It should be obvious from the tags and such, but this is a work of fiction. Just putting that out there so you don’t think I’m insane. (Feel free to think that for other reasons.)
If you could have a super power? What would it be?
It’s a game kids play with each other. I’ve never answered it straight. When I was a kid, I would say stuff like “deadly farts” or “explosive boogers.” Always a joke. The truth was, I didn’t have to daydream about a super power. I had one.
My entire life, whenever I’ve been around a bully, the moment they inflict pain on their victim, I get a flash. A knowing. More colorful than full-color, more dimensional than 3D, I perceive that bully’s ultimate weakness. Not some physical thing, like an Achilles heel, no. I see their ruin.
The thing, the one fact about that bully, the linchpin of their very existence, the thing that hurts them most. I then, at that moment, have the power to completely and utterly crush the bully. With just a few words, I can open up their very soul and hit them at their deepest point.
I remember the first time it happened. A bully in the recess yard named Greg Artz pushed Renee Andersen off her swing. He laughed, she cried. Fuming, I hissed just a few words to Greg: “It’s your fault he left.” Greg’s face went pale. Tears poured down his face. He was out of school for a week.
Was that a fair punishment for the crime of pushing little Renee off her swing? What about all the Renees that came before? Or would have come after? When Greg came back to school, I always hovered near. If I ever saw him get that wicked look in his eye, all it took was a look. He backed down.
It’s an awesome power, and one I take very seriously. “With great power comes…” you know the rest. To be completely honest, I have misused it a time or two. When the bullying is acute or accidental, and when the existential dagger I can throw would in some way benefit me. A work rival thoughtlessly saying something calloused. A work rival who then has to take a leave of absence for a while, to tend to the nervous breakdown he had in the men’s room later that day.
I suffer for those. Not with a nervous breakdown, divorce, attempted suicide, or a lifetime of crippling anxiety. But I do get violently ill for the next 72 hours. I can’t keep anything down. Can’t sleep. I look like death at the end of it.
These days, I mostly ply my trade online. If you’ve ever been eviscerated by a cyberbully who suddenly disappeared online, never to be heard from again, I probably slipped into their DMs. “Your mother died thinking you hated her.” “She is sleeping with your brother.” “I know what you did to your sister’s hamster.” “Your father is right about you.”
I’ll be honest, I do get off on it. Maybe that makes me a bully. Maybe I’m as sadistic as Greg Artz. No one would know it. I’m actually a pretty nice guy. Unless you’re a bully, of course. Whatever (okay, I’ll say it) evil impulses I have are well fed by my bully takedowns.
I’ll admit to a certain sociopathic thrill at shaking an asshole to their very core, and I don’t regret what I do. Hell, I wish I could be there to witness every act of bullying, everytime some rotten bastard puts themselves in a position of dominance over another human being. I love being able to turn the tables on someone just as they are feeling powerful at another’s expense.
But truly, you have to believe me, that’s the only darkness in my life. On the whole, I’d say I’m pretty well adjusted.
Okay, pretty well adjusted, all things considered. Just last year, I followed a guy through traffic. He nearly drove another driver off the road, a longhaired kid with a honest-to-God peace symbol painted on his hood. As the bully’s head rocked back with laughter, I saw his ruin. I followed that jerk halfway across town before he finally pulled into a sporting goods store. I think he was the manager or something.
He didn’t see or notice me–another possible super power, but I’ve never really tested it. I waited until he was alone, at the gun counter. I leaned over and said just five words to him. A look of horror washed over his face. I left.
Out in my car, I thought I heard a gunshot. I couldn’t be sure. It wouldn’t be the first time an encounter with my uncanny ability would end that way.
It sounds like I’m bragging. I don’t mean to brag. I shouldn’t brag about something so horrible. But I’m trying to be radically honest these days. Have you heard of radical honesty? It’s a movement, there’s a book. Anyway.
I have to tell someone this. This next part. And you have to understand that everything I’ve told you is the truth. Do you remember Aaron? Two houses over. Yes. The one who disappeared for a few weeks and turned up back living with his mom in Des Moines. I saw him yelling at his kid one afternoon. I almost regret breaking up the family, but she is so much better off without him.
Do you believe me?
So this is the next part. Something happens to me if I don’t use my super power. It makes the sickness after misusing it look like a spa day. Sick like I am right now. You’ve seen me like this before. Last March. That wasn’t the flu. This isn’t the flu.
There was a bully at church who I knew had some health issues. That wasn’t his ruin–no his ruin was something far more pernicious that health issues. But, knowing that most of us have bullying impulses that we keep in check, and knowing the kind of pain he was going through, I tried to show some mercy.
