Zen & Dying WellIt’s been a big issue for me. Spurned by the Brittany Maynard hubbub this part year, I’ve had a lot to say lately about hospice and end-of-life care, because the end may not end when you’re very old. But the Zen Foundation aims to both actively participate in caring for it’s dying ‘residents’ and change the attitudes in medicine about dying where the hospital cannot go. It’s a movement. We shouldn’t focus on living to 100 and being sickly at the end, but at least we lived to 100. We should love to live to our 80’s, and not be afraid of death. Medicine is adding time, and it’s all quantity, not quality.
Danny’s Short Story
“Instead of the word ‘love’ there was an enormous heart, a symbol sometimes used by people who have trouble figuring out the difference between words and shapes.”
Lemony Snicket, The Carnivorous Carnival
The morning after Adrian’s mother’s funeral, I really couldn’t stand my own parents. Even the dead one, but I couldn’t imagine the reaction I’d get if I told anyone.
I mean, I’d tell everybody in the world I loved my dad, and in some twisted way I definitely did; I still said prayers every night for him and his birthday’s sometime in May- but since my mom died he just kind of….went away. And I was young when it all happened; I wasn’t even fourteen, actually. So, I never really knew for sure- staring at his ugly, withering, and vacant shell that I could just as easily be- if I missed out on something worth missing or my mom was all there was worth missing. Maybe he was always empty.
My father, Klaus Ritter, who always spoke very rough English even after living with my mom for sixteen years, who never knew a word of German in her life, is a mailman, so he was gone from before sunup to sundown almost every day anyway. And I knew he drank pretty heavily, but in the distant way one knows there’s spiders in the woods or a war in a country ending in –istan. But I know it is his one and only hobby. I see him sometimes if he wakes me by accident early in the morning.
I couldn’t describe him to the cops if they asked me.
My mom, Maria, hung herself sometime on March 11th, three years ago. I found her getting ready for school on the 12th. I don’t remember reacting very much, well, because it wasn’t a shock. She’d been too depressed to get out of bed since that last October. I didn’t even wake my dad for a while, I know that much. But I do remember cutting her down. She’d been a lot more weight than I expected, and she thudded to the tile.
Maybe I dropped her; I was just done. I called the rettungssanitäter (they’re like German EMTs) and made them deal with her.
By that time I had gotten very used to watching everything go wrong. I’d already seen her throw herself down the stairs six weeks pregnant when I was nine, so I was weathered.
But no one ever let me forget what was right. I mean, if there were ever people so great at torture, it was the endlessly positive.
So there have undoubtedly been days I liked my dad better. Things never got worse with him.
After I do all the dishes (my dad doesn’t do dishes, but I don’t mind), I leave a message for Adrian to call me. I know she hates when I text her when I don’t have to. We only text during school.
I don’t tell her how much she means to me, ever. She’d think I’m a homicidal Norman Bates stalker. But she’s my sunshine most of the time.
We met in our freshman English class (and Creative Writing, and Algebra II, but I don’t think Adrian even knew that for a while) during one of those dumb icebreaker things. I remember especially well because I was having a hard time talking through my accent, and ended up pointing to boxes and getting frustrated. Adrian was the only one in the class with green eyes.
Adrian came to sit with me at lunch two days later, and brought along my spitting image, who turned out to be Syd. We’re actually nothing alike except we both love Adrian. But both of us were smart enough to figure out we were gonna need each other if only for a stalemate. But I know he could have Adrian if he tried harder than me. Jeez, he could get Catherine, and she hides knives in her belongings.
Adrian asked me to homecoming in October (and I found out Syd was just about to ask her, so I was walking on especially thin ice), and I almost admitted myself into the psych ward just to get some peace. I was stalking her Facebook, I wouldn’t leave her alone; I bought her a corsage and found a suit and even met her dad- that was terrifying.
I would’ve told her I loved her then if it was socially acceptable. It’s not, apparently.
December the world found out she was bipolar. Actually, there had been little things I’d picked up on, things I remembered way too well from my mom, so when the alleged Big Break took place I wasn’t too terribly shocked. But it was still hard to put on paper that no one had any quick fixes- it made sense in a sick way, though. She was difficult from day one, why should this be any different?
Men are usually after girls just like their mothers, I’m told. If that weren’t a bad thing, in this case.
We were in English, 2nd period, when we both saw everything go sour. We’d barely spoken for days, and she never answered her phone if I tried. Her mom had even said to keep an eye on her. I think it was that the teacher was calling on her and she was just zoning out or something really dumb, but when she didn’t answer, this really stupid kid Ethan said some bad joke about Hellen Keller. After that, the whole class, including myself, sat completely still- it was like watching Frankenstein on mute- and watched Adrian all in one fluid motion stand, swing her backpack easily over her shoulder, and walk over to Ethan’s desk. She shoved his head down on the desk by the back of the neck, told him to go to hell, and spit in his face.
Adrian was gone before anyone knew what had happened.
I don’t really know why, but nobody moved for a few seconds, including Ethan, whose nose was definitely broken. Finally, I got up, looked at the teacher, spluttering, “You’re not even-“
I took off after her. Everyone let me go.
I’d had to run for a long time to catch up to her. She was across the street from the bus stop when I caught up to her.
I yanked her back from the road on a red light, and slammed her up against the side of a building.
“No,” I had said so foolishly, completely breathless and desperate. She tried to push me away with one hand and I pinned both against the building. I was still a lot stronger than her. “Don’t…..you….dare.” I heaved, brushing her hair out of the way.
Adrian swore at me breathlessly, pushing me back and punching at me furiously, but I never moved. I sat her down and we were very quiet for a while, but I never took my eyes off her once, and I made her eat something eventually, and I made her call her mom to say she was all right.
“Everybody knows, Danny.” She said after a while, the first thing she had said in hours.
“Well, I don’t know about that; I knew since the day I met Ethan that he’s a little snot.”
Then, Adrian leaned over and kissed me, really softly, and I knew I was headed down the worst road I could find- but it was so wonderful and I couldn’t resist; no one could’ve in my place.
We decided that that’s the day we officially started dating- December 1st.
