She learned that everything was meaningless too late in life. Or too early. She wasn’t sure which but was confident it would depend on how long she lived. Which wouldn’t be long enough or it would be too long, she was sure of that. And once she learned it, she became obsessed with the fact that there was no meaning. At night, she would lie in bed and think about all of the things that she knew. Making lists of the new things that she learned that day and the things that she knew from days before. The memories, the facts, the experiences, the clichés.
She knew how to formulate the past perfect tense of the French verb être. She knew the time zones of every state in the continental U.S. She knew the secret to making the perfect pie dough. She knew how to change a tire and fill a car with coolant. She knew the first five albums on the Billboard Music charts the year she was born. She knew that Mario Batali, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly, Daphne Oz and Michael Symon currently hosted The Chew. She knew that the first fifteen minutes of The View was called “Hot Topics” and it was the only part of the show when the anchors actually shared their views. She knew that a salon grade hair dryer cost $39.99 not $19.99 and that Luck Be A Lady Tonight would solve the L _ c_ _ _ A L a _ _ _onight puzzle. People’s names and opinions and the menial task of solving the puzzle and guessing how much the salon grade hair dryer cost became a part of her ever-growing list of meaningless things that she knew. She listed them in black and white notebooks scattered all around her apartment, stuffed in all of her purses, all of her corners.
She would feel pleasure, peace even, as she wrote down the words. And then she would feel an immense sadness once she remembered how meaningless they all were.
A halter dress is never going to look fashionable or classy. A full princess gown is great in theory but never truly flattering. Jewels are not going to look good unless they’re real. A sweetheart neckline is always too low. See through mesh was not meant for a wedding gown. A veil is only meant to hide something that will be revealed soon after.
Before she learned that everything was meaningless, she’d learned how to bake and garden and sew. Her résumé was full. She had traveled. She was well read. She had been an intern many times over and she had experiences and she had degrees. She knew how to do tasks that would make her appear successful and put together. But since she had learned that nothing mattered, she had felt like a fraud. When she tried to find meaning for why the meaning had disappeared, when she tried to find a cause and an effect, an inevitability, she couldn’t find anything.
It happened to be around the same time she cleaned out her closet. In her closet were many things her friend helped her decide to give away that year. Her friend had been trying to help her move. To help her move on. There were jeans in four different sizes, there was a blue jersey blazer, there was a black dress with purple drop sleeves, and there was the skirt. She had found the skirt at a Goodwill in a small town in Georgia when she was passing through during her first and only foray into a typical collegiate spring break. The skirt was something no one else liked but no one could look away from either. It was gold. It was mostly crinoline. It was one size fits all. It was not something that one would consider a rare find, although she always considered it rare because how many gold, lamé, crinoline skirts could possibly exist? She bought it for five dollars and stored it in the back of her closet waiting for the perfect occasion to wear it. So far there had not been an occasion special enough. And then the day came when someone convinced her to give it away.
At first, she didn’t notice the emptiness. The skirt was gone and so was the meaning of life, but she didn’t see the connection. Not just yet, anyway. She cleaned out her closet and then the next day around noon or thereabouts, she got the feeling. The sinking, relentless pit in her stomach that over the coming weeks and months, she learned couldn’t be medicated away. Lodged like a nail in her mind, the realization that there was no meaning in the world. It was an average existential progression, she thought. Whatever that means. She was sure she had read about it in psychology or sociology or philosophy class. She tried to come up with ways to trick herself into believing there was meaning in the world. But you can’t truly convince yourself of a lie that only you are privy to.
So as one does in an average existential progression, she started drinking. Once she started drinking, she started forgetting piece-by-piece all of the meaningless facts that she knew and began to wonder if forgetting perhaps meant something. She wouldn’t ask Google because she was scared of what the search engine would report. Last time she had a cold Google convinced her she had AIDS. After purchasing the at home AIDS test and receiving a negative result, she trusted Google a little less.
Being a bartender allowed her to hear plenty of empty chatter and to participate in it, too. She used to Google pointless trivia to fill her guests minds while she was pouring their drinks. These facts, too, she had added to her black and white notebooks of Meaningless Things. Her profession also gave her an opportunity to ask any question she might have, as everyone is much more pliable while drinking. After a few drinks she would ask her regular guest, Dr. L, in a thinly veiled question/answer that went something like: I have a friend who sometimes forgets things that she used to know, do you think she has Alzheimer’s? Or I have a friend that sometimes looks at someone’s face that she knows and can’t recognize them, do you think she’s going crazy? Or I have a friend that can’t sleep because there’s too much to worry about, do you think she’s depressed? The doctor would listen and drink his Lagavulin, smiling as she stared into his empty eyes searching for the meaning. And then he would tell her nothing was wrong with her friend, that everyone felt that way, and he would leave her a prescription for something to help her sleep with his tip. But she knew deep down that he didn’t know anything that meant anything either. She saw it in his eyes. Or rather didn’t see it. And then she started writing the meaningless facts in notebooks because although they were meaningless, they were all she knew and at least she knew something. She needed to know something.
