Malice at the Brooklyn Central Library

by

06/14/2007

Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, 11238

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

On a damp Saturday afternoon, in the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, my boyfriend, Ben, is attacked.

We share a table on the second floor—I study, Ben reads—when a pale, rangy teenager approaches us. He pauses, then begins to slam Ben’s face with a volume of Compton’s Encyclopedia.

“Stop being condescending,” the boy hisses in between each swipe. He then stops abruptly, fixes his bilious eyes on me, and cuts a tidy path from the room.

Ben and I sit, pink and dumb, as witnesses circle to see if we are hurt. Downstairs, the library’s security staff catches Ben’s attacker before he is able to flee.

“Do you want to press charges?” they ask. Flustered, we decline. We pack our things. On our way out of the library, Ben and I are stopped by the sergeant on duty.

“That boy said you were laughing at him,” he chuckles, shaking his head. “He said, miss, that you were making fun of him.”

“I wasn’t,” I answer, my voice limp. “I didn’t even see him until…”

“I know,” the sergeant sighs. “That boy was clearly messed in the head. That’s why I woulda pressed charges.”

He then explains that because we opted not to alert the NYPD, the library cannot legally notify the boy’s guardians. The attack will remain our secret.

Back in our Park Slope apartment, Ben and I pour too much red wine, too quickly.

“I feel foolish,” he admits. “I should’ve pressed charges so his parents could’ve been called. That kid needs help. He could go on to really hurt someone.” Ben shuffles off to bed before 8, his face stained blue with bruises.

I sit up for hours trying to make sense of what I feel. I imagine Ben’s attacker. I see him crouched deep in the library stacks, spying on us from the dark like a small bat. I imagine his mounting panic as he convinces himself that this strange woman and her boyfriend are mocking him. And even though I did nothing, I feel deeply ashamed.

I’d moved to New York after high school for predictable reasons: I’d hoped to recast myself. Growing up in WASPy Connecticut, I’d been popular but introverted. My shyness had often been mistaken for a fashionable brand of malice and in that way, it had served me well. But in New York, I’d wanted people to see me as something warmer and more engaging. As someone kind. I tried to open up: smiling at strangers, joining a reading group, playing soccer in Prospect Park. I pursued Ben, a gentle, husky man who people flock to because he is just so nice. I thought I’d been successful in becoming a friendlier version of myself, but there I was so many years later, the callous girl once again.

The next day Ben calls the library to see if they have the boy’s contact information on file. They do, in their internal incident report. Ben asks if we can drop off letters to be mailed to the boy’s address: Ben wants to notify his parents that their son is a threat, and I want to apologize. The library staff agrees.

To Whom it May Concern, I begin clumsily. I’m writing to tell you of an incident. I am concerned for the safety of your son and others. Also, I want to apologize for what he believes I did…

As I lick the envelope, I say a quick prayer that whoever opens it will be equipped to help and prepared to forgive. I don’t provide any of my personal information—I am frightened that someone might actually contact me and I am ready to forget that day. Instead I simply sign it:

I’m so sorry, C.

 

Catherine Pearson is an editor and freelance writer living in Brooklyn.

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