28 Jul Chapter 29: Ashamed
I try to nap in the shuttle skycradle but I can’t fall asleep. I stare at the dim cabin lights, then close my eyes and watch the afterimage morph and fade.
I picture Jalea and Gavs. As I predicted, we haven’t done a good job of keeping in touch with each other. I’ve spoken with them a few times, but our conversations always feel a little stiff. It’s like there’s this mental wall between us. I visualize having a great time with them, getting to know them better, falling deeper in love with them, and then a year or two later… attending their funeral. I just can’t do it.
Gian. What she said keeps slipping into my thoughts. I push it down—that vague, generalized shame. I don’t want to feel that.
A steward a row ahead brings a blanket to a reclining passenger. I hear rustling; Rills has plopped himself down in the empty skycradle beside me. He, Laik and I are flying to Sojybri, where one of our contract manufacturers is based.
“How are you holding up?” he asks.
“I’m doing well enough.”
“I just want you to know I’m here for you if you ever need to talk.”
“I hope you and Gian work out whatever issues you have. If it helps I’m happy to set up a mud wrestling match. I’ll officiate.”
I smile. “You don’t want to wrestle too? You’d miss out on all the fun.”
“It would be an unfair fight, I’d whip all your asses.”
I pick at the edge of the skycradle armrest. “Rills, you know you don’t need to come along on these trips if you don’t want to. I realize I’ve been way too laid back about inserting my friends into what could become dangerous situations.”
“I think we all know what could happen, we’re not going in blindly. The whole freaking universe is unsafe, and I don’t want to live in a bubble. I really believe in what you’re doing, too. When I first heard about it from Laik I thought, yes, here’s my chance.”
Rills rests his head back on the cushion. “Long ago there was a kid in my school who got teased mercilessly because he looked weird and had a speech impediment. The other kids would do the meanest things to him for no reason. This happened daily for years.
“I was always really athletic and made friends easily, so I didn’t have any frame of reference for what it was like to be him. I would just stand there watching the kid get emotionally abused and do nothing. And the worst part is I didn’t even realize that what we were doing was wrong! Not once. I doubt my thoughts at the time extended past ‘that kid looks funny, let’s tease him.’ I obviously wasn’t very emotionally mature at that age.
“Later it hit me how horrible it must have been for that kid. Going through life year after year dreading the daily abuse you know is coming, thinking that everyone hates you. I felt so guilty about what I’d done. Still do.
“So when Laik told me about how you’re working to fix things and make people’s lives better I knew it might be a small way I could start to right the wrongs I’ve done. Guilt isn’t the reason I want to help, it just makes it more… meaningful.”
I take hold of Rills’ hand. “Do you know what happened to that kid? Where he is now?”
“No. I’m worried that after all we did he might have hurt himself. Or worse.”
My first impulse is to tell him I’m sure that didn’t happen, but I stop myself. I’ve always disliked that kind of knee-jerk reassuring comment because it’s often no more than a lie.
Rills squeezes my hand. “I’m sorry for laying all this stuff on you, I bet I sound like a dope.”
“No more than I usually do myself.”
He smiles. “It’s not like I think about it all the time. I’m guessing everyone is ashamed of something from their past. You learn to live with it.”
We sit like this for awhile. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I know we’ve landed.