January 18, 2013
Brown. Brown eyes. Brown hair. Brown freckles on an overworked face. The worn down soles of failing sneakers hit the concrete softly. Their owner is in no hurry. He wanders on the barren sidewalk, no destination in mind. The simplicity of walking alone is enough.
It’s 6:47 A.M. and the sun is just barely rising on the chipped brick of 502 Hanberry St. The cool gray air wraps its spindly arms around all those who dare to enter its domain. Rusted cars attempt to wick the blankets of moisture away from their tired frames. A dog barks in its abandoned yard, striving for release. On the left, a man climbs into his moaning station wagon, preparing for another day of monotony.
A boy continues on his lone path. His feet crush the little forests that spring from tiny chasms in the pavement. He reaches up to adjust the headphone that is currently falling out of his right ear. He tries to let the music take him away, let him forget last night.
The phantom pain of his father’s slap still rests on his cheek. His eyelids are heavy, drooping in the leftover exhaustion of a night with too many tears. His shoulders slump lower as they attempt to bear this fatigue.
An overused backpack clings to his form. The other students never notice the new black thread that holds the torn shoulder straps to dirty red fabric. As the boy walks, he can feel each object inside sway with his body. He feels the baseball rolling back and forth at the bottom, occasionally wedging against its matching glove. He feels the many binders, folders, papers, and books pulling him down. “For things filled with words,” he thinks, “they’re startlingly heavy.” But he also feels the light weight of a brown paper lunch, sitting preciously on top of all the rest.
His mind shifts focus, thinking back to the small hands that so carefully crafted that lunch. He remembers the messy fingers, spattered with peanut butter and jelly, holding the sandwich up with pride. He remembers the bright, six year-old grin beaming upwards as he took the lopsided bread into his own calloused fingers.
He tries to hold onto the feeling of these memories, but with each step they become more distant. The emotions grow number as he nears the school. They become replaced with a shallow worry over today’s Physics test, tomorrow’s English essay, and yesterday’s Math homework.
He steps onto the grass of Gillford High. The clean, tan concrete of the building’s walls and the finely trimmed greenery present the perfect façade for education. Giddy freshmen race towards their friends, gossip spilling from their lips. Burdened juniors drag their notes closer towards tired eyes, desperate for those last few minutes of study time. Wizened seniors stroll calmly past as teachers mentally prepare the coming lessons.
His mind wanders back to the music, distracting him from the moment. It pulls at his focus like the ocean tide on sand, washing his thoughts out to sea. He lets himself be tugged away, focusing instead on the gravelly voice in his ears that’s singing something about broken clocks, falling apart, and barely breathing. He thinks he can relate.
A streetlamp flickers as he nears it, the freeway growing darker as the light bulb loses its battle. He can feel it inside of him, the darkness. Constantly growing and twisting, he feels the vice-like grip sinking through his too small t-shirt, clawing at his heart. The weight is overwhelming, pulling him deeper towards the ground, a weight no teenager should know.
His eyes are aimed at the concrete, searching the rock and seeing nothing. Hands in the pockets of his hand-me-down jeans, the boy continues forward. The street is deserted, save for the cars speeding by to destinations unknown. He briefly wonders where they’re going, what could be so important that they let the metal rush of engines rip them from the serenity of this night.
He thinks the night is perfect, in a way. Neither warm nor cold, the air hangs in that awkward shift, caught between summer and fall. He can see no clouds in the sky, yet the moon is nowhere to be found. The only light comes from the yellow glow of the dying lamps. The concrete wall on his left protects from the drop to the asphalt that runs below this short patch of bridge.
As the boy comes closer to the center of the bridge, the direction of the pull transfers. He looks down. His feet are planted solidly on the barrier between bridge and air. His hand tightly grasps the light sentinel beside him. His eyes continue to traverse the hard pavement so far below as one thought crosses his mind.
“How easy it would be, to slip.”
And now that voice is racing through his head. His voice.
“I wish you’d never been born.” The phantom pain of quick impact with the door echoes in his skull.
“Useless. What a useless piece of-” Glass still stings his skin from the bottle hurled at his head.
“You’re the reason she’s dead.”
And he’s done. Those words ache more than any slap or broken glass. Because he knows they’re true. He’s the reason their family is broken. He’s the reason for all the abuse. He’s the reason Sammy will grow up without a mom.
Sammy. God, the kid’s only six. He’s still so innocent. In a matter of months his life has gone from Tonka trucks and Power Rangers, to a dead mom and an abusive father. And yet, he always has a smile ready for his big brother. How can he be so happy?
He remembers those nights, at the beginning. He had just gotten out of the hospital, arm still in a sling, stiches still tracing his temple. The house was so dark, a quiet that moaned with grief. His dad would just disappear for hours, days. He couldn’t decide whether or not it was better without him there.
He would lie on the couch, bones heavy with an exhaustion that still hasn’t left. His eyes would droop shut, guilt crashing over his motionless form like a black ocean wave as he returned to that returned to that night on the asphalt, with the broken glass and twisted metal. He was alone.
But this would never last. After an hour, maybe two, of this habitual drowning, he would stop being alone. Soft feet would shuffle onto the carpet next to him. The sofa would dip ever so slightly as small hands and feet pressed down. Without opening his eyes, he would allow the small form to climb up onto his bruised chest. The little boy would nestle his head next to his brother’s neck, becoming just as still. But then, finally, those little fingers would slip into the folds of the larger palm, and neither boy would be alone anymore.
And he feels them again. The tiny fingers are prying at his hand, peeling it off the lamp post.
His feet slide backwards, away from the ledge. As he drops to the stable concrete once again, he blinks the wetness out of his eyes. He wonders when he started crying.
Standing on the sidewalk, he notices that darkness has begun to feel less heavy, the street less barren. The light from the lamps feels warmer. The cars aren’t speeding by anymore, finally finding their destinations.
He begins his walk again. This time, letting the tiny fingers pull him home.

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