Once The Page of a Calender Is Turned, It's No More

May 20, 2008
By Greta Melcher, Edina, MN

“Are you feeling alright, Paxton, dear?” my grandmother asked. I rubbed my eyes for a moment, tugging at my hair, which had grown sort of long at the ends, in a pathetic attempt to wake myself up.

“Just a little tired,” I answered, slamming the on switch on the coffee machine. While it was brewing, I ran to my room and pulled on some jeans and black long sleeve shirt I found lying on the floor. Remembering it was supposed to be sort of chilly that day, I added a t-shirt on top. I grabbed a scarf and pulled on my Chucks, not bothering to lace them up. Then I dashed back to the kitchen, kissing my grandmother on the cheek and grabbing a cup for my coffee.

“What are you rushing around for?” she asked, her wrinkled face curving into a smile.

“I’m a bit late, that’s all. Nothing to worry about,” I assured her, pouring the steaming coffee into the cup. I watched her for a moment as she packed a lunch for me in a brown paper bag, as she had done every morning since I was seven and she had started taking care of me. I took it hungrily from her, peering inside.

“What, no cookies?” I fake sighed, taking note of the all-health-food meal tucked neatly inside.

“That’s right, you need to eat healthy, Paxton.” My smile faded slightly as I noticed something different about her. Her cheeks were sort of flushed, her hands shaky, her eyes wide.

“Grandma, are you feeling alright?” I asked, concerned.

“Oh I’m fine, dear. Go hurry along now, you don’t want to make yourself any later.” She smiled at me, and I trusted her foolishly, my mind already becoming distracted by other issues.

“Thanks for lunch, see you later,” I yelled, already halfway through the door, my coffee slopping a bit onto the steps.

I think it’s important that I tell you now I’m not like most people. For one thing, I’m afraid of rather random things. It’s not exactly my fault, but to the average citizen, it would seem silly and irrational. They’re called pteronophobia, arachibutyrophobia, and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. I’m not making this up, either. It means I’m afraid of being tickled by feathers, getting peanut butter stuck on the roof of my mouth, and long words. Also, I take pills, in the words of someone very very wise, “to balance my brain”. And I used to go to a sort of group therapy type deal until it closed down because one of the students, Barret, committed suicide, and his parents sued the company for not preventing that. Like it was even their fault. That’s where I met Tai. Tai is the most amazing person you’ll ever meet. She was in a coma for four years, from age fourteen to eighteen. She’s still eighteen now. This isn’t much of a problem for us though, because I’m sixteen, which is two years older than how she feels, and two years younger than how she looks. Anyways. On with the story.

Halfway through the school day, my teacher, Ms. Jacobs, called me over to her desk, telling me I had a message in the office, and that it was urgent. Pondering over what could have happened, I made my way to the front of the building. I told the lady behind the counter my name, and that I was supposed to have a message waiting for me. Her face turned from a helpful smile to one of sympathetic pain.

“Oh yes, I’m so sorry, hon. Just got a phone call from the hospital. Your grandmother had a heart attack. She’s in the emergency room. You can reach her with this number, if you want. You can use my phone. Hon, I’m so sorry,” she repeated, like that could fix anything.

“What?” I asked, my eyes so wide it hurt. “I think you’re mistaken. My grandmother’s fine. I just was with her. She’s fine. She’s fine.”

“Just call this number, hon. That’s all I can do.” Her face had closed off, something all too familiar to me. I had a sort of way of scaring people off. I dropped my books onto the floor, and ran blindly to the door. Shoving all obstacles out of the way, I finally escaped the school, my pace quickening, my feet leading me in what my mind knew to be the direction of the hospital. What had happened? She’d never even had a history of a bad heart. This was so sudden. This couldn’t be happening. I don’t know how long it took me, or how I managed it, but finally I was pushing open the hospital doors, and running over to the front desk.

Between gasps for air, I told them my name and who I was there to see. She gave me a room number and a visitor’s pass, and I continued down the hall. 127, 128, 129. There it was. I shoved the door open, revealing my grandmother, looking frail and weak, lying on a white hospital bed, her head resting on a fluffy pillow. A jolt shot through my body as I realized there might be feathers in it, but I pushed that thought away, as there were more important matters at hand.

