catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 14 :: 2014.07.11 — 2014.07.24


The stone

I was born with a secret.  A smooth, hard, heavy secret right below my ribs.  Up against my spine.  Somewhere in…here.  You couldn’t see it from the outside, but I could feel it.  It was terrible.  And beautiful.  And that was the worst of all.  For a long time, I thought everyone had one.  That the weight and pressure was part of life.  And as I grew up, I began to realize that it wasn’t, that most people just had livers and spleens and gallbladders…but not this.  And honestly?  I always knew it.  I always knew it was only me.  But who wants to believe that, eh?  Who wants to be The One?

And once I got that, once I knew I was, I was sure that everyone else could see it.  That my friends, my parents could see the bulge.  Just as I could see that they had none.  Because…well, because, eventually it started to move.  Or grow.  Or who knows what, but it started to show through my skin.  I’m sure of it.  Sometimes I would look and look and pass my hand over smooth stomach matter and never see a thing.  But other days, it would catch the light and stand out, or I would wake up with an obvious bump and have to wear baggy shirts.  Because what if someone saw?  They’d think it was a tumor and drag me into the nurse’s office or call my parents…I mean, think about that.  And so, as the secret grew inside me, I had to grow to hide it.  Layer and layer of camouflage, padding my skin from the bulge, hiding the mass I couldn’t control with one that I thought I could.

It became clear as I got older that the secret wasn’t really growing, just moving.  Moving closer and closer to the edge of my skin.  And I knew what it wanted.  It wanted out.  Air, sun, long walks on the frickin’ beach!  It wanted to get out!  And frankly, I wanted it to.  Maybe once it got out, it would leave me alone.  Maybe I wouldn’t have to hide it all the time.  Maybe I could go on with the rest of my life and feel…right.

But that’s when I realized.  Realized the worst fear I had ever not had.  Realized something awful about the thing inside me.  It was terrible.  And it was beautiful.  And it was my name.  It was my name.

The day it came, I was home from school.  I had given up trying to stop it, and it had begun to press harder and harder from the inside of my skin.  I actually hadn’t been to school all week, dying from pain and shame and a name that wanted to come out any day now.  My parents were scared to death but had no idea what was up.  I’d had to lie to them, keep them out of my room.  I mean, I had to!  I had a huge, red bump on my stomach that I could never have explained.  I remember when it started to come.  When the first of the name burst through my skin.  It felt like birth and death all at once.  Like life being pushed through a tube.  Like a ferret breaking out of an orange.  The pain.  The pain was like…nothing.  It was something I could never explain in a thousand tries, and yet I keep on trying.  Because it was my pain.  Because it was the single most horrific, important day of my life.  The day I spent, writhing on my bed, trying to pass a secret.  Like a big, bloody kidney stone.

When it was over, I lay still for a moment, overcome with exhaustion and fear and pride.  When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I reached down and felt for the thing that had caused me so much pain.  My hand closed around it — smooth, small, and egg-shaped.  I couldn’t move my head because of the pain in my abdomen, but I brought the thing up to my face and held it above me.  Squinting up at the ceiling light, I could see this secret at last.  I wiped off some of the blood left from its exit and saw that it was a beautiful, perfectly smooth white stone.  As I stared up that day at the stone, surrounded by the light directly above me, I could just make it out — my name, etched into the white surface.  My beautiful, terrible name.

I recovered, I guess, from what happened in my bedroom that day.  Re-covered.  Re-hid.  The wound in my gut never really healed, but I bandaged it the best I could, and it soon didn’t keep me from the things I wanted to do.  From my so-called normal life.  And you know, it was sort of that way for the rest of me, too.  I cobbled myself back together, limped around for a bit, and then began to realize that even though my life was different, it wasn’t any worse.  What could have been worse than that thing inside me, anyway?  I might have had to change little things about the way I lived, less sports, more care taken of my body.  But once I stopped resenting those changes, I came to like them.  I realized that this new me — not much different from the old one, really — was a pretty good me to be. 

There was one problem.  My name.  I knew that’s what it was, even more now that I could see it.  But I wasn’t sure what it said.  I wasn’t even sure how to read it.  See, it was in some weird elfin language, real beautiful but impossible to translate.  Somehow I knew when I looked at it that it was right, that it fit.  That this was totally my name.  And that it was wonderful.  I could almost hear how it would sound when spoken — almost.  It was like living with the answer on the tip of your tongue for the rest of your life.  This beautiful, terrible, freakish name staring at me in some intense inhuman language.  And knowing that it was me, was my heart and name, but having no idea what it said.