I started painting the pictures for our anniversary two weeks ago. I have twenty-eight days and theoretically seven paintings to go. I felt like it was all I was good for- I’d been painting her for a whole year, so I may as well be out about it.
The first one came out very well. My mom found out when I was seven (she was a painter, too), that my perception of the whole red spectrum is completely wrong, so I make sure to read the color names twice before I use them. Well, I have still accidentally painted people with pink hair before. The first one is a full portrait of Adrian. I used a stalker picture I took of her- she was sitting at lunch, talking with her friends. Laughing. I painted without the others in there, because they’re whited out in the photo and I don’t even remember who was there. Whether or not that was a week Ian and Dave were fighting or what have you.
The second one’s hopefully going to be when I found her near the bus, but I’m trying to paint her pinned against the wall. I want the look in her eyes. How angry she was. She wasn’t just angry- she was horrified. She was horrid monster herself. But she wanted me. Maybe not like I wanted her, like I want her, but she did. I hope it turns out good enough for her. I only had so much good paper I could afford.
I work for two hours, until I’ve painted myself thoroughly. Ian called me while I was painting.
“Hey,” I say passively, opening up the windows to air out the paint smell. I never notice it until I finish.
“Hey, do you have guitar picks?”
”Just the three billion you’ve left here.” He laughs. I like Ian. He can be a smart-aleck, but he always means well. And the kid can talk to a snail and make conversation. Ian also owes me two grand for fixing some scratches on his dad’s Mustang when he and Dave snuck it out for a weekend, but I don’t mention it; he feels bad enough. Oh, he also keeps telling me how those home-AIDS tests are ‘revolutionary medicine’ and whatever. Too much information.
“Do you want to get the set list for the Battle of the Bands together today? Dave’s free, too.” Oh, Dave’s always free in your world. I don’t say that part; it’s part of the reason they keep breaking up.
“I was gonna check on Adrian in a bit. I wanna see how she’s holding up.” Ian gets quiet.
“Oh yeah; I-I couldn’t go to the funeral, but we went to the vigil the day after the crash, Danny. It was crazy; you wouldn’t believe how many people were there! II don’t think I’ve ever even met that many people in my life! When you see Adrian, tell her we’re all thinking of her. And we hope she comes back to school soon; Dave said he’ll even catch her up on the Geometry notes.” He adds cheerily.
“Did he really say that?”
“He will when I suggest what a good idea it is.” I roll my eyes, scraping paint out from underneath my nails.
“Whatever you say, powderpuff.”
“Okay, well, tell her we both love her a lot. And you know I’m not just speaking for him.” Ian says moodily.
“I got ya. Hopefully I can get her to come back tomorrow, okay?” He cheers.
“Alright, I gotta go. Love you, bro. See ya.”
It takes me a while to find clean clothes and the keys to my dad’s car. He rides the bus to work, has since he got work. It’s this real rusted-out Taurus, and I try to work on it when I can, but that takes cash. It has four tires, though, so I don’t complain. My dad’s six-foot-three, though, and I already have to push the seat all the way back to fit in, so I have no idea how he ever fit.
Driving through town (Adrian lives on the east side now, I suppose, with the impromptu move), I stop at the market to find flowers, and I pick up a half-dozen double-claws (Adrian’s favorite; the things are kind of growing on me, too), and no one sees me leaving. I accidentally forgot my wallet.
“How is she?” I ask James, coming in their front door and passively watching him snatch the flowers from me.
“Didn’t sleep.” He shrugs, putting them in water. “She’s in her room.”
“You aren’t gonna take credit for my flowers, are you?”
He shoots me a look, “Would I take advantage of your ill-gotten gains, Mr. Pricetag?” He waves the $7.99 tag in my face before dumping it in the trashcan.
“Eh, forgot my wallet.” I shrug.
“Been there, done that. Judy’s gonna get her to go to school tomorrow; she’s about had enough.”
“Yeah, I gather patience is her strong suit.”
“Good joke.” James stands arms akimbo in front of the hall threshold, like we learned in psych class, trying to look larger than he is, arbitrarily guarding me from Adrian’s room. He looks more like an overgrown Boy Scout.
“I can stop by and pick her up, you know. Just to get her out of bed and everything.” I look briefly for a way around him, then realize he isn’t doing it on purpose. He’s just nervous as hell.
“That’d be good. She might need to be dragged. She hasn’t really gotten out of bed for a while.”
James pauses for a long time, almost staring me down. I stare back, then can’t help but look away sheepishly. He stands as close as he can to me without being odd, so close I can smell his aftershave. I think it’s the same stuff Adrian bought for me.
“May I-may I see her?” He nods hurriedly, fumbling out of my way.
“Go-go right ahead, son.” I nod quietly, uncomfortable, as he backs away, and he may have even fully left the apartment, but I don’t remember.
In the few seconds before I knock on Adrian’s door, gathering some sort of haphazard strength, I wonder briefly if I even want to go in. If I should. Maybe it’s better for everyone if I leave right now.
“Come in,” Adrian calls before I have the chance to touch the door, even. I nudge it open with my foot weakly, smiling at the sight of her.
“Hey, sweetie,” She jumps off her bed excitedly, launching into my arms. I catch her with a sharp intake of breath, holding in the smell of her. I kiss her on the cheek hard.
“So, we all decided you’re coming back to school tomorrow.” I tell her immediately. She gives me a look.
“But it’ll be Thursday. That’s weird.”
“Get over it. And Ian and Dave already said they’d help you catch up on homework, because we all know mine’s all wrong, right?” She giggles wonderfully, clutching my waist.
“Yes, that is right.”
“So, deal?” She nods once. I hold tight to her for a bit more, trying to be as usually what I’m not, what I wish I were, what I should be, what everyone else might be, maybe what I would’ve been if my mom were around. Hell, maybe Adrian’s on the same playing field now.
God, that’s a horrid thought. It sends chills up my spine at the thought, in fact.
“Everything is going to be fine, Adrian.” I say.
“Okay,” She just says in blind faith, and it’s all I need.
