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The Absence of Light
In my younger days, I refused to believe that “darkness is the absence of light.” In fact, in protest, I even claimed “light is the absence of darkness.” The thing is; I just couldn’t imagine darkness’s identity being dependant on light’s presence. I couldn’t imagine it crouched quietly in some corner, twiddling its thumbs, waiting for light to move over and allow it some room. I now know that the idea of darkness being the absence of light is actually a legitimate one, and has to do with photons or something (sorry, I haven’t gone to school in 2 months). But I still think that our culture is biased towards light and against darkness, and therefore the sparkling and unique beauty of the night is tragically underrated.
I suppose I’m also biased. I love the dark. I’m that kid that never wanted to sleep with the night light on, I’m the only one in my family who can comfortably skip up and down the stairs of our pitch black basement, and I’m not afraid of monsters lurking in the shadows.
Sorry, that was misleading. I am afraid of monsters. I just don’t think that very many of them live in the dark. All the monsters I know walk around freely in the day-light; briefcases swinging from side to side, blowing up other people’s lives with just their signatures. It’s during the day that they carry out their plans and reap their rewards and enjoy their own destructive lives. They only use the dark to rest, rehabilitate, and at the most, plan.
Now, I’m not a Vampire or a fetus or anything. I don’t hate, or even mind this daylight; it’s not like I pace back and forth in the aforementioned basement waiting for the sun to set. It’s just; when I suddenly notice that it has, I feel this unexplainable rush cart-wheeling through my veins. In my experience, it’s only when the curtain of night falls, that the real show begins.
On some nights, I grab my big sister by the hand and we gallop over to the big park near our house to just sit and marvel at the night sky. Sometimes I take a flash light and a book, and read to her. She can’t read back to me, because written words confuse her. She told me that when she reads, they magically rearrange themselves, jump off the page, and basically do anything they can to piss her off.
“Did you know,” I said to her last night, as we sat on a damp park bench, “That when you see a star, you’re actually seeing what it looked like thousands of years ago.”
“Is that why Madonna looks so young?” She replied.
“Why?” she asked seriously after I was done.
“I think it has something to do with the speed of light.” I was so taken with that bit of information that I didn’t really remember why.
“What do you think the speed of dark is?”
I couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not. I hoped she wasn’t because I didn’t have an answer.
“Okay,” she smiled, “Do you think it’s faster or slower than the speed at which that teacher kicked our asses into the principal’s office that day?”
“Faster or slower than the speed at which dad yelled at the principal.”
“Faster or slower than the speed at which the principal wrote out our suspension forms, after dad flipped him off and implied something rather unpleasant about his mother?”
“You know, I don’t think the dark moves. I think it prefers to just surround us and see what we all do under its cover.”
My sister appeared not to hear. She was smiling and squinting at something in the distance.
“Hey Marco,” she hollered, “Is that you?”
At first I only saw his silhouette, but eventually a boy my sister’s age broke out of the darkness and was standing in front of us. There seemed to be a short girl behind him.
“Hey Malinda,” he grinned. He had shocking red hair, a lop-sided smile, and what I believe would be called a “lean built.”
As for the girl, she was still behind him; but I could see that she had soft eyes and hard lips.
“So,” Marco said, “I heard that you’re no longer a fellow inmate.”
“If only,” my sister sighed, “we’re returning to school in like 2 weeks.”
“So, a two month suspension? I can’t decide if that’s harsh or awesome. Who did you have to kill to get such a large sentence?”
“This guy who was ruffin’ up my brother Holden here,” she patted my head.
The girl giggled, and I felt myself turn as red as Marco’s hair. My sister looked around Marco,
“Hey,” she said to the girl, “Who are you, and why is Marco hiding you from us?”
“I’m Dolly.” She said. Her voice was like the autumn wind; cool and gentle.
“Well get out from behind there Dolly, and come enjoy the show with us,” she gestured grandly the night sky; endless and dazzling, “Oh, and you too Marco.”
We were sitting in the middle of the bench. Marco took a seat next to my sister, and so Dolly had sit next to me. For a while we all just stared up there, not saying anything. Isn’t it great that when the star which we call “the sun” sets, we suddenly have full view of hundreds of others just like it?
The silence dissolved as Marco and my sister began whispering. Marco was talking about a boy who he’s “really into.” My sister was telling him that before he could be “into that boy,” he had to “come out to his parents.”
