My mother and I had taken one of our weekly trips to the local market on a sunny day in August. It was harshly humid out and a thick, dark cloud passed over the sun as we entered the store, casting a shadow over the building. I was no firm believer in destiny at the time, but what I saw that day begs me to believe otherwise. The tinted-glass doors slid open and a cool breeze swayed past my mother and I as we saw a man pointing a gun at another man behind the counter. They both looked at us, the store uncomfortably silent. It was a quick event, and I can only remember bits and pieces, but I remember the fear. I remember the look in my mother's eyes and I can still feel the memories of the glass in my head.
There were sirens in the distance and the robber panicked. He didn't get the money he desired from the clerk so he came after us. A black barrel of a small handgun was soon pressed against my mother's head. He picked the weakest in the room. I remember snapping at him in a gut reaction, grabbing his wrist and pulling the gun away from my mother. A shot went off, shattering the door behind her. I had saved her. His other hand soon reacted, smashing me in the side of the head, sending me into the glass counter behind me where the clerk still stood dumbstruck. The sirens sounded closer.
A sudden rush of sensations hit my brain. The glass embedded in my skull and the blood soon flowing out of it. My vision became blurred but I saw him strike my mother, take her purse, and jet out the door. The memory cuts short there. I know everything that my mother told me after I woke up. However, unfortunately for me, it was over a year after the incident that I did wake up. The blow to my head mixed with the garden of glass in my skull had sent me into coma. She was fine, however, and that put a sense of peace in my head. The man got away with fifty dollars.
It took months of therapy and seven weeks with a psychologist to put me back into the correct state of mind. Well, the term "correct" has several connotations for several different people. I'm thankful that I'm alive and thankful that my mother is alive -- however this event shook me further in my bones than I initially thought. I spent weeks in my room staring at the ceiling and reading children's books; wrapping myself in an innocent cocoon. My perception of the outside universe was much like that of a child's perception of what is under a bed -- Paranoid and fearful. It was this child-like curiosity and fear that once again got me outside.
It began with slowly removing the dark black blankets I placed over my windows. They were a barrier of sorts. Avoiding the existence of an outside existence was easier than staring it in the face. Soon I began to walk around outside my house, taking in the old scents of life. Things rushed back and my steps began to become easier and more comfortable. However I still refused to speak to anyone besides my mother. She took care of me out of the kindness of her heart. My paranoid brain says it's only because I saved her. I still wonder about this sometimes.
I did not go out much, but it was enough to keep the doctors away. They were interesting. The way they paid close attention to me, like I was a lab rat. Maybe I was a curious case, or perhaps they were just doing their jobs, but I took something out of this. Their sense of observation struck me. They detailed my every step and eye movement in their notebooks. Perhaps I'm just a book waiting to be written. Maybe my case will make it into a textbook. I began to adapt this skill for myself. I would watch the way my neighbors would speak with my mom. The way their lips moved, the way their eyes shifted. I could tell when they were talking about me.
I would walk up and down my rural street, listening to the sounds of televisions through open windows. There only seems to be bad news, or at least there's only bad news worth reporting. Man stabbed at baseball game. Boy taken from parents. Girl found dead in park. The chorus of news anchors all singing the saddest songs in the world. Their words struck me and sometimes I would stand in the middle of the sidewalk just to hear if the people inside their homes would gasp or react to these words. Eventually my mother would yell at me to come back inside. I never heard a word from the windows.
She was aghast when I said I was going to the market. Questions of whether I was comfortable with going back or not and whether I wanted her to go were soon shot out of her mouth. Fear was scribbled all across her face, but I was fine. I was quite alright with going back. I wanted to see more people, wanted to read more stories on their faces. Perhaps I could write something about them; perhaps I should take a notebook. I could have been like one of those doctors.
When she asked why I was going, I said I was thirsty. In reality, I was looking for words. The words of strangers. My brain hungered to know what exactly drives people day in and day out. Every other minute a child is reported dead or kidnapped, and I want to know why they aren't smiling. Why they aren't grateful for being able to go to that market; for being able to take advantage of life's privileges. It made me angry. It made me very angry. Perhaps the only emotion I'd felt since I woke up.
