Imagine seeing the world through red-tinted glasses.
Red’s linked to aggressive behavior – that’s what the scientists say, isn’t it?
So imagine seeing everything in red, all the time. Imagine that anger boiling in your blood, every second of the day. Like an unquenchable, raging forest fire, increasing in its fury and wrath as it feeds on its innocent, weaker prey.
I didn’t pride myself in pummeling the little shrimp behind the school every day. When I stopped for a breath and took a moment to see the bruises my fists had left on his face, or the fear in his doe eyes as he stared up at me waiting for the next blow, my stomach never failed to twist with guilt. I could taste the bile in the back of my throat, my own behavior making me sick.
But then I’d see my poor mother, lying on the floor and peering up at my father from behind the black and blue arm shielding her face with those same frightened eyes. I would hear my father’s drunken curses all slurring together as he raised his huge fist high for another blow. My mother’s screams would fill my ears.
And then my own cries of pain would follow, as my old man turned his booze-filled rage on me. My guilt shriveled away in the searing heat of my intense rage, and I brought my fist down hard into the scrawny nerd’s stomach. An overwhelmingly confusing mixture of pleasure and disgust filled my gut at the sound of his groans, his pleas for me to leave him alone.
As always, I eventually let him wriggle out of my grasp and limp home. I watched the tiny guy round the corner, and waited several more moments before I was sure it was clear. And then, as always, I drove my fist into the wall and let the frustrated, angry tears fall. God, why did I have to be this way? There was only one man in this world that I despised, and I was becoming the same beast he was.
I continued to drive my fist into the brick, barely seeing the bright red streaking from my knuckles through my teary-eyed, red vision. All I could see clearly was that wretch beating his wife, who did nothing but love him unconditionally; beating his own child, who had never asked for his hatred; and then my own fists following in his path. I was a predator, preying on those too weak to stand against me, never daring to challenge those I knew would fight back. And win. It was sickening. Enraging. Shameful.
Suddenly I felt two small hands wrap around my wrist, holding it from striking the wall again. “You’ll hurt yourself,” the all too familiar voice said matter-of-factly.
The little guy released my wrist and peered up at my face. I closed my eyes when my vision cleared and I saw every one of the bruises and cuts that marred his face. I tried to turn away, but with a force I had no idea he even possessed, he turned my face back towards his, scrutinizing it like a scientist examines a specimen.
“I’m gonna assume you didn’t give yourself that bruise?” It was more of a statement then a question. He pointed at the dark blue bruise above my left eye, usually concealed by my shaggy bangs. He squinted his inquisitive brown eyes at me, his thick red brows furrowed with either the intensity of his observation, or concern from what he saw.
“I’ve never seen you cry before,” he commented, a hint of awe in his voice. He reached up and wiped a tear off my chin.
I wrenched away from him and swiped a hand across my face. “Scram, you little worm. And you tell a soul and I’ll give you a beating you won’t forget.” I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from wincing at how much of my old man I heard in my voice.
The boy shoved his hands into the pockets of his oversized corduroys and shrugged, his curly mop of red hair bouncing as he moved. “Can’t say I’ve really forgotten any of your beatings,” he replied quietly. “It’s not like you can forget someone pummeling your face every day.”
He looked straight into my eyes. “I think it’s safe to assume you know what that’s like.”
I froze. He nodded and started to walk past me. As he passed my shoulder, he stopped and squinted his freckled face up to the sky.
“Just know that, it’s okay to not follow your parents’ example. Every now and then.” He shot that unnervingly intense look straight into my eyes again. “I certainly wouldn’t mind,” he added with a wide impish grin.
I blinked, speechless. “Don’t hurt yourself on anymore walls. You need those knuckles for pummeling me tomorrow,” the kid said as he continued walking away. As he disappeared around the corner for a second time, I sank to the gravel ground. My head was spinning with the overwhelming amount of thoughts racing through my head. I let my head fall into my hands and tried to breathe normally.
He came back. He stopped me from ruining the very hands that had caused him so much pain for years. He was scared out of his wits the entire time – I didn’t have to be a psychologist to hear the quiver in his voice, or to notice that he had shoved his hands into his pockets to hide the fact they were shaking uncontrollably. But he stood there anyway. Not to challenge me, or confront me…I wasn’t really sure what his intentions were. And it was uncomfortably unsettling.
And then it hit me.
Where was the anger that boiled my blood every moment of the day? Why did I feel nothing but raw pain now? There was no hatred, no rage, not even towards my old man. Just gut-wrenching turmoil with my emotions. And an intense feeling of loneliness. I suddenly felt the need to have someone beside me, near me. And not so I could beat them senseless.
I leapt to my feet and ran around the corner, my eyes searching frantically for the orange ball of curls I sought out with hatred every day. It was just disappearing down the street. I broke into a sprint, ignoring the pain from the bruises covering my stomach and my side. God, was this what he felt like every day?
“Kid, wait!” I shouted as I lost him around another corner. I skidded around the corner and nearly crashed into him as he backtracked to see who had called him.
He tensed, like an animal ready to flee, but expertly maintained a cool, collected expression. “Is it tomorrow already?” he joked, flashing another one of those impish grins.
I leaned against the wall. “A bunch of us are playing ball after school tomorrow. Wanna come?”
He mirrored my pose and eyed me suspiciously. “So you can make fun of the fact I suck at ball and drive my face into the mud again?”
I winced. There wasn’t any accusation in his tone, but there didn’t have to be. Dropping my eyes, I kicked a tiny pebble and sniffed. My nose was still running from all those stupid tears. “No, I was just –“
“There’s a pretty cool soda shop down the street from where I live.”
I raised my eyes to see him grinning at me. His eyes were bright as his grin stretched ear-to-ear. I could feel the corners of my own mouth curving upwards as well. “That sounds swell,” I muttered, sheepishly dropping my eyes back to the ground. Never had I felt so ashamed in front of a kid half my height.
His hand around my wrist startled me into looking up again. “I’ll see you after school, behind the dumpsters.” With a wink he released my wrist and turned to walk away.
He turned back with an arched brow. “Yes?”
I licked my lips and kicked at that pebble again, shoving my hands into my pockets and hunching my shoulders. “I’m Matt.”
The kid smirked, nodding. “Fagan.” He extended a skinny arm, and inwardly I winced at the bruises I’d left from the many times I’d wrapped my iron fingers around it. He gripped the hand I tentatively stretched out to him and shook it firmly. Confidently. “Pleased to meet you on such friendly terms, Matthew.”
I couldn’t recall the last time I’d smiled so wide.