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By TwoFlower

Chapter 4

I'm a certified city slicker. I suppose you might say that I like the grimy splattering of concrete that is Washington. For me, there is a sense of safety in my hometown. I have a feeling that my safety lies in the very foundations of the buildings I frequent. If ever I am really sad or depressed, I sit in the basement of my house leaning against one of the supporting beams, and feel comforted. At the weekends, I become a dedicated mall rat. I suppose this is more for appearances that anything. I really enjoy movies, but I can't stand the "dude, you know, like, chilling, man". It just doesn't work for me. Standing around talking about nothing in particular, and pretending to be having the time of your life. Glorified nothing-doing. I can be in various states of vegetation, but my brain objects when I do nothing. I guess I do it because my friends do it. So it must be fun, right?

I wouldn't say that I have a best friend, as such. I have many quite good friends, but the vast implications of having a best friend indicate that I don't have one. This probably has something to do with my difficulty in getting close to anyone. I tend to have the attitude that I can't trust anybody with anything personal, because they will inevitably misuse it. I've been doing a lot of thinking since we got home. Introspection. I would say soul-searching, but I don't believe in that mumbo jumbo. I've always been a loner, secretly more than anything else. I find it hard to believe that if someone wants to get to know me, they don't have a hidden agenda or won't want to hurt me in some way when I start to open up. So instead of letting myself get hurt, I keep the outside world out. I suppose that means I have never had any friends close enough to break me out of this shell – no, more like a bunker. Sitting in my room for the past few weeks, listening to Queen through my computer's speakers and twirling a pencil idly while I should be doing homework, I've finally realized this about myself. The funny thing is that, at no point has it ever bothered me. There was a time long ago when I was secretly lonely, but now I'm happy in the knowledge that my current attitude keeps me safe from the world.

Dennis phones one Thursday evening about a month after the holiday ended, breaking my train of thought about how much I hate humanity. Dennis is one my closer friends. He calls every now and then to invite me to join his group to go out for an evening. When my mom comes in to tell me, I stop pretending to work, and obediently go to the phone. I'm in no mood to even try to be sociable.

"Hello Dennis"

"Heya Mark. What's up? You sound . . . dead."

"Just would rather be on holiday, I suppose." My voice is monotonous.

"Hehe, wouldn't we all? Listen, would you like to go to movies Saturday? Usual plan."

"Sure, why not? See you then."

"Er, ok then. . . bye, I suppose." I hang up the phone without even returning his greeting. That's probably the shortest telephone conversation I've ever had. It might do me good to get out. Then again, I might just be doing it because there is no real reason why not to.

I go back to my room, and force myself to do the set homework. I go down to eat dinner, because if I don't eat, I will die. No, my death instinct is not strong enough yet to warrant suicide. My parents ask if anything is wrong, and I assure them half-heartedly that I'm fine. Then I do the whole sleep thing. Friday passes in a haze. I hand in things that need to be handed in, diligently take notes where notes need to be taken. I assure a person ever now and then that I really am fine. There is a twinge of emotion that some people take the trouble to notice that I'm a walking zombie. Just a passing twinge. After school, I go by the public library, and take out a book called "Defense Mechanisms" by some guy who is a slavish follower of Freud. He has taken 8 of Freud's suggested defense mechanisms, and analyzed the living hell out of them. I normally like psychological thrillers, but tonight I feel it might be fun to analyze myself.

When I get home, I sit on my windowsill and watch the birds flitter in and out of the garden. The sound of traffic on the road just beyond drifts in, and various city noises beyond that counterpoint it. There is a large drooping tree opposite my window by the wall that surrounds our house. In it, a small golden bird with red wings builds a nest. He is dedicated, and hard working. He flies off every now and then, returning with a piece of grass, or a twig, or some piece of nest-making material. I've watched him before. This is the fourth time he is attempting this nest. I watched him complete it the first time, and what a nest – at least by bird standards, or so I thought. He brought Mrs. Bird to inspect it, and apparently she found something about it unacceptable, because he promptly proceeded to tear the nest down, and build it again. I feel sorry for the poor guy. He works day and night till this nest is complete; his lady finds some fault and makes him build it again. I would honestly have ditched the lady by now. The divorce rate in America suggests that humans tend to ditch their partner, instead of trying to rebuild the nest. Perhaps humans have something to learn from the ways of birds.

I must get lost in my thoughts, because it is dark before I realize how much time has passed, so I close the curtains, and page through the book. It's mostly Greek to me, but I find a useful table at the back summarizing all the defense mechanisms. I believe I am repressing something and as a result acting zombie-like. Perhaps I am repressing my need for human contact, but I surprise myself with the relaxed way in which I accept this. I start flipping through the book and reading sentences at random. I feel my eyes beginning to close. "Defense mechanisms reduce anxiety by unconsciously distorting reality . . ."

I wake up the next morning, and the book has fallen face down onto the floor. I pick it up, and go about my morning wake-up ritual. The rest of the day passes uneventfully and in the evening I get ready for the movies. I don't even bother to dress up. Just jeans and the first shirt I can lay my hands on. Grab cell phone, wallet, keys, say goodbye to parents, and head out. It's about a half an hour walk each way to the mall that we are going to, so I have managed to convince the parents that I'll be better of walking. I don't know how I managed it, actually. They have never let me walk alone at night before, so perhaps they think by letting me do this, my slump period will end. Well, if them thinking that lets me walk, I'm happy – this is the teen attitude, you see.

