Chapter Fourteen: Aftermath
Of the three of us hospitalized patients, I was the first to be released, which wasn’t too much after my conversation with the LAPD detective. That conversation had gone well enough. Actually, there hadn’t been much back and forth communication at all, so it was more like regurgitation on my part. Detective Rollins mostly listened, intervening on occasion to ask something specific, but no more. Though the only other people he’d talked to were my sister and Bruce, our tenant, it seemed to me as though he’d already formulated a theory as to what had transpired at the house upon the hill.
The only question I couldn’t answer was what had started the argument between my parents in the first place. I told him Roxanna could probably answer the specifics of his question and he did something kind of funny. He had tilted his head, squinted out of one eyes and asked me, “Who’s Roxanna?”
I replied, “Why she’s my father’s Administrative Assistant.”
Again, I got the “hinky-policeman’s-eye”.
We sort of stared back at one another for a time, then he said something extraordinary.
He said, “Your father doesn’t have an Administrative Assistant. His position with the studio doesn’t require he have one.”
Silence befell us.
Abruptly, he stood, put away his tiny notepad and said he’d look into what I’d told him. He made for the door, but stopped. He turned back, eyes very Dirty Harry-ish. “Can you describe the woman,” he asked.
I said absolutely, and gave him a detailed description.
He nodded the entire time, but didn’t write anything down. He merely thanked me and left.
Myra had leaned in to kiss me once again. “What was that all about?”
Instead of leaving upon being discharged, I stuck around. By then, I’d discovered we’d been taken to Glendale Adventist, which was an extremely well equipped medical facility less than five miles from where we lived.
Myra and I met up with Valerie and her boyfriend in my mother’s room. She was still in a medically induced slumber, though not comatose like Elijah. She was lying on the bed, propped up by a multitude of pillows, her face heavily wrapped in gauze and tape. Moreso, than even my hands were at the time. Because of it, I couldn’t see the swelling or the bruising I’d been told was underneath. Her head was already misshapen and ungainly looking. Other than that, she appeared peaceful enough.
I walked up to her and took one of her hands within mine, feeling the soft skin on the back of her palm. “I love you, Mom.” I brought her hand gently to my lips, bending a bit at the waist. I kissed her, hating the fact she smelled like anapestic. She shouldn’t be in the hospital. It wasn’t fair what had happened to her, to Eli or to any of us.
I hadn’t realized I was trembling.
My sister came from Jose’s arms and into mine the moment she realized I wasn’t quit myself. Her tears felt wet and warm upon my chest. Somehow, her proximity, the familiarity of her smell calmed me, pushed back the rage welling within. Though Myra had told me I had literally beaten the living shit out of Lenny, I hadn’t experienced it firsthand. I couldn’t remember. I had blacked it out. Some hidden part of me, some over-arching governing slice of who I was wanted to keep the rest of me separate from the person I’d been on the deck. A part of me was grateful, but there was a drawback. There wasn’t closure. There had been no accounting of the injustice Lenny had sowed amongst us as far as I was concerned.
Valerie made all of that disappear. My sister, in my embrace, had made it all inconsequential.
“I know I never tell you enough, Jerry,” she began after a time, “but I love you. I know I don’t show it and I know you don’t show it much either. But, from me, I want you to know that I do.”
“I do too, sis. I love you with all my heart.” It wasn’t the time for false bravado or any like mucho bull-crap. My family needed to mend, needed to bond. We might’ve dodged a few bullets the night of my graduation, but it didn’t mean we were entirely out of the woods. We still didn’t know if Elijah would completely recover from his injuries. The road ahead might be just as tough as the one we’d been traversing for longer than any of us cared to remember.
She sighed and came away from me, though only the upper portion of her body. “I don’t care what anyone else says, I’m glad you did what you did, Jerry.” There was steel in her eyes. I had never seen her look so menacing before. “That motherfucker deserved everything he got.”
