Friday, September 22, 2017

The Curse, Part 2: Going Kafka

In part one, I described how, at a moment of extreme stress and pressure, I'd infuriated a stranger with whom I'd been kind and friendly. It marked the beginning of a very strange, very painful period which I and a few friends would come to call "The Curse".

It got worse. Everywhere I went, people would be visibly angered by my presence. Old friends weren't affected as much; this was mostly in encounters with new people, including randos like cashiers and waiters. If you've ever played role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, you know about "reaction rolls". Whenever your in-game character meets a stranger, dice are thrown to determine the other person's reaction. Usually, it will be unsurprising. But, every great once in a while, a stranger will want to worship you...or else immediately attack you for no particular reason, even if they're normally peaceful. As in real life, it's a matter of bell curves and edge cases. Well, virtually all my reaction rolls were edge cases. It reached a point where I started to worry that I might be randomly assaulted. If this sounds overly dramatic, that's only because you weren't there. It truly was that bad.

One good result: I learned I don't have a paranoid bone in my body. It was perfectly clear that the problem was with me, not "them". Something about me was triggering people. And while I didn't enjoy my outcomes much, the main horror was in provoking such negativity in people - nice people! Good people! Never mind what the world was doing to me; I was doing terrible things to the world, increasing its load of poison and anger. This predicament - this "curse" - was the perfect ironic punishment for someone who makes a point of trying (certainly not always consistently, let alone successfully) to be helpful and to lighten loads.

More out of curiosity than anything, I would ask people (either the strangers who'd rage at me, or friends and observers who watched it happen) what, exactly, was going on. I never got back anything useful. Observers would shrug helplessly, and the strangers never managed anything more than a sputtering, inarticulate reaction amounting to "You know what you are!".

Have you ever seen an emotionally riled-up person try to explain themselves, and they 1. can't, but 2. this doesn't make them question their emotional state? Strong emotions always feel valid. If you push someone to explain, they'll pull out some random thing to hang it on, but, really, it stems from a deeper knowing; a self-evident obviousness. So it was "You know what you've done!"; "You know who you are!" There was no "there" there. It was entirely emotional - perhaps even pheromonal.

The friendlier I'd try to be, the worse things got, so I went the other way, trying to retract into being an "extra" in the movie of life...the guy who whisper/mutters "thanks" to the pharmacy cashier, eyes downward, and gets the hell out ASAP. It started to feel far more comfortable to be wholly disregarded than to be noticed, so I shrank down to nothing, ala a Kafka character.

Talking and engaging less was my first step. But it didn't help. I'd walk into a bar, silently sip my beer, and, within minutes, stools on both sides of me would clear. There were times when entire restaurants would empty. Jogging at my gym, no one - even at prime hours - would use an adjacent treadmill. If someone did step on, there'd be a frozen moment, followed by a hasty dismount. Body odor was not a problem (it was checked). I wasn't drooling or muttering to myself (it was checked). I wasn't staring at anyone, or engaging with anyone. I was just concentrating on my jogging. Minding my own business.

There are lots of greyed-out, fuzzy-focused, seldom-noticed people out there who very studiously mind their own business. Not just introverts, but people who intentionally shrink down to nothing with an almost palpable degree of self-awareness. Not depressed, defeated, nor malevolent, yet deliberately evading attention. I can't help but wonder whether such a "curse" might be less unusual than we imagine.

Continue to Part Three

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