He was the kind of boy that remained invisible most of his life. The kind of boy that I just overlooked. I knew his parents and had heard his name and was aware that somewhere within the walls of my world he led a quiet existence. We walked around the same city and had the same friends but not once had we crossed paths.
Then one summer, we met in a church fire. We traveled together across half the country and slept an arms length apart in a twelve-seater van, and still hadn’t taken the opportunity to greet each other. The night after the fire we all sat around in a hotel looking like we’d just been beat up with a sooty pillow, and he was sitting at a table with his Bible, flipping through the scriptures and reading aloud to us like some prodigy preacher. We found out that night that he was fourteen years old, which came as a shock to us all because he could easily pass for eighteen. We didn’t know him. But that moment of revelation led us to believe he could be loved.
The month following the fire we all put out our best effort to know him. He lived in the mountains with his parents. They lived right on Lake Walker, just fifteen miles out of the city but far enough away to feel like the middle of nowhere. We all got lost a few times finding the “big hill” he described that came right before his street. He’d been home schooled his entire life, alone on that hill. His older brother lived in the house next door, but they were fifteen years apart. They didn’t own any pets but they had a plethora of Asian trinkets and musical instruments. On one wall there were a handful of pictures, hanging at odd angles, most of them of him, growing up. I still feel an odd sort of admiration for him when I go down the line of photos, watching his smile widen and his face fill out and his eyes gleam with an innocence that most lose by his age.
But that was all yesterday. That was before this summer’s battle, before a subtle corruption, before bitterness took its roots to his heart, before we ordered him to take off his mask and break down his walls. Before I realized how our stony white exteriors could bring light when we collided in the darkness…