He was born with a gimp-leg, toes all twisted and tucked under, mangled. It was some stage of development that must not have run its course while he was incubated in the womb. He had his father's lungs and his mother's eyes, and an acquired taste for the cigarettes that would lead him to that fresh plot in the ground.
He loved to smile with those jagged unkempt teeth; they were stained yellow, that pasty high school classroom color. They would laugh at him behind his back as he walked down the hall, mimic his jerky movements and kick the legs out from under him just to hear the thud when he'd hit the ground. His name was Terry, the full name I can't be sure of because I didn't know him, only knew him as just another figure in the halls.
I'd watch him, sometimes from afar, and study his movements. The steps he took were calculated and precise. He wouldn't walk in the grass or out on dirt because the ground there wasn't as sure as pavement. When he'd move he bobbed like a top on water, that slow pelican shuffle common in birds scattered on the ground, all hip-hopping across. I'd see him, waiting outside the school for his mother to pick him up, smoking a cigarette like he knew it was killing him, but just didn't care. I wish I'd of talked to him and found out his name so I could put a label on the memory of his face and burn it into my mind so that it wouldn't fade.
When I sleep he's there, making that same way down the hall, limping and gimping and ignoring the laughter like he could control the volume. He always moved with a purpose, so sure about every single movement he made. I never seem to know what I'm doing, or where I'm going, a ship on the sea that's just manipulated by it. Terry knew.
After a while I didn't see him anymore, only read about him in the local paper or heard about him from whispers in the hall; how they fed him pills and hooked him up to machines that would crumple his body like it was a bad story on old paper. How they made promises to him, and then took away his legs. Terry with no last name, hooked up to a machine that breathed life to his soul, rotting away somewhere in a building with cold tile floors, all alone. I wondered if he was still as sure lying in that bed and waiting for it, as he was when I'd see him passing through the halls with the voices coming up from behind, laughing and calling him name. Do those voices haunt you in the night? Do they sit outside your window tapping their little fingers on the glass? I tried to imagine what it'd be like to crawl under that skin and feel the texture, all those tiny blue veins running just under the surface, mapping out the blue print to his demise. He was given life, and like a cruel joke it was lent with stipulation.
Someone decided it might be a good idea to stick a camera in his face and interview him before he expired, to show all of us that we weren't as immortal as we'd like to think. They herded us into the auditorium and shut the doors and the lights, and we watched. He didn't even look human, just the shell of a boy whose soul escaped him some time ago. He sat in that hospital bed packed with pillows, packed for shipment, and he cried. The man behind the camera kept begging him to say something meaningful and profound, something that would pierce the hearts of all those watching and lend a terrific credit to the art for communicating that emotion.
Terry with no last name, oh god, what does it feel like
to be you? We watched him cry, for four, unbroken,
unforgettable minutes. He wasn't sure or precise, he wasn't
holding his head up or moving with a purpose, he was just as
scared as the rest of us. He didn't have the answer and he
didn't know why, he just knew that it was happening and
there was nothing he could do but let it happen and hope it
didn't hurt too much. We all just stared like we could see
through him, or closed our eyes and listened to the whimpers
of that lame dog under it's last breath, when all you can do is
watch it fade and rub it's head as looks back to you for some
piece of help. And for a moment I could swear he looked at
me, right at me, like he knew me, and I just stared back. His
lips trembled and he looked so blue, bluer than the summers
of my youth. I met Terry on a screen, projected three weeks
after he'd died. He looked at me and I at him, and all of a
sudden all of this didn't matter anymore.
© 2001 Ian Taylor, all rights reserved
appears here by permission