Everyone’s been there. As a child, your mom would take you to Wal-Mart, Target, or, if you lived near rich people as a kid, Toys-R-Us. Anywhere with toys. And being a child, you wanted to pick them up, play with them, put them in the buggy in hopes that your mom would buy them. Heck, at that age, you didn’t get the concept of money or buying things with money. You just wanted to play with it. And you wanted Mom to let you take it out of the store. If she said no, some of the braver ones among you would sneak it in the buggy anyway. Maybe mom didn’t notice. Maybe she did and bought it anyway.
But typically, what would happen? Your mom would catch your greedy hands and say what?
“No! You can look, but you don’t look with your hands!”
That phrase has always held a special kind of irony for me.
I can’t remember specifically when it started. Used to be just a feeling. I would pick up something and just have a feeling that it belonged to someone. Or I would touch something and have a feeling about something about it. Nothing concrete, but innate. Like knowing that you can slide down a slide but not up. Just not something you question. Multiply that by the fact that this feeling was always right. For a long time, I thought it was something normal. It was useful, too, at that age. Like when my fellow kindergarteners tried to ‘borrow’ my crayons. No pulling the wool over my eyes there.
It grew stronger as I got older. I began to see actual things. Faces. The object’s past. What the person thought when they had it in their possession.
For example, I saw my first drug deal at the age of nine. I had paid for a drink with a five dollar bill I had gotten for mowing the neighbor’s yard. In the change I got was a worn and limp dollar bill. In an instant I saw a skinny, shaky hand holding the limp bill and a host of other one dollar bills. The hand gave the stack to a beefy guy who was probably in high school or his freshman year of college, slick-faced and wearing a baseball cap. The beefy guy took the bill and handed the wax colored hand a small bag full of flour. I later learned that it wasn’t flour. The bill went in Beefy’s pocket. Hours in Beefy’s world flashed by in seconds. Later the bill was taken out of the pocket and used to buy a giant bottle of something at the convenience store I was standing in now. The bill went in the register. Darkness. Time. Light. Bill taken out and handed to me. When it was over, I looked down and saw the bill crushed in my fist. The pretty girl at the register asked me if I was about to have a seizure.
There were unwritten rules, which I learned by trial and error. For example, public items held shorter, weaker memories than personal items, but held a higher volume of them. In that case, it was more of an overall sense of the object and its users’ emotional and mental state at the time. Think of it like this: personal versus public is like a stream of water from a nozzle versus a flowing river. I learned this particular rule when using a public bathroom. Even through the numerous disposable paper seats, I got a reading on a toilet that was apparently most popular one in that particular restroom. I try not to think about the things I learned that day.
Around age twelve, I took an empty spiral notebook from my dad’s office and wrote down what I knew up to that point. I began experimenting.
I learned things that I probably shouldn’t have found out until I was at least twenty five. I can’t, in good conscience, mention all of it in mixed company. A lot of you would think I made it up if I did. But I can say this.
I began honing it. There were some parallels to drug use; I avoided people (to focus on my talent), I stayed out late (touching objects, seeing if it only worked through my hands, taking notes, posing questions, experimenting further).
And it felt like a drug. Like a trip. I have never done drugs. Based on experiences high school buddies of mine have had with drugs, I am not inclined to ever try them. If it will do those things to them, then God only knows what it would do with this ‘talent’. But experimenting with my strange skill felt like how people described acid trips to be. It was unexpected at first; one never quite knew what would happen. I would see things. Hear things. Feel things. All from the past. Sometimes they would be wonderful, like touching a watch and feeling the elation of the wearer asking the girl of his dreams to marry him, seeing her beautiful face blush and tear up, hearing her say yes over and over almost hysterically, feeling him swing her around in the air held tight in his arms.
Other times, it was awful. Like the crushing despair of a young boy whose father’s instability made him and his mother flee for their lives and hide here, four hundred miles from where he grew up. What this guy felt was indescribable. Like being at the bottom of the ocean, being crushed and unable to move and yet still drowning. Slow, torturous rotting of the heart. God, that was terrible. The despair. Anguish. Feeling his tears crawl down his cheeks as he scribbled vitriol into a journal that I now held, that I had found left on the ground at school. I gave it back to him the next day, and assured him multiple times that I hadn’t read it. It felt like I was lying. Because since I had touched it, I didn’t have to read it. I saw the things that cast the shadows which took the form of the words in his journal. I didn’t have to read it; I had lived it with him.
So here I am now, a high school graduate who grew up way too fast, unsure of what to do with my life, who doesn’t touch certain things in a room for some unknown reason that makes me a freak to others, and who is only nineteen but who was the eyes of a fifty year old.
My name is Arthur Maddox, and I do look with my hands.