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"Notes From Above Ground" - by Johanna Jacobson 

Johanna is a teacher of English in Seoul, Korea.


© 2007 Johanna Jacobson


I've been envisioning shattering things.

I can see the whole event before my eyes. I'm on the central staircase at work, I have my white mug of shitty coffee, the elegant looking mug that tapers gracefully at the top lip but still only cost less than a thousand won (roughly one U.S. dollar) and is always stained because I don't bother cleaning it thoroughly. It's my work mug. I'm a teacher, disturbingly enough.  And I grip the handle solidly with my right hand and hold my left as a saucer and feel it slipping ever so slightly—I watch it slide, I see my hand grope futilely through the air and tip it so that it hits the banister, the mug hits sideways in slow motion and cracks, the brown sludge splashes across my peach skirt and the stairs beneath my feet, the mug falls over the wrong side of the banister, continues down the other side of the stairs, porcelain shattering worse with each step, children shrieking and jumping out of the way, my students' voices echoing up the stairs and corridor.  But in fact it has only slid ever so slightly against my left hand, and I still hold it solidly with my right.


I realize that I am so hopelessly needy, that the slightest negative intonation can send me into an entire afternoon of despair at where I am in life. I second-guess my long term love who has always proven stable and adoring.  After seven years I ask if he's still sure.

I only do this shit because I need people to love me, because I'm secretly afraid I'm not good enough. I need everyone to love me; that's why I smile and chat with new coworkers, that's why I write old friends and ask about their lives.  It's not because I'm genuinely interested in their heartbreak, it's because I need their approval, I need them to tell me I'm good enough, I need them to make up for my sister being the good child, for my mother ignoring me. I'm so pathetic: a grown person still blaming her poor old mother for the insecurities that plague my adult nightmares. She was never really all that maternal anyway. I need everyone to see me as wonderful, so charming and warm and brilliant. I take photos at parties so people will insist on taking photos of me which I then post online—but only if I look good in them. Then I write scandalous captions just so people will look at them and comment on how cute I am, how much fun it looks like I'm having, how I'm so awfully photogenic and I look like that celebrity what's-her-face, and how they're so jealous of me.

I live for that. Those little comments friends can write under the photos posted online, those little voices that say people know me and are thinking of me and love me, or if they don't love me they're so jealous of me, or if they're not so jealous they at least want to fuck me.

They only want to fuck me because I trick them into thinking I'm attractive. I'm not actually anything special to look at.  In fact, I'm sort of chubby in the wrong places and my skin is getting progressively worse, more sallow with each passing day. But I trick people.  I show up to parties in flattering outfits, short little skirts and low cut tops. Tall shoes. And always liquor as a present and a big smile, then people think I'm so wonderfully thoughtful and start drinking until they look at me bleary-eyed and suddenly my smile is the warmest ever and my tits are just this side of falling out of my top, and magically I become attractive to them. It's not difficult, really. Provided your self-esteem is low enough to begin with.

I never indulge in too much flirtation; I've learned the art of the precisely right moment to leave a conversation. I excuse myself to get a drink in the next room and then link arms with my darling date, the man who has loved me so well for so long, and casually forget to go back to the other room. I'm tipsy, everyone excuses me. It's always so horribly calculated, so desperately social, so precariously needy. And my date never gets jealous, he knows I just need a little extra attention once in a while. The problem is, I need a lot of extra attention.

It's not like he ignores me, he showers me with compliments and flowers on a regular basis. It's just that my need for attention knows no bounds, my desperation for affection and acceptance is like a gaping black pit into which entire mountains of chocolate could fall and not make a bit of difference. I'm positively ravenous; I flirt and I pout and the more friends I get the more I need. It's disgusting.

They don't actually care for me; I don't kid myself into believing for one second that these people would really think it some great tragedy if I slowly faded from their lives. It's not like they truly know and love me, not even the man I've lived with for so long now, not even he knows me all the way through. No one can even guess at the black pit I hide in place of my soul. If anyone did they'd probably give a dry little laugh and leave immediately, shaking their heads at how pathetic and shallow I am, how truly hollow my life is that I get my kicks out of seeing my own face on a computer screen with little grammatically incorrect phrases from people I don't even care about telling me I'm great.

