A Lot Lot Less and Whole Lot More

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
A college studentt is tortured, his family killed for information. His silence saves the world. A member of the audience learns about herself as she listens to his public plea to be treated just like everyone else.

Submitted: November 09, 2013

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Submitted: November 09, 2013

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A Story by Evan Werner

 

“A Lot Lot Less and a Whole Lot More”

 

 

Everyone had heard about him, but no one had heard from him. Today is the first time he has agreed to speak to anyone about the incident since his debriefing with the CIA, and he is speaking two blocks from my dorm on Ferris street in this auditorium at USC.

I feel like I know him already. Six feet tall, short dark hair and a handsome face and figure in that jockey, fratty sort of way. His fit frame fills his yellow Vineyard Vines button down shirt that cleanly tucks away into his khakis. This is not the cute guy whose name I never knew but used to stare at in Calc class two semesters ago; the guy with the dimple on his left cheek. Here is the icon of popularity, normality and American youth, the savior of the world… the ultimate frat-star.

I almost hate myself for being here, for spending so much time talking about how we shouldn’t be talking about him anymore, but everything else messed up in the world. I want to educate, to yell out or do something “rash” as my friends call it when I act a little crazy. I call it being honest. Like last week when I stole that punk eight year old’s ice cream because he kept bullying this cute little girl with a Pony Princess backpack. I used to have a Pony Princess backpack. With a major in journalism and the seven hours I waited in line to make sure I was one of the students seated, I know I can’t miss it.

He walks on stage without an introduction, the nine hundred students and dozens of cameramen quit their mutterings and chit chat and the hall gets uncomfortably quiet. People are afraid even to shift in their seats. This was the kid who saved the world after all, and they feel lucky for being there, undeserving even, of hearing what he has to say.

Everyone is nervous but me. The two girls sitting next to me play with the tissues in their hands, but I know I won’t be crying today. I bite the raw stubs I call fingernails, while Ilan takes his time at the podium, arranging his water and microphone.

He doesn’t have a script, and when he speaks, he speaks confidently.

“Hello all, my name is Ilan Altman, though I don’t think you’d be here right now if you didn’t know that already. You all also most likely know what happened to me just 94 days ago, but to make sure everyone is on the same page…”

He tells us what we already know.

Hamas found a nuclear warhead and put it under New York City and threatened to blow it if America didn’t nuke Israel. Hamas had hacked all of our communications, there were rats and traitors everywhere trading them information for safety. No one could be trusted. Israel hacked their mainframe and put an activation and deactivation code on the bomb. No digital information could be sent oversees and so Project Baggage was put into action, a war-time strategy created with Israel during the Yom Kippur War in1973 to use unknowing every-day citizens to transfer information across the world. No El-Al flights from JFK to Tel-Aviv or vice versa, were ever allowed to depart at 6:13am. In the case that one does, the 21st passenger of the flight’s luggage will hold whatever military message was needed at the time: either something hidden in the bag or a clue to be deciphered on the other end.

3248. Ilan’s luggage retrieval number was the code. But Ilan never made it on the plane.  He and his family were abducted. They were all tortured, his three brothers and his parents killed before his eyes. He never gave up the numbers, and Israel decoded the bomb within the week. New York stood tall in the face of tremendous destruction.  The world was caught, just before it fell into nuclear war. This wasn’t one of those stories where the good guys were supposed to win. Ilan had saved the world.

I’m bored, livid. Every person in the room’s eyes are locked on the podium, no one says a word. Nibbling on my nails I can’t even look at this guy. I bet they wouldn’t be surprised if he turned his water bottle into wine right in front of us just like that. Ilan Altman, the Messiah, suffering for all of our sins… sheesh.  He isn’t the only one who has suffered in this room. What was this kid looking for from us? Applause? Pity? We can’t make you any better a hero montage than CNN’s special with over 2 billion views or build you another stupid statue labeled “3248” like the one they are building on ground zero. My eyes drift as they always do towards the cuts almost entirely concealed by the dozens of bracelets and trinkets on my wrist. You aren’t going to get any of that from me. I ‘ve heard this all before. I should just get up and leave I think, but of course I don’t.

“See, the news has painted a miraculous portrait of me. If you came to see that painting of me, draped in an American flag at the helm of a warship off to fight terror with only patriotism for a weapon, you came to the wrong showing. This is the only time I have or will speak in public. I’m going to paint for you, for me, for my family, my self portrait, just this one time, but its going to look a lot different than you might expect.”

The audience breaks its captured silence for a brief second as people look at each other with confusion. Well this just got a bit more interesting…

“If these stories are different, why haven’t I spoken before? Why have I hidden from all of the cameras, the questions, the stares? The thing is that this whole story is bigger than me, bigger than anyone. The American government parades me around like some famed war hero because it gives people hope. Good for them, good for hope, good for America. I didn’t really have a choice. The government convinced me I was what America needed, who was I to say no?”

