Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jiminy who no one particularly liked. He couldn't talk to people in elementary school, but it didn't bother him then. However, once he went into middle school, everyone started telling him he needed to talk and have friends to do anything meaningful. The problem was that he didn't know how to make friends, something which everyone else in his speech class seemed to get automatically. He didn't know what exactly he was missing, and he didn't ask anyone how because they would give him the same worthless answers as the speech teachers.
"Put yourself out there!" they said. "Just go out and talk to people!"
He always wanted to say, "Talk about what?" but they just told him to talk about his interests, and he didn't have the self-awareness to realize that he didn't have interests and that was the big problem.
However, he had a plan. He decided to just be very annoying, because that was the only thing he kind of knew how to do. He wore geeky shirts to school. He stood on seats in the cafeteria and yelled loudly. He gyrated to weird tuneless music he didn't really like. And it seemed to work at first, because people started bullying him just as he had planned. But he took it like a child getting candy, and his smiles demoralized them so much that they stopped. At that point, he stopped talking to anyone except himself.
The teachers told him that he was testing their patience. His parents told him that his lack of friends reflected badly on them. Eventually, when his sister came of age, she began scolding him as well. Nothing mattered, though, because he never talked to his classmates. He listened to them speak so effortlessly to one another and he cried into his pillow at home, because they talked abut lewd things and cursed like sailors and his speech teacher had never explained to him that in middle school, children just talk like that because they finally can, the same way they wear sandals instead of shoes.
There was no one and nothing for him. Even though he didn't realize it, the edits he made on the sites he visited were stupid and unhelpful. This problem would build over the next few years.
At school, he decided to imitate the people he saw. He swore at them, they beat him up, and he came back for more. He just wanted attention, and people eventually stopped giving it to him. Over the course of ten days, he pleaded to people all around the school to talk to him. Nobody did, not even the people in his speech class.
It all reached a head on a Tuesday. Every Tuesday since the day Jiminy had started middle school, there was a boombox which played music very loudly. Jiminy had always hated this, but on that specific Tuesday, he decided to break the boombox into tiny pieces. As he ran towards it with his hands over his ears, he realized he could just unplug it, so he pulled the cord and the boombox stopped abruptly.
"How do y'all like this?" he screamed, promptly launching into an impromptu song. A lot of people booed him, but he knew that would happen. Then he got a suspension. He had known that would happen too. But he was still happy, because to his surprise, some people were cheering him on.
His antics with the boombox were the final straw. The teachers told him that this sort of behavior was unacceptable, and he seemed to completely understand. But when they asked him why he was doing it, a change suddenly came over him. He put his head in his hands and let out a bloodcurdling scream that caused at least four of them to jump out of their chairs. He then apologize profusely and started laughing and crying at the same time.
They didn’t punish him for that. He had faced enough punishment. Besides, to the colleges' cold eye, the only real problem with his school performance were his outbursts; his schoolwork was good, and his good grades pulled up the classes he was in. The teachers knew he was a hard worker, and so they deliberately ignored how uncomfortable everyone felt around him and how he was isolating himself to the point where he seemed to be on the verge of a mental breakdown.
He tried to act annoying again in high school, but his fellow schoolchildren began to calmly ask him to stop because they had matured beyond their middle school selves. Seemingly everyone began to tell him that his brand of strange behavior would cause him to be fired from any job he tried to go into.
At this point, he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. He was happy that he wasn't entirely responsible for his inability to talk to people, but he still felt like he was being weak by not acting like a normal human being.
He didn't tell anyone about not feeling good because they would tell him to go talk. He didn't tell anyone on his favorite site anything about himself, and so he was just like a bot but useless, which he realized when someone pointed out that the majority of the edits he made onto the site were minor. He began to recede into himself, losing himself in YouTube videos and stories about people who could punch out all the bullies and talk to everyone. He became distant and his grades began to drop. He began to stop doing anything of note, and so no one but his family noticed him. Some may have found that life fine, but he felt deeply ashamed.
He did not go to college because he was too spastic and his grades were too bad. Instead, he tried unsuccessfully to get a job with his horrible everything. He began to think that he just couldn't work hard enough, and so one night, he decided to get a gun and shoot himself.
Death hit him like a freight train, and when he woke up in an unfamiliar bed in a room the color of rot, he was very confused.
Something was sitting beside him, and it looked like something cut repeatedly with a hacksaw. It smiled at him with an angry glare and said, “That was your test.”
“What?” he asked it.
“That was your test. You failed in life.”
He was angry. “Why did you make me like that, then?”
“I didn’t make you like that.”
“Well, then whoever did.”
“Whoever did what?”
He grunted in exasperation. “Why did my creator make me like that? Why did my maker set me up for failure?”
