Sharing my creative writing is terrifying for me. When it comes to business and academic writing, I am confident, self-assured. But when it comes to creative writing, fiction or non-fiction (but especially fiction), I have to breathe deeply and will myself to jump off that cliff. So, today, I am sharing the first story I ever wrote, way back in 2002. My dear friend, Matt, who is a brilliant writer, used to send me his stories to edit and I always called myself "the writer who doesn't write." Until one day, after editing a story of his, I took my journal and just sat down and wrote. I didn't think about it, I didn't create an outline, I just wrote, and this is what came out. Please be gentle with me.
It's raining today, as it has for the past several days. It suits me I guess – indifference, bleakness. It's cold. But I'm not uncomfortable. I see nothing before me. The day has nothing to bring. The future, immediate and distant, appears dank. I have no reason for thinking this way, and I do so more as an observation, an understanding, than because of any feeling. I do not know what it is to feel. I wait, and I am patient, but no feeling, no emotion, comes to my being. I am empty, just a husk tossed aside and forgotten. But do not pity me, for there is nothing to pity. I do not seek sympathy for I do not need it. One without heart seeks nothing.
I have, as far as I can remember, always been this way. And I tell you this because I know you wonder how it can be. How I can be. I understand how you think, although I do not see the reason. It is illogical to display such behaviour. Feelings? I know what they are, but I do not know why you have them and I don't. It is a curious thing.
Perhaps, it is best to start at the beginning. I was born 14 years before this day, my birthday you would call it (why that is cause for celebration, I speculate). I was raised by my father, a big, burly man with dark, shaggy hair and perpetual whiskers. He was in construction. He framed houses during the day and I would stay next door with Mimi while he worked to shelter, clothe, and feed us. My mother I do not know, she left the day I was born.
Mimi was a large woman with a red face and shiny, orange hair that stuck out in all directions. She smelled like cheap perfume: old and tangy-bitter. She smiled at me a lot; fake smiles, for she was like her perfume, bitter. But she fed me and watched me, and I did not complain, for those without feelings are incapable of complaining.
I never played as a child and Mimi was afraid of me.
"What sort of child just sits there all day staring at nothing?" she would sneer, "What are you plotting, boy?" Mimi was paranoid, and my silence unnerved her. But I did not judge, I do not know how. Like all those around me, Mimi just was.
My father loved me. I know this because I learned on television and in books how one shows such feelings, hugs and kisses and taking care of people. I could see the affection and wonder in his eyes every time he looked at me; there is wonder in the eyes of all those who enter my life.
Unlike others I have encountered, though, Father never feared me (I can see these things, or sense them rather, the way animals smell fear). He was curious about my disposition, my character, I know, but he loved me regardless of doubt or the influence of others – like Grandmother.
Grandmother was nit-picky, judgmental, and given to impressing others. She hated me since I was a baby. Some people hate what they fear or cannot comprehend. She could not comprehend me, and so she feared me, and so she hated me.
"An abomination!" she screamed once to Father, "God could not create a boy with no emotion! Ethan doesn't even cry when he's hurt, for Pete's sake, he just stops and looks and asks me to bandage it. He never plays, he never smiles, he just watches! What is wrong with him? A demon, I say, he is not from God!" My father looked at me, and then at his mother, took my hand, and we left. That was the last time I saw Grandmother. I was three years old.
I started school when I was five, same as other children, because Father couldn't afford to start me earlier. I could already read and write, but Father felt I needed to socialize with other children.
I excelled in class and was quickly moved up to second grade. My teachers were astonished by my progress and praised my intellect. Apparently, they never stopped to ponder me, as others have, too wrapped up in my intelligence, I suppose.
I never played with the children and I rarely spoke to them; they were too difficult to converse with and called me names. It didn't bother me, but it made me interested in our differences. They were not like Father or Mimi or Grandmother. They were cruel to each other and openly told me that I was weird and defective. But I have no handicap. I can walk and run just like you do. I speak clearly and concisely, and I look like any other boy. My ears, eyes, and nose are in the right places. To me, they are strange: people. But I have come to realize that it is I who is different, it is I who is strange.
By the time I was alive for eight years, I completed grade six. My teacher, Miss Litz, told Father that I should attend a special school for bright children. So, I moved on. The special school was in a different city, so Father found a new job and we moved. We never said goodbye to Mimi or Grandmother or the children.
At the new school, I once again moved up quickly: by age ten I started grade ten. In my new class, I met Annabelle. She was, by your terms, beautiful: she had red hair and green eyes, she was tall and slender. She was stimulating to speak with. She was three years my senior and, like Father, there was no fear or ridicule in her eyes, just warmth.
