My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from the Epilogue. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
I saw Becky yesterday in the hospital, went to visit her for lunch – really, was given permission to visit her. She was admitted shortly after me, I think.
“Hey, Beck, what do you think?” I asked, holding up my bandaged arms from my wheelchair. “I figure I’ve got a head start on Halloween with this homemade mummy costume.”
Zab, my personal slave/aide from Somalia, got a kick out of that one, standing right behind me – always nearby.
“You’re such a dope,” Becky squeaked out in what might’ve been amusement, lifting her head from her hospital bed, “but at least you can laugh about all this.”
“It’s either laugh or cry, you know, and I think we’ve all done enough crying. But I could’ve helped him. And I did the exact opposite. I fucked him.”
I felt her dry, spindly fingers on the top of my head. I was bowed in front of her like confession.
“Andrew,” she said, her whispering voice almost a secret, “look at me.”
Becky had more lines than veins running into her – IV, nutrient, or whatever they were. Having wasted away to 80 pounds, maybe less, she looked like a damn cancer patient with her scraggly, thinning hair, and stick-figure arms.
“They’re going to put the feeding tube in tomorrow, I think.”
“I don’t under–”
“We all make our choices, Andrew. Pete made his; now, you have to make yours.”
“But what about–”
“Me? I’ve made mine. And I’m okay with it.”
I was beginning to shake, the tears tumbling down my trembling face. Zab tapped on the back of my chair. Time’s up. Can’t have another meltdown or I’ll be in the loony bin that much longer, which is still an indeterminate amount of time. They think I have P.T.S.D.
“Take…care of yourself, Beck.” I leaned forward and kissed her forehead like Ursula used to do after I had a nightmare. “Hopefully, I’ll see you soon,” I say, not convinced I ever will.
She smiled meekly somewhere underneath all that science, but she didn’t say anything. Poor girl, so lost in her own sickness, yet so clear in her conviction. At least she stood for something, I thought, my only saving grace. Besides Ant.
I finally told Ant what Ms. Benevo did to me a couple days ago. I figured she would suffocate me with a pillow or at least freak out on me like Jess had. But she didn’t do either. She didn’t even blink, it seemed, because she already knew, figured it out our last night in Italy, she told me.
I could barely speak after she said that, so she spoke for me.
“We’ll figure it out, Andrew Brown” – she stroked my hair with a tenderness my mother never had – “like we always do.”
And that was all she said, all either of us ever said, about it, all anyone’s said because I still haven’t heard from the District Attorney’s office. At first, I thought it was because I was a minor, but someone would’ve reached out, I’m sure. Maybe Ms. Benevo simply neglected to give them my name, her last bit of control she’s trying to exert over me. I don’t know. And, honestly, I don’t care anymore. Because I have Ant.
Every day she comes to see me with home-cooked meals and books like Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and movies like Love Actually because she actually does love me, I’m beginning to think. And I love her.
That’s certainly more than I can say about my parents who I haven’t seen. Apparently, my mother’s got a big case, and Pop’s getting ready to go back on the road – retirement’s simply been too strenuous, I guess. But that’s bullshit, and we all know it. The real reason they’re not here is because they can’t look their moneyed chums at the country club in the face with a son who’s fit for a straightjacket. They won’t even call me personally; they just send Ursula with food and games and whatever else I want because it’s easier to throw money at problems than fix them.
Sometimes Gracie, Stevie, and Anthony come along and we joke around about my open-backed hospital gown that lets in a draft and how our mother walks like a duck, which they don’t know is because slick Joe the office manager bent her over the night before. Eventually, the boys will realize like Gracie’s starting to.
They’re my only visitors – them and Ursula and Ant. I haven’t seen one of my friends since I found Pete that day, but I later heard from Becky who I’m sure heard it from Lilly that Marie’s finally in rehab after she got caught with about five grand worth of Oxycontin. It’s either there or the body bag for her, I think. Not jail, though; she’s got too much money for that. Tommy didn’t come, but, as much as I’d like to think he’s changed, people don’t; he’s probably fallen back into his tired, old pot and pussy routine. Besides, why would he visit me? We were Pete’s friends, not each other’s. Lilly, I’m sure, is too consumed with Becky and being popular and trying to stay on the good side of her wicked mother to worry about me, so I don’t begrudge her for it.
Still, it’s funny how quickly friends can disappear after high school. After your best friend dies. After you come undone.
When I was still restrained with the Hannibal Lector mask on, Ant read me one of my favorite Whitman poems, “O Captain! My Captain!” It conjured up memories of Dead Poets Society and Robin Williams and Pete and me standing on desks thinking we were its next members because we read our own literature on the side in the Nun’s class. It wasn’t like we were reading anything of substance in there. What guy enjoys Little Women, anyway?
And, after school one day, we could’ve reached the ceiling we were so high when we screamed out, “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;/The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won” and damn near gave Jose, the illiterate but warm custodian, a heart attack. Now, with Ms. Benevo out of the way, the “prize [I’d] sought is won…But I, with mournful tread,/Walk the deck my Captain lies,/Fallen cold and dead.”
Unavoidable is the nightmare that Pete’s “fallen cold and dead,” forever hunched over that indiscriminate toilet seat. In my dreams, in my hospital bed, I’m trapped, still tied down, thrashing around until I wake up in a screaming sweat, gasping, “I killed him! I killed him! I killed him!” seeking forgiveness. But I know I won’t be granted a reprieve, just a shot to keep me down until the morning. Like the animal I am.
Like the horses on Park Avenue, I think, this drawn-out, spectacular march towards death we’re all on. And we always have been.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin