There Are No Prizes

There are no prizes when it is the first day of school. The children around you are all crying, clinging to their mothers, begging not to go. You do not cling to your mother. You know what this day means for all of you. You are five. You steel yourself and you don’t look back. Not even as your mother sobs like the children around her. You tell her everything will be all right, and she is grown up now. There are no prizes when you know you will never have that shoe or dress. When the mould on the walls comes back. Over and over again. You will never live in that big blue house on the street. The one whose driveway you pretend to walk up when someone drops you off. There wasn’t a prize for living in a van with your family. Not a single prize for doing all that math homework. Except the knowledge that the square of the Hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. And this fact would be this way, certain and forever. You make a wish on that moving light in the sky. “It’s a plane, stupid,” someone says. But you make one anyway because you’ve never seen a shooting star. A wish is a wish. There isn’t a prize for having been there. There isn’t a prize for you when you are told, “That’s nothing,” or “That’s not a living,” and you write anyway. There isn’t a prize when you ride a bus three hours every weekend for four months. There isn’t a prize for not leaving. There isn’t a prize for knowing exactly who you are. There isn’t a prize when you crawl underneath your office desk to sleep. No prize when you count bags of cash five levels below the basement. No prize, at all, when you lose the job you have had for fifteen years and have to start all over again. There isn’t a prize when the lights in the room dim and a space clears, and you think it’ll be different this time around, and it turns out just all the same. Certainly no prize for what you had to do, and there won’t ever be. There’s just no prize for telling the truth. Not even a jury to gather and deliberate. No prize for keeping the herbs on the balcony. No prize for feeling the sunlight on your face in the morning. No prize for that afternoon in the park. There was a bee. He said, “If you blow on it, they go away.” There is never a prize when it rains. There isn’t a prize when you turn forty-two. There is just a number divisible by two. Not that you don’t want, but that want can’t ever be anything right now. Isn’t it better to have something that can belong to you? There isn’t a prize for the near misses, the failures, the things you left off the page to get what you can on the page. The playground is full of children. They are walking unsteadily and look like they will fall over. None of them are yours. And it is probably too late for you. Keeping wood to wood. Having never carried a split. I live in this world too, you say. And there is no prize for that. In the end, there are just worms. Crawling and stretching out. You want to drop them all. But everyone wants this job and your mom got you in. So you hold on. The Styrofoam cups are filled. The door will remain locked. And you will put a finger up to the peephole so no one can see your open eye.

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