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Four soft ticks, then it was 2:35 PM. Weary blue eyes followed slender silver pendulum’s swing. Left. Right. Its metal surface was tarnished and faded, neglected as the years passed by.
2:36 now, and he was still alone. The man alternated his gaze between the clock and floor. After a while, it occurred to him that he was getting a cramp from sitting so long in the same position, and he wanted to shift, but he was positioned on an expensive leather couch, one that creaked and groaned if you moved. Besides, right now the air was silent and still and stuffy – smothering and slaughtering him. It was so extraordinarily silent that he held his breath and stilled his heart. And started his brain.
Sometimes… Sometimes the silence is calm and comforting. Sometimes it holds you in a cool embrace and blocks you from the rest of the world. A world you don't want to see, because you've lived it's worst. A world you don't want to feel because you know what's hiding under its bed, because you know what it keeps in its pocket. A world you don't want to hear because you've heard its screams in the night…heard the sound of it tearing at the seams. Sometimes the silence can be a shield, and then sometimes…
Sometimes the silence is like hearing an extremely loud noise. The racket is always so loud you can’t hear yourself think. And then, days after, your ears fill with a high pitched sound – like someone shrieking. The sound is always there, but you can only really hear it when it's silent. Memories are like that, just like that. So, while sometimes the silence carries solace, sometimes it's just a great white palette for demons to take over. Sometimes, when it’s silent, he can hear the crack of bones, the roar of waves, and the growl of boulders the loudest.
The eyes immediately jumped to the door, burning a hole into the intruder. The new man was tall, straight-backed, and carrying a smooth black briefcase. The clicks of his shiny sable shoes echoed through the room as he strode to a chair, and dragged it so it was across from the weary eyes, ignoring the desk in the middle of the room. Taking a seat, he casually crossed one leg, ankle to knee. The two men were but a few feet apart. He never looked up, choosing instead to open his briefcase with two satisfying clicks that reverberated in the silence of the room. From the case he pulled a stack of papers, a leather file folder, and a shiny blue fountain pen. He took a breath. "Good morning, Mr.-"
"Ralph." The blue eyes interrupted. "Just Ralph."
A pause, as the man clicked the pen absently and stared at Ralph. He waited a few seconds before giving a reply.
"That's right," the man said with calm clarity. "You prefer to be addressed by your first name. Well, Ralph, how are you doing today?"
Ralph sighed, turning his head to meet the doctor’s muted brown eyes. "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?"
The man smiled slightly. "Very well, thank you. So I heard things didn't work out so well with Dr. Jacobs?"
Ralph’s eyes became clouded with a faraway look. "No, I suppose they didn't. He never seemed to like what I had to say."
"That's a shame," the man said, extracting a pad of yellow paper from his file folder and turning a few pages, readying his pen. "You have a lot to say, don't you Ralph?"
"Nothing anyone wants to hear."
"Oh?" The man cocked his head; his eyes remained trained on Ralph’s as his wrist scribbled rapidly on the paper.
"What?" Ralph questioned defensively.
He stopped scribbling. "Why wouldn't anyone want to hear it?"
Ralph averted his gaze. "I’m positive you’ve spoken with Dr. Jacobs and know about our…conversations. Did you really want to hear that? Could you really sleep the night you heard? Knowing the things he knows? The things I know?"
The man snorted, his look turning curious.. "As a matter of fact, I know nothing of what you have told Dr. Jacobs."
"No?" Ralph quirked an eyebrow.
"He told me only that you were not benefiting from sessions with him, and that perhaps you would be better off consulting me." Silence for a moment – the good, shielding silence. "This has happened with many doctors, hasn't it?"
"Every doctor." Ralph replied with an air of boredom.
"You tell me, you're the shrink."
He chuckled. "That's fair enough. Well, Ralph, I'm Dr. Marshall."
A common name. A common doctor.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Likewise. Ralph, why are you here?"
Ralph closed his eyes slowly, forcing his body to relax into the firm cushions of the couch. Twenty years later, and they still asked the same questions every time. “Why are any of us here? Because an old man on a cloud decided to have some fun.”
"What I mean is, why are you here, in this room?" Dr. Marshall pressed on.
Ralph gave an automatic, clipped, rehearsed answer. "Because it's what I do. I wake up, I go to work, I come to therapy."
"Because I have been coming since I was twelve years old, and I see no reason to cease."
Dr. Marshall shifted in his seat, jotting rapidly on his pad. "Twelve years old? What happened then?"
