I never liked the word ‘used’ to describe something that happened to someone.
‘She used you.’
‘He used you.’
Made me feel like that person was a product, used, and now worthless forever. It didn’t feel becoming of human beings.
But, aren’t there people who do that? People who take everything they can from you and then discard you?
So, over the years, I tried different analogies to articulate that experience.
Analogies I used
- Person A was a pest.
- Person A treated them like a watering can.
- Person A stole the maps of person B and left them stranded in a black hole.
- Person A stabbed person B in the back and then asked person B help for cleaning their blood stained hands.
For the time being, each of them worked. But recently I came across one that just sticks.
I read it in a book called No One Writes Back by Jang Eun-Jin and translated by Jung Yewon from Korean.
One day our protagonist comes across a man who is scraping gum off the street. He follows him and finds out that this person is an artist; a gum artist. But he wonders, like most probably would,
Why pieces of gum, though? They had been chewed on and spat out by others, and tramped on and defiled by countess people. How had he come to use them as material for painting?
The artist explains that once he loved someone. At the beginning of the relationship, the woman said that he was like gum to her and that they should be stuck together forever like gum. He said he was like gum to her till the very end.
At the end of the relationship, she told him that he is really clingy like gum and that she is sick of him. She asked him to get off her.
One day as I was walking down the street, I began to notice pieces of gum, thrown away after all the sweetness had been sucked out of them. There were too many of them. I haven’t chewed gum since. Even if I did, I wouldn’t spit it out on the street.’
And isn’t that so fitting?
There are people we will come across who will suck the sweetness out of us and then spit us out on the street like we were nothing but pieces of gum.
The funny thing is, it may seem like it will be obvious who these people are so that we can stay away from them. In my experience, it’s always the ones you least suspect. In fact, it’s the ones you never suspect.
I find comfort in analogies because they help validate my experiences in such an on-point manner but also, they typically end hopeful.
What happens to blackened pieces of gum?
The artist turned these discarded, trampled upon pieces of gum into art. he scraped them off the street, transformed the black filthy pieces, flattened them, and painted on them.
He turned them into art. Art that was beautiful, art that was valuable. Art that was precious.
What I take away from this is that, yes, we may not be able to avoid coming across people who will suck all the sweetness out of us and spit us out.
For a while, we may feel filthy and trampled upon. We may even actually feel ‘used’ and worthless. But that’s not where the story ends.
If I ever find myself in such a situation again, I don’t want to be found by an artist and transformed. I am an artist. I will transform myself. I hope you do too.