I looked at Dolly. She had blonde hair, and not the blonde hair that is forced into being blonde when it actually wants to be black or brown or grey. Oh and also freckles. God, I love freckles.
I cleared my throat and racked my brain for something charming, intelligent, and flattering;
“So, like, is Dolly your really name?”
She turned to face me. At first she looked surprised, but that look slowly faded into one of amusement.
“Yeah,” she replied, “You can really tell my parents did drugs. Is Holden your real name?”
“Yeah,” I said, “You can really tell my parents liked JD Salinger.”
I wasn’t trying to be funny that time; it was simply a fact. My mom read Catcher in the Rye almost every day when she was pregnant with me. My dad was even reading it to her as she was giving birth! Just when he got to the part where book-Holden talks about wanting to catch little kids as they fall off the edge, I slid out of my mom and into the doctor’s hands. Dolly still laughed though, and I was fine with it.
“How old are you?” I asked. I guessed that she was around 14. I would have been fine with that; it’s only 2 years younger than I am right now. Still, I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t too young for me or anything.
“I’m 25,” she said.
Before I could even react, my sister whipped her head around to look at Dolly.
“Wait,” she frowned, “You’re 25?”
“Yes,” said Dolly,
“Like 5 times 5?”
“Like 15 plus 10?”
“Like 100 divided by 4?”
“Jesus Malinda,” Marco chuckled, “We get it; you know how to do math, and Dolly looks like she bathes in anti-aging cream.”
My sister laughed, “Damn Dolly, you’re like a female Benjamin Button.”
“Yeah,” said Dolly, “But I get to have fun with it sometimes. Like one night, I ordered fun-sized chicken nuggets, apple juice, and smiley fries off the kid’s menu at Sam’s Burger House, and then went across the street to that Irish pub, flashed my ID, and got wasted.”
They were having all having this conversation without me, and I really wanted a part. So I said;
“If Sam’s Burger House thought you were a kid, how come they let you eat alone?”
Dolly stiffened, “I was with a couple of people.”
“Friends?” I asked,
“They were friends,” she said looking ahead, “Now, they’re just people.”
“One of the side-effects of rehab,” Marco mumbled.
“Is that where you two met?” my sister asked.
“You know what,” said Marco, “I’ll tell you, but not here. This place is becoming way too…. something. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just don’t want stay here anymore. My car’s nearby. Let’s take a ride.”
“Where?” asked Dolly.
“Where ever the open roads take us.”
“What if we get lost?” she asked.
Marco looked up. I could see that he was staring towards the infamous Northern Star; the one that once guided explorers to new lands and adventures, the one that acted as a compass before compasses were even invented.
“The stars will show us the way.” He said.
Marco lied about having a car. What he had was a pickup truck. This meant that only my sister and him could sit inside. Meanwhile, Dolly and I were tossed into the back like a couple of spare tires. I wasn’t saying anything. I mean, what do you say to a 25 year old that makes your stomach feel like it’s overpopulated with butterflies? I’m not a very interesting person (and I bet that’s why she wasn’t saying anything either).
“How does it feel to be grown up?” I asked her suddenly.
“How does it feel not to be grown up?” She replied in an instant.
I looked at up at the Northern Star, but it didn’t tell me where to go with this.
“Oh come on,” she smiled, “Don’t be nervous. Just be honest.”
“It feels like you’re doing everything…and nothing. Like, all day long you’re doing stuff because you everyone tells you that have to. But then, when you lay your head down at night and you think about it for yourself, nothing you did seems to mean anything. And you just feel like you’re spending your entire life trying to fill up a black hole.”
“Well,” said Dolly, “When you’re grown up, it’s all the same bullshit; just at a larger scale.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Yeah, I see your point. There are these men that my dad used to work for. They hired him to make a machine for them or something, and tricked him into signing this completely unfair contract they’d drafted. When he finished the work, they only had to pay him about $20.”
“Immature bullies,” she mumbled.
“Yeah,” I sighed, “Thing is, it wasn’t even just about the money for them. I mean, I’m sure if they tried they could have tricked him into signing a contract that said they wouldn’t have to pay him anything. But that’s not as insulting as slapping one of their many $20 bills across his face.”
It looked like she was contemplating this for a minute.