My hometown, here it comes
Everyday on the school news
The poor souls are forced into
Announcing the poorer souls
And all I can see is no one else cares
Always watching for the less important
Always waiting for the living
I got the calls around ten from about five different people who apparently didn’t get the memo one would be calling so it wasn’t completely necessary to all call from the same house. I missed two. Good for her, man. The one thing nobody can ever take from us is death. I was worried this was gonna draw out longer than it had to.
Good for her.
My Chemical Romance put it perfectly.
I mean, being one, I can neither really defend nor be terribly shocked, but high school is weird. Was high school always this weird? Was it weirder ten years ago? I’m lost, man.
Anyway, point of the personal conversation. One day at lunch, teenagers happened to be scaring the particular shit out of me. And the administration walking by. We were discussing my funeral plans. This was about six months before I was re-diagnosed. So I was simply having a bipolaroid moment. Subsequently, the group of them were.
With many of these stories I have, it’s like with the game Clue, I have The Usual Suspects. And, of course, there was my ex, before he was my ex before we were dating (which means this was before he said two words a day to me, so we were on good terms).
– That casket has to be purple (I’m slightly colorblind from the radiation, just to shades, so browns bother me. Yes, I care about this postmortem)
– Funeral procession (WTF) dressed as grim reapers
– My friend Matt has to work into the eulogy us going Black Friday shopping dressed as drag queens
– They want me to buried in my blue dress that makes my boobs look good
– Their after party has to feature MCR’s “Cancer” (Naturally, right?)
– No Jesus-y sermon shit- I’m atheist. Not happening.
-Violet violets, not fucking blue!
– No crying. Absolutely no effing crying. Unless you were sad I was alive, do not cry. Or get out. I’ll haunt you.
This was released onto the Inter-webs of sound mind for better or worse. Names were not mentioned to protect the semi-innocent. If you tried hard enough, you could track the others down.
So I’m supposed to deal with something this weekend. My grandmother is dying, and I am going for the last time to see her this Sunday with my sister. She’s 10. This is not going to be pretty.
The thing is, most people don’t seem to get how I think of death. Seeing how close I’ve come to it, being an organ donor at eight years old, you start to cope with these things, but rationality doesn’t help too awfully much with that. Just that…..we’re all gonna die, you know? In once sense or another, whatever you believe in, if anything at all, we are all going to die. It is the one thing we can count on in the world. There are people starving in Africa who do not pay taxes but still can count on death. I mean, for me it’s always provided a level of comfort. That death is NOT the worst things can get. And society seems to think it is, oddly enough.
Having seen my grandmother in her current state, there are much worse things. Apparently she has some sort of offspring of mad cow disease, and I literally saw on two MRI scans her temporal lobe had been shrunk. The thing was eating her brain. She is now catatonic. How they still see this as living simply because she can breathe of her own volition is completely beyond me.
What’s the point of palliative care at this point anyway? 200 years ago they would’ve just killed ’em off! What’s different? Money? I need to check which states euthanasia’s legal in…..
Now I know what tattoo I’m getting, you guys- “DNR”
Here lies the scary story I was told to write for my Creative Writing class, on 10/29/13 at approximately 1:22 pm. As you can see, the aftereffects were catastrophic. Do not judge me for my succeeding actions. Roll the tape.
Gillian sat quietly on the thin ice sheet over the Potomac River. Her brothers, Peter, the oldest, the younger ones insignificant characters and not mentioned here, scream for her. No one else even put a foot on the ice. Any more weight on the ice could crack it, and she would certainly go under.
Gillian all of a sudden laughed like a madwoman, finally unchained and flexing. No one, not even her oldest brother, knew what his adopted sister saw in the cracks forming out from underneath her splaying pink dress. She stomped almost playfully, screaming in delight-
Peter gets half her name out before her body plunges in the water. Nobody can do a thing.
I focus on the traffic lights. I can see easily which one is lit, my light perception was never damaged in the accident or the accidents after it or whatever I am allowed to call them nowadays, but paying attention is sometimes a problem. Sometimes I get confused. I ask why is everyone still moving?
People move a lot.
The worst is being the first car in line, when I’m supposed to be the first to go. I try to depend on the cars going the other way to slow down first, but even they don’t help much. Always one guy runs it and I get scared. And then there’s right-turn lanes. Fuck those up the ass.
That is everything I am. Right now. Scared to go first. Scared to be alone. To have no one to get me out. I am the only one in the car now.
In theory, I suppose I could call my brother or my dad or even my best friend and someone wouldn’t hesitate to talk me through the whole drive from DC to Cocoa Beach. Take an Adderall and suffer through for me. Took all this mess of a business for them to realize they owe me one just one little favor- to help me find a whole new life. All I ask nowadays.
My mother’s depression was always a very grey area for my family. Very grey. I was colorblind to it more than anything I had ever seen with my own eyes. I think Zayne being born was what set it all in a fast downward slope. Some sort of PTSD mothering thing. There’s a name for it somewhere. She lost herself. Drank. Picked up smoking. The pills. The men that weren’t Daddy.
Even dead and gone, I still don’t know what happened to her. I guess in a way, it kinda sits in me that I can die one day now and ask her why. That could make sense.
I think I really lost sympathy for her when Zayne turned three and I’d been illegally employed by a family friend since I was thirteen. She hadn’t hugged me since he was six months old. I’d been contemplating whether that bothered me or not.
She caused the accidents, but I never really told people that. I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted her to be sick so bad. For her to not be in control of it. I would’ve given anything. She would go crazy, on medicated rampages, and Zayne and I would have to leave the house for days and hide in her friend’s spare bedroom until she cooled off and accused us of running away. Not like she had called the cops. I’m still contemplating if I ever wanted her to.
But one of the accidents is the reason I went colorblind. And I went colorblind and now I’m afraid to drive. I’m afraid, period.
When I was six, I had been doing dishes and standing on a kitchen chair. It was the last year Daddy lived with us.
My mom came home spitting mad after gambling (AKA losing), her clothes thrown up on and ripped and rumpled, and I could smell her from where she stood. I knew from that second nothing would go well that day.
My dad stood, said hello as if nothing had ever taken place and she looked positively lovely. She told him to piss off.
