The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards just informed us that Birthday Girl Lily Gellman has won three National Gold Awards this year for her Humor writing, Science Fiction, and Poetry!
Please celebrate with us today by reading Lily's poignant, original, and deeply moving prose: "The Existential Lottery."
Five other Writopia writers won national awards also including 10th grader Peter Cohen, 9th grader Milana Meytes, 8th grader Emma Goldberg, 8th grader Leanna Smith, and 7th grader Visala Alagappan. Beginning today, every few days you will find a new piece of theirs featured on the blog. Enjoy! (I will also be posting some of my favorites that did not win national awards!)
By Lily S. Gellman
8th Grade, Birthday Girl
Greetings, the likes of whom I will pretend are my dear friends. I have struggled long to say the word “I,” for, like the other Nonentities around me, I lack an identity. There is no I, and I cannot be, because frankly I don’t exist. I apologize awfully for my seemingly melodramatic air, but all of this is true…paradoxically, it is very difficult to depict nothing. I also beg forgiveness for being obscure as to what and who I am, for in weaving this pretense of something I thread a tapestry of plain illusion.
I have not yet been conceived. It is bizarre then, that I voice my own ideas when not a cell of my potential embryonic body has developed. It must be clarified that I am not completely nothing, for nothing is something in itself. (Yes, I am aware of the irony there…here…whatever.)
I am one of trillions of Nonentities. For each conceivable pair of Earthlets that could produce a mutual child is a Nonentity, each with two bases. One is female and one male, and we call them a quiescent mom and a quiescent dad. My mom, who very likely shan’t be my mom, is Leah Cohen. My dad would be Barlow Moriarty. An unlikely combination from what I “know” of religion and status quo. See, while mom is a successful business executive, dad’s jobless. Even though they both reside in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, they have yet to even notice each other.
There are trillions of Nonentities because there are trillions of Earthlet quiescent pairs. With only one existential winner per pair and an exceedingly low birth success rate, I call this arbitrary process the lottery. The unlikely combo of my “mom” and “dad” is the only way for “me” to be. Each Nonentity in relatively similar “proximity” vies with all of the others for their livelihood as an Earthlet. If they are not chosen, they are only the fading bonds of subconscious musings no more likely to find reality than an angry outburst in the midst of laughter.
This is a problem.
I do not wish to be a fading bond of a subconscious musing. I do not wish to be dead to the universe, to shift no gears in the bicycle of existence. With every ounce of passion that I imagine I am capable of ever experiencing I desire to be an Earthlet, and so I emulate Earthity (a word for the Earthlet planet and species). Hugs and colors and music and the smell of frigid pine trees I want desperately to experience, but can no more do so than a corpse. I need my mom and dad to unite, and I must compass these sensations I hear but only Earthlets have the power to listen to. I can hear anything—this is no issue—but none of it is met with profound understanding.
This is actually the irony of the Earthlet what-is-the-meaning-of-life question: Nonentities have the answer in front of them but cannot comprehend, while Earthlets can exist but cannot find the answer.
On occasion, a “window” overlooking the universe of Earthity opens, and Nonentities are able to see short “vignettes” of one of their quiescent parents—treasured glimpses of the wider world from a vacuum of nothingness. The “window” opens now, and as an invisible mist clears, a “vignette” showing my quiescent mom spreads before me.
“What is the meaning of life?” Leah Cohen directed her question at the idle man in front of her on the Starbucks queue.
“Huh?” The man wheeled around from awaiting his order, attentive.
“You know: Why we’re here, what our purpose is.”
“Why’re you so philosophical? If you think about anything too much, and have time to contemplate your utter insignificance, you’re gonna get really depressed.”
“Thanks,” she replied wryly. She watched as, upon receiving his Grande Gingerbread Latte, he peeled off the lid and tapped some nutmeg in with the foam. Steamy tendrils from the drink interspersed with the tabletops, weaving under orange-specked florescent lights.
He didn’t know that she really was on anti-depressants, and that her more-mild-end-of-the-spectrum case of bipolar disorder forced her to ponder that question—that conclusion—a lot. But far from being insulted by his frank mien, Leah was charmed. Living with her condition was inevitable, and besides, she could drown her depression in plastic bottles of Prozac from the Duane Reade adjacent. What she needed was someone to cast away her chronic austerity that she so despised, someone to make her happy without the aid of little tablets.
I too have wishes, Leah, though you cannot hear me. I am only the shadow of an unborn child who can obsess over nothing but who she aspires to be. I’m depressed occasionally too, mom, maybe it’s hereditary.
“Well, then what’s your solution?” Leah asked.
“Simple.” The man replied. “Live in the moment.”
“Easier said than done,” she retorted, and waited as the man took a generous swig of his scalding holiday special. Somehow, she was drawn to him without even knowing his name; she wanted to hear what he had to say.
“Are you doing anything Thursday evening?” The man inquired.
“Nothing, really,” Leah answered glumly.
Bother! This is quite the Earthlet misconception; they are always doing something, whether it is a dramatic sprint towards the M15 bus or just sleeping. And there is no “just” because one something is just as existent as another.
“Want to go to that Italian place—Aqua is it—down the street for dinner with me?” he asked; the epitome of blasé. Leah, whose unordered coffee left her with nothing to choke on, staged a coughing fit into her checkered scarf.
