Saturday, 7 August 2010

Issue seven// Nathanael Green


-----It’s been six years of my voice echoing back to me, echoing the words I’m told to repeat again and again: "Everybody’s special."
-----The cell, my world, is small, and there’s only so much room for the same thing over and over. For the most part, my only company’s my own words, and I speak sparingly. Though, the psychiatrist visits once every seven days and adds some variety to the sounds in solitary confinement. The psychiatrist says I’m here because I don’t care for everyone else like I should.
-----Perhaps that’s literally true. But I cared for Jamie. We cared for each other. More than we cared for other students, and the teachers saw that. That’s why they tried to keep us apart. Said it wasn’t right to ignore the other students, to make them feel separate and less. Said that it was wrong to pretend we were better, when we all knew that everyone was special, not just me and Jamie.
-----They tried to separate us in school, but we wouldn’t let them. I remember what we did, how Jamie’s mouth tasted and how the spaces between our legs were so different.
-----But they found out and took Jamie away. And put me here.
-----We talk about that when the psychiatrist comes once every seven days. That and what they call my "precipitating event." They say it started with a hair when I was fifteen. And I can picture it, though the psychiatrist says I shouldn’t: Everything’s white, my whole vision is white as the snow at the holidays. The white, even pattern of a jersey shirt we all wore. And that single black hair stabbed through my shirt and just stood there, like a tree growing from a field of frost.
-----Honestly, I reveled in it. That one hair stood out because no one else had one. So I was reprimanded for my egotism and demeaning disdain for everyone else. But I endured with my studies. Went to college with everyone else.
-----And it was at college where I finally learned what Jamie’s anatomy meant, though only indirectly. I learned that English once, and not too long ago, had prejudice built right into it! Our language, the very basis of human communication and reflection of life, had at one time purposefully alienated people. It had had three separate pronouns that specifically showed differences based on anatomy!
-----That’s when I learned that I’m a he.
-----This I do tell to the psychiatrist, in my hope for understanding. They don’t understand. Or they don’t show that they understand. Once, when I asked baldly what type of anatomy they had, they calmly told me that "Everyone is special, and anatomy has no bearing on that" and rose to leave.
-----Just before they passed through the doorway and beyond my sight, they looked at me and repeated: "Everybody’s special. The whole world is special."
-----I asked once what that means, to really explain it to me. They blinked twice and cleared their throat before going on about me with phrases like "malignant narcissism" and a lot of other words they might have learned at my trial. Words like "hate crimes."
-----Sometimes, I ponder the words that condemned me here and I say them out loud now and again. I absorb their words and roll them around my tongue. Each has its own flavor and texture, is unique in meaning, in shades of emotion, in usage. But now I’ve heard them so often that they’ve lost their sharpness. Like spending too much time scrubbing with cleaning solvents until you simply don’t notice the abrasive reek.
-----"Hate crimes."
-----I enjoy the way my jaw drops with the A, the M’s humming sensation through my teeth.
-----"Hate crimes."
-----The term itself is nebulous enough, and only now do I really ponder the semantics. Truth be told, I don’t believe I’m guilty of either hate or crimes. How could I harbor that type of malevolence? Haven’t we all been taught that everyone is special, the whole world is special?
-----On the day of my arraignment I tried to explain this. I stood in a gray suit in a chilly, equally gray room. I cleared my throat and held my hands behind my back and told them how a crime affects victims, and I had offended no specific person. And hate implies a malice that I certainly didn’t feel.
-----But they didn’t listen.
-----When I told this to the judge, they cited society as a whole as the victim. I remember standing, facing a glass dais awaiting the decision while my facial hair scraped at my neck. A voice amplified by a pair of disembodied speakers hidden somewhere inside the walls boomed:
-----“Our culture is based on peace, parity and equality for every human. Everybody’s special and we cannot allow someone with malignant narcissism among this society. You are sentenced to confinement for demeaning fellow humans by subversive, unapologetic expression of individual superiority and anti-social separation. Our culture is based on peace, parity and equality for every human and everybody’s special. The whole world is special.”
-----Now, six years later, I’m here and the gray of these walls is a wet, porous one where microscopic shadows dance in the valleys of cinderblocks. I had been reprimanded because I didn’t care for everyone. And now that Jamie’s gone, I don’t care for anyone. I wonder whether that’s what they really meant all along.
-----I’m still convinced that I’m innocent of any crimes, though I think now I may have grown into the hate. But it wasn’t true back then. Back then all I wanted was to be different.
I don’t say that out loud. Not to my cinderblock walls. Not to the psychiatrist who appears in a gray jacket and matching gray pants. Short brown hair, like mine, but no hair on their face. They try to get rid of my facial hair, but it keeps coming back. I like it that way; they don’t.
-----I know what they’d say if I told them I wanted to be different: "Everybody’s special. The whole world is special."
-----Occasionally, they talk to me like I’m a child. "You wouldn’t like to be hurt like that, would you? To have someone make you think that they’re better than you? That you’re separate from them? That’s not very nice."
-----The next time they come in, they appeal to my rationality: "Your actions invalidate others’ specialness. And everybody’s special. The whole world is special."
-----I look at the gray suit and brown hair and wonder. I wonder where Jamie is today. I wonder about the person with yellow hair who used to be across the hallway. I wonder what the world would be like if we could use words like "he" and "she" like we did a hundred years ago. I wonder if there were other words, now lost, that we used to separate humans from one another. I wonder at the loss of the specificity and variety to language. To life.
-----Perhaps that is the price of "peace, parity and equality" – another phrase that I say frequently, savoring each flick of the tongue.
-----Have you ever said the same thing over and over again? Say the same word a few hundred times and see what happens. Without an association, without different words to set it apart, even the most beautiful word repeated by itself becomes robbed of any meaning. A dead sound that echoes forever in a single tone with all its discarded, identical fellows.
-----When the psychiatrist says so, I repeat what they say I should say.
-----"Everybody’s special. The whole world is special."

© Nathanael Green 2010
Nathanael Green holds an MFA in Creative Writing (though he does so gingerly because it's fragile). His work has featured in New Myths and Lost Innocence: A Niteblade Anthology, and he is currently working on a novel inspired by pre-colonial Native American traditions and mythology. You can find his blog - about all the strange things in the English language your teachers never told you - here.