W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement
Chapter Eleven - Parental Guidance
by Jeff Wilson
I found mom in the waiting room of the emergency room of the hospital where she worked. Her clothes were still covered in Brett’s blood, so she was wearing a set of disposable plastic scrubs to cover her. She looked exhausted. I arrived with Dustin, both of us still wearing the dirty clothes we’d been wearing before all hell broke loose. I had Brett’s dried blood all over my hands.
“How is he?” I asked.
“Not good,” mom said. “It’s fifty-fifty on the leg. Even if he keeps it he’s in for a rough time. He broke both bones in his lower leg and a couple of the bones in his foot too. They’ll have to put his ankle back together. He’s also lost a lot of blood. It’s not good.”
“Jesus…” Dustin gasped.
“Can I see him?” I asked.
“Maybe. They need to take him to Pittsburgh for the surgery. If he were older they’d put a rod in to secure his shinbone, but a seventeen-year-old might still have some growth in his legs left to do so they won’t be able to do it that way. It would be easier. Now they’ll have to fix the leg surgically and put him in a cast for a couple months, and they’ll have to fix his ankle like they did for your wrist. You still have Brett’s cell phone?”
I fished it out of my pocket and handed it to mom. She opened it and found Brett’s contacts.
“She’s listed under ‘The Bitch.’” I said. Mom just gave me a look.
“I’d hate to see what he has me listed as,” she said. Mom took the phone and went into the room where they were working on Brett. She was in there for a long time. I assumed that she had connected the triage doctor and Brett’s mom. After about twenty minutes or so she came back to me and Dustin.
“They’re going to move him to Presby. They think he’ll be able to keep the leg. Jen will meet us there. They’re going to take him by helicopter. Billy, you might be able to see him but you’ll need one of these,” she said, showing off her sterile scrubs. “They’ll take him as soon as the life flight is ready so you’ll have to be quick.”
I did as mom said and rapidly put on the outfit and washed my hands. Then she led me into the room where Brett was. They’d sedated him and he was laying unconscious on the bed. His leg was wrapped in ice packs, his neck was still in a brace, and his clothes had been replaced with a hospital gown that left his junk exposed. The medical team was still working on some things. He had an IV hooked up to his left hand and it looked like they were putting a bag of pizza sauce into him, but I knew it was blood. Tears filled my eyes to see him like that. It hurt my heart.
“Who’s this?” one of the medical staff asked.
“Ryan, this is my son who was with him when he got hurt.”
“Your son Billy?” Ryan asked. Mom nodded.
Ryan told me that I could come closer. Brett just lay there helpless and out cold. I didn’t want to stay. I wanted to cry. But then…
“Where’s his necklace?” I asked.
“All his personal belongings are being stored in a bag for his mother to claim.”
I reached into the neck of my shirt and drew out the gold chain that he’d given me. My eyes filled with tears that couldn’t be contained and rolled down my cheeks. Mom put her arm around my shoulders. “They’ll give it back to him after everything’s over,” mom said.
Ryan told us to wait for a minute and he left the room. When he came back, he took my hand and put Brett’s necklace in to my palm. Then he closed my hand around it.
“You can give it back to him when he wakes up,” Ryan whispered.
News came that the helicopter was ready, so mom and I had to leave the room so they could get Brett ready to take away. We returned to the waiting area. As we were taking off our scrubs we were surprised to see Jack McKenzie storming into the room.
He found Dustin and went off on him. “What kind of stupid, moronic idiot leaves a bunch of kids at their house and lets a seventeen-year-old kid ride a dirt bike without parental approval? You better hope your mother has a good lawyer, kid!”
“Jack…” mom said. “You can’t blame Carol for this.”
“Of course I can! What in the hell was she thinking, leaving Brett in the hands of these two idiots? He could have been killed!”
“But he wasn’t,” mom insisted. “Boys will be boys.”
“And where in the hell were you, Paula, while these boys were being boys? It’s obvious that you can’t control your son. Now he’s endangering the lives of others!”
“This is neither the time nor the place to…”
“Silence!” Jack snapped. “I want to see him, and I want these boys kept away from him.”
“It’s hardly your place to determine who gets to see him or not. And if you want to see him you had better hurry. They’re going to life flight him to Pittsburgh.”
“Which hospital?” Jack asked.
“Presbyterian,” mom replied.
