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When One Becomes Another
When he takes a swing - fist clenched so tight the tendons seem to pop - my world shatters. In just a second, he shifts from my loving best friend to my enemy, a monster of the darkest evil. Even the environment shifts around him, all the bright colors dulled to insignificance. He is a reincarnation of the devil. He is the spawn of Satan. He becomes The Abuser, and I hate him.
His fist connects loudly with The Child’s face. They’re both children, but The Abuser is so much larger than the other that it’s ridiculous to call him a child. The victim is small, perhaps just under five feet, with a shock of blond hair that falls in his blue eyes. His scrawny arms are still a bit bigger than his scrawnier legs, and his scrawny fingers curl into his scrawny hands.
I watch as The Abuser’s fist crunches into flesh and bone. The Child gasps, and falls to the ground without another sound. He is motionless. My heart stops as I stare at his chest. Only a fraction begins to beat again as I see his chest rise up and down slowly.
The Abuser stands over him, fists still clenched at his side. He stares down at The Child. Wide eyes, blank eyes. They see nothing. For a moment, I question whether he’s alive. Maybe he’s dead, along with my heart.
“David,” I say, the word spoken remarkably strong but hushed.
His head whips to me. His eyes, impossibly large to begin with, now widen even further. His mouth opens and closes. Finally, when he can’t seem to find words, he snaps his lips shut, and just stares at me.
I don’t know how long we stand like that. The classroom is frozen in time. There is only me, The Abuser, and The Child. The witness, bully, and the victim. Three figures that have repeated history endlessly.
“David,” I say again, even quieter than the first time. “Why?”
He looks down at the kid again, and before I can react, he bursts into tears. His sobs rock his body back and forth, they’re so strong. He squishes his palms against his eyes to block out the image of the child.
I want him to see it. I want him to suffer. So I watch him cry, reveling in his misery.
The Child murmurs something. Quickly, I unlock my legs. Everything seems to loosen once I begin to walk; my muscles soften, bones creak, heart slows. I go to The Child, and kneel beside him, my long hair falling so it caresses his cheek. I put my arms around him protectively, and glare up at The Abuser. He’s looking down at me now, still sobbing. But he looks away when his eyes meet mine.
After a while, his tears finally dull to hiccups, and then to nothing. My eyes are riveted upon The Child’s face, cheek finally reddening and swelling. The Abuser hit the right cheekbone, just below the eye. It’ll be dark there, but at least he’s alive. Bruising, at best. A concussion and traumatizing fear, at worst.
I feel a rustle beside me. The Abuser’s kneeled down beside me know, staring at the child with dead eyes. He sits beside me, so our shoulders almost touch. It takes every ounce of my energy not to whip my fist back and clock him in the face.
“They made me do it, Railey,” he says, his voice cracked and gritty like the sidewalk outside the school.
“I know,” I whisper. “I know.”
He yells in frustration, making me jump. But my eyes remain on The Child’s face as The Abuser screams and pounds on the desk behind him. He must make quite an impression, because one of the legs flies off and the desk tips over. It slams into the ground, and the room is filled with silence once more.
The Abuser is gone. My Best Friend holds his head in his hands, taking slow, agonizing breaths. David.
“Is he dead?” He croaks without glancing up.
I shake my head, and then realize he won’t be able to see the motion. “No. He’s alive.”
“Might be a concussion. Bruising and swelling, for sure. No broken bones though.” I pause. “He’ll be healed up in a couple weeks.”
“Weeks,” David echoes weakly.
“I hate them.”
? I sigh. “Me, too.”
His shoulder touches mine now. He leans against me, and I lean against him, staring at the child that is my best friend’s brother. Staring at small, young Johnny, the victim.
“Why did they choose you this time?” I ask quietly.
I feel him shrug against me. “I don’t know. They’ve been running low on Abusers lately. I guess my name came up in the listing.”
“I know.” He pounds his fist on the ground. I don’t jump this time. “It’s so unfair! He didn’t deserve it, any of it!”
“It’s okay, David - it’s okay-!”
“No, it’s not, Railey. You know it’s not.”
“We have to believe it is.”
“No, The System makes us believe it is. He’s my brother, Railey! He’s a part of me, and I have to do this to him. It’s - it’s - wrong!”
He starts to cry again, and I just grasp his hand. Because that’s all we can do. Hold on to each other, scream and shout at the horror of The System, and hope that all of this will disappear in the future.
The child rustles, and I lean down to curl my fingers around his as he awakes.