“Grandma!” I exclaimed, running to her side, ignoring the nurses annoyed looks. “What happened? Are you alright?”

“Paxton, dear, I’m so glad to see you,” she smiled weakly, her blue eyes squinting at me. I held her hand in mine, being careful not to squeeze it to tight, no matter how much my instincts were telling me to hold on for all I was worth.

“You’ll be okay, grandma. You’ll be okay now. I’m here for you.”

I let myself into the house after visiting hours had ended, surprised to see most of the lights were still on, even though it was past eleven. It must have been because no one had turned them off when they took my grandmother to the emergency room. And I couldn’t blame them. I’d much rather have them be worried about her safety than some lights. I dropped my scarf on the floor and was about to undress when I saw movement in the kitchen.

“Who’s there?” I asked, probably not as freaked out, as I should have been.

“Just me,” came a man’s voice, sort of raspy, like a smoker’s, and one I knew well. One I knew well, and loathed almost as much as the mouth it was coming from. I walked slowly to the kitchen, trying to keep my anger inside me, which was hard considering the fury welling up in volcanoes of hate for him even thinking he could step foot in my house. He was standing with his back to me, leaning over the counter, apparently fixing himself some food. He turned around and I saw his shaggy black hair, his hazel eyes, his thin face. Each one I despised with a burning passion. Each one I could see every morning when I looked in the bathroom mirror. My father; the only man in the world I truly hated.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked, letting the anger spill over into my words.

“Shut up, kid, don’t talk to your elders like that,” he glared, turning around and spreading something onto toast. That’s when I smelled it. Peanut butter. And beer.

“Get that crap out of my house,” I yelled, trying to avoid looking at it.

“Your house? Your house? Ha! As if you’re paying the rent or something!” he laughed cruelly. “I have every right to be here. Your grandmother asked me to be, in fact, to watch over you while she’s away.”

“She’s not away. She’s at the hospital. She’ll be back soon. And I can take care of myself.” He just laughed.

“Don’t pretend to be a man, Paxton. You’re still just a little boy. Do you even have a job?”

“No…” I muttered, tapping my foot impatiently.

“What are you wearing anyways? Does everyone dress like that nowadays? I don’t think so. Why can’t you just be normal, Paxton? Why do you have to be such an embarrassment? Why don’t you play football or something respectable? I mean, what are you ever going to do with your life? Have you ever had a girlfriend?”

“Don’t talk to me like that,” I yelled at him. “It’s not your problem what I do or who I hang out with. It’s a little too late to start caring about that, isn’t it? And what am I gonna do with my life? I have no idea. But at least I won’t leave my wife and kid and become an alcoholic, like some people,” I snapped, reaching over to grab the peanut butter, which all but burned my hand, and dropped it into the trash.

“What the hell are you doing?!” he yelled at me, grabbing my wrist. “I just bought that! You ungrateful little brat!” I saw his fist rise, but I wasn’t ready for it. It happened too fast. It slammed hard into my shoulder, and I fell backwards, catching myself with my hands on the linoleum floor. And then, while I was still in shock, his fist came again, this time colliding with my head, right next to my left eye and following through down to my jaw. I winced, scrambling as far away as I could get.

“You are such a failure!” he yelled, staring down at me. “Get out of my sight!” And that was one of the first times I obeyed him, fleeing the room.
There was blood coming from somewhere by my mouth, but I ignored it, stopping briefly in my bedroom to look around frantically for anything I might need. Nothing seemed that important, so I took only a twenty-dollar bill and a black hoodie. Then I left the house, slamming the door behind me. I didn’t know where I was going, and for the second time that day, my feet were leading me. I ended up walking around for a few hours aimlessly, blowing off steam. At last I found myself in front of a brightly lit twenty-four hour grocery store. Hunger won a silent battle in my mind, and I went in, the doors sliding open for me. Having only twenty dollars, I wasn’t really looking for a gourmet meal. I automatically found myself in the frozen foods aisle, ice cream having always been a favorite of mine. I bought two pints of Ben and Jerry’s, paying a sleepy looking youth. Then I continued on my walk, the ice cream’s weight only a small extra burden.
I stopped walking again, this time in a neighborhood. I was standing outside a small cream house that looked strangely familiar, only I couldn’t remember why. Then something snapped in my brain. This was Tai’s house. I smiled thinking of her, and looked up to where I knew her room was. I threw a pebble at it, careful not to make too much noise. After the third pebble, the curtain was pulled aside, and I saw her glowing face. She squinted at me for a moment, confusion and fear competing for her attention. Then recognition crossed her face and she smiled warmly. “I’ll be right down” she mouthed at me, and then she was gone.

