So what would you do if you found some alien looking creature in a shoebox? There it is, small, with tentacles, and eye stalks, and spines on both its backs, spots and weird colors, jagged teeth and green fur that makes you think it might have been born in my refrigerator, and it looks up at you as if you, yes you, are to raise it, and bring it up in your home.
Okay, if you’re young you certain consider showing it to your parents, but they are normal, right? They would kill it, you are sure of that, and in some odd way, you feel as if you’ve seen, or rather sensed the blood on their hands. You stand there with the shoebox in front of you, poised to walk into your front door, and you realize that showing this thing to your parents might be a mistake. You will hide it, for a while, in the very back of your closet, and keep it small, tiny, and concealed, until you can figure out what to do with it next.
You discover it is invisible, and rides on your shoulder, this creature. You stop on a small bridge at it whispers in your ear, the water, the swirls, the eddies, the reflection of the sky in the water with a stick that breaks the surface as it reaches towards… what are you doing? A teacher asks you why you are staring off into space, and demands you pay attention to some rote memorization of a long dead poet. Being able to recite a poem means you understand it was born. The creature whispers that the teacher might make a good victim in a short story about a serial killer on the loose in a small town and you smile. This wins you no points with the teacher.
The pine cone, and that stone, the creature tells you, would make a great photograph, and you pause to look. The light, yes always the light, it is perfect, and you wish you had taken your father’s camera and suddenly you realize everyone is wondering what you’ve stopped to consider the pine cone. You’re supposed to be playing left field and the ball rolled right past you, and what the hell are you doing out there?
You’re looking at an apartment, your first, with someone who loves you even though you’re weird, and when you open a drawer you discover some child has drawn a picture in the drawer. Look! The creature whispers to you, a kindred was here, someone who wanted to express something, and look how the lines of the face are drawn to represent wrinkles, the child was trying to draw someone old, perhaps a grandparent, but you discover later your lover has painted over it, because it is crude and ugly. The flat white paint is a grave for the grandmother, and no one understand why you’re crying one night, far too drunk to be believed, and you cannot tell them in the drawer in one room is a grave, and every time, every fucking damn time you open that drawer there is everything that ever happened to you.
Go. Go, you tell your lover, no, wait, I’ll go, we’ll leave you here in this place of graves. Your grave is here too, you tell your love, and for the billionth time in your life you see That Look. You take only what you think you will need; your journal, some clothes, your paints, your shoebox, and you walk away again. Your parents call terrified at what you’ve done, the story of your terrible outburst while drunk frightens all, again, and you walk away again, and you stand on that bridge, and you think about throwing the shoebox in, for the billionth time, and then you see the water, and you see the stick is gone, but there is a turtle, and it’s smiling at you. I’m sorry, the creature says, I am so terribly sorry, but I cannot be anyone else.
The faces change but every time you hear The Speech you know what someone will say because you’ve heard it all your life, it’s like a television show where the actors keep quitting, and they hire new people to try out for the same pieces, and the creature reminds you this would make a great short story, the story of a show that keep changing actors, but the dialog was always the same, and it would be slightly different now matter…Are you even listening to what I’m saying? You’re ten, or eighteen, or thirty, or eleven, or six, or forty, but it doesn’t matter because you are still who you are, and no one, no one else has ever been anything but who they are, and they have always said this to you. The creature tells you to write this down, to get up out of bed, who cares if you have to be at work in a little while, you must get this down right now, and you do, because it is, after all, who you have always been.
The shoebox lies open in the living room of your new place, and you have tossed the lid away forever. Your parents hate this place, and they tell you it’s horrible, but you don’t care. There is a desk built into the wall in the bedroom, and the porch lets in lots of light. The creature stands beside you now, part of your life undeniably, and it watches, and nods as you paint. You’ve broken free of it only by accepting that it is you who has whispered in your own ear, and all the creature has ever been is a focus point for your own talent. You cannot be who anyone wants you to be, because they never were and never tried to be who they were supposed to be, who they were. You paint from memory the face of an old woman, drawn in a drawer, and you know that no matter what else happens, there will be no grave here.