Jack grumbled and went to the door of Brett’s room, demanding to be let in, and threatening to sue the poor staff if they didn’t let him in. They did let him in, I think they were afraid he’d cause an even worse scene if they didn’t.
“What’s wrong with that guy?” Dustin asked. “You’d think it was Joey in there instead of Brett.”
“His wife and Brett’s mom are close friends,” mom explained. “We’re all shaken up about this. Don’t worry about it, Dustin.”
It wasn’t long before Jack exited the room, followed by a team of people who were caring for Brett. They’d at least adjusted Brett’s coverings so his junk wasn’t exposed for all to see. They wheeled him down the hallway and then he was gone. Jack returned to us.
“You’d better hope and pray they can save that leg,” he warned. “Paula, I expect my wishes to be followed. Keep your son away from my… friends.” Jack stormed out of the waiting area.
“Jesus, that guy’s an asshole,” Dustin said.
“He’s just under a lot of stress,” mom said.
We worked out what was going to happen next. Mom and Dustin were going to wait for David to come to our local hospital to pick them up and take them home. I was going to take mom’s car up to Pittsburgh to go to the hospital to meet Brett’s mom. Mom didn’t like the idea of me going alone into Pittsburgh, but I knew where I was going. It was the same hospital where dad had been and where I’d had my hand surgery. I wondered if the same doctor who fixed my hand would fix Brett’s leg.
All along the road I had to fight to keep from bawling. Sometimes I didn’t succeed and tears made the road blur up. I managed to make it in one piece. I navigated the corridors of the hospital and ended up in the very same waiting room where we’d waited for news about my dad. When I got there, Jen was sitting by herself. I sat next to her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Where else would I be?” I replied.
“Did you drive up here all by yourself?”
Dr. Reilly sighed. “I wish you hadn’t.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, at the moment I’m not very happy with you,”
“Jen, I’m sorry…”
“What in the world was Brett doing on a dirt bike?”
“We were just… I mean…”
“Billy please. I don’t want to say something to you that I’ll regret later. I don’t know why on earth my son… Just… Just go home. I’ll call your mother when there’s news.”
“But I want to stay,” I said.
“There’s nothing you can do right now. I’m serious. I don’t want you here right now.”
“I… I’m sorry.”
“I know you are. Now please do what I’ve asked. Please go.”
“Okay,” I said. I left the waiting room and walked numbly down the hall. I stopped in the restroom and stood at the sink. I turned on the sink and splashed water in my face as I tried to keep my composure. I looked into the dark green eyes of the young man in the mirror staring back at me. I didn’t want to be Billy Roberts right then. And then it hit me…
“Holy shit, this is the same restroom! This is the mirror I punched!” I said aloud to no one but myself. Of course, it wasn’t the exact same mirror, that one had been replaced a long time ago. But it was in the same place that the mirror had been when I punched it so hard I broke my hand. I felt just like I did back then, desperately sad and angry with myself.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to punch you,” I said to the mirror. “I’d certainly like to, but I’m not going to.” I got a paper towel and dried my hands, and then I left the restroom. I thought about going back to the waiting room, but instead, I did what Dr. Reilly asked. I went home.
I didn’t sleep at all. My thoughts wouldn’t allow my body to rest. I thought about how stupid it had been for me to convince Brett to get on that goddamn bike. I felt like such an asshole. Brett hadn’t wanted to get on it. He was so scared. I thought I was being smart by convincing him to ride it. He was so good. I didn’t deserve him. I knew that Dr. Reilly was right. I didn’t belong with him.
At around 5:30 in the morning, I gave up on trying to sleep. It was Sunday, but it seemed like weeks had passed since yesterday afternoon when all hell broke loose. I took a shower and got dressed, then I went to the kitchen to find something to eat before I faced the day. As I was looking for food, Dave joined me in the kitchen.
“Any word on Brett?” I asked him.
“We thought you would tell us that,” David replied.
“No. I didn’t stay. Brett’s mom said I should just come home.”
“You want some eggs and bacon? Maybe some toast?” he asked.
“Sure. That’d be okay.”
David went to work preparing breakfast for all of us. I just sat at the table and watched him. When he finished, he brought everything he’d prepared to the table and sat across from me. He asked if I wanted to say grace. I obviously didn’t, so he did. And then we began to eat.
“Can I ask you something?” I asked as I was putting butter on my toast.
“Sure,” David replied.
“Why’d you move in with us instead of mom moving in with you?”
“Well, my place only had one bedroom,” David said.
