Life As He Knows It

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Yelling & Swearing

When I woke up, sunlight was streaming through my window and my father was snoring in the armchair beside my bed. I looked over at him. He really had aged while I was gone. My lips curled into a small smile, he looked normal and young while he slept. No worry lines, no deep frowns, no sad eyes; just plain old happy daddy who had always taken care of me.

He mumbled something in his sleep and it suddenly hit me that he had missed me as much as I had missed him. I flinched in emotional pain; it hurt me to think that we had both hurt each other by running away. ’Like father like son. You’re a real chip off the old block.’

A tear slipped down my cheek and I closed my eyes so I couldn’t look at the world; I wanted nothing but to hear the ceiling fan above me and to smell the ultra clean floors below me.

It hurt too much to look at the world.

But then: “Ben...” my father mumbled, my eyes snapped over and I looked at him. He was talking in his sleep. “Ben... Gone... Must find... Ben...” I smiled, he cared; he really cared. There was a knock on my door and I looked over. A nurse was bringing in my breakfast on a tray for me.

“Your breakfast today is oatmeal, toast, orange juice, and yogurt.” She said.

“What kind of yogurt?” I asked her.

“Strawberry,” she frowned. “I don’t really like strawberry.”

“Me neither.” We laughed. The nurse looked and acted nice. She had flaming auburn hair, bright green eyes and freckles. Her smocks were bright hot pink and had a suckers print on them. She reminded me of my mom a bit, the red hair, but my mom’s eyes were blue, not green.

“I’m Kathy,” she said in a soft and cooling tone, “and I’ll be one out of your two nurses.” She smiled and I couldn’t help but smile back. I liked her, she felt like an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. “We can’t have you walking around too much today, but we’ll get you moving.” I nodded and was happy because I didn’t really like being in this room. It was too bright and white, which I hated; unlike Kathy, who I liked. “But that’ll be around lunch.”

I frowned, that was three hours away.

Kathy laughed.

“You’re a funny one, Ben,” she said, “Most patients don’t show emotion once they come here.”

“Why?” I asked.

“They want out. The hospital sucks for most people. Truth be told, before I worked here, I wouldn’t go near a hospital after my grandfather died. But then I faced that feared and signed up. I found out that I liked it here, everybody is nice to everybody. And nobody gets left out.” It was like Lilo and Stitch 2.0. Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

I laughed at my own joke, but then my head started to hurt. I pressed the medicine button beside my bed.

“It’ll hurt for a while,” she said to me, her voice full of concern, “and if the medicine doesn’t help like it’s supposed to, we have a ‘Call Button’ attached to your wrist.” I looked at my wrist, and, hey look at that, there was a button attached to my wrist. “You’ll be fine,” Kathy said and looked down at my father, “He’s been here since we called him.” She smiled. “He’s very handsome; no wonder you’re his son.”

“Yeah,” I said and looked at my dad. “Hey, Kathy?” she looked up at me, “How long have I been here?”

She didn’t answer at first, but then she said, “A few days. We didn’t think you would make it Ben. The van hit you and you got crushed into that fence.” I winced at the image of me getting crushed into a fence by a van. ’Where’s mom? I’ve been here for days, and Kathy hasn’t talked about her being here at all.’

“Where’s my mom?” I asked. Kathy looked away and out the window. She had a pained and pinched look on her face, like she had eaten a really sour lemon. Kathy pursed her lips and wiped the bridge of her nose with her index finger and her thumb. A nervous tick, I knew all about those. I scratched the back of my neck when I was nervous or scared; just like my father.

Kathy sighed and looked at me again. Her eyes were sad and big, like the open sea that only sharks swam in.

“We haven’t seen her,” she answered, “but your dad’s been talking about her a lot; like he misses her very much.” She looked down at the floor. “Why’d you run away, Ben? You seem like a good kid, nothing like the other runaways we get here. They do drugs and do underage drinking and get into all sorts of trouble. But you, from what I’ve seen and heard, you don’t seem like a kid that would do that.”

Instant rage boiled inside me. What did she mean by this?

