parallax background

The Fountainhead

 

Jeanne Thornton

Art by Max Colby

 

1

You don’t believe in religion. You don’t believe in collectivism or in socialism. You don’t believe in Beatles. You don’t believe in engineering as a career. You believe in the dignity and reason of man. Reason is the key that will open every lock.

 

You used to be such a fool. You used to wear shirts your grandparents bought you on zoo trips, broad fuchsia and teal expanses of psychedelic rainbow animals over shorts that left your smooth legs bare, hair you kept trying to grow long enough for a ponytail. It was the early 1990s, and even Superman had a ponytail. But whenever you got it long enough to draw back into a half-inch nub—something not even a twist tie stolen from the kitchen was strong enough to keep together—your mother took you to the barber and removed it. Up over the ears, shaped around the back, about an inch and a half.
One time you cry after a haircut, and she gets angry.
I thought this haircut was what you wanted, she says. You didn’t say what you wanted.
I didn’t want this, you sob.
Then you need to be clearer about what you want next time. Don’t blame me.
Her voice gets syrupy on this last sentence, like she’s coddling a dog. And the next time, you’re given the same haircut. This time you manage not to cry, a skill you are working on.

 
 

Blue jeans are the key signifier of maleness. Also, you must wear polo shirts in masculine colors—burgundy, black, pine green, olive, nothing with saturation. You must wear sandals so that your feet are never far from the earth. Your hair must be short but unkempt and free. Growing a beard would help you to prove that you’re male, but The Fountainhead disapproves of facial hair. Facial hair is only for people who have something to hide, and your appearance must communicate the unmediated truth.
You remember crying, kids teasing you about bizarre and uncool shirts that your mother requires you to wear, that she thinks are handsome. She tells you to be proud of the shirts she’s chosen for you, and you learn not to tell her things.
But now you have a paycheck. Now you can choose an appearance for yourself. Since you’ve mostly stopped eating you’ve lost weight, and gauntness is valued: it is more essentially male than female. You feel dizzy a lot of the time, like you guess saints must feel. Secular saints, you remind yourself. Question everything; let no error through.

 

If your Texas school peers—your town is a telecom hub, so they are the sons of engineers—no longer perceive you as male, within normal margins of maleness, you can’t even contemplate what your life will be like: outer darkness. The place where the different kids live.
Even within the different kids, there are gradations; there is coolness, acceptability. There are kids with long hair, kids who wear black and listen to dangerous music like Marilyn Manson, whom the health and fitness teacher once described as the true Satan. You imagine what it would be like to own a Marilyn Manson shirt or CD. Your mother would ask you again and again if you were in a cult or planning to hurt someone or yourself until you got rid of the shirt, so it’s fortunate that you don’t like Marilyn Manson’s music, probably. You would not be allowed to own a shirt like that. But you like to believe that something in your ripped cerulean jeans and polo shirts and sandals—your rational clothes that you have bought yourself to communicate an essential maleness—corresponds to these kids’ black T-shirts and long hair. Both are attire of the spirit. It’s just that your spirit is pure, as the books you read will hopefully attest.

 

The Fountainhead writes a lot about clothes in her books. Many years from now an internet writer will describe a dress in one of her books as a wearable castle. A blue fur stole, suits of gun-metal gray, black wrap dresses that are somehow like knives slashing, a chain bracelet made of the strongest metal on earth. One of the women wears an Empire-waisted dress in lemon yellow, and you understand immediately that this makes her evil beyond redemption.
In The Fountainhead’s books the women—or anyway the cool women who suppress their emotions and don’t tend to like other women and who enjoy solitude as much as you know it is Right to enjoy it—are all functionally the equivalent of the men. They are all brilliant geniuses who understand the peace of isolation, the happiness in the solitary creation of railroads. Your sons-of-engineers peers would value these women, too, because it is rational and correct to value these women. They could even be your friends.
You wonder if The Fountainhead is secretly a lesbian, like good fanfic you found once of her and Marlene Dietrich online. She must be, you decide. You want her to be.
And you know it would be a lot easier to dress in a spiritual way if you were a girl. You could wear a black turtleneck made of leather like in Hackers, a movie that you bet The Fountainhead would enjoy, plus a skirt made of liquid flame over fishnets, which you are pretty sure The Fountainhead would agree was the modern 1990s spiritual equivalent of tailored suits that look like battleships. Both combine strength with passion, but also with a kind of inner surrender.
Unfortunately you are not a girl. You can never be one ever. It would be anti-life of you not to find simple spiritual peace and joy in the clothes that it is rationally most appropriate for you to wear. If you lean into your chromosomal fate, it’s not that different from being a girl. Not if you do it right.

