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There were tunnels in the walls, secret places. He knew about them, but no one else suspected. They should have. A house that old, there had to be all kinds of secrets. He wasn’t giving this one away. The tunnels were the only safe place he knew of. Because, young or not, he knew that they had brought something to this house that didn’t belong. It would become one of the many secrets. A black, ugly secret that no one would ever know about. Of course he countered their secrets by guarding his own secrets. His escape routes.
It wasn’t just the tunnels.
He would lay in bed at night and hold his breath. He got really good at it. He could hold his breath until spots started to appear. Until his fingers tingled. Then, he would exhale and breathe fresh oxygen and feel the pound of it in his head. It never lasted long. But he didn’t expect that. If anything, life had taught him that nothing ever lasts that long, good or bad.
When he was in the tunnels, he could hear them yelling. Mostly the old man. They shouted his name and cursed him and shared their theories … he was in the yard, he was hiding in one of the closets. He was a bad kid. It always came back to that. But soon enough, they would shift their focus to some other subtle misery. They would grab onto something bigger than he was. He was the enemy, that was clear. It was also clear that he was only one of many foes.
He didn’t expect redemption in the walls. Or in the oxygen deprivation. He did not understand the reasons behind his stunts – he thought he was brave; he did not realize that he was looking for more ways to hurt himself. How aware can you really be at five years old? He did what he had to do. And he never told them when he was hurt, unless it was obvious. Then, they hurt him more, but he always took his punishment quietly. This made it worse for him – they wanted tears, but it was so important; he felt it in the very core of his being: never let them see your pain.
He grew up like a circus elephant who has spent too many years under the control of a stern, sadistic ringmaster. He was sullen. He was quiet. He was withdrawn. Unless he was provoked. When he was provoked, he crushed big tops and spread the pain around, sharing it with everyone he could. The pain was his, but he was not selfish. He had learned much in the tunnels. In the thump of his brain cells dying.
And it worked. In a fashion.
You would think that the therapy helped. It did explain things. But it didn’t help. It made him even sadder. It took away the sweet righteousness of the pain. So, he found tunnels that were even darker. Tunnels that no sane man would enter. And he made those tunnels his. He reveled in his dark agony.
He stopped the therapy. Sure, it helped, the nice lady even said it was helping, but it was also changing him. It was making him into something other than the careful construction he had spent his life inventing.
You can see him if you look. He sits, quietly, unassuming. Some people find him unnerving. Some people call him brave. Some think he’s funny. And he thinks, “I’ll be whatever I have to be to get you the fuck away from me ASAP.”
And then he runs for his secret darkness. Just like he was trained to do.
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