Monday, April 30, 2012

I Miss the Friend that Punched Me

I got punched once. A bunch of older guys told us to fight for no reason. Just to get some laughs and cheap entertainment because there was probably nothing good on TV. He didn't want to. But being the idiot that I was, I pushed him. I was an asshole. I had originally written "I'm an asshole," but I like to think I've become a better person. At least a bit better than I once was. Or maybe I'm just lying to myself. But anyway, he punched me. A perfect shot to the forehead.  I was 9 and he was 10 I think. All the older guys were screaming around us as if it was a boxing match, while Juan and I wrestled in the dirt.

His older sister came and dragged him out. She took him home. And now I was alone on the ground, surrounded by a bunch of idiots. I fit perfectly in. They had manipulated me so easily. They had gotten in my head. I couldn't believe I had just done that. And now I was alone. With dirty clothes. And a bump on my forehead. We were neighbors. As I walked up the stairs to the second floor of my house, I looked to my left where I saw my best friend there. He was being scolded by his mother. "What the hell is the matter with you?" I heard her tell him.

My mom yelled at me too.

I felt so stupid for what had happened. And now, I had a huge bump on my forehead that was a physical manifestation of the idiot that I was. Of the jerk that I was. Maybe even, secretly, I was ashamed that I didn't give him a bump as well. I was a loser. So that weekend, my family and I went to Ford City mall. I remember. There was a huge fountain there. Or maybe there still is, I haven't been there in a long time. But I remember seeing all of the coins shine at the bottom of the fountain. Some shined more than others, as if the one that shined the most was the winner. And now it would grant that wish. The spell that the squeeze of a human hand had given it. How does a coin remember what wish it was sent out to grant? It just does. I asked my mom for a quarter. I went up to the fountain and asked it for my bump to go away. It sounds like a stupid wish, but I really just wanted my shame to go away. The memory of the fight I had started with my best friend to go away. I dropped the coin in. It's funny. When you drop a coin in a fountain you almost feel proud of that coin. Like if you had raised that coin and taught it everything you know. Now you would send it out with a mission. And you feel confident that you taught it well enough. It must've worked because the bump was gone within a few weeks! But another coin must've outshone it in mid-wish because the memory of the fight still lingers to this day.

(I wonder if his wish came true.)

Juan was a free spirit. He would wake up two hours before school started and rode his bike shirtless. His whole family was like that. His father was really strict. I would always hear him yell. I always imagined that's why he was always outside. Better than being inside. His little brother would also be up and about. He would wake me up every morning. "Lady!" That was my dog's name. He would visit her every morning before school by my fence. Even on the weekends.

My bump receded, and we were still good friends. We rode bikes together. He once found human teeth in his back yard. He put them in his pocket. "Eww." We played soccer together and laughed together. And fought together.

I spit out dirt! My teeth were black. A girl looked at me and said, "are you okay?" I looked in the mirror and almost gasped because of how i looked. Never look in the mirror when you have dirt on your face and teeth. I brushed my teeth and came back outside. I grabbed the empty chips bag from the floor and filled it with dirt. Revenge. I waited until he passed by on his bike and got him in mid seat.

 We were best friends. We did everything together. And even though we fought, we got over it and we would be okay the very next day.

(Maybe my friend's into naked bike rides now?)

"Goodbye," were his last words. A year after the punch he moved away to Arkansas. Shirtless Juan. I've never seen him since. I saw him and his family drive away in a dirty pick up truck with a bunch of junk in the back. Dirty bicycles. Even a refrigerator. Sometimes I wish I could meet him again. I don't remember his last name, but I can still picture him perfectly how I last saw him. If you ever find this, send me a message!

It's strange when you lose a friend as a kid. You never forget their face. Their 11 year old face. And you wonder how much they've changed. Or how much they've grown. You wonder if they ever think of you like you still remember them. And imagine seeing them after all these years. Imagine telling them if they remember the fight. If they remember the dirt. If they remember the good times. You tell them about all the friend you've met since you last saw each other. And you listen about theirs. You show them their old house and how you still haven't moved since they left. There's been three new families to move into that house since you left you tell them. You have a new dog.

You compare heights to see how much you've both grown. His hand hovers way above your head. You feel short now. Then you both laugh. "Maybe if  I still had that bump," you joke. More laughter.

But most importantly, his face is now that of a 20 year old. A 30 year old. A 105 year old. And you keep that memory in your head; you hold it tight. Until we meet again.

(until we meet again.)

Have you ever lost a friend?

