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It Gets Better...
“What does not kill you makes you stronger.” Travis could not muster how many times this quote has entered his ears throughout the fifteen years of his unfortunate life. Sure, the quote may be true for some, but as for him, he’s always being punished with pain and suffering. One would believe that this has made him a strong person emotionally, physically, and mentally. Although it may be true, he still holds one prominent question on the brink of his mind, “When will my ‘growing period’, end?”
Travis was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed wonder and with his God given image, he could easily pass as a very handsome teenage boy, who loves the world. Close to five foot, eight inches in height, and one hundred and sixty pounds, he was certainly not small for his age. He walked with a very slight limp, due to past injuries as a result of a rigorous athletic life. Football, wrestling, and track absorbed all of his free time during the school years, but as summer approached with swiftness, his downfall would begin.
During school, it was easy to avoid the vile thoughts that would attempt to possess his conscious, but once the summer came, he could not maintain such resistance to the words whispering constantly in his ears. Agony always found the will to climb into an open window of Travis’s heart and ascend the spirals stairs leading to the doors of his mind.
Each day consisted of the same cut and dry routine. He would awake to the rustle of leaves, the sun beating down on his face, and the sweet smell of pine and oak. Down to the Millbury River he would meander, simply just to freshen up. After acquiring enough drive, he would grab his schoolbag and use his strong legs and arms to hike up into town. Turning down onto to Laverne Avenue, the main street dividing his hometown of Roseport, he would stroll throughout the little suburb. He would pass the general store, Dr. Shankar’s office, and after about a quarter of a mile he would enter the public library. Travis loved the library because he could escape the harsh world that destined his malicious fate, by entering a world of fantasy created by the compelling books filling the shelves.
He said a quick, “Hello.”, to all of the working librarians with a grin upon his face. They would always ask, “How are you so happy all the time?”
“If they only knew how hard it was…” Travis would ironically laugh to himself.
Mrs. Kraigs, one of the oldest of the librarians, was his favorite. She would make him smile just by the mere sight of her it seemed. With her short, curly red hair and her petite, lean physique, she was the ideal “grandmother” of sorts. She constantly wore a turtle neck sweater, almost always purple for it was her favorite color. Grey or black was her choice of the knee length skirt she would also wear, with her black flats. Her image though was not the only thing that made Travis’s day, but her words would as well. She would say simple things like, “Travis, you look great!” or “Your such a good kid. Always reading and staying out of trouble.” She truly defined the word “sweetheart” in every aspect of it. She was kind, calm, and always managed to put a smile on her face whenever she saw Travis, despite how horrible her life was as well. Her radiation treatments were failing miserably and they were unsure of how much time she had left. Skin cancer truly is a dreadful disease, yet she would not allow it to control her. Her family and the doctors begged with all they had for her to stay in hospice, but she sternly refused. She would say, “If I’m gonna die, why would I spend it inside of a hospital bed?”
She has told this story to Travis many times and he was positively stunned every single time. They had a bond, an amazingly strong one at that, like mother and son. Mrs. Kraigs was his idol, and Travis was hers in return. Life had given them both hell, and yet they keep trudging through the shallows.
On this day, Travis approached Mrs. Kraigs at her desk and offered a joyful, “Hey Mrs. Kraigs. I’m looking for a new book to read, got any for me?”
“Hello Travis. What kind of book are you looking for?” Mrs. Kraigs replied with a grin.
“Anything, really. Something that will get my mind off things.” Travis said.
“Okay… well how about this one? We just had it returned.” She handed him The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
He read the inside cover and instantly became ecstatic. “This sounds awesome! I’ll take it.”
She checked it out for him and with an attempt to make small talk said, “You look nice today.”
Travis laughed to himself because he has worn the same outfit for two straight weeks; the same faded black sweatpants and the same faded black sweatshirt. He sarcastically replied, “Thanks… So how are you feeling today? You were telling me last week you had to go through some chemo this week?”
“I’m feeling better, but nowhere near how I should.” She replied with a long, drawn out sigh. She looked up at him from the computer and looked him in the eye, which caused the haunting memories of Travis’s life to climb back into her mind.
Mrs. Kraigs knows more about Travis’s awful life than he could ever imagine. She knows that he is homeless because he sleeps in the ravine about a quarter of a mile from her backyard. She discovered this close to two years ago when she was taking a hike throughout the woods. Mrs. Kraigs certainly did not believe that her terminal illness should stop her from being active and enjoying her favorite part of the world, nature. Climbing through the thickets of what seemed never ending tree limbs and bushes, she came out to the top of the ravine. Down below, lay Travis in a sprawled out position, static. Her initial thought was that he fell and was hurt, but the thought vanished once she saw the three large cardboard boxes surrounding him. She shrieked in terror so loud that it caused Travis to awake almost instantly. He looked up and saw her standing there even though she attempted to hide behind one of the larger oak trees. He began to collect his things with haste and began to run up the opposite side of the ravine. Mrs. Kraigs attempted to chase after him, but she had no chance of ever catching up to a young athlete like himself, especially in her old age.
