We hated your fat little face. We called you elephant. We called you Jupiter. We called you fat-ass. You asshole. Cocksucker. Dickhead. Shithead. Faggot. We beat you up in fifth grade, eight knees to your temple. You got detention because you were fatter than us. The principal, also the civics teacher, said we were too smart to start a fight with a big kid. How fair, how fair.
We laughed about you all the time. In sixth grade, you carried books on field trip bus rides. You took books to sleepovers. You bought science fiction and comics by the pound. You stayed home to clean G.I. Joe vehicles instead of going to our first party with girls. Well, we didn’t invite you to that party anyway. You walked down the hall with us, asking about the time and who was going. You found out the time and that you weren’t invited.
That was us laughing when you fell off your bike.
That was us that ran over your bike and left.
That was us that stole your new bike and threw the lock and chain into the tree in front of your house.
In tenth grade, we wanted to set your hair on fire. We threw things at your back while you tried to ignore us. We tricked you into saying you shaved your balls like a fag. You’re a fag! You’re a fag! No answer would have saved you from torment. We laughed in your face. We made girls defend you. Girls.
We laughed at the girls you liked. Some were two years younger than you. Ugly ones your age were uninterested. You tried to give a girl charity flowers; she politely refused.
We talked to girls online and fucked them. Some we left at the door because they were too fat. Every time, we made you wonder why us, not you. You fucked no one. You kissed no one. You called no one.
Every Saturday night you bought scratch-off lottery tickets, Yoo-Hoo and egg and cheese sandwiches. You spent Friday nights at home or at work. Aged fifteen you worked because your father worked at twelve. He saved money for a car. You spent money on books and CDs and movie tickets. We loved the movies you hated. You stood up at the end of Face/Off and declared that it sucked, and we said, ‘You suck’. We said, ‘Shut up.’ We said, ‘You didn’t have to come.’
When you were seventeen, driving home from a poetry reading (you’re a fag!), we made sure you looked to the right when you made that left. A white compact car smashed the front of your father’s truck. We made sure your father didn’t believe your story and that your mother cried about you, you baby. The pasty-white paramedic offered to help you, any time, if you were traumatized. We made sure the way he said it creeped you out. We made sure the woman who hit you blamed you and didn’t ask if you were okay.
We were there, laughing, when you told your mother there was blood in your shit. We laughed and pointed and told you there would be a tube camera with your ass in its sites. We were not lying. We were there when the barium milkshake gave you the runs and your mother was pissed that you were going to stay home from school again. We told your mother not to believe that you had an ulcer, stress-induced intestinal issues, depression. We told her not to believe that you considered dying in all its alluring forms. It was for the best.
You started to believe we wanted you maimed and disturbed but not dead. You started to believe in the whispers at school and work. You watched passing cars and gazed through the windows of other people’s houses, wondering where the conspiracy started. You made plans to get away. You were so sure we were only here and not everywhere else.
We were there, way back, watching your grandfather beat your aunt and uncles. Seeing how your mother was never touched. She would have been better off with the biting end of a belt or the flash of drunk fists. We’d love to say your grandfather was our fault. We’d love to take the credit for his glorious, perfect, bastard essence. We learned everything from him and have no qualms about how long he lived or the fact that he died of rectal cancer. An asshole rotting. Oh, the perfect universe.
Your mother was a constant source of amusement to us. Too ugly to fuck, but we said we fucked her anyway. We started stories about your sister getting around that got around. How she was on drugs. We made sure your mother blamed your sister for everything that went wrong. We were compelling liars. We urged your father to drag your sister out of the house, by her arm or hair.
Nothing was your fault. You defended no one. By default, you defended us.
We didn’t leave you behind. In college, you had lunch by yourself. We sat close enough to hear your stomach gurgle, to see you wince when your intestines cramped. We were there when you curled up to die every chance you got, stared out of your dorm room’s window, took photographs of the same two trees (in snow, in rain, in spring) like some pathetic Ansel Adams.
We broke your clocks. We broke your toaster. We broke the locks on your windows. We pushed your mouth together and ground your teeth while you slept. You woke up with a sensitive, flat smile. You entered your apartment one day and found spiders menacing you from every corner of the ceiling. We wanted you to kill them, but you cupped each one and tossed it lightly into the front bushes. Your responses became fascinating.
When you found a dead mouse under the laundry basket, you cried, imagining it struggling for air, just air. Twenty years old and crying. Crying because of a cruel crossing of paths – the basket dropped as the mouse ran by. Crying, believing that everything was just the pure, dumb luck of your life.
Do you remember pacing in your apartment that night, wondering how we could kill a mouse but not you? Do you remember sweating, your stomach full of static, your feet wearing a path from the front door to the TV and back? Do you remember grabbing the keys to your truck, the one you smashed that was never the same? Do you remember driving at two in the morning with the windows down, the radio off, contemplating the only escape? Do you remember the loose wheel beneath your hands, the lure of the trees?
We want to know what made you hold on.
We want to know what kept your wheels on the road despite our logical urging.
Do you remember the next morning, standing pale, standing naked in the steam of the shower, looking out the small window, admiring the gold leaves on the trees behind your apartment? Remember how the sun and cool air and hot water made things feel better, even in the clutch of autumn? Do you remember how everything seemed to lift, and how the world was beautiful and soft? Thinking that maybe you could shake us off? Thinking you could be alone, perfectly alone, and we’d stop caring about the minutiae of your suffering?
Do you remember wiping your soapy eyes and suddenly seeing a man, of course, smiling, of course, scaring you and looking at you until you shut the foggy window?
That was us. That was us. That was us. That was us.
Photograph by James St. John