All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
The townspeople were forever speculating about Vienna; her behavior a source of lurid gossip in our small town. A self-righteous lot, the townspeople had a vanity that left no room for empathy. Abnormal, Crazy, Freak were the only labels their frame of mind could hang on her.
But I've long buried my resentment toward them, and made peace with their pettiness. Whether unwilling or unable, they never saw through her torment. Their bigotry robbed them of charity and compassion. But at her core, Vienna was innocent, loving, and kind. She never harmed a soul. She, too, was robbed; and deserving of so much more than she was given.
Nearly 11 at the time of our relocation, Vienna changed when we changed homes. What previous balance there might have been was discarded along with the worn cardboard moving boxes. She began incessantly rearranging the furniture, double bolting the doors, and peering out the blinds as suspicions evolved into a full-blown paranoia. She clung to me convinced that the darkness, which stalked her, would consume her. I tried to comfort her, and cradled her during those night terrors. Her flailing and feral screams were redolent of a demonic exorcism; these frequent episodes ending only by the recurring mercy of our father's fist.
With her change, and fueled by the kaleidoscope of bruises she bore, the town gossip became relentless. Even when we recaptured periods of calm we couldn't dodge the shadow of whispers. And our situation deteriorated as Vienna's crazed phases came during more public moments. She began to be seen as a threat. Children were yanked away to a safe radius from the freak's path.
Being in Vienna's presence became draining. Jittery and fidgeting, she always seemed on edge. Her hair, once long and beautiful, had begun falling out in clumps, exposing bald patches of scalp. Her eyes would glaze over as if fixating on spots that held her demons. Even in the daytime she never let go of her Barbie flashlight, hoping to ward off the darkness.
The tipping point came on her thirteenth birthday. We decided to treat her to the local diner's famous triple-decker banana split. We even brought along tinseled hats and party favors.
“Table for three, please,” I chirped, ignoring the stares and hushed voices upon our entry.
“Sorry, Miss, uh, we seem to be full at the moment,” declared the sour-faced waitress, making no effort to hide her lack of welcome.
“Pardon me? This place is half empty,” I hissed.
“Look young lady, we don't serve your kind here,” she said with a sneer.
Our father, elbowing in, slammed his fists on the counter and bellowed, “What kind of dump is this?”
A threatening silence choked the air. An indignant, barrel-chested diner rose from his seat. “Sir, you're gonna have to leave,” he warned, as other customers assumed a standing formation.
The mob, wielding sharp words, ambushed us with: “Don't blame us for not wanting a nutcase roaming our streets!” and “Maybe your child wouldn't be such a freak if you'd raised her properly.”
Their verbal assault triggered a cascade of profanities from my father, whose reputation as a hothead was well known. In his rage he responded the only way he knew: his fists.
Vienna's eyes bulged at the savage melee that spilled out into the street. Like a pack of hyenas the mob attacked my father, splattering his blood across the parking lot.
Every muscle in her tiny body quivered uncontrollably. I scooped her up and whisked her away from the scene of violence.
Back home, Vienna's downward spiral accelerated. Folded into a fetal position, she rocked herself into a frenzy. Her face, streaked with tears and anguish, only hinted at the severity of her hallucinations.
I was a helpless bystander to her worst episode.
Insanity spilling at the edges, she bolted toward the door. Crossing the threshold, she turned and in a brief, lucid flash whispered this apology:
Then she was gone.
Slivers of moonlight trickled through the patchwork of gray clouds, revealing Vienna sitting cross-legged in the middle of the road. Her hands were folded in her lap. Still. The acrid smell of kerosene. Drip. Drip. Drip. The fluid hugged her body, forming a puddle around her small frame. She stroked the jagged edges of the cigarette lighter's thumbwheel as the darkness closed in. She was prepared.
She was going to light away the darkness.