“So what were we going to do with you?”
“I don’t know, kick me out?” I suggested.
“Why would we want to do that?”
“I don’t know. I kind of treat you like an asshole.”
“I think we get along alright, all things considered,” David said. We continued to eat quietly for a few minutes.
“Can I ask you something else?”
“Why’d you put the coin collection on my bed?”
“Your dad wanted you to have it. We figured your birthday was a good time to give it to you.”
“If you want, we can put it back in the safe,” David suggested. “If you want to keep it there you can.”
“That’s okay. I like having it in my room. One more question?”
“Did you sleep with my mom before my dad died?”
“No,” David said firmly. “One, I’m not that kind of guy. And two, there’s not a man alive or dead who I respected as much as your dad. I wouldn’t have done that to him.”
“Okay,” I said.
Not long after my conversation with David, the most we’d ever talked to each other, mom came into the kitchen already dressed for church.
“Oh, this is not going to be a fun morning. Hopefully Heather has Jack calmed down. I’ve never seen him act so irrationally as yesterday.”
“Almost as if it was his kid in that emergency room, huh?” I suggested.
“Oh, I’m sure if it were Joey in there we’d have all been getting served with papers this morning,” mom said. David just sat there quietly as he normally did, listening to our conversation.
“Well, I hope you boys learned your lesson,” mom said as she prepared a plate for herself.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Oh, don’t get mad at me. I warned you repeatedly that something terrible was going to happen if the two of you didn’t stop doing what you’ve been doing.”
“Oh I see? So this was your god’s way of punishing Brett for being a faggot? Is that what you think?”
“Billy please! First of all don’t use that awful word. Second of all, no, I don’t think this was God’s way of punishing you or Brett. But I do think that if you go around flaunting your sin in front of the whole town there are consequences.”
“Who’s flaunting anything? It’s not like we’re fucking each other on the front lawn. We’d love for people to just leave us alone.”
“You don’t think word gets back to me about the way you two behave in public? Holding hands and kissing in school… I have to deal with the constant pressure from people to do something about it.”
“Well that’s too bad! I’m sick of being treated like an outcast because of who I love! My boyfriend is laying in a hospital bed with a broken leg and all you’re worried about is your stupid friends!”
Mom slammed her fork down on the table. “How dare you, Billy! You think I can just wish away the sight of that poor boy’s leg up there on that hill? You think it was easy for me to see him in so much pain, or do you think that I wanted him to experience that? That scene will haunt me for the rest of my life! He could have broken his neck! He could have been killed! He’ll be lucky if he can walk after this! And you think that I would wish that on him? I love that boy! I treated him like my own son. If something had happened to his mother, I would have gladly taken him in! He was as much my son as you are! And all the while he was sneaking around behind my back and doing the most disgusting things to you! You think I wanted you to keep him out of this house because I wanted to punish you? That’s not true. I had to keep him away because my heart breaks every time I see him. I still see that lonely little boy who we welcomed into this house with open arms. But he betrayed that love. He could have stolen anything he wanted from this house, and I’d have forgiven him. But he took you, and that was the one thing I just couldn’t let him take.”
I wanted to shout my angriest thoughts at her right away. But I didn’t. I breathed. At first, my breaths were rapid and shallow, but the longer I breathed the slower and deeper the breathing became. I could feel myself cooling down. Finally, I spoke.
“I appreciate the fact that you feel betrayed by what you think Brett did. But he didn’t have to steal anything. I gave myself to him freely. I also appreciate that you think that what we’re doing together is wrong and sinful. I wish you didn’t think that, but I know you’re hearing an awful lot of nonsense from people who you respect. I also appreciate that in spite of everything when Brett was hurt you came running to help him, and don’t think I didn’t see how kind and compassionate you were to him even after everything that happened. It’s a shame that he had to just about kill himself for you to remember how much you used to love him, even if it was only for one day.”
Mom sighed heavily. “It wasn’t just for one day. You have no idea how much this whole situation has worn me out. Would you like to know what else I saw on that hill yesterday?”
“I saw what I have been trying to tell myself wasn’t there. I saw something that was more than just two boys being sinful. I saw something that was more than just a stubborn boy who just wanted to be willingly disobedient. I finally saw the love that you’ve been telling me was there, and I’d blinded myself to see it. I saw a relationship that wasn’t just about sex. I saw you look at him the way I would look at your father when he went through the worst of his health issues. And I thought, do these two actually love each other? And I remembered the way my parents thought your father was a scoundrel and a bum who wouldn’t amount to anything and would lead their daughter straight to hell. And I thought, am I repeating the same mistakes my parents made?”
