Her entire life, Nova had asked for no favors. Nor had she expected any. She knew right out the gate that existence was a cold, harsh abyss. And no one wanted to stick their neck out, lest it get chopped right off by some unforeseen force. One just waiting to “swat away” the competition. Because in this capitalist life, everyone serves as nothing more than competition. A hindrance to a lifelong goal called, in America, “achieving basic human rights.” The very ones that were supposedly “promised” on a piece of paper. But there were many asterisks that did not get included, and one needed to read the fine print based on the realities that were reiterated each century since the founding of the country.
Nova’s reality was quickly cut down in its prime, when, rather than her neck being chopped off as a result of sticking it out for someone else, it was the tip of her index finger. Like many tragedies, it happened on Christmas Eve. She was “celebrating” with her boyfriend—grudgingly—after a long day of working at one of the few corporate chains in her small town: Ace Hardware. If you had asked her when she was a little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have told you that her dream was to move to L.A. and become a costume designer for film. When she casually mentioned this notion to her mother to see what the reaction would be, Nova failed to take into account the presence of her latest deadbeat boyfriend in the room, who laughed uproariously in his drunken stupor and assured, “You dumb bitch, you’re never leaving this town. You’re stuck here like your mother. Leave the dreamin’ to the rich folk.” And so that was that for Nova. You get an early-in-life shutdown delivered with such severity, and it tends to stick with you. Adults really do underestimate how much a child’s future success is contingent upon merely being encouraged every so often, rather than told that they’re ridiculous.
And Nova still felt ridiculous as an adult. Putting on her stupid fucking vest to go to work and pretend that she gave a shit about telling men with large guts what aisle the rope and hydrochloric acid would be in. She knew full well that most of the customers were just trying to tie someone up and/or murder them. Alas, part of the job description was passing no judgment on the type of products people were in search of, despite it being a dead giveaway of some illegal shenanigans afoot. Nova learned a while back, however, that nothing is really illegal when you’re a white man. You have to do some pretty massive-scale shit to alert the attention of the authorities. Nova was aware of that based on her own situation. Eric, her unwanted boyfriend of three years, had been smacking the shit out of her for the majority of that time. And no amount of visible damage to her person had drawn out the concern or worry of anybody she came across. At Ace, her fellow employees were all much younger—high school students looking to save up for a way out. Registering that she wasn’t in their age bracket, they scarcely bothered to look at her at all. But even they had to take note of her maimed state when she walked into the store, three days after the incident, with her finger swathed in an amount of gauze that could not be ignored.
Usually the most productive employee out of the lazy lot, they really only noticed something was off because nothing was getting done, and no one was being helped. Today, Nova had to protect herself from the customers by cowering in whatever corner she could find, hiding from the interactions she typically sought out. The idea of “interfacing” with anyone horrified her as she kept having flashbacks to the moment her bone was exposed in the moonlight. If she hadn’t imbibed those last two shots of whiskey, she reckoned she would have passed out from the pain. And the only reason she put her hand out at all to stop the car door from closing was because she could see that Eric was stumbling toward the gaping opening in such a way that if it closed on him, he might get his head bumped. Skewered or poked, really. Not that the head on his shoulders had ever done her much good. Maybe she should have let him sustain a head injury and he would have become a different person. Any version of himself had to be better than the current one. The one who just laughed when he watched what happened to her as she thrust her hand forward to keep the door open and spare him from a cruel fate; but he only stumbled into it anyway, the force of his weight barreling toward her in such a manner that it slammed the door shut in spite of her original attempts to prevent that. She supposed she was “lucky,” in her own way, that the accident only caused the maiming of one “small” part of her hand. But oh, what a significant part.
She found herself suffering from the phantom limb syndrome. Whenever she would reach for something on one of the shelves, she couldn’t quite grasp it correctly, over- or under-shooting the grab because of her missing fingertip, a nub where the nail used to be. As she realized later on, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Like if her mother’s boyfriend hadn’t berated her dream, she might have held on to it. She might never have fallen into the same abusive pattern as her surrendering matriarch. The one aspect of Nova’s “Hollywood dream” that she did cling to, it had to be said, was maintaining some semblance of glamor. Ergo, the acrylic nails. After the maiming, she tried to go back to having “normal” nails. Pre-disfigurement, she went to the salon regularly to ensure the maintenance of her blood-red acrylics. But when the cut-off happened, she thought it might draw less attention to the blatant lack on her hand. A few months of being “bare” cured her of any such theorizing. And, thanks to her newly-acquired opioid habit for the pain, she was feeling less self-conscious about having to go into the salon. Nothing mattered, mainly because she could feel nothing. Least of all shame. Despite her perpetual state of being in some kind of stupor, she seemed to only become more valued at her workplace. So there was that “silver lining,” she supposed.
All these years later, she’s still at Ace. One of the top salespeople, in fact. Her boyfriend lost interest in her after she got “too old” (sometime in her early forties). Though he had enjoyed the benefits of her superior-to-his salary, even he knew he couldn’t keep siphoning it from her once he got caught red-handed (red-dicked?) with a younger woman. In Nova’s bed, to boot. The one she had built the bedframe for with her own two hands (back when they were still whole)… using many materials from Ace. That employee discount, and all. After he packed his shit and left, she felt freer. More unencumbered. If it took him finally letting her go for a younger model for things to end, then so be it. She didn’t much care how it happened, she was just glad that it did. And so was her formerly forever bruised flesh.
Looking at her little existence, it was plain to see she was one of the countless women leading a life of quiet desperation. Because, yes, that desperation was resignation. But what Thoreau didn’t fully understand when he made that declaration was that there was a certain kind of heroism to those who chose to resign themselves to their lot. She was not Nova, but Super Nova. A woman with the courage—the serenity—to accept the things she could not change. One of them being her “station.” Or at least, that’s what they kept telling her at the AA meetings she would go to before hitting the same bar every night. Returning to the scene of the car’s crime in that very parking lot where she lost a piece of herself that couldn’t be reattached. But women lose pieces of themselves every day to something. Or, more accurately, someone. Constantly giving and giving to the point where there’s nothing left inside, even if it appears there might still be on the outside.