All Apologies

Page 5 of 9

Chris didn't have that power. Chris was too tall, too heavy, too unusual to just vanish. It was a cruel joke of genetics that had him built like a pear standing on toothpicks -- that Southern State Trooper endotype of a powerful body stuck atop spindly little legs. At ten years old (maybe nine, maybe eleven), he was already as tall as Miss Walters, who was supposed to be watching us all on the playground after lunch but was always out in the parking lot, sitting in her car, listening to books on tape and chain-smoking her skinny little cigarettes. And he was strong -- plenty strong enough to have defended himself against any and all comers in the schoolyard -- but wouldn't because he didn't have it in him. His parents were some sort of religious fundamentalists who believed that the devil crept into a boy through a route paved in television shows and popular music, so they did their best to isolate Chris from all the dangers of this strange world. No TV, no modern music, no comics or books that might be considered corrupting. He'd told me once that at the beginning of every school year, his father would go through his new textbooks and rip out any pages that he thought might be damaging to a growing boy. And I knew that in his room (he lived just two short blocks away from me), he slept under a giant quilt stitched with a graphic rendition of Jesus in his final agonies. He was a boy raised to appreciate suffering on a grand scale, so the thought of just picking up one of his tormentors and throwing them all the way to the moon never occurred to him.

He probably could've done it, too. Or at least I thought so at the time.

One time in the gym, I saw him pick up a bag of baseball equipment that must've weighed fifty pounds, lift it over his head, and toss it into the storeroom like it was stuffed with cotton balls.

But he would never do that to a person, no matter how many times I told him he should. He would never do anything when the more popular kids, the slightly less popular kids, the girls, the bullies, whoever, would start in on him. He would stand there, his head down, his cheeks burning, his eyes fluttering almost closed, and just take it. Whatever they were doing to him, whatever they were saying, he would just stand there -- one big lump of nerd on two popsicle sticks, shaking and waiting for the worst of it to be over.

As I peeked over the edge of the embankment and saw Chris, I knew I should do something. What, I had no idea. Chris was my friend -- not so much because I wanted him to be my friend, but because once, when Chris's mother came over to my house, I remember hearing her on the front steps telling my mother how Chris was so lucky to have someone like me. "Tim," she'd said, "is my little Chris's only friend."

So it was duty and responsibility and something a lot darker than friendship that made me feel like I should do something, anything, to help Chris, but the truth of it was, I hated Chris. For never standing up for himself, for his freaky strength and odd parents, for seemingly always being in the center of some roiling knot of playground drama with him cast as willing victim and everyone else just waiting to see who would hit him first. I hated him for what his mother had said to my mother and for making me feel like I was responsible for the bad things that happened to him -- like I, the 98-pound weakling with the geeky plaid shirts and the bookbag so big that it'd given me a permanent slouch -- was supposed to be able step in and, what? Rescue him?

I watched as the circle closed in around Chris. I listened as the loudest of the boys yelled at him to give up the Walkman he was carrying.

The Walkman, that was a new thing for Chris. His parents had given it to him for his birthday, which was totally unlike them, but he'd told me the only tape he was allowed to play in it was a collection of theme songs from old TV shows that he'd never seen. He'd come over to my house the night after his birthday wearing the headphones on his head and singing along to the theme from Green Acres. He was so proud of it, and wanted to know if I had anything he could listen to when his parents weren't around. He didn't even know what kind of music to ask for.

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Lydia Nibley

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