W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement
Chapter Nineteen - Somebody I Used to Know
by Jeff Wilson
I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to talk to Brett sometime. It was driving me insane to be without him. But every time I saw him he was surrounded by people. Two weeks had passed since that day when everything had fallen apart. I didn’t know where to turn. To my surprise, there was no mention around the school of Joey’s parents breaking up or anything. I thought for sure by then that word would have gotten out that their marriage had fallen apart. Nor was there any news about Brett’s mom being disgraced and drummed out of her practice because of her sins. Nothing. No news at all.
I did manage to get to Joey on Friday before school and asked him if he could ask Brett to at least let me talk to him for a few minutes.
“I thought I told you I’m not your messenger boy,” Joey said.
“I just need a few minutes. That’s all, I swear.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Joey said.
At lunch, Joey came and sat down next to me. “He said he’ll meet you right after school in Miss Winston’s old room where they used to have the gay club meetings.”
“Okay!” I replied. That would be easy, that was the room where I had my last class. Of course, talking to Brett was all I thought about for the rest of the day. Biology class seemed to take forever. I just wanted to hear his voice after two weeks, even if he yelled at me.
After class was dismissed, everyone cleared out of the room, leaving just me, Joey, and Dustin. Even the teacher had left. After a few minutes, Brett hobbled in on his crutches.
“What is this, an intervention?” he asked. He sat on top of the teacher’s desk.
“No we just wanted to support you guys,” Dustin said.
“Okay, first of all, there is no more ‘you guys,’ Smith. Secondly, I really don’t give a fuck what you have to say to me.”
“Dude, what Billy and I did happened before you guys were even together. And it wasn’t even satisfying. He cut everything off before we even finished. I do love him, but I know he’s your boyfriend and I’ve always respected that. I’ve moved on.”
“So I hear. Dougie and Aiden, huh? Boy, you really must be good.”
“You’re sleeping with Aiden, too?” I asked.
“Oh, tell me you guys didn’t have a three-way!” I gasped.
“Okay, I’m going to go,” Dustin said. “Come on, Joe. Let’s let these guys talk.”
“You going to be okay, bro?” Joey asked Brett.
“Yeah. This shouldn’t take long.” They left, leaving just me and Brett alone.
“So what did you have to say?” Brett asked.
“First of all, I’m sorry.”
“Oh really? And what are you sorry about?”
“I’m sorry that I lied to you. I’m sorry that I hurt you. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you as soon as I found out.”
“Are you really, really sorry?” Brett asked.
“Do you promise to never do it again?”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
Brett laughed. “Jesus, you’re such a fucking douchebag. ‘Oh Brett,’ he mocked. ‘I’m sooooooo sorry!’ Yeah. You’re sorry you got caught.”
“No, Brett I swear!”
“You shouldn’t swear. You’re an atheist. Your swearing means jack.”
“I’m not an atheist. I just… I have serious doubts about the existence of God.”
“Well I’m not an atheist, Billy. I actually have a lot of faith, not that you would care. You’d just call me stupid for believing. And that’s the biggest problem. It’s not just that you lied to me. I could get over that eventually. It’s always been about respect. You think you’re so much smarter than me because you get good grades and you can read well. And because you think I’m stupid you don’t respect me. You really thought that I would never find out that you knew about Jack. You thought you could just lie to me forever because I was too stupid to figure it out. But all along, you were the one who was stupid. Once I realized that you knew, it was so easy to trick you. I tried everything I could to get you to confess, but I wasn’t going to just tell you that I knew, because you would have just kept lying to me. I thought, ‘somewhere along this four-hour trip he’s going to realize what’s going on and finally tell me the truth.’ And I swear to you, Billy, I would have forgiven you even in that waiting room. But you just proved my point. You have no respect for anyone but yourself. The whole time all you were worried about was saving your own skin, or saving your stupid internship, or saving that stupid valedictorian title. All so you could prove how fucking smart you are! Here’s the thing, you may be smart, you may be intelligent, but you aren’t wise. Really, you’re dumber than me in a lot of ways. I mean, you really think I would be happy flipping burgers while you go out and save the world? You really think that is the kind of life I’d be happy with?”