I nodded. I was bone-tired. I needed to sit. “Where’s everyone else?”
“They’re taking turns sitting with Eli,” she said at once.
My brow furled. “How many people are here?”
She chuckled. “I think just about everyone from your party, except that bitch Roxanna.” Her eyes were cold again. “She went with… with him, wherever the fuck they took him.”
I shook my head in disbelief. That chick had bigger balls than me and Elijah put together! Who the hell are you, Roxanna?
“I told everyone I needed time alone with Mom,” she said, sitting back down, next to Jose. Her hand quickly found his.
I nodded at the dude.
“So,” I started, unsure if I really wanted to know the answer to the question I was about to ask, “What’s the plan?”
She bunched her shoulders. “I don’t know. I really don’t want to leave Mom or Eli her in the hospital,” she said after some thought.
I sucked my lips, thinking as well. “Somebody ought to check on the house, or at least give Bruce a head’s up as to what’s going on, so he can hold down the fort if need be.”
She agreed, but still did not want to leave.
In the end, we decided Myra and I should see Elijah, then get a ride home from one of our family members. She didn’t smirk too much when she said I should get some rest, take a load off, maybe even nap. Her eyes had been on Myra at the end of the sentence, so I knew why there’d been a small smile on her lips. With no one home who would interrupt us if Myra and I decided to get a little “snuggly”.
I merely shook my head, although the thought of freshening up properly sounded wonderful. I told my sister I would get things situated at home and then drive back in our mother’s car. The hospital wasn’t all that far away, so it wouldn’t take too long. Since I was eighteen, I was old enough to take her home as well. We didn’t need help from anyone else once we got my mom’s vehicle.
We figured when I returned we’d hammer out the schedule long term. We both knew Eli’s stay at Glendale Adventist would be a long one.
Myra and I said our good-byes and made our way to Eli’s room.
I will never forget what she told me just before I closed the door.
“Be brave,” she’d said, then turned to Jose and began to cry into his neck.
I watched her for a second or two, then left before tears threatened to overwhelm me.
We found my aunt Bernice, my uncle Frank and my grandmother Candice – my mother’s mother – in the room, sitting about my little brother talking quietly. They all looked up the moment the door creaked open. I could read the uneasiness in the looks they gave me.
It didn’t matter if the cause was good or not, if the action was righteous or rooted in evil, looking upon the face of someone who nearly killed another human being was always a disconcerting act.
I could tell they weren’t offended or disappointed in me in any way. It was merely the cast of their expressions. They were anxious, possibly a bit curious as well. The same question was in the corner of each of their eyes. What did it feel like to be that furious? Did being as enraged as you were change you forever? Are you still the same little boy we have grown to love so much over the years?
I acknowledged each of them, but I wasn’t there to see them, or even talk. I was there to see my little brother.
Though Valerie had told me told steel my heart, to gird my loins when my eyes fell onto Elijah, I couldn’t find any degree of intestinal fortitude. I rushed to the foot of his bed, made all the more huge by the fact he was so small laying I the middle of it. He was in bad shape. He looked like he was the brink of death. If I hadn’t already been told otherwise, I would’ve truly feared for his life.
He was wearing nothing garment-like upon his person at all. He was so covered in bandages and pads and what not, the doctors and nurses had decided the best way to attend him was to have direct access to his body without an encumbering gown.
Surprisingly, most of his face was in plain sight. He was intubated; tape covered his jaw and the lower portions of his cheeks, but I could see his nose around a feeding tube, the delicate set of his brow and his narrow forehead below his formless, bowl-shaped haircut. They had him in a combination neck brace/chest immobilizer that covered the upper regions of his torso. I imagined they had him in this to protect his broken ribs, keep in him still so he could heal properly. Underneath, he was wrapped in a myriad of ace bandages, though his left side bulged slightly more than his right. I realized that was where they’d operated, right below his pectoral muscle, in order to remove his spleen.
