Copyright© 2021 by Mark Elias
If it hadn’t been for my phone, I would have had a hard time keeping track of what day it was. Several times I had to look down at my phone to get confirmation, and even then, I would have to do the math in my head to make sure that was right. Monday, I had taken the pills and gotten rushed to the hospital. I woke up on Tuesday afternoon and by that night I was rushed into surgery. I didn’t wake up again until Wednesday morning and talked to the detective that afternoon. I was still worried that I was doing the right thing by pressing charges against Mark. My parents supported me, but it was Debbie Moon who really made me think I was doing the right thing.
“Alex,” she said, “you have to understand something. There will always be someone in your life who wants to bully you. It doesn’t matter how popular you are, how smart you are, or how strong you are. There will always be someone envious of who you are or what you have. Assholes like Mark Green will never be content with what they have. They are too insecure within themselves. If you don’t stand up to them and make them suffer the consequences of their actions, then they will always come after you. You’re not in a position to fight back at him physically, and even if you were, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Bullies don’t respond to physical violence against them. You have to hit them where it hurts. So you stand up to Mark and make him pay by going to jail.”
“Thank you.” It was the only thing I knew to say. She was right after all.
“I’m going to get going. I have some things to do at the house, but if you’d like I can bring Allie by this afternoon.”
“No.” It wasn’t a harsh reply like I had given to my father the last few years when he wanted me to go to her birthday party. It was quiet and almost reflective. “I’m not sure what to say to her, yet.”
“Alex, she misses you. She wants to see you.”
“I know. I’m just not ready yet.”
“Okay. Whenever you are ready, I’ll bring her by.”
Thursday afternoon the detective stopped by with some papers for my parents to sign.
“I just want to make sure you guys understand the process. No matter how bad Mark’s actions are, he is still viewed as a minor in the eyes of the court. At least until he goes before a judge. The prosecutor may try him as an adult. That’s beyond my jurisdiction. After these papers have been signed, they will be processed. Monday morning we will meet Mark’s parents at the school and arrest him there. It’s most likely that he won’t spend very long at all in jail until someone has posted bail for him. Again, he’s still a minor in the eyes of the law so courts usually allow children to be put into the custody of their parents.”
“What if he comes after me?”
“That’s where these papers come in. This is a restraining order preventing Mark from coming within one thousand feet of you. It also prevents him from coming onto the school grounds until after his trial.”
The rest of the afternoon I was out of it. My mind was wandering all over the place. I was constantly filling my own head with ideas about what was going to happen. I just knew that Mark was going to come after me and kill me. My parents tried to keep me distracted as best as they could, but they could tell my mind was out of it. Still, they didn’t pressure me to talk about anything.
True to the doctor’s words, the nurses came by just before dinner and removed the tube from my nose. The nurses at least let me have some ice chips to help my throat not feel so irritated. I was too weak to be angry, and too tired to try and cause a scene, not that I would have to begin with.
“Alex,” the nurse started with a sweet smile, and I should have known I was about to hate something, “we need to get you up and walking.”
“It hurts to move.”
“I know it does, Sweetheart, and I hate to ask you to do this, but we have to. We need to get you up and walking to help your blood flow. The more your blood flows, the quicker you heal.”
“I wish we didn’t have to, but we do. We’re just going to walk down the hall and back. Then we’ll get you settled again, okay?”
It hurt to walk. I could feel where they had cut my stomach for the laparotomy. I could also feel where I hadn’t been moving for several days. It was painful to just move my legs much less make them support my weight. I was panting heavily by the time we made it back to the room.
Friday morning I had my catheter removed which was a weird, painful and awkward experience in all of itself, but at least, according to the nurse, this meant I was getting better. I didn’t feel like I was though. The first sign to me that I was getting better was on Saturday afternoon when the nurse brought in some apple juice, beef broth, and jello. Most of it was extremely bland, but at least it was warm. For me, that was the first sign that I was actually getting better.
The next five days were the most boring days I’d ever had. Each day I was getting a little stronger. At least three times a day, usually before a meal, the nurses would come in and make me walk. Each time I was walking a little bit further. It still hurt, but it started to become a competition with myself. How far could I walk before I knew I had to turn around. The first time I really pushed myself I pushed too much and had to get a wheelchair to make it back to the room, but at least I knew the signs now. I knew when I was about to hit a wall.
