Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ephemera

Chris White

Chris White. His name was Chris White. The name returned to me "out of the blue" as they say--in fact it I was gazing on a gnarled grey sky, up to which ghostly ringlets of steam escaping my shower ascended like released souls returning to a primordial mass. The name only occurred to me at first, a dissociated orphan. Who was Chris White? Then the image appeared, like a spectral holograph sliding into place and animating this dead form.

Chris White was my first enemy. He must have predecessors long forgotten, but Chris White was the first person I identified as my enemy. And that he remains. One of my earliest memories is of ignoring my mother's half-pleading, half-threatening imprecations, to clamber over our back fence into Chris White's backyard and answer his dare. I don't remember the fight, but to this day I can still call up, however faint, my umbrage at the effrontery that he should challenge me.

Thus began our border war. Plundering raids, incursions, bottle rocket attacks, dried dog shit terror bombings; it could get ugly. Greater powers might intervene on occasion--teachers, parents, older kids--but never to finality. It was no use; ours was a conflict that went deeper than territorial integrity or clashing interests. We hated each other and that was all we needed to know. It was as if this hatred preceded all else. Mutual hatred was the Aristotelian prime mover of our hostility.

Peace was never sought much less declared. We remain technically at war, like North and South Korea. Hostilities ended only when they became impracticable due to his family moving away--relocated to make way for a freeway. If I saw him tomorrow and somehow recognized him, I would not be surprised if we resumed our contest without preliminaries.

Chris White was the first person I rejected on principle, that is, simply for being Chris White. To live, to not throw yourself off a building or simply starve yourself to death, after all, is to declare yourself worthy of the greatest gift. To live is to assert: this is what a human is, this is what he does. We are all really just competing versions of Man; even if we don't choose our version. We see it in the satisfaction of superiority we feel before the degenerate and the ridiculous, in the cruel human habit we have of seeking out the base for ridicule and disdain. Likewise, that same disdain indicates our recognition that shared humanity means shared shame. We're all relatives, however distant. To me Chris White was a foul ideology incarnate, and every breath he took a desecration.

He was big and ungainly, with broad hips and narrow shoulders, with dull brown hair and a face without features due to an excess of subcutaneous fat. This physique wouldn't have mattered if it wasn't so true to the personality it hosted, which seemed to me unfortunately feminine--not to say effeminate, which would have inspired in me at least condescending sympathy, for the hostile attention it would have brought him. But Chris White was mediocrity incarnate, and mediocrity has its advantages in the crab bucket that is elementary school. I may not have been anything special, but I had a knack for attracting unwanted attention.

Chris White had the unfortunate combination of a poor sense of humor and a keen sense of propriety. He took offense easily and protested shrilly. Thus I suspect the initial casus belli of our war was something I said, probably in jest. My mouth was getting me into trouble from an early age. We were ideally suited to hate each other. Chris White was the first in a long line of people, usually male, who commit the unforgivable sin of not getting Dennis Dale. Chris White rejected me on principle too. How dare he.

But it was he who managed to draw me into an early disgrace the memory of which I cannot shake despite, or maybe because, of its petty nature. Queued up on the school blacktop for some purpose or other, we found ourselves in close proximity. It wasn't long before we were taunting each other. Holding a windbreaker, I whipped him across the face with it, cutting him with the zipper. I was marched off to the principal's office by a horror-stricken teacher. In an instant I was transformed from a well-behaved student to a problem child. My mother was mortified.

The Whites moved out and their home remained behind for years, vacant and boarded up, as various lawsuits attached to the freeway construction worked their way through the snake of the legal system. A root from an oak tree cut down from our backyard sprang up in the White's backyard in the form of a great, ugly bush. One summer Japanese beetles appeared around it. I had never seen them before and took them to be some hideous form of bumble bee. I took to hunting them with an old tennis racket; the lumbering fliers came over the fence like lobs over the net that I would smash back over it, looking to achieve distance or height. Eventually they cut the house from its foundation and carried it off.

I can't help cherishing even the hated things from my past. It wouldn't be my past without them, after all. So yes, I miss Chris White. But I do not like him.

 
Ulrich Schnauss, Suddenly the Trees are Giving Way

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