After The Fall— which took place when I was about 7— my insides became noise, to drown out memory.
I became capable of victimizing others to amuse my friends, the only court of opinion I cared about, my own center being inaccessible.
One Saturday night in high school, out in my convertible with buddies from the football team-- our letter jackets keeping us warm in the breeze— we picked up another boy on the team, who’d been recruited because he weighed 350 pounds: a sad boy who lived alone with his grandma and compensated by acting like a clown.
After getting him drunk, we let him out of the car to stagger around in the plaza in front of the high school. I trained my Ford Galaxy’s high-powered spotlight on him and we all laughed to see his shadow projecting 30 feet high onto the school’s façade.
Another time, as our busses were about to leave a wooded camp where our Confirmation Class had spent the weekend, I tied a smaller boy to a tree in the woods, then went to tell my friends, whom I believed would find it as funny as I did.
I was not capable of empathy. This did not show on my clothes or my report cards. I did not know it myself until several nervous breakdowns after leaving home.
Now I’m a teacher, and when I see children smirking and laughing at someone behind the person’s back,
I search for a nugget of wisdom, learned on my own hard road, to share with them;
but only time, I’m realizing, can tell them—if they are fortunate, I mean— in a way that gets their full attention.