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3 - Thursday

I didn’t sleep much, just tossed and turned and had weird, dark dreams. Death dreams. I was in what looked like a desert, some kind of barren plateau. The earth was so dry it was cracking, but the ground wasn’t made of sand. It was salt. The sky was some weird sunset, a blended collage of colors like sherbet. Orange and raspberry and lime, all swirled and mottled together. In the midst of the plateau stood Ken. He was draped in all black: baggy denim pants with chains, combat boots, a leather trench coat, mesh finger-less gloves, leather cuffs and collar with steel spikes. His face was painted black like an insane clown, and he stood stoic and still against the sherbet backdrop, unmoving like a tower. I ran to him, ran for what seemed like forever, but never seemed to get any closer. He was always just out of reach, but he never moved. Yet somehow as I tried to reach him, I could tell he’d been crying. He cried big, wet tears that steamrolled over his cheeks and smeared his makeup. Big, wet, dark drops fell onto the salt-white earth like an oil leak.

Then somehow, I was close enough to touch him, and just as I reached out to him, he turned to me and opened his mouth. I heard an overpowering static like white noise, and then he vomited a cloud of small, black flies.

That’s when I woke.

Almost immediately, I decided to take advantage of Davidson’s pass. I wanted to go see Kenny. I wanted to see him before he really was out of reach.

I made it to the hospital around eleven. The nurse at the counter directed me to his room. It was dark. The TV, high up on the wall, was on, but there was no sound. It was some soap opera: a guy and a girl in a living room with their mouths moving like a puppet show.

Ken lay in the bed. His wrists were taped and bandaged around. Another bandage wrapped around his head. Two machines beeped beside the bed next to an IV drip. His eyes were closed, and if he wasn’t sleeping, he didn’t let me know otherwise.

It was weird standing in that room. Lights were coming through from the hallway. Daylight was seeping through the slats in the blinds. Other than that, it was dark. The silence was the kind of other-worldly, serene and awe-filled void that you’d find at a cemetery. The only noise was that of artificial life: the electric hum of his machines with their rhythmic, quiet beeping.

I stood there for a while next to the bed, quietly, just watching. Someone had washed him – a nurse, probably. His face was clean, human-looking. It was the first time in four years I had seen him without his makeup on. He looked different wearing his hospital dress because it wasn’t black. I think whoever found him must have removed his piercings, too. I couldn’t really explain what he looked like lying there – what a change had taken place – to someone who didn’t know Ken. He looked peaceful in sleep, seemed content. It was reassuring. And humbling. He seemed younger than he was and looked so much like my friend I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I just wondered: What makes a person change so much? What brings out the darkness, brings the fear that cradles a life and has the power to cripple a soul? What makes someone who is so loved pull away and cast off light?

I wondered that for awhile.

I wished he would have been awake, though. I wished we could have spoken. There were so many rumors circulating the halls at school. I just wanted to know the truth, and Ken was the only one who really knew it. Him and whoever turned him in. Maybe one of his parents. Maybe his sister. But that’s on the off-chance any one of them happened to come home. His family life wasn’t exactly the best. His mother hadn’t worked in a few years, but she managed to never be home anyway. She remarried a couple years back. His step-dad was a truck driver. He was rarely ever home either, but when he was, he was usually drunk. It seemed to be the only way he could tolerate the woman he married, which was better, I guess, than being violent. He was too mellow of a guy for that. Ken’s sister was three years older and supposed to be in college, but never went. She just sat at her boyfriend’s and smoked weed all day. I had no idea who found him.

As I stood there in the darkness of his hospital room watching him, I suddenly felt bad that there weren’t any cards or flowers on the table. There was nothing in the room to show kinship or concern. It was rather sad. The name on the sheet at the end of his bed might have said John Doe. He was loved the same.

After a while, I walked down to the gift shop in the lobby and bought a half-dozen daisies and a card. There wasn’t anyone there. Just an old guy with silver hair and a crooked nose. He kept looking at me, watching me almost. Weird.

