you keep a cool head through all this?”  Gabrielle wondered.  She had certainly gotten her fair share of adventure that evening.

“Perspective. I guess” Michelle answered.  “I mean, I understand the danger we’re all facing after frostbite, arrests, and getting hit with a bottle.  But ultimately, I feel the whole reason these people drive themselves to this insanity is because they’re  not focusing on what’s available all around them.  Actually, I wish I did that more often myself.  I just need to remind myself.”

“I don’t think I understand” said Gabrielle.

“Yeah; I used to do it too until it made me completely anxious” Michelle continued without explaining better to her. “Focusing on what life isn’t instead of  what opportunity is all around me.  I don’t know why, but I guess the brain needs something to complain about.”  She nodded towards toward the direction of the protestors as their breath huffed cold puffs of steam all around them. “They probably would be closer to finding their center if they stopped letting themselves get heated to these extremes whenever someone who lives differently than they come along.  That’s something my ex-boyfriend would do all the time.”

“In that case” Gabrielle broke in “who’s ultimately right?”

Michelle thought for a moment.  “I don’t think there’s an ultimately ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ she said.  I think there is a ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’.  For instance, freezing our asses out in the cold, in our case, for entertainment – just isn’t functional after a while.  The people Tabi defends – these implantees – they shouldn’t be persecuted the way these assholes want to eradicate them – but ultimately, my thoughts are that medical science shows the physical drawbacks to these implants, despite the benefits.  And that can’t be functional!”

Gabrielle thought about that for a second. “That’s true.”

“I guess I just try to follow the path that’s the most rational.  The hard sciences have never failed me in that regard: knowing what’s physically going on in any process. I would rather not be so confused. That’s why being educated in them make so much sense to me.  I simply follow the path of ultimate logic.  Emotions play tricks in the mind sometimes, and get you to follow causes that needlessly get you a bruised ass like that poor woman we just saw.  Facts provide solutions.”

Gabrielle joked how Tabitha and Clarissa probably would have scowled if they had heard her.  She looked right at Michelle and smiled with some reservation.  “That’s deep.”  She had never heard her friend talk like this before, and couldn’t hide her admiration.

“It wasn’t always like this” Michelle said quietly to her as she looked away.

“How is it you haven’t cracked yet?”

“Knowledge and street smarts: just knowing that there’s a mental exit out of most catastrophes gives me peace of mind.”

“Then why do you still look a bit upset right now?”

“Because everyone else around me chooses to live in this mental purgatory … and I can’t escape that reality.” They soon caught up to the others.  Michelle and her friends still had a-ways to go before they reached the car.  Ryan had gotten the bright idea of parking it two miles away in case the protests got out of control.  All around them, they could see the streets littered with the debris their protesting friends had left here a few hours ago during their march. As the group walked and traded stories about what they had just witnessed, Michelle remained deep in thought.  Ironic, really…she knew in her mind she shouldn’t let herself get too immersed in this state, but there was just too much to ponder about this month.  Three weeks ago, she had end a long term relationship with her boyfriend: it hadn’t ended well.

Her boyfriend Andrew was a ‘professional activist’; a graduate from a local university in the area  that provided him a major in human race equity studies.  Although she never had the heart to say it to him, she felt deep down that all that study delving in injustice had gotten to his head.  It was too bad that for all the knowledge of wrongs in the world, none of his professors seemed to equip him with any functional solutions for financial security after college, which made him even more frustrated and reinforced his hatred of the modern world in a vicious cycle.   And even though she was black, she never really agreed with all the victim mentality dogma that Andrew was trying to convert her too.  Michelle’s mother was a teacher, and she had earned her degree from pure sweat – no favoritism, no unbelievably lucky grants, and no jackpot scholarships in her favor.  When she had first gotten into college, she was a  ‘C’ student and she knew it.  Then all this anxiety stuff had happened, and despite the shittyness of the last five years of her life, these existential breakdowns had made her stronger.

