10 years, 4 months, 7 days and 3 hours
He’d been getting on her nerves. She’d asked him to do some simple chores; mow the lawn, clean the garden up, wash the car, iron the family clothes and feed his younger siblings their dinner so she could rest after a hard day’s work. He’d done them, but not with the speed nor alacrity she’d liked, and now he was complaining that he was tired.
She whips around suddenly and he sees an expression on her face he’s never seen before, as she spits out ‘You’re a spoilt apple just like your father. You should be grateful you’re even here. No-one wanted you. I was the only one that took you in. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to because no-one else wanted to. You look just like him, and you act just like him. He broke us, he destroyed us, he robbed us, he shattered all our lives…because of you?!’ The last word is spat out with such venom, Cassius jumps back, and freezes.
Do you know what the sound of a soul breaking sounds like? It sounds like the loudest silence. It sounds like the momentary whimper of a 16-year-old boy who feels like someone has pulled his heart from his chest and stamped on it. It sounds like his ragged breaths, like the vigorous drum beat of the blood rushing in his ears.
Cassius walks trembling out of the kitchen, up the stairs and into his room. He locks the door and doesn’t leave his room for three nights.
She wanted to take the words back but it was too late. She saw it was too late. This is what she told her sister the next day as she sobbed into a tissue recounting the incident. “I never meant to tell him at all. What good would it do? I don’t know why I became so angry. It was just…I was exhausted, and right then, right there, he looked so much like him, it was almost as if I was talking to him…and the anniversary was coming up, and I just had so many emotions going through me, I mean I’ve always found it so hard raising that child, but I tried you know? None of you wanted to, none of you wanted him. I tried. At least I fucking tried!’.
Her sister watched her silently and unemotionally, passing her new tissues to replace the old ones, occasionally flicking her eyes to the chat show playing on the television.
It started to make sense. Why his father had seemingly always hated him for the whole of his life. Why he used to punish him the most out of all the children. Why when they shared a room, his older brother sometimes used to punch him in the middle of the night when he was sleeping, and whisper ‘you are the lowest member of this family, never forget that’. Why somehow deep inside him, he knew there was no point telling his mother and father about it, because they wouldn’t believe him and his father certainly wouldn’t care. Why on a few occasions when his mother had seen the bruises and asked him what had happened, he’d lied, and she hadn’t looked convinced, but was also seemingly reluctant to push it further. In fact it explained why all his family members seemed wary of him and apparently disliked him, apart from his younger siblings.
Cassius turned on his bed and let racking sobs consume him. All these thoughts and more tormented him over three days. On the second day he heard his younger brother and one of his younger sisters asking outside the door ‘Cassius, what’s wrong? Why won’t you let us in? Are you going to come out and play?’. He didn’t respond, couldn’t get up. Couldn’t speak. They were persistent and kept knocking. In an uncharacteristic act of anger towards his younger siblings, he heard his father yell ‘Leave that bastard alone! Go and play by yourselves’.
No-one knocked on his door after that.
On the fourth day Cassius emerged from his room. His father was on the landing and looked at him. “I see you’ve finally become a man now. Go and wash yourself up, you look filthy and you stink”. Cassius’ lips trembled as he replied “I’m so glad you’re not my real father”. His father laughed and said “Boy you were lucky. Do you know what your father is? A murderer. He murdered your mother. Yes, your mother. That’s why you’re here. We’re the only members of the family who pitied you”. His father snarled, “now when you’ve gotten over yourself, dropped your bad attitude, and had a wash, there’s something your aunt and I need to discuss with you. Come down straight after” he said in no uncertain terms. He turned and walked down the stairs.
Cassius fell to his knees as a black hole of pain sucked out the last air in his chest.
His father. A murderer. Of his mother. She was dead.
It was also the first time that Cassius had heard who he thought was his mother, referred to as his “aunt”. He felt everything collapsing within him.
8 years 3 months 3 days and 12 hours
It was now over two years since Cassius had found out about how his mother died. On that very same day, he had learned that after the murder of his mother, his father had been charged, found guilty, and sentenced to death. His father was on Death Row.
