The following is an essay I wrote for a class I took last quarter; despite its lack of "normal" essay quality, it nonetheless filled the assignment requirements amazingly well... Date: March 5, 2001. See apathy for a little more info...

The Man in Hiding

A bird chirped overhead as the trees swayed gently in the breeze. There was nothing but forest here: no cars to pollute the air, no hospitals or Burger King's or Bon Marche's, no people -- yet one man-like creature. The man-thing was walking, quite possibly in a northerly direction. It hadn't stopped except to nibble on various grasses and plants and to rest one time.

The day was partly cloudy; that much was clear in the man-thing's memory. It strained to recall the times of sunshine, then recoiled at the other memories. Memories of vicious words, a statement beginning with "You don't deserve...", a goodbye and the click of a receiver on the other end of the telephone line. The creature nearly doubled its pace at these memories; nothing seemed to quench the fiery pain eating at it from everywhere inside.

Then came memories of a ride. A word formed itself in the thing's mind: "bus". There were people on that bus, and the man-thing tried again to believe that at least one of those people cared. The memories of blank stares and hushed conversations caused the creature to begin running. Out here, where nothing but plants and animals survived, there seemed to be freedom. No one needing love who returns hatred, no one with feelings to deny this man-thing's own feelings.

But the memories did not stop. There were times of laughter, of caring, of real enjoyment and what seemed to be love. Another word haunted the creature: "email". The memories of numbers came unbidden: 228 emails full of tender words and nice things said. Eleven emails still with tender words, but tainted by a "breakup". One email that threw it all away, that said "none of that matters now; you are worthless to me". Two phone conversations of fear and returned venom.

The thing began to hate its mind. The memories continued to come through all attempts to forget: the parents demanding that money be earned, when in the previous year the creature had earned over $14000; the school demanding a 3.2 GPA, when many of the teachers taught below a 1.7 average; the students who seemed excited to be together in class again, that very special class.... The thing began looking for sharp objects, things with the potential to end all the pain.

"Where did it all go wrong?" it wondered. It stopped finally to sit against the base of a tree. The memories of the night after that fateful phone call were tortuous, but they returned anyway. The roommate who asked one time if this creature wanted to talk, that evening didn't seem to care that the thing's world was crumbling. The silent and stealthy movement in the direction of the bus stop. The nearly solitary bus ride to the Metro station, then getting on the bus leaving town. The thing shuddered, as if so cold that its fingers were about to freeze solid.

The thing began accepting the memories; they came unasked anyway. Now the creature could see the halls of high school and junior high, and the classrooms of grade-school. There were people there too, but some of them seemed to care. What did it matter that all the grade-schoolers and junior high students, with the exception of two or three, despised and ridiculed the thing during those years? The two or three and the teachers that accepted this creature made it all seem bearable.

The thing remembered caring. It remembered feeling terrible after unintentionally hurting others. It remembered being forgiven for wrongs done, even some intentional wrongs. But none of this helped when one other refused to forgive, the only one the thing had ever loved like itself.

Love? The word now sounded foreign to the thing. Presently it remembered "praying", asking that almighty God it believed in to make the world different. This was the God that was supposed to love even this creature, right? As it sat against the tree, the memories of a tightly bound faith struggled to surface. The faith that told the creature that every person was worthwhile, that every action made a difference, that all things were a part of the most beautiful tapestry ever woven. The faith that told the creature what "right" and "wrong" meant.

"Hi." The creature didn't move at first, still lost in reverie. "Excuse me, are you all right?" The thing's head jerked up to see a man standing nearby. "Are you lost?" The thing's mouth worked, trying to form words. It hadn't heard a spoken word in over a week. The thing struggled to its feet, suddenly feeling the ache in muscles it had denied since the start of this journey. "Easy there. Are you hungry? Come on over and have something to eat." "S-s-sir . . ." The thing tried to speak plainly, but faltered through the words. "Y-you sh-sh-shouldn'ttt talk tooo mmmee. I-I-I-I'm a baaaad crittter." "That's okay; you must be hungry. Please come and have dinner with me."

The thing tried to jerk away from the gently helpful hand on its arm and almost lost its balance. "Noo! Y-you ddon't undestand! I'm-I'm badd. I'lll hurt you tooo." "I understand, and you need help. Please come with me." The man was gentle, but firm and exceedingly strong. In the ensuing walk, the thing tripped and nearly fell many times, but the man was there guiding and even carrying it at times.

The house could be described only in a dreamer's terms. Everything about it was exquisite, and the creature sensed much love and caring put into both the physical building and the general atmosphere. The walls were neither brash nor plain, the ceiling drew no special attention to itself, and the pervasive light made everything bright and glorious. Looking down at itself, the creature could see all the filth of its journey on its ragged clothing, but in the light of this house that filth seemed to fade. "First we'll get you a shower, then a meal, then a haircut." The man was moving as he spoke, preparing a meal at the same time as guiding the thing to the bathroom. "It's always warm water, just turn on the tap. Don't be afraid to look around for a towel." The water was perfect, and the towels soft. The thing wanted to lay down on a mattress made of those towels and use one towel for a pillow, but there were only two.

The meal was perfect as well. The creature almost hated the man at first for not serving large portions, but then another memory came through: "the worst thing for a starving man is to feast.". The creature began to study the logs that made up the walls, but couldn't discover the type of tree that gave its life to this house. The table was also wooden, and also lacking any sign of where it came from. After the meal, the man began cutting the creature's beard and hair, but the creature could not stay awake. The last memories it had were of a warm bed, a mattress and pillow softer even than the towels it liked, and a promise that the man would help it find life again.

The alarm clock sounded. The student jumped out of bed to stop it, afraid of waking his roommate. What an awful dream! Then the student remembered: it wasn't a dream. All the memories, the pain, everything except the dreadful journey and the awesome house were real; that was yesterday. The student wanted to die, to go to that amazing place that reputedly has no tears. That other who refused to forgive was still near, demanding that the student leave her alone. The pain did not subside, but the student refused to give up. No matter what, the student would still care.

It's over. It's just a story now. Thank you to all you readers out there who chose to read this and give me feedback. I hope to incorporate your suggestions to make it a better story sometime here soon.

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