The day after my “crime,” my old friend comes to meet me before going to class. “I’m sorry, but I can’t be seen with you after what happened,” she explains. “My parents would punish me.” She smiles trying to appease me. “But we can still talk… if you want to, I mean,” she says handing me an old phone. I’ve never had one, because mother feels it would “spoil me.” I smile and hide the trinket in my pocket. Even if you think I have no self-respect, I can’t blame her for what she did. I understand how parents can be.
On monday, class moves on to inspect nazis and the exceptionality of their evil. As the teacher shows us pictures of the tall chimneys and the piles of shoes, I leave the classroom crying. The teacher comes out shortly after. “I-I… I’m sorry,” I say, “It’s just too much what we went through.” The teacher is clearly confused. “We?” she asks. “Yes,” I answer, wiping my tears. “I’m jewish, like my parents. I thought you knew.” “I thought you were an orphan…” she says. “Yes, but I researched my parents and discovered they had to leave me behind out of fear for their own lives. A bunch of angry people were after them and they knew I was in danger with them… And they were right, because they were eventually brutally murdered.”
She is clearly upset, even more than I am. “F-wording white people,” she says. I never wanted to get involved in this race discussion. It never ends well for anyone: the people who argue are seen as ideologically possessed by some and like stale bigots by others. The person presenting the discussion is usually accused by each side of favoring the other side…
Anyway, I walk back into class with my teacher and she explains to my upstanding fellow students that I was jewish. Their attitude changes immediately. They no longer see me like a racist brat. Each in turn apologizes twice in front of the teacher: once for what happened to my people and another time for our “little misunderstanding.” The teacher says “She clearly said something else and we heard her wrong.” They also offer their sympathy, their help and a bunch of other empty, meaningless things that are only in their heads like “prayers.”
Two girls try cozying up to me after class. I ignore them. They only want to say they have a multi-ethnic, jewish friend. They barely care or even understand how miserable those times were. And I’m not even talking about the nazis exclusively. The gulags and the japanese took care of many more people. But for some reason we don’t talk about them in class. When I asked our history teacher, she said there were only a handful of gulags, and only used for the truly “bad people.”
Sorry, I’m digressing. So once we get home, my fake-brothers run to tell mother I’m jewish. They expect an outburst, a volcano pouring over its rage and frustration worthy of a pasty white suburban mom past her golden years. After listening to the news, she raises her hand to hit me, then realizes it’s actually good for them. “Go to your room! Do something useful for once!” she snaps at the kids. They look confused and accept the whims of their goddess.
“You too,” she says more gently, as though my new status made me untouchable, if only temporarily. As I lie on my prison’s bed, doing nothing, she brings back the books in silence. I don’t accept her apology, but it’s a start. I open the book I was reading before I lost the privilege of performing that basic human function. There’s peen (p e n i s) drawings all over it. Made with pen. And they’re not even anatomically accurate.
I’m not sure whether they don’t grasp that this is the only thing that is mine here, or that they do. Maybe they’re just kids being kids. Maybe there’s something more to it. I guess I should watch them, and I mean truly watch them. Hopefully I will gain insight into why they torment me. I may even be able to learn how to appease them or make them ignore me.
Suddenly I’m convinced I have to follow them. So when I hear them running to the garden, I exit my room and watch them from afar. For the most part it’s the same thing, running and kicking or throwing a ball somewhere. But then it happens. They look at each other and become completely quiet.
“Hey, guys, there’s a cat in the bush behind the goalpost. Don’t look,” says the heir. I don’t see why that is relevant. Then I see them work together. The heir brings yesterday’s fish leftovers while the twins take a net. They place the fish in the middle of the garden and hide. When the cat comes to eat the fish, the net falls upon it. The cat struggles in vain to free itself.
“Stupid cat!” says the heir, and the others laugh. They throw it in the air and catch it again with the net, as though it were a ball. But I can tell they enjoy it so much more because it’s a living thing. However, during their shenanigans, the cat flies too high and hits a pointy rock on the wall. Its body falls flat to the ground.
Blood pours out of it and it doesn’t move. “S-word! What have you done!?” panics one of the twins. “It was your fault!” says the other pointing to the heir. “Guys, guys, chill,” says the heir confidently. “It was an accident. Let’s just throw it out and that’s it, like last week.” What? Are they seriously… No, wait, they are doing it. They are actually taking the cat with the rope to throw it away. They said “last week.” Is this something that happens recurrently, like, I don’t know, getting a haircut? Perhaps things are worse than I thought.
Yes, I see it now. They can take the life of an animal just like that and get away with it. What will they do when they get older? “S-word! She’s watching!” My heart stops. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I inadvertently made myself visible. We are looking at each other. The twins are freaking out, but the heir stays calm and announces, smiling. “It’s her word against ours,” then lets the net go and the dead cat falls to the floor. His face changes from the insidious smile to an expression of distress, and screams “Mom! Mom!” and the other two follow his lead.
I freeze where I stand as she runs toward us. “What!?” she yells, angry because they have interrupted her favorite tv show. Then she sees the cat. “What have you punks done?” “It wasn’t us mom, we swear,” says the heir. “We got here and saw her bashing its head, it was really disturbing.” Then she turns to me. I can tell she wants to bash my head.
“What are you, f-wording psycho?” She’s clearly drunk, because all her high-society decorum flies out the window when the margaritas kick in. “The hell is wrong with you? We give you shelter, food, and you pull this crap on us? Do I have to take you to a f-wording shrink? Go back inside! No leaving the house, no reading, no tv, no friends… two months!”
I accept my punishment in silence and return to my room. Mother cleans it up, leaving me only my bed and school stuff. For all my reading and studies I have no clue how things work.