Well look at him the martyr, suffering real hard for the fame, the love, the blowjobs he has been getting for saving New York and all of the Greek houses it contains in it… sheesh.

“But it was also more than that, I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t that the hurt was too new to talk about. Honestly, talking about it more probably could have helped. The reason I couldn’t fix everything was that I wasn’t ready to ask anything of America, because I did not feel deserving of it. How can I ask anyone for help… me?”

“I know this isn’t making any sense to you because you all think I am a hero… “the savior of the world” right? The fact of the matter is I’m not. I’m a lot lot less and a whole lot more than that.”

I switch to biting the nails on my left hand, because the nails on my right have been reduced to a gushy mess.  In the short few seconds I allow myself to tear my attention from the stage I see the girls pocket their tissues and scooch up in their seats, wide eyed and afraid of what they are about to learn.  I guess I’m not the only one who feels they might have been very wrong about this presentation, this speaker.  

“My dad used to wake up at 5:45 every morning so he could work all day and make it home in time for dinner at 6:00. If we were lucky, which we often were, he would take us all to the Yankee game even though he hated baseball. I think he enjoyed those games more than any of us. When Hamas threatened to kill my family if I did not tell them the code, my dad cried out “don’t tell them anything” and so they saved him for last. The hardest part wasn’t watching my family be tortured or killed, but having to watch my dad see everything he ever cared for, worked for and built taken from him. Once a proud man, he hung there alive but lifeless. He is, they are, the heroes, for never meeting my eyes, for never once crying for help. If my dad told me to make them stop I honestly don’t know what I would have done. I am no hero. There was no choice. They didn’t want to live” he finished quietly and choked up.

He tried speaking again, but was met with a quiet sob and he put his head in his hands. It wrenched our hearts as we all stared, his shoulders heaving for a full thirty seconds. It was the only movement in the room.

I am no martyr for keeping all of my hurt inside, for not depressing anyone with my depressions. Jesse, mom’s childhood friend who took care of me after mom went to prison would have loved to help. She used to bake me Disney princess cakes for my birthday, and half a cupcake on my half birthday. My face gets hot as I remember storming out of her house when she asked me, “Why are you so angry all of the time?”

“Your not my mom,” I yelled. “Don’t pretend like you know me.”

There was the psychiatrist Steve who braved my sarcasm every Wednesday after school and Emily, my childhood friend. I painted them all a picture, but reflecting now, it wasn’t my self portrait. My self-portrait would have my dad’s fat hand covering my mouth as I bled from my forehead where he hit me, huge tears of sweat dripping off his body as he grunted behind me. That time when I was eleven and I walked to my room and started taking my clothes off so my dad wouldn’t rip them and I could still wear them to school the next day. The time when I stopped trying to resist or scream because I knew no one was coming.

The hardest part wasn’t living it. It was wanting so badly to tell my mom, Jesse, Steve, Emily, so many people why I can be in such a shitty mood all of the time, why I dye my hair all these colors, why I wear so many bracelets… but not trusting anyone not to judge me; not to treat me differently. “Look, the girl who got raped. The girl with the doped out mom. The girl who tried to kill herself.” My self-portrait is splashed with red scars of shame, too deep to show anyone. And so of course I don’t, I never do. He shouldn’t let us in like this. He doesn’t know us.  

 He collects himself and looks up, red eyed but ready to continue shakily.

 “These terrorists though, they made a mistake. In killing my family they gave me the strength to resist them through the rest of their torturing. I didn’t do it to save your life, or hers or theirs, or Brett’s or Professor Jett’s. I did it because I couldn’t have my family die for nothing. I did it because I hated these people so much and I wanted them to lose everything and more.  

They deformed my body. They asked me questions. They asked me what my girlfriends’ address was, where my baby cousins lived, who else was a Jew loving fuck. I wasn’t a hero when I answered them. I wasn’t a hero when I shat myself and cried and begged for them to let me die.

You don’t know me,” he proclaimed, staring out at all of us.

“Don’t think you know anything about me. Don’t think you can understand how much hate I can hate. How many deaths I still pray for. What I’d be capable of if those scum were strung up in that grey room and I was the one with the torch…”

Silence.

“I wasn’t going to do this, but let me show you.”

 He untucks his shirt and unbuttons it.

He stands there bare to his waist looking out at the audience, no longer the broken down orphan, but a defiant soldier.  His chest and stomach are laced with purple and black scars, as if someone scratched him with ink. There is more discoloration than flesh. Where his nipples should be are huge knots of purple and white scar tissue, causing his chest to look alien.

