The Story of Right-heart Ren
"One should see nothing improper, hearnothing improper, say nothing improper, do nothing improper." Confucius.
“She was born with her heart on the right side of her body,” Lea Schiller begins between drags of a cigarette as pale and limp as she is. She speaks of Ren as though she hadn’t just been found dead the night before, the cracks in her paper-thin skin like the shifting planes in the earth's crust. Ren was her daughter - although sadly, this hardly affected her blasé attitude given the density of the situation.
The small crowd of listeners shift their eyes left and right at the neighboring tombstones seeking an out. A few individuals' palms begin to sweat in her presence - as anyone's would. People know to not interrupt Lea.
“That was the first sign she was…” Mrs. Schiller waves her emaciated knobby arthritic hand in a circle, forcing plumes of cigarette smoke into Jeremy’s face.
He tries to hide his annoyance as she searches for the correct word.
“Different,” is the flacid word she settles on.
Jeremy finds this very anti-climactic. Regardless, he purses his lips and nods, furrowing his brow just enough to convey understanding. Lea nods, signaling the end of her ‘speech’ and the first of the brave captives leaves as the rest of the midnight-coloured pawn-like-guests follow hastily, but not too hastily. No one wants to be the last to leave in the presence of Lea. But Jeremy stays; he’s known Lea for over eight years over the course of his on-off relationship with Ren and has grown used to her. That, and he knows that the moment he leaves, he won’t see her again for years and the door will be closed that could lead to finding the answers to his many questions regarding Ren.
No could ever know enough about Ren. She’s as much a charming mystery as the great pyramids Although most described her as flighty, daring and beautiful, most described her as dangerous. Parents of young children knew to warn their kids about the Schiller family. But Ren was everywhere and nowhere. A dark presence you could never find if you looked, but who somehow knew what you were up to the day before when you thought you were alone in your room, dancing in your underwear. Sometimes she’d knock on your door claiming she just got back from Taiwan, some days you’d find her sleeping outside of the local supermarket, but wherever and whoever Ren really was, she was an enigma. An extremely intelligent human-being, if she even was human.
As a child, Ren could hold her breath underwater for up to ten minutes and scale anything she set eyes on in seconds. She always questioned everything and never settled for the norm. Needless to say, she didn’t get along with others. As a child she fit in with adults, until she became an adult herself. Then, it was hard to find anyone who she could tolerate and relate to. Except for Jeremy.
It used to be easier to find her, which Jeremy found humorous. In an age where it seems we have a GPS on us at all times, and the internet and smart phones are your parole officer, Ren became increasingly invisible and harder to get a hold of. One time Jeremy discovered an online forum dedicated to 'finding Ren', and even with 57 group members, no one could provide an answer or means to an end. The page still exists, the last post from ‘SLAYERMike’ saying, “Creamsicle ice-cream is on sale at Longos. If anyone goes, keep an eye out for the crazy”.
Jeremy never joined the group. He respected Ren too much, despite her actions towards countless in the community. Why, he couldn't place it. He just did.
“It’s funny. Everyone always avoids going to theme parks and galleries on nice days; on weekends, on holidays. But if everyone thinks that, wouldn’t that be the best day to go? What if, on those days people assume it’ll be packed and don’t go, no one goes? Wouldn’t the projected busiest days maybe be the best days to go?” Ren tells Jeremy on one of the last occasions they ever spoke. She had a knack for these kinds of bizarre statements and most people couldn’t help but agree with, but Jeremy rarely did. He always argued against her, and that was why Ren liked him. This was why she’d come back a few times a year to Killingwood, a small suburban town without a bowling alley but with enough charm for people to be okay with living there.
One thing Ren was not was a sob-story. Ren was not a victim of the system like people liked to say about her. That's perhaps the largest misconception.
The third last time Jeremy ran into Ren was in 2010. Jeremy spotted her outside of a convenience store loading a backpack with cans of beer. She was on her was to The Gathering of the Juggalos (or GOTJ), and invited Jeremy. He knew her well enough to know that she wasn't going for the same reasons everyone else was. She was up to much more, and always was. Whoever or whatever got her going, she was on a mission. Always on a mission. And Jeremy had an idea what she was really up to but never confirmation of it. At the time - Jeremy thought - her hair was dreaded, but upon closer inspection, he realized it was just matted and unkempt enough to create the illusion. He smirked at her and she asked what was so funny. “Just you, Ren,” he remarked as he shook his head. She smiled at this, something she didn’t often do without sarcasm.
The following winter, Jeremy received a blank postcard from Ren, a lotus flower on the front, addressed from Chicago, signed only with a muddied thumb-print.
Many people fled Killingwood as children. They fled to hide and forget the past, but Ren fled to avenge it. Ren fled to keep the past alive. She didn’t ever express her fears and anxieties about the future upfront, but they’d peek their heads out in the statements she’d make from time to time.
The second last time Jeremy saw Ren, a few months before the Juggalo incident, she spoke nonstop about how in the near future, everything regarding WWII would be published.
“All of the voices of veterans will only be heard in recordings, transcribed on paper, in textbooks. The last of the veterans will pass in the next few decades. Then what?” Ren stared into the July-night sky on her back as Jeremy sat next to her, half-listening and half-wondering where she had been between the last time he saw her and now, but knowing better than to ask.
She had lost weight.
“We’re going to witness it soon. The world will close and sink into the earth.... The next one; it’s bound to happen soon,” she whispered as if it only was half a thought, but Jeremy held onto that line for years after, even though in the next moment she broke into talking about something completely unrelated.
As Jeremy stares at her coffin, he wonders if she ever even knew how infamous she was. Years from now, many would refer to her as a tragic hero, but this would perhaps be the biggest flawed statement ever made in the history of mankind. Ren was not someone to be pitied. She pitied everyone else.
Ren was the anti-hero.
On Thursday April 21st, 2011, just one week before Ren was announced dead, the 31-foot bronze statue of Confucius originally unveiled in Tiananmen Square only a few months before, disappeared. The thief, never found.
After he had pulled himself from Lea Schiller’s presence and with a few questions answered, Jeremy returned home. At his doorstep, a small, plastic figurine of the ancient Chinese sage appeared that was not there hours before.
Taking it inside with him, Jeremy placed it on the mantel, the evening sun setting across it's plastic silhouette.
The next morning, newspapers across Beijing all had the same headline. 'Oil-covered Statue of Confucius found at Shore!' 'Chinese sage statue is discovered in the middle of Bohai Sea'.'3 Months Missing Statue Found in Oil'.
Having been taken in the thick of the night, it was discovered by millions with the rising of the sun, flawed, tarnished and dirty. Imperfect, some would say.
When Jeremy awoke to the news and image of the giant blackened statue, he paused, breathless.
It was the most beautiful thing Jeremy would ever come to see.