The walk wasn't far - only a few blocks down from where I lived. I walked with a patient step, in no real hurry. I could still hear the news stations from the road. My mother's eyes followed me until I was out of view. Eventually I was mere steps from the building and I expected tension to bloom in my chest like a fungus -- however my lungs remained stable. There was no real feeling as I walked up to the front door and grasped the handle. I looked back up to observe the clouds in the sky. I wasn't sure why, but it seemed like I should note that. They were dark.
The cool breeze from the air conditioner swam past my head as I walked calmly inside. They replaced the old counter, it was wooden now. There was now a woman behind the counter assisting an elderly man with his groceries. The man from before must have been let go. It took a moment for me to adjust and soak in the environment before I remembered what I had come for. Benches beside the entrance looked like a nice place to start, so I sat. And in that spot I watched the world pass by.
For hours on end I sat and watched person by person walk in. A few of them looked at me and I looked back. Their gazes were short lived as their eyes moved back in front of them. Curiosities breezed in and out of my mind; questions of whether these people knew what happened here a mere year ago. Was the most critical moment in my life worth a moment's thought for these people? I wondered where the sudden coldness of the world came from, and wondered if sitting in this seat was worth my time.
Every so often a family would come in smiling together. In one particular family there was a young boy. He looked at me, connected vision with me, and stopped walking. His parents were alarmed by this. He began to walk toward me, with the most burning curiosity in his eyes. I simply looked back. Soon another family came in, nearly colliding with the boy, and cut off our vision. Something about this child caught me off guard. His innocent eyes shouldn't have to see the numbed pupils of mine. I was glad when his parents grabbed him away from the crowd. He scared me.
I sat for a few more minutes after that, considering what just happened, but paid no more thought to it until my walk home. My cranium was bouncing with thoughts and observations. Few people seemed concerned with anything but getting their groceries. Was that all that mattered to them in that moment? Am I not giving these people enough credit? Perhaps setting your mind to one task and blocking out everything else is the safest method of living. Step-by-step. Thought-by-thought.
When I entered my front door my mom gave me the strangest look. She asked if I was okay. I was fine. She asked if I got lost. I did not. She asked what I did. I looked for things, didn't find anything, though. She was relieved and gave me dinner. I wasn't hungry that night and I soon went to bed. The next day I repeated the process, and I would for the next few months until I eventually stopped on my way to the store to watch a news story from the sidewalk. This time there were audible gasps from what they heard. It intrigued me so I listened closer. It was hard to hear - the anchor was panicked. Finally the family began calling friends and moved away from the television. I heard the anchor clearly from the road. Two planes had collided with two buildings in New York City. Nobody visited the store that day.
The pure panic shown on their faces was invigorating to my interest. I soon walked home after seeing the store was bare. My mom was fixed to the television and was soon shouting about what had happened when I arrived in the door. My confusion and curiosity fused together over the course of the next few days. People joined together in prayer and grief for those who had been lost, though their panic was still as clear as day.
After not visiting for almost a week, I returned to the store. There was still talk and chatter among the employees about what had happened and finally I saw the real hearts of the machines that had once roamed these floors. Every day there were murders and suicides, but it took the death of thousands to finally graze their heads. The sudden buzz of talk and prayer and comfort brought forth a new look on their faces. I had seen every expression and twitch in the cheeks and eyes of the citizens here and never once had I seen the fear and care that had been present those weeks.
It was from that moment that I realized that humanity relies on emotional extremes to show the true faces of people. When misery and death becomes commonplace, it takes absolute decimation to birth the compassion in the hearts of millions. I still visit that store and I still watch their faces and they now greet me when they walk in like I've grown into the chair that has been the catalyst in my observations. From this bench I've watched the evolution of humans and the evolution of myself. I tell my mother everything that I see. She says I should look into studying psychology. I thought about it, but found myself against it. The surprises are what keep me in this seat, and textbooks cannot capture these people.