The bright young man trusts and admires the older man, calls him sir, says it’s an honor to contribute to the older man’s essays. The kid means it, too – he visibly freaked out that one time the older man mentioned a dislike for ass kissers, worried the older man was referring to him.
This kid tries hard – hard in a way that borders on desperation, a way that says mom or dad or whoever it is back home will never give him the approval he needs. There’s an uncomplicated purity to the way he looks at the older man – no tilt of the head, no tightening muscles in his left eye, no crookedness in the smile. The kid’s is a world of possibility and ideals yet unbroken and now, for whatever reason, he wants advice.
“Is there anything I should know about life?”
The older man smiles too, but when he does so his head instinctively turns a half a degree to the left and his eyes narrow. The young man interprets this as confidence or sagacity. The older man would cringe if he knew how the kid thought of his narrowed eyes.
He doesn’t know how soiled the older man is inside, like some worm that grows fat feeding on bat droppings. The kid doesn’t know how the vacuum in the older man’s chest sucks on the nerves and tendons all over his body and makes anything but the fetal position a labor. He doesn’t know that the older man is this close to sabotaging a bubbly woman who adores him because the idea that she could ever get close enough to see what’s inside scares the older man shitless.
What should this kid know about the future? He should know that the older man has both a plan and a backup plan for destroying him if needed. He should know that the older man does so automatically and that it’s not just for self-protection. The older man should tell him that he is dangerous as all hell and that he doesn’t want to hurt the kid or anybody else but that there’s a hatred inside the older man can’t control.
Somebody should tell the kid how the older man got punched earlier that day and that the taste of blood made him horny. It would probably help the kid to know how much the older man yearns to look down on a broken opponent and feel the air crushed from his lungs. The kid should know to run away.
The kid should escape but not before the older man warns him and says “you’re gonna end up like me if you continue.” If the older man wasn’t such a coward he’d tell the kid that mom or dad or whoever it is will never be satisfied. The older man would tell him that the students who call him captain and that girl whose eyes twinkle when he’s around will vanish the second the kid runs out of money for hair product. The older man really should tell him that, when things go wrong, the people he helps will not remember the kid’s kindness but will remember the kid’s willingness to suffer in their place.
The older man wants to explain that, with a few extraordinary exceptions, when he makes sacrifices the normal people will see his pain and say to themselves “the kid must deserve it.” The older man so badly wishes to tell to the kid that’s how the hatred starts. That’s how the older man started looking at his neighbors and seeing self-righteous shits either too stupid or too cowardly to know that there is no moral order of the universe. Confident and complacent in their inherited ease, oblivious to the fact that, were they to switch places with either the older man or this kid who tries too hard, they’d break and fall and die in vain and that nobody, nobody would care.
The older man wants to tell this kid to go somewhere else, to be somebody else and to keep believing in his classmates’ loyalty. The older man wants him to see that twinkly eyed girl and call it love. The older man says a prayer inside because he wants the kid’s mom or dad or whoever it is to come to their fucking senses and say “we’re proud of you.” But the older man doesn’t know how to tell him these things.
“You’ve got a bright future ahead of you,” he says.