“She tells you to be proud of the shirts she’s chosen for you, and you learn not to tell her things.”


 

2

Because money is the symbol of all human spiritual and intellectual value, you seek a job. All the hero women in the Fountainhead’s books did this and are ennobled by it.
Why do you need to work? your mother asks. You should focus on school. I see you as being a professor one day.
Defying her, you sneak down to the office supply store, fill out applications, show up again and again until a young logistics manager decides that if you’re coming in every day anyway to ask about a sales associate job, you might as well have it.
Your mother is furious that you’ve done this. She tells you she has a nightmare about you working as a janitor at sixty, reading philosophy in a supply closet at two in the morning, which is the fate of those who take jobs at office supply stores. You could defy her, but then she’d shout, she’d have further nightmares. And the job is victory enough.
The Fountainhead’s favorite classical symphony is Rachmaninoff’s Second. You know nothing about classical music: you mostly just like Smashing Pumpkins, who write mystical songs about being alone. But you make yourself a financial vow: you’ll use the first paycheck you earn through your own labor to buy a CD of Rachmaninoff’s Second. This will sanctify your life, in a secular way.
A friend, the son of an engineer, is happy to hear you’ve got a job. About time you started making money, he says.

 

You like the job. You want to do very well at it, like the characters in The Fountainhead’s books, most of whom start as miners or rivet catchers and end up running multinational copper concerns, an occupation the author presents as a more ethical version of being a great painter. If you want to one day be really good at something, you’d better throw yourself into selling office supplies now.
Therefore you pace the aisles compulsively seeking customers to help. You shift product from the front of displays; you arrange the boxes of printer paper, unprompted, into geometric towers you find both beautiful and functional. You don’t talk much to your fellow sales associates because talking on the clock will distract you. You buy Sourdough Jacks from the restaurant in the parking lot whenever they make you take a lunch for legal reasons. One burger without fries is enough food for the day, maybe too much. The body is disgusting and can be made cleaner, a site of reason.
The store manager—Nutjob Bob, as the assistant managers call him out of earshot—notices you. He says that you remind him of himself as a young man. This is upsetting: the store manager is a compulsive and unpleasant person who behaves obsequiously to his district manager and who asked his wife and kids to come into the store after church one Sunday morning to help you all assemble a big Xmas display. They all wore starchy Baptist white, and his sons stacked big boxes of copy paper, the youngest, maybe five, wrapping them in garlands. But something in him appeals to you: the lonely way he carries himself, as if he knows that if he doesn’t remain tense and ready at every moment, the whole store might shake itself apart. You wonder if you can save him: if you can make yourself into the one person who will not let him down.

 

Once you tell an older white customer, an engineer for one of the telecom firms downtown, that one of the products advertised in the weekly circular is no longer on sale. He starts to scream at you.
I’ll show you that it’s on sale, he screams. If you can read English!
He charges into the lobby of the store, knocking down a whole display of software. As boxes fall and scatter around him, his whole manner changes: cringing, he rushes back to the checkstands, arms full of desktop publishing CDs. I’m sorry, he pleads, I’m sorry. His voice is different and small.
Nutjob Bob apologizes obsequiously to the man, and he offers him the deal he wanted plus an extra discount. Then he explains to you that it’s important to read sentences carefully, paying attention to all of the words in the sentence, maybe asking a manager if you don’t understand what a sentence says.
Sometimes your fellow workers complain about Nutjob Bob. He is an asshole, they complain. In exchange, he makes it plain that he thinks they’re bad workers. And you know that no bad worker can ever go to secular heaven: therefore, you must make certain that he will never think this about you. So you tell him you will be more careful about reading sentences in the future. So you wonder if he likes The Fountainhead’s books.

 
 

3

One time—in the dark spaces of your house, in the online silence of AOL Instant Messenger, where you can’t be overheard, where what you are doing can’t be understood because it’s the future, creeping in—one of your friends makes a confession to you. I don’t think of myself as a girl—more like a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. It is a light confession; it is not prefaced by nervousness or heaviness; it is almost a joke.
No I feel the same, you type to your friend in the dark den, like—
But you stop, because what you want to type back to them—like a lesbian trapped in a man’s body—is a joke everyone knows. It’s like a comic strip trope: having a nagging wife, preferring golf to work. Comic jokes are abstract, like Byzantine tilework: no dads you know play golf really. There are no women trapped in men’s bodies.
Like a lesbian, you type instead, truncating it. Or something.
Any conversation with this friend makes you feel as if you’re breathing. But this is different; some other tool for breathing feels as if it’s opening for the first time, a third eye, a gill instead of a lung. The words under your fingertips feel true. And the warmth of that endures for a few full minutes after your friend changes the subject. And the next day, terrified, you avoid your friend. And soon you will find The Fountainhead.