After I had been in the hospital for a week and a half I started getting irritable. My parents and The Moons had been regulars. They didn’t all come at the same time, but I was fairly certain they had made some sort of rotation. They’d give me an hour or so by myself, usually when they knew the nurses were going to feed me or get me up and walking.
Finally on Friday morning, ten days after being rushed in for emergency surgery, the doctor came into my room with a smile.
“We’ve had a few things we’ve wanted to keep an eye on, that’s why you’ve been in here so long. Acetaminophen, which is what you call Tylenol, is really helpful to us, but in really large doses it can be really harmful to your liver and kidneys. Alex took five times the recommended dosage for an entire 24 hour day. The good news is that he was found quickly and treated within a window of time that makes it likely he will fully recover. We’ve done a few liver function tests and some of his levels are still a bit high, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The liver is one of the few organs in the human body that can actually repair itself. I’ll have you come back in to get some tests done in about a month and we will see what happens. Between now and then, I want you to be careful. If you notice anything out of the ordinary call us right away. Especially if you get nauseous, have abdominal pain, or you notice your skin turning a yellow color.”
“So he’s free to go?” My dad was smiling.
“Yes. We were keeping an eye on his blood sugar levels because he was slightly hypoglycemic. That’s not out of the ordinary for someone who has suffered liver damage. That problem will take care of itself. If you notice yourself getting dizzy, Alex, then just try to get some sugar in you like a Peppermint candy, or something. If it gets too bad or happens frequently, then come back in and we will do some more tests. We are going to send you home with a prescription for prednisone.”
“What for?” It was my mom now. My dad probably understood, but the doctor might as well have been talking in latin to her.
“Some of our tests showed that he had acute thrombocytopenia. What that means is his blood platelet count is really low. Platelets are what makes blood clot, so bleeding stops. This is a common side effect of liver damage. Again, I’m not overly concerned with it at the moment. Acetaminophen poisoning can cause these sorts of issues, but we believe that Alex will be fine. He’s showing no signs of pain other than the residual pain from getting beaten up. His liver enzymes, while not completely normal, show signs of returning to normal.”
“What if things don’t get better?” It was my turn to be scared.
“The worst case scenario would be that your liver fails. With acetaminophen poisoning, if treatment is not administered within 8 hours the chances of liver damage go up exponentially. You were here getting treatment within two hours. So I’m optimistic about your chances. If, and that’s a very big if, something goes wrong, and your liver fails, we would be looking at having to have a liver transplant. However I don’t want you to worry about that. I’m very confident that you will be just fine. The nurse will come in shortly to get you ready to go. You can schedule a follow up at the desk on the way out.” The doctor looked to my parents, then back to me, “Alex, you’ve got a great set of parents and what looks to be a very strong support system. I hope you realize that.”
I could only nod and look down.
It was almost dinner time when we pulled up to the house. I was still moving rather gingerly, mostly from the effects of the abdominal surgery. It didn’t hit me that I had packed up my entire room before I tried to kill myself. My dad was standing just behind me, his hand on my back for support as I carefully took the stairs leading to my room. When I opened the door I was taken by surprise. Someone had come in and put all my stuff back where it was, or at least close to it. There were small things that were different, like a picture on a different wall, but everything was there. My bed had even been made for me. My dad must have figured out that I was confused because I had stopped just inside the doorway.
“Allie came by yesterday. She’s stopped by every day this week to ask us how you were. We’ve not told her everything out of respect for you. We felt there were some things that you needed to share with her when the time was right. I can’t, and won’t, force you to do that, but I do think you need to do it soon.”
“I know I need to. I just don’t know what to say.”
“Alex, words have always been difficult for you. This is just my opinion, but I think part of your problem is that you think too much. You’ve always been a smart kid. Sometimes I have to remind myself you are just fourteen. You let your mind get in the way of your heart. When the time comes, just say what’s in your heart. Allie is a wonderful girl, and she’s been a great friend to you over the years. She may just surprise you.”
