We were driving down the highway and I was looking out the van window. It was around midnight, and the sky was like black ink covered in sparkles. It was like looking at a fairy tale, but not really knowing what it was about.
I had always loved the night sky; it had started with my first memory as a child.
I was around two, and my father and I were outside in our backyard, just standing there; looking at the stars. He had put me on his shoulders so I could get a better look. The sky had been really clear, a little too clear for early March. The night was slightly chilly, but signs of spring were everywhere. Flower buds were starting to form on our cherry tree and the snow melted away like a diamond in lava.
“You see those, Benny?” My dad asked and pointed to the sky, “Those are all the people that had ever lived. They are all stars now, looking down on us from the sky. It’s beautiful, yeah?” I hadn’t spoken yet, so I nodded and made a high pitched squeal of joy. But then something wonderful happened. A shooting star went across the sky and then I spoke for the first time.
“Stars,” I said and pointed up. My father took me off his shoulders and swung me in the air. My mother came out at this moment and asked what was going on, and then my dad explained it all.
My parents were the happiest I had ever seen them. I was glad that it was my first memory; it definitely was my best.
’Aw, he’s looks so content and happy when he’s sleeping,’ was the thought that went through my brain when looked over at Josh. It was around 2:00 a.m. and I was very tired, but I couldn’t seem to fall asleep. My brain didn’t want to stop thinking about random things. ’Josh is sleeping. Aubrey is going to have to pull over sometime. What’s Mom thinking right now? I have school tomorrow.’ And so on. My brain felt like it was resisting the tiredness of my body, just so it could think of all the things that were completely useless to my life.
Josh did look very nice while sleeping, though. His face wasn’t angry, or worried, or sad, it was relaxed and almost joyful. He really was beautiful, even without the blue from the aquarium on him; he was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I didn’t like him in that way, but he just looked really attractive. If I had been a girl, I knew I would have a crush on him, or if I was gay. Like him.
’Oh God, I feel so bad for him. He knows I won’t like him back.” I wanted to scream at myself for not talking to him about ‘The Kiss’, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. He seemed too sad to say anything about it.
“He’ll be fine,” Aubrey said from the front seat, it was almost like she was reading my mind.
“How long have you known about him?” The question popped into brain, onto my tongue, and rolled out of my mouth before I could even think about what I was asking. Aubrey sighed, a really sad and pitiful sigh that was heartbreaking. It was like hearing a dog cry after it hurt itself.
“A couple months,” she said solemnly, “He told my dad and me (we don’t have a mom) and my dad just kinda went berserk after that. He doesn’t really like the whole ’gay’ thing, and he started to yell at my brother a lot. And then he started to yell at me because I always protected Josh, and I guess it was too much for him. Josh tried to commit suicide a couple weeks before we decided to leave.” The words poured out of her mouth like a river of ink out of a pen.
’He’s like the whale shark,’ I thought, ’Being cooped up in a place of danger and not being able to leave. But he did leave.’
“Have you ever felt so heavy that you couldn’t stop yourself from drowning?” I asked Aubrey quietly, careful not to wake Josh. He mumbled something in his sleep and adjusted his head like a little puppy on your lap.
“All the time, Ben, all the frickin’ time,” her voice sounded older than she really was; older, wiser, and sadder than I had ever heard someone speak. It sounded like the voice in my head, the voice that told me all the bad things. It told me that I shouldn’t have run away, but I did, and the voice was mad. It was also sad, just as sad as Aubrey’s voice.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I fear for him,” she replied, “I fear that one day it will, once again, get too much and he will actually die. I fear that he will take his own life, and that he won’t find the right guy, and that he won’t watch his kids go off to college,” Aubrey was crying now, and my heart was slowly sinking into my stomach, “I fear that he won’t live the life he’s supposed to have. Isn’t that why we’re here? Isn’t that why we were put on this Earth, to be happy?”
I didn’t have an answer for her. I wasn’t God, or someone who knows all. I was just Ben, Ben the Nobody, Ben the kid who got picked on for being short. I was Ben whose dad ran away from him. I was Ben who ran away from his dad.
“I don’t know,” was all I could say.
’Beauty invites us towards profound elegance of one’s soul.’ This is what I thought when I saw Josh wake up with bed head. Aubrey giggled at him and he grumbled something about needing to use a restroom. I agreed with him, I had to pee pretty badly. Thunder boomed from outside and I looked out the window to see that the sky was a dark grey.
“Storms are beautiful,” Josh said, “Even in life, if you look a certain way, they are beautiful.” I didn’t know if I agreed with him on this though, storms had always scared me to death and back. ’He’s beautiful, not the storm. No stop it! You don’t like him like that! But he’s so beautiful! STOP! Beautiful!’ There was this war inside me that was ripping my soul into shreds, this war against beauty and love, this war against a boy and boy who could never be together because of sexuality. ’But he’s so beautiful!’
