W.A.R. Part Two - The Cold Winter
Chapter Four - The Long Way Home
by Jeff Wilson
The car was completely quiet on the way home, except for the sound of the car's engine and the highway. I sat in the front seat holding a rapidly melting ice bag on my mouth. Joey sat in the middle of Dustin and Brett. He must have felt quite awkward there between those two! Dustin was glaring at Brett with murderous wrath. If he didn't like Brett before the last couple days, he hated him now! Brett was staring out the window. The last place he wanted to be was stuck in that car after the way he'd behaved. Every once in a while he would sniffle, but because we were all so quiet there was no hiding it. He'd rub his eyes every once in a while, and he was trying desperately to keep himself together.
I wanted so much to tell him I was sorry! If I'd have told him I didn't mean it, it would have been a lie. I'd meant to hurt him, and that was the worst part. I wanted to hurt him when I said what I said about his dad. I'd been pushed too far and I just snapped. I sat there listening to those quiet sobs and knew that I was the reason. And I hated myself.
Dad dropped Joey off at his house. He lived in a house not too far from the rest of us that used to belong to his grandparents. It was pretty nice. He thanked us for the bowling and asked if my mouth was okay. I told him I was okay and we waited until he was in his house before we began driving to Dustin's house. When we got to Dustin's house, he got out of the car and stood beside my window. I rolled it down and he stuck his head in. He glared at Brett and then smiled at dad and me.
"You gonna be okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," I replied.
"I can come over tonight if you want. Nothing's going on," he said.
"Not tonight," I said. "I just want to relax a little." I didn't want to tell him I'd already invited Brett over, although after what had happened I didn't know what was going to happen.
He gave one last look at the boy in the back seat and scowled as if he knew something more was going on. "Okay. Well, call me tomorrow," he said. Dad waited until Dustin was safely in his house before he drove away. I wondered what he was going to do, now that it was just the three of us. He didn't drive to either of our houses. He drove down into town. For a while, it just seemed like he was driving aimlessly.
Without the other boys in the backseat, Brett's sniffling was becoming more frequent. For the first time, I turned around and looked at him. He was still staring out the window. Now that he was away from the other boys he was really starting to cry and not trying to hide it. He was sobbing and making this awful whimpering sound that was just devastating me. I'd made Brett cry before, of course. He had a pretty bad reputation for being a cry-baby at school. One time when we were ten years old I'd accidentally whacked him in the face with a plastic bat while we were playing around and you'd have thought I'd murdered him. But after a while he pretty much sucked it up and joked about it later. But this was different. This time I'd really hurt him.
Dad had smoked about five cigarettes since the bowling alley, and he lit another one while we were driving around aimlessly. Mom was always telling him to stop, but the more she tried to stop him the more he smoked. He had to have heard Brett's breakdown behind him. I couldn't bear to hear it anymore. Every sob was like a knife in my heart. I hated myself for what I'd said. I wanted so much to take back that one moment in time. I would have never said those angry words to him.
Dad flicked his sixth cigarette out the window and lit a seventh one. He adjusted the rear view mirror so that he could see Brett in the backseat.
"So, what's the problem, kid?" asked dad.
Brett turned from the window for the first time and looked at dad in the mirror's reflection. His tear-stained face was red and his eyes were swollen and puffy. "I don't know," Brett moped.
"Was there a particular reason you punched Billy?" dad asked.
Brett looked at me and then back at dad. "I don't know," he answered. Even as angry as he was at me he didn't rat on me and tell my dad the awful thing I'd said about him. That made me feel even worse for having said it! He sniffed again and wiped his eyes, trying to regain his composure now that he was being noticed.
"So where do you want to go?" dad asked.
"I don't know," Brett replied.
Dad smiled. "Is there anything you do know, kid?"
"I don't know!!" Brett snapped.
"Well, let's just take you home then..." dad said.
"No!" cried Brett. "Please, I don't want to go home!" Tears filled his eyes again. "I'm sorry."
"Why don't you want to go home?" dad asked.
"I don't know!" Brett replied.
Dad looked in the mirror. "Okay listen, Brett. If you say `I don't know' one more time I'm stopping the car and throwing you out and you can walk home," he said sternly. I think he meant it too.
Brett looked at dad like a puppy looks at you when you scold it. Sure, dad had yelled at Brett a time or two, but dad had never been so angry with him before and he wasn't quite sure how to react. It was beginning to rain. Soon it would change to snow. Dad took a long drag from his cigarette. He was trying to figure out what the best course of action would be. Should he be stern or soft? What was the best way to crack this particular shell that Brett had built? He drank a few swallows of his bottle of Mt. Dew and then looked at Brett in the mirror again.
"So I'm going to ask again, what's the problem?" he asked.
Brett sighed. "I don't... I mean... I guess I just... I hate being me. I just want to be a normal kid."
"You seem like a pretty normal kid to me," dad said.
"What do you know? You don't know what it's like to be me! I'm just your kid's stupid friend. I don't know why I punched him and I hate myself for doing it! Why does everything have to be so damn hard for me? I hate my life. I hate being weird! I can't even sleep anymore! I just lay there like an idiot. I can't read for shit! I can't even tie my own fucking shoes half the time! Why can't I just be a normal kid like everybody else? Why do I have to be so stupid?!?"
Both dad and I replied, "You're not stupid!"
