Life As He Knows It

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Crying, Waking, Seeing

When I woke up the next day, it was mid afternoon and Aubrey had stopped to get gas. Josh was crunching on some one dollar chips in the passenger seat. ’They’re dill pickle by the smell of them. Ugh, I hate dill pickle.’ I groaned and looked outside to see the bright and yellow sun way up high in sky; it seemed to smile down at me, like it had a great day planned.

Josh groaned to get my attention and I turned my head to him. He smiled and offered some chips, I shook my head no.

“What time is it?” My voice cracked and I cleared my throat to fix it. “What time is it?” I repeated; my voice back to normal again.

“One thirty,” he answered; his voice not cracking. The sun reflected off of Josh’s hair and made it look like liquid gold. It took all my strength not to lean over and stroke his head.

Aubrey crawled back into the van, Josh and I looked away from each other and stared out our own windows.

There was an awkward and long silence that passed between us three (and Violet, who was happily lying in the backseat). It was strange, how you can have an off moment with the people you’ve experienced the best things in life with.

“Where are we going now?” I ask to nobody in particular.

“We’re gonna do some illegal stuff.” Aubrey answered me in a monotone; like saying this was totally a normal thing to say.

“By ‘illegal stuff’ you mean?” Josh said.

“We’re gonna rob a frickin’ candy store, because I’m really craving some chocolate and sugar right now.”

I smiled out the window. ’Ah, yes. Something only a five year old could only think of doing.’

We stood outside the candy store, waiting for the lights to go out and the shop owner to leave. Aubrey knew the pass-code already because one of her ‘friends’ used to work there. ’I wonder what social group Aubrey’s in? Shut up and focus. We could get arrested for this. This is even worse than the aquarium. I said shut up.

Josh shifted from one foot to the other, he looked as nervous as I felt.

There are two people in this world: people who show emotion to other people, and people who don’t show emotion to other people. I was the second option, people only found out how I really felt when they either pried at me with a crowbar, or they snuck up on me.

I wasn’t ready on giving up my ‘hiding-feelings’ thing just yet.

“Okay,” Aubrey explained our plan for the hundredths time. “We go in and...” I zoned out; she was only talking because she was just as nervous as the rest of us. Aubrey jumped up and down in small bunny hops, shaking her hands while doing so. I looked at the cracked grey pavement beneath feet.

The street was silent and dark, dead looking even. The moon hung over us like a hawk waiting for its prey. I didn’t really want to rob a candy store, and yet I did want to. The last time we broke into someplace I had found out something very important about the people around me, and myself. I wanted that to happen again; for that light bulb to go off in my head like ‘Hey, I like this.’

I pawed my eyes with the base of my hands, my eyes we’re itching from the pollen and dust that was everywhere. ’God, I hate the country.’ Josh walked over to the van and tapped the glass to get Violet’s attention. She was nearly invisible in the darkness of the night, but her bright pink tongue that stuck out of her mouth was a dead giveaway that she was there.

Josh smiled at her and pressed his forehead to the window. ’This dog has a better relationship with our boyfriend than we do. No he doesn’t, and HE’S NOT OUR BOYFRIEND!’

“Josh!” Aubrey screamed for her brother. Josh looked her way and grimaced slightly; I could tell that he didn’t want to be there as well. We gathered in a loose circle of three while we discussed on what we were going to take and what would happen if we got caught, you know, sane stuff.

“I call taking all of the Oreos.” Josh said.

“I got dibs on Licorice!” I called out.

“And I want the Mars Bars, anything else in fair game.” Aubrey answered. We broke up our small huddle and went inside.

We are never going to speak of this again, agreed? Oh, Hell yes; agreed!’ Things at the candy store didn’t go down quite as we had planned. Turned out, the owner of the shop lived in the apartment above the shop. We almost got busted. But the scariest thing of all was that the owner was a potbellied, balding short man who was only wearing his underwear.

And let me tell you, they were definitely not white.

On the other hand, Josh couldn’t stop laughing because he had taken a photo of the Underwear-Owner with a huge look of shock on his face. It was quite amusing to see, but he still freaked me out.

“So... Are we goin’ to another hotel?” I asked Aubrey as she drove past the town limits sign.

“Nah, we’re sleepin’ in the van again,” answered her.

Damn!” Josh exclaimed. “I liked having a bed.” He frowned and did puppy dog eyes. Aubrey giggled at her brother. Everything fell silent afterwards and I was alone with my thoughts again. I decided to listen to some music on my phone.

I plugged my headphones in and put on A Trophy Father’s Trophy Son, by Sleeping with Sirens. It kind of went with what I had gone through.

Father, father, tell me where have you been?

It’s been hell not having you here

I’ve been missing you so bad

And you don’t seem to care

When I go to sleep at night, you’re not there

When I go to sleep at night, do you care?”

I could slightly hear Josh and Aubrey talking to each other through my music; I turned my volume up. My head swam with thoughts I couldn’t hang on to long enough to remember and I wanted to know why. What was wrong with me? My brain seemed all jumbled and weird for no reason. I closed my eyes and looked at my blank black lids to try to think clearly. Nothing came to mind except for little bits and pieces of what I was thinking.

