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In the beginning, there were picnics. Every few months he would be taken down to a beach on holiday to sit under a blue sky and watch the waves. His parents spread out the red-and-white-checkered blanket onto the warm white sand, and they would picnic on the beach, shaded from the harsh sun by an umbrella and watching the gulls wheel about overhead. A radio usually sat by their sides, playing symphonies and operas by the great classical composers, Bach and Beethoven and Brahms. His mother would lead him by the hand, taking the tottering toddler down the length of the shore so that he could smell the salt of the ocean and scan the distant horizon for ships. These picnics were always very enjoyable, blue-sky days without a care in the world.
Then he caught a fever back at home, and was rushed to the hospital while drifting in and out of consciousness. Strange and insane dreams crowded his panicked mind, and many times he called out for his mother or father to come and take him away from the frightening scenes. He didn’t know what was happening to him, and he was scared. But neither his mother nor his father came, and he had to endure his stay in the hospital by himself, poked and prodded by odd doctors who, unbeknownst to him, were only trying to help him get well. Needles were stuck into him, and he whimpered with fear of the unknown.
It was a relief when his parents finally arrived, once the fever was driven from him and he was able to think clearly, but he couldn’t understand why they hadn’t come earlier. What had he done to deserve their apathy?
Later on, he discovered that there would be no more picnics. No explanation was given for this abrupt change, but he overheard his parents speaking in hushed voices when they believed him to be asleep. “They say it’s not safe to go down to the beach anymore… horrible vicious gang activity… and it could have been where little Alex caught diphtheria… not safe and not sanitary…”
He started school just in time for his father to receive a promotion, giving him more time with his job and less time with his family. His mother also found a profession for herself, and had less time for her son than she had before. He was walked to school by his mother the first time, holding her hand just as he had held her hand at the beach, but had to walk home alone. The people on the streets worried him with their noisy behavior, most actions of which he could not comprehend the purpose, and the cars were intimidating challenges as he looked both ways before crossing the street.
However, at school he was quite the popular boy, and easily befriended several students in his class. The boys in the grades above him were much like the people on the streets- noisy and rowdy and speaking in a strange language that he couldn’t understand- but those of his own age were all right to be around. They idolized the boys in the grades above him, and he began to look forward to the time when he could be one of them.
It soon became clear, as he moved up grades, that the only way to survive in the upper levels of the school was to fall in with a certain group of friends, people who would always have your back. He began to take a keen interest in the boys around him, and when one boy stepped out to protect him on his walk home one afternoon, he realized that he had found what the older boys called their “droogs.” The boy was a year older than him and called himself Pete, and they bonded quickly. Pete himself had no group of his own, though he had his eyes on two boys who were another grade above him- George, and a dimwitted boy he hung out with whose real name was neither known nor cared about; everyone in the school called him simply Dim.
When Pete introduced him to the older boys and suggested that they let him in on their group, George was very scornful of him. “This malenky malchick is only like ten years old. How do you like expect us to accept him, oh my brother?” Dim said nothing, but gave a harsh guffaw and rolled a glare onto him.
Baffled by George’s unusual talk, and yet bolstered by his disparaging tone, he mustered up the courage to state defiantly, “I’m going to be eleven just this year!”
“Come on, my brothers,” Pete persuaded the boys. “Alex is a horrorshow malchick. Let him in with us.”
For a moment it was looking to not fall in his favor, but then George nodded. “Let us viddy how horrorshow malenky Alex turns out.” From that day on, he was plunged into the mystifying world of the older boys who would always have his back. He slowly learned their language, although the boys made him promise not to use it around anyone but them, and once he turned eleven, began to accompany them on dark excursions through the night. It was the first time he had ever snuck out of his house, and at first the fears that his parents had instilled in him were all that consumed his mind. The daytime was something that he understood. Night was another matter all together. But with his “droogs” by his sides, he began to feel remotely safe.
George, Dim, and Pete revealed themselves to be much deeper characters than they had presented themselves originally. Their brutal, violent actions that he witnessed that night went against everything he had always been told and seriously frightened him. When George noticed his pale face and trembling body, he sneered at him- “Are you getting all poogly, my brother? Are you going to go running back to your pee and em all boo-hoo-hoo?” He tried to plaster on a brave face and shake his head no, but George didn’t seem impressed. Later that night he heard him discussing his behavior with Pete and Dim, speaking quietly, yet in an irritated tone. “Alex is no good, my brother. He is too molodoy to stay out all nochy. He cannot help us with our crasts and bitvas.”
Pete walked him back to his home, back to the safety and comfort of his parents, and before he let him leave to go inside he gave him a stern talk on what to do and what not to do when out at night. “These malchicks think that you are not like tough enough to join in on our ultraviolence. They are blaming me for allowing you to come along. If you don’t start acting like them, we will lose them as droogs. You pony that, Alex, don’t you?”
“Good good good.” Pete backed away. “I will viddy you at the old skolliwoll tomorrow, oh my brother.”
From then on, he tried very hard to become just like the older boys. He felt that if he couldn’t act like them, there must be something very wrong with him, some failing that needed correcting straight away. A change began to set in eventually. After nights of biting his lip and stepping back to let George, Pete, or Dim handle the ultraviolence, he started to join in on their work. He was taught to fight and to shoplift, or rather learned all by himself from watching the actions of the other boys. After a while, the feeling of shame, of knowing he was doing something wrong, faded. It was better to shut up and go along with his friends than to be ridiculed by them for not helping.
The antics at night began to unlock a new side of himself, something that was buried deeply in his DNA. He found himself enjoying the fights, the shoplifting, the look of fear on people’s faces just before he and his friends beat them up or pillaged their wares. He welcomed each night, looking forward to the rush of adrenaline, the thrill it gave him to be running free and anonymous on the streets, with no parents or any other adults to tell him what to do. As he grew older, he learned how to hotwire cars and came to drive his friends around the outskirts of the city and through the countryside, running people off the roads and honking the horn at them. He was introduced to the milk bars that served drugs to underage citizens, and found that the drinks prepared him more for ultraviolence than anything else he could have come up with. He chased after young girls and learned about ultraviolent actions regarding them that were entirely different from the ones he was used to, nicknamed by his peers “the old in-out.” Best of all, he was now able to take his friends on surprise visits, and relished the startled looks of the men whose houses he broke into, the hurried “Who are you”/”What are you doing here” questions they issued and the terrified screams from the women. He loved watching the blood drain from their faces as understanding reached them, the murderous gleam in their eyes and the angry shouts as he destroyed all that was known as their homes without a care in the world.
Fear no longer existed in his mind, and he soon became the leader of his group of friends, though he was still the youngest, praised excessively for his ”horrorshow” actions. Gone were the days of picnics and blue skies, of sickness and hospitals and reliance on his parents. He was free of all obligations- not even school could impose its rules on him. His parents were in too deep denial to tie him down. The music on the radio was still there, but it came to serve the same purpose as the milk bars- readying him for a night of ultraviolence. He no longer had any qualms about taking what was not his and hurting those who didn’t deserve to be hurt. In fact, if he could have gone back in time to see the family picnicking on the beach, he would have kicked their picnic basket over, sent the umbrella rolling down the beach, and used the blanket to throw sand in their eyes before beating up each and every one of them.