The lies people don’t tell. Some might say they are socially phobic, to cover that they are hoarders. Some say they want you to come over or invite you out to lunch, only to ask you to drive them somewhere, or ask you to pick up their dry-cleaning the next day and then there will be something after that. They call and ask you what you are doing, not because they are curious, but because it establishes where you are, and where you are not and what you could be doing for them. They throw test statements out to try and see what your ‘code’ is, and then they will ask pretty much the same question using different examples, to see if you waver. They don’t want to hear about your real life, they want a profile, a dossier.

They always seem to manage to take more than they give, be it time, or resources. They talk much more than they listen. They throw subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle hints about things they want, but can’t afford, or wish they had someone to do whatever or complain they haven’t had their nails or hair done in months, when you have never had your nails done, and you have not been to a salon in years, and color your own hair at home- but your suffering or your lack has no bearing at all on asking you for a pint of blood- damage. Sweat- free work- or tears- pain.

Of course, at the rate you had been going, just struggling along to appear a normal person and hardly speaking to other adults for years, you might overlook a lot of things- without ever having been- developing a kind of prison mentality- something- even something kinda fucked-up, is better than nothing at all. Is it though? Tap Tap Tap on the wall? You hear me, comrade? knock-knock… You might overlook some crazy just to be able to sing a song from the past, to find the same things funny, to hear a true compliment. To have someone who would talk to you during the times having locked yourself in a room scared to death of the yelling and sounds of things breaking. They didn’t know what your life was like and maybe they wouldn’t believe you. You thought not many would. So you spend time proving things to them.

You feel you have to prove things because some people take whatever they don’t like about you and decide you deserved whatever bad has come your way, or laugh at your predicament or are relieved it isn’t them, or make fun of you or are simply scared and trying to shield themselves from anything unpleasant, or think somehow it is catchy. It is the very rare person who cares, and even rarer those who might offer help.

You can tell the people who have mostly had people who care in their lives. They reach out because they haven’t experienced these other things, because they are surrounded with other good people. They get upset easily as they expect to be treated decently. They take people at their word. They are still surprised and angry when someone doesn’t live up to their words, or their deeds don’t match their words. They see your caution and mistake it for something they should be scared of as they are so used to sincerity, they see wariness as a sign of something illicit.

When you visit some of the other kind of people, the shallow ones- they make a point to show you all their material things, as if that somehow takes the place of real interaction and conversation, yet they covet what small things you may have, or pretend to,thinking that is a compliment- and that too takes the place and fills the space of non-real conversation. What I have. What I want. What you have. What you want. Look at all my stuff. They also are very good at taking notes on your life, even if you don’t tell them much. Even if you don’t have much- they might feel you have something they don’t- and it might not be a physical thing, but some other part of your life makes them want to take it away from you, even if it is something they wouldn’t know what to do with if they had it. So yeah, maybe rationing information is a good thing.

They reveal little, yet constantly fact-gather, garnering information as it may serve them. It does not do well to make excuses, or be vague as they will still keep asking, consuming, as if you are a bottomless well they need never replenish- and it hasn’t rained in a great while. Give me more attention, give me more adulation, meanwhile they will keep hinting about things that are in the land of make-believe that they have or at least once had, thinking this will impress you.

They make great mention of the little bones they throw you, even if they are leftovers, things they don’t want, even if some of them had actual value, they want to be rid of it- perhaps they are superstitious. You don’t owe them though-in fact, you have always given more if one was keeping score, but they want you to feel like you owe them. Same with if you ever piss them off. They want you always trying to get back in their good graces.

They are generous with other people’s money, and are likely even to consider using some other person’s resources as ‘paying you back’ for all the times you have helped them, thinking that gets them off the hook, while in reality it only serves to indebt you to this third party, if only by proxy, while it lets them off the hook. Again, they are big on recycling, so to speak. Lots of your ‘rewards’ are leftovers from a bigger reward someone gifted to them.

They place great stock in their image, and spend an inordinate amount of time on their clothing, their hair, their bodies and in general what people think, though they may claim they don’t care. The truth is of no consequence, as long as you didn’t ‘tell’. For this is how they imagine their worth. I asked one of these once, a woman-why does this guy buy you all these clothes? That was a small lie of my own. I meant to say, ‘why does he bother with you? You don’t do anything for him at all?’ The answer she gave was ‘I edify him’. As if just being in her presence was enough of a gift, as if he had to kind of ‘pay’ her for her time, though she did not pursue the friendship, or anything further than that at all.

To these people, every little scam pulled off, every little ‘take’, was a win because someone else had given much more or lost much more. So their losses was counted as part of the win. All those silly things like trust, investment, joy reciprocation, annoyance, sadness, and all the many things that made us human beings were not ‘real’ to them, like flavors to someone who never had a sense of taste. It was only our utility, only things we could do, and only things they could hold that mattered. It was useless trying to talk to them about your life, they had not the attention span, even for a short confidence, or they would reduce everything to its pragmatic lowest common denominator, and take everything back to themselves.

‘So, does that mean you won’t be giving me a ride on Thursdays?’ It was best in general not to reveal too much about how you felt about anything to them, for in their world, emotions were a kind of currency. They would take note of what made you afraid, what your fears were, what made you cry. Then they would try subtly to play upon these things. Sometimes not so subtly.

Even they had patterns though. Even they had ‘tells’. Sometimes it was the tone of their voice. Not only the intonation, the cadence but the actual pitch and the sound of scratchy alcohol, the shaky, febrile tone of a small kid telling fibs, even about things that wouldn’t get them in trouble. They almost have to lie, even when they’re not- because of that problem of unoriginality, and they despise you because for all the things you can’t do as well as they, you can do that. You can do something that you came up with, that wasn’t just adding a different flavor to a jello mold. So you really can’t trust anything they say, they are happy to let you complete what would make sense in your own head.

