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You Feel Angry
You feel angry. You feel strange. There is something you’ve forgotten to say, and you’ve forgotten why you wanted to say it. There is someone, or someplace, or a moment (something or anything anyway) that you’ve forgotten to remember. And you’ve forgotten why.
You can remember that it is dark and cold out and that the people on the street that walk past you are just a hundred fleeting others that you will never walk past again (although there is a chance that you will, but you’ve never trusted such small probabilities). You remember that you’ve packed up your seventeen years of life into a black bag and you remember to wonder how much of it is worth dragging along behind you under the faint glow of useless street lights; too little. You don’t remember to wonder whether there is something that you didn’t have the time (or the space in your bag) to bring along with you.
You were nine and your brother was seven and the world still revolved around collecting cards and favorite colors. You were bored of all your toys and you’d migrated to the kitchen, waiting for life to excite you again. There had been a knock upon the door and you and your brother had your ears against the door, listening for adventure. The sounds of your father and another unknown man waft in through the little space you risked leaving open, coming closer.
“…caused you any inconvenience by coming here…don’t like leaving the house for these things…”
“…not at all, not at all…Always a pleasure to do business with you, Clark…somewhere private for the exchange…”
“Of course…Right this way, Adam…”
“They’re coming in here!” Billy whispered in his helplessly soft voice, sounding torn between excitement and terror, backing away from you and the door.
You smiled as your heart picked up speed. “Quick! Let’s hide in the closet.” Your voice isn’t torn like your brother’s. He’s never known how to make choices and you’ve never known how to compromise.
Billy hung onto your arm for a while as you both crouched behind the shuttered door in the dark room, but you shook him off, so he resorted to clutching a wall. You both kept your eyes on the two men entering the kitchen and locking the door behind them, as they continued speaking with words that sounded like printed signatures, and artificial looks you could half-see through the shutters.
“Drew, what if-”
“Shh, Billy! Just be quiet!”
You could see a box had been placed on the table. A long, gleaming, innocent black box. You felt impatient for your father to open it, but he continued to talk in that rehearsed way and the other man continued to listen and smile his crooked teeth.
“…I wonder why it is you won’t simply register… save you this hassle of secrecy and trust…”
“I can assure you, I have my reasons…but I do trust in you… I trust you would have more to lose from dishonesty…”
“…no need to worry about that… You know me… I wouldn’t possibly dream of betraying you…”
“… you’ve come a long way…”
“…it’s a tough business…”
Your mind did not follow the conversation for long. It got tossed into the pile of things you were discarding every day. The pointless, boring things, that had only to do with money, names and china-sets.
You both watched as your father took a check from an inner coat pocket silently and handed it to the man with the crooked smile, who put it away safely into an inner coat pocket.
Clark reached out his hand and pulled the box toward him. With a smile, the deal was closed and you were left to reckless curiosity as your brother wondered in hesitation and childhood began to creep away in the dark dusty corners of the kitchen closet.
As you make your blind, angry and confused way down the street, as someone bumps into you and tells you to watch it (you ignore them, because you’ve gotten good at ignoring advice you simply can not take), it is easy to remember that the doors and windows never seemed truly open and that none of the pictures on the walls smiled.
They were disappointed, you remember and you can’t remember the time when that disappointed you. Perhaps it was very long ago, perhaps it was yesterday, and perhaps it didn’t happen at all. Perhaps it has all been a dream, or perhaps the dream started when you walked out the door. Does it make a difference?
There was the box, hidden behind what would be useless trinkets on the highest shelf in your father’s forbidden study, innocently disguised as useless too. Your grey eyes watched it with vengeful interest and Billy’s darker eyes watched you with fearful fascination.
Your parents were busy entertaining downstairs and you’d never been able to stand their make-believe lives. Billy had never been able to tell you ‘no’.
You closed the door behind you as softly as you could. The room was not fancy, to suit your mother; your father always liked things simple and direct. He never wasted time with ornamentation. There was a desk of dark wood and cushioned chair to match. Bookshelves lined one of the walls, and the disguised junk lined the other.
“Drew, I really don’t like this. I wish we could just-”
“You didn’t have to come along, Billy. It’s up to you. I’m going to find out what’s in the box.”
Billy took a deep breath and pleaded. “But, why? It’s nothing for us in there. And Father-”
“Father is busy enough with his guests and I want to have some fun. You can go back, Billy,” you added, knowing he wouldn’t.
You picked up your father’s heavy study chair and dragged it across the room, being careful not to make noises. You climbed onto the chair, but you still weren’t tall enough. You tried to climb up the shelves, but they protested and groaned under your half-formed weight.
“You can’t get up?” asked your little brother as he came near to you, trying to hide the hope in his voice.
“No,” you admitted, looking down at him. “I need your help. Come up on here.”
Your brother’s eyes widened as you yanked on his arm. “What do you want me to do?”
You continued to yank on his arm and his eyes shifted toward the door. “I just want you to climb onto my shoulders and see what’s in the box. If it isn’t anything interesting, then we’ll just leave.” You managed to get your brother on the chair with you and you noticed he was trembling. “That’s what you want, right? To leave the box alone? Well, here’s your chance: just peek inside it. I would myself, but I can’t reach it without your help.”
Billy glanced once more toward the door, and then nodded his little head brusquely. “All right. I’ll just peek.”