“Waddy’a mean: ’I don’t seem like a kid that would do that?’” I snapped at her.

“Ben, I-I didn’t mean to offend you. I just meant that you don’t act or talk like a bad kid.”

“Well, why not? How can you be sure?”

“All of the tests we ran on you came out negative. No drugs or alcohol; nothing. And the way you speak, like you respect people no matter what.” This was true; I did respect people no matter what, unlike so many kids my age. That was another reason I got picked on at school, my kindness was always taken for weakness.

And guess what?

The weak don’t survive in a small town.

“I ran away because my dad ran way.” I answered plainly. “He cheated on my mom and walked out on my birthday. So I left after that, with Josh and Aubrey.”

“Oh.” She said, “Those two.” I glared at her.

“’Those two?’ I exclaimed. “They’re my best friends!”

“Well...” she closed her eyes, “They’re in pretty rough shape; especially the girl.” My stomach fell, and tears swelled up in my eyes. But I wasn’t sad. In the presence of real tragedy you feel neither pain nor joy nor hatred, only a sense of enormous space and time suspended into nothing.

Kathy left the room and I was left to eat alone in my room, with a father that I both loved and hated all at once.

My father awoke with a startled cry and a confused look on his face. It was just after I came back from my walk with Kathy. We had walked around the halls and visited different patients and such.

But I wasn’t allowed to see my friends.

“Good afternoon,” I said to my father when his eyes fell on me sitting in my bed and playing solitaire with cards on the plastic desk the hospital had given me. “How was your sleep?”

“Fine,” he answered.

“No it wasn’t.” I growled. My dad’s ears turned pink and I went back to playing my game. Did I feel sorry for being an asshole to him? No, I didn’t. He was an asshole when he left, so I was going to be an asshole when I came back.

“Where were you?”

Silence from my father.

“Were you with her?”

Even more silence from him.

“Can you at least tell me what she looked like? That dirty slut.”

“She’s not a slut!” He snapped at me, I smiled. I knew I could get him to crack. “She wasn’t as pretty as your mother. She wanted me to stay with her, she wanted me to cheat.”

“And you did!”

“I had no choice! She was making me!”

Making you?” I scoffed, “Was she holding you at gunpoint?! Was she waiting outside our house? Please tell me how she made you, shed some light on this subject. I am very curious.” My voice sounded the most dangerous and angry it ever had been. I didn’t care about how I sounded though, I wanted answers.

My father hung his head. “She said she would kill you and your mother if I didn’t.” This, I knew, was a lie.

Ha!” I laughed, “And you went back to her!”

“Ben, I’m sorry. I really am.”

“Well guess what?!” I yelled. “I give a shit if you’re sorry. I want to know why.” I was crying. “Why did you go to her in the first place? Where did you meet her? Or did she ‘make you’ forget that you had a real life?” My father winced at my cussing; he had never heard me swear before. It felt good to finally get my feelings out, like I was sharing part of my soul.

“Don’t cry, Ben,” he said and reached out to touch my arm. I squirmed away from him so he couldn’t. His hand dropped beside me. “I told you on the USB. I wanted a break.”

“Yes, but happy people don’t just want a break from their family. Why? Why did you want a break from us?”

“You were growing up too fast.”

“Oh, fuck you dad.” I snapped and turned away from him. He was getting on my nerves, he wasn’t giving the answers I wanted and needed.

“Ben I’m not going to tell you.” He said.

“Fine, leave me in ignorance. Ignorance is bliss, anyway.” I answered. “But you can at least tell mom why, I’m sure she wants to know why the Hell you left to go screw a kid.” My dad pounded his fist hard on my plastic desk. Cards flew through the air and my Styrofoam cup of water splashed onto the aluminum floor.

“I am still your father,” he growled at me, “And I will not be spoken to like this by a FUCKIN’ FOURTEEN YEAR OLD!” I could hear Kathy come in the room to check up on me, but then I heard her leave quickly when she saw that we were fighting. ’I’m glad she’s giving us some space. Shut up, we’re supposed to be mad at everything right now.’