It wrecked me. I thought I was going to die. I spent almost two days straight online. I destroyed a message board–so many bullies in such a small space. It wasn’t until I found a YouTuber who posted videos ridiculing various comic book movies that I was able to turn the corner on it.
Yes, the one that killed himself.
I’ve started getting sick again, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
There’s a guy on tv… I’m sorry, I can’t say his name without wanting to throw up. I mean literally. You know him. Everyone knows him. It’s just constant vitriol. Constant belittling. He has his favorite targets, and he goes after them all the time. And the hate he inspires in others–God! There’s an echo effect to his bullying that I can feel in my bones.
The thing is, everytime I witness his bullying, everytime my bones shake, I get nothing.
No flash. No “knowing.” No color, no depth.
And it’s slowly killing me. I can feel it. The sheer weight of what he does to people is too much. I can’t offset it with internet trolls and road rage assholes.
I have to tell someone. I’m going to die. If I confessed some personal horror at how easily I can inflict pain on the cruel, I hope you would understand–the horror this guy makes me feel is hundred times worse.
Evil has always been a relative term. Oftentimes the people I dispatch have an “evil” that’s caused by some past trauma. What I do to them is also “evil,” I suppose. But this guy, he’s Evil. He doesn’t have a soul.
I am aging
My hair graying, thinning
My waist expanding
My clock is ticking
My past extending
My time is fleeting
My heart is beating
My lungs are breathing
And my body moving
If somewhat slowing
And also aching
But at least I’m present
Not yet present perfect
And far from perfect
Far enough along
To see the end and the beginning
And always beginning
As if to forestall the end
And so I’m running
But I would be lying
If I were saying
I wasn’t fretting
The day my gerunds
Note: I was digging through old drafts last night, and found these song lyrics in an untitled document from January 2014. I’m not sure what exactly inspired these words, but at that time I was in my third month of unemployment after being laid off from a dream job. Safe to say I wasn’t feeling great about the world.
Moon is high, mercury low
Cars fly by the end of my nose
I’m playing possum in the middle of the road
Heard a noise somebody made
Nowhere to hide, feeling afraid
I’m playing possum in the middle of the road
I only look like roadkill
In fact I’m feeling quite well
But I’m gonna stay oh so very still
While hoping you go along to hell
Biding my time, biting my tongue
Don’t want to fight, no strength to run
I’m playing possum in the middle of the road
The boring, unglamorous work of screenwriting
Seems, to me, a fitting metaphor for being human.
The bits and pieces of ideas, snippets of dialogue,
Coalesce into a rough draft. Notes from trusted eyes
Clean up the zealous, adolescent narrative
And over time we’re ready to present the “White Draft.”
Decisive black letters on crisp white paper.
But as the demands of production come in,
As roles are cast and locations secured,
As the dialogue between writer and director continues,
Pages are rewritten.
To make things easier, only the edited pages are replaced.
As this process continues, if you follow the WGA pattern,
You wind up with a sheaf of rainbow-colored pages
(At least metaphorically, since no one prints on cherry-red paper)
Clunky dialogue is replaced.
Leaps of logic, cleaned up.
Plot holes, filled.
Extraneous nonsense, removed, replaced by all-caps OMITTED.
But many early words are retained. The heart of the story, retained.
Every now and then, you see a finished movie
That clearly needed another draft.
Every now and then, a page-one rewrite is called for.
Sometimes a screenplay goes into turnaround,
And new partners are found to work with.
But here’s where the metaphor breaks down:
Most screenplays don’t benefit from change.
They gather dust in a pile of other abandoned screenplays
Or worse, are tossed in the trash, forgotten, irrelevant.
While the ones that get made are forever fixed in one form.
That’s not you. That’s not me.
There are further revisions to be made.
Further revisions are being made, all the time.
What pages are you on?
It follows me, a reeking shadow full of blight
I feel it as it skirts around just out of sight
Its disconcerting footfalls echo without rest
In syncopation with the pounding ‘neath my chest
Forever taunting, haunting me, close in its chase
I try to face it but I cannot see its face
When darkness comes and I retire to my room
In shadowed corners, lingering, I feel it loom
A quiv’ring fear gives way to reckless courage drawn
My eyes spring open–turn to face it–find it gone
Its shallow, rattled breathing I can still discern
And lay awake all night lamenting its return
My constant dark companion gives me no reprieve
Refusing to be seen, persistently to cleave
I cannot know its true form nor can trace its frame
I know nothing about it but its wicked name
And ‘til it leaves me terror-stricken, lying prone
What endless horror stalks me so, but the UNKNOWN