She planned on calling the police when she reached her home, telling them that he is homeless. At this point she immensely regretted getting rid of her cellphone the month before.
“A fifteen year old boy is, homeless.”
Her thoughts could not grasp this idea, for she could not imagine how he managed to live like this. He was laying there in a pair of black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt with the hood up. He was asleep on his back with a log as his pillow and no blanket.
The tears began to flow uncontrollably, and she thought in between every sob, “The boy loses both parents and is homeless.”
She asked herself repeatedly on her journey home, “How does he do it?” She could not gather how one could suffer so much torment and pain, yet live life to the fullest. The answer to this question seemed to be an eternal mystery.
Ever since that day, Mrs. Kraigs was simply astounded by how composed Travis kept himself even though such a great amount of agony flooded his life. It was as if God was redeeming his vengeance for all of the sinners that have ever lived by taking it out on young Travis.
He had no parents. Nobody to guide him through such a bewildering life. Maybe Travis was happy that they were gone; after all, both were drug addicts, alcoholics, and most of all, abusive. His father committed suicide when he was ten years old. He hung himself with an old leather belt, off of the balcony of their apartment. Travis discovered him and felt no sadness, no pain, simply nothing. Just purely numb. Travis just assumed that he could not handle the world anymore and he agreed with him through death. He morbidly understood the reasoning of why he did this and respected his decision.
He lived alone with his mother. She became a prostitute after the tragedy of his father, and Travis attempted to cut her out as much as he could. At least three different men would enter the apartment a day, just to get their “rocks off” for fifty dollars, give or take. This was normal and Travis would leave the apartment so he wouldn’t have to hear such disturbing sounds.
Life took another turn for the worst at the age of thirteen. Travis was walking home from the Northwest Regional Wrestling Competition, held at Roseport High School, where he placed first in the one hundred and sixty pound weight class category. Closing in on his apartment building, he ran up the stairs to the fourth floor, eager to show his parents his gold medal that he received. It was the first real award that Travis had ever won. Entering room 409, he called out to his parents,
“Ma! I’m home.”
No answer, which was typical in his household. His mother was never home unless she was “working”. The place Travis called home was a small, one bedroom and one bathroom apartment. No food was ever found in the fridge, or the cabinets, just used needles and hundreds of empty bottles of liquor. His parents only bought the apartment so that they could do their drugs and partying in a more private area. After his father took his own life, Travis strived to have them move for he could not bear the thought of living where such horrible things have happened. After countless attempts of pleading and being rejected, he plainly gave up on the thought of moving. Travis slept on the floor in the “family room” which consisted of a broken fifteen inch television, a cracked mirror on the wall, and a coffee table covered with trash; ashes, more needles, cigarette butts, and empty bottles of alcohol. The white walls of the room had transformed into a stingy yellow due to the mass amount of chain smoking done within the house. The carpet had become more like sandpaper as a result of the lack of cleanliness. His mother slept in the only bedroom, her work “office” of sorts, which he slowly crept towards because the door, unusually, was closed. He figured that she was either not home or in their bedroom getting high, the daily duties of his mother.
An uncanny chill climbed his spine with swiftness as he approached the door. It was as if his spine was a whip made of ice and was it was cracked with sheer intensity. Travis shook with fear as he reached for the cold, steel handle of the door. He was unsure why he was afraid, maybe it was because he subconsciously knew that he was walking into his mother’s grave or maybe he consciously knew, but did not want to accept the fact. His warm hand gripped the door handle and with a deep breath he opened the cracked, white door. It was dark, nearly pitch black, and the air in the room was cold. Travis flipped the light switch, but of course no light filled the room due to the lack of payments to the electric company. He smelled a familiar yet unknown smell; a smell that is so distinct, that it is nearly forgetful. Upon entering the room, he saw two candles burning in the center of the hardwood floor in a pool of red wax, and that is when he saw the inevitable. His mother lay face down, foaming at the mouth, needle in arm, and half naked in the pool of wax, dead. There was no reason to check for a pulse or vital signs for he knew before entering the doorway to death, that his mother had perished. Travis did not have a reaction to this, he did not cry nor did he rejoice. He was numb, empty, and now truly he was alone. He fell to his knees and just stared at his mother’s corpse. Finally, karma had come around for the person who has devastated his life so immeasurably. His parents are both gone. Forever. Nauseatingly, Travis was grateful for such a fate. They were his puppet masters, and he was a living Pinocchio. They have broken him in every way possible; beating him to nearly death countless times, allowing men to have their way with him for drugs, allowing basically anyone to do anything they wanted to him, just for a “fix”. A man once branded a star into his right shoulder blade so that Travis would be “his” forever, and his parents laughed and smile as they received a pound of meth. Most people would call the police or ambulance, but Travis knew that they would put him in a foster home and he would never be able to compete in his sports, or worst of all, never be able to live his own life. Although, he hated them with the utmost, greatest amount that could possibly be mustered within this world. Fearing this outcome, Travis grabbed his schoolbag, his only change of clothes, and left without a blink of the eye.
