In a non-descript, boringly ordinary house, a baby boy was once born. Outsiders looking in saw a home with a neatly trimmed lawn, clean carpets and hallways lined with framed photographs of a smiling family. From nine to five, five days a week, the boy’s father went to work in an equally non-descript, boringly ordinary office job; every other week, his efforts produced a paycheck capable of sustaining life for the family. The boy was born after nine uneventful months, the result of a healthy, normal pregnancy. His mother cried upon holding him for the first time, then pulled back his clothes and counted to assure herself he did indeed have ten toes and ten fingers. In a picture taken at the hospital the day of his birth, he lays in his mother’s arms, nursing, and his father kisses his mother. In a picture taken the first time his father held him, the father’s cheeks are ruddy red with pride. It is obvious he’s in love with the boy.
His infancy is marked only with celebrations; the first time he rolled over, his mother documented it in his baby book, the first time his face twisted into a smile, his father proudly called to inform the grandparents and insisted that no, it had not been produced from gas, the boy had really smiled, the first time he took his very first step, his mother was on bended knee, holding out her arms and smiling wide, encouraging him, and catching him when he stumbled. Years later, with hindsight, the boy would swear she’d learned how to catch him when he fell because his dad seemed to always catch her: the two of them instigated a “date night” where the boy was dropped off at Grandma’s so they could go out to dinner. Whenever they came to pick him up, they always kissed. He grew, and changed, and so did the house in which he lived. The once pristine white door of his parents’ room now held crayon-drawn stick people: when his mother prepared to wash them off, she found she didn’t have the heart to when the boy informed her that “it was me and my bestest girl, Mama.” The once bare refrigerator soon became equipped with magnets to hold works of art. His parents still had date night, still hugged and talked and laughed. Sometimes his dad even picked his mom up, just for the fun of it. When he won Student of the Month in the second grade, the certificate was framed and hung alongside the photographs in the hallway. When he won the spelling bee in the fourth grade, the trophy was placed in a position of honor, in the foyer table, so that incoming guests would be sure to see it. His mother was on the board of the PTA and his dad spent an hour after work playing baseball in the backyard, since it was the one sport the boy consistently dreamed of. High school came, and so did more changes. The boy suddenly wanted more independence—and it was granted. His parents alternated teaching him to drive and then preparing to die while they allowed him to drive them around for their errands, they celebrated as a family when he was awarded his driver’s license. His dad sat down and talked to him about the importance of respect when dealing with girls, then told him that it was okay to be excited and nervous at the same time about his first real date. Pretty soon, the boy was all grown up, and ready to move out.
That’s when tragedy struck.
The death of his mom, at the hands of some careless drunk driver. His dad met the bottle, his family splintered apart. The boy wondered aimlessly for awhile. He questioned God, and all that he’d been taught during childhood. He wondered, sometimes, if his now alcoholic father was really the same man he’d known growing up. He wondered if there were secrets. He cried. He screamed. Sometimes, he threw things against walls. But never once, not once, did the idea of ending his life cross his mind. How could it, for even in the midst of pain, the boy’s heart held love: love for his father, love for his extended family, love for the house that been a home, love for life. He’d been taught, with one family-oriented memory after another, that life intrinsically held value, that it was good, that it was precious. All life—even his own. Why end something if it was good, despite bad circumstances? People told him, “give it time”, “time heals everything,” — and he believed them, because he sensed that past tonight’s moon lie another day, one that was full of stars and sunshine and healing. The boy made it through the darkness. He emerged on the other side, found a wife and repeated his life story for that of his daughter. Along the way, he discovered something: music was more than entertainment: it was a balm to his soul. He grasped that belief, clung to it, and dedicated his time to learning to hone his skill. Pretty soon, he was well-known in the community for his beautiful music, and his kindly nature. He knew his mom would have been proud. He knew his dad was. And, most importantly, he was proud of himself. When he looked in the mirror, he saw a man, not a six foot blob of flawed existence. He was more than dirt, and he knew it.
I don’t know this man—but I want to.
I don’t know this man—but I need to.
I don’t know this man—but I should.
Three streets and five houses down for his, on the same day of his birth, another baby boy was born. He’d been an unexpected, and unwanted, pregnancy. His mother’s diary revealed that when she’d learned she’d conceived, she cursed God. She wasn’t married, and wasn’t certain of the boy’s father. She thought about adoption. She thought about abortion. But, she lacked time. It passed, and she decided, in her seventh month, to keep the boy. He was born prematurely and suffered from a severe case of jaundice. His mother’s diary recounted no motherly actions, no checking to ensure there were ten toes or ten fingers. In the one hospital picture taken the day after his birth, he lays in his mother’s arms, but she stares stone-faced at the camera, smile-less.
The house he’s taken to is non-descript, boringly ordinary—but only in appearances. The house is moderately clean, but cluttered: Opened cereal boxes sit on the beds, empty candy wrappers lay on the floor. The carpets are in need of a vacuum. The trash bag in the kitchen is filled to over-flowing. Pots and pans, while not excessive, lay waiting on soap in the sink. A dog barks outside its doors. Though there are a few framed photographs sitting on dressers and the desk in the bonus room, there are no framed photographs along the hallways. The casual observer’s eye spots no family photo albums. There’s no baby room waiting on the newborn boy: family donated the crib, but it’s not been put together. For the first three months, til he outgrows it and starts to roll and his mother thereby forced to assemble the crib, his bed will be a wicker basket made for laundry. He’s given bottles, never the breast. He’d held sporadically: sometimes when he cries, but not always. Trust is offered, then withdrawn, leaving confusion in the infant’s heart. He grows, but the house does not. When he takes his first step, his mother sits on the couch with the television remote in her hand: she does not clap, she does not encourage and she does not comfort when he falls. The boy learns independence and strength—but trust turns ever more elusive.
