The days blur together while I’m in the hospital room. It’s as though time holds no meaning and everything occurs simultaneously, hours and minutes overlap each other to become a mass of indefinable nothingness. I spend most of my time going over what seeing Billy will be like. Making up words that he might say, and practicing the ones I will say in return. Benji stays, he doesn’t go to school, he doesn’t work…he does nothing but stay in the room, only leaving when Tony comes by so they can have a few minutes alone in the hall. Of course I know he can’t stand it here…how could he when the entire building reeks of antiseptic and alcohol and something else, that faint scent of death and decay, I’m sure he can smell that too. He’s become a coffee junkie, he leaves the room constantly to retrieve warm cups of the liquid. I realize he only does it to get out of the room, to get away from me. I can’t blame him of course…How could I when I myself feel like a corpse rotting away in the bed, the room my tomb…the window, the door, my only way out.
I look awful, I don’t have to see myself to know I do, it’s in the faces of everyone who comes in the door. They try not to stare at me, they tell me I look great and I’ll be leaving in a day or two. They’re just being polite of course, I haven’t been eating well, my hair is a mess and I can honestly say I haven’t had a decent shower in days. It’s funny how in shows they always show these sappy or romantic reunions in hospitals. A man’s wife goes into a coma for a few years, the minute she comes out of it he has his arms around her and he’s giving her the most passionate kiss you’ve ever seen. If you really think about it kissing someone who’s been in a coma probably wouldn’t be all that appealing, I would imagine their breath would be horrible and the rest of their grooming conditions not much better. Hell, I’ve only been in here for a few days and I know if I was someone else I wouldn’t want to kiss me.
“You’re leaving today.” I look up and Benji’s in the room again, a cup of coffee in his hand…how predictable. I move my gaze to the steam rising from the cup, it moves upward disappearing into the air. I wonder for a moment what it might be like to be the steam, to so easily disappear as though I never existed.
“That’s good.” I turn my gaze back to him and smile slightly, he seems different today, quieter, more reserved. “Uhh…you okay?” As soon as I ask the question I realize what’s different…Tony isn’t with him. He’s usually here by now, he comes over as soon as school lets out…but not today. I have to hold my tongue to keep myself from asking him where Tony is, not that it would upset him. I’d just prefer to wait till he mentions him on his own.
He looks a little surprised at first and then he smiles letting a slow stream of laughter escape from his lips, “Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be asking you?”
“No…” I pause, realizing there’s something about the simple line, ‘are you okay’ that’s suddenly unsettling. Lately it’s almost as if the line is reserved strictly for me, it’s all I ever hear. ‘Are you okay Joel…’, over and over again. And me…when have I last stopped to ask someone that same thing, to look past my own problems to worry about someone else? I haven’t, and maybe that makes me a self absorbed prick…I bet it does, it’s a wonder Benji still cares, anyone still cares about me. “I mean…” I sigh, it’s been so long since I’ve talked to Benji like a brother…since I’ve said anything un-Billy related to him and I’m almost scared that I don’t know what to say.
He watches me, his ears ready to absorb anything I say. He move closer to the bed his coffee cup still in his hand. I notice the steam is gone already…vanished, of course anyone else would say the coffee simply cooled down but I like to imagine the steam went somewhere better…that it escaped.
I feel the addition of his weight as he sits down, the small bed creaks in protest but does nothing more. His eyes seem uncharacteristically tired, his black spikes are hidden under a blue beanie one he undoubtedly only put on so he wouldn’t have to do his hair. He pulls his lip ring into his mouth and waits for me to continue.
“I haven’t been here for you…” The words are like a shameful confession, one you might tell a priest or your cat while in the privacy of your own home. They come out quick as if by saying them fast he might not understand their meaning.
He just smiles though and looks at me the way he used to look at me before Tony, before Billy…he looks at me with total undiluted love. “Joel, you’re always here for me. You’ve been going through a lot lately what with this whole Billy thing. Don’t worry about me okay? I’ve always been the one who takes care of you, I always will be.” He moves his arm over my chest and to the other side of the bed using it to support himself as he looks down at me, his brown eyes so different from Billy’s and so like my own. His other hand moves to my hair, he shoves back greasy strands that have all but attached themselves to my forehead and then his lips are moving toward mine. I shut my eyes and think about all those movies again, all those movies that show exactly this sort of moment. Movies with beautiful characters and dangerous male leads, movies that always…always have happy endings.
