"Am I Still?"
Steven Woodward
swood173@uwsp.edu

Preface to this I guess is just the idea that even during times of evil we shouldn’t lose sight of our humanity, including the humanity of the people who commit evil acts. I think this is one of the best things I’ve written.

I am your son. I am your best friend. I am your cousin, your nephew, your uncle, and your brother-in-law. I am your boyfriend. I am your first crush. I am your first heartbreak. I am your teammate. I am your secret. I am the one that got away; I am the one that never was. I am someone. When all is said and done, our stories together will outnumber the number of years in our lives so profoundly that entire books could be filled with them.

When I was born you were there in the delivery room and you gave me my first present, a blue-silk baby blanket with my name embroidered in to the fabric. Yellow is still my favorite color. When I turned 4 you baked me a birthday cake. I don’t exactly remember now, but I think you gave me a black and yellow racing car that would later get half-eaten by our dog. You were there for me the first time I got stung by a bee, and you walked me to class on my first day of kindergarten. As I got a little older you brought me to work with you, taught me the rules of your favorite sport, and signed me up to play so that I, too, could teach my son or daughter someday.

Now I’m all over to the TV. Your blanket is gone, and the woman on the television talks in a hurried tone as squad cars, news trucks, and intimidating men with guns serve as her backdrop. They’re looking for me. Confusion sets in and you struggle to understand the words coming from the television set even though the pronunciation is clear and the language is your own. Millions of questions rattle around the inside of your head. The television is hushed, but the noise is deafening. Am I still your son?

In Grade School we had the time our life. Your 9th birthday party is still the best party I ever went to. We ate chocolate cake till we got sick, kissed our first girl playing spin the bottle, and stayed up all night, even though your parents told us not to. We played kickball at recess and spent as much time as we could pick on Ashley Gray because we didn’t know how else to talk to her. We still fight over her to this day. We got our first detention together for leaving school early to go skip rocks at our secret hideout spot on the river. It was that day you told me about your parents’ divorce; it was the only time I ever saw you cry. We’ve grown apart since then, but I’ll never forget the way Ashley’s smile made us feel or the intoxicating sense of freedom we experienced that day on the river.

Thousands of miles away from me, you return to your campus apartment, only to be stopped short by a mob of flashing lights and giant trucks with satellites sitting on top of them. The minute this mob catches sight of you they descend upon you much the way sharks do on their bloody prey. Using the power of the credentials the mob wears around their necks, after a few quick phone calls and Internet searches these outsiders will think they have learned all the need to know about our childhood. Nothing is sacred anymore, not even that day on the river. The mob wants answers you can’t give them. You don’t know me anymore. You haven’t thought of me in sometime, and the evoking of my name elicits a strange and uncomfortable emotional response of horror and shock. Am I still your best friend?

You were born when I was in 7th grade. You were the best thing that happened to me for a while. All the girls in my grade thought you were the cutest baby girl so it got me a whole lot of attention from the girls in my class. Ashley even asked me your name. You came to all my sporting events wrapped up in the blanket I made in sewing class for you when you were born. One time you made a sound so high-pitched play stopped in my basketball game because everyone thought it was the referee’s whistle. Everyone laughed. I always wanted to grow up and have a baby of my own, so that you could love and adore him or her the same way that I love and adore you. You see I never had an aunt or uncle, and having you in my life made me realize I never wanted my niece to grow not knowing me.

Now you’re in Grade School, but instead of flirting with boys or skipping stones with your best friend your locked inside your house and not allowed to watch television. You’re a smart girl, and you know something is wrong. Your mom and dad won’t tell you anything. The phone keeps ringing at the house and because of it you’re not allowed to use it to call your friends. Your only option at this point is to read, but as you do you hear my name. You run out in the living room, thinking I’ve come to visit only to find your mom at the door surrounded by funny looking people snapping photos and videos with fancy cameras. Your dad picks you up and brings you back to your room, you scream at him as he leaves and tells you not to come out until you’re told. You’ve never felt so isolated, but someday you’ll grow up and learn all about this day. You’ll comprehend your mother’s decision to keep the television set turned off; my absence in your life will become clear. Am I still your uncle?

In High School we fell in love for the first time. Sophomore year homecoming you finally agreed to go out with me. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. For our first date I took you to dinner and we saw a movie. I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner, or what the movie was about. I spent the whole night pondering how such a beautiful girl would want to spend her entire night alone with me. I never told you this, but I loved that no matter how sweaty our hands got, you never let go that night. Our junior year we decided to lose our virginity together in your parent’s basement. My favorite things melted in to the mundane in moments. As our time in high school dwindled, we talked what we thought was seriously about marriage, family, and even retirement. We named our kids, picked our careers, and moved in to fake homes in our imaginations. Naive? Maybe. But sometimes the sweetest of dreams are better than any reality.

It’s been a year or so since we left high school, now, and you’re seeing someone else. You’d never tell him, or me, but he has a certain way about him that reminds you of me. Maybe it’s his sense of humor, or maybe you’re just beginning to feel an intensity of feelings for him you once reserved only for me. Your study session is interrupted by a phone call from this very man. He tells you something terrible has happened in your hometown and that he believes someone you went to high school with is responsible. You run to the nearest computer and with a series of clicks see me in a light you would have seconds ago thought unimaginable. You used to call me baby, CNN has “WANTED” written across my face in bold, red lettering. You scroll through your phone and look at old pictures of us and see smiles, laughter, and fun .You scroll through the images on your screen and you see blood on the sidewalks, tears, fear, and limbless people. Above all you see is my face, the same face you first loved, the same face you’ve tried so hard to bottle and put in its appropriate place in your memory, the past. This face is associated with love, caring, fun, nurturing, support, success, and failure. This face now, too, is associated with death, evil, blood, carnage, suffering, terrorism, manhunts, and horror. The realization sets in that you may never see me again and a sense of anger, pain, and betrayal permeates to your consciousness. Am I still your first love?

Somewhere along the way we met. Maybe I was on your son’s hockey team, or played grade school soccer with your daughter. Maybe I held to the door for you when you had groceries in your hand, or maybe I checked your items out at a grocery store. Maybe I attended your conference, read your article, or enlisted in your course. Maybe our team made it to state in football; maybe I was the kid you always wanted to apologize to for bullying in middle school but you never got around to it. Maybe you taught me how to drive a car. Maybe you read me my first book. You could have given me my first piano lesson, or stolen my bike. We could have seen each other in passing, wishing the other would say something, or maybe we met at a party and went home together. We could have had lunch together once; we could have had lunch together millions of times. Regardless of the circumstances, or the role I played in your life, to you I am someone.