It was as though my brain was working on overdrive, like I had drunk seven coffees in a row. My breathing became quicker and tears stung my eyes. ’Why am I crying?’ Josh looked back at me, concerned. I hoped that my eyes showed the confusion and fear that I felt. ’Why am I crying?’ This thought repeated in my head. ’Why am I crying? Why am I crying? Why am I crying?’ I tried to think of something else, but I couldn’t.

“Aubrey? I think we should pull over.” Josh’s voice was tight, and my eyes felt like they were melting out of my brain. And then this thought just randomly came screaming into my head. It was the only other time my mother and my father had fought; I hadn’t remembered it had happened until then. It was my father yelling, “What are we going to do with him?! He’s lazy, and stupid, and doesn’t want to see people anymore!” and then my mother screaming back at him: “His best friend is in a frickin’ coma; think about how he’s feeling!” “He’s a guy! He’s not supposed to feel anything!”

Aubrey did pull over, and I was very thankful. I leaned against the wooden fence that was the edge of a wheat field. My eyes were on the scarecrow, which wasn’t really doing its job very well, and was reminded of the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. And then I got thinking about classic children stories, and got stuck on Alice in Wonderland.

Throughout the whole story, Alice thought that Wonderland was just a dream, and I started to think that maybe all of this was one big nightmare that I would soon wake up from. But at the same time, I didn’t want to wake up, there were so many things that I loved about meeting Aubrey, Josh and Violet.

Reality faded in and out, like an old movie, and then something strange happened. Somebody did yell “Wake up!” like it was time for me to go to school. “Ben, wake up!”

There it was again, my father’s voice, shouting at me to wake up.

And I did.

My eyes fluttered open to see an all white room, with bright blinding white lights and clear windows and silver handles on doors. My head hurt like Hell, and something heavy was on my left leg and right arm. I turned my head and saw my dad sitting beside my hospital bed. He looked tired, and for the first time ever, my father looked his age.

His hair was messy and streaked with silver, his face was worn and slightly wrinkled, his eyes red and swollen, like he had been in a fist fight.

He started to cry. “Oh thank God! You’re alive!”

The first question that popped into my head was ’Where’s mom?’ but then I thought, ’What happened?’ I knew that my father couldn’t read my mind, but my tongue felt like cement, so I used my face to show my distress. He sighed sadly and looked away then back at me with sad and teary eyes.

I wanted to look away from those eyes, but my headache was starting to move towards my neck and shoulders.

“You were hit by a truck,” he said blankly, “Your friend’s van was hit and the police and ambulance found you unconscious with minimal injuries. You’re friends are fine, they’re in the next room. The dog’s at home with your mom and I. And Ben, about your mom,” he took a deep breath and I held mine, “She’s been starting to drink again.”

My heart sank. In the back of my mind, I had always known that it would happen sooner or later, that she would fall off the wagon.

“When can I leave?” My voice was slurry, but I managed to get the words out.

“Couple‘a weeks at most, maybe a week an’ a half; depends on how fast you recover.” He answered in a monotone

“Recover from what?”

“A broken right arm, broken left leg and a minor concussion, the doctors say that you’re very lucky.”

“What about Josh and Aubrey?”

Who? Oh... you’re friends, right.” He said grimly, “I’m not really sure, but the girl was pretty bashed in, the truck came from the front.” I wanted to nod or whimper or something, but I couldn’t make myself do anything. My brain was screaming at my body to do something, but my body had other ideas; to stay a lifeless lump on a hospital bed.

Finally I turned to face the ceiling again and I started to cry, silently and slow at first, but then sobs came and the tears came faster. I knew that my dad had no idea what to do. He’d never seen me cry before.

“So you got my USB?” he asked after I had calmed down. I nodded and ignore the flare of pain in the back on my neck. “Does it hurt?” I nodded again and he pressed the pain button beside me. The pain slowly reduced and soon I felt like I was floating on a cotton cloud. My body felt weightless and free, but still unmovable.

My dad sighed and I could hear him leave the room and mumble something about getting a pudding from the cafeteria.

Aubrey might be really hurt. Yeah. But what about Josh, you know, your boyfriend? He’s not my boyfriend! What about him? He might be hurt too. Oh.’ My thoughts raced about who I would miss the most if they died. I really didn’t want to make the decision, so I thought about my mom instead.

Back before my mother met my dad, my mother was an alcoholic and an amateur doll maker. She had gotten into a bad crowd in college and never really let go of the drinking. The college had kicked her out of course, with half a degree and a full case of beer.

My father found her in a back alley one night, vomiting into a garbage can. He had brought her home, let her sleep on his couch, he didn’t let her leave until she sobered up. And they just fell in love through the process. A year later they had me and the year after that they got married.

She hadn’t had a drop of alcohol since then, until I ran away. I was upset with myself for being the cause of it. My mom didn’t deserve to rot her brain and drown herself in that toxic liquid. It wasn’t my fault, but it almost felt like it was. I had run away, and that was what caused her breakdown. ’Maybe I should’ve stayed home. Or I could’ve died in that crash.’

That was the last thing I thought before the pain meds fully kicked in and I fell into a dreamless sleep.

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