I take another sip of water. It hits me. This isn’t going to go well.
I’m standing at the podium and I’m feeling the type of rage that seems to surge through every cell in your body, the kind that makes you burst out in childish fits, the kind that demands to be seen regardless of the dignity it costs you.
The crowd is expecting my voice. They’re all dressed to the nines, it’s a special night.
A night for one of my biggest rivals. I’m here because my lawyer and my wife told me I should be and I do what I’m told. I didn’t know I’d be speaking until I got here.
My rival is sitting at a table about four feet to my left. I have prepared remarks in front of me that she and her publicist wrote. Her agent came up to me before the show and said, “She’s so glad you’re here. Would you mind if you read a few words?”
I had no choice but to comply. If I refused, it would look like jealousy.
I didn’t see her until she got called out onstage to take her seat at the table of honorees.
There are portraits of her all over the banquet hall. Promotional things.
She’s looking down or off-camera in every fucking picture, trying to seem pensive and mired in a deep self-reflective state, contemplating the struggles of her people and her own inner trauma, creating the next viral three-line poem in her egotistical brown head. She writes in all lowercase. She says its to honor her mother’s culture. Everyone knows it’s about branding but they treat her like it isn’t.
She’s wearing Armani tonight. The dress is worth more than I make in a year. I take another drink of water.
We’ve known each other since college. She wrote these crappy little three-line poems and started posting them on Instagram. They are terrible, in my opinion. But people love them. She’s sold millions of copies of her two poetry collections. I just got published last year, and my editor called me today to tell me they’re considering pulling my book because the numbers are so low. I spent a decade writing it and another five years getting it published.
I hate that everyone loves her. I hate how her dreck has made her richer than I’ll ever be even though I bust my ass for every word. It’s the type of hate that boils in the throat. It’s the type of hate that you wish would just fuck off and stop wasting your time but it stays there, boiling.
She gives empty-headed white western women and girls the ego trips they’ve been conditioned to crave by this fucking culture. She makes them feel empowered and in return they give her enough money to buy a private island, literally. She bought one in the Caribbean last month. She’s going to open an orphanage for Sri Lankan orphans on it, or so she says. 20 bucks says it’s a front for a child prostitution ring within the first year.
She is the wave and I am the trough. And she won’t see it, just as my ancestors chose not to see their advantages. It’s amazing what mental gymnastics people will do to maintain that they’re the ascendant underdog, even after they’ve attained obvious cultural firepower.
I’m a white guy and she’s a woman of color. In today’s literary world, her voice is more valid than mine, just like a hundred years ago when mine was more valid than hers regardless of substance. It’s just what the world wants. Sometimes you’re the water on the crest of the wave, sometimes you’re the water in the trough of the wave.
I look down at the prepared remarks. It’s corporate drivel. Singing her praises, selling things. Self-deprecation on how, as a white man, I was the privileged one and somehow she beat me despite the odds. It actually says “chuckle” after the line. After this I’m going home to the apartment I share with my wife, whom I caught cheating on me with her personal trainer the other week. I can’t divorce her because I’ll get raped in court.
I can’t stand it. The rage boils over. It wins.
I point at her in her silver Armani.
“Here’s the thing,” I say. Everyone perks up.
“I didn’t want to be here tonight. I really didn’t want to speak. I got asked to and my lawyer thought it would be a good idea. He said it was ‘the right thing for me to to do.’ But you know what? Fuck the right thing. I say do whatever makes you happy. Be selfish. Cause everyone else is.”
There’s tittering in the crowd. No one knows who I am. They’re not impressed. They just want me off now.
“Your work is crap,” I tell her. “And someday people will realize that. And you’ll be forgotten, just like the rest of us. It might take a little longer, but it’ll happen.”
I leave the podium and don’t look at anyone. I feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience as my legs move me across the banquet floor to the exit. It’s not like a movie. There’s no gasps or exclamations of shock and offense. People are either quiet or tittering. A few are chuckling.
It’s done now.
I run outside and the night is cold on my forehead and the streets are wet and traffic hisses by. I grab the nearest Uber and dive in and slam the door behind me. The event is being livestreamed and my phone is already screaming vibrations, correspondence over correspondence. My wife and lawyer are the first messages. I leave them in my pocket to scream at me.
My forehead is hot. It feels good to do what I want for a change.
I look out the window and all the drops of water on the window are like hundreds of eyes, staring in.