Harold wasn’t yet a teenager when he first had the feeling that a new vista of self-knowledge had just opened up before his inner eye.
It was a Wednesday evening in spring, Youth Night at First Presbyterian, a weekly gathering that Harold had just begun attending now that he had reached the auspicious age of 12. But his usual sense of awkward misfit-hood had driven him to take a stroll around the dark grounds alone.
As he rounded a corner of the building, he heard low murmuring, and he stepped softly on the lawn. There, standing in a shadow against the brick, screened by shrubs, were his 15-year-old brother Glenn and a girl. They were kissing. Their bodies were mashed together from their jean-clad knees to their overlapping noses and their mouths were locked liked leeches on each other’s lips, moving with faint wet sounds.
Harold felt hot blood bloom to his face, and his feet almost turned away of their own accord, but he made them stop. No one could see him blushing here, and he just had to watch. Then, beyond anything imaginable, he saw the girl’s hand take Glenn’s hand and guide it from her waist up to her breast, and as his brother’s fingers squeezed whatever was under that white fabric, both moaned.
Harold’s breath caught, his heart thudded, and he thought he might pass out. Then a light came on in a window nearby, and he ducked and raced silently toward the other side of the church, toward the brightly lit front door, inside which so much safe, wholesome fun was happening. As he ran, he suddenly realized who the girl was. Vicky Lamott, a high school senior, a pretty girl, a popular girl, of whom he was distantly aware because she attended their church, not someone Harold imagined would ever look twice at his goofy sophomore brother. He fervently, generously hoped they weren’t caught, for Glenn was his newfound hero.
Inside, he followed the sound of music to a large room adjacent to the chapel, slipped inside along a back wall, and as his heart slowed down, he watched the crowd of friendly young faces, so familiar, all singing “Kumbaya.” He felt he was not one of them, could never be one of them, separated now and forever by a powerful knowledge dawning in him. What he had seen was what he wanted. That’s all he wanted, ever. He felt unique among all 12-year-olds because he was entirely filled up inside. He had found the definition of his life, the blueprint of his future: this amorphous, slippery vastness that was Love.
Harold’s Essay for 11th Grade English, Which Was Never Handed In, Resulting in a C-Minus for the Semester
On the assigned subject of “Loneliness,” I have had many thoughts. Such as: When you know something that nobody else knows, you could be said to be alone. That’s because you’re aware of your separateness. So maybe that’s what loneliness is—awareness of your own secrets.
“God only knows,” some people might say. I guess He must feel pretty lonely. At least that’s what I’d say if I believed in God, like all my righteous family. But since I don’t, the things I know are all mine. Mine to live with, mine alone.
Most people at this school know about the accident. But I’ve wondered if I would ever tell what actually happened that night. I could hardly bear those horrible days of sitting around in the hospital, I wanted to blurt out a confession so bad. At the funeral I was a blubbering mess, like a sponge being squeezed, but it was for more reasons than anyone might expect.
He could be a real bastard when he was drunk. I mean, most of the time he was a real nice guy, you know, the girls always called him sweet. And it was true, even when he drank too much. But every now and then, I could see that little streak of belligerent asshole show itself. I mean, who knew him better than I did?
So that’s why I have no excuse. I know he never would have hit me or anything. But I caved in when he threatened me, like I’d always done before. First I tried to tell him no, and say how we better get a bus home or something. But he said, “Look, Harry, you little fuck, wait’ll Mom hears what you been doin’ tonight.” He was so plastered his voice was all slurred like he was retarded, but he still knew how to scare me. That was the mean streak. As if he would ever tell Mom, because that would make him as guilty as me. But you know, I was fucked up, how could I think straight?