Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chapter 11~~Home

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

They kept Eddy in the hospital for eight days. When Jo and Larry arrived at the ward Friday afternoon to pick him up, he was dressed in his street clothes and standing expectantly at the nurses’ station.

“Hi, Mom and Dad!” he said cheerfully. “Are we ready to go?”

“I guess so,” Jo faltered.

“There are some forms here that you need to sign,” the nurse behind the counter prompted.

“Okay.” Jo signed without reading them.

“This one just says you’re taking Eddy home with you,” the nurse explained. “This one says you’re responsible for the bill. This one confirms that you’re taking his medications with you. This one releases us from liability. This one says you got back everything he came in with ... ” She pushed a brown paper bag across the counter.

Passing through the locked double doors a few minutes later, their son and his meager belongings in tow, felt like making landfall after a dangerous sea voyage. They floated down the elevator on a fog of good feeling, were buffeted across the parking lot on windy hope. When they reached the little black Nissan, Jo climbed into the back seat, partly to honor the boy who’d steered across the risky crossing, partly to spare herself the discomfort of being in front -- on display. “That feels good,” she murmured from the back seat as they pulled out of the parking lot, warmth suffusing her body from the thighs up.

She saw Eddy turn to look at his father and smile. From behind, the backs of both their heads looked painfully vulnerable. Larry’s black hair, a wild tangle of curls when Jo had met him, was trimmed short now and interwoven with gray. A pink strap that held his glasses rested on his shirt collar. As if in anticipation of a future comb over, he had let the mostly silver hair on top of his head grow slightly longer than the rest in a haircut reminiscent of Stan Laurel. He looked straight ahead, not returning Eddy’s glance, never swerving on the road home, his hands gripping the steering wheel with unusual force. Eddy’s hair in contrast was long and uncombed. It was dirty, dark chestnut brown, too thin for an 18-year-old boy/man. Jo wanted to put her fingers in his hair and massage his head, the center of so much turmoil, but she knew better than to touch him now. His reaction couldn’t be predicted. She remembered how she had cradled his head in her hands when he was just a baby -- the unusual, oblong shape of it, the back of his skull stretching out far beyond the expected limit in a magnificent curve, as if to encompass a larger than usual brain.

They spoke little on the ride home, afraid that raising mundane matters of the world outside might turn the tide, throw their ship back into danger. They had agreed beforehand not to mention her diagnosis, yet. There would be time enough for that later, after he stabilized. When they got home, they spilled out of the car ungracefully and hurried into the house.

“Hey Eddy!” Michael was waiting for his brother on the big couch in the living room and greeted his entry with enthusiasm. Larry lay down on the loveseat. Eddy and Jo sat on the couch next to Michael. Rose was still away on a road trip, having neatly missed all the tumult. She was due back the next day, though, and Jo wondered how she would report her breast cancer, and Eddy’s nervous breakdown, to her daughter. Would this week become a funny story they told around the kitchen table some day? Was it over now?
“How was the hospital?” Michael wanted to know, dismissing their misgivings about breaking a spell. “Are you glad to get out?”

“It was okay,” Eddy’s words came out too loudly for the quiet room. His eyes grew bright. “It was an experience, all right. Not one that I would want to have again. But then again, maybe I would. I managed to escape alive, but that’s because I lied to the doctors. If you ever find yourself in the psych ward, Michael, all you have to do is tell them what they want to hear. They let me out! Can you believe that crap?” Eddy started laughing excitedly and Jo looked at him with alarm.

“What do you mean, Eddy?” she asked cautiously, glancing over at Larry. “Do you mean they shouldn’t have let you out?”

“No. No. No! They definitely should have let me out. I was through with them two days ago. There’s nothing going on there! Some of the patients are okay. There was one girl that was sending out some interesting messages. But omigod you sit and draw a picture in group therapy and then they give you a little paper cup full of pills. Like I’m going to take that shit!”

They sat quietly for a moment, absorbing his words.

“What does that mean, Eddy?” Jo finally asked gently, not wanting to increase his agitation. “Didn’t you take the pills -- the medication?”

“Well I did take it. Yeah. I took it at first because I thought I was supposed to. But then I couldn’t sleep all night. The man in my room kept moaning and rolling over in his bed. And I wanted to get up and take a shower because I smelled like SHIT, but first I needed the little socks they give you with tread on the bottom so I wouldn’t be walking over all those germy germs on the floor and absorbing them through my skin. But I had to take a shower right away because GOD DID I STINK!” he started laughing again. “It was an IMPOSSIBLE dilemma! If I got up to take a shower, I’d get the germs coming into my body through my feet. But if I stayed in bed, I’d die of asphyxiation or something because I swear I was sweating out TOXIC FUMES. That medicine they give you is LETHAL! And they don’t ask you. They don’t check on you. They don’t want to know how it’s working. I swear I only talked to the doctor ONE TIME for maybe two minutes in a tiny little room. Of course I didn’t tell him about the sparks flying around his head. I knew he didn’t want to hear about THOSE. He didn’t want to hear that I could see what he was THINKING,” he laughed gleefully. “He didn’t even know that his thoughts were projecting on the wall behind him! Can you believe that shit? But I was smart. I kept my mouth shut. I sure as HELL didn’t tell him that I could control his MOOD if I wanted, or that I could see all this stuff coming off him ... ”