“And you know that no bad worker can ever go to secular heaven: therefore, you must make certain that he will never think this about you.”

 

4

Shortly before you first read The Fountainhead’s works, introduced to them by a history teacher whose husband ran an investment bank, your theater teacher asked you to record a taped monologue for class. Listening to the tape of yourself, you hear a voice you hate. It rises and falls, sounds gentle and mobile, anxious to please. You want to blot it out.
Do I really sound like that? you ask your friend, the engineer’s son. You try to make the question sound like a joke. He laughs back.

 

There are higher and lower castes. For every kid in a Marilyn Manson shirt, there’s the kid in the lunchroom who waves his hands while he sits at his table of mostly girls deemed attractive and unpopular, talking about Final Fantasy and other subjects you appreciate. The kid who giggles when accused of eating an entire stick of butter and confesses to it despite your being pretty sure he didn’t actually do it. The girl who asserted in earth science that her favorite stone to make a ring out of was not diamond or ruby but talc, because of its patterns. You agreed with her, but you were savvy enough not to speak up. You were savvy enough not to connect yourself to the outer darkness they are in.
You often wish, with a sentimental languor, that you could help the different kids: transmit some kind of knowledge by osmosis, some awareness of how to be savvy like you: how to conceal every fact about yourself. How to stop laughing the way you laugh, to stop answering the way you answer, to stop being the way you are—except, of course, inside. To learn, when asked by the son of a Texas engineer: are you a queer? Do you like men?—how to dissemble, yet to be believed. How to make your exterior a blank, reflective lacquer box for your heart, a crypt where it can sleep, vampiric, until daylight passes and its time comes. The different kids never seem able to learn to lie like you can. That means they deserve what happens to them, you think.
But as you listen to yourself on tape, you realize that the joke has been on you. You sound like a girl. Every time you speak, you take a risk. How could you have concealed what you weren’t aware of? You erase the tape, take the zero on the assignment.

 

In the school cafeteria one day, sometime after you’ve listened to the tape of yourself, your friend, the engineer’s son, makes a crack about welfare queens.
Welfare seems good, though? you say. People should be forced to help other people, if they’re making too much money. People can’t just keep everything for themselves. You speak in a low monotone now, draining your voice of all modulated emotion; you’ve been practicing this. People seem to like it.
The engineer’s son laughs.
Remember that book we had to read, by The Fountainhead? he asks. You’re like the exact opposite of that book.
To oppose is not to be invisible: you don’t want to be opposite of anything.

“You sound like a girl. Every time you speak, you take a risk. How could you have concealed what you weren’t aware of?”

 

5

One of your favorite parts of the office supply job is the furniture rack. The store sells desks and chairs, all of which come disassembled in long, heavy cardboard boxes. When a customer buys one, it’s your job to pull the box and bring it out to the customer’s SUV. At the other franchise locations, the warehouses hold like boxes stacked with like in clean piles, weight belts available for safe use. At yours, there’s a single rack that stretches up about twenty feet, each of its four shelves loaded with mixed heaps of fancy desks and cabinets. Nutjob Bob seems embarrassed about it, but you understand. It would be wrong not to understand.
There’s no ladder to the top of the shelves. To reach the higher desks, one teenage boy has to work the forklift while another rides up on the blades. When it’s your turn to ride up, afraid of hurting yourself, you kind of squat with your fingers, making contact with the blade for extra balance, repeating to yourself a litany of reason against fear. The teen boys you work with are bolder, striding the blades like skis as they’re roughly elevated into the sky.
At the top, you’re to jockey the 200-pound desks into position with you on the blades, hold onto them carefully to prevent damage to the product, and trust your fellow teens to bring you safely down. One time, whoever’s working the forklift hits the gas pedal rather than the lifter while someone’s all the way up, and the vehicle lurches forward and nearly pitches the balancing teen off to crack against the concrete. Fortunately, he’s able to stay upright, and everyone laughs in giddy relief.
If the desk the customer wants is on the bottom of a stack on the lower shelves, all you have to do is drag all of the desks off, Tower of Hanoi style, get the one you need, and replace the surplus. On the upper shelves, this is a problem, since the forklift is no kind of stable place to stand to rearrange boxes. Instead you have to get into the crawlspace between boxes and ceiling, negotiating the desks from beneath you onto adjacent stacks or onto the waiting blades, all the while running the risk of warping or breaking the executive-molded wood beneath your weight. (You, someone people describe approvingly as a big guy, are always worried about this, though fortunately you are not eating much these days, so maybe the problem of your physical existence is fixing itself.) It can take sometimes thirty, forty minutes to pull a desk, with the forklift operator dispatched at regular intervals to the front registers to beg patience from the waiting customers.

