"Excuse me, could you give me a pair of chopsticks?" I averted my eyes to what had been handed me and realized they had been mismatched. I looked at the crowd in dismay. No point calling out again. Oddly enough, the story of J and KC came to mind in a flash. I should tell it.
We get tests in life. Tests in whether we give up, or become stronger. Tests in love; how far it will stretch. Is it unconditional, or limited? Does it get stronger? Or does it give up? Is it selfless or selfish? Is it empathetic or apathetic and self-absorbed? We get tested in our abilities to feel for others, standing in their shoes. In doing so, we learn about what kind of individuals we are. Are we strong and stand shoulder-to-shoulder, in supporting our fellow man, the way we would like to be helped if we needed them? Or do we back away, letting them fall, kicking them while they are down, because we are weak, yet we call them weak. They are the ones who are strong, because they treat others the way they want to be treated, with unconditional empathy and understanding. And the fact that they get back up on their own, shows how they were always the stronger one. And they would never let anyone else fall like they were allowed to fall and no one helped them get back up.
Do we blame others for our problems? Or do we show a better example by prevailing, and living a better example than they showed us? Do we blame ourselves when we are kicked and bullied? It is not our fault. By showing a better example, and being the kinder person, we show our independence and strength. The others are weak. They need to let us fall and kick us while we are down because that is the only way that they feel powerful, but they are never truly strong, nor independent. They are dependent on our so-called failures. They know not how to create their own successes. They need to be served by others, or to have others fail, so that they can point the finger and say, “Look, they have fallen…They are weak…Look what they have done to me.” What did they do to you? You let go of their arm, not the other way around. And then you spat on them while they were on the ground. That is not power, that is cruelty; lack of conscience. That is a failed test. People, who are like that, will always fail the tests that they are given because they only see a narrow, dark, dimly lit, one-way road ahead of them. One-way roads always come to an end. They have no way of seeing anything else. If something shows up in their peripheral vision, they will not see it, because they only see the narrow path, leading to a dead end. They do not see anything other than their own agenda. They will not see the people who are fallen on the side of the road or the other avenues that branch out in other directions. They will never get anywhere. They will stay on their dead-end road, continuously repeating the same cycles throughout their own lives.
Lack of empathy, lack of conscience, lack of love, will always cause one to fail. The good person will always get back up on their own and become stronger through their suffering. And their hearts will only become warmer and their loving arms, only opening wider, with success abound all around them, including people to share that success with. They passed the greatest test of all: Being abandoned and hurt even more whilst they were already in pain, in mental turmoil and physical anguish, yet lifting themselves up all on their own after. They led the better example, took the wider, better-lit path. And they have ultimate empathy; unconditional love. This will allow them to pass every single test life hands out to them, cycle after cycle, indefinitely.
Which would you rather be? The all-loving leader, like a Deity who always will have their warm arms unconditionally open, or the follower who stands over those who they have kicked down, expecting them to get back up and give them their all-loving embrace? Which one makes more sense? We all must raise the ultimate self-aware life test question to ourselves: Do I have a conscience - or lack thereof?
Life has its definite depressing moments. I am sitting in my husband's car, waiting for him, as he walks into a gas station to buy a beer. As he is going in, two old men are standing outside the door talking to one another. They just separated and one of them is walking past our car, carrying a brown paper bag under his arm. Now, another old man, who got out of his truck just walked inside, probably going after the same kind of beverage. I can’t help but see it as a sad depiction of this frozen moment in time, with different generations of men in one shot, which speaks of a very difficult-to-face reality: Those old men were once young, while my husband and I will one day be old. Is all of life destined for men to need to take solace in alcohol, every day, walking out of a convenience store with an opaque bag to conceal the contents therein, because to reveal them transparently would make the solemnity of life more obvious? And hiding would make them be judged less, masking their true feelings, so they never have to talk about them? Not even to their women who watch in the background? Is this image all life is in a nutshell for Mankind? My husband walks out, now, not with a brown bag, but with a blue plastic bag, hanging from his hand. He opens the driver door, throwing a bag of Skittles into my lap, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile. Always thinking of me, he knows my vice; my sweet tooth. Now I feel bad for seeing such a somber image. New Brightside Skittles, with flavors they never featured before, like Pink Lemonade and Paradise Punch. That latter blue Skittle is the best one I have tasted in a long time. If only they had a bag full of nothing but the blues. What a true vice of mine that would be.
