after Joe Bucciano's "Nostalgia for an Imagined Past"
Copyright ©2017 by Christopher Conlon
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When I was a boy they lied to me, but I was a boy, so how was I to know? I had no friends. I lived my entire life in my room. They told me I was different and that I must never set foot outside because—but they never explained because. There was no reason, it seemed. It just was.
It took me many years to realize how they had lied to me. All throughout my boyhood everything seemed normal; I knew nothing else. I sat at my desk, spinning the globe of what I was given to understand was "the world," even as they told me that the world was not for me, that my world was and always would be the desk, the chair, the globe, the few books in the room they had severely forbidden me to ever open.
That, and the window. Through its cool glass I could see what they called the ocean. Sometimes a sailboat would pass by. They told me such crafts were monsters that would eviscerate my guts and steal my soul if I ever approached them. And so I stayed in my room. They fed me milk and gruel. There was a pot under my plank bed that they took out occasionally, though never often enough.
One day, upon standing and stepping away from my desk, I accidentally brushed with my arm the blue book which sat perennially untouched on my desk and it fell open. Sweating, my breath short, I shut the book again immediately, but not before I had glimpsed what was on the page.
There was nothing on the page. It was white and blank.
It took me weeks to gather the courage to peek inside the book again; in the meantime I lived in terror that they would somehow notice that the book had been opened. But they did not notice, and eventually I looked into the volume again. Every one of its pages was blank.
Sometime later I overcame my trembling fears enough to pull down and open the other books on the shelf, as well.
Blank, all of them.
The globe too, with its mysterious shape and features: I wondered what it was, this idea of "the world," what it meant.
What I had taken for granted before now seemed to me an unfathomable mystery I sought to solve.
I planned my escape for months, but I was constantly frustrated and stymied by them. I knew not where I was, or when, or who. I knew nothing except that it seemed there was a world other than my world and that my world was in some vital sense unreal. Perhaps, I pondered, my keepers were not real. Perhaps I was not real.
Once when I heard nothing but quiet everywhere I dared to move toward the door, the door through which they entered periodically, the door I never dared touch let alone tried to open. The door was not completely closed; the latch had not clicked when they had left after giving me my milk and gruel. This was the first time such a thing had ever happened. I stood at that unclosed, unlocked door for so long that my legs all but gave out from fatigue; I could reach out my hand, I knew, I could turn the knob, I could pull open the door...it was possible...
That was many years ago.
I am old now, and feeble. Still they bring me my milk and gruel, still they empty my pot, though never often enough. The only thing that has changed is that since the day they left it ajar that single time they no longer bother to lock or even close the door.
I have made peace with my world, I suppose. Perhaps one day I will die, assuming in fact that I live.
How I miss the days of my youth, when I knew nothing and yet did not know it. Now I am aware that the chance which arrived that day was the only such chance I would ever receive. My hopes are nothing but dust now, dust forever.
How I wish I could be young again, could live in a world of possibility and hope, when my world
was the world and there was no other, and I knew happiness....