Question Mark

What. If. The. Goddess. Brought. You. To. Me.

Anjuli Rathod, A Place Called Home. 2016, acrylic and flashe on canvas. 33 × 26''. Courtesy of the artist.

No one had ever loved her out in the open. Unconditionally. That had been Julie’s problem from the start—nobody, nobody, ever wanted to walk out into the light with her, even though they all needed and relied on her to break open their emotional seals. I’ve never told anyone this before, they said within minutes of meeting her, before launching into something they had kept shut up inside them for decades. I didn’t even know I felt this, they said after a full minute of sobbing about their childhood pet who slept in their bed until they went away to college and, shortly thereafter, died in the most horrific way. (She baked to death! My brother said she looked like a rotisserie chicken that had been left in the case for weeks. Shriveled and dried up to the bone. She was cooked! Literally cooked! How could they have left her on the balcony like that all weekend?) They cried in her arms when their withholding parent died (I didn’t even know her!), buried their faces into her chest when their overbearing parent died (She didn’t even know me!), crawled into her embrace when some trivial but crucial memory from their childhood resurfaced (It wasn’t cilantro . . . it was parsley!), and despite a lifetime of hiding behind their heavily armored egos, they were able to drop the mask and access something softer around her. They made her the keeper of their pain. She was the only mirror they ever allowed themselves to gaze into.

What had once been a marker of being special and chosen was now a dirty reminder of how she always had to sing for her supper. Why did she have to be special? Being special was work. And for years she gave that shit away for free. Couldn’t she be loved just because? It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some people were treated as worthy their whole lives and those people weren’t attracted to people who required them to prove their worthiness or serve a purpose. Why was it that people who were raised to love and respect themselves were the most likely to find more people to love and respect them? What kind of justice was that? It incensed her to her core.

At first she had been empowered by the decision to charge money for her emotional doula-ing services, but over time it did something bad to her brain and soul to put a price on human connection.

Psychologists do it, Julie’s friend Erin pointed out. They seem to be just fine.

Not John, Julie said.

True. He’s pretty sick.

John was a regular of Erin’s who was a highly sought-after Freudian psychoanalyst with a roster of famous clients. He had been asking Erin for a while if she had any special friends who were just like her—aka someone of the “more naturally submissive phenotype characteristic of women from that region of the world.” It was a common request from men of the entitled, ruddy-faced Casper-the-fugly-ghost phenotype, and so Erin always suggested Julie and Julie always suggested Erin.

The first time Julie met him, he spent an hour bragging about all the gorgeous, famous young actresses he saw in his practice.

I can’t tell you her name—confidentiality and all that—all I can say is she’s had a few high-profile affairs with married men.

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