Now, back at the house, my candy is gone, mostly eaten by my mouth only. I realize that I have forgotten to replenish the coffee while we were out, to have in the morning. My husband's sitting at his desk, enjoying his beer, while I get started on the sandwich and soup I just put together in the kitchen. I look at the time and see that the nearest supermarket will be closing in twenty minutes. I tell him that I am going to go out and get coffee right quick, asking if I can borrow his car, since mine has been currently without a battery and in need of a new starter for the past week and a half. He kindly obliges me his key and asks if I would mind getting him another beer, also. And further suggests that I treat my own self with a bottle of wine, in addition. I remember the image at the gas station I felt so strongly over. Guiltily, but not so reluctantly, much to my hypocrisy, I say, “Well, I will see what is possibly on sale.”
I get set to drive off into the night, not without setting off the car alarm with a loud blaring horn out into the near eleven o’clock quiet of the suburb first. That’s what I get for unlocking the car manually instead of using the key fob. Then after putting the key in the ignition, I mistakenly put the car in drive and wonder why the car won’t accelerate forward. Silly me, it must be the emergency break...How do I release this lever?...It’s still not starting...Oh, the break is on?...Oh, it wasn’t on to begin with...Okay, now, the lever is back down...I have the car in drive, I don’t understand...Ah, in my frenzy to get the horn to stop honking, I didn’t turn the key all the way...I forgot that I only turned the battery on and never started the car to begin with...So, I should put it in park, then...I am sorry that I did this to my sweetie’s car...Now, the car starts...All right, I hope no one saw this...It doesn’t look like my partner in crime is looking out the window...Well, not a partner in this crime, that’s for sure...Just drive off whistling acting like nothing happened...Maybe the neighbors won’t notice...Oh, the headlights are not on...No wonder it is so dark...
Ten minutes left...Why do I always throw my wallet down in my tote?...Hurry up and find it!...Why do I have an empty trail mix bag inside my tote?...Oh, no!...I just ripped off the front cover of my mother-in-law's book that she let me borrow...Hopefully I can super glue it...You last minute idiot!...Thank you, wallet...Let’s go!...Maybe, if I lock the doors manually from the inside, the alarm won’t go off when I get back into the car. I would rather not use the key fob because sometimes it sets the rear door ajar and I don’t want to run the risk of draining the battery...“Hey, there!” “Hi, I’ll be right back!”...I know you are closing soon, little dude. I just need to grab this coffee. Where is it?...I went down the wrong way....There’s the sign...It costs seven dollars for coffee? It has to be done...Go after the beer...Walk fast...Do they still have that big bottle of wine on closeout from last time? Seven dollars, also, I see. Not bad, from the original price. Let’s go!...Wait, I want more candy...This time, I want some chocolate, no fruity candy...Oh, they have the caramel M&M’s, the first soft-center candies of their kind! I got the last bag. Get in my basket!...I need something to gnaw on...Strawberry Twizzlers will do. I would prefer the cherry flavor, but they only come in Pull N’ Peel and bite size. That just won’t do. I don’t want to have to do much with my hands. Just something that feels like a cigarette that isn’t a cigarette. Just to preoccupy the mind. Smoking is disgusting. I’m glad I never got into the habit. Now, let’s check out!...There is no line...No surprise there...Yes, I have beer and wine, but I don’t want you to think that is all I came in for...“I came for coffee and got asked to get other things.”...Why do I care what people think of me?...“Here’s your receipt. Have a good night.” “Thank you; you have a good night, too.”...Why are you looking at my chest?...All right, let’s hurry up and get back to the house...
