Tommy Reilly was eight years old when his father decided to move to New York City from their hometown of Belfast. Tommy's mother had died six months earlier of cancer. His father had lost his job working in a paper mill three months later that when the mill closed down. He had a cousin named Rex who had moved to America a few years earlier with whom he had kept in touch. Rex committed some petty crime during his adolescence and young adulthood, but had been a good if not close friend of Tommy's father. When he came back to Ireland for the funeral of his own mother and learned of Tommy's father's troubles, Rex convinced him to come to America and partner up with him to do something Tommy's father had been wanting to do for a while, open up a bar. He even offered to let him and Tommy stay with him in his apartment in New York.
Tommy was scared when he heard they would be moving to the Bronx. He thought of it as a place filled with all black and Hispanic criminal people who would rob and beat up him and his dad for being white. His father assured him not to be scared, explaining to him that Rex lived in a part of the Bronx called Woodlawn, which would be filled with Irish immigrants like themselves.
Three months later, Rex having revealed himself to be a drug addict and con man that fleeced Tommy's father, Tommy and his father were still in the Bronx, but no longer the Irish section of it. They lived in a tiny apartment in an East Bronx neighborhood where most of their neighbors were black and those who weren't were Hispanic.
On Tommy's first day of third grade a group of slightly older boys forced him to give over his lunch and all of his money.
On his first day of fourth he was beaten up by a group of boys his own age.
On his first day of fifth he was pulled out of class and placed into his school's special education program.
On what would have been his first day of sixth he spent the day in the emergency room waiting to find out if his father had died from alcohol poisoning.
On his first day of seventh he watched as his father—who was a janitor at his middle school—watch a boy urinate in his bucket while his friends watched. He also watched him hit the kid—no harder than he'd seen a million black and Hispanic teachers do a million times to other kids—an act which would cost him his job.
On the first day of eighth, emboldened by a huge summertime growth spurt, he tracked down each one of those kids and avenged his father.
On the first day of ninth he couldn't attend school because he was hospitalized with a broken collarbone courtesy of those boys and some of their friends.
The first day of tenth was completely uneventful. By the second day he had finally found out where his missing father was. He was in jail. He had been arrested for heroin possession.
It was one month after that first day of tenth grade that he saw a t.v. show on the "white power" music scene.
It was two months later that he went to his first white power show.
It was one week after that the 6'4 boy—who had three inches left to go in his growth spurt—shaved his head and put on his uniform—a pair of Dr. Martens boots with white laces, a flight jacket, a Fred Perry tennis shirt and a pair of thin "braces" (suspenders)—one partly donated to the dirt-poor boy by Brigade 8814—a "group of politically conscious racialist skins committed to living their lives by the 14 words."
Derek, whom he had met at his first white power show—had taken him to his first meeting, as well as his second and third. As he settled into his folding chair for the fourth, however, the novelty was starting to wear off and it was with a sense of impending boredom that he prepared for a meeting of discussions about the secret locations of upcoming white power shows, bitching about conflicts with Battalion 18—another White Nationalist skin group in the city, which had split off from Brigade 8814 due to a "series of internal disputes" which kind of sounded to Tommy like a couple of bar fights. On this day though, the group's leader, a 26 year-old skin named Carson with a deceptively slight body and soft voice got up in front of the group and announced with a grim glaze in his eyes, a slight bow to his head and a stiff, wide-footed, arms clasped-behind-his-back stance, that there would be a guest speaker.
He introduced him as Gideon Brand.
Some in the audience applauded raucously, others politely and still others not at all. Some of the members of this third group shushed the first group the way a parent would a rowdy child in church. A fifty-something suit-clad shortish balding man with graying white-blonde hair and impossibly small graphite eyes walked out, his head bowed and his hands clasped behind his back just as Carson's had been.
When he reached the center area before the front row, he looked up, scanned the crowd and looked down again. Raising his head again, he remained silent for just one nanosecond and then, in a voice as soft as silk and as sharp as a rapier said,
"A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a meeting such as this one and afterwards, a young man came up to me and said he had a question for me. He had a young son—I think the boy was about four or five, I can't remember—and he told me that one day he overheard a story that his wife was reading to him. The story was about a teeny-tiny tiger who was so small he could sit on the leaf of a flower. One day a bird flies by and asks the tiger why he's so small. The tiger explains to him that one day there was a big wind and all the animals that were big became small and all the animals that were small became big and once he went from becoming a ruler of the jungle to this creature that was sooo delicate and teeny-tiny he could balance on a flower-leaf, he realized he was happier that way. He realized that being one of the jungle's rulers had actually been a burden to him and that losing that power had actually set him free and allowed him to, alas, find true happiness.
