I don’t know what I did. You wouldn’t, though, and you’d never find out.
You wouldn’t see it coming. If you were paying close attention there might have been a day or two of people exchanging subtle eye-rolls when you walked in. A faint, wincing paranoia might have started to snag at you. But you wouldn’t be prepared. Nobody ever was. That might have been the point.
Not knowing might be down to the amnesia. Equally it could have been some sort of social blindness on my part, except that it wasn’t. There were others, victims and reluctant perpetrators. When we talked about it later we called it the Silence.
It was a sudden, weaponised ostracism. You’d come in one day to find yourself invisible. People would look through you, talk over you, make plans in front of you and leave you out. Buses would leave without you. If you tried to talk to someone they’d cut you dead or wait wordlessly until you were out of their path.
There’s a special kind of haunted isolation that comes from being surrounded by people who won’t acknowledge your presence except to pointedly deny you attention. It’s not the sort of soft loneliness you can retreat from with a book, oh no. The Silence would follow you.
Reading or drawing or doing any other thing to keep yourself occupied would somehow turn up the freeze. They’d get louder, more animated, more affectionate toward each other. Without ever explicitly acknowledging your presence they’d work to ensure you knew you were being left out.
The icing on the cake was that when the Silence got turned on me I was stuck on a desert island with thirty of them and none of anybody else. And I still don’t know what I did.
It was apparent from the moment I woke up on that final day that it was my turn in the barrel. I was always last to breakfast, preferring to wait until everyone else was done, but it got packed up in front of me when I came to get some. Questions about the day’s plans went unacknowledged. People started conversations with one another if I persisted in trying to talk to them.
The second last conversation I had was with Box. I was nominally friends with Box. His mental health issues hadn’t become apparent yet but he was already as odd as a bottle of chips and at that point we hadn’t connected far beyond some shared interests: D&D, early Pink Floyd records and marijuana cultivation.
Nobody else was usually much interested in talking to him so I imagined cutting me off would be a kind of social suicide. He did it anyway. It seemed so gutsy that I wasn’t even offended. “I can’t be friends with you anymore,” he told me. “How come?” I asked. “It’s not worth it,” he said. “I understand,” I said.
I was wrong about it being a bad move though, he got suddenly, noisily, temporarily much more popular.
My very last conversation was with Bam. We’d been close since we were nine. “I can’t keep talking to you,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “It’s just not worth it.” “I understand,” I said.
Thankfully the next day involved a choppy three hour barge ride where nobody else had figured out the trick of sitting in the wheelhouse watching the horizon and eating gingernut biscuits with the pilot so I was happy to be left out of the communal activities. Breakfast didn’t seem like such a missed opportunity either, viewed over.
The Silence lasted the duration of a number of very, very long bus rides then petered out over a few days once we were home. Box and Bam drifted back to talking to me, teachers started addressing me directly again and everyone else went back to what passed for normal in Arcadia.
I watched Box go through the same thing later that year. He quit school in response, preferring to take up a steady career in full-time pot smoking.
I never found out what I was supposed to have done. You never did.