When I got home, I found my mother on our living room couch, a wine bottle in hand. I tried to speak to her, but she had the grammar of a two year old and a brain the size of a peanut. I walked off to my room and laid down on my way too familiar grey sheets. God, I hated that room. It had always seemed so boring to me, but I didn’t want to complain to my parents.

Have you ever felt so heavy that you couldn’t stop yourself from drowning? That’s how I felt. Like I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs to pump blood into my heart to make my body work, that all kept me alive. ’Josh might die.’ I started crying again. ’Why am I crying so much?’ I didn’t want Josh to die was the answer, but I didn’t want to think about Josh, about how I felt about him. What would happen if my parents reacted how Josh and Aubrey’s dad reacted? I didn’t want that to happen.

I’m falling apart.” I whispered to myself.

There was no news of how Josh and Aubrey were doing, and I didn’t have the guts to go over to our neighbor and ask if he was getting news from the hospital. He scared me. I was afraid of a person I had never even met. I had only heard the stories my friends had told me. But the thing that kept ripping at my insides was that I was afraid to tell my parents about me and Josh.

How does one state that they’ve fallen in love? It was breaking me to keep it inside, and finally, I decided to tell them so straight forward they might be confused at first.

I walked into the kitchen, where my parents were talking in hushed voices at the dining table. Their voices were still loud enough for me to hear snippets of their conversation: “He needs help, Max.” “I know, Clara, but he might not want to. He hates me.” “He doesn’t hate you.” I walked into the room then. They stopped talking instantly and leaned away from each other.

“Glad to see you sober again.” I said to my mother. “Hello, Asshole.” I said to my father. Both of my parents looked at the polished wooden table; a form of shame from my insults. Truth be told, I didn’t care what I said to them, because I knew they didn’t care what I said to them. ’The weak don’t survive. Make them feel the pain you felt.’

“I have something to tell you.” I said as I sat down in my usual spot at the table. It felt weird to sit there again, like everything before Josh and Aubrey was a dream.

“We would like to speak to you, too.” My mother sad and smoothed out her jeans. I clenched my hands in fists to keep them from sweating and gulped my nerves. “Well?” my mother asked, “What is it?”

“Something really big happened to me while I was gone,” I said and looked at my parents’ horrified faces, “Something emotional that I really want you guys to know.” Their faces went from fright to curiosity. I knew they weren’t expecting to hear this from me. “I think I might be gay.”

My mother blinked her eyes rapidly at me.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Could you say that again?” my mother said dryly.

“I think I might be gay. Like, I think I might like guys the way I’m supposed to like girls.” My father started to smile.

I knew it!” He whispered to mostly himself.

“Honey, you’re not supposed to like girls,” my mother giggled at me, “You can like whoever you want to like. Now tell me,” she placed her hand slightly on my fist, “Who is this lucky boy?” I smiled but then frowned; ‘this lucky boy’ was in the hospital still.

“The boy I ran away with.” I stated. ’I don’t know where I’m going... But I know where I’ve been...’ My brain wouldn’t stop thinking about Josh and if he was going to die or not. My parents’ could see the sadness on my face, and I looked away from them. I was supposed to make them feel pain not let them see mine.

“What comes after death?” I asked suddenly. My father looked taken back, but my mother was completely unfazed. ’A mother’s love is stronger than any metal. Remember that.’

“Nobody knows.” My father answered. I glared at him; I wasn’t asking him for the answer. I wanted to talk to my mom. Mother, what a strange person she was; always kind, always gentle, but still as scary as a lioness. Tears welled up in my eyes; I had missed her so much.

Mommy...” I pouted as the tears started to fall. She got up and hugged me close; closer than the day dad left, closer than ever before. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, Benny.” She pulled away from me and moved my curly bangs to the side of my face. She kissed my forehead. “My little Benny, home again.” Her laugh was the best thing I had heard all day, and I didn’t want her to stop. My dad cleared his throat, but I gave him the finger. I didn’t care about him; just my mom, the One and Only.

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