by Josh Coblentz
In the middle of a lecture, with his fellow students either fixated on the professor or staring at their desks, minds wandering to some elsewhere metaphysical realm, David returned with a conscious effort to understand the information being spat out by the designated instructor, for all to mentally engage with. The professor's speech created an overarching environment. David understood that he was very limited in this setup. Realistically he could only either accept the information or dismiss it. He could probably also choose to ignore it, but the words, and the related ideas were still floating in the air, and would still sink into the subconscious, and then they would turn up at very inappropriate times, and cause who knows what kind of reaction. The professor was presently bringing up the much discussed philosophical difference between the self against the outside object, and the inherent dynamics between the two. The example he chose to use was a person and a knife. "Context, in this situation is everything," said the professor pausing between each clause of the sentence, letting the words sink in. It was working for David. He was fully engaged. "If the knife is sitting on a table, next to a plate of butter," the professor continued, "then you, the self, in interaction with this object, will probably feel safe." There was a stick figure of a person with a smiling face on the board and a knife drawn next to him. David scribbled something into his notes so fast that he later wouldn't be able to comprehend its meaning or relevance to the thoughts he was presently having. "But," with his finger held in the air, "if there is another person holding the knife above his head, with the blade pointing toward your body, the context will provoke fear in you, the self." At the moment David found all of this to be profound, and his mental engagement was at its peak until finally it reached a point of personal association inside his own consciousness.
This thought, or scenario hadn't re-entered his waking consciousness, as far as he could remember, since it actually happened. When he was younger his aunt used to babysit him, and between them developed an almost engulfing hatred. The young, 4 or 5 year old David always dreaded her babysitting him. When his cousins would be around him, under her supervision, he always felt he was receiving unfair treatment. This digression had slightly detached him from the professor's lecture and now he was into an internal world where the subconscious allows a manifestation into normal consciousness. The only aspect of this that he was aware of was his outer appearance. He made a cautious concern to show no sign of the emotional crises taking place within him.
One time, when he was being babysat, along with another cousin, the aunt watched, not really supervised while he and his older cousin were forced to box on the couch. She would yell, "Yeah, beat him up, Jack!" Jack had punched him in the stomach a few times and David tried with all of his might to stifle his opponent, but no luck. He remembered not being particularly mad at Jack, because they usually fought in this playful way, but in this context it was different. His anger was directed at the cause of this fight, the one who had set it up and had been rooting against him, his aunt. The fight ended by David running toward Jack, getting ready for a strong attack, but Jack ducked down and flipped David over his back, resulting in David coming down hard on the carpeted floor. He cried of pain, frustration, and helplessness simultaneously. And his aunt hovered over him, giggling beneath her half genuine emission of a sorrowful "Awwww," which to David showed no sign of empathy.
The build up of frustration continued with almost every occasion she had watched him. He would try to remember to tell his mother of the things she did to him, but usually by the time she came to pick him up, he was either too overcome with joy to remember the terrible events of the day, or unable to fully articulate the incident to make her seem as evil as he had known her to be. For instance he would tell her that Jack had pushed him off the couch, making it seem like Jack was to blame for the fight his aunt had constructed for her pleasure.
Another time David and his younger cousin, Dee, were taking turns playing with an Etch-a-Sketch. They had been sharing it decently, considering their age, unsupervised. When Dee had finished her drawing, their aunt, unaware of their system, had seen David take away the toy. "David!" she yelled at him, "give that back to Dee. You can't just take things away like that." "But it's my turn," He yelled back at her. "Give it back to her, now.", "No!" defiantly. She picked him up by the arm and dragged him into the next room where there were no windows and the lights were turned off. "You stay in here until you say you're sorry to Dee. And don't you DARE turn the lights on."
So he sat in the darkness for about 10 minutes with his arms folded, fuming, building up more internal anger directed toward his aunt, knowing that he did not do anything wrong, and that his younger cousin didn't have the means to express to her aunt the system they had between them regarding the toy, nor did she have the conscious knowledge of what was fully going on. She just knew that she had more time with the toy now, and that worked for her. After 10 minutes the aunt came in to see if David was ready to say sorry. "No!" he yelled in the same defiant childish tone he had before. The aunt came back about every 10 minutes for an hour and David showed no sign of wearing down. His anger had turned into hatred and spite and had developed a life of its own, comfortable with itself as it grew in its justification.
This particular weekend was troubling for David because the very next day she would be watching him again, this time alone. This had never happened before. Usually she only watched him once a week, but knowing that tomorrow could be potentially worse, sitting, contemplating in the dark room, made him get up and stomp around the dark room in circles. He never apologized, and about half an hour before his mother came to pick him up, he was let out of the dark room.
The next day he had mostly forgotten about his previous punishment, and everything was going much smoothly between he and his aunt. Then around lunchtime she had made him a hot dog and had one herself too. After they had both finished she went to the refrigerator to get an ice cream sandwich and began to eat it. "Give me one too," he said to her, meaning it as a question. She however, heard it as a demand, and, just to spite him, told him no. "My mom said I could have one today. Give me one." This time it was a demand. "I said no, David." Her voice got just as angry as his did. They continued to argue until she finished her dessert, then she went into the living room to watch TV, while David sat at the kitchen table, his face twitching and showing greater degrees of physical anger as he brooded.
He went over to the sink and grabbed a dirty steak knife out of it, turned around and walked slowly toward the living room, mimicking motions he had seen on a cartoon somewhere of a hunter sneaking up on its prey. When he got next to his aunt, with the knife raised over his head, the blade pointing at her, she had failed to realize that he was there, so he began to breathe increasingly heavier, not swallowing his saliva so that it would make the sound of a snarling beast, foaming at the mouth. She looked over in shock and yelled "DAVID! YOU PUT THAT KNIFE BACK RIGHT NOW!" He slowly lowered it and, still staring at her uninterrupted straight in the eye, breathing as heavily with spit flying in and out between his teeth, then began to walk the knife back into the kitchen, not feeling defeated, but slightly empathetic.
At this point he forgot what had happened after that. Surely she had told his mother, her sister, about the incident, but to his knowledge nothing ever came of it. The fact that he had forgotten it until now had to have some relevance to him, had to have some meaning to his current frame of mind. It was difficult for him to engage with the mindset of this younger version of himself, as he remembered. He slightly remembered wondering if he was even going to do anything with the knife when he reached his aunt, or if he just wanted to scare her. But really this just scared him even more at present. Was it possible for his hatred to build up to the point that he could no longer control his body, his mind, or his actions? Could this still happen now, without his knowing it? This recollection then dissolved back into present reality, and once he realized where he was again, the sharpness of the switched contexts hit him strongly. He looked at the girls sitting to his right. Some of them watching the professor, some of them drawing in their notebooks or texting somebody. None of them were looking at him. He looked to his left. Everyone around him was unconcerned with what he had just experienced, and in a way he wanted it to stay that way. But concurrently he had a deep fear that not expressing this sensation he had just relived would cause an eruption beyond his control, either sometime in the distant future, or even right now. His mind was in a deadlock with what to do and he began to panic. And in the middle of the lecture room he stood up, grabbed his notebook and his bag.