Gateways: “Emotional Labor” by Rachel A. Schrock, read by Karolyn Blake



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Rachel A. Schrock. Rachel is a Chicago-based writer, actress, comedian, and musician. You can check her out on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, all @Razmatini. This is “Emotional Labor”

Content Note: This story features violence, some of which is of a sexual nature; blood and death. If that content makes you feel unsafe, you may want to skip this story.

When I was thirteen years old, I got my first period. As I frantically scrubbed at the blood on my skirt, my head started to ache, and later I found out it wasn’t for the reason I suspected.

From that day on, I was cursed. From that day on, I felt others’ feelings as if they were my own. 

You feel things very strongly when you are thirteen, but only because, at that age, you have never felt anything else. When your parents tell you that you can’t go to the mall with your friends, it feels like the worst thing in the world. Compared to everything you’ve experienced of the world thus far, it is.

This is a gift. Because as you grow, as you are exposed to more and more heartache, every small moment of sadness is a layer of armor against what is to come.

When I was thirteen years old, my older brother was in a car accident. He died instantly. I was sad in the way a thirteen-year-old could be sad. It was the worst thing in my world— a world that did not contain the thrill and fear of pregnancy, the miracle of new life, the sleepless nights, the joys of your baby’s milestones, the bond between parent and child.

My mother’s world did contain those things.

When I was thirteen years old, I felt emotions a thirteen-year-old was never meant to feel.

I am an incredibly average-looking woman. You are an incredibly average-looking man with the confidence of a much more handsome one. Over our appetizers, I tell you about my brother. You stoically recount your best friend’s tragic passing. (Your grief tells me you were never that close to him.) I lean forward, take your hand, say, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” You think you have me wrapped around your finger.

Over dinner, I do not tell you about my mother. You talk about yours. “She never understood me,” you lament. Your anger is petulant, immature. I bat my eyelashes and apologize on her behalf for not believing you could have made the next “Fight Club.”

After dessert, I ask you if you want to walk back to my place. I feel your relief that the evening wasn’t wasted, and your eagerness to get me alone.

I hold your hand because I think you will like it. You don’t care. I hold it anyway.

I always hold their hands.

Cities teem with emotion— giddy excitement from tourists; grating frustration from commuters; desperation from beggars; bursts of joy or sorrow tucked into the private anonymity of a crowd.

I feel it all. I absorb very little.

The sum total of all these emotions is a blunt sort of melancholy. It’s a strong desire to cry, and the complete inability to do so. It’s nothing in the way that hunger is nothing; it is the lack of something. It’s not pleasant, but it never changes.

I like that.

I lead you up the stairs to my apartment. I close the door behind us, and you immediately press me up against it. I let you kiss me for a moment. You’re sure you are a good kisser; you’re okay. 

Your self-satisfaction distracts you enough for me to take out my knife. I get you in the side—enough to hurt, but not to kill— and spin you around, pushing you to the floor behind me. The shock silences you, but I feel your confusion, your fear.

It’s delicious.

“Don’t scream. No one will hear you.”

You scream. No one hears you. I smile as your panic creeps up our veins. We start to cry.

“What do you want? I’ll give it to you. Whatever you want.” You try to stand. I stab your thigh. We cry harder.

I sink to my knees, pinning you at the waist. I kiss you. As I hold your head steady, the knife cuts a thin, red line against your cheek. Our hands shake.

“I won’t tell anyone, I swear, just let me go. Please, please.”

Feelings are never wrong, are they? They are an automatic response to your surroundings; how could they be wrong?

Right?

What you need to understand is that feeling is based on belief.

You’re only afraid of bees because you believe they will do you harm. You’re only angry at the waitress who forgot to offer you extra napkins because you believe you are entitled to that courtesy. You only love a certain person because you believe you can (or should) love them.

When you tell someone that their feelings are right, you are telling them that they believe the right things.

I don’t know what I believe anymore.

When I was thirteen years old, I carried a sadness that nearly incapacitated my mother. She stayed in bed for a whole week— she couldn’t even wash her hair for the funeral. And I felt everything else, too— the disgust and irritation at my mother that somehow sat side-by-side with my father’s grief, and the pity from our neighbors, and my classmates’ awkwardness about talking to a dead kid’s sister. It all piled up in my head.

Since then, there’s never been enough room up there for me.

It’s amazing, how many times a person can be stabbed before they die. I can toy with you for hours, if I want to. But I can’t help it— I’m addicted to your fear.

You cry. I cry. I laugh.

Finally, you realize that you won’t make it out of this alive. You’re of no use to me now.

I slit your throat and watch you die.

I feel nothing.

Karolyn Blake is an actor and improviser in Chicago with a passion for dogs, laughter, and inclusive spaces. She is a founding member of the Shrews Improv and proud to be a singer in the Shanty Shipwreck Show. You can see and hear her every month in Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.