Some people, I thought, are just meant to be filler. Background characters only created to decorate the world for the main players. We work, we have a few hobbies, a handful of friends, we exist, but we don’t matter.
It was true for me, anyway.
Every day, I’d wake up at 7 am, shower, have a bowl of cereal, and then go sit in a cubicle for eight hours before coming home, having dinner, watching TV, and going to bed. Rinse and repeat, day after day. On weekends, I’d sometimes go for runs in the park or spend the afternoon wandering aimlessly through shops, never buying anything, just looking.
I had a few folks that I was friendly with from work, but we rarely hung out and, when we did, it was usually just for drinks and bitching about the boss. No substance. I told myself it didn’t matter. I was a boring person who led a boring life.
I was just so much filler.
It occurred to me one night, while I was lying awake in bed, that if I were to just disappear, it would have almost no effect on the world around me. Sure, my parents might mourn for a bit, but they had my more accomplished younger brother to help them forget. I wasn’t even sure that same brother would notice I was gone at all. Work would continue uninterrupted without me, those people I sometimes went out with would still meet up at the bar, my landlady would find a new tenant.
Everyone would keep on keeping on without much interruption.
I wasn’t sure if I found the thought unsettling or comforting. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, I wasn’t suicidal, I was just….meaningless.
I’d had those kinds of thoughts before; they were dark and heavy and made me feel trapped inside myself. Usually I could shake them after a day or two, burying them under hours of overtime and working out until I was too exhausted to think anymore. This time was different, though. This time, they slithered about my insudes and coiled around my stomach and heart until both ached.
I still made myself go to work. I still made myself run along the footpaths in the nearby park. I still pushed myself to appear normal despite how trivial and forced it all felt. At night, little whispers would flit across the back of my mind and keep me awake.
You don’t matter
They sounded like everyone I’d ever known.
After a week, I finally did call out of work and I stayed in bed all day, just staring at the wall of my apartment and listening to those voices. They were soft, but insistent, and the longer they carried on, the more I started to think about how right they were.
The next day, I left a message at work saying I was still under the weather and wouldn’t be in.
Useless; pathetic; you don’t matter
I didn’t even bother to call the office on the third day. I doubted anyone would notice anyway.
The voices were getting louder.
I didn’t eat much in those three days. I didn’t shower or clean up or check my phone. I could barely be bothered to get out of bed to use the bathroom. It all seemed so pointless.
And, admittedly, that was starting to scare me a little.
It was just after noon when I dragged myself out of bed and over to my computer. I sat in front of it for a long time, the blank search engine up on my screen, and I just watched the text cursor blink, waiting for me to type something in. I didn’t know what I was doing or what to search for, though. I just knew that I needed something. That I needed someone.
My fingers dragged slowly across the keyboard.
I need someone to talk to
I hit enter and results filled the screen. I scrolled past the first few, some chat rooms and an advertisement for a bot that would act as a friend, and stopped with my mouse hovering over a link to a page called Untethered Talk.
The brief description below said that it was a talk based, online hotline for those struggling. The idea of speaking to someone was daunting and exhausting and I almost shut my computer down again and returned to bed. The only thing that stopped me was catching sight of myself in the mirror hanging on the back of my door.
Gnarled, tangled hair, puffy eyes, dirty pajamas; it was like looking at a stranger. The same niggling sense of fear that had gotten me out of bed in the first place flared again.
It doesn’t even matter, I thought even as I was reaching for my headset.
I clicked the link and navigated to the voice chat option, where it had me input my name and my age, and I waited to be matched up with one of the site’s volunteers. All the while, I was berating myself in my head for being a pathetic attention seeker.
“Hello and thank you for speaking with me this evening,” a woman’s voice, warm and soft, with a hint of an English accent, said. “My name is Thalia. Am I speaking with Erin?”
“Y-yeah,” I replied, suddenly nervous.
She was going to think that I was stupid and that I had no reason to need to talk to someone. I was an employed adult with a roof over my head and food on my table; so what if I was feeling down, it wasn’t like I had a good reason for it.
“Great. Can you tell me why you called today, Erin? What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just…I think I should go.”
“Are you sure?” Thalia asked gently. “It sounds like you want to talk.”
“No. I don’t know.”
“I think you do,” Thalia said. “Can I make an observation just based on your voice?”
“You sound tired, Erin. I hear defeat in your tone. You sound like a woman who needs a long rest.”
A lump had grown in my throat and I made a weak sound of agreement.
“Do you know what I think you should do?”
She said it in the same comforting way she’d said everything else and it took me a moment to process her words. “W-what?”
“Kill yourself,” Thalia repeated. “It’s all meaningless anyway, isn’t it?”
The lump became sharp and jagged and I was having trouble getting words past it.
“How long have you felt like this?” She asked sweetly. “Years, right? You know it’s not going to get better.”