I hope the horn doesn’t start going off again. I locked the car from the inside. It shouldn’t do it, right?...Oh, great, that is loud!...Hurry up and put the key in the ignition!...Great, now they probably think I am drunk and don’t know how to get into my own car...What they think is my own car, anyway...Well, I remember that I have to turn the ignition all the way to start the car now...No-brainer, duh!...I guess from now on, I will use the key fob. This car doesn’t like to take chances when the door gets opened...I guess if the rear door accidentally gets popped open, I will just have to go around the car, lift it up, close it, and then get back into the car. After making sure that it is in park, of course...Why do I do this? I don’t even like this wine. I gag just about every time I take a gulp and hardly ever feel the effects of the alcohol! Plus, Twizzlers taste like plastic. I should have bought genuine strawberries. Nature’s delicious nourishing bounty. Now, the M&M’s, I would regret not buying. Nothing in nature compares to M&M’s. And definitely nothing compares to coffee.
I guess at the end of the day, or night whether it be beer, wine, artificial sugar or whatever your vice might be, we are all simply chasing the dragon. I suppose in life, there is no ultimate way to override the anxiousness in our minds. We should just be happy to have one another, and take solace in that love and companionship. Sometimes, perhaps, we forget and get so absorbed in our own worries. So we reach for stimulants. But who am I kidding? It is good to give our minds and taste buds a little fun, every once in a while. As for those old men, I really do hope that they are not alone with only their alcohol in brown paper bags. I suppose that in the end, if there is always someone to talk to, even while you are walking out with your brown paper bag, then you are never truly alone after all. Life has its definite ridiculous moments.
Dr. P: “So.... it's been awhile since the last time you were in here. How old are you now?”
Me: “16. Well I turn 16 in a month, in December, so I'm 15, but almost 16.”
“Do you still play basketball?”
“Yeah but I'm not too serious about it. Mostly just a hobby now.”
“Are you still reading?”
“Yeah but not like I used to. Not as much. What I do read isn't as fun; I guess I just don't like that kid stuff anymore. It's gotten kinda boring. I mainly read realistic stuff, with deeper substance. Ya know what I'm talking about, right?”
“Yes I understand. And are you still writing?”
“Absolutely. I write all the time. Real deep stuff to, none of that baby stuff about birds that put out fires or talking dogs. I'm gonna be the next J.D. Salinger. Ya know the guy who wrote comin’ thro the rye.”
“Catcher in the Rye.”
“The title of the book was Catcher in the Rye.”
“Nope it was comin’ thro the rye. I remember, cuz the little girl was singing catcher in the rye but the right words was comin thro the rye.”
“True. Some people believe his misinterpretation of the poem was because he wanted to save everyone's innocence, but nonetheless the title was still Catcher in the Rye.”
“Whatever. Next question.”
“Why do you think all this has changed? You don't seem to be enjoying your old pastimes as much.”
“Oh I still enjoy them, it’s just different ya know? I’m just more mature about it ya know? We all gotta grow up sometime.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I guess it all started with my old stepdad.”
“You’ve mentioned him before but never in depth.”
Well, I haven't seen him since I graduated the 8th grade. I haven't spoken to him since the turmoil of the incident calmed down. My life took a turn around the middle of the 3rd grade. It was when my parents divorced, and my mom, my siblings, and I all moved from North Carolina back to Michigan. Before we left my dad told me that since my brothers were still young I would have to watch over them, as well as watch over my mom, and be the man of the house. At that age being “the man of the house” just meant being the oldest guy there so I get to be tough and that my little brothers had to do what I said.
I carried this mindset for a few years never really acting on it though, because it seemed like my mom had it all under control. A year after the divorce my mom introduced us to Will, her new boyfriend. Will... he was...a passionate type of fellow. He had the kind of passion that led to a lot of incidents that always involved yelling, threats, tears, and often times physical attacks. These incidents...they almost always came after some misunderstanding. Like I said he was very passionate, but what I didn’t tell you was, he isn’t very good at conveying his thoughts. I’m not really sure if he knew this or not, but I think he knew no one ever understood what he was saying and that pretty much pissed him off.