The crowd gasps and shifts in their seats loudly. Ilan stands there like a red, pulsing scab for people to pick at with their eyes, and then quickly shy away again in discomfort. People are stunned, repulsed, not only by what they see, but what they are hearing too.

When he goes to take a sip from his water bottle, I see that his entire back was cut to shreds. He was clearly whipped or burned, or both. The skin is lumped and misshapen as if it was clumped backed together like Frankenstein play dough. The audience is disgusted, but grateful for the opportunity to look at him without being looked at back.

Weirdly though, from the second his shirt came off, my heart jumped a beat, and I started to sweat. Scars are no strangers to me. All I can think is whether or not he would be able to feel my fingers trace little “S’s” along his scarred spine. I realize it would probably be easier if my nails were longer and I move my hands from mouth to my lap.

“I talk to friends whose names and addresses I gave to those scum. In my mind I see myself as this,’” as he points to his body.

 “A monster scarred by the betrayal and hatred I know I am capable of. And yet, they look back at me as a saint… a hero. You all do. I don’t want your pity or your praise. I haven’t earned either. There are kids who have to work every day to be a good person and are overlooked. Nice guys who write honest love poems, but keep them in their drawers because they have learned from experience that girls always choose what’s wrong for them.  Those guys who hurt everyday but still open doors for the single moms who ride the Greyhound every morning with their kids on their lap on the way to their second jobs. These guys are the heroes.”

 “And I know how lucky I am. I know how many kids suffer from depression everyday, kids who are crushed under the weight of student loans, kids who take care of their doped out parents, kids who are so alone in this world that they can’t even breathe. I have more than enough money to pay for all of my schooling and live comfortably until I’m thirty. I have dozens of homes I could sleep in any night I choose, and at least ten good friends I can always count on for an amazing hug. I’ve lost a lot, but I’ve got a whole lot more than most.”

“Having billions of people thank you for something you haven’t earned, having a statue made in your honor for people to remember forever something you try every single day to forget is why I came to speak to you today…

Tear that fucking statue down. Forget my name and leave me alone. I cannot live my life being treated like this.”

A long pause. Silence as he looks out, challenging us.

He continues quieter.

“I know that if my family, those heroes who saved me and all of you, had to choose which brother had to go on and live alone I know that they would have chosen me. Not because I was the nicest or had the most potential. I’m not, and I didn’t. It was because I always loved life the most. More than almost anyone. I want to love life again. If not for me, for my family. Let me live for them.” He almost whispers.  

I can’t believe that this guy hates the world for paying too much attention to his problems and I hate it for not pitying me for those problems I never shared. I can’t believe my hair is dyed this color blue right now… it’s not even pretty. I begin pulling my cell phone out of my pocket; I need to call Jesse now. I need to apologize for slamming that door so hard so many years ago. The girls next to me look at me disgusted and I remember where I am. I realize I am being “rash” again; it will have to wait, but I’m not sure I can. I bring my nails to my mouth and quickly throw them back into my lap, remembering that I might need them sometime soon. So many, too many thoughts running through my head; I need to do something, to call her, tell her, show her, them, everyone that I forgive them for everything that that they didn’t do wrong…That I am ready to forget, ready to try being happy.

“I want to do what I was always meant to do. I want to play basketball at the rec, I want to get hammered this weekend for the big UCLA game, I want to go to medical school and become the excellent doctor I know I can be. I want to live my life, and have to earn being a good person again each and every day instead of people just assuming it of me. I want to find a girl who loves me for me and not for what I’ve done or seen or been through. I want to find a girl who can change my mission from “forget” to: “make her smile.” I am not a hero, I am not 3248, I am just me, and I am asking for your help. Please leave me alone.

Thank you all for listening… Any questions?”

We have been hurting him this whole time. The audience can’t look up at the stage. They are stunned, uncomfortable, ashamed. Most have their heads in their hands or are looking down.

The auditorium is thick with the silence of it all.

I raise my hand and see him scan the room and see me before I even know what I’m doing. Nine hundred faces stare at me in disbelief. What could she possibly ask right now?

He points at me and I stand up.

“Hey Ilan, you should probably put your shirt back on before answering anymore questions.”

Silence.

“Oh and my name is Ariel. I used to sit behind you in Calculus two semesters ago but you can call me 914-406-0048.”

Oh my god, did she really just say that? Oh my god, did I really just say that?!?! Ilan cracks out in three short normal person laughs that shatter the icy sheet of the audience’s amazement and horror.

“Can you repeat those last four digits again for me Ariel?” as he writes the first few down on his arm, smiling, dimple plainly visible on his left cheek.  

“0048” I answer clearly, and sit down feeling lighter than I ever have in my whole life.

 

 

 


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