I don’t want anyone to ever need me again.
That was my dominant thought as I lay in bed, knowing he was waiting for me to do something. Give him orders. Get him food. Help him. The slips of paper which arrived in the mail with the money (barely enough to live on) called me a “young carer”. The doctors called my father’s state selective depressive catatonia (caused by an irregular production of neurotransmitters), told me things he’d never trusted me with which felt like an invasion of his privacy: that in his youth he had been hospitalised for depression. It surprised me that he could be weak like that.
And me? I don’t know what I’d call myself. Something along the lines of a royal fuckup.
I didn’t know my mother or ever really want to. The picture of her my father presented seemed at first unbelievable and idealized, later obviously a ploy to guilt-trip me into working harder and being something I wasn’t. I’m still not the person he said she would have wanted me to be. She didn’t leave anything behind except for his memories (my foreign name too, I suppose) and I’ve never talked to anyone else who knew her so I guess I’ll never know what she was “really” like. Or what my father was like before her death. Or what I’m supposed to be other than this misshapen chimera of father’s view of their idealized selves.
I used to sit around and think about purpose and meaning all day, finish some prescribed reading for the vigorous home-schooling programme I was put through and have what I learned to call an “existential crisis”. It was getting more difficult to do so because as it became apparent that my mood was linked to my magical girl power and that sadness tainted my soul gem. I couldn’t afford that, not with witches I could defeat alone so scarce, so I tried to keep busy. I liked counting in prime numbers; it kept me calm. I’m bad at maths but I like it. Something about clarity.
Triangular numbers are also comforting. There’s something certain and beautiful about visualising Pascale's triangle…
I got up and balefully walked to the door, holding the array of the binomial coefficients stubbornly in mind. The fridge was empty except for some eggs which I broke into a bowl, stirring them with a spoon because the whisk still needed to be washed up. My father looked at me from the table.
I was lucky, in a way. My wish had been born from a need for control and responsibility, to be independent like so many other teenagers craved, but also to be approved of by my father. I wanted to be loved and self-sufficient – somewhat a contradiction when accounting for my upbringing. Although intelligence and academic success was my father’s desire and never mine it forced its way into my head somehow through all his lectures. It felt impossible to be happy without also succeeding.
And all these twisted contradictions left me so confused and desperate for a purpose (any purpose), especially after all of my father’s home-schooling and coerced studying amounted to not an early degree earned by a child prodigy, but instead a miserable dropout with no friends. Sitting alone at home all day I needed something that was mine and no one else’s. And, well, fighting monsters to save humanity – what’s better than that?
So I asked to be self-sufficient and have the unconditional love of my father. Kyubey cocked his head at that and gravely told me that I was only permitted one wish. It looked like he was about to go and leave me alone without anything I really wanted. I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t take the opportunity so I said the next thing that came into my head along the same lines: Make my father need me.
I didn’t want to be a burden or useless. I wanted to be important to someone.
Not like this.
I put the cooked eggs down in front of my father gently. His response, as always, was to passively eat them without comment on how poorly mixed and undercooked they were. What wouldn’t he eat if I put it in front of him? I never wanted this. Once he was finished he put the fork down and looked ahead, vacantly.
“Good morning dad.” I said shortly, gripping his shoulder so I could steer him towards the sofa in the next room, carelessly leaving the dirty plate on the table.
He didn’t reply. Nowadays he didn’t even mind the dirty dishes lining the sides of the kitchen. Kyubey had taken that away along with his mind, leaving me with a semi-compliant zombie completely reliant on me to survive.
Make my father need me.
Shuddering, I shoved him down onto the chair with more force than was necessary. He didn’t complain, of course. I put the TV on the Discovery Channel – something he would have found bearable back when he was properly alive – although there seemed to be little point. I don’t think he’s still locked in there, and he won’t come out of the coma like the doctors suggest. Kyubey’s wishes are permanent and transcend any knowledge I might hold. I’d like to undo it, but I can’t.
Breathing in deeply I sank onto the floor besides the chair. I hated my father – now more than ever – and yet –
Here I was, independent, finally living the “fuck literally everyone” dream – so why did it feel so hollow?
When I was younger I did what he said sometimes. When I was older but younger I’d sneak out at night with a can of spray paint and tag things – trains, bridges, benches, walls – anything to feel like I was making some kind of lasting impact on the world. Leaving something behind.
