display | more...

When I was too young to go to school the mornings were all full of bright light and breathing and rooks in the horse chestnut trees in the field across the road. Our house was softly silent while my parents were asleep and I had nothing to think about except how chilly the dew would be on my fingertips, and how hard it must be for the swallows to fly together in a big wind, and how the water from the garden tap hissed hollowly, like an ancient snake. Sometimes a deep mist would come down from the hillside and the house and garden would become totally still, and in the muffled air I would hear the thump and stumble of cows in the far field.

When my father would wake, we would sometimes make breakfast together, hard boiled eggs and toast with marmalade and Weetabix and tea, and we would bring it on a tray to my mother as she lay in bed. Sometimes she seemed happy to see us, and I'd sit in bed beside her and read while she are and drank, and we would talk about what I was reading. Name the dinosaurs: Brachiosaurus. Diplodocus. Ornithosuchus. This one weighed 45 tons. This one was 18 metres long. She would step in and out of the world of my thoughts, helping me to make sense of the world.

Sometimes she seemed angry to be wakened, as if we were causing her to lose her grip on a beautiful world, a vision she needed to realize without our distraction. One year, on April 1st, we played a trick on her. We hard boiled an egg and opened the fat end, scooping out the meat and giving her the empty shell in an eggcup with the opening turned down so that she wouldn't see it. She cracked the top with her spoon as was her habit, and we laughed at the hollow sound, but her face fell strangely, and I felt sorry, and wanted to bring her another egg; a real one, so that she would trust us again and not be sad. The strangest things upset her.

I have never enjoyed playing practical jokes on anyone since then, because of that feeling of being the deciever, tricking someone in a moment of vulnerability, eroding their trust in the sincerity of my gestures. I didn't know what was going on in her head. All I could understand was that, somehow, I had hurt her.

Somehow human beings carry guilt like this in our psyches from so long ago - strange, insignificant incidents that seemed more important because we had no experience, no way to discriminate between degrees of hurt and rejection and betrayal and suffering. We carry the images and stories in our minds for decades, and they colour our experiences of everything in our lives - a vague sense of guilt maybe, or fear, that enters our relationships and affects our perceptions, our interpretations of the actions of others.

Maybe the act of remembering frees us from the guilt, or maybe it lingers in the scent of other times and the taste of other memories. It's one of the hardest things to realize about yourself: I haven't done anything wrong.

When I was thirteen, there was a boy in my class named David. He was shorter and skinnier than most of the other kids in my school, and he had been born blind. He had pale blonde hair that was always wildly messy in the mornings and neatly combed in the afternoons, probably due to the intervention of his tutor. Most of the other kids didn't like David, because he very obviously listened in on all of our conversations; I think he probably knew and remembered more about each of us than even our own friends cared to.

David had a huge crush on me, which reinforced my belief that I was ugly; as I would say to my friends, "The only boy who likes me is blind!" He said he liked the sound of my voice and he enjoyed the things I talked about.

David was an automatic outcast because of his disability, but he had such a strong personality that I don't think it bothered him that much. In fact, I think he must have felt like he was observing all of us, just sitting back and listening to our conversations. In a way, he was regal. Nobody liked him but, because he was so different and therefore mysterious, nobody dared to say anything to his face. He was respected out of the fear of all things strange.

I remember a conversation I had with him when our class was touring Washington, D.C. for graduation. We were sitting on the bus; David was in the seat in front of mine, turned sideways so he could better hear my conversations with my friends. A thought occurred to me while we were discussing dreams and I asked David, "Do you see anything in your dreams? People.. shapes.. anything?" and he replied, "No. I can't see anything, but I hear everything. I've never seen a face, or a tree, or a triangle. I wouldn't know how to imagine those things." We talked for a few more minutes, until he asked me if I would French kiss him, and that was when the conversation reached its end.

At our graduation dance, David sat alone against the wall the entire time. I'm not sure why he came, but the guy had a lot of guts. A girl in my class approached me and said, "Why don't you go over and talk to David? He really likes you and this is the last time he's going to be around you. He wants to dance with you, but even if you just went over and told him he looks nice, that would be enough."

I was too embarrassed though, and ended up not saying a word to him the entire night. It's been five years since then and I still feel incredibly guilty. A little over a year ago I told my then-boyfriend about it, crying and saying what a horrible person I was for not even saying hello to David. He said that I was just a kid then and that at least I had learned something from the experience. He was right; the lesson I learned was that I could have learned a lot from David, but didn't. If I had spent half as much time talking to David that I had obsessing over the boy I liked (who ended up being expelled for bringing fireworks to school), my junior high experience could have been much more enlightening.

I've always been a bit of an outcast myself, and David showed me that there are other people like me who probably have bigger problems than I do, who are generally very happy and gutsy people. I still can't believe how brave David was when he knew how many people disliked him. He is the kind of person I now respect the most; the ones who say exactly what is on their minds, are completely honest about themselves, and are absolutely unafraid of being judged.

Unfortunately, his lasting opinion of me probably isn't as nice as that; and while I'm sitting here lamenting over him, he's probably already forgotten that I ever existed. Nevertheless, it's ridiculous to feel guilty over things like this. I was younger and less experienced back then, and it's not like I did anything horrible to David. I simply didn't acknowledge how special he was.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.