November 11

The Disappeared (Part 2)

 

[…continued from November 10 entry…]

 

What do you mean, “went away”?

You shrugged, then looked down at your hands in your lap.  “He was there.  And then he wasn’t.”

All this time, the police office had spoken in near-whispers, a patient half-smile on his face.  Now the kindness broke away…like sometimes happened with your father, smiles and smiles but then a lightning strike of impatience because you’d done something wrong.  And he wouldn’t tell you what it was, and you couldn’t figure it out on your own.

We found his body.

The accusation in the policeman’s voice caused the other adult to lean forward with a cautioning glance, grasping the officer’s arm.  She said something about procedure, about questioning a child, and then they talked for a long while as if you weren’t even in the room.

The officer complained about information they needed, about answers your friend’s family deserved to know, and it wasn’t time for kid stories about magic or alien abduction for God’s sakes, after a boy’s been run over and tangled up in the metal of his crumpled bicycle with nobody —

You don’t remember what the woman did or said, but the policeman stopped talking.  They changed seats and the woman leaned close, like a grandmother’s face looming large as she prepared to kiss you or pinch your cheek.

Tell us again what you saw.

And you repeated the story that didn’t satisfy them earlier:  following your friend John, pumping your legs on the pedals to keep up — but it’s hard, cuz you’re going uphill — watching his bike glide into the cross street, and then the bike jolting for no reason, a terrible grinding sound, the handlebars and wheels twisting around, and you worried about John, the bent bike clamping over him like the jaws of a bear trap…but then he wasn’t on the bike anymore.

Gone.

Are you saying your friend was thrown from the bike? 

“No.  He was there,” you repeated.  “And then he wasn’t.”

He disappeared?

“Yes,” you said.  Then, “Not exactly.”

The woman glanced sideways at the officer, a smug signal that she’d succeeded where his brutish tactics had failed.

Go on.

This was the part you didn’t want to mention, didn’t want to revisit.  “I only saw the bike.  All mashed and twisted up.  That’s all I saw.”   You hesitated, expecting more disbelief…but you also knew they wouldn’t let you leave until you explained.  “I was right next to John’s bike.  I didn’t see him, but I could hear him.  I heard my best friend screaming.”

 

#

 

The woman, you later learned, was a child psychologist brought in to supervise police questioning of an underage witness.  Afterwards, in your parent’s presence, she offered her theory about what happened.  You’d experienced a rare form of temporary, selective blindness.  It was a defense mechanism, she explained, to protect your young mind from the traumatic sight of a friend’s violent death.

Mom and Dad asked her if this selective blindness might return, and requested a follow-up evaluation that, as it turned out, never happened.  Instead, your parents took a “wait and see” approach.

You always wondered:  if this blindness had been a defense mechanism, if your mind was being so helpful to spare you a traumatic sight… then why didn’t it spare you those sounds, too?

Your friend screaming, and an awful rhythmic dripping on the road that, even at six years old, you knew was blood.

 

#

 

Then again, as you’ve learned, the mind will make strange choices.

You’d never experienced another incident of selective blindness.  Perhaps you’d been lucky in life to avoid events that would trigger such a drastic defense mechanism.

This morning, your television screen was empty when you turned to the news channel.  Not a blank, reflective surface, or a screen of plastic — actually empty.  As if the screen had vanished and the wall appeared behind it.

Audio functions continued, however.  The snippets you heard were incredibly disturbing.

That’s why you ventured outside, to get a better handle on what terrible event must have occurred.

You walked into a ghost that coughed.  You touched the air a few inches above the curb and felt a wounded, bloody face.

Although the street and sidewalks now appear empty, you realize you can’t trust what you see.   A woman’s scream approaches, brushes past you like a wind gust then fades in the distance.  You walk forward, but trip over something you can’t see.  You stretch out your hands to steady your fall, but instead of reaching the sidewalk they press into something soft and wet and warm.  In momentary confusion, you forget which way to turn and find yourself trudging ankle-deep through a thick, invisible sludge.  Mud seems to cling to your shoes, making each step heavy and heavier.

You worry that the sludge will begin to cry out.

Selective blindness has caught up with you again, triggered by an exponentially worse trauma than the death of a childhood friend.

You dread whatever horrors you’ll see if the effect ever wears off.