I can’t explain to you what I see. I don’t know what you see when you close your eyes, but when I close mine I see the same thing as when they’re open. Nothing. I don’t think it’s black, or dark, and if you can’t explain to me what black or dark is, then you should understand when I say I can’t explain what I see and don’t see.
And I can’t explain to you what it’s like living with my father.
Whenever I heard kids at school talk about getting grounded and not being allowed out of their room, I would just nod my head and wonder what they did about the stink. After a full day of using the plastic garbage can in the corner for a toilet, placing a pillow over the top would cover the smell, but after two or three days, nothing could stop that stench from filling the room. Some smells go away the more you smell them, but not that. It took me a while to realize that they were talking about something totally different.
So maybe there are a lot of things that I’m missing, that I’ll never see, but how do you know that there isn’t a whole world out there that you’re missing too? What if there’s a whole universe out there that you just can’t fathom because you’re not tuned in to it, because you don’t have the right senses for it? I don’t know what a sunrise looks like, but I’ve felt its warmth coming through the slats of my bedroom window, or in the car on the way to school, or waking me up in the mornings that I slept in the backyard because my father had locked me out the night before. I don’t know what my best friend’s face looks like, but I remember what her voice sounded like when she asked me where I’d been all week and I told her I was sick, and she said, “Again?” I don’t know what a bruise looks like, but I know that there were days that I asked my teachers if I could just stand in the back of the room instead of sitting because it felt more comfortable. Or days when even the book bag slung over my shoulder brushing against my arm sent dull pain through it down to the bone.
I’ve never seen any of my teachers, but I’m not sure any of them have seen me either. Maybe they think that sweatshirts and jackets in May is a blind thing.
I’ve never seen my father either, but I’ve felt him. I know the weight of his hand, the hardness of his fist, the grip in his fingers. I know the smell of him after he’s come home from work with sour sweat and oil all over him. I know the smell of him after he’s come home from a weekend gone, the metallic, wretched smell of blood and dirt and vomit.
You know how you can feel someone standing behind you even if they don’t make a sound? Or when you know someone is on the other side of a door, even if they don’t answer when you knock? Or the sense that the person you’re talking to is really two people? Or three or more, and some not like people at all? When my father comes home from a weekend out, it feels like I go from being all alone in the house to standing in the school hallways between classes. Nobody touches me, nobody speaks to me, but there’s that sense of being surrounded, you know?
At school it’s like I’m a ghost. I wander through the halls, right hand on the wall, feeling the cold of the paint abruptly turn into the cold of the metal lockers and the heat of the bodies flowing around me on the left but never touching me, never speaking. My teachers talk to me when necessary, so at least I know I’m real.
You’re actually the first person to ever ask me about my life, what it’s like to be me. Even my friend doesn’t ask. She mostly talks about herself, and then when I say something about me, she acts weird, or just keeps talking, like she didn’t hear me. Fine, I guess? About the same as anyone else. There’s good days, when I have the house to myself and there’s either food in the fridge or money in the drawer to get some. Then there’s bad days. Like everyone, I guess.
I get it. I can’t see you either, but I can feel you looking at the clock on the wall. Plus, you’ve been writing, obviously, but you haven’t said anything for a while. Thanks for taking the time to ask about me, and I’ll be sure to get my grades back up. In fact, I should probably be getting back to class.
Jeffray Harrison is a high school English teacher in South Florida. He holds a MA in English from Florida International University.