Remembering that small detail set me off and I was crying before I knew what I was doing.
My aunt came to her feet at once and came to me, giving me a hug. Next to my mom, my Aunt Bernice’s embraces were magical to me. She had a way of scaring away the demons in my head. And boy did I ever have vile thoughts roamed between my ears.
“It’ll be ok,” she kept telling me in my ear.
Form her chair, my grandmother echoed something similar, but I wasn’t really listening.
I was grateful for their kind words, but my mind was too full with Elijah. My brain wouldn’t allow more intrusion. Without understanding, mostly due to the fact I was so young, I was narrowing my focus. For the first time in my life, something harrowing had hurt my family, those individuals I loved most. I was going to stop at nothing to make certain they were safe. Nevermore would something - or someone - harm my loved ones without me raising a hand to do something about it.
“You have already done this, Jeremiah. Rest now, heal…”
I never knew where that voice came from. I couldn’t even tell you if it was male or female. All I know, is it spoke to me and, though I had no solace regarding my encounter with Lenny, I was calmed. Not merely in the mind and body, but somewhere else as well. It was a hidden well, deep in the corner of me I never knew was there. Whoever or whatever it was, it reached me there as well, and I was better for it.
My tears became those of sorrow, of mourning. I was closing a chapter in my life, putting it under lock and key and would never open it again. Included within were all the ties and bonds and attachments I had for my father. Though I had told myself already he meant nothing to me, this was the act that made it so.
Strangely, I felt nothing. I stared down at Elijah, my aunt still holding me, and attained… balance.
Bernice was right. It was going to be, ok.
Only, it wasn’t in the manner I had envisioned.
It was my other aunt, Tilly, who volunteered to take Myra and I back to the house later that afternoon. We ended up staying until after lunch, my extended family members had been unwilling to let me leave the hospital without having some kind of food in my stomach. The fact it was from a cafeteria and not homemade, hadn’t been lost on them, but they’d insisted all the same.
So, one semi-warm hamburger and a serving of mushy fries later, I arrived at my house. There was a police car parked out front, which I was told was going to be present over the course of the next few days in case anyone from my father’s side of the family had visions of revenge. Personally, I thought it was ridiculous, because a majority of them had already visited us in the hospital.
Law enforcement had no real way of understanding just how much Lenny had been a pain in the ass to so many of us over the years. They still figured blood was thicker than water, and who could blame them after what they saw on any given day, so I stayed quiet. Let them guard our flanks for the time being. It was no skin off my back.
I wasn’t worried about the immediate anyhow. My mind was focused on the day Lenny’s doctors felt he was strong enough to be released. If I was apprehensive about anything, it was over him. Already, I was wondering what he considered was his hearth and home. Just because the police or his lawyer said he couldn’t return to the house on Lincoln Drive, didn’t mean he’d pay attention. Lenny was built that way. He had the most distorted sense of reality of any person I had met up to that point in my life. There was absolutely no telling what he’d do once he had healed, once his bandages came off. A large part of me figured he make a bee-line right for us. He always had in the past. Why would he change now? Because I beat his ass? Fuck that shit! Lenny would just think long and hard over the best way to get me back. I told you before, he was childishly vindictive.
I sighed, figuring for the time being, we still had some weeks before the answer to that question would reveal itself. If I had really bashed up his face as much as Myra and my sister had indicated, then we might have as much as a month’s time before any of us would have to truly worry about him.
Was it wrong I silently prayed for precisely that?
We strode up the walk, hand-in-hand, not unlike we had less than fifteen hours before.
“I gotta call my mom and tell her that latest,” said Myra as we came around the second slight bend of the concrete path.
I grunted as the deck came into view. There was yellow, crime-scene tape cordoning off the area where we kids had brutally fought to save our mother from our father. I looked down at my feet, trying to reconcile with the facts. It had been less than a day ago, and yet it seemed like years. It’s weird how time can sometimes behave like that, so fickle and inconsistent.
