On a cool autumn morning, a young man declared himself born and had no name yet.
He had tried several, seeking inspiration from his favorite hardback books and retro video games, but still, none that he found suited him as he was now. Nervous, he wobbled to the window, where his snake plant stood tall. Graced by the sun's waning light, he poured water into the potting soil, contemplating his next move. Over the years, he had named everything he owned, like his plant, Patchi. Peeking out through the dusty blinders, the neighborhood stray cat scampered across the lawn unclaimed until he called her Isis. Even the dead insects he collected had names. Butterflies, dragonflies, and arachnids labeled with characters from cartoons he liked to watch as a kid, their delicate bodies now suspended in bell jars or framed in glass. They were adorning his bedroom walls and desk like open coffins. He trailed a long finger over the framed monarch butterfly, its delicate body appropriately pinned.
He named all those creatures but couldn't call himself.
He only knew what he wasn't, and that was that. He figured the best person to rename him would be his mother, who named him the first time, plus she knew him best. With no name given, he took a deep breath and stepped out of his bedroom to introduce himself to his mother. It didn't go over well.
Despite the momentous occasion, the news of his birth brought no congratulatory remarks, no heartfelt acknowledgment. Instead, he got vitriolic insults that stung as much as the thrown shoe that popped off his head.
For starters, he had no name, so it was hard to make a proper introduction, and on top of that, he was a new person, a nameless newborn. In his mother's words, not the child she raised. He was a stranger in his home, invading her child's body. Maybe that's why his mother couldn't accept him in that context. Perhaps that's why words of condemnation followed him throughout the wake of his home, leaving him cold and rejected. On that same day, in the afternoon, the boy was given a choice to perish or give up his existence.
He fled inside the solitude of his bedroom, weighing the options; give up on who he was and continue the role pressed on him since birth, or die.
Conform or die? Conform or die? Conform or die.
What would happen if he just relented? He knew the answer; nothing would change. Everyone would remain unbothered and go on like everything was normal, and he would continue to suffer in silence.
What would happen if he gave in and conformed as demanded?
What good would it bring him to argue?
All he had to do was turn around and beg for forgiveness. Grovel. Or better yet, lie, say he didn't mean any of it.
Maybe play it off as a joke that it was all just a prank at his mother's expense.
He could picture it too, what he'd say, how he'd deliver the lines, "you thought? Nah, nah, it was a prank. You should have seen your face. Lol." He'd pull out his phone to record her reaction like a douchebag said he was doing for the views.
She'd play along, and they could go back to normal, and he wouldn't lose anything; he only had to turn around and lie.
Lie. Keep up a lie; he did so his whole life; why stop now?
He just needed to turn back and lie before she called everyone in the family. Before everyone found out, he'd been keeping up an act. Never speak with him or ask him if he was well or cared to know.
Unclenching his jaw, he closed his eyes. He messaged his sore temple, his clammy fingers cooling his rising fever. Just lie.
He reconsidered once more the pros and cons of staying. He wouldn't lose anything, just his sense of self-identity. The young man pictured someone going through the motions, like an actor, nodding along with conversations. Alone but living. No different than the glass enclosures he'd displayed in his room. He willed himself back, staring out the foggy window, the surface reminiscent of a glass coffin.
Conform or die. Conform or …die. Conform …die. No. No matter how he flipped the idea. He knew if he stayed, he would die. Either now or, over time, with the bonus, he'd hate himself till the end.
He ignored the knot in his stomach and went to deliver his answer. This ultimatum offered him no proper way of life; he knew that, but maybe he could find some middle ground. A middle ground that would leave both sides satisfied. He walked out of his room, down the hall, and made his voice heard. He was nervous, of course; who wouldn't be? He only needed to use reason and common sense. And if that didn't work, he could arrange to gather his things and leave in a few months.
Unfortunately, his compromise was rejected, flat out; only more rejection. Fine by him; people can agree to disagree.
What was not so fine was that he faced the barrel of a gun and got chased throughout his house.
Giving up on negotiations, he devised an impromptu escape. He made a hasty retreat back to his bedroom. He slammed the door behind him, and with shaky knees, he stalled for time by jamming his rickety old desk chair against the door. Turning to his cramped desk, his frantic hands rummaged through the drawers retrieving any vital documents that pertained to him, along with his old diary.
A sharp, rapid bang came on the bedroom door that froze him. He blocked out the noise, along with the rising panic that hit the pit of his stomach. He wanted a calm discussion and, if not, a quiet exit out the front door with his dignity intact. All that wishful thinking was for nothing as the relentless hammering came from behind the door.
He snatched up a few clothes from the floor, emptied school supplies from his old backpack, and wondered; what else could fit in the small sack without weighing himself down. Water and food were the priority, of course.
"Open the door!"
He made a conscious effort not to turn around to face the door, so he turned to his bed.
His neatly tucked bed was ready for him to wrap himself under the sheets come nighttime. The metal framing whined as he yanked at the covers and bedsheets. He kneeled and felt under the mattress until he touched cold, smooth plastic. He wrapped the case in the blankets in the tightest ball he could manage and shoved the bundle inside his backpack. He settled the small weight on his back, which might as well have been a giant boulder since the compact load weighed on him.
A harsh banging shook the door frame, managing to tremble his desk set beside the door's entry. A pang of regret overwhelmed him. He faltered at the idea of his belongings getting thrown out. He wondered if his room would remain untouched or if everything would get thrown out to the curb. He remained in place, unsure if he should keep packing or face the music. An ear-piercing shriek came from the other side again, each word followed by another strike on the door.
"Open. This! Door!"
Ignoring that, he kneeled, placing his potted plant on the floor. "Goodbye, Patchi," he whispered.