Chapter 3.13 – Conflict

Unhappiness has become status quo for Mark Barimen.
It has been with him since his earliest memories. He knows there is no justification for it. He lives a charmed life in every way, and has every reason to be the happiest sim in Sunset Valley. But his happiness drains away like water through a sieve, and he has no explanation as to why. He has learned to accept it, and the detriment that comes as a result. But truly, Mark can remember no time he has been more unhappy than now.
He feels as if he has been kicked in the gut by his own family. He had actually been starting to feel excitement about spending time with his sisters on the sightseeing trip. But his father had different motives. He feels betrayed watching his family leave the academy; betrayed and unwanted. He hears the instructor talking, but he pays no attention to the man. He may as well be speaking a different language.
He is being kept away from the other students, he knows. Probably because they are afraid he is a bad influence. His instructor continues to talk, and Mark pays little attention. All he can think about his how he will begin making plans to move to Sim City when he is old enough. And old enough is only a few months away. Sunset Valley has nothing for him now; his sisters can fight over their father’s stupid legacy.
His first day is blur, and he can sense that his apathy is beginning to test his instructor’s nerves. He has only answered with shrugs and grunts and the instructor often has to repeat his lessons. With every hour that passes, Mark sinks deeper into his melancholy. It is only after he becomes aware that the instructor has been silent for quite some time that he emerges and makes eye contact with the man for the first time since he has been here.
He notices that the instructor is quite old, but walks and talks like a much younger man. His leathery face is worn and weathered, but his eyes are sharp and bright with knowledge. The man nods slowly and strokes his chin. After a moment, he comments that silence is the key to balance in Mark’s life. He bows and introduces himself as Jiang Xi. Mark nods while trying to break the eye contact and rebuild his wall of indifference. But Jiang Xi seems to know what will hold Mark’s attention. The old man smiles and challenges Mark to ignore his silence as well as he ignores his words. With that, the man sits in a lotus position and closes his eyes in meditation.
At first, Mark shrugs off the comment. But as the minutes slowly fall away, he knows the man is right. He should find the silence soothing, but it is totally the opposite. Mark shifts uncomfortably on the bench where he was asked to sit. In the silence, there is nothing. It is like a void where the happiness he has managed to horde, gets eaten away by his doubts and fears. Finally, Mark blurts out an apology. He apologizes for his rudeness, and for ignoring his lessons.
The old man opens his eyes, which sparkle with amusement. He says quietly that he stopped teaching lessons after the first hour of being ignored. The rest of the time he has been reading stories out of his tabloid magazine. He found the “alien anti-aging secrets revealed” story to be particularly entertaining; and is sorry that Mark missed it. With all semblance of stoicism now gone, Mark laughs, and continues to laugh. He laughs to forget the feeling of betrayal by Charlotte, Melissa, and now his father. He laughs to cover the pain of his unexplainable sadness.
Jiang Xi immediately sees the change in Mark’s mood as the laughing comes to an abrupt halt, to be replaced by a quivering lip and somber scowl. Jiang Xi stands and nods again, stating that today’s lesson is complete. Seeing that Mark is visibly confused, he tells his student that each sim has inner conflict that battles within them. Mark’s conflict is as ancient as it is difficult; it is the conflict between death and life.
And Mark is allowing his fear of the silence and finality of death to engulf the abundance of joy in his life.

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