In some ways Cassius wished he’d never been told. He wished he’d never come to know a dead mother and a murdering father. Ever since then, he hadn’t been able to sleep and had barely been able to function. Depression which had had some temporary bouts with Cassius in the past, now threatened to swallow him whole. He had always managed to find his equilibrium again, in spite of his surroundings, in spite of the cruelty he was shown, but he had lost the hope that had anchored him before in such times. He was teetering on the brink of a tsunami wave of hate, anger, pain and devastation, and he was lost.
Every time he looked in the bathroom mirror he felt shame and humiliation at being the progeny of such evil, sometimes to the point he would silently yell and smash the glass, wishing he could shatter his features in the same way and put the broken pieces together in a new mould, a new face, a new history, a new him. One day his uncle, in fury at having to constantly replace the mirror, screamed at him ‘Boy if you do that one more time I will break your hands! See if you do that again’. In an uncharacteristic display of boldness, Cassius yelled back ‘How can you break what is already broken?!’. His uncle looked at him and said nothing. He turned and walked away.
The next day, Cassius’ was sitting on the front room sofa whilst babysitting his younger siblings, and his sister Kareen, 10, asked why he had ‘hated’ scrawled in large bloody marks up his left arm. He replied ‘Because I am’. Kareen hugged Cassius tightly and said ‘But I don’t hate you, I love you’. Cassius didn’t hug her, but Kareen felt the shoulder of her sweatshirt getting damp.
Cassius’ mother was called Joy. She was 25 years old when she was murdered. Cassius was 1 years old. She and Cassius’ father, Charlie, had been together 7 years before Cassius was born. The relationship had started off happy, and both families were happy as they had all known each other for years. At the age of 18, Cassius’ father joined the military, and when he was 20 years old he was sent to fight in Afghanistan and then Iraq. After Afghanistan, Joy noticed changes to Charlie; he’d become more serious, sombre, and had flashes of anger. She put this down to what he had seen and done, and supported him through his bouts of depression. By the time Charlie came back from Iraq, Joy was fearful of him. She was facing daily jealous accusations, his temper had become worse, and he was hitting her. When Joy discovered she was pregnant, she moved out of their flat and back home to her parents’ home.
At first Charlie would make threatening texts and calls, and sometimes drive to the house and scream outside the door. Joy stopped going out by herself and sent her siblings to get her the things she needed. When Charlie’s doorstep visits became too overwhelming for her parents who were concerned for her and her younger siblings, the family agreed that Joy would move in with her sister Mercy – Cassius’ aunt (who he had thought was his mother). As the time approached for Joy to give birth, Charlie’s behaviour changed dramatically. He no longer threatened her, he no longer waited outside Mercy’s house in his car looking for Joy, and he apologised to all the family for the fear he had caused. He made sure to send money for the things Joy would need, and he would ask her family politely about how she was coping. One day, Charlie sent Joy a text saying ‘He is the most important thing. He is all that matters’. Joy was having a boy.
Cassius was born and the relationship between Joy and Charlie improved significantly. Joy had made it clear that she did not want to get back into a relationship with Charlie, but she very much wanted him to be a part of Cassius’ life. She encouraged him to take Cassius and look after him sometimes, and it was clear for all to see that Charlie adored his son and loved time spent with him.
One day Charlie was bringing Cassius back to Mercy’s house and had arrived a bit early. As he was about to get out of his car, he saw Joy kissing a man goodbye on the doorstep of his house. Charlie reached under his seat and pulled out a gun he usually left there for protection. Trembling with fury and hatred, he leapt out of the car and ran towards Joy screaming ‘You whore! You would let another man be a father to my son?! All this time you were lying to me! You were luring me into a false sense of security, so that one day when I let you have him, you’d leave with this bastard and disappear without a trace! You think you can live without me?! Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you?!’. Joy froze and looked at him in fear and horror. “Please don’t. Our son needs…”. She never finished her sentence. The gun fired, Joy fell, the front door opened, and Mercy started screaming.
Charlie dropped the gun, and continued to scream in anger at her body.
7 years 2 months 9 days and 6 hours
Cassius looks at his father on the other side of the glass, a man he has hated for the past 3 years, and just about stifles back a roar of rage. His father looks in sadness at the man his son has become, the anger, pain and hatred he created, and wishes he could turn back the clock.
It’s not the first time Cassius has come, but it’s the first time he has made it to the chair. He looks in horror and devastation at the man across from him. A man, who should they be seen walking on opposite sides of the road, would unmistakably be recognised as his father. He wishes he could claw his face off his skull, instead he resorts to a familiar coping mechanism…scratching the raw wounds on his wrist. Feeling a little calmer, he asks in a clear, low, voice “Why?”.