“I think it’s because he sees so much of himself in me,” I told Tai as we each ate from our separate pints of ice cream, after telling her that my father was home. (She had helped me wash the blood off my face in silence, both of us realizing she knew what had happened. No words were necessary.) “We look so much alike. And then he thinks about how much he messed his life up, and he doesn’t want that to be his son’s life too. He wants something to be proud of. But I’m not the son he wanted. I’m not tough or masculine enough for him. And he hates me for it. All I ever do is disappoint people.” She watched me, her eyes sympathetic, but not in the way of most people, who just wanted to distance themselves from me. I think she really understood.

“And I’m so scared,” I continued, “that we’re not just alike in looks. I don’t want to end up like him. It scares me so much.” I closed my eyes, holding back the stinging in my eyes that I knew to be tears, another sign of weakness my father hated in me. “I don’t think I could handle that.” Tai reached for me, and held me for a moment. I wrapped my hand in her hair, weaving my fingers in and out of it, amazed at its softness. It was enough just to be in her presence.

“You’ll never be like him,” she promised me, and I ate it up. “You’re much stronger than him.” We separated, and I scooped a heaping scoop of ice cream into my mouth. “Thanks for letting me hang out and rant,” I smiled at her, trying to show her with my eyes how grateful I really was.

“Anytime,” she smiled back. “But are you aware it’s three in the morning?”
I had known it was late, but not that late. I watched her carefully, to see if this angered her, and was surprised to see her start laughing. I laughed too, more out of happiness and hysteria than humor. She laughed so hard she fell onto the floor and started rolling around. I was concerned for her well being at that point, hopping that she wasn’t turning into some unstable person, like myself.

“Tai?” I asked, noticing glistening tears on her pale face.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped, sitting up. I joined her on the floor, wiping the streaks of moisture off her face. “I didn’t mean to be so…” she trailed off, not being able to find the right word.

“Hey, it’s okay, I’m pretty… myself,” I said, smiling at her. “I’m just glad you’re not mad at me.”

“Mad at you? Pax, you’re the only person in my life I can talk to anymore. After the accident… well I only ever really had Liam and Rachelle anyways. But until I met you, I had no one. Honestly, you can come over at three a.m. any day you like. As long as you bring ice cream, that is.”

I stared at her, amazed that anyone could be so kind. I don’t even know if she realized how much that meant to me.

“Just let me pay you back somehow,” I told her, racking my brain for how I could possibly manage that.

“Don’t be silly,” she said softly. “You repay me by just existing.” And that’s when the door slammed open.

“Tai! What are you doing!? Do you realize that it is three a.m.? Oh my Lord, who is that with you? Tai!!” It was her mother in her robe, her eyes red and her veins pulsing. “Get out! OUT!” she yelled at me, and for the second time that night, I obeyed this command, hopping out her window, rolling when I hit the ground to dull the impact. I could hear yelling as I ran away, and something told me I should have stayed and defended Tai, as it was entirely my fault, but the rest of me didn’t listen and kept running.

This time I could tell I was finally running out of energy, and realizing that I couldn’t exactly run all night, I stopped to catch my breath and plan my next move at a small park with a playground. I sat down on a swing, pushing off the ground gently. The simple movement of it brought memories of childhood flooding back, but I pushed them aside, not wanting to visit that bitter sweetness at the moment. I reached up to feel my face where my father had hit me. It hurt when I touched it, so I stopped.

I couldn’t believe everything that had happened in the last 24 hours. My grandmother was in the hospital, probably, no matter how much I tried to deny it, for mainly my own sake, on her deathbed. My father had come home again, and I had the bruises to prove it. This wasn’t the first time it had happened like this, but it was probably the first time he’d drawn blood. I’d run away from home, and currently had about eight dollars left in the bottom of my pocket. The mother of my only friend probably never wanted me around her daughter again. Yeah, I was pretty much screwed. Oh and there was the fact that I didn’t even have my pills or anything so by the next morning I wouldn’t be functioning properly. I swore loudly, aware that no one would hear me, that no one would care. I grabbed a handful of pebbles off the ground and threw them at the pole of the swing set. This brought strange satisfaction, so I continued the act. They pinged off of it with such a perfect noise, sending themselves back into the sea of other pebbles where one was just as unimportant as the next, yet each of them equally necessary for the park to exist.

