Likes for Life

Originally published in The Weekly Knob

This room is too white. It’s uncomfortable. It harasses the senses. How am I supposed to bear my soul when I can’t bear one sole moment in this room? Come on, Lucas, positive thinking. Okay. At least I could make it this week. I haven’t been in this grotesque room in ages, but in the far reaches of my heart I do like it here. It helps.

“Mr. Caffrey, Dr. Fairchild will see you now,” the receptionist said sweetly, breaking my mental monologue. I nodded at her and watched a young girl leave through Dr. Fairchild’s office door. Her cheeks glistened as if she’d been crying. How lucky, to feel.

“Hi Lucas, have a seat,” Dr. Fairchild, Lisa, as I called her, motioned to a couch in her office. This room was much easier on the senses. Warm faux-wood furniture hit me right in my mid-century nostalgia.

“I’m glad to see you were able to come back this week, I was worried about you after our last meeting,” she said, voice warm and soft. The good doctors have a way of speaking to you that the Rent-A-Shrink robots lack. But these doctors came at a price.

“I’ve been okay,” I lied, looking down at the carpet.

“Have you been doing what we talked about since last time?”
“No. It’s so embarrassing, I don’t like people knowing I need therapy to be able to function.”
“But that’s the only way you’re able to come back. You need the sympathy likes otherwise your RFS won’t be funded,” she said.

An RFS was a Request For Support. In the past four years, the internet had become the main way for people to get help. Back in the day, when you liked someone’s online status about a sick kid needing help, or liked a protest photo to show support, that’s all you did. You liked it. It had no weight. Then, the networks decided that Likes would become currency. If you raised enough likes on an RFS, the network would pay for the treatment, or send money to whatever the cause was. It was a laughable idea at first, but it started to pick up. Eventually, you could support a dying child’s cancer treatment, help pay for someone’s grandma’s medication, get a girl’s plastic surgery, or block a company from passing a pipeline through sacred land. All from your couch. Governments picked up on the idea and people started voting on laws, voting in parties. The whole country started running on Likes. Can’t pay rent because you lost your job? A sappy status and a bit of popularity could see you living nearly for free. Clicktivism became the real driver of social change that people always thought it was.

In my case, it helped pay for therapy. Sometimes. You see, I can’t stand to be alive, but I haven’t found enough reason to stop yet, so here I am trying to be functional.

“You haven’t been able to hold down a job,” she continued, “so your only source of funding is Likes. Now, I know it can be embarrassing or degrading, but it’s your only chance right now at living a normal life.”
“I’ve been having those thoughts again,” I said, not listening to her.
“Oh — I see,” she said, “What’s been causing them?”
“Mom’s in the hospital again. It’s worse this time.”
“I thought she was getting better. When did that change?”
“It came back a few days after our last session. So instead of whoring myself out for likes, I’ve had to do it for her,” I looked up at her through my eyebrows, crossing my arms and curling up on the couch like a hypothermic person.
“If you’ve been spending your time on her for the past several weeks, what’s changed that brought you back here?”
I sighed a painful sign. You already know. I stared into her eyes, searching for confirmation that I wouldn’t have to say it. I didn’t find the confirmation I was looking for. “I had to pull the cord three days ago. The doctors said there was nothing that could be done. I’d need almost a billion Likes for the life-saving surgery. There was no way I’d be able to come up with a billion Likes.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“Do you know what it’s like?” a lick of fire flared up inside my stomach, “Knowing that no matter what you do, who you ask, how much work you put in, that you can’t change anything? I was completely powerless. This condition, my poor broken brain — I’m nowhere near popular enough to gather more than a few hundred likes.”
“I’m so sorry. I know your mother meant a lot to you. Is there anyone else there for you?” she asked, voice soft again.
“No. She was all I had,” I was all ice again inside.

She leaned back in her large chair, “Do you want to vent it all out? I’m not sure where to direct the conversation.”
I thought for a moment, “Nobody remembers the sad kid. Everyone in my life moved on. It’s my own fault, I didn’t stay in touch, I didn’t ask for help. When I finally did, nobody was there to help. I get sympathy Likes by posting in groups specific to what I’m asking for. I haven’t made a public post in years. Everyone I knew probably thinks I’m dead, anyway. That’s why it doesn’t matter, don’t you see? If I go, if I’m no longer around, nobody will know. The only person I ever mattered to, I let her down three days ago. That extension cord was the only thing extending her life.”
Lisa was looking at me like I had more to say. She finally opened her mouth to speak, but I cut her off.
“I just don’t see the point in continuing.”
She pulled out her phone. “Look, I’ll help you out. I’ll get you free sessions for the rest of the month,” she said as she tapped at the screen a few times, “It’s the only thing I can think to do right now. Our time is almost up, but before you go, I want you to try to reach out to your old friends, and any family you can. You don’t have to explain your situation if you don’t want to, but just try to reconnect. I’m sure they’ll miss you. Can you do that for me?”
I stood up, “I’ll try,” I said lifelessly. I turned to leave, but looked back one last time. We made eye contact and she smiled.

I took the bus back home and collapsed onto my bed. I stared up at the ceiling until my eyes burned with dryness. I rolled over and picked up the orange extension cord that poked out behind my bed. I plugged my phone in and began scrolling through the internet. I saw a notification that I’d been given three free sessions with Lisa. Waste. I looked back down at the extension cord, and then up at the support beam running across my ceiling.

I’m coming home, mom.

Thanks to S Lynn Knight