I forget all of what happened in the next few minutes, but I do know my mother shattered one of the glasses in the sink so hard that shards flew into my corneas. It’s a miracle I didn’t bleed to death just from that, a doctor had told me. Damage to my retinas or whatever they were was irreparable. I was lucky I wasn’t blind.
I don’t ever call it lucky. I call that God made a mistake in letting the condom break. I’m contemplating forgiving Him.
I can’t afford to hate my mom for everything she’s done, particularly her being turned to a fine powder now and all. It’s a waste of time and space and energy. I don’t have enough energy in me to waste it hating her for living an effing talkie film, for just now returning to a normal weight, for the scoliosis and yeah, yeah, yeahs. It would depress me too much to count.
I think I can live with Daddy. If I want it to work then it can, right? Things are supposed to work like that. Anyway, Zayne’s fifteen now, it’s only three more years and then we can leave and never see Daddy again, either. We can still be better than them. We still have time, kiddo. Don’t give up yet.
“Please don’t give up on me, sweetie.” I whisper to the steering wheel. “You and I are it. It’s just part of the adventure.” That kid did not cry once when he came home. He did not shrug, did not whimper, he did not give a crap. It was like he didn’t have a mother to start with, and this was some rodent hanging from the shower curtain.
Jesus Christ, I love that boy. God, protect him. I’m doing a shitty job. He never loved his mom. Help me.
Tears run down my cheeks again, and I wipe them away nervously. They get even blurrier. Sometimes I wish to all hell I really were blind. Like now, so I wouldn’t have to make this drive all alone. But I had to go and be all brave, now didn’t I?
Finally I pull over right on the shoulder, not even far off Fredericksburg. I fold myself up into a ball in my seat and roll up the windows, turn off the car and go full blind a while. I’m still contemplating calling someone.
You see the car crash on TV,
And you still don’t believe that they’re gone.
The one who calls you darling and the one that you ran from-
But the truth and the hard part is
There’s nothing left to run from.
And that there’s no effing other ones
So you’re crying now, in the corner,
And you tremble so
Hard to think of home.
Love, I think I
Feel the same
I don’t miss my father and my sister’s gone-
What the fuck am I going home to?
So where else do we go when we finish or forget?
I hold the letters in my shaking hands and the shaking words in my
I can’t believe some people live like this
It’s a little bit frustrating
Thinking you’re nothing to me
And we’re nothing but blackness
Today at around ten at my high school was a memorial for another sophomore who killed herself about a week ago. I was just pissed because the school news anchors, the bigoted assholes, didn’t bother to say anything until this past Friday. But no, I didn’t go. Her family and her had just moved here a month before school started, and I didn’t even know the girl’s name until I saw her picture on Facebook.
Then I was like……shit…she’s the same age as me. Does that ever hit anybody else? They become so selfish that they make it about them? I mean, hanging sounds like it hurts, I’m sorry. Not my style.
I feel like I also didn’t go to the memorial, just because then it’d bring my somewhat twisted view of death into question. My mother once called it psychopathic. My dad simply acknowledges that I have a ‘rare’ view. But it’s like……everybody, we are all going to die! OKAY? Do you understand that? You are not a living thing if you are unable to die, so congratulations! Deal with it. Bring it up with your parents if you’re really that dissatisfied. I sure have.
And I mean, would she be any happier now? Sleeping in a psychiatric ward with actual lunatics (sorry) while her parents just keep up that false hope that one day everyone’s going to feel so much better. I mean, now they can move on. I’m not upset with her for killing herself, sometimes it’s just there. I don’t hold it against her. Living is quite a harder occupation than people make it out to be, and being lonely couldn’t have helped. Now, I’m not going to go on some self-loathing rant how if I had only spoken to her one time maybe I of all people could’ve saved her, because that’s crap, man. But timing is fucking everything.
I’m on a bus for the first time in eight months and jittery. I have my earbuds in but Fall Out Boy isn’t helping, I’m sorry, kid. I hear chips crunching. Feet shuffling. Other iPods. Talking on cell phones and kids making idle chitchat with their parents about the coming day. Cute kids. I wish I were them. Thoughtless. Instead I’m nearly a mess. But my car’s broken down and there’s no ride to work.
I can’t help but notice the guy sitting next to me. Sort of little kid-cute. Probably a year or two younger than me. Looks like a sweet guy. Maybe if he doesn’t get off too soon and I can get over my mini anxiety attack I’ll talk to him. I’m normally good at that. Yeah, that’d be fun. Score instead of freak out. Yeah. Oh, please.
I stare out the window at the different-colored cars, the few clouds, and the blue sky above me. Pretty day out. I feel peaceful. Nothing like the day Jenny died. It was rainy and even though her raincoat was bright motherfucking yellow it didn’t do much good. Maybe it’s a good sign.
A car horn blares and I grab onto the guy’s hand in sudden panic, my heart stopped still. He just kind of looks down, looks over at me, worried if nothing. I choke on my next words for a moment, meeting his eyes.
“Sorry. PTSD.” I mutter, half a smile on my face. I’m embarrassed beyond anything, but he looks cool about it.
“It’s cool,” He says warmly, smiling. “Take it you don’t like cars?” I don’t even bother nodding again, almost sick.
“Someone close to you?” He asks again. He has a nice voice. Light. I nod.
“How’d you know?” I ask, my voice shaky. Again, he seems to be trying to calm me down.
“You haven’t let go of my hand.” I let go immediately, mortified. He laughs.
“I didn’t say you had to stop. I’m Jack.” He puts his hand out to me. He has soft hands, warm and strong. I kinda want to hold onto them longer.
“Lilly,” He smiles, with perfectly straight teeth and heavy pink lips.
“Pretty name. Where are you headed?”
“I get off in Fairfax Station. Work,” I nod. He just grins more. “You live around here?” He nods profusely, his grin widening. I feel this ADD urge to kiss him. Just once.
“Where’s your stop?” I ask.
“Four stops back. I can walk home later.”
My dad isn’t worried about his life, he says, because he can count on three things in it for sure: taxes, his car breaking down, and death.
He’s a pessimist.
