The Pathetic Ones

“Now she's a young single mom. Became one at eighteen when she got knocked up by a black guy. He's obviously not around to take care of the boy. The boy looks like her, though. Behind his caramel skin and curly hair, he has her features. I can already tell he's going to be chubby and teased. He takes after her and her figure was never the best. She was always chubby herself. I remember her as this chubby little girl with a bad haircut and funny clothes who always followed cooler kids around, trying to be one of them. She got made fun of so much. She was just one of those people – the kind who are born at the bottom, spend their lives catching up, and who never do. It's genuinely sad. I can still remember her earnest face when she wanted me and my friend to play with her, and how uncool it was to play with her. We did, sometimes. We tried not to be mean. It was one of those things where you walk the line between being polite and being uncool. I guess a part of me wishes I'd played with her more. I feel bad for her. But who knows how it would've impacted me! No one wants to be associated with the untouchables – you'll catch the disease! Now she's all ghetto and pseudo tough. Who would've thought? From a dorky, innocent girl to a tattooed wannabe ghetto chick going on about her 'baby boy', the 'love of her life.' What fault did she have besides showing her neediness a bit too much? I hate to watch this. For some reason people like her always touch me. It's like in her core she's inescapably a pathetic person.”

Claire finished talking about her old elementary school neighbor. Their party began clearing the table to set up for dessert. Somehow, Claire drew the short straw again or didn't move quickly enough and ended up in front of the sink in which food bits clung on in small lumps to each plate in the teetering stack, waiting for Claire's clean hands to scrub them off.

Allison came into the kitchen with another stack and placed it beside the sink, nearly doubling the load.

“Poor Claire!” she laughed pityingly, looking from the mountain of dirty dishes to Claire in her blouse and skirt before walking back into the dining room to relax with the rest, her little dress swishing around her pert butt.

Claire came home that night to her darkened one bedroom. She maintained high standards for herself here as she always had. She was employed in what the world considered a good job (even if she know the truth behind the doors). And though her body fared worse off in the sedentary lifestyle than Allison's did, she still had her princess hair waving down her back from where she'd clipped it in a half updo.

Her status was passable, even if she'd had more promising prospects in her cards a few years ago. She'd tried to follow what was in her heart, to find her true path, or some alluring pull like that that led her off course the first time. Now it was happening again, as she teetered on the brink of quitting after just a year. Sometimes when she thought about it, the memory of her old classmate's past and present floated to her mind like a warning and she trucked on....

Half a year later, they were gathered in Dave and Allison's place for dinner. Now that they were all so busy it was hard to keep up with each other's lives.

“My mom was asking me what you're up to,” said Allison sweetly, then waited expectantly.

“Well, I changed jobs,” said Claire.

“What are you doing now?”

“It's just a part time gig until I find something permanent,” she rushed through.

“Do you want to go back to what you were doing?” Allison inquired.

“Oh, no.”

“Oh. Then what do you want to do?'

“I'm not sure,” said Claire, elaborating no further.

“Well, I'm sure you'll figure it out. Are you still living in the same place?”

“No, I moved out a couple months ago. I'm living with someone now.”

“A boyfriend?”

“A roommate. But it is a he. His girlfriend is okay with it, she's really chill,” said Claire.

“Ah, that's nice,” said Allison. “I always wondered what it would be like to have a roommate. David's been my only real roommate since college dorms.”

Claire's stomach turned uncomfortably as she drove home. She could see their conversation in her mind's eye already. She, Claire, had gone from wanting to be a doctor to working a part time job, and her late twenties were coming up in just a few years. Then she would be thirty and then what? Where would she be with her part time job? It overwhelmed her. The rate of life-forming was much slower than the rate of life.

She had escaped her misery! She had made time for herself to pursue things she really wanted! It fulfilled her, even if it didn't bring her money.

She was going down the staircase, the world said constantly in her ears.

Claire went past the living room where her roommate cuddled up to a movie with his girlfriend, straight to her room, and closed the door. She undressed, breathed – having returned to the scattered remnants on her desk of her creative projects – and looked for a long, silent moment in the mirror, reliving the uncomfortable dinner, from which her old, chubby, pathetic classmate who had never been able to rise from the dirty looked back at her. How difficult she knew to rise and how far away the top; how easy, how natural, to fall down to the dirt or to stay.