Wait for Me, Day 6

This entry is part 6 of 23 in the series Playing "Wait for Me"

This is an entry in a journaling game I’m currently playing. An explanation, and my first entry, is here. Oh, and these posts are organized into a series now. You can see the post series page here. 

I also revisited this post the day after I wrote it, to add some additional comments and reflections. That’s at the end of the post. 

For those who need a trigger warning: bullying, revenge fantasy, and trauma.  


… snap. I’m in… where am I? I’m… in the bedroom where I slept in middle school—cold basement, scruffy blue carpet, wood paneling on the walls. I glance out the window, and see my dad standing with a butcher knife in one hand, twigs in the other, and realize. This is that day. The day he’d been pruning branches from our backyard tree with that knife, when I’d arrived home bloodied and sullen after that older bully kid in the neighborhood, J_____ H_______, had for the umpteenth time shoved me down the bus steps and onto the pavement. So there’s my dad, telling him off with a butcher knife in hand, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

God, I miss Dad. 

His voice is muffled, but I know he’s ordering the bully to leave me alone, and I glance over to my younger self, barely visible through the basement window. I’m in worse shape than I remember. But I know I wanted revenge on that boy. Wanted it so badly. The feeling comes back, in a way that shocks me; I didn’t think I still felt this way…

Rushing, I grab two sheets of looseleaf. On the first, I write:

Look, I know you want revenge, want to make him hurt. It’ll backfire, or just trigger more crap. Instead, slip this into his bag. Make sure he reads it.

Then, on the other paper, I write:

The kids you bully will all outlive you. You’ll die alone and pathetic, sometime in mid-2014. No cause of death given in the obituary people find when hate-Googling you, not even 30 years from now. Alone, unloved. Maybe a drug overdose? Suicide? Shameful. But nobody misses bullying assholes like you anyway.

If somehow he keeps this, or remember it, that word Google will be a tell, but… maybe something a little more tangible? I don’t have a lot of papers from 1988, after all, and I was an incredible pack rat. I fish through my wallet and find a receipt: something from the airport, during my trip to the States a few years ago. It shouldn’t even be there, and I’m not sure why it is. There’s a date: 25 February 2018. Maybe that’ll convince the little asshole?

Folding the second looseleaf sheet in half, I tuck the receipt in, and then fold it in half again. On the outside of the folded paper, I draw a heart and in the center I write:

To: J____ H_____
From: The Future

Maybe he’ll toss it, I imagine. But maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll keep it. When Google launches, he’ll go back to it, shocked, and read it again, eyes wide that he did recognize the word. You never know. Maybe he’ll have the kind of sleepless nights I had, when he was doing his best to destroy me.  

But…

… I end up not leaving it for myself, after all.

No, I’m about the place the folded looseleaf on my nearly-made bed, and then the note to myself on top of it, when I happen to glance out the window. I can see J_____ now. He looks terrified, genuinely frightened of my dad. The usual sneer he wears is completely gone. I hear my father’s muffled voice: “I’ll call your bloody father, if you touch him again, you bloody animal! Do you understand me!” 

The look of fear on his face is unmistakeable, even through smudged, dirty window, and I’m suddenly gripped with horror. What if what I’ve written makes… makes it happen? Or makes whatever drove him into the ground so young worse? He made my life hell for a year, sure, but… he didn’t kill me. And a wave of sympathy I don’t want to feel wells up for this kid. I remember the obit mentioning things, details about his life I hadn’t realized at the time—just enough for me to imagine the world he’s living in now, here, in 1988. It’s not hard to imagine. 

With a sigh, I rush over and grab the two pages of looseleaf and just manage to crumple them and toss them in the direction of my overflowing wastepaper basket before I’m ripped out of time, and plummeting again through spacetime… 


Notes:

Whew, first one I’ve had to actually censor something in.

It’s weird when a long-ago bully crosses your mind and you Google them, vaguely considering sending them an email about how terrible they were thirty years ago, and how it affected you for years afterward. And then the Google search comes through, and you find out they died in 2014. Causes not given, which maybe suggests something terrible: when it’s colon cancer, they just write cancer; when they don’t give a cause of death, it’s almost like they’re saying, “It was terrible and sad and we don’t want to smear his memory with that detail”: you imagine it might’ve been suicide, or maybe a drug overdose, autoerotic asphyxiation accident, that kind of thing. 

And you see he’s survived by family, three kids, a wife. And they were—though you never realized it at the time, you wouldn’t guess it just looking at him—a racial minority, and a pretty abused one in Canada, at that. With hindsight, you imagine this kid had to have been wrestling with demons, whatever they were. Maybe as much someone else’s victim as you were his—not that it justifies what he did to you, but… 

It doesn’t change what happened. But it kind of changes how you feel about what happened. 

ADDENDUM (the next day):

This has been on my mind since last night. Writing this entry was difficult—not painful, really, but sort of a jolt to me. I don’t think we’re generally honest about how we interrogate trauma in the past. We pretend that people “move on” by conquering their feelings about it; the truth is, most of the time we move on but the trauma remains, even when we work really hard to master and overcome it. “Put it behind you” is something we’re urged to do.

But this game involves revisiting experiences and seeing them through different eyes, and almost inevitably, trauma comes into that, because life inevitably involves some amount of trauma. And there was certainly trauma in the buildup to the moment I discuss in this entry, and… well, trauma changes who you are. It doesn’t really “go away” in any permanent or complete way, either, as revisiting this moment reminded me. (Though it also reinforced for me that you can achieve distance from it, and perspective on it.)

I will likely have a lot more to say about this subject when I finish this game; I’ll have a lot of closing thoughts by then, because I’m finding it very interesting, this process of revisiting the past with such a curious sort of engagement with it. 

Oh, one more thing, and I guess this is because I want to be clear: my dad did call J________ an “animal” but that wasn’t a term I remember hearing him use it as a racial epithet: as far back as I can remember, he used the term to describe people who were violent or inexcusably behaved. (Meaning, he’d call someone an animal for interrupting a formal event with boorish behavior, or someone who behaved in a violent manner.)1 I also feel like I should add that, like me, on that day in our backyard when he told J_____ to leave me alone, he almost certainly wasn’t aware that the kid was Métis: a lot of kids I went to school with were, but it was not always obvious from looking at them. (A classmate of mine in middle and high school was a descendant of the major figure in Métis history, Gabriel Dumont, but I’d never have guessed it looking at her: she was blonde and blue-eyed.) I could be wrong.  

Which isn’t to say it wasn’t perceived as a racist insult by J_________; it could well have been, and indeed it may be that having my dad call him that was traumatic for him, too. (The fact he’d relentlessly and sadistically bullied me for most of a year by this point doesn’t justify that, either.) 

Oh, and the butcher knife thing? Not made up. My dad used one to prune branches—I don’t know why, though I suspect he just couldn’t be bothered to buy a saw for that purpose. Whether he was conscious of it being in his hand, whether he kept it in his hand to make a point, I can’t say. He was pretty frustrated about what I was going through, and how it was affecting me, so anything’s possible. But it’s also possible he just forgot to set it down, and realized he had it in his hand too late to do so. 

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  1. That’s not to say he hadn’t internalized some strange ideas about race and culture; it’d frankly be a miracle if he’d gotten through his education in a Southern Rhodesian boarding school without internalizing some deeply questionable ideas. I’ve been working finding a way to write about that for a long time, though, and it’s a bit beyond the point of this note.

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