I signed the card. The one I picked out had pink flowers, but no religious stuff. I figured I’d stay away from any religious stuff. In a way, I felt like religion was why Ken ended up in the hospital in the first place. Not God. I wouldn’t blame God. Just religion. Or lack of it. Whatever. That’s why I didn’t get a religious card. Most of them had Bible verses on them. One had something from Isaiah: “By his stripes we are healed.” Something like that. I thought it was probably the last thing he wanted to see when he woke up, though it could be exactly what he needed. There’s no particular reason I got daisies, either. They just looked the best. The others were kind of wilty and brown, at least around the edges. I don’t even think Ken would have cared if I got brown, wilted flowers, either, but wilted flowers reminded me of death. I just figured he’d had enough death-related experiences lately. His love for dark things being, I believed, the ultimate cause of everything. And that brought me back to my question: what brings out the darkness?

I didn’t stay long. He didn’t wake up, and I didn’t care for the soap opera that played like a silent film on his TV. I drove around for a while, just thinking about stuff. I remembered being young and the things Ken and I did, how close we used to be. I tried to figure out where it all went wrong. It was after eighth grade. That’s when everything went sour. That’s when everything changed.

That’s when Scott moved away and when Kenny showed up on my door step bloody and beaten, looking worse than I’d ever seen him looking. Bleeding on the welcome rug.

Change isn’t always good.

After driving for a while, I went home. I showered. Well, really just turned the hot water on and sat beneath the flow for a while. Maybe I cried. I just felt so strange all of a sudden. Maybe it was seeing Ken. Maybe it was all the memories that had been dredged up lately. Maybe it was the stuff with my parents.

After the shower, I lay in bed, on top of my sheets, staring off at nothing. I felt alone. Felt confused.

I wrote in my journal for a while. Then I tried to write a story, even though I wasn’t in the mood. I just thought something to take my mind off current events and feelings would be good. It wasn’t a story, just a scene.

It was about a drug dealer in Los Angeles. He peddled smack along Hollywood boulevard. He sold to the stars, all the way back to Greta Garbo. All the actors and directors knew his name, had his number. He was number eight on everybody’s speed dial. In Hollywood, everyone had a drug dealer as number eight on their speed dial.

I wrote five pages. Then I just stared off. I didn’t feel like writing anymore. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, and I didn’t take drugs to change how I felt. I didn’t have a number eight on my speed dial. Even if I did, I wasn’t sure there was a drug for the lonely I felt. Maybe Alicia. Maybe she could be my number eight. But I didn’t have her number. I wouldn’t know how to talk to her even if I did.

Eventually, Jake called. “Missed you at school today,” he said. “Did you go see Ken?”

“Yeah,” I told him. “It was…sad.” I fell silent for a minute. “Jake, they washed him. He looked like I remember, ya know. He looked…normal. And nobody else was there to visit.”

“Moore and Trevor Tiernan were talking about him in fifth hour.”

“Saying what?”

“Making fun of him. They went on for like five minutes and Cynthia Johnson told them to knock it off. Death isn’t a laughing matter, she said. Moore told her that’s what the problem was, he didn’t die.”

“Moore’s an a-hole,” I said. He was the quarterback. Which was probably why Alicia dated him. I don’t know, though. It just seemed that good girls always went for bad guys and that baffled me.

Jake also said there was a note.

“I don’t know if it’s true,” he said. “But it could be. I don’t know who found it or what it said.”

“It was a cry for help, I’m sure,” I told him.

Wasn’t that most suicide? You heard the stories all the time. Someone took too many pills and called 911 before they blacked out. People tried to slit their wrists, but did it the wrong way. They did it across, a slit at the wrist from thumb to pinky. Someone told me once if you really meant it, you cut up and down, from wrist to elbow. That’s how the vein runs. If you were serious, you split the vein like a banana peel, bled out before you had second thoughts. Ken didn’t do that. His wrists were wrapped, not his arms. I don’t think Ken really wanted to go. I think he was just crying out for change.

“If he was serious, he would’ve jumped from the Sears Tower or found his step-dad’s pistol,” I told Jake. “Maybe he called himself in…maybe no one found him. It would explain why no one went to see him. Where’d you hear about the note?”

“It’s just the latest rumor. Not sure who started it.” Then Jake said something that shocked me a little. He said, “Connor.” And he was serious. You have to really know Jake before he lets you see his serious side. He said, “We need to pray for Ken. He must really be going through something right now, and I don’t think he has anyone to help him or just talk to him. Just keep him in your prayers.”

Maybe Jake still prayed, I didn’t know. He just didn’t talk about God anymore. That’s all. He hadn’t gone to church in years. He just lost his faith after…. Well, the summer everything changed. For him to talk about prayer… it just surprised me a little.

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