 

One day someone orders the most expensive desk of them all, a master executive model with a top of solid varnished walnut and eight drawers with molded copper handles. The desk is an older model that Corporate has slowly been phasing out, and you only have one in stock, its box mottled with age around its edges, marked with the warning: 220 lbs. It’s beneath a stack of six other boxes in a corner of the top shelf that every one of you has long acknowledged as inaccessible.
You and your fellow teens call the logistics manager, a woman in her early twenties, back from the computer where she’s chatting with her boyfriend on Trillian.
Just tell them the computer made a mistake, she directs. Tell them we don’t have it in stock. Refund their money. Don’t let Bob hear you. He’d want us to try.
You feel a twinge somewhere in your rib cage: the same feeling you get when you read The Fountainhead’s books, the feeling you get when you skip a meal.
I think I can get it down, you say, voice quietly cracking.

 

They raise you up to the top. You steady your nerves by imagining a scene from one of The Fountainhead’s books: a woman being raised above the spires of churches to meet her architect lover in the sky. You close your eyes and imagine yourself rising like that, cobwebs and cardboard rot in your nostrils.
Reaching the executive walnut desk requires you to climb up a stack of desks in a corner that the forklift can’t access, to squeeze on your polo-shirted starving belly through a two-foot gap between cardboard and ceiling, from there to drop onto a long and unstable box that you might use—for a moment, before it collapses—as a platform to get onto the stack of desks so that you can start to move them aside beneath you, to access the prize. It’s like a Ninja Gaiden level, but it is real. You are a teenager, and you’ll be paid to do it. Nutjob Bob is depending on you.
So you drop onto the long platform desk as planned. It begins to teeter forward under your weight—like insulation, like thin ice, like a cloud giving way beneath your feet—and you imagine yourself falling in a spiral to the concrete, the desk landing atop you, your wrists and ankles bending back, shredding your arteries as they crack.
But you’re able to get off of the teetering desk in time; it crashes back into place behind you. You are onto the next stack, safe, ready to begin shifting the hundreds of pounds of boxes that lie between you and your goal. The physical world has not let you down, and in ecstasy, you trace the Sign of the Dollar over the warehouse floor. No one sees it.

 

When you bring the master executive desk out to the customer—a tall man in a powder-blue shirt who lights up at the sight of you hauling his prize, Nutjob Bob’s eyes scowling at you for your delay; if only he knew—you know that you have saved the company nearly $450 in potential refunds. Some cents of that will trickle down, by rights, to you.
Your paycheck comes that day. You’ve saved up enough to buy the CD. It occurs to you that you could buy a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, if you wanted; the cost is the same. But you resist temptation: you buy the more ethical product. You listen to the CD twice over the next week; you tell yourself that the pleasures you will take in it will reveal themselves in time. In time, you can force yourself to love anything.

 
 

6

Things people say about The Fountainhead: Bitch. Evil bitch. Evil selfish bitch. Fuck The Fountainhead. Fuck that evil selfish bitch. Insane serial killer worshipping bitch. Nasty bitch. Vindictive whore. Brainless slut. Kinky slut. The Fountainhead likes it rough. Toxic. Toxic bitch. A cartoon figure throwing eggs at a poster of her face: Go to hell, you evil bitch!