He’s evaded taxes for years, which bit him in the ass during the divorce, his car breaks down once a week (he now drives a soccer-mom minivan courtesy of his adopted sister) and his brakes have more than once completely failed on him, and in his sleep sometimes I hear him unconsciously praying for someone to just kill him already.
I don’t think I blame the old man. Actually, I do. He wouldn’t let me out so easy, I’m not going to either.
But going through three brain tumors, a shitty job, no education, a crappy marriage to a psychopath, now life biting you in the ass every time it sharpens its teeth, I’m almost not blaming him for being the cynical shit he is. I’m blaming him for all the other shit he’s done, but not for being cynical.
Sometimes cynicism and being right go hand-in-hand.
How long is this going to go on?
He’s just sitting there. He was looking for food a while ago, so I gave him my last bag of Fritos I’d been saving. He’s watching The Walking Dead in his sweats and the T-shirt I bought him awhile back, “Smoke Meth & Hail Satan.” He cut the arms off a while ago, and I can see his abs underneath. He looks friggin’ adorable when he wakes up, with his shaggy hair messed up and his eyes half-closed behind invisible-but-stupidly-long blond eyelashes. Curled up on the couch, he looks like a little emo kid. He is a little emo kid, even though he’s eighteen.
I’m, like, two years younger than him…ish. Today’s my sixteenth birthday. I hate my birthday. It just reminds me my parents aren’t here, they weren’t here last year, and they probably won’t be here next year either. It’s maddening to think I’m so unremarkable and I’ll always stay that way. No birthday hugs. No balloons. No party or even a card. Sure, I’ll get a birthday check. My dad called me yesterday and asked me if five hundred was enough. Last year they sent me eight hundred, and I bought ass-kicking wardrobes for me and mine at Urban Outfitters. We go out now looking like totally emo badasses.
“What do you want for your birthday?” Casey asks me. I get up and walk to the kitchen before he can see me blush.
Nobody knows, I think to myself. Nobody knows but me. The one good thing about this is that I’m really good at hiding how I feel. I think it’s just ‘because I’m depressed as shit and I rarely show much emotion except just being blatantly pissy.
I take my pills and wash it down with my nasty strawberry protein shake. The strawberry ones are the grossest; Casey buys me the shakes because I won’t eat enough. I have a thyroid problem, so even with the hormones, if I don’t have about thirty-five hundred calories a day, I get scary-skinny and I can’t do anything but sleep.
“Here, drink this.” I hand the shake to Casey. He cringes. I hope my color is fading. He can’t find out my secret. Although he might already know.
“I dare you.” I challenge, grinning.
“Ew,” He says plainly.
“Baby,” Casey Rothman hates being called names. He hates labels. Now I’ve done it. Pissed, he snatches the shake and chugs the remainder of it. He gags and gets this really funny look on his face. He coughs and splutters, then lifts my light ass off the ground and throws me down onto the couch, pretending to throw up all over me and jumping on me. I laugh. I have a really loud laugh. I cackle like a witch.
“Please don’t lick me,” I beg. Casey licks everybody indiscriminately. It’s his general sign of affection. And hugs. Like, molestation hugs. Casey licks my eyebrow and I scream. He’s always been one of those people who just knew when to hug you or kiss you or hold your hand when you need him to. Or lick. He’s like the Labrador in Up, even if nobody else would think so.
“Okay fine, you don’t have to drink those.” He says, conceding that I win. Sometimes I can totally play him like that. But he’d do just about anything for me, so he doesn’t fight hard. He only started making me drink ‘em ‘cause I’ve always been about fifteen pounds underweight.
“Whatever you say,” I grin.
“Is that what you wanted for your birthday?” He gets off of me, and I get up off the couch.
“Nope,” I say, hiding my face in the chair behind him. I painted his toes black a week ago while he was sleeping, and it still hasn’t chipped off. He’s Matthew Bellamy with a softer jaw line. He dyes his hair black, but it’s supposed to be this really cool platinum blonde, so when his roots grow in its super cool. It’s unkempt in an adorable way, with his shaggy bangs in his eyes. His eyes are blue, but a weird blue, like a really dark blue. I’d kill just to have a decent excuse to stare at them for a while. He’s as tall as Bellamy, too! He’s five-six! They’re twins! He really doesn’t look eighteen. He looks fifteen maybe.
But he’s really friggin’ sweet. Everybody who bothers to talk to him loves him to death, even though nobody talks to him because according to the school counselor we’re unapproachable. He’s always there when I’m having one of those days; he gives the best friggin hugs in the world- they could stop wars, I swear. He literally picks me up from school halfway through the day every day because he gets bored alone. He stole a wheelchair for me when we went to this music festival so he could get me up front. Someone actually thought he was Matthew Bellamy because Muse was playing there. He went along with it, and when they found out he wasn’t, security got us to meet Muse.
He cannot make friends. We both have wicked social anxiety. I mean, concerts are one thing, but we can’t do big parties. We never hang out afterschool with anyone. Well, okay- I went to both his proms with him and I took him to homecoming. We tried. But we didn’t talk to anyone- we lectured the DJ on what to play and danced dirty with other people’s dates because we could just get away with that kind of stuff. We’re the only ones who really know each other, though. His parents haven’t even talked to him since he got emancipated when he was sixteen. Casey’s never talked about his family. I lost all my friends when I was eight and I was diagnosed with chronic depression. Anybody else who isn’t us would probably die of loneliness in our situation.
I’m convinced that he likes me back, and I know that’s weird because he’s two years older and graduated high school, but my parents are nineteen years apart, so there. My parents think he wanted to move in with me so he could sleep with me.
Well he’s a guy, and he’s straight, so maybe that did have something to with it….whatever; that didn’t happen, is the point. My virginity is still fully intact.
But in the past couple years I’ve either subconsciously starved myself or I’ve actually attempted suicide numerous times. I know he’ll never forgive me for shit like that, so he’s here to physically make sure I never go through with either. I don’t know what I’d do without him now that I’ve got him.
But we are also the biggest flirts in the world, so it’s pretty much totally comfortable. We have to say something that really sounds like a come-on for it to actually stick as a come-on.