“So what are you trying to say?” I asked. “You see that we love each other, and yet you still want to break us up.”
“Billy, you don’t understand how difficult this is. Yes, I see that you love each other. But it’s still wrong for you to have sex.”
“You’re still stuck on the sex?”
“Billy, you’re still just kids. I’m willing to say that yes, your love is real and I accept that. But at the same time I can’t just put aside God’s law. Two boys, in spite of how much they love each other, shouldn’t be having sex. It’s wrong. When I think about what you’ve done, it’s disgusting.”
“So our love is disgusting?”
“No! How clear do I have to make this for you to understand? Putting your penis in another boy’s butt is disgusting!”
“Ah, now I get it. I can love Brett, I just can’t act on it. You know what that makes you? You’re a homophobe.”
“I’m not a homophobe!”
“Sure you are. If I were putting my penis in a girl’s pussy instead of a boy’s butt, you wouldn’t have a problem with it. You’d invite her over for tea and cookies and be all happy for us. You sure as hell wouldn’t have banished her from the house.”
“That’s not true. I don’t think you should have sex with anyone until you’re older. But at least if you were with a girl it would be normal,” mom replied.
Now that one hurt. Within myself came the urge to strike down my mother with every ounce of verbal wrath that I had within me, but then…
“Paula, I think that’s enough.”
David, who had been watching the scene play out quietly had finally spoken.
“David, I hardly think…”
“And that is part of the problem right now, dear.”
Holy shit! Mom’s jaw about hit the floor, and so did mine!
“Let me rephrase that. I don’t believe either of you are thinking very clearly right now. It was a stressful day for everyone yesterday. Everyone’s nerves are shot. I think the two of you are talking past each other at the moment instead of with each other. You’re hardly going to get anywhere by belittling the boy.”
“David, I don’t expect you to understand. Billy is my son. Sometimes you have to be tough with him to get him to understand. If you had children you would understand.”
I saw a little twitch in David’s lip. I think that was the angriest I’d ever seen him, and he looked just as calm as he’d ever been. “It’s one thing to be tough, but it’s another thing to be cruel. The boy obviously isn’t going to respond to the way you’re going about this. After everything you’ve done and said to him, where has it gotten you? You’re not helping him find the right path. You’re just making him more determined to prove you wrong.”
“Pastor Carl says that you have to confront the evil in your household, David. Homosexuality is evil.”
“Is the love you saw on that hill yesterday between these boys evil?” he asked. “You know, I think the world of Pastor Carl. But sometimes Pastor Carl is wrong. I think he tends to view homosexuality as more evil than he needs to because of what happened with Nate. I think it’s tainted his perspective. You had just started at the church when he threw Nate out. He wasn’t nearly as obsessed with homosexuality as he is now. He almost never even mentioned it. Now it’s every single sermon. You never got to know Nate, you only know what Carl has said about the boy. A lot of us loved Nate and helped him after what Carl did. Some people even left the church over it. I thought about it myself. I’ve tried to make sense of how someone I so deeply love and respect could do something so cruel to his own child. But then I realize that we all sin and fall short. Now I see someone else who I deeply love and respect making all the same mistakes. I’ve not tried to interfere with what’s been going on. Like you said, Billy is your son, not mine. But this has gone on long enough. He’s not evil just because he’s gay.”
Mom sat quietly for a moment. You could almost hear the gears clicking in her mind. Finally, she spoke. “I can’t believe this! We’re getting nowhere.”
“You mean you’re losing,” I said.
“All of this is moot at the moment anyway. Brett’s not even going to be able to walk for a couple of months, let alone want to do… things to you.”
“And even if we can’t ‘do things’ together for the next two months, that’s not going to change anything. I’m still going to be in love with him after this is all over. We’re still going to be together. Sex isn’t what defines our relationship, regardless of how much you want it to.”
“Well, I suppose you’re going to want to go visit him,” mom said.
“Obviously,” I replied.
“Well, I guess you can use my car for the day. Just be careful going up to Pittsburgh.”
“Did I just hear you give me permission to use your car to go visit Brett?” I asked.
“Well if you’re so angry with me that you’d rather stay here and pout all day…”
“No, no! It’s just, I’m shocked. That’s all.”