The first time the police had brought me back he looked so disappointed. It was almost unbearable but also evoked a strange sense of triumph. This was my influence; my impact. I had finally changed something – affected someone in a way other than vague disappointment. I felt powerful; and power felt good.
So I did what any other teenager would do: repeated the behaviour again and again until it failed to produce the desired outcome (adrenalin; control; dominance).
The law of diminishing returns refers to how output decreases over time even if input remains constant, and a point is eventually reached where the resources put into something exceed the payout. Although I learned about that in the context of economics I have found that it applies in almost all areas of life.
Unfortunately by the time the marginal productivity of this particular case became unprofitable I had been fined under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990 and earned myself a criminal record for fly posting and destruction of property. The disappointment on his face had turned from angry to hollow, and with it I had lost my victory. So from then on I didn’t get caught.
A few months later I coasted into university on the back of full-time intensive coaching since I had been born. My record interfered with my initial application much to my father’s disgust, so the plan was to do a general foundation year which would allow me entry into a more prestigious university.
For three weeks I stayed in a dingy room living off the tinned soup I had been dropped off with, showing up to one in three lectures. They were boring; I knew the content; no one was here to give me custom-made lessons and talk me through what I found difficult. After I ran out of soup I just stayed at home reading course materials, convinced the lectures were unhelpful and too dizzy from hunger to really travel except for when I went out at night, adrenalin pumping, to tag a few walls or smash a few windows at my faculty.
Turns out some attendance is mandatory. Oops. That disappointed one of us.
Then back here, disinterested in further study, with my father who finally realized I wasn’t what he wanted and stepped back completely. Let me do what I wanted, even when what I wanted was fetching boxes in a warehouse for less than minimum wage because I still wasn’t legally an adult. The future looked bleak. He didn’t approach me about moving out, but it was clear he didn’t want me here anymore. Not when he had to look at me every day and see what I’d become.
Looking back, I’m not surprised I took Kyubey’s deal. Make him need me - that’s the cry of someone clinging to the only meaningful human connection they have, even if that person fucked you up in every way that counts and was looking to desert you as soon as you stopped being exactly what they wanted. I’m bitter. I’ll admit to that.
I lunged over to the side table, knocking another pile of unopened letters onto the floor, and grabbed the small orange bottle of his medication. SSRIs and other antidepressants. They’re not necessary and won’t cure him, but I like to think they make him happier.
It’s harder to actively hate someone when they can’t yell back at you.
“Open up dad.” I said grimly. It hurt to do this. He used to do this to me when I was younger, with that sickly sweet cold medicine that they give all the kids even though it doesn’t do much. Calpol. He used to joke that he wished he could be sick just so he could taste some.
None of that remained as his slack cheeks slackened further, jaw loosely flopping open. I dropped the pills onto his tongue and managed to avoid brushing against the rancid interior with my fingers although I caught a whiff. Shit, when had I last brushed his teeth? That had to be next on the agenda. He somehow knew to take a sip of water when I handed him the glass, although the liquid went everywhere and his eyes didn’t waver from the middle-distance.
I sat back, suddenly aware of the permanence of the situation. Forever? I couldn’t make someone else look after him, not when this was all my fault. But was it really? I was sixteen and lonely and I made the decision I thought was best - he was my guardian, he was supposed to take care of me, he -
He wasn’t capable of any of that, not now.
“Just - just yell at me.” I told the dead thing in front of me. “Tell me how much what I took meant to you.” Then, more quietly. “Forgive me.”
Furious with both of us and too tired to argue with myself again, not when it was so cyclic and futile, I stormed out. This time I forgot my headphones which infuriated me. You’re supposed to be aware of your surroundings when you do illegal activities, in the name of not getting caught or hit by traffic, and of course music isn’t helpful for that. But smashing the window of the local law firm again, or tagging another section of the wall by the traffic tunnel they’ve only just painted over is much more thrilling with a soundtrack.
Was that what this was about - thrills? No: principles, I assured myself. Blowing off steam. Feeling something in a world permanently disconnected from me, a world which could never get me on any meaningful level ever again because when I threw away my father's mind, I stepped into something beyond the normal.
