Safer In The Dark

I was nine years old, in the 3rd grade, when I first got an inkling of what people were like in the real world. How easy cruelty comes to us.

There was kid in my class. Let’s say his name was Harry. Classic social reject: he was fat, pale, unwashed; a little moustache below his nose and a deep obsession with fantasy fiction that rendered him incapable of discussing almost anything else. He got teased a lot. I never did anything. Nobody did.

I wondered sometimes about his life. Tried to imagine him somewhere else except beneath that gray smoggy sky getting teased by the children of Bible Belt America. Mass stupidity. I wondered even then, with my cheap serial killer novels and my already pretentious outlook on life, where it all came from. How that meanness kept getting passed down. Why people let it happen.

A day came when we were all outside and for some reason I was standing with a group of kids who were throwing dodge balls at Harry. He screamed and tried to run away but another group of kids had formed a wall to box him in and somebody handed me a ball and I can remember the feel of it, the meaty smack when it bounced off his nose and broke his glasses and he fell back, bleeding, to the ground.

I ran away. A teacher caught me a half an hour later and I sat in the principal’s office while my mother cried, asked why I did it. I cried too, because they wanted it: because it was the thing that would get me out of the principal’s office and away from my mother’s hot eyes…

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I couldn’t sleep that night because I was afraid of the dark: I kept seeing the glint of a knife in my mind’s eye, a maniac’s laugher, a pallid face against the window, dark figures darting behind trees in the yard…

I got up and got a glass of milk and zoned out in front of the TV. It was something I did a lot when I was younger, after my parents got divorced. I got depressed, I guess. I never really know. But I zoned out and the darkness outside became more comforting that frightening.

No one can see you, in the dark.

But you can’t see anyone else, either.

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I tried to apologize to him. He ignored me, walked away and into the school where I couldn’t see him through the tint of the glass.

The memory comes to me sometimes, out of nowhere, like a sharp jab. His face, the downcast eyes and the ruddy pinkness of it set against his sheet white skin. He left town when I went to Junior High and I still think of him sometimes and how he’s doing and if he’s made friends.

I hope that he has. I hope his face can be recognize in a crowd, that someone will point to him and single him out for a hello, or a congratulation...

I hope he's afraid of the dark.


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