That night passed strangely. Between drifting off for a moment on the swing and waking up falling to the ground, contemplating suicide off the bridge into the river I could hear a block or two away, and pounding my head against the plastic slide, I must have eventually fallen asleep for an hour or so because I woke up curled into a ball in a bright red tunnel, with sunlight glaring me in the face, reminding me that I was still alive, that I still was required to breath, to eat, and to pretend everything was going to be okay. I pulled my hood tighter around my head to block out the light. A few cars passed by and I shivered each time, remembering I had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. And then I heard the screech of brakes being slammed, and a car door opening and shutting. Some frantic footsteps followed this, and then a voice. Oh what a glorious voice. What an angelic sound, what a beautiful beautiful noise.

“Paxton! Is that you?” Tai yelled at me, tugging me out of the tube by my Chucks. “Oh Pax! Don’t do that to me ever again or I’ll… I’ll never eat ice cream with you again! Okay that’s a lie, but you scared me.” She was crying now as she held me so tight I thought I’d implode. “And I’m forbidden to see you and everything. I’m not even supposed to be driving. But I was so worried. So it’s all your fault if I get in trouble.” She laughed now, and let me go. “I thought you’d died. I thought… I thought he’d killed you, honestly Pax, I did.” I could see the truth of it in her eyes; the unmasked horror, the fear, the relief.

“I’m never letting him lay his hands on me again,” I promised both of us, reaching for her hand. After last night, I need constant physical reassurance that she was still with me. I couldn’t rely on sight and sound alone. “I’m so screwed up, Tai. I haven’t taken my pills for at least two days. But I don’t want to take them anymore. I’m sick of pretending to be normal! I’m sick of having to take pills just so I can function like everyone else! Why do I have to be like other people? Why can’t I just be me, even if I am sort of messed up?”

“You can, Paxton, you can,” Tai whispered, looking up at me, her eyes full of sympathy and… was it love? It had been so long since I’d seen love in anyone’s eyes but my grandmother’s, so I couldn’t tell. We stood there for a moment, her hand still in mine, each of us taking in what we knew to be shared pain, basking in the glory of this unity, glad to even be breathing the same air as each other. I met her eyes, looking deep into the pale blue of them, and smiled softly, brushing some hair away from her face. There was so much I felt I needed to say, so many questions and so many answers I wanted to express, but couldn’t find the words. Instead I packaged them all up and sent them to her, wrapped and ribboned, in that smile. She returned it, her features lighting up with warmth, and everything that ever meant anything passed silently between us in a way no words could express. She blushed slightly, or it may just have been the cold, but the sudden ecstasy of the moment was gone, and she filled up the space awkwardly, asking, “So do you need a ride anywhere? I mean, as long as I’m breaking my mom’s rules, I might as well break them all at once.” I laughed.

“Yeah, thanks. I’d like to go to the hospital, actually. Visit my grandma.” She nodded, and we walked hand in hand to her car.

“You’d better hurry,” the nurse said quietly to Tai, as if saying it to her would hurt me less, like I couldn’t still hear her anyways. “I don’t know how much longer she has. Could be seconds, could be a few hours.” My stomach dropped. Everything went black. I started to fall sideways, but Tai caught me, helping me back onto my feet. I still wasn’t very balanced, however, so she put her arm around me, supporting some of my weight.

“It’s okay Pax. Let’s go in and talk to her, alright?” I agreed silently, letting her lead me to my grandmother’s bedside. She looked so small in it, so helpless. I missed the strong woman I was used to, the mother figure I had always depended on. Her eyes were droopy, her face bent in a pitiful frown. She was limp and motionless. She could have been dead already.

“Do you want to be alone?” Tai whispered, squeezing my hand.

“No, it’s fine. You can stay,” I responded absentmindedly, but she left anyways, out of respect.