Annabelle wondered about me, as I her. She would ask me a relentless amount of questions about a variety of things. Most of which concerned my nature.
Annabelle accepted me. Annabelle wanted to learn about me. She didn't understand how I could be the way I am, in her words, "feeling but unfeeling." She strove to understand me. I strove to understand her. We were friends, as I understand it. We challenged each other. Much that I know of people, of emotions, I learned from her.
Father liked Annabelle. He liked that she accepted me and encouraged our "friendship," although there was no need to. I thrived on Annabelle's spirit, and I wanted, I finally wanted, to know what it was to feel.
Annabelle often came over to our house after school. Father would cook dinner, usually Shake N’ Bake chicken and noodles, and we would sit at the table and talk. Annabelle would ask about our lives, where we'd lived and what we'd done. But mostly she would ask about my mother. Father and I had never talked about my mother, I never asked, she didn't exist to me. Father would try to avoid answering Annabelle's questions, but she was persistent. She said that maybe if she knew about my mother she would know more about me. So, Father would talk.
"Ethan's mother was....well....different," he said once, "Oh, she was beautiful…in the way she spoke, in the way she moved, but she never showed her feelings. She would hide them from me. She never cried, and she never got angry, at least as far as I could tell. But, she would laugh. Catherine loved to laugh." And that was all he would say. Annabelle would probe for more information, but Father always said the same thing.
Out of the blue one day, Annabelle asked why my mother left us. Father looked from me to Annabelle and back again until his eyes rested on my face. He shrugged, a tired gesture, "I don't know," then he left the room. Annabelle turned to me with uncertainty and apologized. Father was obviously upset, but I didn't know how to comfort him. I felt nothing. I knew I should, but I didn't.
Time moved forward, as it always does, slow but fast, and Annabelle and I graduated. I was twelve and she was fifteen. By societal standards we were both too young to enter the work force so we continued on to university studies. Annabelle took up psychology, as did I. Determined, she was, to figure me out. She thought that perhaps some sort of trauma had made me the way I am. Although she had run me with dry with questions of my life and researched voraciously, she found no trauma, no reason, and explanation. We were always together, studying and asking questions. I think, mostly, she was fascinated by me, which is why she was always around. I didn't mind, like all others Annabelle just was.
Father took us to the beach one day. I remember the sky was a vision reflected in the waves of the ocean, so blue and clear. We spent time looking for seashells (Annabelle loved them) and we basked in the warmth of the sun. While Father was off getting lunch, Annabelle turned to look at me. Her fiery red hair floated about her face and her eyes misted with tears. "Ethan," she whispered, in her soft angelic voice, "I want to make you feel." And she kissed me. Her lips were warm and soft and moist, her hair smelled like sweet lilies at dawn. She pulled back to look at me again, tears streaming down her face, apprehension in her eyes. And I contemplated this Annabelle, this creature with such passion, and I felt something. I thought she was beautiful; it dawned on me then that her hair was not red but the colour of blood, and her eyes were not green, but the colour of spruce trees at sunset. And she had an exquisite array of freckles that contrasted to the pale luminescence of her skin. Inside and out, she was magnificent.
For the first time in my 13 years, I smiled. I felt longing, as it's called, longing for her emotion, longing for her grace, longing for her to kiss me again. But she didn't, and that was okay.
Father came back with hot dogs and we ate in silence as we watched the sky darken and the clouds gather. Despite the coming storm, Annabelle and I beamed.
The rain started as we packed up our lawn chairs and blankets and books and ran to Father's car.
I listened as the raindrops beat heavily down upon the car's roof.
And I watched as Father battled to keep the car on the road.
I listened to Annabelle’s sharp intake of breath.
And I watched as we hurtled towards oncoming traffic.
I listened to the screetch of rubber skidding on pavement.
And I watched as we collided head-on with a semi truck.
I listened, cramped between the back of Annabelle's seat and the back end of the car, to Annabelle's whimpering and Father's groans.
And I watched as onlookers peered into the windows with distorted faces.
I listened to firefighters pull the car apart to get us out.
And I watched as Father and Annabelle were carried to an ambulance.
I listened to paramedics frantically trying to help them.
And I watched as Father and Annabelle died.
For one day, I felt what you feel. My fondest memory and my worst nightmare, you would say.
My Grandmother didn't want me. I have been passed from foster home to foster home for the last year. I have not spoken a word since that day, and by people's terms, I am strange. No one wants me and that's all right. I need no one, my needs are basic.
I see nothing before me. The day has nothing to bring. The future, immediate and distant, appears dank.