An Account of a Fictional Story, Repeated Word for Word as it May Have Happened
By Jesse Wozniak
Ill never forget the first time I met Darius.
"I can do a backward somersault! Can you?"
Unfortunately, I could not. I still cant, but thats not really the point of this story. The day was January 12th, 1991. I was a Sophomore at Sarah Lawrence University in New York City. I was taking an introduction to sociology course, and one of the requirements was that we do at least 50 hours of community service over the semester and then do a critical write up about our experience for the final. I had always been interested in racial issues, so I figured thered be no better place to get fodder for my paper than an inner city YMCA in New York. Back to Darius. He was the first child I met at the after school program. It was a program that reflected its surroundings more than anything. It was certainly not ambitious. We just got kids to come there after school to keep them off the streets. Besides, most of their parents were either working two jobs, or in jail, or dead, so the kids didnt really have anywhere to go anyway. I wanted to work with troubled teens, but I got stuck in the kindergarten room. I guess I didnt really get back to Darius yet. Sorry. Anyway, after showing me the vaunted backwards somersault a few more times than I thought was really necessary, he came back to me and looked up at me the way children do a stranger and said "Whats your name?".
"Im Justin" I said.
"You have a funny name, Mr. Winnernslowky"
I laughed, and told him could just call me Justin.
"Ok, Mr. Justin"
I asked him his name, and found out that it was Darius. Well, he pronounced it Dareius. He asked me why I said Darius, so I told him that Darius was a great Prussian monarch I studied last semester. Darius said he didnt know what a monarch was, but he didnt care, because he didnt want to be a monarch, he wanted to be a doctor. I tried to explain to him what a monarch was, giving him a short litany of Prussian rulers and the historical instability of politics in the Mid-Eastern shatterbelt. It was at this point I realized I was really bad with kids. So I switched tactics and told him that a monarch was really rich, but he didnt seem to care. I described everything I thought would interest a seven year old about the monarchy, and I finally won when I mentioned that Darius owned elephants.
"How many elephants?", Darius asked, eyes wide as saucers.
"Oh, way too many to count. Probably thousands"
"I saw an elephant once when I got to go to the circus. I want to own an elephant."
I was about to explain to Darius that it wouldnt be very practical to own an elephant in the middle of New York City, but decided that that probably wouldnt be a very good idea. I figured I was learning about kids already. Then Darius went back to perfecting the backward somersault for what seemed like several hours.
That was pretty much what I did the first day. Or every day for that matter. A couple of days later, when I came in, Darius ran over to me and said
"Mr. Justin! Mr. Justin! Wanna see my elephant?!"
Of course I wanted to see his elephant, so I followed him over to a corner of the gym where there was nothing but thousands of imaginary elephants. We played all afternoon with those elephants, training them and whatnot. I couldnt help but think it beat studying for my stats test the next day.
Darius and I became inseparable after that. I didnt have a car and eventually found out that Darius really didnt live too entirely far from me, so I started to walk him home. We had many an entertaining conversation. I suppose they all are with seven year olds. Thats also where I got to meet his mother, Mrs. Freeman. She seemed pretty excited to meet the infamous
"Mr. Justin" and I told her all about our elephants. It was the first time I ever knew what guilt felt like. As I stared into their run down, one room apartment, I couldnt help but feel like an asshole for complaining about anything in my life. But thats not really the point of this story.
Darius was a litte man of habit. For example, every day he would come in and ask me if I knew what the shortest verse in the bible was. He was very proud of the fact that he knew it, and never seemed to care that he had to enlighten me every day. I dont think Ill ever forget the fact that the shortest verse in the bible is "Jesus wept". Short and poignant, kind of like Darius. Maybe thats why it suited him so well.
In late February, Darius came in looking rather dejected. I asked him what the matter was, and all he said was
"Daddy got called today"
I had the hardest time figuring out what this meant until one of the coordinators explained to me that his father was in the military, and had just been called over to the Persian Gulf. That day when we got to his house, I asked Mrs. Freeman about Darius father. Apparently, she had become pregnant with Darius at 14. His father, Julian, had finished high school, but was forced to drop out before completing his first semester of college. The economy was terrible and the only people hiring were the military. At the time, it didnt really seem like such a bad deal. A fairly simple, and legitimate, way to support his young family. Besides a guy in his situation couldnt hope for much more.
Darius was pretty sad for some time after that, but eventually the elephants got him back in good spirits. Things were pretty much back to normal. Every day started with the shortest verse in the bible, followed by some somersaults, and finally a good hour or so of elephant training. I had fun, but at the same time couldnt help but feel like I was wasting my community service time. I wanted to be making a difference, you know, like the movie "to sir, with love". I wanted to be reforming tough street wise inner city kids into intellectuals, not playing with imaginary elephants. I cant say that I feel that way anymore, but I sure wish I did.
Then came March 2nd. Darius walked in and would not talk to me. He would not talk to anybody. He just sat in the corner and held a rumpled piece of paper. I started joking with him, telling him his elephants would run away if he didnt get up and do something, but nothing would finally shake him out of it. Finally, I asked him what the piece of paper was. He looked up at me with an expression of hurt so severe I can still feel my heart clinch in my chest.
"Mommy said I could have it" was all he said.
I took it from him and began to read. It read "Dear Mrs. Freeman, we regret to inform you that your husband, Julian was killed by friendly fire will in the line of duty. Please be comforted by the fact that he served his country bravely..." and so forth. Darius looked up at me with his heartbreaking little face and said
"Why, Mr. Justin? Why did they kill my daddy?"
I tried to explain to him the politics of the area and how we needed to stop the Iraqi army form invading the Kuwati borders, but realized it was futile. Finally, I just said
"I dont know, Darius. I just dont know"
I held him close to me for awhile as he cried. Eventually, he looked up at me with his beautiful brown eyes already overflowing with tears, and tried to speak, but couldnt manage the words through his sobs. I looked down at his little face as the hot tears began stinging my eyes and said to him:
"I know. Jesus wept."
The end."An Account of a Fictional Story, Repeated Word for Word as it May Have Happened" IS COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL AND MAY NOT BE DOWNLOADED, TRANSMITTED, PRINTED OR PERFORMED WITHOUT THE EXPRESS PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR
"An Account of a Fictional Story, Repeated Word for Word as it May Have Happened" debuted February 28, 2003, performed by Jesse Wozniak.
Performed at No Shame Goes To War (Charleston), on March 21, 2003. Performed by Aiden Feore.