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fear Itself

I was on the bus on my way home from school. It was about 5:30 and cloudy. I remember because I always check my phone in crowded places, even though I'm not talking to anyone. It was the type of cloudy day where you know a storm is coming. They're heavy dark clouds. The air smells wet. The people walk briskly. The bus was full, so I was standing, holding on to a pole.

Ugh, I hate standing up on the bus.

(I do this all the time!)
There was a drunk man standing up as well, right next to me. He looked like he was in his mid thirties. He had a dirty baseball jacket, (I forget which team) and light brown, baggy pants. I remember his patchy 5 o'clock shadow. His tired eyes were yellow where white was supposed to be and were surrounded by red rings. He was having trouble standing up when the heavy bus made quick turns.

I checked my phone again. It's only been fifteen minutes. My book bag felt so heavy the moment I put my phone away. I looked out the window. Rain began to pour. I like rain. But the thing about buses is, you can't look out the windows when they're wet. Just a bunch of distorted colors.

"Leave me alone" a man in about his 60s said. The drunk man was pestering him. I turned from the window to look at them. Everyone turned. The drunk man began to punch the man's chest, who was sitting down with a cane by his side. He was no boxer, but you could clearly see it bothered the old man. "I'm gonna call the cops if you don't stop," he said. But he continued.

I wanted to say something. I was right next to him. Leave him alone, I thought I said. But it was just my mind. In your mind, you can scream all you want. But no one will ever know. "Stop it!" the man said. Stop it, my mind repeated. I was frozen. Whats wrong with me? Fear. I was afraid that the man might have a knife or something. People who punch the elderly in the chest on a bus are not exactly wrapped so tight. I felt ashamed though.

I looked around at all the other men in the bus. Some twice this drunk man's size. I looked at the women (I'm pathetic). But they all just watched. I felt like punching all of them instead of the drunk man. Absolutely no one did or said a thing.

The old man raised his arm and pulled the cord. He immediately stood up and walked towards the door. "He punched me! That man punched me," he told the bus driver. The bus driver look at the back of the bus. He saw a bunch of cowards and a brave, drunk man. He opened the door and the old man walked out. He stumbled as he stepped down.

(Weird people are always on the bus.)

I got off the bus a few blocks later and walked the rest of the way home. Fear is a strange thing. It's a selfish thing. It wants to keep us safe. It wants us to live in a white room with cushions all around and with a helmet on our head. It wants us to stay in bed, with our warm covers, surrounded by thick walls while danger stays on the outside.

This was a few years ago. A few days ago I told my mom about it. "You did the right thing" she said. "He could have hurt you."

"Not even the grown men did anything about it."
"You see, they know. They're adults. They know more. They're wiser than you are."

But I don't know. I felt like a coward. I felt like if I was watching Jesus get crucified and not saying a thing. I wonder if anyone said anything back then. They just let him die. Maybe he wanted help. I know I would have. I know the old man wanted help.

People always tell their best friends, "I would take a bullet for you." But would they really? Would you really give your life for someone else? I find it hard to imagine that anyone would. Even if they say they would. They'd be just like me. Frozen.

If I did the right thing, then why do I feel so bad? Every ounce of strength I had in my body was telling me to help. Every breath. Every heartbeat. Every thought. But some force, almost external, held me back.

The movie of my life. And in this scene, I was a coward. The audience in the theater yelled. They called me a coward. "If it was me, I would've helped," they would say. And in all this commotion, no one would interrupt and say "shhh. I'm trying to watch the movie." And I would sit in the front row. With the screen right on my face. and I would slightly cover my face, so that no one would recognize me. I would be the only one who was quiet.

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I want to be brave. I want to have courage. I want to help old people on the bus from drunk men. I want to help that lady whose purse gets stolen while she walks to the bank and the robber runs away. I want to chase after him and return the purse and get a kiss from the lady, who would then love me forever for my bravery.

(She would kiss me.)
 Being brave is tough. It's fighting all of our instincts to stay safe and save someone's life. People are afraid to be the first anything. They want to know if its possible first. So be that beacon. Be that light-house by the stormy ocean guiding the ship to safety. Don't be afraid to be the first to say you don't like the way something is. People will then follow. You'll get that kiss from the lady in the street. I know that if I would have said something, some of the other people would then have joined in. The old man would have thanked us. He would have walked out of that bus a different man. Instead of stepping out of the bus with the weight of a humanity that's too scared for change thus causing him to stumble, he would have lightly stepped down, knowing that there's good in the world. Knowing that there's faith in humanity.