"Yes I am!" Brett cried. "I am stupid!! Look at my stupid grades if you don't believe me! I'm a fucking idiot! I hate being dumb! I hate being the one who always ends up in detention! I hate having to take summer classes because I'm so stupid! I hate not being able to read like a normal person! I hate my stupid teachers! I hate my stupid mother! I just want to be fucking normal like everybody else! I just want to read a fucking book without it being torture! I just want to be able to tie my shoes without having to take fifteen minutes! I hate being this way! I hate it! I hate everything about me! I hate my fucked up brain! I hate my fucked up life!!! I hate this whole stupid fucked up world! I hate it!!" He angrily brushed away the tears and glared out the window. I just wanted to hug him like he'd hugged me the night of my grandmother's funeral. He needed to know that somebody loved him.
Dad nodded. He was making progress. He'd got more out of Brett in that one outburst than anyone had in a long time. "So why do you hate your mom?" he asked.
"I hate her because she's a selfish fucking bitch. I hate her because she doesn't give a shit about me. She hates to even look at me. I ruined her life."
"I hardly think you ruined your mother's life. She loves you."
"See! You don't know anything! You can't fix me like I'm a fucking machine, Mr. Roberts. All your life is about fixing stuff. You don't know what it's like to ruin everything you touch! You don't know what it's like to be hated by your own mom. Don't you get it? I ruined her life. She said so herself. She didn't even want me. She said I was a mistake! I'm an embarrassment to her. I'm a bastard."
"Now come on. Don't call yourself names like that! Where'd you hear such a thing?" dad replied. "Even if your mom wasn't married to your father that doesn't mean she didn't want you."
"I know she didn't want me, Mr. Roberts! I heard her say it! She told my aunt I was a mistake. I heard everything. She wanted to abort me! If she weren't Catholic, she probably would have! I was just a stupid mistake!!! I shouldn't even be here!! I'm just a big fucking mistake!! I wish to God she had aborted me! I wish I'd never been born!"
Dad let Brett bawl for a while. It was breaking my heart to hear him in so much pain. Eventually though, Brett started to calm down a bit and dad stated to speak again. "Brett, I don't know what you heard. But I can tell you that if your mother thought about doing that... Well, in those circumstances, being a single-mother at that age and concentrating on her future... I can imagine at some point she may have thought about other options. But the point is she didn't do it! She had you and she loves you. I don't know what issues she had with your father, but she apparently loved him enough to have conceived you."
"Love?" Brett scoffed. "She didn't love my father!" he sneered. "You act like you know what I'm going through but you don't! Love didn't have anything to do with my conception. She hates my father! He raped her!"
"What?" Dad exclaimed. Then his cigarette fell into his lap. "Ow! Ow! God damn it!" he cried. He picked up the burning butt and threw it angrily out the window and swore again. Then he lit another one. I'd never seen my dad smoke so much. "How do you know she was raped? Did she say that she was?" he asked.
"She didn't have to. She said she can't even look at me without seeing him. I can put two and two together. I know he fucking raped her. He raped my mom, man!" he began to bawl again. "Fuck! I should have never been born! I wish she would have just aborted me! Why is this happening to me? Why did God do this to me?"
I thought for a moment, for one tiny split second that I saw a tear in my dad's eye. I know it couldn't have been, for I had never in my life seen him shed a tear, even when he was in pain. He gripped the steering wheel tightly and pulled over. He turned around and grabbed Brett's knee.
"I want you to listen to me right now, son. I love you, boy. Mrs. Roberts loves you. Billy loves you. We don't care who your father is. We never did. We don't care what he did. We don't care if you're hyperactive. We don't care if you're dyslexic. We don't even care how smart you are. All we care about is you, Brett. You're a good boy. I've never known a better boy. I love you just the way you are."
"I don't deserve to be loved," Brett replied. "I'm a bastard!"
"I don't want to ever hear you call yourself that word again. You are a good boy. Why should you feel sorry for something that you had absolutely no control over? Why should you feel sorry for the way you were conceived? Even if your mom was raped, it wasn't your fault. And you know your mom loves you. She may be a busy lady, but she'd drop everything and be there if you needed her. She'd do the same for Billy."
"But my father..."
"Do you even know your father's name?" dad asked.
"No..." Brett said.
"Do you know what he looks like?"
"You know what he does for a living? Who his friends are? If he's married? Does he have any other kids? Is he even still alive?"
"I don't know anything about him."
"Then why do you feel responsible for what he did? He might as well be a stranger. You might as well feel bad about something I did! At least you know me! Your father could walk right up to you and have a conversation with you and you wouldn't even know it. You are not a bad boy, Brett. Sometimes things happen in our lives that we have absolutely no control over. You can't feel sorry about it. You just have to deal with them as best you can. I used to be angry about being diabetic. But I'm not anymore. There's nothing I can do about it, and I didn't do anything to deserve it. It just happened, and I had to learn to live with it. You didn't ask to be born. You didn't ask to be hyperactive or dyslexic. It just happened, and there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to be the best Brett Reilly you can be, and don't worry about the things you can't control! Okay?"
"I guess," Brett replied.
"Now let me tell you something else. You need to talk with your mother. It sounds to me like she doesn't even know you've been carrying this around with you for how ever long or she'd have talked to you by now. You deserve to know the truth. And even if the truth is terrible, you know that it wasn't your fault. But at least you'll know. I think not knowing what's true is what's really eating at you."
Brett wiped his eyes and put his hand on my dad's hand. "I wish you were my dad," Brett said softly.
"So do I," dad replied. "As far as I'm concerned, you are part of the family. If you ever need someone to talk to, man to man, don't keep it inside like you've been doing. I'm here for you, just like I am for Billy. Never be afraid to come and talk to me. Okay, boy?"
The tears flowed again from Brett's eyes. But these tears were different. These tears were happy. "Okay..." Brett replied.
"Let's go home," dad said.
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