I expect to feel his lips on mine but instead I feel them on my cheek, a light peck and then they’re gone. I open my eyes slowly, confused but not totally disappointed. We are after all brothers…and the kisses, the touches, they had to stop at some point didn’t they? He’s staring at the window, the one with the closed blinds. He has a faraway look on his face, one so serious and so sad I want to cry for him, use my tears for a better cause… I trace his outline with my eyes, the curve of his back as he slumps so miserably on the bed, the shape of his mouth…
“I love him…it’s not like anything else in the world.” He mumbles lowering his gaze to his lap suddenly intrigued by it. I sit up and shove the blankets off me, viewing my legs for the first time in what seems forever. I feel vulnerable and cold in the skimpy hospital garment, but my own comfort isn’t what matters now. I slide next to him on the bed letting my legs dangle over the side, my feet brushing with the cold unfamiliar white floor. Hesitantly I move my arm around his back pulling him against my side. He remains immobile, lost in his thoughts, in his own pain. “He keeps getting skinnier, and he says he’ll eat, over and over again he says he’ll eat…but he never does.” So this is the reason for Benji’s pain, Tony. It’s ironic how easily the one we love most can hurt us more than anyone. I suppose love would be incomplete without the pain, it would be less intense, less dangerous. “He’s reckless…beautiful and reckless, and I love him.”
I can’t speak, my comforting skills are non existent…I’m the kind of person who goes speechless at the site of other people's pain. I should be an expert at this I suppose, I should know all the skills and techniques to makes someone feel better since that’s all people are ever doing for me… All I can do though is slowly rub his back offering him a silent comfort one given through actions rather than speech.
“We uh…we got in a fight today.” He gently pulls away and rises from the bed out of my grasp. He moves over to the wall by the window and leans in front of it dropping the un touched coffee into a garbage can at his feet. “I made him cry.” He says the words as though he’s only just now admitting to them. He moves his gaze from the garbage can to me, his eyes are distant…all but dead, "I made him cry.” This time as he says them he’s asking for me to understand them, for me to realize the extent of their meaning.
“Benji…” I can practically feel his pain, as though I’m absorbing it, as though its mixing with my own.
He shakes his head, a forced action and he walks toward the door. “It’s fine Joel…I uh, I’m gonna go get some coffee…yeah coffee.”
I nod, not bothering to remind him that he just threw away a whole cup of perfectly fine coffee, because I know it’s not coffee he’s running to…it’s me he’s running from. Me and a million words that I might say to try to comfort him.
I listen to the door as it clicks closed and he disappears. I get up immediately, my legs are shaky as they touch the floor, but I manage to walk over to the window and with a slow movement of my hand I move the blinds up. The window looks down onto the parking lot, I try to find Benji’s car in the sea of vehicles but I remember quickly that I had crashed it…it’s just another thing to feel guilty about of course. I owe him I realize, not just for the car but for a million other little things as well. I realize before I do anything…before I even think about Billy again I have to fix this, I have to make things right between him and Tony…I have to.
I move away from the window toward the makeshift cargo bag Benji had brought to keep his essentials in while he stayed with me at the hospital. I shuffle through the bag looking for clothes finally pulling out a pair of gray Dickies and a faded Ramones shirt. I grab a pair of Benji’s boxers as well and swiftly move toward the bathroom. The bathroom is of course tiny, the lights illuminating it are dim and probably haven’t been changed since the hospital first opened. I move in front of the tiny sink and stare at my reflection in the mirror. It’s as bad as I predicted it was, or maybe even worse. Cuts and faded bruises mark my skin making me look more like a graffi covered wall rather than anything else. I push my hair out of my face and trail my finger over a long cut in my forehead. The skin is rough under my touch…it’s an already healing wound one that will most likely turn into a scar. There’s something pleasing about it, the way the skin has crusted over so that it will heal. I think about picking at it just so that I might see it bleed. I don’t though, I drop my hand away and move my gaze to my hair. Without gel or a good washing it falls limply onto my face, it’s strands seemingly darker than usual under the poor lighting. I run my hand under the faucet and splash cool water onto my face as if to awaken my senses, to make me more alert. The water feels refreshing, like a bath would after fifty years trapped in a jungle or underground. After washing my face I pull on the clothes wishing more than anything I could be clean before I put them on, however it can’t be helped. I step out of the bathroom feeling only slightly cleaner but not at all any better about the current situation between Benji and Tony.
“Joel…have you seen Benji?” I almost fall over in surprise when my eyes fall upon Tony. He’s standing in the doorway, his eyes on me in an almost pleading manner.
“He…he went to get coffee.” I manage despite my surprise. I wonder if he can tell that I know all about their fight…about Benji making him cry.
He nods and eyes me for a moment more before starting out of the room, “Well umm, when he comes back…” He pauses as if he’s afraid to release his next words, afraid of what I might think, “tell him, tell him I’m going to get help…I doubt it will do any good but just let him know I mean it this time.” He mumbles, his voice lowering to a barely audible decibel as he speaks.
“Uh sure…” I mutter back memorizing his words so that I can replay them perfectly back to Benji later.
“And uh…thanks a lot Joel.” He smiles, and it’s so real, so real I almost forget it’s fake. Then he’s gone, like everyone else…just gone.
I smile when he leaves, realizing that just maybe Benji wont need me for this, maybe some things really do fix themselves…maybe. ’
So umm tell me what you think…although im aware its probably awful.