Wasted Youth

Posted on: July 10, 2014

I have a disease that some might call a curse. I have never met anyone else with my particular affliction so it must be rather unique. That being said, I have not met everyone, so perhaps it’s not as special as I think. But instead of beating around the bush, I’m going to try my best to explain it in a simple and easily understood manner.

In a way, my physical appearance is not my own. I can choose which clothes to wear, but I cannot control their level of wear. I can choose to cut my hair, but I cannot choose its length and I cannot control its neatness. I am a product of other people’s actions, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. We are all a product of other people’s actions to one degree or another.

I apologize for being so vague, but it’s a difficult proposition to get someone to buy into. I have to walk my way slowly into the pool, instead of jumping right in. The best I can try for is simple and pure honesty. In the most basic terms, I am a mirror to youth’s actions. Does that make sense? Probably not. To be honest, I don’t understand it myself. I see the what, but never the why. And it’s not just youth’s actions either. It just so happens that they are the ones that inflict the most damage.

My physical appearance is linked to the humanity of the society that I am a part of. If you’re familiar with the tale of Dorian Gray then you’re aware of the tenuous link between physical appearance and moral behavior. In the classic novel by Wilde, the protagonist stays young and beautiful while his portrait accumulates his sins and other despicable behaviors. The portrait shows the true nature of the monster.

My condition is in some ways the opposite. My physical appearance has been broken and twisted for years now, and will only continue to get worse as people’s behavior toward me slides further into contempt. I once met a child who asked why I was so ugly. When I tried to explain my situation, he could not grasp it. So I had to simplify as best I knew how. I had to discard my own pity, and tell this innocent child what exactly was “wrong” with me.

“Every time someone is mean to me,” I began, “I get uglier.”

The boy dipped his head to the side, a weak neck, as if he was examining a painting.

“People must always be mean to you,” he said.

I nodded. I wanted to tell this boy about my pain. I wanted to tell him how it all began. The reason was unknown then and it is unknown now. I wanted to tell the boy that I was once young and beautiful, and that I treated people poorly. I was lost in my own vanity and one night in a storm, a man came to my door for assistance. Like any fairy tale, I turned him away. Fairy tales are for children. In the nights following, the process began. Harsh words took on a new meaning. My hair began to fall out and my face began to stretch. I became ghoulish almost over night, and that was only the beginning. Lastly, I wanted to tell the boy about my fear and anger in the early days, but how a resignation and beauty fell upon the whole thing. A sort of irony that can only be laughed at.

But the mother pulled the boy away from me before I could say anything. As she dragged him down the sidewalk he kept looking at me, and I at him. She glanced back frightfully, and I don’t blame her. A beggar, a vagabond, a drunk (though I haven’t had a drink in years), a hobo; you would be best advised to stay away.

That brings us to the present. That brings us to the nasty powers of youth. That brings us to the tears I shed as they danced on the ashes of my Oklahoma xanadu.

The house, my home, had been abandoned for some time. I was born in Oklahoma and I made my way back there, north of the city. The land was polka-dotted with houses and suburban compounds. There was a grid of roads running north, south, east, and west with stop signs at all mile intersections. But if you went a bit further north, where the pavement ended and the road fell into disrepair and dirt, nearly a mile off the road surrounded by felled mesquite trees and overgrown high grass, piles of dead things home to snakes and rats, you’d find my lodgings.

The youth in the area, boys in cowboy hats impressing pretty young girls with their courage and cockiness, found the house. Many Friday and Saturday nights, I would sit in the underbrush and watch them break the windows, rip up the floors, piss on the walls; all by the faint light of their cell phones. Sometimes they would come in with spray paint and graffiti the walls that still stood. The roof caved in one year after a rain so I could always see the stars at night, which was an unexpected gift.

And then, on a summer night, they burned her down simply because they could. Because they were young and why not? They wanted to see her burn. How could they know what it meant to someone like me? Why would they care?

I was lucky to get out of there at all, and managed to escape just in time and take up my usual view in the trees. I shed tears as they laughed, drunk on booze. And then the fire took over faster than I would have thought possible, faster than they thought possible, and before they knew what they had done they had escaped and left her torched and burning.

I fell asleep not caring if the flames overtook me in the night. I had practiced as much patience as I knew how, but I was done with all that. I had enough viciousness for a lifetime and wanted no more.

In the morning, the fireman must have thought I was dead. When he rolled me over and looked upon my face, he must have thought I was burned. But the fire had not done me in, and they loaded me into a truck to take me to the hospital, and that is where I tell you my tale now, from a bed in a white room covered in bandages. The doctors come, but they don’t know what to say, so they simply hold me here. Out of sight, out of mind.

As they drove me away, I glanced out the truck window for one last look at the remains of the house, all gray and smoking.

“Thank God no one was hurt,” said the fireman to no one in particular.

I wanted to reply, but had nothing left to say. He was very young and couldn’t have heard me anyway.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Anna Westbury

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