Why I Stayed – Part 20

When Trevor asked me to the jock party, I played it cool. I wanted to be the supportive best friend that will do anything for you. I wanted to be the buddy that comes with so you don’t spend all night with nobody to talk to.

But really I was terrified. The thought of going to a party populated by all the people I didn’t like and set in the house of the most popular kid in school scared me. I secretly hoped that Trevor would change his mind. I wanted to spend the evening drinking milkshakes at The Brown Owl and then come back to the cul-de-sac to sit on his porch swing.

As if he was afraid I would bail on him, Trevor asked me every time he saw me whether I was still on board with accompanying him to the party. I could do nothing but blithely tell him that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I told him, no problem. I told him, you bet. My face portrayed an expression that said, “Are you kidding? Of course I’m still going.”

Inside my head, however, I winced. I sighed. I was anything but nonchalant. Inside my own head I rolled my eyes and pleaded with my friend to take me anywhere but that party. I felt nervous and couldn’t help but think that something horrible was going to happen. I was right to be nervous.

I sat in my sixth period History class, dreading the party and barely paying attention to a video about the reconstruction of the South after the civil war. This was the kind of topic I normally found fascinating but I was having a really difficult time paying attention. I looked at the desk to my right and found it empty. Normally this seat would be occupied by Jerrad Griffith. Normally he would take advantage of the dimmed lights to snooze through the movie. Today his seat was empty.

The door to the hallway opened and swath of light pierced the gloom. My classmates and I were forced to shield our eyes from the brightness. A sophomore boy I recognized from the school newspaper stood in the doorway and squinted into the darkness. His eyes finally adapted to the darkness and he headed towards the teacher’s desk. He approached and leaned down to whisper something in Mr. Cassell’s ear. I saw the boy hand him a small piece of paper. The sophomore turned and made for the door. A senior in the front row stuck out his foot and tripped the poor boy who had grace enough to not fall on his face. Everyone in the room laughed except for me and Mr. Cassell.

Mr. Cassell looked right at me. When I felt him looking at me, I returned his gaze. He held up the index finger on his right hand and mad the “come here” gesture. I got up from my desk and walked to him. He silently handed me the note delivered by the office aide. I squinted at the curly handwriting of our school receptionist and was able to make out two words: mother and hospital.

I looked worriedly at Mr. Cassell who tipped his head toward the door. I returned to my desk and gathered my things. I put my backpack on my back and deftly stepped over the feet that tried to trip me as I made my way to the door.

The light in the hallway burned my retinas and I squished my eyes shut to abate the pain. I slowly opened them again and read the entirety of the note.

“Nicole, your mother fell down the stairs. She is okay but she is at the hospital to get a cast. Your father is there.”

I stood dumbfounded in the hallway. I read the note again. It didn’t make any more sense the second time. The bell rang and sixth period was over. I quickly made my way to Trevor’s locker, which wasn’t far from the hallway where I currently stood. I waited by his locker but he never appeared. I should have known better. Trevor carried all the books for the classes he had after lunch and didn’t need to visit his locker in the afternoon. I didn’t relish the idea of going to my seventh period class so I went to the library instead. I spent most of seventh period curled up in a chair in the back of the library listening to the latest Alice In Chains album.

Most of the songs carried too much of Jerry Cantrell’s style but the song “Again” fit my mood perfectly. The quick, marching beat of the drums and the persistent guitars made an excellent counterpoint to Staley’s drowsy lyrics. The dichotomy of the song matched perfectly with the disparity in my head.

I wondered what my mom was doing upstairs and whether it was her arm or leg that was broken. I played scenarios in my head, trying to find the most likely one. I was suddenly worried that I waited too long and looked at the big clock on the library’s wall. Seventh period was over in five minutes. I got up and made my way back to Trevor’s locker. I had to catch him as he dropped off his books and got ready to drive home.

I leaned against the wall of lockers and listened to my headphones. I was staring off into space and impatiently waiting for the bell to ring so my friend would come and give me a ride to the hospital. It was true that Trevor was my friend. But I couldn’t help but feel there was something else. We had always been friends. My home life was not exactly stable and supportive. Our friendship was so consistent that it had become the foundation on which everything reliable in my life was built.

That was the problem. I felt like we were building on that foundation. I felt like something else was coming of our friendship that neither one of us was really ready to acknowledge. The nights where we would sit on the porch swing and joke were gone. Most nights, Trevor would wrap his arm around me and I would fall silent. I would fill my head with the sound of his heartbeat and calm myself with the feeling of his body next to mine.

Cuddling on the swing isn’t what buddies do. Trevor would not put his arm around Dave that way. I was excited at the idea that Trevor had begun to think of me as more than just a friend. At the same time I was distraught because I had no other reason to think that Trevor felt this way besides the way he held me close on the swing. It disgusted me, but I found myself in the middle of a “he loves me, he loves me not” moment. Those kinds of girls made me sick. Those kinds of girls were cheerleaders.

The bell rang and the hallway quickly filled up with teenagers. Everyone was excited to be free of school for the weekend. Their cheerful chatter leaked through my headphones and competed with Alice In Chains for my attention. I scowled and scanned crowd for Trevor. I noticed a spot of stillness in the fervor and saw the top of Trevor’s head which rose a few inches above most of the kids around him. As he came close, I walked up to him and grabbed his arm.