“I applied for a job at a law office when I was 20,” she began suddenly, “I went into the interview room, gave my little talk, and the man said he wanted to interview me further. He asked me to come to his hotel room at 9. I knew what kind of interview he wanted, but I went anyways. When I got there, he laid out his proposal; I sleep with him, I get the job. I really wanted the job. The next morning I had it. My cubicle was right across from his office. I could feel his gaze burning into my blouse all day long. One day, he made me work overtime. When everyone else had left, he came into my cubicle and told me that my work performance has been a little low lately and if I wanted to keep my job, I would need to get ‘re-evaluated.’ He took me to that same hotel room. This went on for about a year. I stopped talking to my parents, my old friends, just everyone; not because I didn’t want to, but because I just couldn’t bear to. One night after we were done, he looked me in the eyes, and told me that he wanted more than just sex. He started taking me to fancy restaurants, he started buying me gifts, and he even introduced me to his kids. I over-heard his 16 year old refer to me as ‘daddy’s hooker.’ He started telling me that he loved me, but I knew better; he didn’t love me, he loved the idea of love. But I didn’t say anything, I just kept going along with it. And on my 23rd birthday, I found myself in a room full of bridesmaids-my bridesmaids. None of them were my old friends or my sister; just random people he’d hired from the office. They were nothing short of actors, but then again, we were nothing short of actors. I ask them all to leave for a moment, and surely they all took off like someone was handing out free Ipods outside the room. After they left, I just stood there in my underwear, staring at the mannequin that was wearing my wedding dress. She, like most mannequins, had what people would call a ‘perfect body.’ But at the end of the day, that body was just made out of plastic; unable to feel the wind or the sun or any kind of sensation. That body couldn’t move; it got moved around, and stuffed into whatever people wanted to sell. It was like looking in the mirror. I saw a knife sitting on a fruit platter across the room. I went over, picked it up, and without thinking, I drove it right into the mannequin bride’s chest. Then, I went over to the desk, took out a piece of paper and a pen, and wrote what I needed to write. A while later, someone from outside knocked on the door and told me to come out unless I wanted to miss my own wedding. I made it to my wedding, alright. I stormed down the aisle in my underwear, and whether out of good humour or confusion, the band kept playing “here comes the bride.” When I reached the alter, I looked into his ‘black hole-like’ eyes, and handed him my resignation letter.”
I stared at her stupidly, and I then asked perhaps even more stupidly; “Then what happened?”
“I went to my apartment, put on some clothes, packed up everything I needed, paid my landlord the month’s rent, picked up a birthday cake from the bakery across the street, and then drove out of that city with blue icing on my face and fingers.”
“Wow,” I gasped, “You win at life.”
She laughed, “Well, only if I end the story at that point. When I got here, I decided to drown my miseries in alcohol-which is actually pretty counterproductive.”
“But your sober now right?”
“Rehab did help, yes.”
“And you met Marco there!”
“And I met Marco there.” she smiled.
“I think you’ll be fine, Dolly.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Well, obviously you don’t deny your past, and it seems like you haven’t let it become your present. You simply know what happened, when it happened, and how you felt about it. I call that acceptance. And I heard somewhere that that’s the first step to recovery.”
“Yes, but people often seem to forget that the first step isn’t the only step. Almost everyone’s taken a first step towards something, but very few people have ever completed that journey.”
“I still you’re going to be alright. I don’t know why. Maybe I sound crazy, but I think that’s okay. Sometimes, you just have to go with your emotions. I mean, when a billion things are blinding your mind’s eye, the only thing you can really do is feel your way through a situation.”
“You really think feeling and acting on your emotions will help you find a way?”
I looked up at the Northern Star again.
“I think it’ll at least help you find a place where things are much more clear.”
The truck came to an abrupt stop in front of this pink and white house. Marco and my sister climbed out through the back window and joined us in the trunk.
“So,” said Marco looking thoughtfully at the house, “Any guesses as to where we are?”
“Lost?” Malinda grinned.
“Nope,” replied Marco, “We’re at the home of the old shrew who turned in our friends Malinda and Holden here.”
“What the hell Marco,” my sister cried, “What the hell are we doing here?”
“Plotting, and then hopefully getting, revenge.”
My sister opened her mouth to say something,
“Calm down,” said Marco, “We’ll do whatever we do anonymously.”
“I do hate her,” my sister sighed, “Eh, whatever, let’s think of something.”
