Flash Fiction From Old Postsecret

Here’s an old Postsecret I wrote down

I keep myself incomprehensibly busy so I never have time to feel unwanted.

I wrote around the line a few different times. Again, last week and this. What I ended up with is a piece that doesn’t feel directly tied to the secret but works okay on its own. Worth a later revision at least.

I run a nonprofit. I believe in the work. Promoting girls’ literacy in underdeveloped nations. I have spools of statistics and anecdotes in my mouth. I could go on and on. Anyone listening hears about these village girls prohibited from going to school, married at the age of thirteen or fourteen. Anyone listening hears the turn in the story –

Girls learned to read. That’s the short end of it. That’s what people like to hear, that their tax deductible money gives words to girls who read by candlelight after their old men husbands are sleeping. No one likes the old men husbands. Everyone thinks these girls would be brilliant if not for the old men husbands. That might be true.

The girls hide their literacy. It’s like secreted candy in the top cupboard or in a wooden box under the bed. Some girls never get to say what they know to anyone but the babies breaking open their hips. This wasn’t our plan but this is what’s happened. We aren’t sure what will come when the babies are thirteen or fourteen, if they’ll have more words than their mothers. Believing is more work now. A decade ago I thought it’d be a wildfire: words and poetry sweeping through villages. The women negotiating life with men, the men realizing the beauty of a wise woman. All this wisdom brought in crates of elementary readers, blank notebooks and weekly lessons.

I need the busyness. I might believe in that more than the girls now. The girls aren’t saving me. The busyness is. I have three smartphones, a tablet and a laptop with me. Something is always dinging or buzzing. When I was a kid I played office with a JC Penney catalog, filling in the order form stuck in the middle, flagging pages with post-its, answering a dead phone with authority. I wore my mom’s heels and clicked across the floor. Striding through an airport I get the same high. My staccato heel strike, phone at my ear. At the airport bar, one glass of wine and a fan of devices in front of me. I’m doing good work.

I am doing good work. I miss Christmas. I forget my mom’s birthday. I don’t date anymore. Shortly after I joined the nonprofit, I loved explaining the cause to men. I felt hot, forgoing self for these girls living in countries that had just sent a wave of terrorists to our city. We were all looking for a reason. Something. I found these girls and wouldn’t let go.

I started off low. Standing at a folding table, passing out brochures with our periwinkle logo. Cold calling for donations. I might have quit after a year, except I took a plane to Afghanistan and spent a week in a bare apartment where girls came to read and write. We weren’t in villages then. But that week was my conversion. I gave my body to the cause. I went back again and again.

The busyness is killing me. I don’t know who I am. I can’t say that over a glass of wine. All I talk about are the girls. I win commendation for my dedication. I’m on NPR, talking about these girls. The nonprofit is huge. Our outreach includes elders. Some fathers and brothers are allowing the girls to learn in daylight. I hear occasional news of a delayed marriage because a girl wants to finish school. I used to cry when I heard things like that.

I get my hair highlighted on stopovers in Paris. You need something if you’re in this work. Booze, women, an expensive pair of shoes, God. I have highlights.

A decade ago we were all hot for each other. All of us doing good work, earnest. We wavered, resolved. We missed Christmas together, made crude paper chains and toasted each other in a cold apartment. I can’t get a date anymore. I can’t find someone who believes as much as I do. Sometimes I’m in the middle of talking about the girls and literacy rates and I go out of body. It’s like a near death experience except that instead of looking down at a surgery and tubes, I look down at the clicker in my hand, the nodding heads in the conference room. I keep talking, floating.

At some point I have to get out of this. There’s this woman named Marcy who’s been doing this kind of work her whole life. We may as well be nuns, she said once, and at least get heaven. We were all together a few months ago, Marcy and me and a few others. We forget what the other side feels like. We all have old friends, siblings with mortgages and children. We go home and see nieces and nephews with more toys than whole villages. If we wanted that, we should have left sooner. Getting any of that now would kill us.

We wouldn’t stay dead. We’d like making box mac and cheese for our seven-year old. We’d like complaining that was all she’d eat.

I don’t know if anyone wants me anymore. No one tries. Sometimes we fall against one another and have a warm week. But I’m beginning to think I’ll never be always warm. I’m not sure what I’m doing this for. I’m doing this for the girls.

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