Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

On the will.

Originally posted to blockquote.org on in Chicago, Illinois

A glance yielded nothing audible from his gumdrop of a mother, on whom humor and good feelings were lost and gone, fully gone. But there was acknowledgment, and then a half-nod of permission, and these were enough to cost the boy all control over his tiny face — the mouth of this face stretching itself as wide as the flesh would let. He launched himself upward with one hand fixed to claw the cable downward.


The heavy machinery of the city bus — the solid integrated mobile system of steel and fiberglass — gave immediate signs of giving way to his will. We would stop because he and he alone had acted. The grin spread itself over his body with such ferocity that his small figure was wholly possessed by it.

His mother gave no comparable indication of possession. This can be explained by means of simple scientific reasoning. Smaller, younger, more malleable materials like his body are much easier to overtake than larger, older, and denser objects like his mother’s. By affecting the movement of a object even larger than his mother — the bus — he had effectively willed an extraordinary natural event.

But the reasoning isn’t exactly so scientific or so simple. I was aware, in that moment, as I’m well aware today, that the thing his great act might seem to imply about the strength of the will is no uncomplicated thing. Nor was the matter simplified by his evident feeling, whether in the moment or today when I remember it, no matter how deeply or methodically I consider it. The feeling of power won’t always reflect real power, nor does it indicate, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the true direction of real power. To take an affect, a feeling, as a rule of measurement and a test of truth is to give up whatever objectivity might distinguish fact from the mere likeness of fact — in this case, the feeling of overpowering from the feeling of being overpowered — because the one feeling can feel so much like the other.

When his eyes found my uncontrollably curious gaze, that muscular virus which afflicted his face leapt a row of seats to my face. To put it plain, the low immunity of my nearly thirty-one years — with my own still-young spirit worn thin in the cycling of idealism, disappointment, grievance, despair, cynicism, concession, and finally humble hope — left me far too weak to resist.