“Brett, I would give all that up for you! I don’t want to be valedictorian! I want to be your boyfriend. I just want to be with you. That’s all! I know I fucked up. I admit it! Everything you said was right about me. I’m so fucking stupid! I never wanted to hurt you, I swear! Everything I did, I did because I wanted to protect you! But instead I just drove you away.”
“Did you fuck Dustin?” Brett asked.
“Did you suck his dick?”
“No! I swear!”
“Did you jack him off?”
“I… yes,” I admitted.
“Did he jack you off?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“God, Billy!” Brett said angrily. “Did he put his hand on your penis and stroke it or not?”
“Yes. But we didn’t cum!”
“Oh that makes it so much better! Okay, so here’s the deal, Joey told me what he did to you in the bathroom. I didn’t even ask him, he just told me. That’s what people who are really sorry do. See, that’s yet another thing that you could have told me and you didn’t. And while I should feel angry about it, I don’t. And that’s what’s really terrible about this Billy. I should feel angry that you got sexually assaulted by my own brother. But I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel hurt. I don’t even feel sorry for you. That’s what you’ve done to me, Billy. You broke something in me. That’s why I can’t just forget everything and get back together with you. You’ve taken something from me and I don’t even know what it is, and I can’t get it back. I feel nothing for you. I don’t hate you. I don’t love you. I feel nothing. And I know it’s just numbness at the moment, and when it wears off it’s really going to hurt. Not even my mother has ever hurt me as badly as you. I expected my mother to be a bitch. I expected Jack to be a dick. But you were the one who was supposed to always be by my side, no matter what. Mom and Jack stabbed me in the back, but you stabbed me in the heart. I’m hurting, Billy. My heart is shattered into too many pieces to ever put back together. It hurts to look at you. It hurts to remember the things you said to me over the last two years and wonder what was the truth and what was a lie. When I look into your eyes, I still see your grandmother. I still see some piece of you that made me fall in love with you. I know that person is still in there. I know that boy who wanted me to feel special and loved from the very first day we met is still inside you. But I don’t know who this person is that you’ve become. I don’t know this person who cares more about himself than for others. I don’t want to know him.”
Brett scooped up his bookbag and slung it over his shoulders, then he hopped off the teacher’s desk and propped himself up on his crutches.
“What can I do to make this right?” I asked. “I’ll do anything!”
“I don’t have the answer, Billy. You have to find the answer inside yourself. I’m not going to figure this out for you. I can’t. You have to do it. And even if you do, I can’t promise you that I’d want to come back to you. I want you to be a better person, not for me, but for yourself. Somewhere along the way you lost yourself. I don’t know if it was your dad dying, or your depression, or Dustin’s attempted suicide, or what Joey did to you… Maybe it was all of that. But if you don’t find yourself again, then I can’t help you.”
Brett opened the door. “I hope someday I can like you again. Or at least feel something for you besides nothing. This is killing me. See you later, Billy.”
And then he was gone.
After a minute or so Dustin returned to the room.
“Did he say anything to you when he left?” I asked.
“No, he just ignored me. Guess he’s mad at me too.”
“I deserve it,” I said.
“Yeah,” Dustin replied. “You do.”
“Gee thanks!” I said.
“No, he’s right. I overheard some of the conversation. Sorry, but the room isn’t soundproof. Billy, he is right. I mean, you were always kind of a moron when it came to people, but what you’ve been up to lately is bad, even for you. I don’t blame Brett for being mad at you. I tried to tell you this would happen.”
“If all you’re going to do is make me feel worse then why don’t you just leave me alone?”
“Because you need somebody to be your friend through this. Just because I don’t like what you did doesn’t mean I’m giving up on you.”
“Great. So how am I supposed to find myself?”
“I don’t know. When I was going through my thing with my parents my therapist helped me to explore my childhood, they helped me to understand more about who I am. Maybe that’s what you need to do? Maybe you should go back to your childhood.”