He looked at me and smiled. His face was so happy that I couldn’t bring myself to bring him down with the news of my mother.

Instead I asked him if he still meant to go to the party.

“Yeah,” he said with a smith. “Are you still going to come with and keep me company?”

I rolled my eyes and tried my best to be nonchalant.

He said something about picking up his mom from work. I was still unable to tell him about my mother. He told me he’d pick me up after dinner and I said, “Okay.” He could tell that something was wrong but he seemed as reluctant to ask as I was to tell.

I watched him walk down the hall and made up my mind to walk to the hospital and check on my mother.

The hospital was only a few blocks from the high school. I walked up the sidewalk and noticed my father’s work car in the parking lot outside of the emergency entrance. I walked up to the automatic doors and when they swished open I nearly walked into my mother who was riding in a wheelchair pushed by my father. The suddenness stunned me and I stood with my mouth open.

“Nicole, honey,” my mom said. “You didn’t have to come all the way here.”

“I got a note in class,” I said.

“Oh, sweetheart I only asked them to tell you in case you came home and wondered where I was.”

My mother was cradling her right arm on her lap. Her pink cardigan was draped over her shoulders. Her white button-down top had short sleeves. Her right forearm was encased in a purple cast from the back of her hand almost to the elbow.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, the doctor said it’s not a full break and the cast can come off in six weeks.”

She smiled but I didn’t feel better. I knew that smile. It was the face she gave me when she was trying to convince me that everything was okay. She only used that face when things were not okay.

“We were just on our way home,” my father said. “The car is right outside.”

I looked at my father. He would not meet my eye. He looked at everything but my face. He kept smacking his lips and I saw him swallow hard like something was stuck in his throat. He pushed my mother’s chair forward and I stepped aside to let them pass.

We were silent on the ride home. As soon as we got into the house, my father grabbed a beer from the fridge and plopped down in his chair to watch TV. My mother announced she was going to lay down. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and hesitated before going up to my room. I wondered if this was where my mother broke her arm. Some movement caught my attention and I glanced over at my father. He was tipping his head back to finish his beer. This was the beer he opened only a few minutes ago. I shook my head and went to my room.

I shut my door and laid on my bed. I had an escape mechanism that I used when life was too much to handle. I would withdraw into my head and dream up a story. I would visualize the story as a sandcastle or something else that I built with my hands. After virtually constructing the story in my head, sometimes I would sit and write it out on paper so I could take it to school and type it out later.

For some reason I could not find peace in my head. Usually, ideas would come from a cloud over my head and when they fell, I would form them into a narrative or a poem. Everything that fell from my idea cloud was dark and depressing. My stomach rumbled and I gave up on my imaginary world. I looked at the clock, it was almost seven.

I got out of bed and started for the door. I gave myself one last look in the mirror.

“Quit being such a girl,” I told myself.

I grabbed my favorite hoodie from my closet and draped it over my shoulder.

I was unnerved on my way down the stairs. It was quiet. When I got to the landing, I noticed my father was not in his chair. I walked through the the living room and found my mother sitting at the table by herself. She was eating leftover meatloaf, drinking milk, and reading a romance novel.

“Hi mom,” I said.

“Oh, hi honey,” my mom said as she put her book down. “I didn’t hear you come down.”

“Where’s dad,” I asked.

“He didn’t feel like leftovers. I told him that was all I felt up to making tonight, with my arm and all,” she said with a shrug. “He said he would go pick up Tony for dinner and a few beers.”

Tony was dad’s drinking buddy. If they were on the town, my father would not come home until very late.

“I was going to go to a party with Trevor,” I said, trying to hide how angry I was with my father. “But I think I’ll go tell him that I’m going to stay home with you.”

“Oh, that’s sweet,” my mother said with a hand motion like she was shooing a fly. “But I can take care of myself. Besides, if I take another of the pain pills the hospital gave me, I’ll be sleeping in no time anyways.”

I quickly ate some meatloaf with my mom and went next door to wait for Trevor on the porch swing. As I sat and listened to the creaking swing, I thought about my father. He didn’t care enough to stay home and take care of mom. I thought about how uncomfortable he looked when I met them at the hospital. I then realized why my dad couldn’t look me in the eye as he stood there behind mom’s wheel chair. I understood that his shifty eyes and his swallowing weren’t because he was uncomfortable with hospitals. He felt guilty.

I thought about all the times my dad had gotten angry. I remembered times when mom sent me to my room and I had to turn my music up to full volume to drown out the sound of my parents fighting. I remembered hearing crashing sounds and finding broken dishes in the garbage the next day. I remembered my mother wearing more foundation makeup on days after she argued with my father. I couldn’t believe I had not seen it before but my father wasn’t just a lazy drunk. He was abusing my mother.

Trevor’s front door opened and my friend stepped out and onto the porch. He said something, but I was too angry to notice.

I said, “Let’s go,” and I jumped out of the swing and made my way to the passenger side of Trevor’s car. I figured if I could just get to this stupid party, maybe I could forget about my asshole father for a while.

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