By Ian Y.E. Pan, 2021
This writing is adapted from an essay I wrote for a university humanity/literature class.
It is an attempt at using the narrative method of “stream of consciousness”, in conjunction with fantasy. The thoughts of the main character drifted between topics of God and alienation (both social and family), among others. The references are subtle and represent the reflections of the protagonist and are not necessarily present to serve as an argument.
I have provided a list of bibliography for the works that served as reference and inspiration to my essay. I hope you enjoy it.
Warning: Some readers may find the contents in this essay disturbing.
Love, Death, and Alienation
At first, there were the unfamiliar brushes of my legs against the blanket. It was an alien feeling, a foreign touch. For some reason, my head hurt, and the dim sky didn’t help either. There was a weird sensation when I turned my eyes to look at the window, but I couldn’t make out what it was.
“About time you woke up,” I heard my mother say across from the dining room. The clouds were menacingly low, a hint of thunder mingled in the hassling of the traffic downstairs. Cars were honking as I thought to myself, perhaps someone is going to be late for work.
“The milk’s turning warm now.”
I struggled to get off bed, and realized, with horror, that my legs have turned into branches. No. They seemed more like the legs you’d find on an oversized insect. I looked down and saw what was left of my belly has become… a hard shell.
When I came to again, I didn’t know how long I passed out for. The house was dead quiet. Perhaps Mother gave up yelling at me from another room and left for work. I tried to flip myself over, focusing consciously on my body weight. For a couple of minutes, I thought I’d be forever stuck on my bed. To which I felt indifferent. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get off the sheets or not. But then I figured out that I could lean my shoulder blades against the wall as a pivot, and use my rear end to push, creating a torque that can lift my upper body. I crash-landed on the floor.
It didn’t nearly hurt as much as I thought it would have. My bones felt somehow lighter, and my muscle mass seemed to have vanished. I still haven’t fully accepted the fact that I’m no longer human. Or rather, I must have been deliberately pushing away the thought of it. Slowly I crawled, my belly brushing against the hardwood floor, out of my room. I couldn’t feel my bladder the usual way I could, and I didn’t feel like using the toilet either. What I did feel was a shallow urge of hunger. I sniffed my way to some leftover bread and bit off a good chunk of the loaf.
It occurred to me, just when I thought of putting my shirt on, that I probably shouldn’t leave the house in this form. Then I realized that I was genuinely lost of my next step. What “would” a next step be, for a life form like myself? If I’m not human anymore, am I still…”me”? Surely, I don’t have to attend class for the rest of the day, do I?
I stopped for a moment and thought to myself: there are no schedules. No To-Do’s either. I just, had to stay alive? Funny to think about it, but I never thought about my everyday routines in this way before. It all felt so…natural. And now all of a sudden, I did not have anything to do. But it didn’t feel like freedom. My head felt dizzy, followed by a sudden urge to throw up. I tried to turn for the toilet but it was too late. So there I was, drenched in my own breakfast, or what was left of it anyway.
I decided it was probably wiser that I stayed put before knowing what to do. And then I thought of God.
I haven’t been going to church for a while now. Not ever since middle school. At some point in the past few years, I decided I wanted to be an atheist. Not an extreme one that denies God to his best ability, but I preferred to understand things in a logical manner. Perhaps I wanted to feel more in control of the decisions I make, and also take responsibility of the consequences I receive, instead of laying everything, good or bad, on the doings of a higher power. I didn’t like the thought of it.
And now I somehow felt calm, thinking of God. It was one of those feelings that are hard to put down in words, but it was comforting, knowing that (if He exists) a higher power is watching over you, and all that’s happened is happening according to plan. The idea of it drove away the panic attack I was fighting against. I sensed my heartbeat slowing down. I thought of the first six days God created the world. Would He have planned this? Turning a human into a pest; turning a ruler of all creatures that move along the ground, into the very creature that was ruled ? I couldn’t make sense of it, so I shook my head and waved the thought away. For a moment, I regret not being a Christian, and wondered whether this was God’s punishment. I wouldn’t know, I whispered to myself, I probably never will.
I looked out the window again and saw that part of the sky has cleared. I suddenly realized that my anniversary with my girlfriend is coming up.
“Well, that’d have to wait.”
I could see the wind slowly pushing the clouds, turning what looked like television static into a canvas with hints of light. I squinted and tried to make out the birds in the sky. I wondered if they’d see me as human or vermin.
I felt unusually calm. So calm I’d be unaware of my own mind if I didn’t specifically think about it. The sudden shallow urge of hunger revisited, and I ate what was left of the loaf of bread on the table.
