"Yeah, just like Oral Roberts says," Ken cracked. Bud began to laugh at the sarcasm but quickly quieted when he noticed no one else did.
"The messenger does not invalidate the message," Eric shot back. "If a TV preacher tells the truth, why not listen to him?"
"But who says its the truth? Just because I put a positive spin on things why does it make it any more true?" Ken said.
June cut in. "Perhaps the word 'truth' is a misnomer here. I'm not interested in what's objectively true, but what makes me feel better. And imagining a positive future sure feels better than dwelling on a negative one."
"What's bugging you, Ken?" Troy asked.
"Oh, don't you see it's all fairy tales, all self-delusion. We're deluding ourselves into being happy here, but the foundation is as slippery as man's imagination. It's what Kurt Vonnegut called "foma," or comforting lies. No one can bear to see life as it is so we make up myths to feel better. Who says feeling better is better? Who says feeling bad is bad? What's wrong with feeling bad?"
"If feeling bad isn't bad, then why did you agree to come here, Ken?"
"'Cause I don't like feeling bad, and I was sick of it. I hate feeling bad."
"Could we say then that feeling bad was bad for you?"
Ken thought for a moment. "Yeah, experientially. But my experience is subjective. Who can say ultimately whether the experience is bad?"
"What other lens do we have to view reality than ourselves?" Troy asked. "Why bother yourself about objective truth when your subjective truth is so painful? Aren't you really just begging the question? Maybe you're addicted to depression. Maybe you like it."
"Maybe I do," Ken admitted. "But what's in it for me?"
"How about escape from responsibility?" said Eric.
"Or protection from life's unpredictability?" June said.
"Or the satisfaction of self-pity?" said Lisa.
"I don't know," Ken said, "I honestly don't know." He slumped in his chair, exhaled a long sigh and stared at the floor. Bud wanted to put his arm around him, tell him he was not alone-- but he was terrified of doing anything that might call attention to himself and he didn't know if the action would be interpreted as pampering.
"Hey, Bud isn't it?" Eric asked.
"How you doin"?" Eric's broad, aboriginal nose and narrow green eyes with their long, dark lashes made his glance mysterious. His full lips curled up at the edges in a Buddha-like smile. Instinctively, Bud didn't trust him.
"Fine," he replied, taking as neutral a tone as possible.
June eyed him suspiciously. "That's a safe answer. Don't you feel safe?"
"No, as a matter of fact I don't feel very safe here. You're all strangers to me and I don't have any reason to trust you."
The group broke out in applause. "Honest answer!" "Way to go, Bud!" "That's how everyone feels at their first group!"
"Have you visited the box yet?" Eric asked.
"Yes, I believe so."
"How did you find it?"
"Ahh-- very educational."
"Damn straight. Sometimes it takes a shock for us to appreciate the little things."
"Yeah, I'll never think of water as a little thing again."
"Or light or food," Eric said.
"Or a pot to piss in," Bud added.
"That's all the time we have for tonight," Troy announced. "Another counselor will see you tomorrow night. Meanwhile you are all excused for the remainder of the evening, except for a one-page assignment due tomorrow morning, entitled: 'I am special because---.' Good night."
Bud exited as unobtrusively as possible. He lay back on his bed and wondered at his comment: "Or a pot to piss in." When had he responded that quickly? Or with humor? In two short days some spark of himself was returning. Unbelievable.
Ken entered the room, sat on his bed and wiped his glasses. "So how'd you like group?"
"It was an experience."
"Yeah, an experience in insanity. I look at those long-timers and fear they've just been brainwashed and traded their humanity for feeling better. They treat me like a heretic. They don't want their covers pulled. Life does suck, and to tell yourself it doesn't just to feel better seems childish to me. Why not just face the darkness? Why not just walk through the terror of our unpredictable existence without trying to change the vacuum within? How do we know that isn't a greater kind of courage than this positive thinking pabulum?"
Each word that escaped Ken's lips struck Bud like a blow. He feared his newborn hope was about to be strangled in its crib.
"I really can't handle all this negative stuff you're saying. I just got here and I want to get along. I don't want to seem unfriendly or anything, but could you just keep your opinions to yourself for now? I'm not strong enough to handle them yet."
Ken ran his hand through his thin red hair. "So you want to join the ranks of the brainwashed Pollyannas? Go ahead. I'd rather be human." And with that Ken flicked his bedside light on and curled up to read.
Bud moved to the little brown desk in the corner, took out a sheet of paper and wrote at the top: "I Am Special Because--" and drew a complete blank. I am special because-- I'm in this place? No. Because I suffer from severe depression? No. I'm not special. Nothing special about me. Maybe leave it blank. No, gotta try.
What could he say that was uniquely positive? Unique-- yes. I am special because I am unique. No two snowflakes alike. He wrote, "I am special because I am unique and there's no one else like me." Good. But who am I anyway? Yes. "I am special because I don't know who I am," he wrote. That's two. How many did they expect? "I am special because I find it very hard to feel special at all." There-- a little bit of Ken's realism. He folded the paper up and put it in his back pocket, laid his jeans over the chair, then turned down the covers, flicked off his light and fell asleep.