Walking there in twilight is a truly wonderful experience. The world bursts into color one last time before night washes it away. The night creatures are beginning to make their appearance, and one starts to listen a lot, because sight can be deceptive. Birds sing their young to sleep, in a glorious cacophony, a dog barks here and there, and life calms down a very little bit. Twilight is a changeover time, as people get ready for life after dark. They feed their babies, ask their children about school, cook dinner. I take a leisurely pace because I am quite early, and absorb all that happens around me. It's disturbingly striking how much humans are creatures of routine. Things become habit so quickly. We are so quick to imprison ourselves, and then complain about how much we hate the prison. The paradox of life.

By the time I get to my destination, I am truly not in the mood for a movie. Enormous posters of ego-inflated actors adorn the walls of the area outside the theatres. I've seen them all before, so I let my mind shut down. I go through the motions of greeting everyone, buying tickets, and quarter watching the movie. It's over comparatively quickly, since I am contemplating the meaning of life, a question that has haunted philosophers since the beginning of philosophy. Well, contemplating the meaning of my life, which at the moment doesn't seem to amount to very much. I can't bear the thought of the after movie chilling, so I make an excuse and start walking home.

Something clicks in me as I begin my stroll, like suddenly becoming aware of an inner void. A void that urgently needs to be filled. Depression wafts in my chest, and all I want to do is cry. But I can't – I just can't. It feels like some inner demon is torturing me. Depression: the emotion that demands tears, but will never allow them. Depression multiplied by loneliness. It's eating me – I want to scream, but gag. It's too much. My knees crumple, and I fall to my knees. I stretch out my arms, like begging. Begging for it to stop. It has to stop. I become aware of laughing at the edge of my consciousness. Then there are voices. My hands fall limply by my sides.

"Ahh, little pretty boy wants his mommy? Boohoo!" Mocking, threatening.

"Lets give him something to remember. Little fags get beatings in this neighborhood!" Says another. I am wrenched up to my feet, and I see a face. All I can make out is metal and hair. Then something whacks me between the shoulders, and there is a throbbing pain, but I can't collapse, because hair face is supporting me. I sense speed, and a boot kicks me between my legs. Blinding pain. So much pain that I vomit, all over metal face. A fist flies towards my face, and vision blurs. I fall to the pavement, and there are blows from both sides. I curl up into a ball. Something wet hits my face. My mind is slush; I can't move. Time. . .

Something in me cries that I must not give up, nor give in. I must fight. I start to crawl. One hand in front of the other. There is something odd about my face, a dampness in my pants. But I must keep moving. If I stop, I won't start again. There is a burning feeling inside me. Hatred. I will not go out like this. I still have things to do. I still have a life to live. I will not have that wrenched from me. Turn corner. Hand in front of hand. Knee in front of knee. I pass black booted feet, a voice through the fog.

"Stoned and drunk. Parents are so irresponsible these days". All I can think of is one hand in front of the other. One hand in front of the other. And then, I am . . . outside my house. It hits me – I've made it. I'm home. I feel a new energy; use the door handle to pull myself to my feet. Ring the doorbell. In the background I can hear music. The opening theme music for Highlander.

'Here, we are! Born to be kings! We're the princes of the universe!' The words lodge in my brain. I'm not a prince, I'm the rat under a prince's boot. My mom opens the door.

"Mark! What's happened? Honey! . . . Honey, come here at once!" I vaguely make out the figure of my dad, and then there is blackness.

Freddie Berkowits is coming to my house. His mom can't pick him up after school, so my mom offered our house as his after school babysitting service. Great. I have the pre-school bully at my house for an entire afternoon. It's not enough that he picks on me every day at school. Now he is invading my sanctuary. I have begged my mom to change her mind, but she always says I must play nice. Play nice! With that oarfish barbarian?

We get home, and my mom feeds us. We're then sent off to "go play". I could understand that with any other kid but with Freddie? We go off to my room. I plop onto the floor, and let him have his way with anything and everything. He picks up my favorite toy airplane, makes engine sounds, and waves it wildly in the air. I think they made the cliché of brawn but no brain specifically for Freddie. The plain whizzes past my desk, and the wing cracks off. I am overwhelmingly distressed inside, but I refuse to let him know that he has done something to upset me. I will not give him that satisfaction. He discards the plane and walks over to me.

He tells me to stand up. I start getting up, and he pushes my down. Again, he tells me to get up, and pushes down as I try to stand. Eventually, I am permitted to rise. He walks behind me, puts me in a painful headlock and shouts "nuggie!" while rubbing the skin off my head with his knuckles. Keeping me in the headlock, he grabs my arm, and uses it to smack my crotch. "Stop hitting yourself wettie markie." Again and again and again . . .

I wake up, and the music is still fresh in my mind.

'Here, we are! Born to be kings! We're the princes of the universe! Here, we belong! Fighting to survive, in a world with the darkest power!'

Apt. I am not a rat. I am a prince. I will no longer be trampled. 'I have the sacred blood of kings. I have no rival – no man can be my equal.' The pain sneaks up on me. I feel down tentatively between my legs. My groin is in some sort of bandage. I have no idea how long I have been unconscious, but I know I'm at home. I open my eyes slowly. It's light outside, but the house is silent. The pain is bad. I can't relax properly. I hear the phone ring. And ring. Then my mom answers it.

"Hello? Yes, but I'm not sure if he's awake. Let me go and check .No, it's alright. I think he might like talking to you. Hold on a sec." My mom sounds a bit agitated, or distressed. Footsteps. My door opens quietly.

"Mark, can you take a phone call?" Her face lights when she sees me awake.

"Mmm" followed by a groan. She puts the phone in my hand. I force myself to say hello. Who is this person that I 'might like talking to'? "Hello?"

"Mark? Mark, are you ok?" . . . I know your voice.

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