He was good at the useless things people find impressive in social situations. Like whistling with his fingers. Climbing over fences. Juggling.
And he caught things easily. It’s ridiculous how entertaining basic human reflexes are at parties, yet his meaningless displays of dexterity evoked so much excitement from friends and nearby onlookers that he would receive standing ovations. He’d reach up with a hand that seemed at least half a metre outside of the flying object’s trajectory, and then at the last moment would move no more than an inch to catch it effortlessly. Everyone would cheer. It’s the kind of act that made him inexplicably and unanimously liked.
He could catch things and juggle with his feet too. What’s that called? Keepy uppy? Whatever, he did that too. And you knew he hadn’t practised it, he was just born with this innate ability. Or maybe he just had a stronger gravitational pull than the average human being.
It wasn’t just objects that gravitated towards him, though. It was luck. Good fortune. Everything went well for him. He could stand up and make an impromptu speech and it would be better than a rehearsed effort from a proficient speaker. He always looked put together, even if he was wearing the standard school uniform or clothes that weren’t his own. He would always make the right choices. And he’d get freebies and unforeseen opportunities, just by being in the right place at the right time.
There were no hesitations with him. No doubts. No mistakes. And he was kind too – he never had a bad word to say about anybody, and he’d always dissociate himself from maliciousness or gossip. Sometimes he would physically up and leave a room just to get away from it. Although he made you feel guilty if you did bad stuff around him, he never vocally judged you for it. He never criticised, just silently distanced himself from the crime.
He wasn’t a goody-two-shoes though. He drank and smoked weed on occasion, although neither substance seemed to affect him very much. He’d just smile a bit more, or go a little quieter than usual, or laugh slightly louder. Then, when he’d had enough of whatever he was consuming, he would stop. No one could persuade him to do anything to excess.
He didn’t even overeat. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever heard him talk about food in a way that was in the least bit emotive. Everyone announces their cravings from time to time, or has been so hungry they become short-tempered and irrational, but not him. He’d always eat disinterestedly, and if someone gave him a huge pile of food he wouldn’t battle to try and finish it. He’d eat a little bit of everything and then politely push the plate away. He often said no to dessert. He sipped water in between mouthfuls. He chewed quietly. He would agree if food was cooked well or poorly, but he had no preference for any particular ingredient or dish. Food was an energy source to him that neither thrilled nor disgusted him.
I think he was probably the only person I’ve ever known to drink the recommended amount of water every day, and to perform the recommended amount of exercise. It wasn’t an effort or a chore for him. It was part of his routine. It was as if he had a small monitor inside of him that beeped whenever he needed topping up, but only he could hear it. The rest of us just has to fumble through, only recognising our dehydration or lack of movement in unsophisticated ways, such as headaches and stomach rolls.
I knew him for a long time. Since the first day of primary school. We were always in the same class. As you can imagine, I hated him almost instantly. But he liked me just fine.
He liked everyone just fine. He didn’t hate. He didn’t love. He was okay with most things. Even the girls who managed to date him, he was more or less okay with them.
He never ended relationships, and his girlfriends never fully understood why they chose to finish with him – they would just feel it was ‘time’. It wasn’t as if they had been particularly happy or unhappy during those two to four months with him. It was just a gentle and slow realisation that things needed to come to an end. The girls made their excuses, promised to remain friends with him (which they always did) and moved on to someone else.
Most of his exes had to be reminded of their relationship with him, as if they had been drugged throughout or suffered a bout of amnesia. They remembered him with a sense of fondness, but they couldn’t recall any specifics.
When asked why the hell they would give up such a catch, his exes would shrug. Some of them made up lies pertaining to some sort of unspoken difficulty, but that was more of a reflection on the girl and her issues than it was of him. Most of them just said it hadn’t worked out, and that was that.
It sounds like I know a lot about him. Well, I do now, but for most of my childhood he was just there, out of focus, and whenever he would come to the foreground I would feel irritated and bored by his mere existence. He was a nonentity. Untouchable. Infallible. Why would I let him enter my consciousness for more than a moment? I had other, more prescient things to occupy my thoughts.
Things changed, of course, you’ve probably guessed that by now. I remember the exact moment I started to feel that gravitational pull towards him, but it was a different kind to the one I had witnessed in others.
I was around thirteen when it happened, and I had glanced across the school cafeteria to the table where he was eating lunch with a gabble of his followers. Usually I would have been too disinterested to study this barely sentient being for more than a handful of seconds, but that day I felt something odd about him. It was instinctual, like a fox catching the scent of a rabbit.
Francine Wilson was sitting opposite him, chattering away with a mouthful of ham sandwich (none of which hit him, of course, but clumps of bread did spray onto the people either side of him). His face was calm, serene even, as he nodded and smiled at her endless monologue. Then I lowered my gaze to his hands, which were resting on his legs.
He was digging his fingernails hard into his thighs. And I mean hard. His fingers were like claws, his knuckles yellowy white, and the tendons in his forearm were raised and practically pulsating with the effort. It was definitely forceful enough to break the skin.
That’s when I knew. There was something completely fucked about Joseph Miller. And I mean completely fucked.