I nodded and went to my bed.
“You should lay down for a bit while Mom gets dinner ready. It’ll just be something light. I’m sure you aren’t up for a heavy meal and we are all exhausted, so I know she doesn’t feel like making something big. I’ll come get you when it’s ready.”
I nodded and sat back against the wall on my bed. I stared at the phone for a second. I was debating whether or not to call Allison. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that. The more I thought about it the more I realized that we needed to talk in person. A phone conversation wasn’t good enough. There was so much the two of us needed to share and a phone conversation was just too impersonal for that. I reached over to put my phone on the table so that I could maybe lay back and take a short nap, and that’s when I saw it.
For her birthday I had framed up a picture of me and Allison, when we were eight. Like most southern families we had multiple “junk drawers” where you just threw stuff in that you’d need at some point later, but you didn’t have a specific spot for it. Every good southern home has at least one and most have two or three. Everyone has one in the kitchen, and usually your dad would have one somewhere to collect the screws he never used putting together the TV stand. We happened to have another one that collected old pictures and papers that we “needed to keep” but never got around to storing properly. It was in that drawer that I found the old picture of Allison and myself. We had been riding a horse her father had just bought her for her birthday. Allison’s smile was beaming as bright as sunshine. I on the other hand was gripped tightly around Allison’s waist holding on for dear life. I put the picture in a relatively plain looking silver frame and gave it to Allison for her birthday this year.
It seemed I wasn’t the only sentimental one. Sitting on the nightstand beside my desk was a picture of Allison and I at Wild Adventures. I remembered the day it had been taken. It was taken on my 9th birthday. I had never had a birthday party, a fact that Allison just couldn’t get over. I wouldn’t relent to having a party, but I had agreed to spend the day with Allison and her family in Valdosta at the park. My mom, since she worked for them at the time, had arranged for us to have a guided backstage tour of the animal park. The picture that had been taken was of Allison and I playing with the two-toed sloths. The frame she had placed the picture in made my eyes water. It wasn’t gaudy but was made of silver. Along the bottom, engraved in a fancy calligraphic script, were the words “Friends Forever.”
I picked my phone back up and opened it up. I still didn’t want to call Allison. I needed to see her in person even if I wasn’t ready, but I didn’t want to reach out to her. I opened up my messenger and sent a quick text to her that said “Thank you!” Her reply was almost immediate and was simple. She just sent me back a smiley face emoticon followed by a gif of Tigger hugging Winnie the Pooh. It brought a smile to my face and eased my fears, if but for a few moments.
Saturday went by without so much as a whisper from Allison, though Peter and Debbie Moon stopped by that afternoon to see how I was doing.
“Alex, Lou wanted me to tell you that if you ever want to learn how to train horses, to let him know. Seems he really enjoyed having you around.”
“It was fun!” I was trying not to show too much enthusiasm but I really had enjoyed working with the horses. I hated doing the menial chores like cleaning stalls and paddocks, but then again who really enjoys shoveling shit from one pile to the next? “Did he finish with El Jefe?”
“Yeah. He had a little trouble with that one, but that’s to be expected from a horse as hot-blooded as he is. We’ve already sent him back to Texas.”
I was a little disappointed at not being able to see the buckskin stallion again, but I knew the horse wasn’t ours to keep.
“Would you like to work at the stables again this summer? We can always use some help. Maybe this year we’ll get you to do a little more than just mucking out stalls. Thanks to your dad and mom I’ve got some fresh blood coming in this spring. I’m having to hire several more people. I’ll need someone who knows what they are doing to show the others around. What do you say?” Peter Moon was always so hard to read, but this was one of the occasions you could tell he was being sincere. He really did want help and really did want me to do it.
“Sure! If Mom and Dad say it’s okay.”
“I’ve already talked to them. This year I’m really going to need the help. I’m working with a group called Habitat for Horses. They are based in Texas, but they get calls from all over the place. They work with horses that have been abused and neglected. They get them healthy, train them, and then adopt them out. I’ve agreed to foster several horses for them. That’s going to add a lot of pressure to us so having someone I can trust will help me a lot. That also means that I’m going to need you five days a week. After speaking with your mom and dad, we agreed that because you are just 14, I can’t officially hire you. But you are going to be doing a full day’s job and deserve to get paid as such. So we are going to give you $400 a week.”
