A few people down at the Khyber Club were having a conversation about guilt. “Do you ever experience guilt?” a friend asked me.
“Nah,” I said (a couple of women looked at me as if to say, “You should”).
“Must be nice,” she said. “Why not?”
“Because I make the right decisions,” I replied.
But I’m going to be honest here. I never really experience guilt over all the minor scandals I’m involved in, mainly because something happened when I was a kid, and it made me feel so guilty I’ve never really had room to feel guilty about anything else. I’ve never told this story to anyone before, but here goes.
When I was in Grade Four, I had borrowed a friend’s slingshot during Social Studies class. I was kind of fooling around with it, and I had this Monopoly piece. It was shaped like a wheelbarrow. One of those little metal Monopoly tokens. I was thinking it would make a fine projectile.
My teacher was writing on the blackboard. On some weird impulse I pulled back the slingshot and fired the playing piece at the back of his head.
At the exact moment I let fly with the slingshot, he turned around to say something to the class. The little metal wheelbarrow struck him right in the eye.
My teacher had to go to the hospital and wound up losing the vision in his left eye.
I got in a lot of trouble because of it. I remember I had to stay home from school for a while. This wasn’t so bad though. I just stayed up late every night and watched dirty French movies on TV. It was the first time I ever saw boobies.
Anyway, one night my dad and I heard a ruckus out on the front lawn. We went outside to see what was happening. Turns out my teacher was all liquored up and had decided to show up at our house. He had a bandage on over his eye and he seemed to be having some sort of a breakdown.
Mr. Macenroe was standing out on our lawn by himself, crying and screaming about how his life was ruined because he only had one eye. My dad went up to talk to him. Mr. Macenroe started yelling and freaking out.
At one point he made a move towards my dad, and my dad shoved him. We used to have this bush in the middle of our lawn. Mr. Macenroe fell backwards and sort of sat down in the bush.
The sight of my Social Studies teacher sitting in a bush and blubbering seemed so absurd to me. I burst out laughing and just couldn’t stop.
I was still giggling after he’d gotten up and left, so my dad said “I’ll give you something to laugh about” and after we went inside he took off his belt and swung it at me and smashed me across the head with his belt buckle.
It hurt like hell and I sat in my bedroom with my ears ringing. I was so pissed off I could hardly think. I was crying a little bit. Finally I snuck out the back door of our house and ran away down the street.
I just ran and ran, from the pain and the adrenaline and from being so mad. After a few minutes I slowed down and started walking without really thinking about anything. I walked for a long time.
It was springtime and it was kind of chilly that night. I looked around and realized I was walking up Glengarry Drive towards Mr. Macenroe’s house. When I got to his house I went straight up the driveway.
All the lights were out so I went around to the backyard. Steam was blowing out of the dryer vent but otherwise there was no sound. I stepped up onto the deck and suddenly I knew exactly what I was going to do.
There was a barbecue there. I grabbed a can of lighter fluid and squirted it around in circles on the deck. Sometimes when I was a little kid I would get these crazy impulses, I don’t know where they came from. I grabbed the barbecue igniter and lit it all up.
The flames shot three feet into the air. The whole backyard became orange and bright, so bright. I watched the flames but I couldn’t really stay and watch because it was so hot.
I ran all the way home and jumped in bed and pulled the covers up over my head.
The next day it was on the front page of the paper. Nobody ever found out it was me. The house was pretty much destroyed. Mr. Macenroe’s cat MooMoo and all his tropical fish were burned up in the fire. Everyone was saying how lucky Mr. Macenroe was because he decided to leave the house and go get thrown in the drunk tank that night; otherwise he probably would have died too.
My heart nearly stopped when I read about the cat and the fish in the newspaper. I hadn’t even thought about it when I lit up Mr. Macenroe’s back deck. But the realization that I was solely responsible for the death of MooMoo and all those poor little fish made me want to kill myself. I’ve never gotten over the guilt.
It’s amazing how writing about it now makes it feel like there’s a big weight off my shoulders. Maybe now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, I can get on with the business of feeling guilty about normal things.
I almost feel bad right now for sleeping with someone else’s girlfriend a couple days ago.