“You still haven’t told me what you want.” He points out, and I flip him off behind his back.
“I’m just not gonna tell you…” I taunt him. He turns around and shoots a wicked grin at me. My jaw kinda drops open just a little bit. Just a little bit. God damn. He shouldn’t be able to smile like that if I can’t kiss him afterward. It isn’t fair. He puts his chin on his hand and just looks at me awhile, and, self-conscious suddenly, I look at the gruesome bloodbath on the screen, desperate to get away from the attention. His big eyes are soft, his hair in his face and I want to brush it away.
Mentally screaming obscenities.
“I know you want something.” He says quietly. “Everybody wants something.” He teases me, and I know he knows. My eyes widen but I can’t pull them away. His laughing eyes turn serious. He knows everything. I let my guard down and he knows everything and I’ll probably never hear the end of it. This could be the end of all of it.
He smiles real gently out of the side of his mouth, and my eyes widen in shock. I am the deer. A baby deer. The light is terrifying. I start stuttering, trying to say something rational, and he just smiles. Casey sits down beside me on the loveseat, our knees touching, and he very smoothly takes both my hands in one of his and puts them on his lap. I find myself feeling imprisoned by those eyes, a guilty party. The fat curve of his lips looks inviting. Very. He smiles, immediately calming me. I want to bolt. I do it all the time. But I want this so bad. And he’s just so…inviting.
He puts his hand on my neck, like he’s thought everything about this second through before. I’m so at a loss for words, for actions, for mere thoughts, but I like this feeling. Casey leans in close to me, really close, tightening his grip on my wrists and my jaw. He smiles gently. I don’t have to be afraid, it’s not like he’d hurt me. He pauses, looking into my eyes, as if to ask permission. I don’t move a muscle, and at first he kisses me on the cheek, just a brush of his lips against skin. He looks me right in the eyes. His eyes are on fire, glowing with their own personal light. I can read his thoughts before he speaks them. Barely hesitating, he leans in for my lips.
Shocked isn’t even close to the right word. I feel flat-out drugged. I’ve had this dream before. But he never looked at me exactly that way, and held me like this, like he’s just as determined to have this happen as I want it to. I’d never dreamt his lips would be so soft, that he’d taste this good. He holds my hands to his chest, and I lean in close to him. Dear God, take me now. I just want to live in the immediacy of him; screw the aftermath. He releases my hands and wraps his arm around my waist. We stay like this for a long time, unmoving. He lays me back against the chair cushion. I grin against his lips. God.
“Thanks,” I say quietly when he pulls away, his face not an inch from mine. His forehead’s leaned up against mine. He doesn’t get off of me. I feel suddenly embarrassed.
“Yeah,” He says breathlessly, looking just about as confused as I feel. He’s the deer now. I am paralyzing. We both knew I wanted this but that doesn’t mean we know what it means. I mean, he lives here. He’s my only friend. He takes care of me like a dad, teases me like a brother, listens to me like a grandfather, has fun with me like a best friend, and, and…
Kisses me like a first love. Crap.
I reach up with one hand and run my fingers through his hair. He has soft hair, thin from the dye. I was with him the last time he had a haircut, and I was fourteen.
“Do you know what that was?” Casey asks rather blatantly, looking more confused than anything.
“Well…you knew what I wanted.” I shrug, trying to pretend this isn’t as big a deal as it feels. Because odds are it really isn’t.
“Yeah…but I honestly wanted to do that. This just seemed like a more opportune time. Does that just make me an ass, then?” He guesses. I close my eyes for a second, soaking in the realness of this moment, the reality.
“Not at all,” I shrug. He rubs his thumb against my cheek. I hold onto his wrist, smiling. He kisses me again, barely half a second. I have to be dreaming.
“I have to be dreaming.” I get out. My heart beats furiously, trying to keep up with the thoughts going rapid-fire in my head. What does this mean? Could we actually be together? Does he really feel like that about me? Can this happen? Can this happen? Can this happen?
What if this isn’t real?
“That’d make this easier to swallow, that’s for sure. How ‘bout it, Abby?” He asks softly, his eyes tender and quiet.
I can just barely nod my head once. His lips form to mine and he takes me completely in his arms, enveloping me, surrounding me. There’s nothing but Casey. I won’t admit out loud how scared I am right now. He rubs his thumb against my temple, brushing the part of my head that’s shaved.
Then another earthquake hits and it literally makes me jump out of my skin. Casey curses, looking mildly frightened. We’ve had ‘em unusually frequently for the past couple of days, getting worse and worse. Which probably means some apocalyptic shift will shatter the tectonic plates today, but in California I wouldn’t put it past nature.
I laugh nervously when it’s over. I’m used to them, but they still scare me sometimes. They’re never enough to do much damage. But the one that woke me up this morning was reported at a four. Dishes fell out of our cupboards and my bookshelves tipped over.
The only time I really had a problem with earthquakes was when I was ten. I had a nanny back then to watch me, but she was out at the grocery store. I was home alone; I was only supposed to be alone for half an hour. Then it hit. Later they said it was a six on the Richter scale. It felt like a ten. It lasted for about thirty seconds. It felt like days. I had never felt an earthquake before. I was alone. The phone was ringing thirty seconds after it stopped, and I thought it would be Rita, my sixty-something nanny that wouldn’t even know it if I drank a bottle of bleach. It was Casey. He said his mom was worried about me, but even at ten I knew that that was complete bullshit. Nobody has that tone of voice when they’re calling on behalf of their mother. If they’re calling on behalf of their mother, they wouldn’t offer to stay with you until somebody came home.
This is Casey. See his amazing-ness.
‘What the hell, Batman?” Casey says. I grin and lean against his chest.
Twenty minutes later we’re in Casey’s Explorer driving to JC’s house. We’re doing this dance-exhibition-thingy on Friday, and we’ve practiced four days a week for the past six weeks. We’re dancing in pairs. I’m with Casey. I love dancing with Casey. You have to dance with him to know what it’s like to actually dance with him. This guy JC is working with a girl I know only as The Girl Who Works at Ground Zero. We call him JC because he legit looks like Jesus. This guy from my school Ben is dancing with some Goth chick who scares people at this fro-yo place Casey took me to one time. And then there’s this one girl Liana who’s on parole for tagging. She’s dancing with her boy/girlfriend Sam. It’s pretty strange- he’s a gender-queer bisexual. I think that means he has, like four times the potential options as a heterosexual. They’re the closest things any of us has to friends.