“That’s just great! And I suppose you have a Flux Capacitor and a DeLorean handy?”
“No, stupid! Try talking to your mother about your life or something. I swear, if you were as good with people as you are with numbers…”
“Well I’m not! I’m just stupid! Numbers are simple! They don’t change. A number is consistent and never changes value, it’s always going to be what it is! People are complicated and they do irrational things for stupid reasons. They don’t make any sense! They never have! And I’m the worst of them! I hate being so fucked up and I hate hurting people I love! If I could just be left alone in a room with nothing but statistics all day all by myself where I couldn’t hurt anybody I would be the happiest person in the universe.”
“But that situation doesn’t exist, Billy! You’re always going to have to deal with people.”
“Well, I guess if you’re having three-ways with Dougie and Aiden I guess you’d know a thing or two about handling people,” I said.
“Wow, look at the time!” Dustin said. “If we don’t get going soon Emily is going to leave us here.”
We were lucky that Em was patient and didn’t leave us behind. I needed to get a job or something so I could get a car. I hated relying on other people for stuff. When I got home, it was more of the same. Mom had to be tired of me moping around the house for two weeks. She was thrilled when I asked her to see the photo albums of my childhood.
“Oh, look at that blond hair!” she exclaimed as she turned from one page of photographs to another.
“Yeah. We saw this one before. Don’t you have any other pictures of me besides what’s in here? I’m supposed to be trying to discover who I am.”
Mom laughed. “Well, I suppose there’s your baby book.” She grabbed it from her room.
I read the info on the first page, “William Aaron… Length, 21 inches. Weight, 5 pounds, 3 ounces.”
“And you were early for the first and only time in your life,” mom said. “I had you at thirty-six weeks. You were supposed to be a January baby.”
I flipped through the pages. “Baby’s first word – ‘dada,’ 5 months.”
I paused. “Five months? I was five months when I said my first word? That’s pretty early, isn’t it?”
Mom just smiled, “Oh yes. Once you started talking you never shut up.”
“Thanks for that. Wow, I never knew.”
“What difference does it make now?”
“It’s just weird to find out something about yourself you never knew before. I thought I knew myself but I guess I didn’t know everything.”
“There’s always new things we can learn about ourselves. I never thought I could accept you being in love with another boy, but it turned out that I could because I love you. I would love you no matter what you do.”
“I wish Brett could say the same thing.”
“I’m sure he still loves you, Billy. He’s just angry, and rightfully so. You made a mistake. He’s made plenty of them himself. He’ll remember why he loves you, and then he’ll forgive you. And if he doesn’t, then maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“If this had happened a few months ago, you’d have been happy about it.”
“I don’t know how I’d have felt. I’m always going to be on your side, Billy. No one knows more than me how difficult you can be to get along with. You found someone you love and you would do anything to keep him, and you thought by lying to him you could save your relationship. In your head it all made sense, but anyone else could see how foolish you were being.”
“I just wish I could relate to people like a normal person. I mean, I don’t hate people, I just can’t… I don’t know. I just feel like there’s always been something wrong with me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” mom said sternly. “Don’t you ever think that. You are exactly who you were meant to be. When you were starting school, your teachers had trouble keeping up with you because you were so smart. You were always book smart or math smart, but you never did have the best people skills. You never got along with the other kids. They tried to tell us there was something wrong with you. In those days doctors were always trying to diagnose kids like you with autism. They tried to tell us you had Asperger’s. But you proved them wrong, Billy. You always speak your mind, and you stand up for what you think is right. You’re going to prove a lot of people wrong. You are my son and I will always be proud of you.”
“Wait… Did you just say I have ass burgers?” I asked.
“Asperger’s. That was their explanation, not mine. I refuse to slap a label on you to try to explain your behavior,” mom replied. “You are no different than any other person. You see things in a different way. You see things that others don’t see. And yes, sometimes you don’t see things the way others do. Your father and I refused to put a label on you to define you. If we had, you would have spent your whole life being defined by someone like Jennifer Reilly. I don’t need a doctor’s explanation for why you do the things you do. You are exactly who God meant for you to be.”
