Bad Attitude looks like the priest from The Count of Monte Cristo, only mean, and I’m not sure what to do about him, sitting there on the couch, chewing my words like they’re hard and dry and overcooked. I decide to ignore him, go back to my desk, and try to write, but he hollers at me from the living room, mouth full of stolen syllables: “Hey, what are you doing in there? You can’t write. I have your words. Besides, nobody cares what you have to say anyway.” I shut the door, but he’s so thin, he can slip through the gap between it and the carpet. He walks up behind me and starts to tie knots into the split-ends of my hair.
He’s not very easy on the eyes, Bad Attitude. Like me, he’s in need of a haircut and a shower and maybe some coffee. So I clean him up and caffeinate him, even give him some chocolate, but that only seems to make him edgier. He stands next to my desk and clatters the rosary against the cupboard door as I type. “Stop it,” I say, and he says, “You’re a failure, you know.” I shut the laptop and pluck a book off the shelf, but he knocks it out of my hands. I let it stay where it falls, splayed open on the floor.
I tell Bad Attitude, “I’m going for a run,” and he laces up his dirty shoes and jogs right beside me, complaining about the rain and the humidity, reminding me that my ankle hurts and that all this running on my toes is making my already massive calves even bigger. He kicks mud onto my shins and squeezes out the sweat from his shirt, then throws it in my face. I try to strangle him, but he slips from my grasp and takes off in a sprint I can’t match. When he loops back, he runs in circles around me until we get home.
I thought running might’ve made Bad Attitude tired enough to take a nap, and then I could steal back my words. But no, he’s even perkier than he was before we left. He tells me the exercise made my words easier to digest. I decide to look through the job ads, and he pulls up a chair, pointing out all the ones I’ll likely end up doing, weaving tales of the next twenty years spent chained to a desk, until I’m fat and alone and the notion of being a writer is nothing more than a distant memory, something I thought I might do one day and then didn’t. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, “all that effort and education. You’re going to end up like everyone else.” I would hit Bad Attitude with my laptop, but if it breaks, I can’t afford a new one. So I just nod and say, “Yeah,” and this is the first time I’ve seen him smile. It turns my stomach inside out.
The more ads I look at, the closer Bad Attitude moves me to him, until I’m sitting in his lap, and he’s whispering in my ear: “There’s no point to any of this.” And the truth is, when he tells me I should’ve picked up a practical skill while I was busy chasing dreams and studying all that literature and art–or at least learned how to use Quickbooks–I’m inclined to agree. And when he tells me that what I want doesn’t matter, I say, “No, I suppose it doesn’t.” When it’s finally time for bed, he dumps me on top of the sheets and takes up so much space, I have to hold onto the edge of the mattress to keep from falling off.
Bad Attitude is still there the next morning, and the next. He hangs around for days, and because he’s not very original, his insults are just variations on the same themes: my greatest earthly fears imminent and unavoidable. And once he’s harped on those a while, he starts pushing for the notion of acceptance. I give in without a fight, but it’s an angry and empty kind of “yes,” a “yes” forced upon me like an arranged marriage, a “yes” with someone else’s hand at the back of my head, shoving out the nod of assent. “Yes,” and tired “yes,” until out of nowhere, I go rigid and say, “No,” and Bad Attitude shuts his mouth. “No,” I say again, and Bad Attitude drops his hand.
When I show Bad Attitude a picture of the kind rabbit I’m going to get one day and tell him I’m going to name it after a poet, that’s the last straw. He stomps off through the woodchips, over the fence, and heads for the highway. I watch him plod down the middle of the street, barefoot and pissed off. And I wonder if my words are smart enough to escape from his entrails, if they’ll come back to me if I promise to give them my attention and not neglect them no matter what amount of change charges in. I mean, why would they want to stay with Bad Attitude? At least I try to set them free. He keeps my words scrunched tight in his fists, deathly afraid to let go, as though they might be worth something to more than just me.