Friday, November 16, 2007

Pushed (To the Periphery)

The start of every day is eerily similar to the last.

My alarm goes off with grand intentions, and I hit the snooze every 9 minutes for an hour or so until I have no choice but to crawl out of bed and let the day begin.

And yet: in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that in terms of restful sleep... there's hardly any difference between one day and the last.

What varies, though, is the "or so" referenced above. The amount of time I snooze, which thus determines how quickly I need to scramble to get ready for work... and thus the hour at which I hop into my car and begin my commute.

And this, in turn, can result in a small but significant change in the rest of my day.

You see, though my morning schedule varies as much as 40 minutes on any given day, the world around me seems to keep pace with a far more reliable clock.

If I leave on time, my neighborhood is all but silent. If I leave a few minutes late, parents are dropping off children at a nearby school, their vehicles sometimes blocking me in. After that, a group of kids have gathered outside of school, waiting for a bus to arrive and take them elsewhere.

And if I leave later than that, a guy in an overcoat sometimes nods a hello as he rounds the corner and makes his way to the train (or so I imagine his path leads).

The people out walking their dogs change. The joggers change, everyone keeping rhythm to a clock that seems somehow to defy me.

And so begins my day.

But there's this boy.

There's this boy, and whenever I see him my day belongs to someone else — to him — and I fear that he may never see.
The first time I saw him, he was walking down the sidewalk alone, pale white legs scrawny in spite of the overstuffed book bag that had him hunched at the shoulders.

He kept his eyes down; whether because of the world weighing on his mind — or the pounds of books in his pack — I couldn't immediately determine.

In any event, he kept walking on to school, eyes down. Shoulders hunched. And always on his face there was that indiscernible look of a child going to a place they'd rather not.

He approached the swarm of classmates that had beat him to school. They talked to each other over and around him, his arrival met with no "hello's" or "how are you's."

No one even looked at him.
I've seen him a few times since then, and always it's the same thing: whether I see him approaching school, or he's already there amongst them, or he's just walking up...

It's the same overstuffed backpack. The same gait. And always — always! — that same, heartbreaking look upon his face.
Today, I am sorry to report, was no different.

Except for this:

A mountain of leaves had been swept into a pile along the sidewalk, no doubt in preparation for the crews making their rounds around the city. Kids were laughing and kicking at the pile, imitating the act of jumping into them. Leaves were breaking loose from the pile, scattering despite some laborers hard work.

And there, feet upon feet away from his classmates, was the boy.

Standing in the street, between two parked cars. His back turned to the excitement, his face tilted up just enough for me to realize, for the first time, that he has a faint hint of freckles.

He's waiting for the day to be over, I thought. He's waiting for it to be over, and it hasn't even begun.

He scarcely moved as cars buzzed past. Scarcely moved and yet: it was much to my relief that he didn't. I was half-afraid he'd take one step forward — whether by intention or oversight — whenever a vehicle approached.
He's a clean kid with simple (but otherwise good) looks. A little on the thin side, but not unhealthily so. And though his clothes aren't exactly the cutting edge of fashion, it's easy enough to discern that someone at home is taking decent care of him.

But why, then, does no one see him? Why is his backpack so full, when the others scarcely have a notebook to their name? And why, for the love of God, does no one talk to him?

I wonder if his parents talk to him. I wonder if his teachers talk to him. And I wonder what's better: endless taunting by schoolyard bullies, or finding yourself surrounded by names and faces and voices that refuse — always — to acknowledge you exist.
Despite my hermetic and anti-social tendencies (coupled with my class clown persona), I was lucky enough to always have friends. To never really be the subject of scarring ridicule (siblings notwithstanding), even as I shrunk away from the crowd and retreated to my books.

And yet: whenever I see this boy, I cannot help but think it should come as no surprise that I most identify with him.

That of the hoards of kids that regularly gather there, his is the only face I remember.


disgruntled world citizen said...

how is it possible that your writing gets better? this was wonderful. though, i was hoping you were going to tell us that he kicked the leaves about.

Winter said...

I remember being a small blonde headed girl with lots of friends.

I always wondered about the kid in the back of the class.

I always wondered about the one that sat alone at lunch.

Yet I still went home and escaped in a book.

Knowing full well, there wasn't a damn thing different between them and I.

Wonderful post.

M@ said...

I thought this was going to be about some lame crush you had on a "boy" but I was pleasantly surprised.

I was/am that boy/man during different periods of the circle of my life. In kindergarten, I cried all day the first day. I then tried to make friends w/ a classmate by following him around.

"There's your friend."

"No, he's not my friend."

Unacademic Advisor said...

Very moving, as usual. But I can't help but wonder if you have it all wrong. Maybe this kid carries such a large pack because he has all sorts of things in there that make his life complete, things important to him, but perhaps insignificant to you or me. (And after working as a crossing guard for over a month, I can tell you that many kids carry backpacks much too large for their size and responsibilities.) Perhaps he is not as isolated and alone as you think, even if he doesn't have any friends. Besides being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely... at least, not to everyone. Maybe this boy is happy... just not during his walk to school or not in a way that would show to a stranger on the street. Do people who see you on the street really have any idea of who you are? Maybe the boy has a whole world of joy that only he knows about. And then again, maybe he does have friends, dozens of them. Maybe the frolicking kids outside the school are in a lower grade than his, a grade beneath his notice, and all of his friends are waiting inside to greet him enthusiastically. It's quite possible that you are the one who isn't seeing this kid; you are seeing yourself and imagining it is him.

I don't mean to be critical. I just want to inject a note of positivity that is just as likely as the scenario you have scripted for him.

The writing is beautiful, nonetheless.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

DWC - I certainly wish he had.

Michael K said...

I was a kid that was alone all the time. Don't feel sorry for him. If he is anything like me, he chooses to be invisible. He enjoys staring off and thinking. He is his own person.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Winter - Thank you... glad you enjoyed. Honestly, I've never figured out why I WASN'T the outcast. I wore hand-me-downs, bought new clothes almost exclusively at stores ending in "Mart," and was a bookworm.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Matt - That may be the most endearing thing I've ever seen you type. Are there scars, would you say?

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

UnAd - Here's the thing: I never said he was lonely, or that his life was incomplete. Merely described how removed he was from the other kids, and how he clearly didn't want to be there. I wonder what's in his bag. And I wonder if people talk to him elsewhere. And I like to think that somewhere in his day he's the life of the party.

But you're spot-on in proposing that maybe rather than see *him*, I see myself and imagine it is him. After all, I know nothing about him aside from what I've observed a few mornings.

But that does preclude him being happy elsewhere. After all: I was a recluse with an overstuffed backpack. Both my mind and my feet would wander away from crowds, even when my friends were among them.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Michael - I was much the same way. I just hope this kid chooses to be alone, rather than have alone-ness thrust upon him.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

UnAd - Oppps. I meant to say, that does NOT preclude...

XOXO said...

you were a nerd in hand-me-downs. Weren't we all? that my skirt? ;)

Meh said...

Maybe is he is like you and I, always carrying a bag prepared for everything and anything. :)

I still feel like the outsider, even in some of my closest relationships-- sometimes it's of my own choosing, but often it's because I keep too much to myself and can't open up.

radialrelish said...

I really enjoyed this post. You threw me for a loop (a couple moments of suspense), and I forgot that I was reading anything at all.

Anonymous said...

learned a lot