Josh didn’t talk a lot to me the rest of the day. I knew why, but I didn’t like the reason. And what did I do when I didn’t know what to do? I tried to talk to him. This of course, was the dumbest thing I could’ve done. “Hey,” was all I got out before he glared at me and started to look out the window nostalgically.
He looked so sad and angry and lonely and almost completely lifeless. Josh’s eyes held the emptiness and blankness of a corpse. They almost seemed like the blackness that held my soul in the dark depression it was in, they almost seemed like depression itself; the blank stare that nobody wanted to return, the darkness that nobody wanted to have.
“Who wants some music?” Aubrey chided in happily. ’She’s acting like a happy butterfly. But she’s not,’ I thought to myself, ’I know, but just go along with it. I can’t. Why not? Because she’s just as upset and alone as the rest of us, we all have a thing to be upset about; Josh is that thing to her. Shut up, you’re being such a brat, Ben.’
“Sure,” I said blankly and Aubrey turned on the radio. A song I didn’t know came on and Aubrey started to sing along. It had a country feel to it, not my type of music, because I usually listened to rock or post-hardcore, but it was kind of good. Aubrey started to jam out and Josh simply grunted like a sleeping animal, I looked out the window and did nothing.
We had been driving for a while, and I was getting bored, so I asked if we could play a game. I had played plenty of road trip car games with my family during summer holidays, and they seemed mostly entertaining.
But Eye-Spy got boring after a while, and I was fed up with the boring.
“How about we play Yellow?” Josh asked quietly. It was the first time I had heard him speak in hours, and his voice had a rough and tired edge to it.
“Yellow?” I question him, “What’s Yellow?”
“It’s when you see something with a motor that is yellow,” Aubrey answered. “When you see something you yell ‘Yellow!’ and you get points. The points are based on what you yell ‘Yellow!’ for, the rarer the thing, the higher the points. It’s easy: anything unmoving is two, cars are five, trucks on ten, transports are twenty, motorcycles are twenty five, planes are fifty, and helicopters are a hundred. Oh, and you can’t yell out anything that is in a lot or has a lot of another colour on it.”
I didn’t really want to play this game, but I agreed anyway. It was a pass time, and I didn’t want to sit there and listen to horrible music.
The game was kind of boring and it reminded me of those snow days you get for school, there’s nothing to do, but you have so much time to do nothing. ’I don’t really like Yellow. Shut up and play. It’s boring.
We found her on the side of the road. Just laying there with her tongue sticking out, she looked as bored and tired as I felt.
She was a dog.
A king shepherd she was, and she was beautiful, with a sleek black torso and brown around the ears. Aubrey pulled over and got out of the van. The dog got up and walked over to Aubrey eagerly. Aubrey crouched in front of the dog and Josh and I got out of the van to get a closer look.
“Violet, her name is Violet.” Aubrey read off of the dog’s tag. Violet wagged her tail at her name. “Why is she at the side of the road?” asked Aubrey, “There aren’t any houses or towns for miles, or farms, only factories.” Josh shrugged and started to scratch the dog behind the ear. She licked his hand and he laughed.
“Can we keep her?” Josh asked. Aubrey glanced at me sadly and I understood. ’If he wants the dog, then he’ll be happy, and that’s all he needs right now.’
“Yeah, we can keep her.” Aubrey answered.
And because I was such a killjoy and an asshole, I said: “Doesn’t she have a phone number on her tag? We can contact her owners and return her home.” Violet whined as if she understood, and Aubrey gave me a death glare. I backed off shamefully and climbed back into the van. ’Don’t be an ass next time,’ the voice in my head yelled, ’I’m trying. Try harder. I am trying. Try harder!’
“I AM TRYING!” I screamed at myself and Violet started barking from outside. Josh looked back at me with worried and curious eyes. I smiled awkwardly and waved at him slightly. When he turned back around, I shoved my fists into my eyes. ’Why am I so stupid?’
Tears started to trickle from my eyes, and I guess I really wanted to go back home then. I wanted to see my mom, and my stupid dad, even that slut girlfriend he had.
My life was a mess and I didn’t know how to fix it.
“It’s okay,” said Josh, who was suddenly beside me. I looked up at him with puffy red eyes. His face was pinched with concern and sadness. I scooted slightly toward him and we hugged. Josh’s embrace was warm and loving, like the warm fuzzy blanket you use when you come inside from the winter’s cold.
He kissed the top of my head lightly, but I didn’t mind. Josh was the kind of person who you wanted to love you; he just had that face.