The ugly thing looked at him with an unreadable stare, and he began to feel self-conscious, and then, without any prior warning, he began to think of how he had wanted to talk to people, but had never known how, so he had tried to get people to bully him and then befriend him.
The ugly thing appeared to read his thoughts. “It was resourceful of you.”
“It didn’t work,” he muttered.
“Steve Jobs once decided that he wanted his valuable equipment to be a different color. The paint broke it. Not everything works.”
He thought of how he had tried to fit in by teasing people, repeating their violent scary things back at them. He thought about how he suddenly realized how stupid it had been, and how he had screamed so loudly that the teachers had all looked at him like he was a wild animal.
The ugly thing interrupted him when he was finished. “You were angry. That was why you did all of that. Everyone gets angry sometimes.”
“Well, it could have gotten me fired.”
“So rational adults say violent things to their colleagues in order to make them go away?”
He thought about that. “I don’t know. It feels like I should have learned a lesson from that.”
“You did. It was that lesson which set you on a path to failure.”
He thought about how he had tried to stifle his urges, to pretend everything was normal by trying to recede into the Internet. He asked himself if it was because of his outburst that he had done this.
The ugly thing seemed to be about to speak, but Jiminy spoke first. “I was told that I was part of a set, told that my personality was in line with some ideal that was constantly bastardized. I felt like that made me less special. I thought I needed friends to be special.”
Now he began to try and get up. “But I was wrong. I was my own person, wasn’t I? I could have become something great. I could have stayed on my path and become something.” He felt stabs of pain, but they only motivated him. “I could have become a horror filmmaker! I could have become a clown! I could have become something normal! I just needed to work hard.”
Then he stopped, and he held himself in an agonizing position. His torso was burning, and you could see it on his face, but he dared not go down. He hissed his final four words out from between clenched teeth. “But – it – was – HARD!”
The thud of his head against the pillow punctuated the last word. He lay panting while the thing beside him looked at him with a mixture of pride and mirth. When Jiminy was breathing regularly again, it finally began speaking. “You could have done something great. You were made to be someone special.”
“But I couldn’t talk to people.”
“That was intentional.”
“But then why was it so hard to live without people?”
“You were meant to swallow your pride and try to speak with people. You were meant to try anything. No time would have been too late. People forgive. You could have done it even as you were entangling yourself in the Web.”
Jiminy laughed, a barking laugh which sounded like coughing. “I didn’t have the fortitude. I don’t want to believe it was completely my fault.”
“Of course that wasn’t it. Your circumstances may have played a role. Perhaps if you had known you weren’t a ‘normal child’ earlier, you wouldn’t have been so beaten down by it. Perhaps if you had been more intelligent, you would have figured out such things in your lifetime rather than here. Perhaps if you were in a less fragile state, you would have pushed through it. Perhaps in that case, you never would have perceived what you could have perceived. Perhaps, perhaps.”
“Is there any way to feel less bad about failing in life?”
“That’s up to you to decide.”
“You’re not being very helpful.”
“That’s because you think I have the answers to these questions. I don't. I know about as much about how to succeed as you do. The only thing I really know is that there’s no point in holding oneself back. In fact, I have seen many people who were undeniably held back from their complete potential. Schizophrenia, sports injuries, ALS - the list goes on. As I said, I don't know everything. For all I know, all of your problems were based on some obscure mental disorder not even you understand.”
Jiminy processed this for a while. Then he stayed in his bed, and the thing beside him sat attentively. It made him feel good, for some reason. Eventually, he asked, “Am I in hell?”
“I don’t know. You could say this is hell. I don’t know if this is hell, heaven or purgatory. Now, I do know that there’s just a giant field of nothingness outside this room, and every once in a while, someone goes out and disappears. I know that there’s no point exploring there. I know a lot of things, but in the end, you have to decide what to do with your time here.”
He licked his lips. He didn’t have any saliva, and he wondered fleetingly how the systems in his body worked. But he felt like he didn’t belong. He wasn’t sure when it had started, but it was beginning to grow, and it had grown to the point that he had never felt so unwanted in his entire life of being unwanted. He wanted another chance at life.
“Can I come back to life?”
“You’ll have to learn everything all over again and hope you have the intelligence to get it right. But perhaps these lessons will be embedded in your subconscious. You never know. I certainly don’t know.”
“I want to be alive again and try and help people.”
“Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Maybe it’s the world, maybe it’s your own shortcomings. You should know that if you think the way you did in the life you lost, you will never feel success.”
“I’m going to remember that.”
“But not in your next life.”
Jiminy got up, even as the pain made him grimace. It was worse than the first time, and he could feel his mind dissolving, but even so, he managed to say his final words. “If I can do this, I can do anything.”