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Pondering the Puzzlement

Who is it? Did he see us?

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(1/2010) I didn't recognize the owner of the panicked, hoarse whisper that came out of the darkness between houses along Main Street. I did recognize the reason behind the words and the tone. I'd been there before, not in that particular black gap between buildings, but in similar places, among similar people.

"Who is it? Did he see us?"

I felt sick to my stomach as I walked on, not changing my pace, not looking left or right- just another deaf citizen in the light, unseeing, but not unknowing. My body definitely knew! Fear raced through me urging me to get away quickly. I had to be cool. I had to be uncaring. I had to think of my responsibilities to my family. It didn't matter if 10,000 hits of speed were changing hands. Nor did it matter if someone was about to have a bad acid trip. Or had a vein popped, ready for the heroin needle. Or had just sucked up a line of cocaine and was wild with the head rush. I had to pass by as if nothing were out of the ordinary. In past years of my life such moments had been very ordinary.

"It's Jack. He's alright."

The second voice I actually knew and felt some relief. I'd get by without trouble. I'd heard those same words calmly spoken by the same person several times over the years, always to people seeking to harm me because I was not quite one of them. Following immediately behind those words was a wash of sadness. What I thought might be happening in that dark place was confirmed by the voice that granted me safe passage. How many deals had that voice brokered?

For a wild moment, I was caught between getting away and stopping to face the dark. Not to chastise, or berate, but merely to ask, "It's been thirty years. Why are you still doing this? Why haven't you found a way out?"

It's difficult writing about dark things that occur where one lives. Even avoiding the use of names doesn't keep one safe if an event is described with too much clarity. Some detail trips a moment long forgotten and a face suddenly comes to mind. A word is spoken and a reputation is called into questioned. A past, believed forgotten, is dragged uncomfortably into new light and people who have put such miseries behind them are hurt again.

Silence, if it accomplishes anything, perpetuates. Silence helps nothing.

Thinking back on the time I moved in the shadows, or arrogantly staggered about in the light, I can't recall much that could have turned me from the paths I chose. I didn't fear the Law, though I knew it could prevent me doing as I pleased, if it managed to capture me. So I hid, or ran from it. Religion had proved itself false. Family had failed, not from lack of effort to turn me, but from ignorance of how to deal with what I'd gotten into. (There was also some fear that too much hidden might be revealed.) A psychologist I'd run into spent a fair bit of time questioning me, hoping to get me to understand why I did what I did. In the end, I just couldn't take the physical or mental pain of dying slowly from the toxins I consumed. I was forced to reconsider my choices.

I was also fortunate to have found people who had survived choices similar to the ones I'd made. People unashamed of having chosen wrongly, and wise enough to know such choices could be unmade. People who bared their souls to show me there were levels below where I'd sunk. People who urged me to spare myself any more misery. People who realize that silence only allows the misery to continue.

I'm not one of those people. I walked on by and let someone sink deeper into the shadows.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.