I saved people from witches every day. I didn't owe them anything. If I broke things on occasion then it was a small price to pay - people would be dead if not for me. I deserved reimbursement and I would take it.
God, I was tired.
Hood shadowing my face, I stumbled across the street. Disoriented and angry. Looking for something to destroy, be it a witch or someone’s livelihood. Let me have this. Just one thing for me and not anyone else.
I paused briefly in front of the local law firm. The window I had broken last night had been covered with duct tape. It looked amateurish, not like the boards from before. It wasn't often that I let my subconscious guilt come to the surface, but this was a time when I hesitated for a moment. I mean, I knew, always knew, that this wasn't a victimless crime or anything, but-
“Returning to the scene of the crime, huh?” Startled, I turned around to see a young woman in a suit leaning against the wall, cigarette in hand.
“What?” I hoped it came out as confused rather than rude.
She indicated to the window. “You did this, right?”
“N-no.” I gasped, eyes widening.
She rolled her eyes and took another drag on the cigarette. “Look, don't worry about it this time, just don't do it again.”
“I- I didn't-”
“Oh, I suppose you have enough time to fabricate an alibi, huh? Get some of that reasonable doubt. The person who did this just happened be the same size as me and wearing the same hoodie, your honour!”
I was speechless. “I-I’m sorry?”
“I don't want you prosecuted because I'd be assigned to defend you and it would be a huge conflict of interest mess. I need a night off - do you have any idea how much it costs to replace plate glass doors like that?”
I wasn't going to answer that question.
“A lot. And I'm overworked as is.”
An awkward silence followed. I was still processing this new information and resisting the urge to make excuses for myself. I mean, I'd saved this entire town, I looked after my father, I-
“I'm really sorry.” I think it came out as angry rather than apologetic, through gritted teeth. I was kind of trying but just, just this person had their own business and probably a functioning family and I just couldn't look at the damage I'd done to them as something wrong. I couldn't be wrong.
They looked at me shortly and went outside. I kept standing there, ironically unable to see her now because of the duct tape I’d inflicted. I thought she'd come out or something, or talk to me, or maybe I just didn't know where else to go.
I didn't see the police until one of them put their hand on my shoulder. I think they were just there to warn me to leave since my presence must have seemed intimidating, but as always i made the situation worse.
The gut reaction of a strange man touching me is to punch them in the face and run for it. Society told me to do that: all the speakers in adverts and talk shows on BBC Radio 4. It's the smart thing to do, in most situations. I guess I was on edge, magical girl instincts kicking in.
His stupid pointy hat flew off his head and he grunted. It was funny. Almost worth the consequences.
Assaulting a police officer carries jail time. It's really not to be scoffed at and far, far more serious than anything else I could have been prosecuted for (destruction of property or something). The whole time they escorted me towards the police car I was making a list in my head of ways to appeal to them.
When they pushed me into a cell I yelled something incoherent about having to look after my father, but it didn't give them pause. I was left there.
The night was long and dark. I thought about the woman who I had inconvenienced and how easily she had forgiven me. What I'd done with that forgiveness. I thought about how thin my father was becoming as I forgot to feed him. How the dried residue on dishes I hadn’t washed was becoming more difficult to clean by the hour.
They didn't press charges despite my record. I walked out of there the same as I had come in: lost.
“Dad?” I called, pushing my key into the door. “Are you ok? I'm so sorry about last night. I promise I'll care for you better, I promise I'll do everything you did for me, I -”
He was there on the couch. Unconscious; head splayed back; vomit on his chin. So pale... he looked dead. No movement. Cold.
“Dad?” I whispered. No, no surely he couldn't be that fragile.
If he were dead, physically dead, extra dead so-to-speak, then what would that mean for me? A huge weight being lifted off my chest but terribly. Floating off into dark places without him there as my anchor, losing myself without anyone or anything I cared about on this planet.
I felt for a pulse and it was there
It was ok, I would take care of him. Clean him up, feed him, finally brush those teeth. It would destroy me, wiped out after a night in hell, but I could do it. I mean, he needed me. This is what I wished for, isn't it? This is what I wanted.
I think if I went back to that moment of panic when Kyubey asked me what my wish something different would blurt out semi-unintentionally.
I pictured it.
What is your wish?
I need someone to care for me. I can't do this alone anymore.