Jo looked anxiously over at Larry and realized with alarm that he was crying. He had his hand over his closed eyelids, his fingers resting on his forehead, but there was no mistaking the wet streak on his cheek. Suddenly, she was afraid. In 20 years of marriage, she’d only seen her husband cry once -- when his cat died. Now he was crying for the second time in one week, and nothing seemed more important to her than that he stop. If he didn’t stop crying, Jo felt certain they’d be back in a dangerous passage, between clashing rocks. His tears were a life-threatening leak in their vessel. If someone didn’t stop them, they would all be lost.

Jo turned her scared face to Eddy and pointed frantically at his father. She put her finger urgently to her lips in a sign for him to stop talking. “Your father is crying,” she mouthed the words silently, and traced two tears down her cheeks.

Eddy looked over at his father and was visibly stunned. His eyes widened. His head pulled back. “I could see this stuff ... ” he trailed off. “But the meds ... I took the meds they gave me.” He forcibly slowed his words down. “I think they helped.”
Jo didn’t care if he was lying. She was grateful for what he said.

“I’m glad you took them, Eddy.” she said slowly, thanking him silently with her eyes and nodding encouragingly. “And I think you should keep taking them until you get your feet on the ground. I think we’re all pretty upset and wiped out. That was a pretty traumatic experience. I made a bed up for you in the back room. Do you want to see it?”


They both got up carefully from the couch and walked to the back room together. When Jo glanced back toward the living room, she saw that Michael had his face covered, too, like his father. She turned her attention to Eddy as she drew him away.

“I’m sorry you can’t have your old room back, Eddy, because Michael moved into it as soon as you moved out. But hopefully you won’t mind staying in Rose’s old bedroom.”
They entered a room which was painted a bright, garish blue on two walls and the ceiling. Big white stars were splashed randomly across the blue background. Two other walls were white, painted over laboriously after Jo realized how dark she had inadvertently made the room in her enthusiasm for color. The $500 red carpet she’d chosen had to be discarded because it looked so bad. Now the floor was bare, just the 20-year-old linoleum left over from the previous owners: specks of blue on a white background, like Eddy’s hospital gowns.

Eddy stood in the dark room and looked around dispiritedly. “Yeah. Well. I won’t be staying here too long anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.”

“No.” Jo said cautiously, sitting down on the bed. “Probably not. But Dad said you wanted to stay until the end of the semester, anyway. You have less than a month to go, right? And I know you want to pass all your classes so you won’t lose your admission to UC Berkeley in the Fall.”

“Yeah. I guess.” He was noncommittal. He looked around the room, which had Jo’s big desk in it, her vanity, her file cabinet, a small couch in front of the window with the stuffing coming out of the cushions, the oversized basket chair from Cost Plus, and a small single bed in the corner nearest the door. He wasn’t pleased.

“I know it’s not ideal, Eddy. But at least it can do in a pinch, can’t it? I can get most of my stuff out of here, if you want. Rose liked it well enough all those years it was hers.” Rose, too, had had her bedroom confiscated the moment she left for college. Jo’d moved her office in here, Michael had moved into Eddy’s basement room, and Larry had set up a movie theater in Michael’s old room, along with another single bed for guests. Jo felt guilty about not leaving their old rooms in tact.

“Yeah. That would be nice if you could get your crap out of here, I guess. Or maybe it doesn’t matter.” Eddy still stood in the center of the room. All the energy seemed to have drained out of him. His eyes looked dull. “Did the doctor give you those medications?”

“Yes. I’ve got them in the other room. Do you want to take them now?”

“Yes. I guess I should.”

When Jo walked back into the living room, she found Larry sitting up, working on his laptop. Michael mirrored his father, sitting in silence and computing on the couch. All cheeks were dry. She picked up her purse without speaking and brought the pills back to Eddy.

That night, she had another dream.

Eddy and Larry face each other at a crossroads, a place in the countryside where three roads meet. Jo and Larry’s home⎯a palace⎯looms in the distance. Larry wants to walk his bike across the intersection, but Eddy and his bike are in the way.

“Step aside,” Larry says.

“Why should I?” says Eddy.

“Move over,” Larry says. “I’m in charge here.”

Eddy shrugs a little, as if acquiescing. Then he bends down to the roadway, picks up a rock, and smashes it into his father’s head.

Cut Off will be published in June.


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