“Is that the line you always use with the dates you pick up at Starbucks?” she gasped finally.
“You have a knack for answering a question with a question. (Aha! I am not the only one who seems only able to utter aphorism after aphorism.) But my answer’s definitely no. You see, I pride myself in originality, and that would be wrong if I couldn’t think up anything unique for you.”
Leah laughed for the first time in weeks, full and throaty, her smile unfurling tentatively like an antique fan. “OK. What time should we meet?”
The man’s responding grin blurred as the “window” slammed shut—a slap to my nonexistent face that left me with a nonexistent headache.
If I were able to shudder, or even sob, that is what I would do. How I wish I could perceive emotion! Alas, just as one cannot know the color green without seeing it, this too is impossible. I have not seen green, and I probably won’t ever, because my “view” just clouded. This happens to a Nonentity when her parents grow further and steadily further from union. As my mom purchased a novelty called coffee, an expensive, sugary beverage that Earthlets enjoy sipping, she was flirting with a strange man.
I am outraged and suffocated. If I had physical features, I could show you how desperate I am in reddening cheeks, and fists balled so tightly the knuckles turn white. But to no avail. At least my “window” has again opened, this time upon my quiescent dad…a tragic answer to my inconspicuous prayer.
“Help the homeless! Help the homeless, sir? Ma’am? Won’t you show some of your God-given kindness this morning?” Barlow Moriarty pleaded from his hunched post atop a dirty splintered crate, his murky eyes wide, etched deep in his haggard face. He didn’t remember what he’d had for dinner the day before yesterday, probably because he hadn’t had a proper meal since then; the rest of the money he drank, just more crumpled singles to fuel his alcoholism.
How long the days must seem to him; wiling the hours away on lusty addiction. I’m addicted to the idea of living, dad, like you’re addicted to your vodka. But I am also sickened to see you like this, and where I live, time does not pass. Time, to Earthlets, is but a single estimation of the length of things done. Most Earthlets do not realize that there are myriad ways to measure “time” and that they are all painfully imprecise.
“One dollar is all I ask, less than a minute of your time. A penny even, I will be grateful for. Would you leave me to starve?” Barlow was now specifically addressing two adults around his age in their thirties. He wasn’t going to be happy with a cent, anyone who gave him that small an amount was worse then the pretentious that “didn’t notice” him as they passed. And Barlow wasn’t about to get himself any nutrition, either, not when a perfectly decent bar was beckoning with its neon “Happy Hour” right down the street. It was always happy hour there.
I hate that my dad is a guttersnipe and drunkard—but who am I to be judgmental? (No, don’t answer that.) Despite myself, I’m excited by the many places here; I mourn the loss of prepositions that I often can’t use as I’m not situated anywhere.
The woman wearing the checkered scarf that he had called to stopped, and the man also halted to wait for her. She dug around in a lime-colored, leather purse bedecked with rhinestones that spelled “Leah” and to Barlow’s dismay, surfaced with a turkey sandwich from Starbucks. He had been so close to downing a screwdriver, maybe changing things up with electric lemonade, and this woman pulls out a sandwich. All of a sudden the plastic-wrapped morsel was in his hands, and his face contorted with rage.
“I don’t want your damn bread! Get away and don’t come back, I asked for money!” He hurled the turkey on rye into the street, and spat venomously upon the nearby ground. Muttered another array of profane remarks, only feeling remorse once Leah and the man had left. Shock was creased in the corners of their eyes. And only then did Barlow cry, his gaunt frame wracked with silent sobs.
This time the “window” closed slowly, gloating; but I was too upset to comment. Not that the comment would matter.
The winner of the lotto hasn’t been “announced,” but my ticket’s as good as invalidated. No, not my ticket; me. But there never was a me. Earthlet social classifications, with their darkened abyss betwixt the homeless and the rich Upper West Sider preordained as much; how stupid I was to hope in vain; how I cannot register an inkling of reaction to the event that’s eradicated “anything”. I am so painfully like an Earthlet, right down to my naivety prevailing over common sense, and ever so more painfully alien. Far more than my eternal nothingness, I pine losing the sight of my mom—even if fraternizing with the enemy—and the sight of my dad—even if tipsy and enraged—forevermore.
If I ask an Earthlet who she is, she could say this: A sister, a daughter, a wife, an aunt, a Catholic, a New Yorker, and a Mets fan. These are all parts of her identity. Funny though, how all of who she is, is a reflection of all of the important stuff around her. If the mirror broke, so would she who gazed into it. Earthlets hoist each other up and create themselves by incorporating bits of others, simultaneously becoming a part of another’s self. I have never had that option; it is what I will most miss. My mom was never anything more to my dad than a would-be benefactor of his substance abuse. My dad was never anything more to my mom than an object of disgust and of pity.
Furling fog closes quickly and thickly about my “view”. There are no tears to be had. No evidence of any shattered dreams upon the ground. Not a sound of grief can escape the conundrum that perpetuates my nonexistence. I “have said” that I do not wish to be a fading bond of a subconscious musing. An Earthlet would say to me that you can’t always get what you want. But I can’t get anything I want simply because I’m not. Nobody will ever know “my” sorrow, mirrored in the tear-streaked concaves of Barlow’s cheeks, or the barely perceptible but rankling hurt of Leah in her rejection. I take after what has been. No one will take after that which isn’t.