And one day maybe they'll all find me out for what a stupid self-absorbed fraud I really am, and maybe they'll all drop me and run away from the hollowness, reviling from the depths to which a human can sink when she's only taken on face value, never really understood. They'd catch a tiny reflection of themselves in my drowned loneliness and run far, far away, because that's really what scares people the most, themselves.  Only uglier, more pathetic, that's what I am.

            I used to think I was brilliant and imagine that was why no one really knew me deep down. It only made me more lonely, to fantasize that someday a person would come along and really understand every word that I was saying, never misunderstand me, never look at me as a piece of ass. Now I see that it really doesn't matter whether a person's brilliant or not; it's just what they can do for other people, that's all anyone cares about. Can they listen, do they think I'm fantastic, do they adore me?  That's all they wonder, so if you can pretend for a brief instant that you care, then they're yours for life, whether you're brilliant or a complete dolt. Or perhaps that's just me again, needing people to adore me.

I'd be the type to do drugs. I can see it. And I don't just mean recreationally, not if they all discovered how pathetic I was and ran away in horror. I'd completely be the type to dissolve in a downward spiral of addiction, starting with the caffeine and booze I already use to self medicate some days, and I'd quickly turn to the busboys and dishwashers I know. All those food service kids do drugs anyway; it's the only way of coping with the daily disrespect they encounter. I'd creep up to them on their cigarette break right before they finish cleaning up the kitchen at two o'clock in the morning; I'd ask them to hook me up with their dealer, I'd beg for a drag on their joints. They'd look me up and down with their lips turned into sneers of vague disgust, the disgust of those seeing humiliation and desperation in the eyes of people they once respected, and I'd feel unbearably awkward but still desperate enough to wait for their answers. "Hook me up, man," I'd plead, "I just don't want to feel anymore." They'd acquiesce, because my downfall would just support their dearly held belief that all people are made of weakness and even the proudest will eventually succumb to narcotics.

And then I'd be the poster child of American anti-drug campaigns, devastated by the evils of peer pressure and tumbling through one gateway drug to the next until the inevitable gutter of sludge and bile becomes my permanent abode and final resting place. It would be weed and then shrooms and acid, the beautiful dripping rainbowed children's illustrations more and more often until the dreams merged with life and sobriety a haunting nightmare that plagued the days when I hadn't had enough. Then ecstasy—what an enchanting name—offering a more solid removal from that evil "real life" where I woke with black makeup smudged over pale purple eyelids, retching more from discovering my pathetic self still intact than anything else. Then the coke, from some party I don't remember where, and suddenly I've lost weight and I'm beautiful again (according to supermodel standards and provided I wear lots of eye makeup), which is a good thing, since I've lost my job finally because teachers can't have such habits and I'm giving handjobs to stay in drugs. It's also a good thing I don't eat anymore.

Only one day I don't have enough and I blow my dealer, and of course it's all downhill from there. I only wear black hooded sweatshirts and fishnets now, and his girlfriend calls me a skanky little whore, and I remember I haven't seen that wonderful man I used to know after the last fight when I told him I didn't respect him for loving a bitch like me and that was months ago, if I can believe the calendar. I'd try to overdose at that point, fade away into a beautiful disco ball forever in the putrid bathroom of some dance club after being groped and grinded until I didn't remember that that horrible ghost in the mirror was me, and I'd dream I belonged in Hollywood. Otherwise it'd be crank or meth or heroin, and broken teeth and track marks make for ugly corpses.

But here I am writing this, not yet wearing the black hoodie. I'm still safely in my peach skirt and cream colored sweater I wear for teaching children, those adorable little rascals. Never in their most terrifying nightmares could they guess what secrets their darling teacher keeps, to what wicked end I might fall. And I'll probably put this somewhere online too, so all my so-called friends can read it and post how awfully clever I am, not knowing my disgusting secret potential, not guessing how my entire existence is so precariously and egotistically balanced over a pit of emptiness. And I hope they never do.







All work is copyrighted property of Johanna Jacobson.





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