“Grandma, can you see me?” I asked her, taking her hand in mine. “Can you hear me?”

“Paxton? How are you, dear?” she blinked at me, her eyes finally focusing on mine.

“Let’s not talk about me. Let’s talk about you. How are you feeling?” I asked, leaning close to her.

“Paxton,” she said slowly. “I am so sorry.”

“What? Don’t be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for. I should be the sorry one. I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. I let you down. I’ve failed. Please please forgive me.”

“I forgive you, although I never blamed you for anything. I am old, too old. It’s past my time, dear.” She smiled sadly, her eyes full of love and compassion. “I… your father, Paxton. It was wrong of me to call him. I was just worried about you, and thought that maybe, under the circumstances… you could put everything behind you. I was wrong.” She reached up to trace her hand across the bruises on my face. I suppose she could guess how they’d gotten there. “Please, don’t let him hurt you anymore. Don’t let him in our house. I love you, Paxton. Never forget that.” She smiled again, and I watched it fade slowly; each twitch of her fading smile and closing eyes a symbol of her fading spirit, her ebbing life. And then the flame was out. I held her hand up to my face and kissed it, then kissed her forehead. I was aware that tears were flowing freely down my face, but I did nothing to prevent it. I closed my eyes and let it overcome me.

“Paxton?” Tai called, having heard the voices stop, perhaps. I sensed her come into the room, and then she was standing behind me, her hands on my shoulders. “Paxton,” she comforted, sitting down next to me. The doctor came in and bustled about, his face a mask of false calmness. I hated him for it. I hated him for being able to uphold a mask of calmness, while I was being torn apart inside so ferociously that it was obvious on the outside, something I couldn’t hide. We sat there for a moment, and I whispered my soft goodbyes. “‘And these clocks keep unwinding and completely ignore everything that we hate or adore. Once the page of a calendar is turned its no more. So tell me then, what was it for? Oh tell me, what was it for?’” [Bright Eyes]

I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually we rose from our spots, and the witnesses of death left the deceased in peace.

“Tai…” I started to speak, not quite sure what had come over me. “Tai I need to go back to my house.”

“But your fa-… okay,” she said, and I silently thanked God she hadn’t continued to protest. I really didn’t need that right then.

I knocked on the door of my house, (realizing now that that was what it really was, my house) and waited patiently for my father to answer it. There was the sound of several dead bolts and locks being undone, and then, sticking only for a brief moment, it swung open. There was my father standing in the doorway. He looked at me, sizing me up.

“You’re back already, are you? Well, what do you want?” he asked grumpily.

“I want you to get the hell out of my house,” I told him, my words fueled by anger and a feeling of power I had never felt before. He no longer scared me.

“Is that so,” he laughed. “Well that’s just too bad, isn’t it? You grandmother wants me here, and I’m staying.”

“My grandmother’s dead,” I choked out. His eyes flashed with sorrow for a moment, but it was gone quickly, replaced again by the coolness of hate and self-appointed authority.

“Oh,” he muttered. “Well in that case, I’ll be staying anyways. It’s just as much my house as it is yours.”

“It is not,” I countered. “She left it to me. And I want you out, or I’m calling the police.”

“Oh, a threat. You gonna call the cops on me, boy? Well I’m your father, and you have to obey me. And I say shut up, get inside, and stop complaining, you goddamn piece of s***.” And then he tried to hit me. But this time, I was ready. I grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back, using my other hand to pin him against the wall.

“Get out of my house,” I whispered. Years of anger, hurt, fear, and hate bolted through me and into him and I saw something change in his eyes. He knew he couldn’t hurt me anymore. He knew I had learned that I could defend myself, that I wasn’t just a weak child who had to obey his father. “Get out of my house,” I repeated, and let go of him. He scrambled away from me and out the door, looking back once to glare at me.

“If you think you’ve seen the last of me,” he yelled when he was far enough away that I couldn’t grab him, “then think again! This isn’t over.” I slammed the door behind him. It took me a moment to realize Tai was still waiting outside in her car, so I waited a minute or two to assure he was gone, and then hurried outside.

“How did it go?” she asked, the door of her car popping open.

“Good, I think,” I smiled at her.

“I’m glad,” she smiled back, and grabbed my hand. “You wanna go get some ice cream or something?”

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