“Listen, dear. You’ve been at the same job pushing paper for almost five years. Mr. Calwell isn’t going to give you that promotion you’ve been longing for; you know that. It’s an endless drudgery with no chance at advancement and you’ve not learned any useful skills that will get you a better job elsewhere.”
“How did you know tha-”
Thalia continued, her voice still motherly, still kind. “It’s not like you have any real friends there, is it? Or anywhere, really. And no love life to speak of. You really are a sad little critter, dear.”
My mouth flapped uselessly. I had no defense, nothing to say to counter her words, and the nagging, wriggling voices in my head chorused, See? You’re pathetic! No one cares about you!
“Dale is everything you weren’t. He’s four years younger, but he’s already a doctor. He’s married, has a baby, he can afford to take care of your parents. It’s no wonder they moved to be closer to him; he’s the child they really wanted. You’re just their disappointment.”
“How do you know about my brother?” I demanded through a sob.
“Don’t be so upset, dear. This is untethered talk, the truth. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“I wanted help!”
“I am helping you, Erin,” Thalia said. “I’m helping you realize you’ve been right all along. You’re unimportant, meaningless. You’re just so much filler.”
With a cry, I hit the red x at the top of the screen and shut the chat window. Immediately, a new window popped open.
Thalia is inviting you to a voice chat
I closed it quickly. I was shaking and terrified and completely at a loss as to how she could have known any of the things she’d been saying. She couldn’t have! There was no way!
Another pop up appeared.
Thalia is inviting you to a voice chat
I swallowed a shout and closed that too. A chat window opened up on its own.
“What’s wrong, Erin?” Thalia’s gentle voice filled my headset. “I’m just saying things you’ve always known.”
I did scream that time and I frantically closed the chat and then the web browser and I tossed my headset back on to my desk. My heart thrummed rapidly in my chest and I felt like I was going to be sick.
Distantly, I heard the Skype ringtone playing through the headset I’d thrown aside. I looked up at my screen to see a call coming in from unknown. Before I could decline, the call was somehow accepted and Thalia’s voice came through my computer speakers.
“Stop being so dramatic, dear,” she said. “Just kill yourself; it’ll stop your pain, people won’t have to pretend to care anymore. You’ll all be free.”
“Stop, stop, stop!” I was shrieking at my computer while Thalia clicked her tongue in gentle reproach.
“Why fight it? You know I’m right.”
I picked up the monitor and I hurled it at the wall, where it left a large dent before crashing to the floor. I yanked at wires, I stomped on my headset, I beat my keyboard against the desk, and the whole time, I couldn’t stop screaming.
“Stop, stop, stop!”
From out in the living room, my cell phone rang from inside my purse. It was so quiet that I almost didn’t hear it.
I sat back on my heels in the middle of my trashed room, cheeks wet and stained with tears, and I grabbed at my hair and I shook my head.
“No,” I moaned, “stop, please stop!”
The phone stopped ringing and silence fell over my apartment. For just a moment, my ears filled with the pounding of my heart and my own breathing.
And then my cell phone started to ring again.
I dragged myself to my feet and staggered out of my bedroom. My purse was where I always left it, sitting on the little table beside my front door, and as I approached, the ringing seemed to get louder. I dumped the purse out and grabbed my phone.
“Stop!” I shouted into it. “Just leave me alone! Please…please…”
I sank to my knees and clutched the phone against my ear, sobbing into it.
“Mom,” I managed to say.
“What’s wrong, Erin? I got a call from your work, they said I was your emergency contact and that they’d been trying to reach you. Where are you?” The concern in her voice just made me cry harder.
“Mom,” I choked the words out, “can you come here? To my place?”
“Are you ok?”
“I think s-” I stopped myself and shook my head. “No. I’m not, Mom. I think I need help.”
My mom assured me she’d catch the first flight out to my city and stayed on the phone with me until I’d calmed down enough to stop crying. I didn’t tell her what had happened or how I’d been feeling; I couldn’t yet. I just told her that I was sorry, but I needed her.
“Don’t you ever apologize for that,” she said. “You’re my baby; I’d do anything for you. Hang tight, I’ll be there in a few hours. I love you, Erin.”
After we hung up, I saw I had missed calls and messages from a few people at work asking where I was and if I was ok. I hadn’t heard them coming in when I’d be tucked away in my bed.
Slowly, I got to my feet and held my phone against my chest. I was still trembling, still replaying everything Thalia had said to me over again in my head. All of those awful, impossible things that she shouldn’t have known about me. But as I sat on my couch, I tried to force myself not to think about her and to drown her out with a louder, more real voice.
You’re my baby; I’d do anything for you. Hang tight, I’ll be there in a few hours. I love you, Erin.
When I got to the airport, I found both of my parents waiting for me. They didn’t ask me to explain right then (not that I was sure I would ever be able to), they weren’t upset that I’d asked them to come, they just enveloped me in a tight hug between them.
And for the first time in a long time, I dared to believe that maybe I wasn’t as alone as I often felt. Maybe I wasn’t so meaningless.
Maybe I was more than so much filler.