Do the Right Thing
People do a lot of things for strange or sometimes no reason at all. When I was little I used to count how many steps it took to get from my bedroom to the bathroom just in case I ever went blind. My brother had my mother wipe his ass until he was 10, not because he couldn’t, but because he liked spending time with her. I wipe my own ass though. I spend less time with my mother than I should. Whenever my father smokes his cigarettes he stands facing east, so all the smoke blows in his face. I often base my feelings off the phases of the moon and when I smoke pot it’s usually inside away from all the desk fans.
Over time you realize that people do certain things because they’ve spent a lot of their time watching other people do these things. If I bite my nails when sitting in traffic it’s because of my father and if I’m animated and overzealous when I talk it’s because of my mother. We are fleshy vessels carrying little quirks from the ones that spend their good years, teeth and backs rearing us into the ugly little shits we eventually turn out to be.
My friend rides his bike weird, his father never taught him so he did it on his own. Sometimes people do things because they have to. Another friend had an aunt who couldn’t go to sleep unless she got in and out of her bed ten times beforehand. I sometimes feel like the world isn’t going to end but slowly just keep turning without me. Sometimes I do things because I think I’m going to die. I swallow all of the leftover Halloween candy in the cabinet as if it was my last meal but I am just eating to be selfish.
People do things to be seen by other people. My cousin takes photos where she purposely juts her chest in the direction of the camera and smiles coyly, as if she’s unaware. A father of an old friend now runs around the neighborhood every Sunday in his underwear, even though the police and neighbors keep asking him to stop. When I ask him why he does it, he says he likes the fact that women have to look at him. My high school Biology professor ran for mayor once and put one of his campaign signs in our yard. I ripped it out and set it on fire when he gave me a B- on my midterm. I put the burnt, plastic remains on his doorstep. He didn’t win the election and I never got caught. Sometimes things go overlooked. Sometimes you don’t get seen at all.
All these things add up, you know? The things we do. If I were keeping score, I’d have to say I’m well within the hundreds point-wise. When I gloat like an asshole it’s because I smell like one. A winner, I mean. I do these things for you, you know? If I say I am doing it for ulterior motives, know that you are the underlying reason. When my neighbors went through a divorce and the husband drove his Chevy into the tree in the front yard, I thought about you. Now that tree permanently leans funny. I want you to love me enough to drive through the woods behind my house. I want you to leave all the trees crooked. These scars are here because I wanted you to see me.
If you pay close attention, you will begin to understand that people do things just to be closer with other people. Come to my house on thanksgiving and smell the soul food from the driveway. My parents have spilt so much wine on the couch you could drink from it if you like. Over dinner, watch our family merriment degrade into petty arguments. Listen to the sound of the door being slammed and the engine turning over. Know that I am overjoyed, even when I am seething with contempt for them. Know that I want to do these things forever, even the unpleasant parts, preferably with these exact people.
Sometimes people do things because they feel obligated. There is no love worse than obligative love. You don’t love your job; you’re just obligated to. There’s a heavy chain that runs from your neck to the radiator in your car. You don’t have to fix it; you can let it sit in the yard until weeds grow through it. You don’t have to do anything. You can sit on your couch until your skin fuses with the upholstery. You can cry until your eyeballs fall out of your head and into your lap. You can carve your age into your apartment walls and make threatening phone calls to your landlord until he gives you your security deposit back. You don’t have to pay your bills. You don’t have to clean your floors. You can drop everything and never pick it back up again. Remember that your brothers aren’t required to love you, so smile proudly when they say they do.
Why do you do that? That thing with your mouth, that thing with your shoulders, that thing where you turn off the lights and the darkness settles over us as we pretend to watch Pawn Stars on the television in your basement. Smoke this Pall-Mall, cough at and criticize the taste and ask me what drives me to do the things I do. The answers will be varied. I will tell you that it’s the seasons and the current elevation of the sea level near Coastal Georgia. I will tell you that people act outside of themselves sometimes.
People do things to save face. As a child I thought about cutting off my nose because I feared it was abnormally large. My fourth grader teacher preemptively cut off her breast but died of ovarian cancer the year after I moved onto middle school. When I cry, it is alone and in my car while it’s raining, so I have an excuse to have wet eyes when I greet my professors.
Sometimes people do things because there is something bigger than themselves compelling them to do so. A Jehovah’s Witness family at my high school made their son walk ten miles witnessing on the hottest day of the year and he passed out from heat exhaustion on the side of the road. A male cousin once told me he was biologically compelled to recreationally ejaculate twice a day. The man who fell from that tall building on 5th street downtown said he felt compelled to collide with the earth before doing so. There’s a strange lack of higher power in my life. I feel compelled to vomit when we drive down the street my grandmother used to live on. The smell of junipers makes me sick. I feel compelled to stand in the shower until I prune or maybe dissipate into water vapor but God doesn’t bring about these feelings. I do not know what’s moving me forward.
If you are afraid, you can run forever and never run out of breath. You can swim for miles without your legs feeling like gelatin after. I have never been good at treading water but that doesn’t stop me. The fear of being caught drives the princess out of the ball. I will run the ten whole miles and turn back into a pumpkin.
There are a lot of scenarios and in all of them I am doing different things. In most of them I am back in my hometown doing nothing but thinking about how terrible life is. In another, I am at my state’s college on the verge of suicide in a tiny cement dorm room. In all of them, there is some variation of you. Whether it’s in the bowl of cherries I eat daily in the campus quad or the dent in my Joni Mitchell record I play out my window, you are always there.
Everything I do, I do because I know you are watching in the wings with congratulatory signs and flowers when I hit that final stretch of airport. The answer to what drives me, stares you square in the face when you get dressed in your full-length mirror.
“It doesn’t matter what things you decide to do, they will love you if you let them, Julie,” my mother says, as we pass the Grand Canyon. We have been driving for several hours. I don’t know if she’s talking about everyone or someone specific but it doesn’t matter. She is right. It may be subtle but know that their love is implicit regardless of how audible they are about it. It is okay to do things for no reason but it is also okay to do things with purpose. Do things or don’t do them. It doesn’t matter. Someone is going to love you anyway. I am going to love you anyway.
Julie Ako is a writer with roots in Mars, Pennsylvania and Jupiter Island, Florida, currently living in Chicago, Illinois. Her work is published or forthcoming in Potluck Magazine, Wu-Wei Magazine, Pioneertown, Guild Literary Complex, Reality Hands and a handful of other publications. Her first book of prose Tiger Balm is currently out via Pink Finger Press.