“Billy, regardless of the situation, he’s been your best friend for ten years. What kind of monster would I be to not find some way for you to go see him when he needs you the most? This is not an admission that you are right. This is just the right thing to do.”
“Wow! I don’t know what to say!”
“How about thanks?” mom suggested.
“Well, yeah! Thank you!”
“Just please be careful,” mom said.
Mom didn’t have to do any convincing to get me into the shower and ready to go. I’m sure mom and David were going to have some very interesting conversations in my absence. I didn’t even think much about it until I was in the car and on my way to the city that what David had done was really cool. He didn’t have to step into the conversation the way he had, especially to defend me! But he did. Maybe I’d been wrong about him. Maybe he wasn’t a vanilla douche after all!
When I got to the hospital, I asked the nice lady at the registration desk where I could find Brett.
“We don’t have a Brett Reilly here,” she said nicely.
“Really? How could… Oh…” I slapped myself in the forehead. “Look for Anthony Reilly.”
The lady pushed a few buttons and then told me the room number. He was in the same department that I’d been when I broke my hand. I guess that made sense. I took the elevator up to the right floor and walked down the hallway. It was all coming back to me. There was the water fountain where I’d said I didn’t want to see my dad. I even recognized a couple of the nurses. I told the nurse at the station that I was there to see Anthony Reilly and she pointed me in the right direction.
Brett was sleeping when I got to his room. He had managed to swing a room all to himself. His right leg was hoisted up in a sling and he had a cast from his toes to his hip. A carefully placed blanket covered his private regions, and he was wearing one of those horrendous hospital gowns. I remembered well how little they covered things. Those nice nurses had seen more of my ass than I was comfortable with. They’d cleaned him up nicely from the accident. All the blood and dirt that he’d been covered with were washed away. He looked so peaceful. He had an iv hooked up to his arm and there was a continuous beeping noise measuring the rate of his heart, but considering all that he’d been through, he looked okay. I leaned close to him and whispered his name.
Brett stirred a little bit. He blinked a few times and then his eyes darted around the room.
“Oh,” Brett smiled weakly. “What’s up?”
“Just making sure you’re alive after everything,” I said.
“Yeah… Fuck you guys for making me ride that thing,” Brett said, his voice a raspy whisper.
“I’m so sorry I…”
“It was my fault,” Brett insisted. “I got cocky and went too fast. I guess I’m lucky again. I didn’t break my neck, just my leg.”
“Are you in a lot of pain?” I asked.
Brett chuckled. “Oh no… Whatever this stuff is they’ve got me on is really good.” He lifted his arm and showed me the iv. I don’t know if it’s morphine or oxy or whatever, but it’s great stuff. I don’t feel a thing.”
“I remember that stuff. Don’t get used to it. I was in the room down the hall when I was in here.”
“Cool. I asked the doctor if I could have the x-rays after this is over. I guess I snapped both bones in my lower leg in half and one was poking out of my leg.”
“Yeah, I saw it. It was gross. You made Dustin puke.”
Brett laughed. “Oh that’s funny. That’s what he gets for making me piss myself.”
“Do you remember anything after the accident?”
“Not really. I know you were there. And there was an angel.”
“An angel?” I asked.
“Yeah… She must have been like my guardian angel. She kept telling me I was going to be okay and that she knew it hurt but that she loved me. She held my hand all the way to the hospital and she called me ‘dear heart.’ Isn’t that weird?”
“No, it’s not weird,” I replied. “I heard her too.”
“Yeah. She saved your life.”
“Cool… You know who else came to see me? My dad.”
“Oh?” I asked.
“Yeah. He’s a dick though. Kept saying he was going to sue everybody.”
“That’s him alright,” I replied. Brett was so out of it I knew he wasn’t going to remember any of this conversation.
“Hey, I brought you something,” I said. I reached into my pocket and retrieved Brett’s gold necklace, the one that matched the one around my neck. Brett took hold of it and just looked at it.
“Is this mine?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s yours,” I replied.
“Will you put it on for me?”
“Yeah,” I said. I put it around Brett’s neck and then fastened it. Brett smiled. He was high as a kite on whatever it was they were giving him for the pain.
“I love you, Billy,” he said as he drifted back into sleep.
“I love you too, you crazy nut,” I replied.
Looks like Brett's going to be okay. What are your thoughts on this chapter?
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Next time: Liar's Club