A Man I Once Knew

A Short Story by R. Taylor
Copyright 6/12|All rights reserved

I’ll bet you’d be surprised to hear, that the Robert you know is the Robert I knew.
And if I told you about the Robert I knew, I’m sure you’d insist, there’s no way, just no way, that the Robert you know is the same Robert I knew.
Because, you’d say, that man, the Robert I knew, is nothing like the Robert you know.
And if you said those words, like I know you would, something would churn and start to twist in my gut. And I wouldn’t know just what to say, although there’s a little voice inside me that begs to be heard. Won’t somebody listen just this once? Pretty please?
And then I’d have to wonder…
What if I let that little voice loose?
Would it be worth the risk?
And if I take that risk…
Would it matter at all?
Would you have any clue, that with that risk, a slight wish of hope would rise up in my soul? A fathomless hope, that if you heard the whole truth about the Robert I knew—that maybe, just maybe, you might understand.
And if you understood, I’d have to wonder…
Would you embrace me for once and for all? Pull me into the fold, and do all you could to make it all better, no matter how long it took?
Would you?
Or would you resist with all of your might? Because you know, without a doubt, that this Robert, the man that I knew…would never…could never…do the things that voice said.
No, no, no, you’d insist. The Robert I knew, sounds completely foreign to you.
And then you might ask…
Isn’t it possible someone led me astray and I don’t have a clear picture of the Robert you know?
Maybe I was brainwashed or thrown off track.
And could it be, if that were true, that maybe, just maybe, I’d been wrong all this time, and perhaps, just perhaps, I might be a bit bitter about that?
Because that’s how I’d sound to you, no matter what, is it not?
I’m most certainly sure that it is.
And then my risk, should I take it, would most likely be rewarded by you, with slanted looks of doubt and searing reproach.
Because you’re very, very sure, that the Robert you know, could never, ever, be the Robert I knew. There’s no way on earth, you’d claim with a shake of your head…it simply can’t be. Why can’t I see?
But, what if I were brave, and let that little voice tumble out and have its due?
Right away I’d pray really hard, that once it was finally free, that little voice would be as big as can be, and a whole lot stronger than me.
So it would force you to stop insisting straight to my face—that surely I lie, surely I lie.
And I’ll wonder why you can’t see that you have to stop. You absolutely must.
For your insistence is causing an eruption in me. A meteoric shift.
And a blazing swirl of long forgotten hurts, buried anger, painful questions, and snatches of crushing memories I don’t understand to this day are rising up and roiling in my belly, dying…yes, dying for some kind of release.
And if that ancient rage were ever allowed to escape, I’d be very, very afraid for you.
Because, if unleashed, that molten truth would spew forth, and once it was out, it could never be stopped, and the force of its fury might even melt you down…
And then you’d have to listen—whether you liked it or not.
And if you had to listen, maybe you might ask…
Why now? Why so much to say after so much silence, so much time?
And I’d have to wonder about that too…
Yes, why? Why now? Why, indeed.
And then I’d start to think…
Just what is the point after all of this time?
What difference does my truth matter anyway?
Because I’m most confident, that no matter what you heard—no matter how terrifying, cruel, or sad—even with undeniable proof—you’d still think it all improbable, impossible, and completely beyond all belief.
You’re mistaken, you’d insist. And a little crazy, you’d imply.
You were too young. You misunderstood.
Or perhaps your recollections are skewed.
Things aren’t always as they seem, you know. Maybe you were told so many lies you don’t know what’s real and what’s not.
And again, you’d continue to persist in your sorry attempt to convince me, that the Robert I knew, isn’t the Robert you know.
Oh, yes, I’m quite certain. That’s just what you’d say, in your sincerest and smuggish way.
And the little voice, never heard, would still try its best to climb up my throat and out of my mouth, in spite of the fact that I’m choking it down. Like I always do. Like I always did—just to survive the life I lived, with the Robert I knew.
And you, unaware of the horror you’ve been spared, will peer out at me from your innocent face, convinced I’m delusional, desperate, and a little confused.
How sad, you’ll say to yourself…
How very, very sad.
Because you’ll know, without a doubt, that the things I said, if I really said them, could never, ever be true.
And then you might start to feel sorry for me and decide that perhaps what I deserve is really your pity—and maybe even your grace.
But you’ll continue to insist and insist (maybe in a nicer way) that the Robert you know is not the Robert I knew. Why won’t I just admit it?
And after you say all of that, I’ll know for a fact, that even if I showed you how the damage he did still marks me to this day—even if you knew how he left me broken, battered, and never quite whole—and even if I told you how much I fear, that in spite of me, or my attempts to stop it, that little voice might just bust out some day, and make a righteous fool out of you—I’ll be forced to realize, that nothing I could ever say, if I ever said it, will ever make you see.
And I’ll be left to do whatever I must do—to silence the voice; make it give up its fight.
Even though I know it never will.
So I’ll take that extra drink, swallow another pill, and jam that needle in my flesh—again and again—
Until the pain you can see hides the pain that you can’t.
Because whether you’ll admit it or not, I know for certain that the Robert you know is most definitely the Robert I knew.
And in the end, the Robert you know will go to his grave revered, loved, and missed.
And I’ll be left to wonder for the rest of my life…
Just who was the Robert you know and why didn’t I ever get to meet him?
Why?
And when I let myself think about that…how he loved you as his own, but cast me aside,
And never, ever told you I exist…
I’ll be forever jealous of you.
And then what will hit me hard and fast like a fist, is the very sad, but simple truth:
That your Robert…
My Robert…
A man I once knew.
Has secretly been a stranger…
To both me—
And, to you.
~

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