“Hey,” Casey pulls me back in the car as I’m getting out, “Don’t tell anyone. Alright?”
“What, you ashamed?” His eyes get all big and nervous. He leans over and kisses me on the forehead and I blush uncontrollably.
“No, no, no, no, no. I just wanna do something that’ll freak ‘em out.” He smiles at me, and I just roll my eyes.
It’s pretty awesome ‘because Casey and I are the leads. He gets to wear a black jacket with coattails and I have a ripped-up, Sharpie-covered black dress and those black Converse boots. Swag. I’m pretty good, but Casey’s friggin’ unbelievable. The dance is pretty cool. We’re, like, this tango/step/hip-hop/break dance kind of thing. We put together about a minute of “We Don’t Speak No Americano,” (not the Lady Gaga one, damnit) and the intro/first chorus to “We Will Rock You.” I love Queen. The hip-hop is this song from the Step Up 3 soundtrack and I know the name of the last one but it has to come to me. The whole thing lasts about ten minutes. The tango is sexy. I like dancing with Casey. I mean, it’s just dancing. If it were anyone else I wouldn’t even think about it, but it’s…it’s him, alright! Aagh!
It goes by fast. We’ve been practicing so hard we’re perfect. I mean, we’re only doing this for tips and ‘cuz it’s fun, but it’d be nice if a lot of people saw. We’ve put up flyers in almost every shop in San Diego, in a couple concert halls, even in the grocery store. We really have nothing better to do.
In the last second of the song, Casey does this kind of weird systematic fall I’ll never understand the mechanics of, and I land perfectly on top of him just like the other couples, and when I finally get down I’m breathing hard. The way we’re set up, everyone is looking at us. Casey picks up his head and kisses me on the lips, and I lose whatever breath I had left.
“Holy shit!” JC says rather blatantly.
“What?” Casey says innocently. “We did the dance just like we were supposed to do.” JC starts laughing. I pull Casey to his feet.
“Holy shit, you suck!” Ground Zero yells. She walks over and punches Casey in the stomach. It sounds like it hurts.
“Abby, she’s hurting me!” Casey cries, leaning his head on my chest and pretending to cry. I pet his head and kiss his forehead.
“It’s okay, the bad girl’s gone.” I murmur.
“You totally took her away from me,” JC says teasingly, and kisses me on the cheek. He’s twenty-five, I might add. Statutory.
“Yeah, what’s the deal?” Ben smiles, and I mouth at him, ‘no, no!’ He takes my head in both his bear-hands and kisses me loudly on the cheek. Casey turns his head and makes loud sobbing noises into my cleavage. This dress is a little low. I just pet his head. Sam comes over to me, and I’m horrified. He’s, like, the friggin’ Hulk. I don’t stand a chance. Sam comes right behind Casey and wraps his big arms around the both of us, squashing Casey’s face against my barely-B’s. He wasn’t complaining. Sam leans into my face over Casey’s head and grins in this weird seductive-purr kind of way (you have to see The Neighbors to get that reference). He gives me the biggest, loudest, moaning- and-grinding kiss on the lips that has ever been given without warrant.
At least rapists are quiet about it.
Casey lets go of my waist and rams his elbow into Sam’s six-pack. When he doubles over, Casey whirls around and roundhouses him in the chest and Sam falls to his knees. Casey tackles him and pins him on his stomach.
Those idiots should’ve known better…
“I won’t do it again, man!” Sam says desperately. “I’m happy for you. I knew you liked her. I’ll keep my hands off her! Now let me go!” Brains over brawn, darling….That’s why there are boys in the military like Steve Rogers who weigh ninety pounds that always get underestimated.
“That’s what I thought you said.” Casey says, getting up. He gives Sam a hand.
“Yeah, it’s you that I really want.” Sam leans in and kisses Casey on the cheek, and Casey just glares at him.
“He’s not worth it, keep calm and dance on,” I giggle. That sounded lame.
“You’re an idiot,” He smirks.
“We’re all idiots. Kinda why we’re here,”
What’s-her-face offers to buy us fro-yo, but we turn it down. I almost lose it when JC calls me out on wanting some action. Grrrr…..
I shower when I get home. When I come back out front Casey’s sitting just where he was this morning, somewhere in the middle of The Walking Dead marathon.
“Come here,” He pats the space in between his legs. I sit in front of him, leaning back on his chest. He hugs me hard from behind.
“I guess I really have time to make up,” He says, laughing.
“Yep,” He kisses my cheek hard, and I can’t help giggling.
“What’s different about this?” I ask after a while, leaning back against his shoulder. I look back at him.
“We’re out in the open about it. I don’t have to pretend like I’m not absolutely stone crazy about you.” His arms tighten around me.
“You could’ve just said it earlier. I thought I was the only one.”
“Believe me, I was a goner first.” His lips are warm against my cheek.
“You’re warm,” I mutter. I’m tired. That was a long practice.
“You’re fun to hug.” I look up again to see nothing but a smile. It’s blinding. It’s like seeing God. I turn around to face him. He holds me tighter, his hand at the back of my neck.
“You know what else is different now?” Casey whispers.
“What?” I say. His lips are perfect when they touch mine. This is what I’ve dreamed about for- well, I don’t know when I started thinking about it, I just did one day. I grin against his lips and lean into him.
“I don’t have to just daydream about doing that.” He sighs, running his hand through my short hair. “I should go shower.”
I shake my head, “in a little bit.” I insist. We kiss. We hold each other. For a while all we do is stare. He’s so beautiful.
“You should’ve moved in on me on your birthday,” I say against the side of his face. His sunken cheek fits the palm of my hand perfectly.
He chuckles, “Famous last words,”
He brushes the shaved part of my head, “Yeah?”