“It is good to see you,” came a voice I’d come to welcome over the past year.
I glanced up and saw Bruce walking toward us, his bare feet slapping hard on the walk as he came forth. He wore a pair of old blue-jeans, unbelted, barely hanging onto his waist, and a sky-blue, short-sleeved, button-up shirt.
My mood lightened at once. “It’s good to be home.”
“Yeah, home is always a welcomed sight after a stay in the hospital, even if you’re only there for a few minutes and visiting!” His eyes were the color of the deep ocean, dancing dazzling in the glow of the waning sun. Bruce hated medical centers of all sorts with a passion.
We shook hands, a twin set of calluses rubbing against one another - his from building beehives, me from lifting weights.
“How’s everything here?” I asked with an inadvertent look toward the mustard-colored tape fluttering in the breeze at the side of the house.
His face lost some of it’s’ merriment as he too scanned the area. It was an involuntary action, something people did when they recalled there might be danger lurking and they hadn’t been as vigilant as they should’ve been. “It’s been… quiet.” His gaze found mine. “Especially after the police left earlier in the day.”
“No word from -.”
He cut me off: “None.”
Well, that was good to know. Maybe we would have more than a few days of respite. Maybe Lenny was going to be laid up for some time. Yet, it had been less than a day. Maybe I was being overly optimistic. Naw, man, you broke his nose all to crap. He’s gonna need plastic surgery.
“How’s your mom and Elijah?” I could see it was painful for him to ask, but it was the polite thing to query.
I blinked back the emotion. “My mom’s good. She should be out in the next few days.” I paused to take a breath, to swallow. “Elijah’s another story.”
He grimaced, a hand reaching out swiftly to grab me by the shoulder. “I’m sorry, Jerry. I really am.”
“And how about you?” he asked with another squeeze of my deltoid.
I peered down at the cast on my left hand and the bandages covering my right. “I got one broken hand and one that’s bruised all to crud.” I held them both up, waving them at him.
His face turned grim. “You did what was necessary, you know that right?”
I dropped my hands, my jaw almost hitting my chest. “I thought you were a pacifist” I said earnestly.
It was a hard smile. “Gosh, man, I might be a relic of the 60’s, but that don’t mean I believe in sitting aside while innocent women and children get beaten for no reason. I might not like violence, but sometimes…,” he trailed off, his hand coming from my shoulder . He wiped his mouth with the back of it. “Shit, son, sometimes, some people need a good ass-kicking.”
Myra busted out with laughter.
“And from what’ve seen this past year, your father needed one – bad.-” His eyebrows were arched, his look imploring.
So did he.
“You got that right,” said my girlfriend.
I stayed silent.
“Well, you probably have a lot to do still, right?”
“Ok then, I’ll see you two down the road a piece.” He waved smally and left around the side of the house, toward his apartment in the back.
I went to Valerie’s room to get some of the things she’d asked me to get for her, while Myra called home. I found my sister’s overnight bag under her bed where she said she’d stashed it and got about gathering her necessities. Myra came in later saying she wasn’t going to leave my side, even after we returned from the hospital when visiting hours ended. I had asked what her mother thought about that. She said succinctly, it wasn’t her decision to make. I left it at that and continued doing what I’d been before.
After I showered and changed clothes, we ate some leftovers from the party and then headed out for Myra’s house, so she could spruce up as well. An hour later we were back at the hospital, supplies in hand to find my mother awake and eager to see Eli.
We wasted no time. We snagged a wheelchair and rolled her down the hall to see the broken, but mending baby of the family.
She cried bitterly for a long, long time when she laid eyes on him.
I stayed, undeterred by her wracking sobs. Myra, Valerie, Jose and I. We stayed with my mom and listened to her vow on her life no one would ever hurt Elijah again.
The following day, from her room in the hospital, lawyer in attendance, she filed for divorce.