Gray is the new beige. Glass cabinets look good for one day, after that they will always show your mess. A kitchen island is a great, cheap way to increase counter space and if it’s on wheels, it’s even more desirable. No one needs a formal dining room. Open concept allows children to be seen from every angle. A closet can never be made into an office. A claw foot tub is overpriced and uncomfortable but a rainwater showerhead is not. Barn doors are the updated version of pocket doors and probably will never slide as smoothly as they do the day of installation.
Then one day she forgot how to speak in present tense and wondered if that was a side effect of losing her mind, or if it was just because everything important had already happened. So she set out to find something that meant something.
On Monday she went to the church to talk to the pastor.
“You remind me of Peter. He was a passionate man, quick to act but also quick to fail. The only reason he failed though was because he tried. It was this Faith and action that let him walk on water. He was very bold and often very wrong. He also denied Christ three times after he was crucified. Jesus knew everything and forgave him. He renamed him Peter, or The Rock.” He said.
On Tuesday she went to the city court building to hear the verdicts read by the judges.
“Members of the jury, your duty today will be to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty based only on facts and evidence provided in this case. The prosecution has the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution must prove that a crime was committed and that the defendant is the person who committed the crime. However, if you are not satisfied of the defendant’s guilt to that extent, then reasonable doubt exists and the defendant must be found not guilty.” They read.
On Wednesday she went to the elementary school to mine the children for optimism and excitement.
“Did you know that there’s a marshmallow man that lives in the sky and the moon is made of marshmallows and he has marshmallow friends that come out at night and they can only come out at night because if they came out during the day the sun would roast them like a bonfire? That’s how we have marshmallows on Earth because the marshmallow man sends his kids down here so they can’t be burned by the sun.” They told her.
On Thursday she went to a reading or a show or a concert to see if anyone else had discovered meaning.
“I make a date for golf. You can bet your life it rains. I try to give a party and the guy upstairs complains. I guess I’ll go thru life; Just catchin’ colds and missin’ trains, Ev’rything happens to me. I never miss a thing. I’ve had measles and the mumps. And ev’ry time I play my ace my partner always trumps. Ev’rything happens to me.” Someone sang.
And on Friday and Saturday she worked to make money to have a house and to stay alive. All so that she could keep finding out that none of it meant anything. Not at the church. Not at the court. Not at the school. Not at the museum. Not a single place she looked, had any meaning. She keeps going and keeps looking and she keeps wondering what meaning even means and it makes her tired, too tired for thinly veiled wording and barn doors that won’t close correctly. But I wonder if this is just the side effect of knowing everyone is going to die too early or too late in life.
So on Sunday we rest and say that it is good.
And then one day when she is not sleeping, trying instead to write all of her Meaningless Things down in a tattered notebook busting at the seams, before she forgets, she remembers. She recalls that once upon a time there was a gold lamé skirt in her closet and that she gave it away. She finally sees that that very skirt must have held all of the meaning of life. And on an average Wednesday, she somehow allowed some well-meaning friend of hers, a woman she no longer even follows online, to convince her that it was meaningless. And she threw it out. And now the emptiness haunts her. The guilt devours her. The regret steals her sleep. But finally she sees a way out, a way to truly rest!
So instead of searching for meaning she begins searching for the gold lamé skirt. She stops going to the church and going to the school and going to the courts and finally she stops listening to anyone else tell her where to find meaning. She spends seven days a week traveling to meaningless towns in meaningless states to meaningless stores looking for a skirt in places that people have sent their meaningless clothing to die. Soon enough her closets are overflowing with things that used to mean something to someone out there in hopes that she can insert her own meaning into some of them. She can’t find the skirt but she can’t stop looking for the skirt. She can’t stop looking because she learned too late that the only thing that matters is glittering lamé and crinoline and which had been hiding in her closet all along.
Cassandra Morrison is a MFA candidate in creative non-fiction at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois. She has just finished a book of hybrid fiction and non-fiction that discusses Southern culture, femininity, and social neuroses. Her work has appeared in The Stockholm Review and LitroNY. She is from the South, gets lost frequently and is a little bit basic.