She stood there staring at Travis with tear filled eyes and as if pushed by some unknown force, embraced him in a bear hug. She held him in her arms and although he was surely a head and a half taller than her, he dropped his heavy schoolbag and hugged her back. The rivers poured from her eyes and she kept repeating the same words,
“I am so sorry, Travis...”
“Why? I’m confused.” Travis replied with a sense of worry hidden within his voice.
She thought for a moment and after a few minutes, she began to calm down but still could not bring herself to look Travis in the eyes. Travis stared at her intensely, wondering why she was acting like this. Fear took over his body and asked the one question he wished he would never have to ask.
“Mrs. K, is your chemo not working?” Travis asked with tears now in his eyes and his lip began to quiver.
At that thought, a flame was lit within her eyes and she spoke quietly, “No, it’s not. I’m much weaker than last time you saw me.” She lied. “Would you be willing… never mind. It’s a senseless idea.”
“What is it? If I can help at all, I will.”
“I need someone to help me at my home. I’m much too old to be doing the chores of a typical house owner. Would you come stay with me for a while?”
This was a once in a lifetime chance, Travis knew, but he lied just as she did. “I wish I could, Mrs. K, but I am actually here to tell you that I am moving from Roseport. Parents decision, not mine.”
Baffled by his words, Mrs. Kraigs did not know what to say. She never wanted to reveal that she knew his parents were gone and that he was homeless, but now was best of a time as any. “Travis, you’re lying.”
“Lying about what?” He replied.
“You have no parents, Travis. That they are buried at Milton Cemetery and you visit their graves every day after you leave here.”
Travis was dumbfounded. Purely amazed at the fact that Mrs. Kraigs knew all of this, but now all that he could do was ask himself if he should lie to her, or just tell her the truth. He could see in her eyes that she was not lying, but Travis did not, could not accept that fact.
“How do you…” Travis could not finish his sentence before the rivers came flooding from his eyes. He dropped his schoolbag, which opened on to the floor, and finally had the unavoidable emotional breakdown that he had been desperately trying to avoid. He fell to the ground and began to sob uncontrollably while Mrs. Kraigs put her hand on his shoulder and repeated the same three words, over and over.
“It’s okay, Travis.”
After nearly fifteen minutes of crying, Travis composed himself and spoke to Mrs. Kraigs softly, “Sorry about that…” He began to blubber again and then took a deep breath, and continued. “I have always been so alone, Mrs. K. I can’t trust anyone, but myself. Nobody understands.”
“You need to help us understand Travis. That’s why you need to talk to someone about this. And from the looks of it, I’m all that you’ve got.” She said with a slight chuckle, in hope of lighting up the mood.
“I guess so.”
“So, Travis. Would you like to come live with me?”
Travis thought on this question deeply, but he knew deep down that this was his only chance at a real life. With a deep sigh, he said the one word that can change his life forever.
Mrs. Kraigs eyes were gleaming and she stammered at first, but then spoke, “Okay.”
The room was filled with an awkward silence as Travis and Mrs. K stood there just staring at each other. Mrs. Kraigs quickly broke the silence and said, “Why do you have a gun in your bag Travis?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You agreed that I am all you have to talk to. And no you’re coming to live with me, so talk.” She replied.
“I was gonna… k… kill myself.” Travis whispered with a lump in his throat.
Cautiously, she said, “Travis. Let me tell you something about life. Life is horrible. It truly is a never ending test that only gets worse because God wants to see how truly strong you are. I am sure you have heard the quote, “God gave you this life, because you’re strong enough to live it.” Right?” Travis nodded. Mrs. Kraigs continued, “One day, you will be grateful for everything that has happened to you. I am with my life, because it has made me who I am today. So if you kill yourself… your letting life win. By giving up, it will only prove to everyone that you are weak. Are you weak Travis? Because pulling that trigger will prove that you are.”
“I’m not weak!” Travis replied with a hint of anger behind his words.
“Then give me the gun…”
Travis took a deep breath, reached into his bag, and retrieved the pistol.
Taking the pistol from his hands, she said, “Thank you Travis. You are strong, remember that. You can’t give up now; you have too much to live for.”
Travis stood still for a moment and thought to himself.
“I care about you, Travis. And I don’t want to see you give up.”
Travis smiled and with the first real sense of happiness that he has ever felt in his life filling his words, he said,
“With you by my side, I could never give up."