“No schedules. No To-Do’s. I just, had to stay alive?”
The calmness made me think of the empty routines I had been following for the past few months: wake up, log in, start my day. They say it’s called learning. But what’s the purpose of it? To learn skills that’d turn into a good job, they say. A good job that can feed the family. At the end of the day, it’s just about surviving and avoid being starved. Is that the sole purpose of life to stay alive?
Surely, it’s more than that! I thought. We dress up to impress others. We challenge tasks to gain the hard-earned sense of accomplishment. We try to live the day to the fullest, or else we’re told life wouldn’t be worth it. And we only live once.
My thoughts drifted to God and Heaven. If I died today, would I be a pest or a human in the Afterlife? If only God was here to answer me.
I slowly crawled around the house, carefully turning away from the blank TV screen to not see my own reflection. I wasn’t ready to embrace my new self. Part of me wished I were still in a dream. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wanted to close my eyes and forget about the world.
I object to the thought that surviving was the sole purpose of life. After the basic needs are fulfilled, life must be more about self-actualization. I thought about Maslow and the hierarchy of needs. I wonder if my family would still accept me in my current form. What point does it have to have family if you could not fulfill the need of “love and belonging” from it? And not just the family, I thought to myself, but the people on the streets and every stranger in the society. They must see me as vermin. Who would accept me as part of the human race? I didn’t know if I could stand such social alienation, as if my humanity were deprived of me. I’d be alone in this world, with no one truly caring for me. If I can’t be loved and cared for, I could not fulfill my self-esteem. And without esteem, I can never achieve self-actualization. For a minute or two, I was bewildered by the fact that…my life simply had no purpose. My conclusion contradicted all my premises of the purpose of life, and my only quest left is to eat, breathe, and survive. It dawned on me that I was forever stuck at the bottom hierarchy of the listed needs of Maslow.
That is, “Unless my family still loves me,” I thought.
The sensation of longing of food returned, and I found myself once again crawling around searching for crumbs. Despite the loaf of bread I had eaten, I didn’t feel much thirst. Perhaps it was because of my new biological form, I concluded. It was then that I realized I would probably never be able to play music or sport again. In fact, any activity that required a human form to partake would be out of the question. The thought of that finally wet my eyes, and the flood became uncontrollable. I sat in the middle of the living room and silently wept.
When I eventually collected myself and stopped the sobbing, I looked out the window and noticed that the sun had come out. “A beautiful day,” I muttered. Perhaps I should lighten up my mood for a change. This must be God’s signal, to tell me that however grim my day may have started, there would always be a silver lining if I hung in there. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and calmed the voices in my head. And then I heard a murmured conversation outside the door.
The knob started turning as the approaching footsteps stopped.
The next couple of seconds were a motion blur. I heard screaming and yelling, before I felt a significant weight on my back. I turned around to see my mother pressuring me with her own body, bucket in her raised hand and ready to pound down. My father and brother each had a stick in hand, and they were striking at my hands and legs. I wiggled in pain and opened my mouth, but no voice came out. I pushed harder with my vocal cords and heard myself hissing and flapping non-verbally. I looked up again to see my mother, frightened but determined, trying her best to protect her family. She landed the bucket on my spine as hard and as fast as she could. Father jumped on my head and choked his arms around my neck. I could feel the blood circulation fighting to flow and my head starting to warm. My sight became blurry and I struggled to catch my breath. For a second, I thought about the last time he hugged me.
And then it occurred to me that I am no longer part of the family, and it was no use trying to explain. My form has dictated my fate, and I realized it has always been inevitable to be alienated from the people who used to love me. My heart ached, more painful than the bruising on my back and head. My father’s sweat dripped on my forehead, as he gasped for more strength to hold on to the headlock. My sight was blacking out as I failed to catch my breath. I wiggled for some breathing room and looked up to see my mother and father’s sad frightening eyes. They must be worried about their missing son’s safety. They must be wondering whether this giant pest before them had somehow endangered him. I smiled at the thought of that, relieved to know that my family still loved me after all.
And so I stopped resisting.
- Ian Y.E. Pan, 2021, Taipei
- Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Vol. 1. Aleph, 2015.
- Kafka, Franz. The metamorphosis. Modern Library Classics, 2013.
- McLeod, Saul. “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” Simply psychology 1 (2007): 1-8.
- Sayers, Sean. Marx and alienation: Essays on Hegelian themes. Springer, 2011.
- Testament, Old. “Holy Bible.” (2015).