He would have gone home. Opened the door to his house, and with a smile on his face he would hang up his jacket. His wife Jane or something would say, "what's up with you?" (is that how people in their sixties talk?) and he would tell her the whole story. How he was saved. And they would both go to bed and feel safe that night.

Then maybe someday, as the movie plays along, people will clap. They will yell. Kids will walk out of the theater and tell their parents they want to be just like you. And maybe. Hopefully. Someone in the theater says, "Shhh. I'm trying to watch the movie."

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Day I Cried for Missing Halloween

I was angry at my mom for some reason. I don't remember why. But it was October 31st at around 7 p.m. I laid on my side, on the black couch with my knees to my chest. The white paint on my face smudged against the sofa, creating fuzzy patterns.  My black cape covered my body. My plastic vampire necklace dangled at the end of the sofa. I could see my mom walking around in the dining room, grabbing her purse and doing other things with a concentrated face. I never know what my mom does so long in the dining room every day.

"Lets go," she said. My sister stood next to her, smiling with her black lips. She was dressed as a witch. "No," i said. Or something like that. She asked me again, but I just stood silent, frozen in the same position.

They went trick or treating without me. In the South Side of Chicago, 26th Street is filled with stores who give candy away to children on Halloween. No one ever really went house to house like how you see on TV. I didn't care that they left. But after about 10 minutes, I felt like crying.

I had just turned 12 on October 16th.

(I wonder where this is.)

I laid in the same position. Frozen. Thinking. "This is it," I thought. "This is the last year I'm going to be a kid." My last Halloween as a kid. I loved Halloween and everything that came with it. For a few months, the ground would be a mix of orange, yellow, red, and brown. Its the only time where the dull, grey, gum filled cement is eclipsed by nature. You get the feeling of being in the woods. The feeling that the city and all of its problems and suffering are far away.

People have worries in the city. Especially adults. Maybe even married adults more. They walk along these cement sidewalks with a blank face. Looking forward. What do they look at? Nothing probably. Just at emptiness. They walk without focus in their pupils. They're not really thinking about the present. Just about their destination and what they would do once they arrived. I breath the cold, fresh air. Cold enough for a sweater, but not cold enough for a jacket. I liked feeling cold anyway. It made me know that I could feel. It made me feel alive.

Halloween and autumn.


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I remember coming home from school a few days before with a box of caramel apples. They sold them at school every October. When I got my box from the teacher I walked across the hallways, looking at the bulletin boards on the walls. "Happy Halloween!" The walls would say, with a bunch of turkeys made by students by tracing their hands and decorating them.

And I could appreciate all of this I thought, because I was 12. Because I was 11, 10, 9. I really had nothing to worry about. I was just a kid. Before every holiday I used to cherish as a child soon became another day. Another square on the calender to put an "x" over in the morning.

"Maybe if I run, I can catch up to them," I said. I looked out the window and it was pitch dark. I was scared. What if someone kidnaps me. And after staring out the window for so long, my eyes began to lose focus until I couldn't see outside anymore. But I saw my faint reflection. My dull, white face. The kind of dull white that appears when you paint the walls inside your house, but you can faintly see the color it was before. It needs more coats. I needed another coat. I felt fear, sadness, and shame peek out of my white paint.

So I sat back down. I wanted to cry. I was alone in the house. I wanted to cry out my face paint and let my emotions come out through the paint.

You might think, "Oh it's no big deal, you were still only 12." But it's the day where I felt like I lost my innocence. Where I would soon be one of the millions of people who walk on the man-made cement and worry about everyday things. I don't know how other people feel like when they realize they wont be a kid anymore. I thought 12 was the cut off at the time.

(Let him out to play.)

"We're back!" my sister said as she came through the door. She dumped all of her candy on the couch and we both just looked at them. I felt envious of her because next year she would still be a kid. I wished my birthday was on September, and not October. "Was it fun?" I said. "Yeah, you should've gone! I saw our friends there too."

But I can say that when I turned 13, I still ended up trick or treating. I can say that maybe I'm not a kid anymore, but I still occasionally see my 12 year old self. I see him when I laugh with friends. I see him when I see kids trick or treating. He never really left. We're still all the other ages we once were. Oh they're there. Waiting to peek. Waiting to look out at the world from our seemingly now wiser eyes, below our troubled brows. But most importantly, I see him when I walk with fresh air in my lungs. Worries, problems and all.


When did you first feel like you weren't a kid anymore?