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The Thing About Pretending...

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It was as if his ability to focus had evaporated into thin air. The same thoughts just kept going over and over in his head distracting him from the simplest of tasks and were preventing him from being able to do any of his work. He has struggled to keep his emotions in check before and has struggled many times in the past to work when there was something bothering him but this time, it just felt different.

The same thoughts kept racing through his mind and all involved this idea that Mark was trying to manipulate him into feeling bad for being angry, that Mark had used his abuse as a way to get one over him and tried to make sure that he knew he wasn’t allowed to be upset at anything he does because of everything he has done for him. It was just crazy but he couldn’t stop thinking like that. Mark wasn’t their father, he wouldn’t mess with his head like that but he did. Tyler was sure that he had done that. That Mark wanted to make sure that he felt grateful for everything that he had done for him and his speech, actually all of his speeches; he just tries too hard to make him think that he cares about him and that he trusts him for it to be believable. Even this whole thing about buying a house together, it was just a way for Mark to ease his guilt by making it look like he really did trust him. It all happened too quickly.  

He knew it sounded insane, that someone would do that to him, would try to manipulate and mess with his head that way but it was just made so much sense at the same time and that made it worse because he knew how easily this could be real. He was just becoming more and more lost in his thoughts until he felt a hand on his shoulder which brought him out of himself and caused him to jumped back in fright, only to find Mark standing behind him.

“Whoa! Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” Mark laughed. “I thought you heard me, I’ve been talking for like, the last five minutes. “

“Sorry, I didn’t even realise you were here. I must’ve been, I was, miles away.” Tyler said whilst trying desperately to catch his breath.

“Yeah, I figured. You okay?” Mark asked. 

Tyler tried to answer but for once, he couldn’t answer. He always had a habit of saying that everything was fine but he couldn’t do it. Not this time. Everything that happened that day was just too much for him to handle and it was playing on his mind to the point where his usual ability to pretend everything was fine had completely vanished to the point where all he could muster up was ‘Sort of’, which he regretted as soon as he’d said it as he knew that would cause Mark to start asking questions as he’d want to know what ‘sort of it’ meant but he couldn’t even think of way to answer him if he did ask and he knew he would, Mark was looking at him as though he knew something was wrong.

“Just…it’s a long story.” Tyler said to Mark though he knew that he wouldn’t buy it.

“Has something happened? What’s up?” Mark looked at Tyler, unable to figure out what was going on with him. Tyler just seemed more distant then usual and he knew that everything was okay after their chat; at least he thought everything was okay.  

Tyler could feel the anger starting to take over. He just needed Mark to leave, to go back to work or go and see Paige, just get away from him. He didn’t want to talk about what was going on because he knew how it would sound and worse, he knew that there would be this huge overreaction from Mark and then he would need to justify why he felt that way and that was something he didn’t want but it wouldn’t stop. It was as though there was a battle within him between how angry he was at Mark, whilst also wondering if Mark really meant to hurt him, how tired he was of feeling like this and this struggle to keep up the pretense of always being fine and that ability seemed to be dwindling the more that he thought about what happened that day.

“I’m just, I’m just tired.” Tyler gently whispered

“Oh, well you shouldn’t stay out so late then!” Mark said playfully.

Tyler scoffed. He couldn’t believe that Mark could be that blind to everything going on with him at the moment. Did he actually think that he was merely talking about not getting enough sleep?  

“No, that’s not what I…” Tyler said irritably prior to stopping dead in his tracks before he lost his temper. He wanted to tell Mark how he really felt but it was like something made him realise that it didn’t matter. If Mark didn’t notice that he was being serious and that there was something bothering him then why should he even try to explain what was going on?

“Just, never mind.” Tyler said with an ounce of anger in his voice as he stormed past Mark.

He doesn’t open up much, if ever but when he does this is always the reaction he gets and he knew it. He knew that it wouldn’t be taken seriously and that is why he keeps himself to himself because either his problems are tossed aside or he needs to go into this long explanation as to why he feels the way he does and the only thing that he ever gets out of it is that if anyone actually realised there was something wrong, he wouldn’t need to say anything least of all the kind of explanations he is always forced to give.

“It was just a joke.” Mark said in a moment of desperation. He knew deep down Tyler didn’t find it funny but didn’t know what else to say.

