The Delights of Atrophy

Foolishly, at one point in Silvia’s life, she had wanted to “be something.” It’s indoctrinated into so many of us at a young age, especially those born into the status of white middle classery. The elementary schools and the junior high schools and the high schools drum it into us that we have the potential to be anything. Ah, but note the words “potential” and “anything.” They’re the fine print that wide-eyed under-eighteens choose to ignore. But if only they’d listened more closely to the language being used, they could have ended up like Silvia sooner: content to revel in the delights of atrophy. Sure, it still took her longer to figure things out than it ought to have, but she got to the revelation sooner than most–at age thirty, (the proverbial dreams dashed, time to “grow up” age).

While other of her friends were still trying desperately to claw their way to the top of whatever respective career their college major had led them to–editorial assistant, paralegal, what have you–Silvia took the step back that was necessary to letting go of delusions. This came in the form of quitting her job at Warner Bros. as a reader–one of the last good ones, she might add. She rather fancied herself a Betty Schaefer from Sunset Boulevard. And because of the pervasiveness of bad readers, Silvia maintained, so it went that more bad scripts slipped through the cracks of getting greenlit. Since she could remember, she had wanted to write screenplays. The lies of her parents and suburban public school education had made her believe she could do it. Pull herself up by her bootstraps and work up to it from the university-sanctioned internship she had taken at WB–back when it was at one of its peaks and still had Gossip Girl to offer on the CW. Alas, the excitement of getting other people’s coffee and taking their lunch orders wore off after about a month.

Her promotion to reader upon graduating from UCLA about a year later gave her a new flicker of hope that she could actually break in from the inside as a screenwriter. To her dismay, the relatively “quick” promotion was merely a one-off designed to dangle a carrot she would never be sated with. Even when she had become decent acquaintances with a VP who appreciated her “keen eye for story,” it apparently wasn’t keen enough to get him to read one of her own original scripts. Though it did pique his interest in her long enough for her to imprudently sleep with him at the Beverly Hilton one night when she had accompanied him on a business meeting with a potential patch-up writer who ultimately ended up writing, well, her true masterpiece, Young Adult. Drinking in the reverie of being deemed important enough to take along for such a “hush hush” powwow, Silvia got caught up in his stock lines. “Someone as young as you–with the talent you have now–you’ll go far.” She was putty in his middle-aged white male hands.

So they went up to the room he “just happened” to have ready in case the meeting ran late. As though Pacific Palisades was really that much of a shlep. God, what a twit she had been at twenty-five. And she didn’t have any right to be. It’s not as though disappointments of the middle class whites didn’t come in spades. Of course, no one other than middle class whites themselves would see it that way. Yet, maybe all suffering really is subjective–at least when it comes to the population inhabiting the significant portions of the U.S. that strongly resemble Lyon Estates from Back to the Future.

For Silvia, it wasn’t just learning that romantic prospects of the current epoch hardly possessed the same “razmatazz” as displayed in movies even as recent as Runaway Bride (as Silvia always argued in her rejection of “millennial-centric rom-coms,” Julia Roberts’ filmography should remain the benchmark). It was also the mass deceit of being constantly indoctrinated with the false notion that she (and everyone of her generation) was special. How had it taken everyone around her so long to figure out that, mathematically speaking, this couldn’t compute?

She laughed to herself as she drove off the Warner Bros. lot and back to her Los Feliz apartment, still somehow only $1,400 a month thanks to her moving there in 2008 when she was still in college. When her parents asked her why she wanted to live so far away from her Westwood campus, she replied, “Los Feliz is where the Sierra Bonita apartments are in Mulholland Drive. Trust me, this area is only going to appreciate in cachet and value.” Her parents had no idea what she was talking about as they never watched movies. It was one of many of their characteristics that made her regularly question if she wasn’t someone else’s spawn. In any case, they obliged her request, helping her to secure the apartment with a little extra money for the deposit and last month’s rent.

Last month’s rent, she mused to herself as she lolled about in the leaf-ridden pool located in the center of the complex. She hadn’t ever used this pool, no matter how many times she had been begged to do so by a visiting friend or beckoned to by one of the neighbors during a random barbecue. Now, she suddenly saw its merit. That it was the only place she could or should possibly be in this very moment. I’ll never pay last month’s rent because I’m never moving from this pool. 

And she truly didn’t. At least, not of her own volition. She floated in it for about ten hours before anyone started to notice/grow concerned. It was another old school tenant of the building, a stunt man named Mike (he swore up and down that Quentin Tarantino based Death Proof on him). As he cautiously approached Silvia, he gasped at how corpse-like she looked, her skin all puckered like a giant prune and her complexion utterly pallid in spite of exposure to the sun.

“Silvia? What are you doing?”

She smiled. “I’m atrophying.”

He stood there, uncertain of what to do. When he really thought about what she said, he realized that he, too, had been doing the same thing. He hadn’t landed a gig on a viable film or TV show in two years, picking up mostly extra work where he could and working part-time in an auto body shop. So instead of trying to fish her out, of trying to convince her to go on as though she wasn’t deteriorating in all her aspirations anyway by choosing to ignore facts, he took his faded black shirt off and joined her in the pool.

Days later, KTLA reported on the incident as their headline story, commenting that the two corpses found in the pool at the La Fontaine apartments confirmed a classic Hollywood tale of broken dreams and the desperate acts that failure can drive people to. But Silvia’s story was no longer so specific to the confines of L.A. Everywhere you turned, people were atrophying in the misery of a revelation: this is it–this is your life.

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