Peter actually did laugh at that. “It’s a lot for a fourteen year old. Of course, more money means I’m going to require more work from you. It’ll mean more responsibility. You’re going to learn to do some handy work around the farm, like repairing fences and stuff. You’ll also start working more with the horses directly. You won’t be doing a lot with them, but I’ve spoken with Lou and he seems to think we can trust you doing some work with them.”
Peter nodded, “Alex, I don’t usually make jokes. So yes, I’m being serious. That is, if you want to do it.”
“Of course I will!”
The conversation turned to other things for a while as my parents caught up on things that DIDN’T involve me. Debbie was eager to get together with both families again as we hadn’t done that in quite a while. In fact the last time both of our families had gotten together as a group was the July 4th incident when Mark went to Wild Adventures with us. Debbie suggested we all have dinner tomorrow night. My mom was hesitant to do it right away.
“Tomorrow?” She looked at my dad first and then they both looked at me. It didn’t need to be spoken but the question was asked. They wanted to know if I was ready to deal with Allison. It was the giant albatross that hung over everyone’s head. Debbie seemed to be the only one willing to forge ahead without a thought to the consequences. Everyone else was wanting to tiptoe around me. I hesitated for a moment, really asking myself if I was ready to talk to Allison.
“Maybe tomorrow isn’t a good time...” My mom had started to put the dinner off until a later time, having taken my hesitation as a sign I wasn’t ready.
“That’s okay,” Debbie smiled, “We can...”
“Can we have meatloaf?” I stopped the entire conversation when I spoke. It was the first sign from me, in over two years, that I was ready to sit down with Allison. “I haven’t had anything good to eat in over a week. I’m tired of broths and eggs. I want something greasy and bad for me.”
My mom laughed, “I’ve just been following the doctor’s orders! But meatloaf does sound good.” She looked to Debbie, and I could tell the two of them were trying to hide their true feelings. They were about as excited as kids in a candy store, but they kept their emotions in check. “I’ll make the meatloaf and dessert if you want to make the sides.”
My dad slapped Peter on the shoulder, “Sounds like a good time for us to get into a bottle of Four Roses 130th Anniversary Bourbon that has been calling my name.”
I put on a brave face all day Sunday and pretended that I wasn’t nervous about actually talking with Allison for the first time in over two years. I don’t count the confrontations in the hallways or the accidental phone call, or even the one day we spent at Wild Adventures for the Fourth of July. None of those were actual conversations. They were one or two sentences spoken out of necessity or anger. This was the first conversation we’d had since our fight. I was practically a bundle of nerves. When my mom asked me if I was okay, I just nodded, not daring to speak because I didn’t trust words at the moment. It was my dad who caught me by myself just after lunch.
“Alex, you need to calm down.” My dad was throwing away the trash from the sandwiches we had eaten for lunch. We knew dinner would be big and didn’t want to fill up on anything else.
“I’m fine, Dad.” If I said the words enough then perhaps, I would start to believe them.
My dad laughed a deep chest rattling laugh, “Son, you’re so nervous right now, if you were of age, I’d offer you some bourbon.” He shook his head, “Hell, I should probably offer you some anyway just to get you to calm down.”
“It’s just sort of overwhelming.”
“Which part exactly?”
“All of it.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“That’s the thing. I don’t know if I want to talk about it. Everyone has been walking around on eggshells, treating me as if I’m liable to break at any moment.”
“We’re just concerned for you is all.”
“I know, and most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I know you and Mom aren’t forcing me to talk about anything. You’re letting me set my own pace, and I appreciate that more than I can say.”
I sighed, “I guess I’m just scared of the answers I’m going to give when the questions do start coming.”
“Son, there is nothing you can say that will make us stop loving you. We may not like some of the answers, but whatever happens, nothing will ever be broken beyond repair when it comes to your mother and me. It may take time, but we’ll fix it. We’re family and that’s what families do.”
“What about Allison?”