The more ‘advanced’ ones would try to triangulate, without you even knowing it. This meant bringing up the name of someone, and pretending they didn’t like them, making fun of them. Even if you had said good things about the target, those things could be twisted. “No, that person doesn’t mean what they said, they were just flattering you.” They would then would expect you to join in their crusade to ‘prove your loyalty’ to them, though they would never say this outright.

It would become one of those things that people who have no real core find entertaining and you, well you thought it was actually something shared that was funny, even if it was a little mean or stupid, and even if it wasn’t mean on your part, you knew it was mean on theirs, and though you were too weak at the time to not participate, or didn’t fully even understand the purpose of it- you tried to soften whatever this person was doing, even by playing to their own self-interest.

But doing that didn’t work either, because the goal was you under the bus, you out of the way and maybe the target too, although if it proved useful, either of you could be played against each other, even if you never had any bad feelings toward the fake target, you would at some point see the target looking at you in a strange way, and you would know. Saying good things about the target or trying to get the first one to stop, none of those things would matter, as long as there was some kind of ‘proof’ that you were a jerk and maybe a bigger jerk than the other, as you would appear to be two-faced, while they appeared to be the honest shithead.

Down the road, you would hear that target regurgitate some of the other’s pablum and know that you would soon connect the dots, but still left wondering- why was I considered ‘in the way’? Why was I, in any way, a threat? Perhaps as simply a tool to isolate the target, to use me as some kind of pseudo-betrayer, to take things said out of context and create fear and doubt, perhaps even contempt in the target. You might have tried to protect the target thinking they may be worse off in different ways than you were by making the target seem like a formidable threat. But now, it is likely the target and the first one have reached if not a bizarre intellectual romance, than at least some uneasy truce.

The fact that the self-interest thing even worked some of the time to get them to stop obsessing or to force them to calm down after an irrational tirade of delusional craziness spinning out showed they weren’t as good at controlling themselves or even at reading people as they thought they were, because picking up things often by almost scent- is not the same thing as verbally manipulating them.

They might know where the target was weak because they were weak there too, I knew this even as I soothed that oh no, that couldn’t be the case- and the grade-school bully thing was not so much a cry for help as much as a cry to stay in the game, to stay..I believe the word is ‘relevant’. The irony being that you would be associated with this nonsense, playing this game, even though you were the one who tried to stop it, or soften it. Whatever stupidity you participated in would be copy and pasted, just as so many times it had been copy and pasted to you, unsolicited. Thing is, you had nothing to gain, but these people see anything anyone else gets as something taken away from them. They are the ones who stand to gain out of these games. Or at least they believe they are.

Of course they would not share the part where you were asking ‘why do you even care? this is stupid and makes you look bad.. why do you have such a problem with this person?’ No, because that would not serve them. The whole exercise was to make you the target, or at least a bad guy to the actual target- to be dragged out later like a moldy polo shirt in the attic ‘can you believe he actually wore this awful thing? can you believe she actually said that? omg what a douche.” If they sense you are catching on, or smells something off, they can always say “I was kidding, jeeze….”

The third person, the target- the one who had a teensier slice of the pie than the instigator- would believe all this, and think that you, not the instigator, were the true bad guy, no matter if whatever you had said was said kiddingly or had been goaded out of you. And you would actually look like the bad guy, as they then ran to that person, perhaps in a fit of paranoia, and threw you under the bus they were driving. Still, what did you get again?

In truth, the instigator doesn’t like either one of you (and maybe never did), you are both but tools. No matter what devastation- personal, financial, or otherwise was left in their wake, there was always a comeback such as ‘well if they were dumb enough to fall for it, then they deserved it’. In other words, you had to agree to have been at best gullible or naive and at worst stupid to have believed them, thus perhaps elevating their cleverness in relation to your (now perceived) foolishness. By then, they have decided you have outlived your utility, and if you go, they suffer no loss.

Indeed, it is fitting punishment for not going along with whatever their previous plan was, usually involving having you work for free in some capacity, with no compensation save that of having the association with the liars, because somehow magically, that made you special and important. The line from the 1932 movie ‘Freaks’ comes to mind. “One of us! One of us! We accept you! One of us! Ogga booga!” It’s a privilege to serve me, not a right. I’m like the DMV!

If you were actually at a low point, or you truly were isolated already- what does that make them for coming to you for ‘help’? Do you go to a broken vase to hold water? Would that be weakness on their part, or simply evil and low? And if you were so isolated and beat-down, how was it that you were a threat? Were they in some unnamable way, worse off than yourself? Perhaps they wanted you in that same boat they sat in, and resented you not needing a reason- the same thing as being envious of that teensier slice of pie that the other target had. Maybe they were dissatisfied that they actually weren’t capable of fully destroying you or had taken everything that was worth taking. Little kids are sometimes like this- they act out on whoever is closest as a stand-in for the thing or person they can’t get to.

In reality, beyond the delusions of the soulless thing itself, it always needed you more than you ever needed it- it needs you to steal from, whether it be your talents, your words, your trust or like a rat, whatever it can get. It has to steal because it has nothing of its own, its act is unfailingly and entirely derivative of things they have picked up from others, or TV, something they read, or even other real people they know. They are probably repeating something someone else said, thinking they said it better right now.

Anything this swirling void will try to trade for what was lost will always be a knock-off or something it got for free, or something it wants to be rid of. To an endless void, anything that gets sucked in might be valuable- no matter how noble and true- or foul and defiled it is. A pawn shop of the soul, a glue trap for sanity- and where intangible gifts ultimately die.

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