"As his wife finished the story and began closing the book, this young man suddenly felt a surge of anger that was so strong he ripped the book out of her hands and threw it in the garbage.
"And what he wanted to know from me was whether I thought he had behaved appropriately. I told him that though he certainly should not have lost control in that way in front of his son, since it is particularly important for us as white people to show our children through example that our race is one that both values and is capable of exhibiting the trait of self-control, his feeling of rage was not only correct, but positive and a sign that he was evolving and getting stronger and healthier and that the sickness that this society plagued him with the minute he was born was finally starting to leave him.
"Because yes, that story his wife read his son was beautiful—touching and beautiful. In another time I would say it would a lovely story to read to one's child. Because it is indeed a beautiful story, a beautiful fairy tale.
"But you know what? In this time, in this place, that child lives in a society that has no idea of that fact.
"We live in a nation of teeny-tiny tigers lazily sunning themselves on tiny flower-leaves with smiles of lethal bliss on their faces while the big animals of the jungle lie in wait, saliva dripping from their razor-sharp teeth.
"We were the tigers—no, the lions of the jungle. And when a lion in his natural habitat eats a smaller weaker animal, say an antelope, how is he judged? How does even the biggest bleeding-heart liberal judge him? Is he seen as an evil creature? No, he's seen as a creature doing what he has to do to survive. If that lion doesn't eat that antelope he will starve, eventually to death. We as humans are no different than any other member of the animal kingdom. We need to feed off those who are weaker than us not because we're cruel, but because it's the only way we can survive. And as much as it might have offended our delicate sensibilities, as much as we may have feigned ignorance, most white people used to understand this.
"And then, somewhere along the line, most of us started losing more and more of that understanding until at some point, we totally forgot it. So we began getting weaker and weaker and weaker while the weaker animals became stronger and stronger until they started eating us.
"But while most of us are dying a slow death, some still have enough fire—enough strength, enough courage, enough intelligence, enough character—in us to try to fight back.
"But you know what perhaps the ugliest truth of all is? It the fighters of us who are going to have to endure true pain and suffering—not the dying ones.
"The dying ones are living in the gooey sweet haze of the terminally diseased and drugged. Their morphine is their money and their nice suburban homes and their all-white private schools and their huge plasma-screen televisions that flicker images of pretty fairy tales of lovely multiculturalism. And they can believe it.
Because, unlike us, they have had the luxury of believing it.
"But not us, no sirree. Not because we didn't want to. Ohhh we wanted to. We wanted to so badly."
Gritting his teeth so hard that shot of pain bounced through his skull like a pinball, Tommy had to start breathing hard just to cool the pain.
With a mix of shame and gratitude, he felt the warm dry weight of Gideon Brand's palm on his shoulder as he passed through the aisle.
He didn't know whether he felt better or worse once Derek repeated the action.
"We wanted to be like all the rest of them. We wanted to be the good guys so badly. Nobody's born into this world and says 'I want to be a villain. I want the world to think I'm scum.' But we weren't given a choice. Tell me, how many of you are here because you've been bullied by niggers and muds at school?"
Reluctantly, Tommy slowly started raising his hand, but when it reached half-mast, it began to waver, then lower.
"It's okay," Gideon Brand said, "you're not alone. Look behind you—"
Just as he started to turn around, he saw a few people, just a few, with raised hands out of the corner of his eye. But just as he saw their eyes gently meet his, he whipped his head back around, a force slashing up his throat so hard he had to bite the inside of his lip.
Gideon Brand's eyes met his. He looked away.
"I know how hard it is to even be here. Believe it or not, I was you once. But you're amongst friends h—"
Tommy leapt up and the next thing he could remember he was running down the street, hearing the faraway sound of Derek's voice asking him to come back.
Tommy would never get to meet Gideon Brand again.
He would never forgive himself for that.
Cathy Rosoff is a social work student in New York City. She has published in Blue Lake Review and her novel, Feral Little Gods, got through the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.