First, second, third grade comes and goes: art projects are trashed the following day, or stuffed into a box in the closet. His goal at school isn’t to win achievements, for himself or others, but to attract attention. He plays with various ways to gain it: half a year, he’s the class bully, the second half of the year, he’s the class hermit. He enters no competitions. He wins none. He’s chosen last. His games are violent, he holds no ambition. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he shrugs and pretends to chop the air in a karate kick. Grade four comes. Mid-year, his gym teacher takes him aside, touches him, kisses him spontaneously, invasively. Trust evolves from elusive to imaginary. Since violence accomplished nothing, video games and hiding out behind his earphones become top priority. He’s learned that music is an escape, but he never senses he can create it. By year’s end, gym teacher fondles, then rapes him. There’s no one to tell: he’s a latchkey kid who comes home to an empty house and stays alone til late at night. His mom wakes him up, drives him to school, but only talks to reprimand him about his grades. Sometimes he thinks she does that only because it’s the one thing she thinks she’s supposed to do. By grade six, he’s discovered alcohol and the alcohol leads him to discover the feel of a blade against the inside of his wrist. By his freshman year in high school, when an English teacher, notices that the brown eyes are sad behind the black mascara, realizes there are a multitude of scars along his arms and asks him if she can help, he scoffs, almost snorts with derision.
When he looks in the mirror, he doesn’t see a man. He sees a dot. Sometimes, on the good days, he sees a freak. On the bad days, he stares into the reflection—but sees nothing. He thinks that’s appropriate, cause he doesn’t anything, either. He learned in school that if one gene mutates wrong, it causes all sorts of diseases, like autism and brain damage and even loss of limb. He wonders if maybe some as of yet unknown gene mutated wrong before he was born and really, he’s not a boy at all, but a robot, capable of mechanical functions, like walking, talking and eating, but incapable of human emotions, like love, empathy, even sadness. Graduation approaches, and he can’t see past the midnight moon. Has no idea what life for a half human half robot would entail. His Senior year, he tells classmates not to worry because, soon, he’s going away, and they won’t have to see him again. He isn’t afraid of death, because he’s not afraid of anything. The razor blade has taught him that, in fact, pain can be relieved by the destruction of the body.
And so—-here we are.
You see—-I am this boy.
The first boy wasn’t real: he was just all that I could have been, maybe even should have been. Sometimes I dream about his mama, and his daddy. Sometimes I dream about the trophies I could have won. Sometimes I see pictures in my head of me as a toddler, waddling my way across the floor, and I get angry—-very, very angry—-at the fact there wasn’t a momma waiting on me, holding out her arms. Sometimes the sound of her voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard, and I hate her. Other times, I am sad that she doesn’t know me, and doesn’t care. Most of all, what I see, and what I feel, are the things my gym coach did to me. I think how I’d like to use this gun on him. If I had guts, if I was a real man, I’d do it, too. But, of course, I’m not. I’m me: the half human, half robot, cursed pregnancy mistake. Everything I touch turns to sawdust. There’s no point in my seeing the sun rise one more time. There’s also no point, really, in guessing who I could have been, had my life been different.
All there is now is me, and the gun.
I pick it up, feel its smoothness in my skin, rest my finger against the trigger. Gingerly, I test its weight. I push, just a little, not enough to make it go off. My breathing is rapid. I’m not scared, I’m excited. Maybe all the pain will be gone in a few minutes. If the Bible in my mom’s room is right, and there is a God, and He doesn’t send me to Hell for this, I wonder if, when I die, I’ll get to meet the alternate me, the one that could have, should have, been born in my place, the one able to overcome tragedy with strength. I hope I get to meet him. I hope I don’t screw it up, if I do, by feeling jealous. I hope there’s not a God, or an afterlife at all, because the whole point of this is not to live anymore. I just want to be dirt. Like I feel like. There’s something satisfying in knowing that I will, one day, look on the outside just like I’ve always felt on the inside.
Gingerly, I turn my hand sideways, raise the gun, in all its heaviness to the side of my temple. My hand feels awkward like this. The barrel of the gun against my temple feels cold and definite. I close my eyes, try to slow my breathing. I want to be calm. I want to be a man. At least in this, if in nothing else. I start to count my breaths, to slow them, and then decide that I’ll do it on breath number four. Cause that’s how much I weighed when I was born: four measly pounds. Cause that’s when Asshole Gym Teacher messed with my mind, scared me something stupid.
I open my mouth, pull in a breath.
I hear the air conditioner unit shut off, and jerk involuntarily. I shut my eyes, lock my jaw and exhale. I drag in air.
A lawn mower starts up outside, at the house of my neighbors. I wonder what he’s going to think in two more breaths. I wonder if he’ll hear it. Nobody ever hears anything I do. I exhale, emptying my lungs of breath. Then, slowly, I drag in more air, and imagine my lungs expanding, pushing against my rib cage; I fill them as far as I can.
I exhale. It’s a long exhale. Then I hold my breath, waiting. I don’t hear anything now. I picture the alternate me, the one I should have been, standing in front of me, clueless about what I’m about to do. I wish him well. I hope he has a house full of kids. Then I warn him, silently: if , in his self-righteous secure world, he starts to think he’s the king and screws with even one single kid, I’ll come back to haunt him to his dying day, so help me God. I can’t hold my breath anymore, I have to have air. Or die. I close my eyes tightly, then mentally, whisper: “Goodbye.”