Victor was a very strange boy.
I went to a rather large school, so it wasn’t really all that surprising that I didn’t meet him until I was in fifth grade. We’d never had a class together and I kept mostly to myself, so our first meeting was something of a surprise for me.
He sat next to me in math – a subject that I hated and he loved. “It’s the shapes,” he’d tell me, although I never understood it. He wasn’t talking about Geometry or anything – he would be looking at an equation as he’d say it, his eyes taking on a dreamy cast that was somehow immensely appealing to me.
That’s another thing about Victor – he was intensely smart.
But people tended to overlook that, because he was just so weird. He never wore normal clothing – it almost seemed like he didn’t have any. Some days he’d wear pants that were six sizes too big, held up by a precarious arrangement of four or five belts. Some days he’d wear twelve scarves, tied around various spots on his body. Some days his entire outfit would be chrome, and some days it would be black. He even wore makeup – he’d sort of just smear it around his lips and eyes, sometimes on his cheeks. It almost looked like he’d raided Good Will and gotten dressed in the dark.
Naturally, this led to a lot of bullying. After he started hanging around me, it got worse for me, too, but never as bad as it was for him. He was the constant victim of beatings, verbal abuse, and sneers. But it never seemed to bother him. Nothing did. He lived in a permanent state of day-dreaming and far-off fantasies. I envied him, somewhat – I wanted to see what he was seeing when he got that distant look in his eyes.
Yes, Victor was smart, strange, creative, imaginative, intense… he was all these things.
But, first and foremost, he was my friend.
Of the many strange things Victor did, the strangest was the gift-giving.
He’d tried to give gifts to classmates before, even his bullies. They weren’t ever anything bad – just random things he’d picked up, maybe a feather or a scrap of fabric. Everyone thought it was unforgivably weird. The teachers even had a talk with him about how it was “inappropriate” to give students presents like that.
Personally, I never saw what was so bad about it. But to each their own.
I was really the only exception to the rule. Victor soon began giving me presents because he seemed to perceive that I would appreciate them – and I did.
The first present he gave me was a stone. It was about the size of my palm, perfectly white but for a black dot in the center (I suspect he’d drawn it on with a marker), and smooth. He told me he found it outside his house one morning, that he thought someone had left it there for him. I liked it very much. I kept it on the shelf above my bed.
The next present was a scarf. It was his favorite scarf, you see – it was very long and had just about every color you could imagine, and some you couldn’t. He liked to wrap it around his neck until it bulged out bigger than the rest of his body. I was honored when he gave it to me, and I wore it every day to school. He seemed pleased with that.
The scarf was actually my first clue as to Victor’s home life.
If I’d been a little older, I might have seen the signs sooner – or perhaps my parents would have mentioned that I must be careful with my new friend. You see, his parents weren’t exactly the loving picture-perfect guardians that we watched on 90s sitcoms. When I was a child, all I knew is that they were strange, and a little bit mean.
Okay, very mean.
Apparently the scarf Victor gave me wasn’t just his favorite, it was his mom’s favorite as well. He’d stolen it from her closet to wear to school, much like his other clothing. When she found out he’d given it to a friend, she was very, very unhappy.
He was gone from school for a few days. When he came back, I noticed the fading bruises on his face and arms. The teachers noticed too, I could tell, but they didn’t say anything. They never did.
When I asked what happened, he told me the whole story, truthfully. I was horrified and tried to give the scarf back, but he merely shrugged and told me not to worry about it – she’d probably already forgotten it existed. She was like that, always forgetting things. He also bore no ill will against me for being the cause of his beating. It was just a fact of life to him, something he neither loved nor hated.
It is what it is, he’d tell me.
I didn’t like that. Not one bit.
As the school year went on, Victor continued to give me presents.
He gave me a feather from a bluebird, one that he insisted I use as a bookmark. I was always reading, and he wanted his presents to be useful.
One time, he gave me a cassette tape and told me he’d recorded a song on it. I played it when I got home, and it was the strangest thing… It was his voice at the beginning, whispering to me, saying he’d “come to give me a song.” After that, it was just… noise. There were shouts and murmurs, occasional giggles, a lot of static.
It was strange, but it came from Victor, and Victor was my friend, so I loved it.