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t actually that angry at the teacher. But everyone else seemed so happy and I didn’t want to ruin this night for them. Did she really do something wrong turning us in to the principal? I mean, just because she’s not exactly a cool teacher doesn’t mean she’s a terrible person.
“We could take the licence plate off of her car.” I suggested.
Marco looked at me with a bored expression.
“And then we could throw it into the river!” I added.
He still wasn’t impressed.
“Let’s tipi the house,” my sister exclaimed.
Marco threw his hands up in the hair; “Come on guys, I want something bigger, more poetic, more significant, and less wasteful.”
“We could shoot her,” Dolly said solemnly.
We all stared at her with wide eyes.
“ON THE BUTT!” she laughed, “And then when she dies, and the police explain the cause of death to the public; everyone’ll just burst out laughing. Even at her funeral, no one will be able to get through their speech without snickering a couple times. Considering that this is a woman who seems to lust for respect, it would be one hell of an insult.”
“Yeah,” laughed my sister, “But it would also get us sent straight to hell.”
“I don’t think we should punish her,” I said quietly.
“Wait what?” screamed my sister, “Why?”
“Because she’s 50 year old lady whose life consists of going to a rundown school where nobody likes her and coming back to her empty mansion. I don’t know if this is her fault or just her fate, but either way, she’s been sufficiently punished.”
We all sat in silence for a while. Then we just left.
We were back on the old park bench again; each of us sitting exactly where we’d been sitting before. I didn’t know what time it was, but it looked like the noon of night-time; the moon was higher and brighter than it had been all night, and the darkness was richer and deeper.
“Dolly,” I said suddenly, “Did you ever call your mom again?”
“No,” Dolly sighed, “I mean I sent her a few emails letting her know that I’m still alive. But I don’t know, I don’t think I can ever talk to her ever again.”
“Well, I think that’s your step 2 Dolly; talking to your mom.”
“It’s not that easy, Holden.”
“It’s not that hard either.”
She turned to face me, her eyes were brimming with tears; “What am I going to say to her Holden?”
“You’ll tell her that it’s her long-lost daughter calling,” said my sister, “and the conversation will just flow from there.”
We all got up, and walked with Dolly to this bright red phone booth across the street. There, we emptied out our pockets, and amidst the mess of old receipts, bubble gum wrappers, and fallen buttons we found exactly 50 cents. Perhaps the most valuable 50 cents in history!
Dolly took a deep breath, smiled at us, and walked into the vessel that might teleport her back her mother and forward to “step 2.” We all watched from outside, nervously, as she slid each coin into the dispenser; a nickel, a penny, a dime, another nickel, and the last 4 pennies. Then she pressed the phone number-without hesitating, without trying to remember what it was, without looking at sheet of paper, and held onto the phone for dear life.
There were a few moments of complete stillness, as if the entire world was holding its breath. And then her lips started moving; slowly first, and then faster and faster, and then slowly again. Her grip on the phone loosened. Half-way into the conversation, a smile blossomed on her face, and didn’t go away until finally, she nodded and slowly hung up the phone. Not a single tear was dropped the entire time.
She exited out of the booth, all flustered and shaken. She walked back to us, and just stood still for some indefinite period time. And then suddenly, I saw it. A single tear drop falling from her eye and sliding down her cheek like a friendly stream. Then another, and another, and another until her entire face was glittering just like the night sky under which she stood.
I’m sitting in my bed room and looking out my window right now; watching the darkness slowly swim away to make room for the day ahead (I believe most people call that “sunrise”). The moon is nowhere to be seen. The stars are being blown out one by one, like the candles on a birthday cake. But last night is still burning bright in my mind.
I think that the next time some “talks smack” (a phrase Marco taught me) about the night, I’ll share this story of last night with them. I’ll tell them; “My friends, you simply don’t understand! The night does not hide, it reveals! It does not confine, it liberates!” Because there are no chores to do at night, it’s still, calm, the perfect time to think, and there’s always a Northern Star to help you find your way.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all become “creatures of the night” or something. I’m not suggesting that we all not get our 8 hours (there’s plenty of fantastic things that happen in one’s sleep as well). I’m merely suggesting that every once in a while, we all take one night away from our television screens and our electric blankets and our typical nightly routine to just sit, think, and see where the stars take us. One night to figure out who we are in the absence of light.