What am I supposed to do? I want you to tell me. I want you to tell me what am I supposed to do. Before you answer, I’ll tell you my story, and I’ll tell you hers. And then, I want you to tell me.
It was about 4:30 in the morning. Murray and I were sitting on a bench, smoking, talking. Laughing too, I guess. What matters is that it was beautiful—sitting in the shadow of a mansion, a castle, where students live, fully aware of the fact that on our campus there are more beautiful buildings, surrounded by beautiful trees, placed deliberately and artificially to manufacture the feeling of a womb. A feeling of safety. I can’t say I remember what it’s like inside a womb, but I’m sure it was safe. And I bet it was beautiful.
I saw a man walking toward us. He was wearing gym shorts, a pair of runners that adorned huge, stout legs. A coat, a jacket? I don’t know, because as he walked up to us, slowly, foot by foot by foot, all I could see was his ski mask. Black cotton pulled over his head so that only eyes poked out. He stopped at the foot of the steps—two steps and a short wall. Separated only by six or seven feet by feet by feet, he stopped. And he stared at us. Silence filled up my lungs. “Do you want a cigarette?” Murray said.
I think I will switch stories now, because I don’t know the words to say how scared I felt.
It was about 2 in the afternoon. Lily was walking down a street. I don’t know where, and I don’t know its name—I don’t remember the particulars because this story did not happen last night. It happened a long time ago. What I do know is that she was wearing a coordinated outfit, like she always did, and she was humming a showtune, like she always did. I think it was a nice day. And I think she felt safe.
I can’t say I remember what her voice sounded like. But I know it was beautiful.
Lily saw a man walking toward her. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe he surprised her; again, you’ll have to excuse me—this was a long time ago, and it’s not my story. So I will tell you what I do know. His name was Charlie Samuels. Charlie was broke, and Charlie had taken some prescription medicine that he had not been prescribed. Charlie took Lily to an ATM and made her withdraw all the money she could. He then took her to her car, and she drove him to… no, I don’t know where.
I don’t know.
I think I will switch stories now.
30 seconds passed.
And in silence, he left.
Charlie slammed her head against the dashboard.
And in silence, he left.
I started shaking. It’s funny—even in the moment, I noticed this—I’ve always thought the phrase “I couldn’t stop shaking” was a little loony, a little melodramatic, mainly because it had never really happened to me before. But it happens. It’s real. Murray held me. Murray said that it was okay, it was okay, Scot, that even if anything had happened it would have been okay because I’m here and I’d never let anything happen to you.
Some time passed, and I stopped shaking. My cigarette had burnt out, so I scrambled for the lighter—“LIGHTER! LIGHTER! CIGARETTE IN MY BODY—NOW!” and we laughed, and talked, talked about a lot of things. Talked about what could have happened, what didn’t, about being gay and how I guess I’ll always be scared that people will want to hurt me for that. That people will hate me for that.
Talked about Lily, and how I guess I’ll always be scared.
I didn’t even have to ask him; he asked me, and I said yes, and so he walked me back to my room.
At 5 A.M., I walked through a beautiful campus, with beautiful buildings and beautiful trees, with someone I love.
Terror makes you feel a lot of things. Sometimes too many, and sometimes none at all. Terror is silence in your lungs, silence so poignant that you feel its weight and its contours. But I think most of all: terror is things not making sense. That silent stranger—that wasn’t a battle; he wasn’t a victor. Sure, he probably wanted to scare me, and he succeeded, so I’m tempted to say he “won.” But could I really live like that? Could I live with that anger and hate when he didn’t do anything? Or maybe I could write if off—he was a dick, he was a “douchebag,” he was a nothing. But could I really live like that, when he’s a person too? Maybe, maybe I could remember it as a missed opportunity. Why didn’t I run after him, grab his hands and say, “It’s okay, it’s okay, because whatever drove you to this hate and this fear I want you to know that it’s going to be okay because I’m here and I love you.” But could I do that when he scared me so much?
And Charlie. As for Charlie Samuels, wherever he may be. I guess what I want is to look him in the eyes and tell him that I forgive him. But could I do that, really, when he did the one thing in my life that will never make sense?
Could I do that, really, when he took Lily away from me?
So, tell me. What am I supposed to do?