The boy came from a family of indifference. While he is somewhat missed, his parents were able to get on with their lives fairly quickly after his death because they simply didn’t pay all that much attention to him while he was alive.
His parents had the boy because they thought it would strengthen their relationship, even though neither of them really had an interest in children. The boy had no siblings. His grandparents lived on the other side of the country and never got to know their grandson. They sent him Christmas cards and birthday gifts and once the boy’s father took him there for a visit, but his father was really interested in visiting an ex-girlfriend, during a time that came to be known in the family as his mid-life crisis. The boy watched TV for the entire trip, and his grandmother cooked him frozen supermarket lasagna every night. Even her store-bought cookies tasted bad.
The boy felt unloved—although he never told anyone how he felt. Not even the school counselor who was later arrested for sleeping with all the female students. In elementary school, during recess, the boy often hid in the bathroom until it was over so he wouldn’t have to face being alone in the yard with all the other kids who had managed to form friends. The boy had often wondered how people formed friendships since he was pretty sure that he didn’t like a single person in his life and couldn’t imagine voluntarily spending time with anyone. No, he did not play video games. No, he did not read. No, he was not creative and would never be great or one day appreciated. He was just a bored person who was terribly alone. He didn’t like TV, either, but watched it because it gave him a good excuse for his eyes to be fixed on something other than the ceiling.
His parents had threatened psychologists, but he knew they would be too preoccupied to do anything about it. When his mother said “psychologist” the boy would nod and put his arm over his eyes. They wouldn’t ever take him to an appointment, and even if they had set one up, he wouldn’t have gone.
The boy’s father was a teacher who hated fat people. Every night at the dinner table, he would talk all about the fat teachers he worked with. He especially didn’t like fat women. The boy thought his father didn’t like fat women because they reminded the boy’s father of his mother, the boy’s grandmother. The boy never mentioned this, but he was sure it was true. The boy didn’t hate fat people any more than he hated anyone else. The boy hated everyone equally, which is how he knew he wasn’t prejudiced against fat people or anyone else.
When the police found the boy’s body in the river—bloated and decayed, almost unrecognizable, the boy’s parents didn’t even know he was missing and couldn’t remember the name of his dentist. Oh sure his mother cried when she realized she wouldn’t be someone’s mother anymore, but she wasn’t affected in a really significant way. She had liked the idea of being someone’s mother—just not the boy’s mother. She felt a sort of relief upon hearing about his death, like when you are fired from a job you hate but still need the money. There’s that twinge of regret and wondering if you did everything you could to keep the job, but then the next morning you wake and realize that this was the best thing that could have ever happened to you. The boy’s mother felt like a reset button had been pushed on her life that said: “start now.”
The boy had a facial disfigurement from birth, and this was one of the reasons his parents were so indifferent to him. As soon as he came into the world, he was not what they had anticipated. They were resigned to be parents, but they were not in love. He was like a pet they had to keep fed and watered, which they did adequately.
The boy’s facial disfigurement affected almost every area of his life. No one at school wanted to be his friend. They teased him mercilessly. His parents didn’t really love him. While his teachers did feel some pity for him, he could tell they were repulsed by the way he looked. Not one of them could bring themselves to look him in the eye.
To ease her heavy burden, the boy’s mother took to drinking vodka every night. The boy’s father left when he was five, and from that time on, the boy and his mother ate their dinners in separate rooms. His mother sat in her yellow chair in the living room and the boy sat on the couch in the den. The two rooms were attached with the TV in the middle. They could watch the same program without actually having to sit in the same room and face each other. They did this night after night, hardly speaking, watching game show after game show until his mother passed out and the boy put her to bed.
After the boy’s father left, there was a string of babysitters. On two separate occasions, the boy was molested. He told no one. He felt ashamed. He felt it was his fault. The molesters knew that such a shy and withdrawn and disfigured kid would tell no one. He was the perfect target. And they were right.
The boy’s childhood was spent avoiding people. Once he got into high school, he focused on his classes. He wasn’t particularly smart and didn’t get good grades, but he always did his homework because it was a decent way to pass the time. He could have taken up smoking but didn’t because the smell of smoke reminded him of the smell of his mother.
The boy was suicidal but wasn’t in danger of killing himself, because he feared pain. He feared directing pain at himself but wasn’t particularly afraid if pain happened to him or if the pain took him by surprise. Once he accidentally smashed his arm through a glass door and didn’t feel the pain because his arm went numb. He didn’t even know he was cut until he saw the blood and then he screamed. To this end, the boy would put himself in compromising situations hoping that something would happen that would render him unconscious or dead. He had a death wish.
With his death wish in mind, the boy set out to the secluded part of the park on a Wednesday in the spring in hopes that he could attract a creep who might take him away in a car. What he found instead were trees and chipmunks and a couple making out by the stream. None of this makes sense, the boy said to himself. Why do some people get lucky while others have such a hard time? The boy didn’t care about the other people who had a hard time. He only cared about the hard time he was having. He walked away from the couple and sat by himself on the swing. A small child asked the boy to push him and the boy said no and walked away so he could be by himself with his thoughts.
You might be disappointed to know that the boy was in fact not murdered. He actually tripped on a tree root, hit his head on a stone, and fell into the river, where he drowned because no one saw him. Since his parents had not reported him missing, no one was looking for him. Everyone just went on as they always had. The boy lay in the river for days because the weather had been bad and no one was walking along the trail, or if they were they hadn’t bothered to look at the river in the particular spot where the boy had lain. Someone might have ridden by on a bike, but they would have been going too fast to see the boy’s body in the water.
We’re not to feel sad for the boy because he would rather be dead than alive. He didn’t feel pain as his head hit the rock. It was like the glass door—he was in shock and then everything went black. He didn’t even have time to scream. But had he had time to utter a sound, it would have been the word “now.”
I wrote this story about a boy in the hope you would find it more interesting than if it had been about a girl with the same experiences. Really this is a story about my family and me. Some details have been changed, but most of it is true.
Kathryn Mockler is a writer, poet, and screenwriter. She is the author of the poetry books The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, Spring 2015), The Saddest Place on Earth (DC Books, 2012), and Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). Currently, she is the Toronto editor of Joyland: a hub for short fiction, and the publisher of the online literary and arts journal The Rusty Toque.