Some people read to find themselves, others to lose themselves. You can replace ‘read’ with any other verb and the statement will still hold up.
The night sky grew darker, the street lights brighter. I shoved my hands into my pockets.
“Hello,” a woman said. She was walking with a friend in the opposite direction.
“Hey,” I answered in a hoarse voice. That’s what happens when you try to talk after you’ve been quiet for a very long time.
I was late learning to speak, but when I did start, I talked all the time. When that got frustrating, when people wouldn’t listen to what I had to say, I would write.
I walked away right as the woman who said hello was about to start a conversation. Why is she trying to talk to a weird man walking alone at night? Weird.
I exhaled a loud yawn. This was, after all, how I fell asleep at night. Thinking about things. Some people clear their minds, I prefer to reflect. Lying under the soft covers, head propped up on a single pillow, feet hanging at the edge of the bed, hands resting palm-up, chasing my thoughts like a dog running after its tail. No, that’s not the right comparison. It’s like talking to God, only this time he answers.
A long time ago my big brother taught me how to drive. He’s gone from my life now, ironically, he’s a long-haul truck-driver somewhere in Canada. On our last drive together I was at the wheel, trying to tune him out.
“There’s no way J.K Rowling wrote all the Harry Potter books. Oh, and don’t even get me started on James Patterson.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t...”
We were hit from the side. Needless to say, the car was ruined and I was scared away from driving. Doesn’t matter, I live near campus and that’s the only place I need to reach. The car was upside-down. Firemen had to drag us out through the windows.
My big brother walked away with chronic pain. I was unscathed, at least on the outside. On the inside things were stirring. Developments were being made.
A bike was going to go down this road in fifteen seconds. I couldn’t see it yet, and technically it’s going to fast to stop by the time it sees me. I walk over to the other side of the road. The bike zooms by.
My big brother was weird in the best way. He was a conspiracy nut, who read just about everything he could get his hands on. A well-educated conspiracy nut, almost an oxymoron. I still have pictures of him up in my small dormitory. Every time someone comes over they ask if the pictures are me, I guess we look similar.
Most people’s role models take on a larger-than-life persona in their heads. Not my big brother. I’ve spent time thinking about him, analyzing him, so that when I try to imitate him I get the good and the ugly. He was great, but he was human, after all.
I read a lot because he read a lot. I binge-drink on the weekends because that’s what he did.
In thirty seconds two men will walk by and ask me to settle an argument for them. Weird. I was approaching the end of the street. A crescent of houses, and in the middle of that the opening to a park. At night, it looked more like a forest. I ran into the opening and ducked down in some bushes.
I watched two men pass by. They stopped for a second, confused, before making their way out.
I climbed out of the bushes and continued on my walk. Some people walk to lose themselves, not me, not now. Field 4, near the outdoor theater, by the duck pond, behind the big play structure, that’s where the fight would be. I couldn’t see myself winning the fight, too many variables, but I would be able to predict every move my opponent made. I told myself he deserved to be beaten, badly, but it sounded half-hearted. A little child condemning a loved one to eternal suffering because they wouldn’t buy them a chocolate bar. No, this was different. He ruined my life. Shattered my hopes. Told me that my big brother was dead and that everyone knew it. Maybe he was correct, but that doesn’t give him any right to try and implement such an idea into my mind.
People can believe what they want, should believe what they want. We are fragile, there is a certain part of us that simply shouldn’t be shaken, broken, challenged. A unique and gentle part of our soul.
“Hey shit-head, over here!” Kevin Kissinger shouted.
Kevin wasn’t the guy I would be fighting. If it was anyone but Kevin I would have assumed he was there for moral support, but that wasn’t it.
“Why the hell did we schedule this so late and off-campus, nobody is going to show up! It’s a shame, you know, back in high school, I mean, when there were fights like this, people, they would come to watch.”
“Shut up Kevin,” Laura Lancet said.
“I don’t think I will. You know you really should treat me with more respect, you’re looking at the next Warren Gates over here.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” Laura said.
“Oh trust me, this won’t last very long,” Kevin said, winking to his friend, the boy I was supposed to fight.
Chuck Dooley was a mechanical engineering major, and he didn’t want to be here. He was a bright enough student, but he was always getting tension headaches. I could see him reaching up and patting his head now and then, probably soothing a headache. He gave Kevin a small nod.
I walk towards Chuck Dooley, my head pounding with adrenaline, my fists clenched and filled with blood. It’s rigged. I know I’m going to win, I could see myself so clearly, knocking the boy across the jaw. He would stand completely still, failing to anticipate my attack. Almost as if he wouldn’t try to defend himself at all. I’m so focused on Chuck’s timeline I couldn’t see Kevin. Just three seconds before he started running towards me, I suddenly noticed him, as if out my periphery. Him charging at me with a knife, barely missing my stomach. They’d rigged the fight.
I ran away as fast as I could. Kevin chased after me. Laura was hysterical, demanding he stopped.
“Remember, he’s the one who challenged me,” Chuck said.
“You said his big brother was dead!”
“He started the argument. He called me dumb.”
“Yeah, but you stopped lower.”
“You’re going to be a really good therapist one day, babe, but I need you to put that empathetic shit you learned in class away for now.”
Chuck Dooley had no clairevoyant powers, if he did, he could have anticipated the slap he was about to receive from Laura. It connected with his cheek and made a near ultrasonic boom that made both Kevin and I wince, even as we were running. I could already see Kevin would get tired soon. I could see Laura call the police.
Why did I agree to this fight? I know my big brother is dead, it’s nice to think he isn’t, but he is. Did I just want a win? No, that wasn’t it. I wanted to get lost for a little while, to do something weird just for the sake of it. Some people read to find themselves, others to lose themselves. You can replace ‘read’ with any other verb and the statement will still hold up.