So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.
Some kids look at me strange in the hallways because I don’t decorate my locker, and I’m the one who beat up Sean and couldn’t stop crying after he did it. I guess I’m pretty emotional.
My advanced English teacher asked me to call him “Bill” when we’re not in class, and he gave me another book to read. He says that I have great skill at reading and understanding language, and he wanted me to write an essay about To Kill a Mockingbird.
I walked into the kitchen, and I saw my dad making a sandwich…and crying. He was crying harder than even my mom. And I couldn’t believe it. When he finished making his sandwich, he put away the things in the refrigerator and stopped crying and wiped his eyes and saw me. Then, he walked up, patted my shoulder, and said, “This is our little secret, okay, champ?”
“Okay,” I said.
Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.
I feel infinite.
“He’s something, isn’t he?”
Bob nodded his head. Patrick then said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
“He’s a wallflower.”
And Bob really nodded his head. And the whole room nodded their head. And I started to feel nervous in the Bob way, but Patrick didn’t let me get too nervous. He sat down next to me.
“You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”
I have decided that maybe I want to write when I grow up. I just don’t know what I would write.
Sometimes, I look at my parents now and wonder what happened to make them the way they are. And I wonder what will happen to my sister when her boyfriend graduates from law school. And what my brother’s face will look like on a football card, or what it will look like if it is never on a football card. My dad played college baseball for two years, but he had to stop when Mom got pregnant with my brother. That’s when he started working at the office.
When we were all getting ready to leave, I walked up to my grandfather and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He wiped my lip print off with his palm and gave me a look. He doesn’t like the boys in the family to touch him. But I’m very glad that I did it anyway in case he dies. I never got to do that with my Aunt Helen.
I had an amazing feeling when I finally held the tape in my hand. I just thought to myself that in the palm of my hand, there was this one tape that had all of these memories and feelings and great joy and sadness. Right there in the palm of my hand. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs.
It was an old 45 record that had the Beatles’ song “Something.” I used to listen to it all the time when I was little and thinking about grown-up things. I would go to my bedroom window and stare at my reflection in the glass and the trees behind it and just listen to the song for hours. I decided then that when I met someone I thought was as beautiful as the song, I should give it to that person. And I didn’t mean beautiful on the outside. I meant beautiful in all ways. So, I was giving it to Sam.
I feel like a big faker because I’ve been putting my life back together, and nobody knows.
I don't know what it was, and I know we didn't really accomplish
anything, but it felt great to sit there and talk about our place in things. It was like when Bill told me to “participate.” I went to the homecoming dance like I told you before, but this was much more fun. It was especially fun to think that people all over the world were having similar conversations in their equivalent of the Big Boy.
I won't go into detail about the whole show, but I had the best time I ever had in my whole life. I'm not kidding. I got to pretend that I was singing, and I got to dance around, and I got to wear a “feather boa” in the grande finale, which I wouldn't have thought anything of because it's part of the show, but Patrick couldn't stop talking about it.
Just before she fell asleep, she said, "Well, if you're going to smoke, crack the window at least." Which made me start laughing again.
"Charlie, smoking. I can't believe it."
Which made me laugh harder, and I said, "I love you." And my sister said, "I love you, too. Just stop it with the laughing already."
I could say that it was the wine or the beer that I chugged. I could also say that I had forgotten the time Mary Elizabeth asked me if I thought she was pretty. But I would be lying. The truth is that when Patrick dared me, I knew that if I kissed Mary Elizabeth, I would be lying to everyone. Including Sam. Including Patrick. Including Mary Elizabeth. And I just couldn't do it anymore. Even if it was part of a game.
“You ever think, Charlie, that our group is the same as any other group like the football team? And the only real difference between us is what we wear and why we wear it?”
“Yeah?” And there was this pause.
“Well, I think it's all bullshit.”
And he meant it. It was hard to see him mean it that much.
So, he said “thanks” and hugged me again. And moved in to kiss me again. And I just let him. I don't know why. We stayed in his car for a long time.
“Charlie. Please don't take this the wrong way. I'm not trying to make you feel uncomfortable. I just want you to know that you're very special . . . and the only reason I'm telling you is that I don't know if anyone else ever has.”
“Charlie, don't you get it? I can't feel that. It's sweet and everything, but it's like you're not even there sometimes. It's great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn't need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can't just sit there and put everybody's lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can't. You have to do things.”
“I can't do that anymore. I'm sorry,” I said.
“It's okay, Charlie. Just go to sleep,” Sam said.
But I wasn't talking to Sam anymore. I was talking to someone else. When I fell asleep, I had this dream. My brother and my sister and I were watching television with my Aunt Helen. Everything was in slow motion. The sound was thick. And she was doing what Sam was doing. That's when I woke up. And I didn't know what the hell was going on.
It's like if I blamed my aunt Helen, I would have to blame her dad for hitting her and the friend of the family that fooled around with her when she was little. And the person that fooled around with him. And God for not stopping all this and things that are much worse. And I did do that for a while, but then I just couldn't anymore. Because it wasn't going anywhere. Because it wasn't the point.
I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.
But mostly, I was crying because I was suddenly very aware of the fact that it was me standing up in that tunnel with the wind over my face. Not caring if I saw downtown. Not even thinking about it. Because I was standing in the tunnel. And I was really there. And that was enough to make me feel infinite.