(This is a story I started writing some months ago. I posted several sections. I am working on it again trying to flesh it out. Trying to make sense of it all.)
The abyss exists within each of us, though it is perhaps more commonly referred to as ego. I is hungry. I is the reason that absence is so heavy. Some would make of their absences a grave, others would fill them by whatever means necessary. I am guilty of both. It is true what they say about regret. I regret most the atrophy of my heart through omission. I should have been more honest with my feelings, a man can’t live on justifications alone.
All memories are subject to embellishment and decay. Do not expect my story to adhere to chronology as you may be given to understand it. I write as though insane, I write as my memories surface. Do not take my words for truth. My words reflect only my interpretation of events. There are those that would silence me/challenge me but they are dead now. Literally. Figuratively. My wounds are deep, my judgments biased. What I am about to tell you won’t make any sense and if it does make sense then you have my deepest condolences.
My 8th birthday was more facade than celebration. A bit of posturing for my mother’s sake, as she had so little else besides. The children from my class were all invited but it was not for my company that they came. They came because their parents willed it. My father was a respected member of the community. He wasn’t simply a doctor, he was the only doctor for miles. He was an unpleasant man behind closed doors but faced with an audience he was intolerable. I knew the jest of his portrayal. My father held society in the highest contempt. He played the game but only because it forced others to acknowledge his superiority. I understood, to some degree, his false participation. I was accustomed to it but I did not care for either version and feared them both equally.
My social ineptitude was considered a betrayal to my parents who took great pains to secure their reputation. They spared me public humiliation but this omission in discipline was not out of consideration for my blighted ego. They simply did not want to draw attention to their own failings.
My classmates did not attempt to engage me in play during the party or afterwards. They saw me only as a repository for gifts. Their gifts were impersonal and superfluous. I opened them with a smile so tight that I felt my jaw would weld itself shut from friction. I did not seek their friendship. I was content to speculate at their games and the conversations of the adults meandering mindlessly around the room but all the while I was alone.
The room was not dressed for my benefit. There were decorations but they might as well have been stars. They hung fragile and out of reach. My mother too was like a star. Beautiful. Distant. Dead. Her cold fingers dug into my arm as she paraded me around the room. Every now and then she stopped to tidy my hair or to straighten my clothes. “Oh Eli please don’t wrinkle your suit.”. “Keep your hands out of your hair…you’ll ruin it.”. “Why are your hands sticky? The candy is for the guests. I hope no one saw you eating. Please tell me you were discreet?” Her eyes burned the top of my forehead. My mother went to great pains to avoid my eye contact.
“No one saw me Mummy.” I lied. Even had I been able to define discreet, the concept of discretion was beyond my comprehension.
“Well thank God for that…dinner will be served at 19:00 please try to be patient.” I nodded. My stomach growled. My mother blanched and then gathered herself together. “When we are finished greeting the guests I’ll give you an apple. If you promise to stay out of the way.” She started to tug my arm but I remained fixed. My face began to contort. I wanted to cry. None of the guests had shown the slightest interest or consideration for me. Wasn’t this my party? Wasn’t I meant to feel special? What I felt in actuality was shame. Shame for getting in the way. Shame at the notion that my party would be ruined if I was “seen” by the guests after its official commencement. I thought for a long time with my face screwed up. I didn’t cry. My features relaxed. My mother took a breath so deep it looked like she was having a seizure.
“You won’t even know I am here.” My smile wobbled a little before falling.
“That’s a good boy…” My mom shoved me in front of the next visitor. I shook his hand as I had been taught but I had to look to my mother for the words. I had forgotten what it was I was supposed to say. My mother mouthed the words to me. I decided to ad lib. “My name is Elijah.” I leaned in, the old man stooped. “I’m not supposed to be here.” I told him matter-of-factly. The man pushed a gift into my hands. “I won’t tell anyone that I’ve seen you then.” He assured me in confidence. He greeted my mother coldly and something in his coldness warmed my heart.
I do not know when I retreated to the library but it was not conscious insubordination as so little of what I did at that age was premeditated. To be the guest of honor in a room full of strangers was a loneliness more imposing to me than my own volitional exile. I took out a leather-bound volume at random. I had my own books but I had read them all and worn them bare in repetition. The library was locked, save for when we had company, and this had been my only occasion to enter for several months. During parties I often came in secret but to come here during my own party, where my attendance was mandatory/albeit pointlessly passive, went beyond risk. Taking a seat I opened the book in the middle expecting to find only words as my father did not care for fanciful stories. What I found instead was a compartment and in that compartment there was a large, brass key in a style that was faintly familiar. I placed the key in my trouser pocket and closed the book returning it hastily to the shelf. I could not risk being discovered, to be discovered now would deprive me of a singular opportunity. I was going to have an adventure, there could be no better gift. The sound of footsteps set me blindly into motion.