This is only happening because of what we did. I regret it, but not because of the consequences. I regret it because I could have been good; I should have been kind. I think we deserve this.
Think of it like Carrie — you remember that movie? Except not. Not at all. We weren’t the popular kids trying to humiliate Gilbert in front of everybody. What we were doing was a coping mechanism — everyone does it, but that’s never made it okay. Why things ended up working out differently for us than the way they work out for everyone else, I don’t really know. We never expected things to go the way they did, and I never expected to feel this way about it. I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it.
Gilbert was a tragedy. Tragically unpopular, tragically acne-scarred and tragically named. It was almost like his parents went out of their way to ensure he’d be an outcast. You can tell yourself that, if you think it justifies it. Convince yourself that when they make it so easy to be cruel, it’s rude not to oblige. You can tell yourself they deserve it, but what they deserve is kindness and you’ll figure that bit out, except it happens a day late. High school is Darwinism is high school is Darwinism ad nauseam; we’ve convinced ourselves that popularity is all about kill or be killed. That’s a fallacy. It isn’t real. The popular football jock, he thinks he’s going to the NFL. He thinks he’s going to be rich and famous. He doesn’t know it yet, but he isn’t going anywhere. Don’t let the fact that he scored four touchdowns in a single game distract you: he’s going to grow up to manage a gas station or become a clerk in a women’s shoe store — not the glamourous bullshit his ego’s been feeding him. Popularity doesn’t matter after high school. Popularity doesn’t matter if you’re dead. Just ask Kevin or Richie — except you can’t. Not anymore.
The worst part is, we all bought into it, me, Kevin and Richie. We weren’t popular. We weren’t going to become popular because we did it; we were just deflecting some of our own torment onto a kid that was weaker than we were because he was an easy target. We could have just kept our heads down and ignored dickbags like Deen and his brownnose, buttfuck goons … but transference was easier than the alternative…
The first law of thermodynamics says that matter cannot be created or destroyed, it simply changes form. We learned it in physics. It applies to things other than matter too, when you think about it.
The worst part was, even though the logic of it checked out, it didn’t make the three of us carry any smaller targets. The Deensquad would always find us and make life hell. We could have made a morose painting or wrote depressing poetry into journals or even talked to someone about it, but transmuting the negativity in that way was making productive use of it, so why bother? It couldn’t be destroyed so instead of harnessing it, we passed it along, gave it to Gilbert. Don’t pretend like you never did anything like it; you’re no better than me. If anything, we’re all the same. It doesn’t matter anymore; I figured it all out too late.
The easiest targets are always the insecure ones. The introverted kids with a lot of flaws. I could make a list of Gilbert’s but it wouldn’t be as long as the one that I try to keep hidden of my own … he was a quiet kid; buck-toothed and overweight and smelled like cat piss … his parents were poor. He wore the same three outfits over and over until they thinned and began to unravel entirely. Richie was the one who pointed that out. He saw the loose thread on Gilbert’s shirt. Six inches of loose stitching just beneath the right arm of the long-sleeved shirt, the one he always wore. The one with the horizontal stripes. He noticed it a week ago when Gilbert raised his hand in class. That’s when Kevin made the plan — it was the end of the day and not enough of the other kids would see. We had to be seen. We just waited until he wore the shirt again. Wednesday.
We rushed Gilbert in the hall. He walked alone with quick, quiet steps; his arms laden with books. I knocked them out of his hands. That was my job in this. He looked at me with eyes full of “whys?” When he leant down to pick them up Richie grabbed his arms high over his head. Kevin yanked the thread until it opened up a hole in the armpit of the shirt. He stuck his finger in the hole and pulled. It only took a moment. I’ll never forget the way time seemed to stretch as the hole did as Gilbert stared up at us; struggling to comprehend our motives. Disappointed, sad shock commingled with my grinning reflection in the shadow that fell across his eyes. I watched it happen with eager excitement; the transference. Deen gave us the negativity, and we didn’t deserve it, so we payed it backwards. As Kevin pulled Gilbert’s shirt apart, we gave it away again.
I began to laugh; I remember it like a bad dream, that laughter — my laughter.
Gilbert tried desperately to cover himself, to hold it together — tried to keep it from happening — but the tattered pieces of his shirt fell away revealing Gilbert’s doughy shame. “Look!” I said.
My laughter echoes still in the dark places of my mind. Places that should be quiet. Places where I’ve been trying to shut it away. But every time I remember the sound of it, it grows louder and more cruel. “Gilbert has moobs!” The words echo forever and the laughter plays on loop like a sitcom.
We made Gilbert cry and it only took a moment. Just a moment and we’d ruined him. I understand that now. I wish that we hadn’t done it at all, but not so much because of the consequences we faced. I realize, horribly, that we’d reduced a person to his smaller parts … to the molecules … and scattered them to the wind.
The second law of thermodynamics says that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. We gave Gilbert the hate and the hate tore him apart. Once something flies apart, that thing is done and it can’t be undone. I wish that wasn’t true.
We found out what happened to him the next day. What we did. You could try to pin it on Deen and the Buttfucks, or Deen’s alcoholic dad, or his alcoholic dad’s alcoholic dad, but that’s just more deflection.
We did this.
We transferred that to him we could try to pass the blame all we wanted, but it made no difference. Every action has an equal and opposing reaction and the reaction to ours left a lonely kid dead.