I slipped the stone in my pocket and took it with me to school everyday.  In between classes, I would rush to the library and flip through books of foreign languages, looking for something similar.  Never found anything.  Maybe didn’t expect to.  But I had to look.  And while I still felt weird because of all that had happened, it started to give me…purpose.  Like a quest.  To find this language and read my name.  To know finally the truth of me.

And then something wonderful happened.  I started to notice other kids doing weird stuff when no one was looking.  Sitting in study hall, staring at something shielded by their hands.  Clenching some object in their pocket in the hall.  And a crazy thought started to come to me.  Was I not alone?  Did other people have stones with their names, too?  I even caught a girl rushing away from the language books with a worried look on her face and something in her fist.  It had to be!  It had be true that I wasn’t the only one.  So I tried to bring it up in secret, dropping hints and making odd observations to people I didn’t know.  Hoping that they would see it, too, and maybe show me their stone.  No one ever did.  I never actually saw a single other namestone, but I know that they were there. 

The more I hung around with the people I suspected of having a stone of their own, the more they pushed me away.  I guess they were too scared of me finding them out, just like I was so scared of them.  But if we were alike, didn’t we need to stick together?  Shouldn’t we have helped each other read the stones?  But little by little it seemed to me that the others had figured it out.  They stopped acting suspiciously, never ran off to the library, and really just seemed to have a sense of resolve.  They had read their names and knew who they were.  The minute I thought that, I could see it everywhere.  Confident, grounded, happy kids who had put their stones to rest.  And that’s when I got afraid.

Any sense of community I had had upon discovering my fellow namestones disappeared in no time.  I was alone again, the only one who hadn’t read their stone.  Had I spent too much time trying to connect with them?  Should I have stuck to the translation instead?  Or was there something special about mine?  Was it even harder to read?  Or was I really that much dumber?

After awhile, I started thinking that my name must be something like Loser or Dork or Stupid.  The way I was stuck, it would fit.  At first, it was just a thought, but the more I thought about it, the more I believed it.  And if that were my name — my name for crying out loud — then I was doomed.  There was nothing I could do about it.  Except.  Except there was one thing.  I could hide it.  I could hide my stupid name from everyone else and pretend that I was confident and normal, too.  That I was like everyone else.

So I did everything I could to prove my name wrong.  I acted like everyone else.  I told people lies about myself.  I tried to hang out with the popular kids.  And it didn’t take too long.  They started to let me hang around…as long as I did what they wanted.  Which I did.  I had to.  I had to prove that my name was as cool as theirs.

And then one day I showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The wrong place was the bathroom outside the geometry room.  The wrong time was just as one of the coolest guys in my class fed his stone to a younger kid.  I know that’s what it was.  I caught a quick glimpse of the white surface and freaky writing as he forced it down the kid’s throat.  And I realized.  I realized that he had no more clue what his stone said than I did.  He had been as big a faker as me, and finally he couldn’t stand it anymore and made this poor kid swallow the stone.  So that it wouldn’t haunt him anymore.  But I bet it did.  And you know what?  I bet it haunted that kid, too.  I bet it worked its way out of his gut, too, and made him crazy.  And it wasn’t even his name.  It was someone else’s.  But he had to deal with it anyway.

I still don’t know what that stone said.  I carried it around with me for years and never figured it out.  But about a year ago, I had a dream.  I was a naked baby, all alone on the bank of a river.  I had nothing to protect me from the elements.  No guide to keep me from falling into the water.  Nothing to eat or drink.  And no one to protect me.  Because there were soldiers in the woods.  And they were looking for me.  And no one was there to save me.  But then a man appeared.  Bigger and scarier than any of the soldiers, but he wasn’t there to kill me.  He bent down to the riverbed and pulled out a smooth white stone.  It glistened in the sun as the water ran over it, and he slipped it into a sling by his side.  He knelt down and held out his hand and asked me if I wanted to stand up.  I took his hand, and he helped me up, no longer a baby, but a 14-year-old boy.  And he looked into my eyes with a glint of trouble and called me by my name.  And, no, I don’t remember what it was, but it wasn’t Loser or Dork or Stupid.  It wasn’t anything I had ever thought.  The sound was rich and powerful and calm, and it sank to the bottom of my gut.  And I couldn’t tell it to you now, but I know it somewhere in…here.  It was terrible.  And it was beautiful.  And it was my name.

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