Valerie always left those one-on-one meetings with the professor feeling as though she deserved to be pummeled by rocks

Redeeming Value

Rating: PG I guess

Summary: I pulled it from the swampy recesses of my subconscious. Scary things live down there. But I'm okay, really. Any questioning of my mental health will be greeted with a hearty laugh. Ha! Ha!

Dedication: to all the people who keep me from being Valerie

Valerie always left those one-on-one meetings with the professor feeling as though she deserved to be pummeled by rocks. It wasn't appropriate behavior for a TA to relate personal events to a student, or to lean against the chalkboard during lessons the way she did. Stupid! She should know things like that. And those grey-green eyes with wrinkled wax-paper skin framing them would bore into her soul, saying, "you foolish child. What makes you think you will ever matter in this world? You are deluded. You are useless. Give up."

Only, she couldn't give up. She couldn't fail herself again. She had to finish something for once, no matter how bad she was at it or how poorly suited. She would finish school and go… somewhere. Maybe to live by herself on home-grown vegetables and write stories all day, cheating and the like for her income. She could be one of those people that sends out the envelopes. Or, she could walk dogs.

Anything would do, as long as it was far away from the mockery she saw in so many pairs of eyes like those moss-covered-slate that stared at her now. She could live with anything if it meant being out of range of all the thoughtless words that were thrown unpredictably upon her like garbage being dumped out 4th-floor windows.

It wasn't what the professor said. It was what he didn't say. It was the way he spoke. He said things like, "you are too friendly. You are too relaxed. You should be cold, reserved and formal. No one wants to hear about you or your life. Just because you care, doesn't mean we do. You are weak because you cannot be objective."

He didn't say it in those words of course. He used tact, or maybe it was more like understatement because tact would imply that he tried to spare her feelings. He didn't, because he didn't care. In fact it made him angry, she could feel it, that this student slouched in front of class. How dare she? People weren't supposed to do that sort of thing. Up from dawn till long after dusk the day before working, trying to atone for all her failures and she was tired, hadn't meant to slouch. His disgust would grow ten times its size if she unveiled that fact.

You are not cut out for this world, it told her time and time again. (That is, the world did.) Other people passed on sidewalks while she lined her eyes up with the stars, wishing she could throw a grappling hook and climb up far away.

Those thoughts weren't meant for adults though. Children, maybe teenagers were expected to feel that way, but grown-ups had to deal with real life by themselves. Or by drinking with their friends, and having sex with strangers. Or by becoming harsh and judging, loosing pain on other people, weak ones like herself. Or the ones that went to shrinks, the ones that always seemed stuck where they were, unable to surface, unable to grow.

No need for staring at the sky. She could change. She could fit the formula of what a pre-med student was supposed to be. Only she'd be lying, for she wasn't starched-white-coat and straight-mouthed serious. Life would make her laugh or cry in front of someone, someday and her cover would be blown. No bedside manner, that one. Wouldn't want an ugly giggling girl to operate on me. Doctors shouldn't do those kinds of things.

Nodding, "yes sir," she said, meek as possible while carefully avoiding sounding social-phobic. Waited till he moved before she dared get up and leave- then he'd know he'd got to her, a sign of weakness. Tears prickling the way pine needles do when they've fallen off the Christmas tree and you're scooping them up with your hand. Her eyes filled up and the saline miniscus wet her lashes so that now her fragility was evident to all.

Weakling.

She understood why some girls cut themselves. Everyone she knew was superior somehow, and she alone deserved some sort of punishment. Righteous anger toward herself with nobody to yell at, what was left? You're grounded. No, that wouldn't work. Because she had no willpower and would probably let herself off the hook after a day or two or three.

She understood why some girls cut themselves, but knew from Abnormal Psych that this was pathological. Doing that would only prove her failure. No, she couldn't cut herself, although she felt desire for a cool razor pulling its way through her breaking skin. Drawing lines of atonement, dribbling out her worthless blood onto the floor where she could wipe it with a paper towel and feel like she'd somehow become cleaner.

Well, that would be a waste.

Valerie was born to be a doctor. She was going to find a better cure for cancer, saving millions of people from lots of pain. That was what was written somewhere in the cosmos at her birth.

But human beings screw things up a lot. We can foil every perfect plan and ruin all that's beautiful.

She felt too much. She did not wear her armor like the way a civilized human should. And she was hammered all her life by hot pokers and sharp nails until she didn't care any more.

The majority had to be right, because that many people couldn't be wrong.

She didn't matter.

These thoughts were floating, grey and looming in her head when she stepped out onto the street.

She was hit by a car.

She died.

But there was one good thing. Valerie knew her liver, heart, and kidneys might be worth something. She had signed the back of her driver's license.

So I guess some people got transplants from Valerie, and they were really grateful.