Where Did The Children Go
I am fifteen years old, and ricocheting off the clouds. I have always been the quiet one, the studious geek who sits at the front of the classroom and always has the right answer when called upon. I have always been the shy one, the little artist who says nothing and creates volumes where no one else can see. I have always been the invisible one, the short and chubby outcast among tall, slender, graceful swans. One day, he swoops down from the ranks and chooses me. Handsome, muscular, wild and rebellious, the schoolís favorite football player engulfs my hand in his for the entire world to see. He splits his time between his īboysī and me, and sometimes even allows me to join them in their īguy stuffī. He introduces me to his family and calls me after school. He has a car and drives around aimlessly with me, talking about everything and nothing that comes to mind. He takes me out and shows me off at various parties and hangout locations. I find nothing lacking in him.
Now, all the other girls envy me. They talk behind my back. "Do you know anything about her? Why didnít he choose you? Why not me? What makes her so much better than us?" Bits of this talk come back to me secondhand, and I am pleased. Now, all the guys look me over when I pass in the hall. They wonder why they hadnít noticed me first, when I transitioned from the ugly duckling to the popular girl. They think Iím desirable, and this comes back to me secondhand as well. I am even more pleased. I am proud of myself, and proud of my new image. Quite by accident, I have transcended the ranks of the oddballs and the outsiders and become what many high school kids dream about; I have become a Somebody. Whether done deliberately or by virtue of association, the effect is the same. Everyone knows me, everyone wants me, and everyone wants to be me. I drink in the attention I have lacked for so many years, and it is truly exhilarating.
I am sixteen years old, and the very Earth can be yanked from beneath my feet at a momentís notice. It is evening, and we stand at his doorway. Flakes of white paint slowly peel from the side of his house, leaving strips of bare wood like skin peeling away to reveal the ashy gray bone beneath it. Rags are thrown on cement stairs, sodden and lifeless, an indistinct eyesore of faded reds and dirt-washed white. I have made the mistake of poking fun at him in front of his friends, teasingly, adoringly, and he has taken me outside like a small child in need of a reprimand.
I make excuses to myself for him. He comes from a broken home, he doesnít know any better. His father beat him, and so he doesnít know how else to handle his anger. He needs to feel like heís in control and this is the way he makes himself feel better. I tell myself that we love each other and, because of that simple fact, we can work through our problems. What did I say before? I was proud. Too proud to ask for help, too hateful of that phrase, "I told you so," too idealistic about autonomy in my teenage years, too fearful of what he might do to me if my parents call the police, too worshipful to allow any repercussion to befall my boyfriend, and so I am quiet. Perhaps I have not changed so much from when I was fifteen.
I am seventeen years old, and praying for an end to the misery I call my life. "I waited all night for you to call me. I fell asleep with the phone beside my head. Whatís the matter with you? You need to grow up, thatís what. Youíre so messed up. You have some really big problems to deal with. You need time to straighten yourself out. Youíre the biggest piece of shit Iíve ever met." And with that, he leaves me. These words, passed to me with seriousness and deliberation, resound in my head from the moment I awake to my last tossing and turning in each and every night. Itís all my fault and I need to fix my broken, dysfunctional self in order to regain the object of my devotion. I have scrutinized myself so closely, nitpicked at every flaw in myself and magnified it to heroic proportions, beaten myself into the failure that he must see me as being. It does nothing but make me feel worse, but I think that I only deserve to feel this way, and that he surely suffers because of me as well.
I am still seventeen. Two weeks have passed, and I have thoroughly convinced myself his words are true, and that I am the only one to blame. I have been at a party and drinking heavily. He shows up with a new girl, the third or fourth attempt to literally replace me in at least physical appearance if nothing else. I know I hate her from the moment I lay eyes upon her. Cooing, subservient, ditzy and cute, she hangs onto his arm and laughs gaily at everything he says. I think I hate him. He flaunts her deliberately from the moment he notices me. To what end? Does he want me to become jealous, to show him that I still care? From these notions comes the idea that maybe Iíve been wrong. Maybe heís the one at fault, heís the one who needs me, and not the reverse. Maybe, in fact, thereís absolutely nothing wrong with me. I stare him down for most of the night, and at last he comes to me.
He comes to me, handsome and powerful and reeking of desire and I almost reach out for him. But I remember the anger, the loneliness, the confusion and deceit. My hand falls back to my side. I gather myself, and in a pathetic moment of inspiration and beer-inspired bravery, I lay it all out for him. I tell him that I no longer need him, and that it is he, and not I, who has the serious problems, who needs to sort himself out, who needs to grow the F up. Unexpectedly, his hand shoots out, and before I realize exactly what has happened, I have been thrown into the side of my car and a huge bruise is forming on the side of my face.
He towers over me, snarling. His rage is impressive; I knew this before, but now I can almost see him puffing up and expanding to blot out the stars and the sky, almost see his teeth grow huge and razor-sharp like fangs, almost see the steam pluming from between his ears like a horrible caricature of a vaguely human-like demon. I cannot remember exactly what was said, but I know it left me feeling worse than I had ever thought him capable of. I shrink, smaller and smaller, my identity, my substance, the little value I had left for myself, they all depart like rats from a sinking ship. My bravery leaves me too, and the only thing remaining is my conviction, stronger than ever before, that whatever unkindness he can heap upon me will only be a token amount of the pain that I deserve to feel.
In hindsight, I think his venomous words last less than five minutes, but time seems to come to a standstill as he pours his insults and his loathsome spite upon me. I stand there, propped against my car, and refusing to meet his eyes, I listlessly accept what he has to give to me. Eventually, he grows tired of his ranting, or is satisfied because of it, perhaps. He leaves me in the dark; to become invisible again as worthless, useless, broken things deserve to be.
My grief, it feels, is more than I can handle. Numb, enveloped in self-loathing, I get into my car. My back throbs from being thrown. My head pulses in great silent heaving waves. I turn out into the street and floor it. As I accelerate, my eyes sweep back and forth, looking for what I want, what I need to make the pain go away. I find it, and point the car in its direction. Iím doing about 50 on a back road with no seatbelt, tears on my cheeks and pain in my heart. The alcohol runs fast and hot in my blood, gives me courage. I close my eyes and wait for the crash.