“A Letter from a Starfish,” by Matt Kolbet

Aug 20th, 2013 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Listen, I can’t speak for everyone else, but it didn’t make a difference to me.  I want to get that out right away, and I repeat—it didn’t make a difference to me.

I know you think it did, so that’s why I’m saying it first.  You walk along, and you see how many starfish there are scattered along the shore.  Frankly, the situation looks impossible, and it is, for one person.  I mean, after all, that’s kind of your universal conflict: What is the meaning of my life?  What purpose do I serve?  And finally, is there some kind of telos that can be shared between me and other people?

Death looms.  It would be nice to do something with your life.

But look at it from my perspective.  I’m not faced with countless starfish drying out in the sand.  I’m in it, or out of it, rather, separated from the waves, waiting for the inevitable flow of the tide, perhaps secretly worrying about the next ebb, wondering if it will be the big one, the ebb to end all ebbs, facing a future where some kid finds my desiccated arms and leaves me in a box in the garage, or some mother turns me into a decoration at the beach house and every time someone visits, they make an asinine exclamation about how wonderful my corpse looks hanging from that peg, how my fading color brightens up the room, or adds the perfect touch to the house.  I’m part of a nautical theme.  I make things homey.

It’s natural to want to matter to the world.  I get that.

There are lots of starfish on the beach, so unless you had an army of volunteers, it’s pretty grim.  And there are naysayers out there.  They scoff at you as an individual.  They look at the long stretches of beach and see only hopelessness and isolation as the human condition.  They prompt you to tell that story ad naseum and reach its philosophically flimsy conclusion: “It made a difference to this one.”

But I’m telling you, for me and a lot of others I know it didn’t make a difference.  We’ve actually started a support group for starfish thrown back by do-gooders.

For a lot of us, there’s not much to go back to.  Angry girlfriends.  Multiple divorces.  A mouth that’s too small.  Often I barely have enough energy to wage a war of attrition against an oyster, and I love oysters.  There are times you just get tired of turning your stomach inside out and expelling it from your body.  The gritty sand, slow drying out, even the inane comments might be preferable to going back to the drudgery of the sea.

I’m not saying you have to give up on life.  You may have a purpose, possibly a great one, but what it is, I can’t tell you.  Maybe you’ll cure cancer or be a great parent to some adorable and brilliant kids, though from what I’ve heard, there’s no shortage of kids or any kind of person on the planet, just like there’s no shortage of starfish on the beach or stars in the sky.

All I’m saying is that you can’t make your life meaningful simply by chucking starfish back into the ocean.  I can count on each of my arms how many starfish said it made a difference to them and still have arms left over.  I think you get the picture.

And yes, we’re called sea stars now, not starfish, but really, that’s a secondary issue.


Defenestration-Generic Male 02Matt Kolbet teaches and writes near Portland, Oregon.  He has been published in Defenestration a few times before, as well as Clockwise Cat, Four and Twenty, The Rufous City Review, and other places.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.