The long dark channel

The Hunched Man stumbles in the
A long dark channel, out of the waters
and into the light.
He pictures with his eyes the shapes of
The famine mystique,
The whiskey fed man,
The curled and dangerous totems of his

For H.M. life felt like a series of dark channels leading to something he wasn’t fully prepared for. The first one set the stage for all that came after. It was as if that initial experience, the crying, the uncertainty, the fear had marked him as a traveller without a destination.

He cannot remember looking forward to any new experience. Not that the present was ever particularly good..or, perhaps, if he focused on some of the particulars, there were moments. But the shadows always seemed to capture his attention, and then, to capture him.

At an early age he knew that he was different from everyone else. As he got older, in college he realized that everyone was somehow or other, different from everyone else. For a long moment, maybe as long as a month or so, he hoped that meant, that if everyone else was different, his feeling different wasn’t unusual. Odd, he thought, we are all the same in being different.

But the moment didn’t last. Of course our hands are all different, and our finger prints identify us through their differences .

But six fingers is very different from that ordinary kind of difference. What he couldn’t figure out, was whether he different because he had more fingers than everyone else, or because he had fewer? There was no way to measure. No way to get an answer.

All he depended on, as uncertain as it seemed, was what he saw and what he felt. He saw clusters of the college kids he wanted as friends talking and laughing. He felt envious. And alone. Whenever he tried to join a cluster, he stayed on the outer rim, sort of looking in, trying to understand what they were talking about.

Of course he understood the words. But he couldn’t figure out why they were talking about whatever it was. Everyone was animated, laughing, joking, touching each other. Sometimes it was about movies, or something that had happened in class, or one of the group who wasn’t there to hear them talking about him.

Once in a while, one of the cluster would ask him what he thought about what was being said. He would freeze. His words tumbling out like ice cubes clinking into a glass one by one. He could never remember what he had said, and of course, no one in the group could rescue him from himself.

Parties were prisons. He would go to the fraternity open houses, stand against the wall and watch. The girls were fantastic, straight out of romantic comedies, giggling, and after a drink or two, leaning into each other, or into the guys trying to make time with them.

They terrified him. His body told him what it wanted to do but his mind crumbled like a chocolate chip cookie, one chip here, one chip there, no way to put them back together in any recognizable shape.

Is God crushing my mind this way, he wondered, almost aloud. Is it a message that I shouldn’t be here? But I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s part of being in college. That’s what everyone says.

He would lean further back against the wall, trying to push himself into it, and through it, and out of the other side, to the street. The street, soft lights every block or so, clouds drifting so slowly up above, the sound of an occasional car off some distance, soft, like a pillow for his head, sleep, sleep.

“You o.k.?” It was an upper class man, one of the fraternity brothers. “Do you need a drink?”, he smiled, offering the bottle of beer he was holding.

“Oh, yeah, thanks,” H.M. held out his hand, “long day, that’s all.”

Everyone was drinking now. the music was louder. The party was moving into drunken dancing, and he could join in or not. No one would care either way. He could see one of the guys going up the stairs with a girl.

The brothers lived in the frat house and shared rooms. On a tour of the fraternity houses during his first month at school he had seen lots of the rooms. On the inside of each door a sign was hanging, like a bathroom sign that said in capital letters, “OCCUPIED”.

Whenever a guy had a girl with him in the room, he would hang the sign on the door knob facing the hall so no one would knock on the door or try to come in.
The sign scared him.


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