Ralph’s eyes flipped open and he made eye contact with the doctor. Fire burned intensely in his gaze, but his tone was calm and collected. "Doctor, do you have any children?"
He didn't look up from his writing. "I'm afraid our time is limited, Ralph, hardly a time to converse about my family."
Leaning forward, Ralph pressed his hands into his thighs. He winced uncomfortably, as he had indeed gotten a cramp. His eyes never left the doctor’s. "Let's say you do. Let's say you have a twelve-year-old boy. You come home from a long day at work, you kiss your wife, and you settle down in your chair with the paper and a cup of tea. Then your kid comes scampering up to you, blabbering about school and sports and friends and so on. You look at your son with pride and ruffle his hair, addressing him as 'sonny' or 'sport' and so forth, and ask him how his homework is."
Ralph still held the gaze. The doctor’s brow furrowed. The fire raged on."Now, let's say I had a son. I would come home from work, lay down on the couch, put on some music. My son would step into the room, quiet and solemn, because I am quiet and solemn, and I raised him, of course. He would come to me and greet me, and finally I would look at him, and I would say: 'Boy, do you know what you are capable of? Did you know that inside of you there is someone you don't know exists, inside of you is someone who is raw and instinctive, demanding and harsh, a bloodstained killer, a sadistic monster? Did you know that boy?' And my son, he would nod slowly, and he'd say 'Yes father, you have told me, you have told me every day of my life.' And I would have told him. Thank God I don't have a son, Doctor.”
The pen and paper lay forgotten as the Doctor uncrossed his legs and leaned towards Ralph. "You seem to have some interesting ideas about humanity, Ralph."
"Not ideas. I know things, Doctor, and they aren't interesting. I know terrible things, about you, about me, about every little twelve year old boy, about everyone who walks these streets."
Ralph’s voice broke as he struggled to keep a calm tone, and the flames in his eyes burned the doctor.
"You know 'things' about yourself?" He persisted.
"More than I care to."
"And what are these things you wish you didn't know?"
Ralph broke the gaze, and returned to his original position on the couch. He resumed his bored tone. The fire burned out. "I suppose we should start at the beginning."
"That would be an ideal place to start."
"When I was young, I lived in a cottage. My father was a member of the royal navy, but he came home every evening, and my mother would give me cornflakes and cream before I went to bed. There was a stone wall at the edge of my back yard, where wild ponies would sometimes visit, and there was a shed you could lie in and watch the snowfall when it was cold. I moved around a lot when I was little, but I remember this home the best because it was the last house I stayed in before I was sent off to school." Ralph paused. "It was a nice house, I still think about it sometimes."
The clock continued to tick, and Ralph wondered how many ticks he had spent speaking of his story in his lifetime. Many, he was sure. With his first few doctors, he found it difficult to talk about his past, to describe what really had happened to him, all the things he had seen. Sometimes, if you repeat a story often enough, no matter how horrible it is, it becomes stale and you can pretend you're describing the plot of a particularly unpleasant movie. That's the way he thought of things now, not real, just images representing a bigger picture…
"You remember the war. I was on a flight evacuating my class from the city, and we were flying over the Pacific. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, I never looked into it, but something happened to the plane and we crashed into a tiny island. The plane flew off into the sea and the pilot, the only adult with us, was killed. Many survived, however…”
3:42 PM. This was definitely a record, just over an hour, and already wrapping things up.
"…And just as I was sure that was truly the end for me, I found that a ship had spotted our signal fire, and an officer came ashore and chided us for our un-British behavior. I took responsibility, of course. I was the chief, I was always the chief. We were all herded onto the cruiser and taken back to England. At the time I was just a scared little boy, living only in my tiny world, aware only of what had just happened to me, what was happening to me. I discovered that my father had been killed when his ship was destroyed in the war, and my mother had died of grief, believing that I was also dead. I lived as a ward to a wealthy bachelor, one who read about the goings-on at my island and was intrigued, I suppose. He was a philosophical man, this bachelor. He was fascinated with what stories I could tell him and brooded and pondered over 'the meaning of it all.' I never understood what he meant by that…how could a lot of boys killing each other on a desert island have any meaning? Why would you want there to be any meaning?"
Ralph cleared his throat awkwardly before continuing.