“Alex,” His tone was still calm, but there was also a hint of finality to it. Like he was telling me something I should have known already. “She’s been your only real friend for as long as I can remember. She’s stuck by you no matter what. Even through this whole mess you two have been caught up in, she’s never really given up on you.”
He cut me off, “No buts, Alex. You may not see it, but you’ve got to realize that you haven’t been looking at things with a clear set of eyes. Everything you’ve been looking at has been tainted with your own emotions. As the old saying goes, there are always two sides to every story. You only know the story from your side. It’s time you learn hers.”
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know her side of the story. “But what if she ends up hating me?”
“First of all, I don’t think it’s possible for that girl to hate anyone. Well ... maybe Mark Green, but outside of him ... I doubt it. Second of all, if for some reason Allie doesn’t forgive you and you two don’t see eye to eye, we will deal with it. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll hurt and I’m sure you’ll cry some about it. That would only be natural, but you’ll move on. We’re going to have to work a little bit harder to get you caught up in school since I doubt we are going to let you go back to school for at least another week, but you WILL pass the eighth grade and move on to high school. Once you’re there you’ll meet new people and make new friends. That’s life, even for an emotional, over thinking, hormonal teenager.”
I laughed and gave my dad a little one armed side hug, “Thanks.”
It was almost three hours later when Debbie, Peter and Allison came up the driveway. I didn’t go down to meet them, no matter how far I had come I was still nervous and still holding on to things. My mind was working overtime coming up with all these scenarios, all of which ended with Allison saying she hated me and wanted nothing to do with me. Hearing them make small talk downstairs made my heart begin to race. Fear and dread began to take hold and for a moment I could feel The Darkness trying to creep its way back into my mind. Then I heard the sounds of footsteps coming up the stairs and with every step I felt the breath leaving my body. I had been sitting at my computer and purposely left the door open so that I could hear what was going on downstairs. The gentle rapping of knuckles on the door made me turn around.
“Hey,” there was a shyness to her voice today. I had to admit that it helped me not be quite as nervous as I had been, knowing that she may have had some anxiety or uneasiness about this meeting.
“Hey,” Yeah, great way to start a conversation, but I at least did stand up to greet her. If this had been just a story and not real life this meeting would have been one of the most romantic things in the world. I would have told you how we ran to each other and wrapped our arms around each other in a warm embrace of forgiveness. But this isn’t a story. This is real life. And it was the most awkward I think I’ve ever felt. Part of me did want to cross the divide of the room and give her a hug, and I did start to move towards her, but I only made it to the edge of the bed before sitting down.
“How are you feeling?” she said. She crossed the space of the room and took up position on my bed with her back leaning on the headboard. I couldn’t quite bring myself to turn around and look at her, no matter how much I wanted to.
“Okay, I guess.”
I started to get upset at the question, but could tell she was only trying to understand why I was saying it.
“I mean, physically I’m better.”
“Well ... that’s good at least, right?”
“Yeah. The doctors think I’ll be fine. I have to go back in a few weeks for a follow up.”
“Yeah, my mom was telling me about it. They said if we hadn’t found you so quickly you could have had to get a liver transplant?”
“Yeah.” What do you say to someone who saved your life, even if you didn’t think you deserved it at the time? Thank you just didn’t seem like the right thing to say. Those two words just didn’t seem to fit. Even though I would mean them, they also seemed hollow and cliché.
“How was your birthday?” My dad had told me just to speak from my heart, but my mind wasn’t quite letting go yet. I didn’t trust myself.
Allison laughed a bit and I heard the merriment return to her. It almost made me smile. “It was good. Although I don’t recommend having a pool party in a public pool.”
She laughed again, “Well everything was great until Becca’s little sister peed in the pool! I felt so sorry for her. Becca had to bring her sister since her dad is still overseas in Iraq and her mom had no one to watch her. I didn’t mind, I like the little kids. We were playing around in the pool after we had eaten when someone started to tickle Becca’s little sister. She kept telling the guy to stop because she was going to pee, but I guess he didn’t think she was serious.”
“She peed on him?”
Allison was outright giggling now, “Yeah. I felt so sorry for the girl! She was mortified!”
“Did everyone notice?”