“If you think I haven’t treasured these insults deep in my heart, awaiting the time of revenge, then you don’t know me at all. Which is simple. You’ve never known me. You’ve seen a version of yourself, the weak and friendless part you’ve wished to destroy, and you’ve made me into that.”
“But I’m not what you’ve imagined me to be. You thought me crazy, wild, unstable; what I am is relentless, persistent, and above all patient.”
“You’ve long ago done everything to me that you were capable of doing. Now, you’ll watch what I can do.”
I said these words to myself, practicing for a time when they would become meaningful.
I was the perennial outcast. I came into school as an adopted kid, strange and quiet, and always on the outside. I’ve been beaten. I’ve been punched in the temple so that my vision went black, scratches from my foster brother’s ring lining my face. There were parent teacher meetings, mostly because I would cry when I got very angry. The thrust of the parent teacher conferences was that I was weak and stupid at best, and emotionally disturbed at worst, but certainly not the boy with high potential which they imagined me to be.
What was the advice I received, in the face of ridicule? Toughen up, laugh at yourself, just be yourself? None of these really worked well.
I was called psycho, Satan, idiot, ugly, stupid, awkward, clumsy, devil, evil, and the friendship I wanted eluded me. The beautiful girls I saw wanted nothing to do with me.
I didn’t look right, I was chubby, made jokes people didn’t understand, zoned out and spent a lot of time by myself. If I was a nerd, why wasn’t I smart? I asked myself this question often, but so did everyone else.
I joined the football team, thinking that would help me integrate; I spent a lot of time sitting and zoning out, or running around. Every now and then I would get run over, get hit, and my social situation worsened.
If you can’t play sports, and you don’t make people laugh, you’re not great looking, and you have family problems, loud arguments and fights, ongoing tension, then you’re incredibly lonely. I failed math, and was afraid to tell my foster dad; when I got a terrible interim, I ran out of the room rather than take it from the math teacher, and spent the weekend playing with toys and telling myself stories to keep from thinking about it.
When my foster dad found out, he told me that I wasn’t putting forth any effort. There were two options for him – lack of effort or lack of talent. I think sometimes about what it would look like for an actual genius, growing up in a world shaped by lesser minds, desperate for connection and companionship, for someone who can talk with him about the things that excite him, can share the sight of beauty, can talk about the ideas which animate his furtive consciousness.
A lonely hell is the mind, and none has been so much as my own.Then I got in the water, and everything changed.
As a foster kid in a landlocked country, I had never been swimming, never been to a lake. I was in my first year of college at New Gilead University, on scholarship at a school that was a playground for the wealthy and a proving ground for the up-and coming. There was a course on marine biology offered, with a trip to the local reservoir.
We arrived at the water, and I stripped to my trunks, as the other students did. I hung around the edge of the dock, as every member of the trip splashed into the water. I was left on the side. “Shiva!” shouted the coach, “do you not know how to swim?”
Shame and fear coursed through me. What did I expect? I shouldn’t be there, I had never done this before, and to expect them to teach me, to show me how to swim and dive was ridiculous. My face felt hot, and as the coach walked toward me, I turned and jumped straight into the water. This was it. I was sure of it.
I sank down, down, down, and didn’t fight at all. The hopes and dreams that I had, of finding a way in college, of finding a different life, they were all rushing away from me. Was this how it would end? The other students in the class were gathering around me, I pushed down, I pushed away, I didn’t want their help. Water filled my lungs and I pushed down as far as I could.
I may have never been in the water, but I’d read enough about drowning to know what to expect. My vision would darken, I would start to feel wonderful, and I might hallucinate. I prepared for it, for an end to all of it.
Then nothing happened.
I stayed there for awhile, deep as I could get to, looking around me. I noticed a few things. For one, I could see. I’d learned in Physics 150 that light refracts through water, and then converges past your eye, which is why everything should look blurry and dark. Everything was lit up in bright outline, and I could pick out every detail. There was the base of the reservoir, with all the Christmas trees people had dumped in it to make habitats for fish. There were fish everywhere. And chills went down my spine as I saw a flourish of blonde hair, over the ridge.
I decided that I wasn’t dying anytime soon, and that I might as well explore. My second revelation: I was breathing. Water had filled my lungs long ago, and I wasn’t short of breath at all. My lungs moved, and I could feel the water pass in and out through my mouth and nose.
My hands and feet glided through the water, as I traveled throughout the reservoir basin. Had I died, and this was my hell, trapped below the water to eternity, the punishment for suicide? I felt my heart beating, I was breathing, even with my mouth open, my lungs full of water, I was pulling water in and out of my mouth, not coughing, not gasping, not sputtering.
And I remembered, being pulled away from a beautiful dark skinned woman and screaming, I was by the sea in the bright light, and they held me in the car, I was held by strangers as I saw the woman wailing and fighting to escape as the car pulled away, I was by the sea and taken into darkness, into the dry, cold and dark land of the interior.
I swam, and followed the golden hair, over a rock. There, a face, porcelain white in the water, with her hair floating up around her face, red lips in a diaphonous gown.
I knew her.
She was November Minet, and she sat next to me in sociology 110. I hadn’t ever talked to her, but I would catch her looking at me every now and then. I thought she liked me. She disappeared from campus three weeks ago, and her parents were devastated. She was last seen before homecoming.
I watched her, floating there, and I felt her loneliness, cold and dead, chucked into the water. I looked at her hands, the nails broken and chipped; there were scratches on her neck. Someone had done this to her.
I wanted to stay, down here in the dark and the cold, where I could be free of all of them, and she could rest, be safe from all of them. But it made me angry to think about November killed and discarded like this. So I went back up. Taking her in my arms, I swam back and back, till I reached the dock where I started.
The coach was there, with a few of my classmates; they were giggling as I emerged from the water, but screaming when they saw the corpse. I swam past the dock to the shore and walked out of the water carrying her. I felt stronger than I ever had. The water drained from my lungs and I started breathing air again without even a cough.
The coach approached me. “I found November Minet. We need to call the police.”