"He home-schooled me for the most part, and was very respectful of my need for space and privacy, and my refusal to socialize with the neighbors. He was very smart, and his house was primarily filled with books and globes and maps, and other things like that. He was a good teacher, and I learned a lot from him. When I first moved in with him, he enrolled me in weekly therapy sessions, and I would go for an hour and a half to this same mental health center…" Ralph tilted his head towards Dr. Marshall, meeting his eyes. "I still do." He sighed, looking straightforward again, looking at the white washed stone walls, listening to the ticking clock, and the silence.
"When I was eighteen, I decided to leave. I had troubled my guardian too much. Staying in his house reminded me too much. I left.”
Ralph stretched his legs. "I work for a newspaper now, a copy editor. The job isn't all too exciting, but it pays for my apartment and my food. I don't have fun, for the most part, with anything, but I take walks or listen to music when I'm not participating in the necessary human functions."
"Necessary human functions?"
"Eating, sleeping, working."
"What sort of music do you listen to?"
Ralph shrugged as best he could in his reclined position. "It doesn't matter much, I'm particularly fond of Brahms however, and Mozart and Liszt. Not all of their work of course, mostly the softer, calmer, more melancholy pieces."
He picked up his pen, and the sound of its scratching broke the sweet quiet. "Why melancholy? Why do you enjoy sadness?"
"I hardly enjoy it."
Dr. Marshall narrowed his eyes slightly, shifting smoothly in his chair. "Oh, but you do. The way you speak of your life, your grey existence, the small smile on your lips."
Ralph stared coldly at him. "I smile at my stupidity, at my ignorance, at my naivety, at how for years I wondered, my bachelor wondered, everyone wondered, about 'the meaning of it all' and yet, if there is an answer, it is right in front of us. It is around us, below us, above, inside everyone. I was never rescued from the island, merely taken from one battle ground to another. The war raging on that lone land in the pacific was a fragment of the larger one going on around us. I fought when I was twelve to keep order and government, to sustain society and civilization, so that I could return to my cottage with the ponies, my books about trains and magicians, and my parents. I got home to discover that my cottage had been destroyed in a bomb testing, my parents were dead, and my society, my precious civilization, was nothing but a bunch of animals racing around with their tea and crumpets and pretending to be superior to the worms they were, blind to the savage ferocity inside of them."
"Make a ring!"
"Ow! Stop it you're hurting!"
"Kill him! Kill him!"
"Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!"
…And then the silence wasn't quite so comforting anymore.
Ralph blazed on, not stopping to think, speaking loudly, quickly, almost shouting over the noise of the quiet. "And you walk the streets of London, with all its fog and rain and grey, and you see these little girls dressed in pink and pastels, and they laugh and swing their little gold ringlets, and do they know that every little boy around them is a killer? Do they know that their fathers come home every night from a day of murder and slime and blood? Do they know that coursing through their very veins is an undeniable lust for blood and death? They don't know it! No one does! And no one will until they see one innocent fat boy get shoved off a cliff and watch his blood and brains get washed from rocks by incessant roaring waves!"
"Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"
"Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"
"Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"
"And, have you ever seen a lot of red ants devouring a dragonfly on a sidewalk? The way their poison tipped pinchers slice into a striped yellow and black exoskeleton, and you know that all around them are discarded candy wrappers, laden with sugar, a free meal, and yet they continue to tear apart the dragonfly! And have you ever looked at that and then seen the dragonfly as just a larger ant, and that we are the ants? The eaters and the eaten. We destroy ourselves with our need to conquer, and ever day we eat away at ourselves more by denying it! And then you realize that while this battle for life and death is occurring on the sidewalks of London, all around us is the bigger battlefield, and ours is only part of an even larger one! Every death is one tile of a giant mosaic of carnage, and NO ONE KNOWS IT! No one knows it, but me."
Silence. Calm, comforting silence. Ralph settled into his chair. The deed was done, the truth was said, but the doctor wouldn’t understand. No one could understand. What was the point?
"Well, I'm afraid our time is up for today, Ralph. It was nice to meet you and I'll see you next week." The doctor stacked his papers, tapping them on his lap to straighten them before placing them carefully in his file folder, back in his briefcase.
Tick, tick, tick, tick. 4:00.
Ralph labored to his feet. He ran a calloused hand over his face, erasing any possible traces of tears before brushing more bangs out of his eyes. He nodded to Dr. Marshall before making his way to the door, his own shoes silent on the tiles beneath them. The doorknob was cold, and Ralph grasped it, turning, pushing, out of the room, away from the clock.