Over time, Victor gave me six presents, each more interesting and unique than the last. I cherished them all and kept them in special places so I wouldn’t lose them.
It wasn’t until the seventh present that things went wrong.
One day, just as school ended, Victor sought me out and told me to come to the schoolyard a little early the next morning.
“Why?” I asked.
“I have something to give you,” he said.
Sometimes he insisted on total privacy when he gave me a present, so this request didn’t seem all that strange at the time. I nodded and made a note to ask mom to bring me to school a little early – I know she worried sometimes over my relationship with Victor, but she never impeded it, perhaps understanding instinctively that he needed a friend more than anything in the world.
The next morning, mom brought me to school a half an hour early. She stayed parked next to the playground, watching as I walked over to Victor, who was standing next to the swings. Looking back, I’m glad my mom waited. I don’t know what I might have done, otherwise.
Victor was holding his backpack in front of him, shielding it from view as though it contained something precious. I supposed it did, thinking he was going to give me something strange again – maybe a bouncy-ball or a sheet of stickers.
As I approached, he grinned and turned the backpack over, letting whatever was inside fall to the ground.
It seemed to fall in slow motion, my eyes tricked by the strange array of colors and textures. There was peach and black and red, but the red was messy, dripping…
Blood. That was the first thing I truly understood as I looked at his mother’s head, sawed roughly from her body, probably with a serrated knife. My god, it must have taken him all night to do that.
I screamed even as my mother ran from her car, sprinting towards me and shouting at Victor to stay away.
Victor didn’t really look confused, or upset, even as my mother hoisted me up and carried me to the car. Instead, he had that far-away look in his eyes again, as though he wasn’t even a part of our world anymore.
Perhaps he never was.
It’s been twenty years since the day Victor murdered his mother and brought her head to school, and as time has gone on, I have finally learned the whole story behind the strange boy I befriended in math class.
Victor’s mother couldn’t be called a single mother because she didn’t really do much mothering at all. She was a druggie, often hosting drug parties in their little trailer home at the edge of town. She never bothered much with Victor, and the men who came over would sometimes share their drugs with him. I learned that he’d been shot up with heroin, had tried crack cocaine, breathed in the noxious fumes of whatever shit they were smoking every day.
Looking back, his strange behavior, the way he always seemed so spaced out, seems to make more sense.
When the police raided his home, they found that he didn’t own any clothing of his own. He’d stolen it all from his mother and her various boyfriends and hook-ups that stayed the night.
As my father would say, poor Victor never really had a chance.
The police don’t really know why he decided to kill his mother. Perhaps he finally snapped under the abuse and the beatings. Maybe the drugs got to him. He probably didn’t even know what he was doing, that’s what they said.
They took my friend away. Put him away somewhere – a mental facility for the clinically insane, or so I’m told. If he came to a more bitter end, I’m sure my parents wouldn’t tell me – they’re kind people, and they know how much he meant to me. My closest friend, even as strange as he was.
I wish I could have said goodbye.
After Victor went away, things were normal for me once again. Of course, my parents took me to a therapist – I had undergone a very traumatic event. But once those few sessions were over, life continued as normal. The kids at school stopped bullying me. After all, they’d only ever really hated Victor – I was only targeted for being his friend. They even treated me with kindness, as everyone knew that I’d seen first-hand what he’d done.
My life went on. I packed up all Victor’s gifts in a box – save the seventh – and shoved it under my bed. I graduated top of my class. I went to a good school, got a nice job that I enjoy. I sleep well at night and I do everything that a normal adult does.
But the other day, something was different. I went home, you see, to finish cleaning out my old room – throwing away old toys, boxing things up for storage, that kind of thing.
And I found the box. The box of Victor’s gifts.
I don’t know where Victor went, or if he’s happy. If he knows what he did, if he even remembers.
All I know is that, come Monday, I’m wearing that scarf to work. People might ask questions, but I’ll never tell them.
Instead, I’ll tell you about the strange little boy, his presents, his life. Because Victor deserves to be remembered for more than that last act of violence.
This will be my goodbye.
Goodbye, Victor, my cherished friend. Wherever you are, I hope you’re still smiling. I hope there is peace for you.