“So it’s not that I’m smart, it’s that there’s something wrong with my brain?”
Mom slapped me right in the back of the head.
“Don’t you ever say that about yourself again,” mom said angrily. “There’s nothing wrong with your brain and there’s nothing wrong with you. Your father and I never used that label on you, don’t you start now.”
“I just don’t understand why you guys never told me.”
“Because I know how you are. You would have obsessed about it. You would have let what you think is wrong with you control you at the expense of what is right about you. Ten or fifteen years ago doctors didn’t have the level of knowledge they do now about autism. If I’d have let them label you, you’d have been put in a box. Your school would have treated you like you didn’t belong there. You would have been ‘the Asperger’s kid’ just like Brett is ‘the ADHD kid’ and just like your father was always the ‘bad kid.’ I don’t believe in labels. If I did, I never would have married your father. Labels don’t do anything but bring hurt and baggage. You’re no different than anybody else. You think differently, that’s all. It’s just a doctor’s way of trying to classify what they don’t understand. Trust me, I deal with doctors every day and half of them aren’t worth the cost of the paper to print up their diplomas from their fancy colleges. I’ve read all the books, believe me. In fact, the person who wrote the latest book on Asperger’s is someone you know quite well, Brett’s mom.”
“She wrote a book about Asperger’s?”
“Well she wrote a book about autism in teenagers, and there was a section on it. She doesn’t think the two are as related as some other doctors.”
“Does she mention me?” I asked.
“Not by name, though she does mention spending a summer with a young man who punched a mirror when he was overwhelmed.”
“Holy shit! I kept her stupid little secret and then she used me to write her stupid book!”
“I’m sorry I even brought it up.”
“I just… I don’t know what to say.”
“You’re probably thinking something nicer than what I already told her. I was actually reading that book the day of Brett’s accident.”
“So even if you don’t believe it’s true, there is the possibility that I have this Asperger thing?”
“Oh, I have no doubt you would qualify for it. But what difference does it make?”
“Yeah… So is that why I’m so obsessed with numbers?”
“I suppose. It’s probably why you can find four-leaf clovers so easily and why you know the stats of every player on the baseball team. You see patterns where others see chaos. Like I said, it just means your mind thinks in ways that others can’t. You see things others don’t. It’s simply the way you’ve always been. There’s nothing wrong with you. You can do anything you want in life. We just want you to be happy in whatever you do. Whatever you put your mind to you can do.”
“Except relate to people,” I sighed.
“No. It’s the same thing. You see things other people don’t. You also see things in people that others don’t see. You reached out to Brett before anyone else did. You accepted him without any questions about his issues. And once you two got to be friends both of your lives became so much better. That’s who you are, not some diagnosis. Use your gifts to serve other people, Billy. Just like you see four-leaf clovers, see the people that no one else sees. You do that, and maybe you’ll find yourself as well.”
Mom reached into her purse. “Look, I wasn’t going to tell you this until the time got closer, but now it seems too late. David and I bought you these.” She handed me two tickets to the senior prom. “We had hoped that by doing this for you we would show you that we understood your relationship with Brett. I just wanted to show you that I was sorry for how I treated you when I found out you were with him.”
“Well that’s nice, but I guess it was a waste of money. I couldn’t have gone with Brett even if he wanted to because of the school board banning same-sex couples. And now, he wouldn’t want to go with me anyway.”
“You could still go,” mom suggested.
“And do what? Sit around and watch a bunch of people I don’t like having fun and dancing? That’s not my idea of a good time.”
“Well, the tickets are already paid for. David has already arranged for you to borrow a friend’s car. I’ll pay for your tux. All you need is a date. Or if you want, you could go solo. We want you to have fun, Billy. You only get one senior prom.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said, thinking that there was no way in hell that I was going to go. No force on Earth could convince me to go to that stupid dance.
Thanks for reading. If you have comments you can reach me at email@example.com
Next time: Plan B