 

The first time you read her most popular book, you skim through, enjoying the progress of the lead architect as if that of a wizard, gravely issuing pronouncements and dispatching adversaries. Lots of people explain to the architect that the only viable pursuit in life is making money, that there is no place for any other value in the world, that the spirit doesn’t matter. Yet the architect proves them all wrong by doing what he believes is right to do: he builds skyscrapers in the exact style he wants, their function determining their form: a simple, clean existence. By ignoring cynical voices, by having the courage to live a truth, everything becomes better. He hurts no one.
When you read the book again, after the conversation with your classmate about welfare, you don’t notice the architect so much as you notice his rival. This character lies to everyone he meets for the purpose of self-protection and advancement. Offered the chance for a happy relationship, he sets it aside to marry the architect’s cleric girlfriend in a complex bid for fleeting, secondhand power. (She consents, in a complex bid for masochism; this is a sophisticated book.) The rival’s interest in painting is quashed by his ambitious mother, who decides that architecture is the only correct profession for advancement; the rival, not wanting to hurt her, allows this to happen. In a grisly scene at the book’s end, he produces six feeble, derivative campuses and shows them to the architect, like a dog dragging out his own mess for display. It’s too late, the architect says gently, heroically triumphing over his disgust, a gleaming obverse face. You can see it staring at you out of the book. You close it, fast.

 

The Fountainhead went to some thirteen publishers before finding a home for her book. It became popular—a movie starring Gary Cooper came out in her lifetime—and her evolving political philosophy, sanctification of capitalism at its core, became part of the nuclear DNA of Goldwater conservatism and the Reagan revolution. Thus she became one of the most widely despised authors in American history. Multiple critical articles, think pieces, and books have been written about how her writing is not only objectively awful but evil: appalling, toxic, insane, bitch, psycho bitch. Often these critiques reference The Fountainhead’s extreme emotional states, or reference her extramarital affairs, the pain they caused her husband, as proof of the purposeful evil of her ideas. You do not understand why these critics do not see what you see: the beauty of living in conformity with an ideal, like a marching army, except very passionate and individual.
In later life, she characterized her chronic depression—which she self-medicated with diet pills, hating her body—by referencing what she called the mission premise: that she had been put on earth to communicate some message. She believed she had done this, but that no one had listened: Reagan was president, but with the help of the Moral Majority, who were all anti-life mystics who believed a woman’s place was in the home. So what was the point? The world was simply too irrational, and her life’s purpose had failed. She died a Donahue guest, shouting at her audience.
She died the year you were born. What would it have been like to meet her; what would she have thought of you? You had whole conversations with her in your head as you worked with the forklift, as you listened to the CD and attempted to like it, as you sat in your room reading, trying not to make a sound. You would have told her what her books meant to you; you would have showed her the faith others clearly had not. You knew you could have made her happy.

“You would have told her what her books meant to you; you would have showed her the faith others clearly had not. You knew you could have made her happy.”

 

7

The toilet in your house, just kittycorner your bedroom, has something wrong with its deep plumbing that has never been fixed: some tree root snaked deep into its pipes, a malignant, slow worm steeping in a Game Boy nuclear green cistern. You will never know; no one ever calls a plumber or works to fix it. All you know is that it often has problems, and these problems are your fault.
One night you wake up in T-shirt and boxers, pee, and flush the toilet, at which point it erupts. Water cascades, slides over each tile, infects the grout, leaches into the carpet, and you hope that maybe it is mostly clean water, water from the upper deck that maybe diluted the fresh urine to a Pareto-optimal 80/20, though who knows what the toilet’s disgorging: tiny supposed specks on the firmament like coracles of shit fleeing Armageddon. This is what you’re thinking when your mother comes up behind you.
What the fuck is going on, she shouts. Are you stupid? Do you not know how to use a toilet?
Immediately your reflexes activate; you feel yourself start to numb over. It just overflowed, you say.
Oh my God, she screams; she shoves you out of the way, stares. You try to move back in front of her.
She turns to you, stares at you like your stupidity is bottomless, moves her fist at you in a tight, stabbing arc. Her words are a kind of ice with venom slathered over them.
When the water level is low, you have to plunge it first, she says. Plunge it first. Or you have to use soap to help dissolve everything down in the pipes. You have to look at the water level, not do what a careless person does. You need to be more careful. Not stupid.
You were tired; you’re pretty sure the water level wasn’t low; you are tired; your feet are cold, numb. It wasn’t my fault, you say, just as she screams again.
It’s soaking into the carpet! she shouts. We’re going to have to move! We’re not going to be able to sell the house!
You can’t calm her down. No one can. The right thing to do is to disappear until the storm has passed by. Refuse to engage. That’s what other people do: let her anger burn itself out.
But something whispers at you, a haunted book in your ear.
I didn’t break the toilet, you shout, and you know I didn’t; and you know that what you’re saying isn’t true. And you use your best monotone to say it, as The Fountainhead would want.

