by N. God Savage
I crave a concept that could capture you all, a net you would all fall under. A single compartment of my mind into which each and every one of you would fit.
You began with me when my hair was rough and blond, and I had not yet grown into my teeth. In old photos I am an awkward rodent, crowned with a mop of chlorinated straw. You were the teachers who saw maths in me, who impressed upon me that the worth of my mind lay in its perchings and not its flights. You taught me to draw lines between things, and convinced me that the lines meant something.
You were my parents – whispering worriers, a grave analysis in the kitchen-clinic. The sterile white cabinets, the dental glare of the overhead spots. Slumped listlessly over the kitchen table, I was the eternal subject of your home-brewed psychology. I wish I had been more active as a child – football, fighting, rude mischief – if only to have thrown you off the scent.
You were the classmates who mocked my eternal crushes – on Hazel C, Lisa B, Orlaith S. While you were skidding through cold mud and grazing knees on red brick, I was pining dejectedly at the dusty edges of the playground – The Boy of Feeling – a pathetic victim of my riotous hormones, disgusting even to myself. One day in biology I accidentally called the teacher “Mum,” and you never forgave me for that.
When I left school I moved, from Belfast to New York. I swapped potato bread for bagels, bangers for dogs, “Taig or Prod?” for “Yankees or Mets?” But you, I discovered, are universal. You were already there, waiting for me. You were the taxi drivers who looked askew at me, eyeing the rear-view mirror as if every opinion I expressed was treasonable. You were the landlords who would not lease to me, because my application form read “Occupation: n/a,” and the fact that I was polite and clean and gave you my word on the rent meant nothing. You were the passers-by who scowled at me, for reasons I could never fully understand.
Your meagre gestures have been chisels, chipping away at the stubborn grotesqueness of my form. Your words, condescending tuts, flicked glances on crowded subway platforms – in themselves so frail and slight – have combined to produce a biting solvent. You have flooded me with this harsh liquid and burned away my crude eruptions to leave smooth marble. I am now a uniform piece of your great social jigsaw. It’s not that I have taken your criticisms on board, but rather that you have overwhelmed my vessel with your numbers, stormed my flanks, invaded me, commandeered me.
I am bald now, forty, my mouth is in proportion to my teeth and my eyes have acquired a natural squint. I can still remember the reflected face of my youth, and I am ashamed that the character it wore bled no deeper than the skin. I am married, and my wife and I watch reruns of mediocre sitcoms together. We stare at each other across the surgical expanse of the kitchen table. Our marriage is a permanent state of mutual incomprehension. I often dream about Hazel C, about her waist-length silver-blond mane. I remember the day she spoke to me, to tell me she was having it cut off. That was the only
time she ever spoke to me.
I suppose I have found a single concept that can capture you after all: you are the people who broke me.
I am an accountant now. I hope that satisfies you.