We heard the rumors about how he killed himself, downing a nearly full bottle of his mother’s Xanax while his parents slept in the next room. I didn’t ask whether it was true. Somebody said there was a note in sloppy handwriting. Somebody said it was completely illegible at the end. They said it started out alright, and slowly devolved, probably as he drifted off. By the end, the only thing they could make sense of in the whole thing were the last two words: “Sweet dreams.”
I didn’t ask whether that was true either.
There are a lot of things I didn’t ask. I only felt the guilt of destroying him permanently. I didn’t hear anything anyone said to me at school on Thursday. I was too busy remembering geometry and physics and equations and waiting for my body to collapse into oblivion; waiting to fold into myself until there was only an event horizon remaining; a pinhole where I should have had a heart, growing ever smaller into nothingness, but never quite becoming that. A human asymptote.
The third law of thermodynamics says something about the temperature of closed systems and equilibrium, but I can’t remember what it means. It’s irrelevant, because the entropy isn’t gone. Everything is blurry. Everything is in constant motion; moving away. I’m too tired and afraid of what will happen next. I can only focus on one bit of information at a time, and for some reason only one thing sticks in my mind. I read somewhere that Saint Catherine of Siena says “the devil never sleeps” and tonight that’s the only knowledge that stays no matter where else I try to focus.
The devil never sleeps and he sees everything: sees alcoholism make bullies make me and Richie and Kevin make Gilbert make the devil real.
I told my mom I was sick and stayed home from school on Friday. It wasn’t a lie. I was disgusted by my part in this, to the point that my stomach was in knots. I spent the morning hovering over the toilet, emptying myself of everything but the guilt I felt. You couldn’t convince me that there wasn’t blood on my hands.
Richie called me that afternoon after school. He said Kevin looked like a ghost. He said his eyes were dark circles, he kept nodding off in class and waking up screaming. They sent him to the nurse, who sent him home. Richie said that Kevin was losing it. He kept talking about a dream.
Richie told me his eyes looked like glass, wide and dark with a distant vacancy reflecting within. Richie said Kevin was looking right through him.
“He was there,” Kevin said, “only it wasn’t him at all…it looked like Gilbert, but it wasn’t. It was something else … something much worse … and it was real.”
“He was completely naked, covering his tits like he did,” Kevin told Richie who in turn told me, “but he was chasing me instead of cowering. His eyes were bright balls of red light and all of his teeth were razorblades. Actual razorblades. He wanted to punish me.”
Apparently Kevin said he was afraid to sleep the night before because he knew something bad was going to happen if Gilbert ever caught up. Every time he fell asleep, the dream began again where it left off. Apparently the exhaustion had been impossible to avoid as the day went on.
Kevin was gone first because Kevin pulled the thread. They found him dead on Saturday morning, he was clutching one of Gilbert’s new teeth in his hand. A razorblade he’d used to saw open several veins and leave his sheets bloodlogged, soaked and sticky.
Richie told me he’d begun having the same dreams the night before and the next night I began to have them as well.
I’m in an empty place. There’s no light and as I run, I can hear Gilbert’s uncoordinated footfalls slapping the darkened ground behind me. His eyes are glowing with red revenge and as he gnashes his razored teeth, rubies spill out from his lips. The blood from them cascades down his chin as he closes in on me. I can feel his fingers rake across my flank like sharpened skewers as he grabs me and I awake.
A set of marks, red and irritated, remained on my side. Four long lines that traced their way to my back, puffy and raw. I hvaen’t slept since.
They found Richie dead this morning, in the same apparent state as Kevin. My two best friends since elementary school, dead because the darkness we’d passed along had been passed right back. My mom asked me if I knew why they’d both done it; why they’d killed themselves. But I knew they hadn’t. I knew it was Gilbert. I couldn’t bear to lie, so I simply didn’t reply. I just stared right through her in that thousand yard way and hoped to disappear from the fear and the shame.
I don’t want to have those dreams. I’ve been drinking energy drinks all day. I took everything I’d been saving from my allowance and spent it all on Zappy Brand caffeine pills and as many RedBulls as I could get, but $67 worth won’t be enuogh to keep my eyelids from falling forever. I started writing this thinking it might atone for the mistake. I started writing this to keep myself awake.
Actually, I know I said it was like Carrie, but it isn’t. It’s more like Nightmare on Elm Street — you remember that one, right? Only not. Not at all. In this scenario, the kids — us — we deserved what we’d get. It’s funny how matter is neither created nor destroyed but simply changes as you exchange it.
Apparently they fuond the same type of note at both of the scenes, mostly illegible and only two words by the end that anyone could raed. Word travels fast. I don’t know how or why. The devil never sleeps and I’m the gleam in his eye. The shadows may whisper their lullabies but I refsue to become praying prey and die. I should be okay because I haven’t seen myself write anything illegible yet, and taht’s a good sign.
Eveyrthing shuold be alright as long as I stay awake, but I dno’t think I can remian in this state indefimetely. I think I can feel evrey part of me vibtrating and oscilltanig aruond and aruond in cirlces. The entorpy is waht I need to aviod thniking abuot … or perhpas I shuold accpet it: embarce it. Dno’t we desreve tihs atfer all? I’m jsut arfaid to do taht bceause of waht taht maens. I thnik I shuold be alirght as lnog as I aviod akcnoewledginh the shaodws at the croners of the lghit amd avdoi the temptaition to tpye the wrods: ‘sweet dreams.’