 

To think this is a sin. To see anxiety and to make it worse, angrier, is a sin. To speak this is worse. And you want to end your life in the moment that you say it, break yourself against the wall until whatever’s inside you evaporates, is peaceful and free of form somewhere far away from here. You’ve taken someone in pain and increased their pain to spare yourself. No one is forgiven for that. Are they? Are they, you piece of shit?
But there’s something beyond sin: there’s reason.

 

Her face, panicked, registers fear, and then snaps back into place. It becomes nasty, like a child’s.
That’s not fair, she says. You’re calling me a liar. That’s not fair. I didn’t do anything wrong.
It escalates—her voice, nasal now, saying Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop, in staccato, in sing-song. It ends with you on your knees, scrubbing away Pareto-optimal water with a roll of paper towels and a bucket of Mr. Clean, three a.m. on a school night, her above you with her arms folded and talking. The water level aside, the clog in the toilet might in the future be avoided by a better use of toilet paper. Two, maybe three sheets—short strokes—front to back—turn the sheets inside out to conserve—flush after every use. If she explains this to you, maybe she can prevent the mistake from being made again. This is an important tactic for her survival. She’s become good at it.
And while your knees goosh into the levee of paper towels working to suck the water back out of the carpet, while you work to save your family’s house from ruin—you think about The Fountainhead’s books. This was the achievement . . . to let no memory of pain blunt her capacity to feel as she felt right now . . . so long as she could preserve this feeling, she would have the fuel to go on. You think about that while you scrub, feel sated and sleepy as your mother explains how you should wipe your ass. Let her.

 
 

8

You’re not allowed to touch the VCR wiring at your house; you’d only break it. So you go to the house of one of your fellow government class video group members. The member’s parents are divorced, and she lives with her dad, an engineer. You work with her camcorder and figure out how to dub it against the VCR and how to time the edits so that there’s rarely more than a few seconds of dead space on either side of each.
You assemble your campaign video assignment. A new dignity for America, it says. An end to tyranny, markets slowly rising to actualize human potential. A new golden culture is coming. You hope The Fountainhead would like it.
While you edit, the group member draws in notebooks you can’t see. (She wears tank tops with stars on them to class sometimes, has dyed hair that gets her in trouble.) Over your shoulder, you tell her about The Fountainhead’s books, trying to make a kind of emotional trade.
They’re about not letting people hurt you, you tell her. They’re about how what you want can be important.
She hasn’t heard of them, but says they sound like the kind of books she’d like. And you think that you would like to be her—no, you’d like to date her—no, the thought extinguishes, a brief flash and shower of sparks like a light bulb going black. Somewhere outside of you, she continues to work.

 

Sometimes it seems like The Fountainhead contradicts herself. You have to stop and think carefully about why her apparent contradictions are actually just mistakes you’re making. If your own failures are the cause of all problems, then the world is as good as was promised.
And the world is good. Your grades are up now that you’ve started to turn in assignments: zeroes are no longer acceptable. Hiding is no longer acceptable; only presence. You are physically becoming smaller in a way that everyone approves of. You’re proud of how you look in photos, like a vampire vanishing. One teacher tells you that she doesn’t even recognize you anymore. She says it with real pride.
When you tore down everything inside of yourself to make way for a new, opulent skyscraper vision—the glory of All-American maleness and achievement as conceptualized by a dark and angry Soviet refugee who believed her whole family had been extinguished—most people were glad. Most people rewarded you for it.

“To think this is a sin. To see anxiety and to make it worse, angrier, is a sin. To speak this is worse.”


 

9

Lying on a suburban diving board, your chest bare to the sun, for the moment alone, one of The Fountainhead’s books above you. The world seemed suspended in space, an island floating on nothing. You are wearing headphones; Rachmaninoff’s Second is filling your ears. You are trying very hard to love it.
What would the Fountainhead say if she were alive, if you told her the secret you told your friend: a secret that you know, in the moment of confession, to be true, even if you do not know what it means? Ridiculous, she would say. How can it be true if you don’t know what it means? How can there be truths outside of Reason? How can you be so disgusting?
You imagine The Fountainhead shouting that at you. You imagine her calling you anti-life—a bad worker—too stupid to wipe your own ass right. Outer darkness. And you turn the volume up on your Discman until it erases the thought.
But a cloud moves over the sun; a voice intrudes. Don’t survive this way. Because The Fountainhead is not altogether wrong about the importance of living a truth. Because there is no outer darkness: there is only your location. There is no way forward without destruction.