Boys with Razors

“He’s tried to kill himself,” Kelly said. “Did you know that?” She was talking about R. who liked poetry and jokes about death and who she was dating. Until she started dating another R. who liked football and jokes about his classmates.

playing with razor blades at the library
playing with razor blades at the library

But I didn’t know this news about the first R. I also didn’t know if I could believe her. Not that she had a reputation for lying, but she told me many things I could never confirm and I couldn’t repeat.

“He’s very dark,” she said. “He’s really cool.” We were in the 9th grade. I didn’t think she should be telling this to me.

I ignored him most of the time because K. was my friend and he liked cool girls. I wanted him to like me, but I didn’t give much thought to whether or not I liked him. So I didn’t talk to him unless he spoke to me first.

The picture I’ve posted is so bad that I thought I could get away with putting him up for the world to see. A group of us were at the library and he had a stick in one hand and a rusty razor in the other. He’d found the razor in the dirt. He pretended to cut his wrist. I told him not to do that. It wasn’t funny. Laughing he challenged me to stop him. I said I would. He jabbed the stick at me. “No, you won’t.” “Yes, I will.” “No.” “Yes.” I grabbed his wrist and he jerked away. And away we went, but we were laughing.

Several times I tried to say hello to him in the halls at school, but he would nod and look the other way. Sometime after that Kelly and he broke up and she told that news about him. I never learned if what she said was true.

In real life I’m an expert at letting people not talk about things. If someone wants to be denial, ignore things, or lie, I let them. If they want to cry, rant, or tell the truth, I let them do that too. No boy, no guy, no man has ever heard me say anything along the lines of–“How do you feel about me?” or “Where is this relationship going?” or “Are you lying to me?” or “Why don’t we talk this over?” or, God forbid, “Will you call me?”

Maybe this is why I have trouble interviewing my characters. Though I’m intensely curious (please tell me!), it is hard to violate their privacy. Why should they tell me? I can tell it bothers you to talk about it, so lets talk about something else. This is not helping me finish my story. It isn’t easy to be nice and write at the same time. Perhaps I need exercises in being mean.

7 thoughts on “Boys with Razors

  1. Exercises in meanness will only help you develop mean muscles, which don’t do much good and which you don’t appear to have any real use for. Characters will often tell you stories if they believe they can trust you, or if you don’t appear to be threatening. Neil Simon once confessed his favorite opening for a play or story, a character saying to the narrator,”I’ve never told this to anyone before. ” A scene or two later, the narrator discovers that the character has used that lie with several other persons.

    You might try offering your characters the choice of changing their name and identity. That should get a response out of them.

  2. Maybe I don’t mean–mean. And I think I’m trustworthy. I’ve kept enough secrets from friends I’ve forgotten them… I don’t know if that counts, but I don’t tell. Except that I’m a writer and I do.

    It just pains me to be less than polite, and asking too many questions seems rude. Or pushy. I’m practicing, but it hurts.

  3. Maybe if you think of it as being invested, rather than being pushy? I think people often long to be “pushed” into revealing themselves- they need that extra nudge to get past “why would anyone care enough to listen to me.” And letting someone know you’re invested can be as simple as the quality of your attentiveness, or the right question that leaves room for how much they reveal.

    I guess I’m sensitive to this because I have a parent who thinks they are being polite and nonjudgemental, but it comes across as indifference. Not a particularly loving quality in a parent. I’d rather have someone try to get closer to me- after all, I can always push back if I really don’t like it- but odds are, I’ll just be glad for the attention.

    It seems like a win-win- if your characters push back, that could be interesting- and if they open up, that’s good too!

  4. From Sarah: if your characters push back, that could be interesting

    Yeah! It’s also interesting that writers (well, er, some of us anyhow) are just as intent on hiding things from our characters as they are on hiding stuff from us. I don’t mean upcoming plot developments (few fictional characters, just like real ones, can actually foresee the future). I mean like “I know something YOU don’t know about yourself!” secrets. Under the circumstances, it’s hard for me to begrudge them the secrets they keep from ME.

    I have this theory — based, true, on very little evidence — that shyness and general reticence used to be much more common than it is now. Now, shyness just seems… weird.

  5. Eeek. Avoidance! I know in real life I don’t like to inconvenience people or make them feel uncomfortable. I am nice and non confrontational.

    I am afraid that in fiction I try to make my characters’ lives easy, too. Sure, they have to overcome obstacles, but their mom… she’s not a bad guy after all. their sister? she doesn’t make selfish choices and reject them. themselves? they always make the right choice, even if it’s just the right for now choice, their motives are never anything less than noble. Maybe I am exaggerating a little, maybe I do rough them up a little, make them a little not so nice, but it’s only because I am fighting against my desire to make everything NICE.

    But I agree that the opposite of NICE isn’t MEAN. I think it might be REAL.

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