Charlie stares at his son as a tear streams down his face.
0 years 0 months, 0 days and 0 hours
Cassius visited his father in prison a few more times after that initial visit. None of these visits lasted very long. As soon as his father would begin to apologise for what he had done, as he always did, it would trigger a rage in Cassius that was so overwhelming, he would have to get up and leave abruptly, staggering like a blind man towards the exit, gasping for air. On the last occasion, he began to smash his head into the glass separator. Charlie looked on in horror as Cassius was led away screaming “Fuck your apology! I consistently lose because of you! I lost my mother, I lost my family, and now I am going to lose you too! I’m hated because of you, and I hate myself, and I hate you!”
It was the last time Charlie ever spoke to Cassius.
Cassius watches as the straps are buckled on his father’s legs, torso, and finally arms. He struggles to hold down the bile threatening to rise to his throat and splatter on the glass separator. He is surrounded by sombre family members eager to see justice delivered. Cassius has been waiting for this day too, but now seeing his father being arranged in such a business-as-usual fashion, for an act that is about to sever his ties with this world, he is dazed and confused as to how life can be allowed to expire like this. He trembles as his father is asked if he has any last words. His father speaks:
“To those I have robbed, hurt and devastated, I beg your forgiveness. I don’t deserve it, but I ask it.”
Cassius’ aunt Mercy stifles a sob.
“And to Cassius my son…please don’t hate me forever. I have always loved you, and I am sorry that in doing so, I made you into a victim of love and a victim of hate. Please don’t follow my footsteps and let fear of worthlessness and rejection poison your heart and your life. I have been the worst example to you – an enemy to your development, the chain that has held you from flying high, and the reflection of your nightmares. I know that even as I say I love you, what it must really feel like is hate. My life could never bring you peace, but I pray that at least in my death you will find your release. Joy is still alive in you.”
Cassius opens his eyes and realises his father hasn’t spoken any of those words. In fact he never hears his father speak again. Cassius is imagining it all.
A single tear falls out of his father’s eye as he is injected with the drugs.
His dad dies an unspectacular death in the early hours of a Tuesday morning.
0 years 6 months, 3 days and 3 hours after
Cassius is standing on the shoulder of the bridge watching the sun stream through dappled clouds. The sky is a brilliant blue. Since his father’s execution, he has struggled to hold the seams around his life together. His relationship with his family took a turn for the worse. It almost seemed that now both his mother and father were dead, everyone washed their hands of him. Even his father’s family were not interested. They never were.
Cassius cries every night for the parents he never had, the parents he did have, and the tragedy of his existence. He is tired. So tired. As he left his house that morning, he had shut the door and posted the keys back through the letterbox.
This bridge is his favourite. He and his younger siblings always visited here when they needed to escape from life’s turmoil and the drama of their home. Today though, it doesn’t give him the peace it usually does. He looks at the bustling roads many metres below, and marvels at how life just carried on after the execution. The world didn’t stop in sympathy for him. It never has.
He messages his younger siblings and tells them he won’t be at the family celebration for his maternal grandma’s 75th birthday.
Kareen had been sending Cassius messages for the past week, making sure to check on him everyday. He hadn’t replied to the last few. She had become concerned. It’s not like Cassius always replied to messages, but he always replied to hers. He was always there for her, and as far as she was concerned, he was her best big brother. When she arrives at the door of his apartment, she knocks. “Cass, it’s me Kareen”. Hearing no reply, she looks through the letterbox. She sees the keys on the floor and frowns in confusion. Then she freezes. She leaves his apartment and runs. She runs.
Cassius closes his eyes and speaks. Over the past few years he has taken to speaking to the sky as the sky never condemns him, never accuses him, never hates him.
“I think I am finally ready. I’ve tried to live meaningfully, tried to be gracious, tried to be kind, tried to love as I have not been loved, but all I got was hate in return. I have become the physical embodiment of two appalling memories in two separate families’ minds, and there is no longer any room for me, let alone any will to find room for me.
I am hated.”
A stream of silent tears race down Cassius’ exhausted face as he leans slightly forward.
A voice cries out below him:
“But I don’t hate you, I love you!”
Cassius takes a deep breath.