“Even if we don’t work out, would you leave?” His smile fades. He leans in close to my face, insisting I look at him. I’m dangerously close to hypnotism.
“I’ll do everything I have to just to keep you, Abby. I’ve liked you since I was fourteen, damnit. I’m going to keep you if it’s all I can do. Even on the miniscule, less-than-one-thousandth chance that we don’t work out, I’m not leaving you. I’m never gonna have anyone like you, Abby, and I’m definitely not stupid enough to give that all up. Deal?” He holds his pinkie out.
“Pinkie-swear,” I lock pinkies with him. I pull him closer, grinning.
“Pinkie-swear,” He agrees. I kiss him on the lips, turning my head to fit into him. He runs his hand behind my back, his hand brushing the bar piercing in my ear.
Finally he says he can smell himself now, so I let him go.
“You need any help let me know.” I call. He howls. He takes his shirt off as he walks down the hall. I whistle.
I relax back into the couch and smile to myself so wide I look like Chuckey’s bride. I hear the shower turn on. I honestly try to watch TV or draw but I’m thinking too hard. I get up finally and go to the kitchen to get something to eat.
Three steps in the earthquake hits.
It’s so startling I fall to my knees. I scramble to the wall. Shit’s falling but I don’t see what. I close my eyes, trying not to freak out. God, it’s bad. I hear glass break like a gunshot and I scream. The panic’s setting in fast. I’m shaking, and I just huddle in a ball. I’m alone. I’ll always be alone, and one day something’s gonna fall and crush me but nobody will give a shit. It’s been six years. This’ll just happen again. Why don’t I just crawl into the kitchen and wait for the fridge to tip over, or the knives to fall, or the wires to short out and the overhead light to fall on me? So many options…
“Abby! Abby!” I hear distant shouting. “Abby!” It’s coming closer. “ABBY, GODDAMMIT ANSWER ME!” He yells. I hear stuff crashing even after everything is still. All is so scarily silent. Finally he appears, falling to his knees by me. He holds the sides of my head with shaky hands.
“Abby, are you alright?” He whispers, shaking me. I’m crying. I can’t look up. “Abby, it’s okay. Come on, we better get out of here.”
There’s only one thing I can do- bolt. I run to the bathroom and lock the door behind me. It’s still steamy and the mirror is fogged up. It smells like him in here. I cry harder. I sob and scream and slam my fists against the tile until my knuckles bleed. Casey doesn’t say a word, but I can hear him breathing right outside the door. I comb my hair out of my eyes. I can’t do this anymore. This is only going to happen again. Over and over again. I want this to be over with.
I think about cutting myself with Casey’s razor, but I smell gas.
Of course the pipes would break. There’s a gas leak. The carbon monoxide could kill me in minutes, and all I’ll do is fall asleep. The other times didn’t work because I made it too hard. I scramble to open the vents. I stuff the window with a towel. I can smell the gas. The room will fill with it. It’ll get me but Casey will be smart enough to get out of here.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t with you, Abby.” Casey whispers through the crack in the door. I can see his eye pressed against it. “I-I couldn’t help it. I’m here, okay? I-I’m here. Stop crying, Abby, please. It’s okay.” He pauses. “You know I’ll always be there for you.” His voice is half-angry and half-desperate. I don’t want him to get hurt, but I can’t do this anymore.
“Abby, please. Say something.” He pleads. He knows exactly what I have in mind.
“You better go.” I say hoarsely. I struggle to swallow the lump in my throat. I lean up against the door and hug my arms around myself. The gas is getting stronger. I’m getting dizzy. Not much longer.
“I can’t. Abby, you actually think I can leave you? You’re all I have. I don’t have family, I don’t have friends. You’re my best friend, you’re the only one who knows my birthday, and I only have you to wake up to every morning. If it weren’t for you, I’d be gone way before now. All of it’s on you.” I put my fingers up to the crack in the door frame and his meet mine. Heat radiates off of him. I want to hold him again. I want to kiss him again. For six whole years there was just us, and that was my reason to stay. That’s been my reason for six years now, but I can’t go through this again.
“You better find someone else, then.” I say coldly. I can’t help it. He needs to find someone else. I’m just run out. I waited too long and now I don’t work anymore.
He starts crying. Like, really crying. It’s miserable. New tears roll down my cheeks. He pulls his hand away and I’m cold again.
“Please, Abby,” He says brokenly, “Please, I need you. I need you to stay here with me. I need you, Abby, please.” He cries.
“I can’t do it.”
He screams. This sound of complete rage and misery. He sounds mad. I’m really dizzy now. My eyes are starting to close on their own. I cough. The carbon monoxide alarm is beeping, but I’m deaf to it.
“Then I’m not leaving you. I’m staying.”
“Why? If you’re gonna be so selfish, why can’t I?” He says. “Please, just let me in. I want to die with you. I want to be with you.” This is the final demand. All he wants. He’s letting me give up finally and this is all I have to pay for it. I hesitate, but I really want it, too.
“Okay,” I stand and unlock the door, and he rushes in. He grabs onto me fiercely and pulls me toward him, his back against the door. Burying his face in my hair, he rocks me against him softly. He looks miserable. Wretched. Strangely calm. He sits down in front of the door and pulls me into his lap. No more is said. He wraps his arms around me as tight as he can and just holds me. This is alright. I can die like this.
“I love you, Abby.” He whispers, his voice breaking. He brushes my bangs away from my face.
“I love you, Casey.” I lay my head on his shoulder, and whatever space there was between us is squeezed out. We’re one. I close my eyes finally, thinking, I wish I had told you that earlier.
The little asshole carries me out.
Thoughts on dying?
Well, what's terribly different between dying and an icy glass sweating in July?
Next to the love of your life and the water some twenty feet below you,
And so easily one of you could push the other or even slip
They're both so inviting, death and the water below you
Cool and dark
Refreshing, almost, they give a shock to us
Tell us to snap out of it and appreciate right now
Tried it? Mind your own business. I don't have any mind to ask you, how bad you
Want it or are comforted by it is always
Your own business
I have many thoughts on dying. I could go on quite a while.
I bet it thinks of me, too. And that's why it keeps slipping off the glass.