October 16th
The Benefits of Doubt
by bridgette rizkalla

The first time he saw death, it wasn’t intentional. Old Mrs. Nolan was backing out of a parking space and ran over the little Sullivan girl. He watched intently as the car crushed her little body. The little girl’s body laid lifeless on the ground, and he just stood there, seemingly in shock.

He couldn’t believe anything could make him feel that way. The opinions everyone had about the tragedy were very different from the ones in his head, so he kept quiet whenever it would come up. That helped him. Helped him look ordinary. It was common for someone who witnessed a tragedy to get quiet at its mention. But he wasn’t quiet because he was upset, he was quiet because he wanted to listen.

People were trying to be respectful of his trauma, so they stopped talking about it around him. But he wanted to hear. He needed to hear. So the boy took to hiding. He got very good at hiding. From the various nooks in the town, he listened. He reveled in the details, and the eyewitness accounts the entire town seemed to have. It was a small town, everyone wanted to be a part of the story. He was the only one who knew the true details, but he loved imagining it happening with all the misinformation the neighbors added. His favorite was that the little Sullivan girl sassed Old Mrs. Nolan. That one was fun because it made it seem like revenge.

Eventually the town grew bored of the story, and so did he. It was only one little girl. He envied the people giving those firsthand accounts of major tragedies in the newspapers. He wanted to be one of them. He was going to be one of them.

The first time he caused harm, it was unintentional. He was helping his mother wash the dishes in the kitchen. He had washed dishes with her before, but this was the first time he noticed the switch by the sink. Without thinking, he just reached over and flipped it. His mother let out a scream that he felt in his bones. He could not believe that he caused that sound, and with such little effort. His father ran into the kitchen to see what had happened. There was blood everywhere. His father grabbed his mother and rushed her to the hospital. It all happened so fast. With his mother’s primal scream replaying in his head like a symphony, he stood in the kitchen, in a pool of his mother’s blood, seemingly paralyzed by guilt.

When his parents returned, the water was still running, and he was still standing in the same spot. They were surprised that the scene in the kitchen was exactly how they left it. They thought he was in shock. Parents never want to see the worst in their children. His father turned off the water and cleaned up the blood. His mother took him upstairs and prepared a bath for him. She was using her good hand, but he couldn’t avert his eyes from her bandaged finger. It was shorter than it had been that morning. He did that. And that made him want to smile.

His mother told him that she was fine and that it wasn’t his fault. But with every forgiving word he only seemed to get more tense. He asked about the garbage disposal and about the system of blades that were inside the drain. That information relaxed him more than any exoneration his mother offered. He was intelligent, smarter than any of the kids at school. His mother thought that it was his intelligence that needed to be placated more than his ego, so she gave him as much information as she could.

He was fascinated by the knowledge of blades and the damage they could inflict. She explained that sometimes regular things could be weapons. Weapons. He liked that word. His mother had said that, sometimes, bad people used weapons to hurt other people, but that’s not what he did. What he did was an accident. He thought about those bad people using their weapons. He thought about being one of them. He wanted to be one of them. He was going to be one of them.

The first time he caused death, it was unintentional. His teacher said that the class gerbil looked sick. At home he went into his parent’s medicine cabinet and took the bottle of medicine his mother had given him when he had a fever. Before lunch he gave the gerbil the medicine he had taken from his home. By the time the class got back from lunch, the gerbil laid there stiff. His teacher asked if anyone knew what happened. He raised his hand and told her the truth. He thought he would be scolded, and he was ready to be known as the murderer. But that didn’t happen. Instead she thanked him for trying to save the gerbil’s life and had the entire class sign a thank you letter for his efforts. Reading the letter made him sick. He stood there still, seemingly stricken with grief.

When the class had gone to recess, the teacher took him aside. She told him that his effort to save the class gerbil was noble. That even the best intentions don’t always turn out like we plan. He still looked angry. In an effort to help him, she told him a story about a great prince who wanted to cure the sick people of the village. The prince went out and gave all the sick people some of potion he bought from the town apothecary, but the potion only made them sicker. There was more to the story, but he did not need to hear it. He thought about the prince and how all of his efforts caused more and more despair. He admired the prince. He wanted to be that prince. He was going to be that prince.

Now that he was older, these moments stuck with him. Mostly that things can look like accidents because people think they know better. Old Mrs. Nolan swore she checked the rearview mirror and didn’t see the Sullivan girl. She was old, and he was a quiet little boy. He never even spoke out of turn, he would never push a little girl. His mother had given birth to him, she had loved him. He had to feel the same way, he was helping her with the dishes. He was just absentmindedly waiting for the next dish and happened to flip the switch at a bad time. He didn’t notice that her pinky finger had dipped in the drain. Hell, he even used the gerbil story for his medical school personal statement, and they ate it up, just like his teacher did back then. He was a smart little boy; he was only trying to help. He only gave the medicine to the gerbil when he heard he was sick, not before the teacher had noticed him acting sick. When you assume you have some of the answers, you never really ask all the right questions. They would never know the truth.

He was used to not getting the credit he deserved. He couldn’t think about those moments now. He was one of them now, and it was time for his next surgery.

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