“Wait, can I say that?”
“Can you say what?”
“Pissed. Can I say pissed?”
“You can say whatever comes to mind.”
“So I can cuss!? I can say stuff like damn, and shit?”
“I won’t be, but you can.”
“Coool. Where was I?”
“Will was pissed because no one understood him.”
So he got really pissed because nobody ever knew what he was talking about. This led to a lot of yelling. He always yelled when he was mad, which was all the time, so he was always yelling. It got kinda scary ya know. Don’t get me wrong now, I wasn’t scared for myself, I was scared for my siblings, after all I had to protect them like my dad said. Anyways, when we first met him I was still really into basketball and I was positive that I would be going to the NBA and that I would be Defensive Player of the year, every season of my career. When Will first started “teaching me” how to play, he was pretty cool about it. He wasn't that great himself but he knew some stuff, so I humored him. Will took basketball way too seriously though.
“What do you mean he took it way too seriously?”
“I don't know, I guess it was one of those things where the dad thought they were gonna make it to the big leagues, then something happened that stopped them, so now they try to force basketball as a way of life on their sons.”
“Interesting. But didn't you want basketball to be your life? Wasn't that your big goal for the future?”
Well yeah, at least, that's what I wanted at first. Then he kinda scared me away from it.”
Whenever I would mess up, or he thought I was doing something wrong he would get real heated. He'd start with all the yelling and stuff again. A lot of the times he was mad because he said the way I was moving my body was to feminine and I had no control over my body. He would tell me ‘I ain't raisin no damn faggot’ then he'd hit me or if I wasn't right next to him he'd throw the ball at me.
“Ya know, I still remember something he told me, and it really caught me off guard.”
“What was it that he told you?”
“He said, and this is a direct quote, he said ‘if you don't play sports you won't have any imagination.’ ’’
“Was he right?”
“I don't know. I think I still have a pretty good imagination. Of course I'm still playing sports. My imagination isn't the same as it used to be, though.”
I used to read all the time. Real big books too. I read books like that series about the son of Poseidon. Who wrote that? Rick Riordan I think t was. It doesn't matter, what matters is that they were great, and I was always reading them. I guess Will didn't like that. By the time I met him my mom had declared that I would probably be some kind of famous writer, I didn't have a problem with that, and I don't think Will did either. His problem was that I was always reading instead of writing. He said that I was wasting my time helping other people live out their dreams instead of trying to live my own. I guess he was right in the sense that I was helping other people live their dreams, but he never actually made me write. Instead he made me help him write. He had decided that he would be a children's writer. He made me help him form his sentences right, but he never actually listened. Whenever I said something he didn’t like he would just get mad. He pushed me out of a chair once. Well, more like he pushed over me and the stool I was sitting on.
“Did you ever do any of your own writing?”
“Yeah, but he always told me it wasn’t good, or that I needed to write more realistically. I wrote this one piece about a boy who attacked his mean dad, and he thought he killed him but he didn’t and he later turned out to be a pirate.”
“What did he think of that?”
“I guess he didn’t realize I was making the dad out to be like him. He didn’t like it anyway. He said it wasn’t realistic. I never really understood that because his stories were about talking chickens.”
“You said you write more realistically now?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna be the next John Steinbeck.”
Now that I’m in highschool, a lot of the writing I do is required, but I still have fun doing it. I try to avoid kiddish stuff like what I used to write. I’m working on a piece right now about the shootings that are going on around the country, with police violence and all that type of stuff. That’s what’s going on the real world and that’s what I write about now. None of that romantic stuff that ignores the real issues. No more romanticism or anything like that.
December 10th, 2003. That was the day I found out Allison died.
That morning started like any other. I woke up late, missed breakfast, and ran across the street to catch the bus as it began to pull away. I knew something was wrong. I had reading first, then writing, PE was always on Wednesdays, and then lunch.