“Yeah well, it’s amazing the kind of things that this family finds funny.” As much as he tried, Tyler just couldn’t pretend that it didn’t hurt him that Mark would say something like that after everything that has happened.

“Excuse me?” Mark said, extremely puzzled.  

“Don’t worry about it. Just, leave me alone. I’ve got work to do and you aren’t exactly helping me, are you?” The frustration was being to take over Tyler. He was breathing so loud trying to stop himself from lashing out that it must have sounded like he was in the midst of an asthma attack and he knew that Mark had already seen that nothing at the garage had been done so he knew that he was buying that he wanted him to leave because he was busy.

“No, I’m not going anywhere, something is wrong. Tyler, talk to me.” The playfulness in Mark was gone, he knew something was bothering Tyler but couldn’t for the life of him figure out what was going on.

Tyler just kept struggling; he was desperately trying to convince himself that everything was fine. That he was fine but he knew he wasn’t but he thought that if he worked hard enough and smiled and made up some story about being stressed about work then Mark wouldn’t think that anything was wrong. He would believe him and then leave and he could go back to attempting to focus on getting these thoughts out of his head so he could concentrate on his work but before he even realised what was happening, he was looking Mark dead in the eyes and demanding to know what he was playing at with that phony speech he gave him.

“It was about letting you know that I was sorry that I didn’t support you.” Mark responded, completely shocked.

“Seriously?” Tyler couldn’t hide his disbelief that Mark would act like that is what he was doing.

“Of course, what else would it be, look what is this about? I thought we cleared the air. You said everything was good. What’s happened?” Mark looked at him in utter confusion.

“You played me! That’s what happened! You were messing with head!” Before Tyler could even think of something to say that wouldn’t make him sound paranoid, the words were out of his mouth.  

“I played you? How could you think that I would do something like that to you?” As stunned as Mark was by everything that Tyler was saying, he was more concerned that Tyler could believe that he or anyone would try to mess with his head like that.

“Because that’s what people do. They give these huge explanations that either start or, or, or end with an apology because they need to say sorry while excusing their actions. They put on these big acts, play the remorseful card, talk about how sorry they are and how bad they feel for what they’ve done when it is just a ploy to get inside your head so they can be a part of your life again. It’s what dad did to me and it’s exactly what you were doing today!” Tyler wasn’t holding back, he knew this was what happened and was determined to make sure Mark knew he was aware of what he did.

“That was not what I was doing.” Mark said to Tyler in an attempt to reassure him but no sooner than he could continue Tyler snapped back.

“Of course it was.” Tyler said. “That’s why you went on that long explanation about why you treated Aaron differently, about learning from your mistakes and not wanting to hurt him or treat him as badly as you treated me. I mean, that entire thing was a way to make me feel sorry for you because you were trying so hard to change and for not understanding you and how hard all of this was for you…”

“Okay, now that is really not what happened!” Mark said in a firm voice! He was stunned. The idea that Tyler could even think that he only apologised so that he would feel bad for being angry alarmed him. He knew that he’d screwed up with Tyler and that it was wrong of him to treat him that way but he never intended for Tyler to think that he thought he was in the wrong for being angry with him.

“It was. I’m not an idiot; I know when people are playing games with me, when they’re, they’re, they’re messing with my head it has happened enough for me to know what to look for and that is exactly what you did to me. Then you brought up dad. You, you, you used my pain and your guilt to make me feel like I should have been more grateful for everything you did for me! Like, that support was enough to counteract everything else that you put me through and you did exactly what dad would have done to me in that situation. How could you do that?” Tyler said angrily! “HOW COULD YOU USE WHAT DAD DID TO ME BECAUSE OF YOU AND AARON AS A WAY TO MAKE ME FEEL BAD FOR NOT APPRECIATING YOUR SUPPORT?”

“Tyler that is not what I did. That was not what I was trying to do to you.” Mark spoke softly, seeing how distressed and angry Tyler was becoming.

“THE HELL IT WASN’T!” Tyler screamed back.

Tyler’s eyes begun to well up, he was fighting off so many emotions so that Mark wouldn’t know how he truly felt and as angry as he was, it just felt as though this wave of sadness and despair kept crouching over him.

“You used your support with dad to make me feel bad for being angry with how you treated me!” Tyler’s voice started to break up but he had to keep going otherwise he knew he’d never be able to finish what he needed to say. “You thought that being there for me through that, after you made it clear that you didn’t even believe me and thought there must have been something wrong with me that it would just make up for everything? Do you have any idea what it felt like to see the way that you looked at me like I was something that sickened you? It wasn’t bad enough that I had to live through but you, you made me feel like it was something I actually deserved to go through it.” 