“He would have fit right in in this riot, but on the side of the ‘Robot lovers’’” Michelle told Gabrielle before she explained to her what the hell she was talking about.  As they continued walking to the car, their three other friends out-paced them again, and leaving the two girls behind, Michelle filled Gabrielle in on how lopsided the relationship had been. “All we ever did towards the end was argue:  argue about stupid ideologies that neither of us fully knew what the hell we were talking about.  He was an activist all right; but he was so self-righteous – and he’d never bother to do any research and see if the thing he was crusading about at any given time ultimately made any sense.  You don’t know how many protests he became a part of that turned out to be funded by some special interest group to fuck things up.”

“This is why I can’t say my friend Peter’s theories about these secret Demodad’s are so insane.”  Gabrielle said nothing.  She had no idea what Michelle was really talking about, but she thought it wise to let her rant a little bit.  “At any rate, Andrew would crusade about every stupid glitch of inequality in society that he could sense, until him and his activist friends started driving me insane.  They just assumed that because I’m black that I would hop aboard all their self-righteous bandwagons.  But aside from me; I swear, so many of his white friends had never met a black girl before.   So many of  them couldn’t believe I was pre-med.”

“So you don’t think inequality is a real issue” Gabrielle asked her softly.

“Hell, I never said that!  I just think that once I understood what cause and effects gets results in reality, despite tonight, this whole desire to protest never became such a huge issue for me again.  I learned how to carry myself despite the odds.  It feels so much better to let some ignorant moron realize what a moron they are when they assume the wrong thing about me and I prove them I’m a pre-med student.”

“How exactly did you guys break up?” Gabrielle wondered.  This was the first time she was ever hearing about Michelle’s secret history.  She had always been hesitant to ask Michelle the personal questions — but as she noticed how unhesitant Michelle was to talk about anything, she wondered why she hadn’t been brave enough to have a deep discussion with her before.

“He was too sensitive.  I couldn’t take it any more.”

He was too sensitive?”

“ ‘I’m just tired of feeling like I have to walk around eggshells around you’  I told him.  I just grew tired  feeling like I had to choose my words so carefully, especially around my boyfriend.  If he couldn’t handle sensitive issues without making everything politically correct, I realized I couldn’t talk to him about anything real.  Maybe that’s not everybody, but he would get too offended to have a rational debate. ‘I feel like I’m diffusing a bomb when I talk to you’ I said to him finally. ‘ I feel like I have to choose my words carefully, or everything will blow up’.    If all activists are like him, I guess I would rather date someone with a little thicker skin; shit!”

“You’re a good friend for providing me entertainment tonight at your expense” said Gabrielle.  “Not all guys are that stupid – I have to believe that.”

“Fanatics at least” Michelle muttered.   “He made me feel like I was demonized.  I finally realized it’s not me.  ‘You’re just irritable’  I finally told him.  Those were my last words to him. ‘Everything can’t be me: not after a while.  Even when I don’t say anything, it just seems like everything I say to you just pisses you off. ’I thought about it the other day.  He was the one having existential problems at this time, not me.  ‘You’re not happy in life’ I wanted to say to him, but I knew it would have crushed him. ‘There’s no way I can bring anything to you:  And because don’t try enough, you get mad at the rest of us who make their goals despite the odds.  You think you’re doing everybody a favor by pretending to have this fake crusade to bring positivity? Come on.’ ”

Luckily,  Tabitha, Ryan, and Clarissa were too far away to cut in the conversation. They were now two blocks ahead: Michelle and Gabrielle had been walking too slow again.

“I can sense that you actually like talking about stuff like this” said Michelle. “I didn’t know…”

“It’s a good thing they don’t know this side of you” Gabrielle grinned a she looked at their friends further ahead. “They don’t know this side because they don’t want to know this side” said Michelle with a sigh.

“They only like ‘cool’ Michelle.  ‘Deep’ Michelle thinking about these issues, no one seems to want to stick around with.”

“Even if they probably think about similar things in their mind – from time to time” Gabrielle said wistfully.

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