As if by the virtue of some cruel foreshadowing from birth, as if the product of sadistic parentage and the unconscious yearning for self-fulfilling prophecy, even his name was unfortunate..
Doofy... the children (monsters!) chanted, a mantra he heard and absorbed with a self-conscious smile, as if either to pretend to laugh along with the joke or to be completely oblivious of it (oh, sweet internalization!).
Oblivion would have been a blessing, I am sure.
But I was not so sure he was that lucky.
I write this with the vagueness of the uninformed, but the sympathy of the enlightened - uninformed of facts or circumstances, sympathetic to the injustices witnessed by a teenage girl, too awkward herself to stand up for what she knows, deep down inside, is right, to condemn what is wrong, too happy to stand back and watch, in fear of becoming a target herself. Surely she was not alone...
Children can be cruel. Middle-school children doubly so. 7th grade is a time of terror and anxiety for most, a time when the ravages of puberty take their toll on adolescent bodies and minds, a time before conscience and consequence can take root and grow to create fine, upstanding citizens of its worst offenders.
I didn't know Duffy at all. I actually doubt anyone really did.
I knew him as someone with whom I shared a class or two one year, someone I passed in the hall, someone with peach-fuzz hair, a heart-shaped mole on his upper cheekbone, a nervous, squeaky voice, a social awkwardness that even the spottiest, longest-limbed teenager couldn't come even remotely close to, and, yes, that wholly-unfortunate name - someone who was easy prey, the bull's eye of a target painted square in the center of his truly innocent forehead.
Social awkwardness is par for the course in the life of a 12 or 13 year old. But sometimes there are those people for whom there appears to be no relief in sight. The ones that don't even fit the mold of that demographic in any way, shape or form. And now, in the enlightened retrospect of a far more socially-conscious future life, I wonder how many of those out-of-the-box pariahs may have had other, more currently explicable forces at work, forces rarely recognized in those dim days of the early 80s (and 70s, 60s, 50s...).
What happened to those children, young adults, adults, for whom no explanation was available? Those human beings who lived on the fringe...on the spectrum...
I don't know that Duffy was on the autism spectrum.
Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But for many years now, as I have thought of him over and over in the years that have passed, I have thought that perhaps he was.
I like to think that he was, like to hope that those who tortured him during those tender years might be wondering the same, feeling the shame of the guilty, if they even think of him at all... I like to think that all of those other socially bereft souls like him had other forces at work, forces so far outside of their control, who now, in this socially-conscious future life, are vindicated by a diagnosis, as if that actually would make up for what they endured.
For years I've done internet searches on his name, turning up nothing...not a scrap, not a shred of anything to suggest he'd grown up to be successful, get married, even have a Facebook page, for crying out loud.
Not a trace.
And the dread I felt before the internet was even created, the sense of foreboding I felt looming for him in all the years since I left that school district that very same year, the logical guess as to his ultimate fate, based on nothing more than pure supposition, remained with me.
And I continued to do internet searches from time to time.
And a few weeks ago, I may have found the confirmation that I'd been reluctantly seeking for so long.
Not for Duffy, but for a woman whose age would be perfect to have been his mother. A woman with a different surname, but from the same microscopic town, survived by children with the other surname. A woman who, the obituary stated, was predeceased by a son, Duffy...
That's all I've got.
And my mind views it as the ultimate tragedy, vividly creating the unknown circumstances of his death into a fully-realized play, one in which a pre-internet Duffy, perhaps not much older than the one I last saw in 1981, so overcome by the damage inflicted upon him by the monsters-with-no-conscience, could take the torture, from both within and without, no longer, and succumbed to something self-inflicted and brutally final.
I said I write this with the vagueness of the uninformed.
I am uninformed.
I know he lived.
I know he suffered.
I know he died.
That is all.
The rest is purely speculation, supposition (fabrication?).
I wonder if I'm right...