Mark was horrified, he’d never even considered that Tyler could believe that he would ever think he deserved to be treated like that and didn’t know how else to get through to him without making it worse. “Tyler, you were just a child. I know that none of this was your fault, I would never think that it was something you deserved.”

“I didn’t say that you thought that, I said that was how you made me feel. That is how you always make me feel and you don’t even see it.” The anger was gone, Tyler was just broken.

Mark was at a loss. He could see how broken Tyler was becoming by the second but didn’t know how to help him. He truly believed that this entire thing was a way or messing with his head and he realised that everything that he was saying to him was somehow being twisted in order to help Tyler convince himself that none of this was genuine.

“Do you have any idea how you made me feel that day? The day you arrested me! You made me feel like, I was nothing. That I had nothing left and when you feel that way, you can’t be angry or, or, or upset or anything. You can’t feel anything because there is nothing there. My god, I couldn’t even hate myself for screwing up because of you, because of how you made me feel. You treated me like a piece of rubbish that you could just throw away. I literally went from being dad’s punching bag to yours and you don’t even see what you did to me. What you do to me every single day! Being there for me, with dad didn’t change anything because you didn’t do it for me; you did it for yourself so that you could feel better about yourself, so that the guilt of leaving me alone in that house would go away. That’s the only reason that you cared in the first place.” Tyler thought to himself, not realising he had actually said all of this out loud until he looked up to see the horrified and startled look on Mark’s face.

“You can’t truly believe that? I have always cared about you. I may not have done a very good at saying it or showing it…” Mark attempted to explain but was cut off.

“No, you don’t. But, it, it, it doesn’t matter you know, even if you did, it would only be because you want to reassure me. It wouldn’t be because you actually meant it. I’m not the kind of person that people care about. They only care if they want something from me. I’m that person people use to make themselves feel better or to distract them or they can lash out at. People don’t actually care about me. Not really.” Tyler said quietly.  

It was as if despair had just taken over Tyler and in that moment, everything just stopped. He stopped talking. He stopped being angry and upset. It was as though time just stood still. He had his moment; he lashed out and talked about how he was feeling but now he was just at a loss. He was so used to acting as though he was okay and keeping his feelings to himself that he didn’t know what he was supposed to once he actually talked about what was troubling him. He just felt limp, he was so used to pretending and now that it was out in the open, he didn’t know what to do or how to feel. He slowly and quietly slid to the floor and all he could think was ‘Aren’t you supposed to feel better when you talk about your problems?’

“Tyler, are you, are you okay?” Mark looked directly at Tyler. He knew it wasn’t the smartest thing to ask given everything that had happened but nothing else came to mind. He just watched his brother fall apart so he knew he wasn’t okay but what else could he say to him? 

“I’m… I don’t…” Tyler replied softy and it in that moment it hit him. He didn’t know if he was okay. He had no idea if he had ever been okay. He had felt as though he’d just had a complete breakdown and yet, he still couldn’t figure out if he was okay or not.

Anytime something happened to him regardless of what it was, someone would always ask him if he was okay and he would just say yes because that is what you do. You don’t tell people that you aren’t okay because you don’t want to burden them. You don’t want them to feel like they need to ask you what’s wrong because not only do you feel like you have to tell them because they took the time to ask and were concerned and that whatever you say will probably make them think you’re just too weak to handle it on your own and you need their help but also you know; you know that they don’t really care about you.

Any concern they have is because they feel obligated and you don’t want to be treated like some obligation so you lie. And then you lie and then you lie some more and eventually you get an idea of what you are supposed to look like and how you are supposed to act and then you kind of mimic how ‘okay’ based off of that. Off of everything that you see and that is what you show people, you smile, you act happy and eventually you get pretty good at it til you get the point where pretending is all that you know. You just keep it up til no one asks if anything is wrong because they just assume that everything’s fine. And if that mask ever falls then you make something up. You don’t completely lie but you don’t tell them exactly what’s going on either and it works because people don’t actually look at you, they just see what you want them to see.

“Tyler?” Mark kneeled down beside Tyler to see if he was okay.

“I don’t, actually know.” Tyler said. “What are you supposed to feel like when you’re okay?”