You grinned at him as you crouched down to let him mount your shoulders. He held onto your hair with his hands and you lifted him into the air, carefully, slowly, far enough for him to reach the box.
“Okay, now, just pull it over,” you told him soothingly, shaking his leg a bit. “Let go of my head.”
Billy’s hands rose hesitantly from your head, like birds first leaving their nests, and he gripped the shelf tightly with one while the other grasped the edge of the long black box. Lifting the wooden lid with surprising ease, he stretched his neck to see inside it.
There was a brief, breathless silence before he announced in a voice full of frightened awe, “It’s a gun, Drew!”
You jerked your head up in excitement, making your brother sway upon your shoulders. “A gun? Oh, I knew it was something good. Hold onto it, Billy, I’m going to put you down.”
Heavy clanking sounds filled the tense study as Billy held on tightly to the long box and its content shifted to the side as you clumsily dropped him to the ground.
“Let me see it!” You demanded. You towered over him and your shadow killed the gleam on that black, beautiful smoothness. Your hands were trembling with excitement as you reached in to pick up the gun. Billy’s mouth was hanging open as he watched you lift it out of the black box, into the air, point it at the opposite wall.
You would never know what it was he thought in those moments he watched you smile as your imagination flew you over the battle fields of Vietnam. Later you would think you were frightening; you would think you held the gun as if it were a toy.
But all that you would ever know for sure was that you lowered it eventually and the blast of sound that ripped itself forth concealed both your screams. You will remember that you thought (for no longer than a fraction of an instant) that you saw your reflection in the pool of blood that spread over the floor of the simply-furnished study.
You come to a street corner and there are no lights to your left. You remember that is where you are supposed to turn. You wonder why you hesitate, but you can’t remember to consider that maybe the street lights weren’t so useless after all. Will the darkness swallow me whole? You think that maybe if you take another step there will be someone somewhere at sometime when things were different who will forget you. And you can almost remember why you don’t want that to happen…
You were surrounded by four white walls. You kept your eyes on the clean white floor. You did not want to look at the nurses with the kind smiles. You did not want to look at your mother’s tearful face. You did not want to look at the broken stone of your father’s eyes.
You did not want to look at the horrible bandages on your little brother’s arm.
It’s my fault. You knew it. Billy knew it, even if he was asleep. Your parents knew it, even if they did not scold. The nurses knew it, even if they smiled and told you as if it was all you needed, “Everything will be all right.”
You’d been sitting in the plastic white chair for hours avoiding things while your parents watched Billy, so intent upon making sure his chest went up and down that they didn’t bother to act superior. You almost believed something mattered more and you’d been fooled your entire life.
But only almost.
The light from the little window across from the little bed was changing colors. The light was getting redder and brighter and you knew somewhere the moon was getting higher. Somewhere in a simply furnished study, there was an innocent black box locked away in your father’s desk and somewhere in your passionate heart you hated yourself more than you ever hated all of them.
You blinked away stinging tears as a tensely gentle hand patted your knee. Your blurry eyes looked at your father’s as your brave mask fell off your frightened face and childhood crept back through the window with the light of a dying day.
“I’m sorry, Father. I made Billy come up there with me. I was the one who wanted to open the box. It’s my fault! I’m sorry, Dad,” you cried because you couldn’t help it and maybe your father didn’t take his hand off your knee because he couldn’t help it either.
“Andrew, it’s not your fault. I should have locked my study. It was an accident.”
Your mother had turned to watch you and she whispered as almost never before. “It wasn’t your fault, son.”
You shook your head. “It was. It was my fault. Billy will never forgive me,” you wailed, the space in your heart divided by fear and shame.
“Of course he will,” your father soothed, stiffly continuing to pat your knee. “He knows you didn’t mean it.”
“I wouldn’t forgive me if I were him,” you confessed and the tears slid down your face as the light slid from the streets.
“You would,” whispered your father and you thought that maybe his eyes didn’t look like crystals; they just looked like eyes. “There are things more important than blame. It’s not that hard to forgive.”
You watched him and you did another thing you couldn’t help. “You wouldn’t hate me?” you asked, not fully knowing what you meant.
Your father said, “You’re my son.”
It wasn’t a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. It was something he couldn’t help, and neither could you, and neither could time. It was enough to forgive and enough to condemn.
You stayed there a long time, much after the moon had come up to fill in for the sun, and it was the closest you ever came to caring for the statues, safes and painted walls hiding in the innocent black box somewhere in your heart that you wished you could open.
Your feet take you halfway down the street before you remember. In the middle of the dark, you see that it’s special. You know you can’t leave it behind, and somehow you know you don’t want to. But the life waiting for you at the end of the road is so much bigger and truer and the memory is so little and faint and surrounded by walls. There is only one window to the heart of this many-walled room and the voices inside your innocent, windowed black box have gotten tired of repeating what none of you will ever understand.
So you stow it away in a spare pocket and it’s your past all packed up (the only part of it you know is worth bringing along, because you’re sure it’s the only part you know your adventures won’t erase) and you walk down the street to the bigger and truer.
The streetlights stayed on for the rest of the night, the year and time. As you wandered through life they witnessed a million footsteps of the passers by, forgotten at the bend of the road and the Sun and a million pieces of left-behind souls.