In Or Out

Entry by: CalleToledo

25th February 2016
“Are you with us or against us?” “Are you in or are you out?” The commanders yelled in our faces all the livelong day. Not that we knew how long we had to live. But days certainly felt long under that kind of strain.

I never knew which to choose, of the daily binary options. They seemed to think it should be obvious; that I should just jump into my camp – the camp for my kind of person. But I don't think I am a 'kind' of person, just a kind-of-person. And a kind person, I hope.

Anyway, the turmoil of decision-making amounted to torture; as if life wasn't worth living unless I knew what I wanted and where I belonged. Everyone else always seemed to know, precisely. They'd walk around in their black trouser suits (you were awarded one when you'd ticked all the boxes), spouting platitudes. They appeared to have it all, and to be so sure about it. They had houses made of steel, wedding bands made of superglue and they signed contracts in indelible ink.

It wasn't that we were monotonous, monogamous and homogenous, though. The commanders made that clear: “You have multiple choices”. Some people chose to live in warehouses with twenty other people and padlock themselves in; some were wedded to free love; and a few were devoted to autonomy, without commitments of any kind, ever. It was all permissible - just inviolable.

Mostly though, people did gain their trousers and blazer by following suit. Conviction seemed to come more easily for those people, and it frightened me. But at least they could claim the path more travelled was statistically safer, or... 'right'.

During our lifetimes, there were milestones, rights of passage. I – and every hopefully kind, kind-of-person like me – dreaded them. On those days, we had to update our Person Specifications; hundreds of questions, with multiple choice, tick-box answers. 'Other' existed, and I usually ticked it, but I don't blame the rest of them for ignoring the option - because of the implications. For choosing even one 'Other', you were labelled an Undecider and forced to march, with the commanders screaming deafeningly into your psyche. If you were a man: “Grow a pair!” “Be a man. Make a bloody decision!” “Whose side are you on?” If you were a woman : “You are a flaky mess!” “Choose a path and stick to it!” “Stop living in the clouds!” And if you were someone who ticked 'Other' for gender... I don't even want to go into what happened then.

Some of us Undeciders did try to 'make a bloody decision', honestly we did. We'd go and sit with the rest of them every Fenceday on the hundred-foot wooden boundary between Here and There. I used to be one of those who did. I'd sit there for hour upon hour, following the sanctioned advice for Fenceday: make lists of pros and cons; ask yourself what someone you admire would do; think what will matter on your death bed. I also read – a lot. Online listicles: 'Top ten careers for creative people', 'Three signs you should get back with your ex', 'Fifteen ways to make difficult decisions'. Quizzes: 'Are you in the right job?', 'Are you depressed?', 'Are they The One?' Personality tests. Compatibility tests. Intelligence tests. And books, many books. Mainly Self-Help. Philosophy and psychology helped the most, but none of those books were on the Recommended Reading list. I liked the ones that reassured me my uncertainty was 'right'; not an ailment, but a healthy and proper reflection of the human condition. I usually read those in secret.

There was a point, however, when I couldn't bear the fence any longer. The people there were unstable. Every day I'd lose friends who ran down ladders to Here or There, sat in psychosis for days on end, or – worse – jumped. Eventually I gave up the ghosts and never went back. I'd wander between Here and There, with the other Undeciders – they were my solace. It wasn't easy. And once I'd reached A Certain Age, the imperatives to “Make a decision!” reached eardrum-shattering volumes. They just shouted “Settle the fuck down!” over and over again. That was the worst. Settle where? With what? With who? For the rest of my life? I never even knew what Settling was, and I certainly didn't want to find out. That was perhaps the only thing I was ever sure of.

Once we were Over the Hill, we never had to Settle Here or There. We had each other: kind-of-people, trying to be kind. It wasn't a happy life. But it wasn't a sad one either.