Just Me

A Short Story

Sitting in a crowded bus terminal, surrounded by chaos as people live their lives all around me. I'm headed to a job I hate in an existence that weighs on me like a boat anchor that I'm forced to carry everywhere I go. It's just me as it always is now.  The backpack I wear is making my left shoulder ache. It's a familiar ache, from so many years of tolerating its persistent throbbing, age making it less tolerable; as it was when it first had been injured.

"Keep it up and I'll give you something to cry about!" My father yelled as he dragged me up the stairs. His hand clamped on my left forearm, twisting as he pulled me along, forcing me to follow him up the stairs sideways and on my toes. I tripped. I remember trying to brace myself but he was going faster than my little legs could carry me. I heard and felt a pop when he jerked to make me move faster. I remember the instant, searing pain as it shot through my shoulder. It traveled through me like a flame spreads across a puddle of gasoline when met with a lit match. I screamed, a sound I don't remember ever having made before or after that day. One that in my memory sounded like it came from someone or somewhere else. It was a pain like none other he had ever inflicted before. He wouldn't stop. He pulled me harder and faster up those last few stairs. He yelled at me for being too loud, I remember the drunken slur as he yelled at me to stop being such a baby. He even slammed me into the doorway on the way into my bedroom, where he would use that same arm to throw me into the corner next to my bed. I hit hard, first the wall face first and then the floor on the shoulder that had that fire in it, one more sharp pain, now feeling like someone was cutting into the joint with a dull knife. He continued to yell at me, I couldn't hear his words anymore. If it wasn't for the pain, this could have been a movie I once watched with the sound turned down. The pain and fear then, and the old complaint that still makes itself known over 40 years later never letting me forget. It demands recognition almost daily and has for what feels like forever.

I'm in a room with people laughing and smiling. Children with their parents, couples visiting the big city, where am I in the scheme of all that surrounds? In my head, listening to a song from a past that I had found and lost that made me feel happy and wanted and accepted. My past haunts, and ruins things in the present. A good day has me busy enough to not hate who I am. Hate aimed at a world that seems hell-bent on punishing me for the things I have done, for the things I did not do and most of all, for ever having the hope to find what all of these people seem to have behind the smiles and laughter. The hugs and simple closeness of friends or loved ones.

It makes me think that I need to try to be happy, at least appear so. An act, a performance that I thought was convincing to all but a select few, being proven wrong once in a great while. My angry shoulder reminding me that if I shed a tear to display how I feel, the pain will give me 'something to cry about' over and over again… until I close my eyes for the last time; as I had wished for that day, so long ago. Curled up in a ball on the floor until the next morning. When a new day would start that could end the same way if I'm not careful enough. I still remember clearly the plea I whispered into the darkness of the room that night as the daylight stopped filtering into the room:

Not even 5 years old, just about to start school… "Don't let tomorrow come, I don't want this anymore. Please let it end..."

Yet, here I am. Sitting in this crowded bus terminal. I drop the strap of my backpack off my shoulder to hopefully lessen the aching. I push the thoughts of the past down as I stand up and navigate through the sea of people to the sidewalk. What do these people see when they look at me? Just another face in a sea of faces. Just what I want them to see. Don't notice me. Don't ask about me. Don't talk to me. I don't feel like acting right now. A woman drops her wallet as her kid runs off in the other direction. She rushes to grab her child and I smile, that same old smile I've always used when I hurt so no one can see the pain. I pick up her wallet and hand it to her. The tired smile she pays me reminds me that behind that expression was a little girl. I wonder what she was like. Does that little girl remind her who she's supposed to be? Has she been forgotten or does she make herself be known? Just like every other adult I see, all so serious. All being someone they grew into. How many others simply just don't feel like they have changed inside. That the world is moving on and leaving them behind. I think of my family, most of whom are now passed away. I pretend they are still watching out but inside, the child cries again, missing the people he needed and never wanted to let go of. He cries at lost opportunities to prove that he cared but lost touch. He cries at having a father who seemed to hate him and never really knowing what it was other than being born that he did wrong.

Out on the sidewalk, I take a deep breath. I clench my jaw as I pull the strap back up on to that sore shoulder. Off to pretend to be that man I see in the mirror every morning. All the while, inside it's still... just me.