Behind the Giant Slide
A Small, Skinny Story“Hey, it’s just a joke,” the voice of Vernon seemed to pendulum back and forth towards solid sincerity and utter frivolousness. He was facing Damien, the little, skinny boy who was crying his throat out.
“It’s not a joke when you are hit here!” The twelve-year old victim arrowed his left pointing finger towards his left cheek. There was a purplish mark on the skin and it bore the flag of Tommy Patowski’s right fist. The same-aged classmate named Vernon said he was sorry for not trying to stop them, but it was too late. Damien’s soul was ripped apart and instead of anger, it sent signals of fear and self-pity towards his sixth-grade spine.
“I’m sorry man,” Vernon – whose life was more convenient than Damien’s, because his father was the high-school P.E Teacher Mr. Lively – snaked his arms around Damien’s shoulder and told him – “It’s okay.”
But it isn’t.
A certain light-bulb inside Damien Rivera’s soul flickered into a hundred blinks until it gave light no longer. Those tears were real because the deep anxiety was.
Whenever Vernon does not know what to do during complicated situations, he would think of his father, Mr. Lively. What would he do now? Episodes of memory clips would come back to the scene and he would remember. Now, as he was facing Damien, the only thing he knew was to do what his father does first. Ask a question.
“Tell me what exactly happened.”
He does not know it for now but the question posted by Vernon was pregnant with golden help. Although Vernon saw what happened, he was actually giving Damien a chance to interpret the events himself. Vernon though, thought this was stupid. But since his father does this, why not try? “Tell me what happened, Damien,” he asks.
The sobs of the little, skinny Damien forced a guttural and reached down to look for the right words. “Tommy…” Damien told his classmate about Tommy Patowski, together with Randy Cruz and the Simon brothers; of how they dragged him towards the western side of the playground, behind the giant slide, and made fun of him. “Why would they do such a thing?!”
Vernon sparked an orange-hot blush on his face. Damien however, started writing down “silence” on his face, with commas of little sobs that made a powerful paragraph of agony. He would sniff-in his cry during pauses. “My gram-ma… told me once… that big people…” Damien gave four deep sobs before continuing the message: “big people will always look down on little, skinny boys.” Vernon raised a brow and told his sobbing classmate that it isn’t always the case.
However, Damien was fast in arguing – “No, no, no. They do,” Damien insisted – “It’s always the natural thing… Gram-ma was right – you know. There will always be big people, and they will be big because they will look down on little, skinny men. You only become big when there are only smaller people around you, right?”
Damien’s eyes were, in half, innocent. And the other slice of him was eaten by horror. It was the fear of recognizing that maybe, all of his life, he will be the smaller one. “The biggies will always find a way to bully the little, skinny men.”
Damien’s words echo that of his grandmother’s, whom he lived with all his life. He did not know anything about his parents.
“No, No, Damien! Don’t ever think of that,” Vernon insisted his positivity – “Big or small, we can all play in the same playground, right? Plus, Teacher Lynn is watching…”
“Teacher Lynn? Where was she when Tommy and the others dragged me here?” He raised both his hands to point to the giant slide they were under. “They always do this to me, everytime we’re here. They think it’s fun, but it isn’t…” His mighty sobs came back. “It isn’t… I tried to fight back… I did- I tell you… I don’t fight back but I did… and this is what I get!” He returned to pointing back to the bruise on his face. “You get a punch in the face for fighting biggies!” Instead of pointing to his face, Damien placed his closed fists to his heart. It’s where the real hurt occurred.
Vernon never saw it back then. “It’s okay Damien,” Vernon insisted. “It’s Okay.”
“It’s not okay!” Damien freaked out into emotional outburst. “There’s never an okay Vernon. There’s never an okay.”
There are only five sentences that kept on recurring in Vernon’s head his entire life – like a spectre that kept him awake on the wee hours of sleep-time. The last words of Damien Rivera were one of them.
“There’s never an okay.”
The little, skinny boy took the right strap of his backpack and clipped it around his shoulder and buzzed away. He never came back to this playground ever again. Or to school.
Vernon looked at the fleeing Damien without blinking. That day, something dwarfed within him like a paper slowly being devoured by fire. He knew that point on that you can never choose the giants that you’ll be facing. Life introduces us to Goliaths that are far greater than the life we live. You can never choose your giants.
But you can, however, choose how small you will become when you face them.
This, Vernon will learn soon – that life is one small story of the dwarf within, of giants without, and soon after, a period. The tiny dot that ends it all. It’s as if when you bow down to a bully, when you succumb to a giant, you breathe fire into the future where hope is made of paper. Life is full of Tommy Patowskis, Vernon later confirms, especially when his father died seven years later on an accident, and when he met his Advanced Trigonometry professor Mr. Houghton on college, and more so after that. Then period.
Yes, life is a cosmic playground full of giant slides, of Tommy Patowskis, of Teacher Lynns that doesn’t seem to care. And what Vernon also discovered later on in life is that deep down inside him was a Damien Rivera. There’s never an okay.
Four years have passed and he heard that Damien Rivera was found dead inside his room – his body hanging on a rope strapped on the ceiling. When he heard it, Damien’s corpse was already lodging for three days on the town’s cemetery. Together with his high-school girlfriend Eunice, Vernon visited the memorial park with the heaviest of all questions: why. He stood there on what remains of Damien and floated on the space of eternal questions. What killed you Damien Rivera? Vernon silently asked. Damien committed suicide. But Vernon knew it wasn’t. It was murder. Giants trampled over the boy and dragged him to his death.
“What is big Damien? Tell me now, what is big?”
Vernon wanted to shed a tear for Damien that day, but couldn’t. You don’t cry for a question mark, Vernon told himself. You cry for a period. You cry for the end of things, and not for another query that produces spaces larger than the universe inside.
Later on, however, he did. And it was more than once. He cried for the Damien inside of him. Just a few blocks away from the park was a black Toyota sedan with three young men and a blonde girl, raving and screaming their hearts out with Tupac Shakur on the loud stereo. It was from another high-school, and the two boys at the back wore red basketball jerseys emblazoned with the white-hot words “Dragons” on their chests. Driving on the wheels was a big man who shouted – “this is the time of our lives ladies! We’re here to paint the town red!” It was Tommy Patowski. And the others cheered with him as the car’s engine revved up into wild ignition.
Tommy lived fifty-three more years after that.