I have a barbecue sandwich before lying down. I know it might fuck with my bowels, but when ya got IBS everything fucks with your bowels, so I say fuck it. I get one of those extra large surplus hamburger buns and filled it with slightly spicy, grilled, smoky pulled boston butt. I add coleslaw and sweet pickles with mustard on the bottom piece of bread. It’s good. Since that last bout of bronchitis I’ve been having trouble tasting some things, but all of the flavor comes through with this sandwich.
With a full belly and the rest of the family already sleep; I finally lay down on the futon and after a little effort getting comfortable, I fall asleep.
Little did I know that the barbecue would affect my mind, not my bowels.
I open my eyes and I‘m standing in front of my old elementary school. I’m full grown and everything appears so small. The doors are rusted and falling off of the hinges, and it makes it easy for me enter. The walls are coated with years of thick dust and stained with dirt, while the paint slowly peels away from the dry wall. Long defunct bulletin boards sit unused while old rusted miniature desks are strewn about the hallways. It smells dank and old and sad; laced with pain and plain evil. As I blink a couple of times, I can see the ghost of children past moving through the halls in single files, led by teacher now decrepit or long dead. Second by second, the apparitions manifest into solid entities, laughing and yelling, some cavorting together, other subsisting alone.
Then I see me. I see me being led by the hand by my mother, the standard harbinger of my pain; pulling me out of my class. The class I hated but the only one I’d known that year.
I know where I’m going. I know where she’s taking me. The land of lost. The land of misfit toys. Where ‘problem’ kids are sent to rot and be forgotten. I know where I’m going. The label, the stigma, despite its falsehood. Despite that huge lie that it is. The retarded class. That’s where I’m going. That’s where I’m going. It hangs above my head, even now. It hands above my heart, even now. Coloring my every thought and aspiration, even though it is a lie. A lie whose truth can never be told enough.
“Are we going home mom?” The little me asks.
“I’m taking you to a new class for smarter kids.” She answers.
“Don’t believe her!” I yell. “She’s lying to you, like she always does! Don’t believe her!”
Suddenly I can feel the weight in my hand. My hand wasn’t so heavy before, but it weighed so much, yet so little. Things had slowed by then. I could see us walking away, little me and mom, but so slowly. When I look at my hand I see the gun, the dark metal the slight glint from an unknown light source. I don’t like guns, never have, but this feels comfortable in my hand. Necessary. I raise it naturally, as if I’d done it a million times before and I level it at my mother’s back. Can I do this? She is the only mother I’ve ever known. But her betrayal, that painful betrayal seems everlasting. How will I ever get up from under it? And she has never paid. Never paid like I paid. Paid for a debt I didn’t owe. I pull the trigger and it is smooth and easy. Easy. The bullet flies through the air in an instant, striking her in the back of neck, instantly taking her down. Faster than a wildebeest in the Serengeti. She falls flat with an unnatural thud. A mere twitch before stillness, but I know… I know that her every sin was etched on that bullet, like it is etched on my tortured soul and when it struck her she knew. She knew the whys of my pain. She knew the whys of my rage and it cradled her through the expulsion of her final breath.
Little me stands looking at me as I am. No fear, not even confusion.
“She lied. Didn’t she?” The little me asks.
“Yeah. Just like always.” I answer.
When I look to my right, I see the class I was taken from. I step inside and see the teacher and the students of 35 years past, all frozen in time, learning their grammar school lesson. I see the teacher who did not respect my ills, who believed the bully over the bullied. I see the girl who took my toys and began this downward spiral in to faux retardation because it was easier to assume lies rather than question for truth. My arm rises smoothly again, naturally. I deliver a slug to her temple. She does not see it coming, but like my mother, her sins are etched as well and she knows. The class stops and stares frozen and I deliver another slug to the bully, the girl; whose says they’re sugar and spice and everything nice.
When I step back into the hall, I can feel tiny fingers loop through my left hand and I can see little me; holding on tightly. Calm and unalarmed. He looks up at me, the same sad brown eyes that have stared back at me for 40 years.
“Did you save me?” The little me asks.
“I did.” I answer.
“Will things be different?” The little me asks.
“They’ll be better. We can make things better now.” I answer.
My hand is light again. I look down and the gun is gone. We walk together to the dilapidated exit and step into the dreamy outdoors. No cars. No people. No wind. No sound.
“Will you take care of me now?” The little me asks.
“Now I can. Now I can take care of us both.”
Mom brought pain and now she’s gone. School brought pain. Teachers brought pain. Bullies brought pain. And as we move into the school yard, distant ethereal images of my middle and high schools slowly fade from view. Fade from existence. The future is wiped and nothing is set. The disgrace undone and the lie unfulfilled. The label of shame, of diminishment slowly fades from my heart; slowly fades from my mind.
“We can start over now.” I say.
When I suddenly awaken I expect to be alone. My covers are drenched, but the water pooling in my eyes isn’t sweat. They are tears, flowing hot and fresh. My head hurts but inside I feel light. I can still feel the light touch of small fingers in my hand, but when I look, they are not the fingers of little me. They belong to my daughter, who is lightly gripping my hand and staring at me in the dark.
“What’s wrong, daddy?” She asks.
“Nothing baby. Why are you out of bed?” I ask her.
“I gotta pee. Can you take me to pee?” She asks.
“Yeah, baby.” I answer.
I get up. And take my daughter to pee, tears and sweat still running down my face. My head hurts but I feel free.
As my daughter rubs her eyes, while sitting on the toilet, I look around and nothing has changed. It’s my house, my daughter, my bathroom, but I feel different. I feel better.
As she wipes herself and flushes the toilet, she grabs my fingers and we walk back to her bed. She lies down and I tuck her in, wrapping her up.
“Goodnight daddy.” She says.
“Goodnight baby.” I say.
As she drifts back off to sleep, I realize… I saved myself. Through my pain, through my rage and with a solid, handful of violence. I saved myself.
Finally. I saved myself like I wished so many would have or could have…
Finally, I saved myself… And as I stand over her in the dark, I know now that finally, I can take care of us both.
Written By: Sidra D. Owens
Date: October 30, 2016