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The Kids are Alright
He looked a lot younger than he should, laying there like some ragdoll we’d tossed aside in favor of more entertaining pursuits. His eyes were open and he was awake, but this wasn’t the same as hanging out after school. Around his bed was his mom, his grandparents, my mom… all of them watching us. Like we were some sort of spectacle.
And how exactly do you talk to your best friend when he’s laid out like some old sickly man, with wires and tubes coming out of him and making him look like a machine? Especially when there’s a freaking audience watching the two of you.
A nervous smile is all I could managed, feeling like I was meeting Benny for the first time.
This weak, sickly kid wasn’t my best friend. He wasn’t the person I had grown up with, playing Hot Wheels and Beanie Babies. When I quite the Girl Scouts after just two weeks, because I couldn’t stand that it took away from the time I could spend with my best friend, it wasn’t for this kid.
No, my Benny was one of those kids you could never get to shut up. He was the extra brother I never needed, because he’d always steal my food even though we had the same exact thing. He was the kid who had nearly stabbed my eye out the first time we were allowed to use grown-up knives and then spent the rest of the night feeling miserable about it because he’d nearly made me cry.
The hospital bed was huge. Weren’t they supposed to be small? And Ben (because he wasn’t Benny) looked all of seven, not the impressive nine he really was (nearly two full hands) all swaddled in blankets and with that stupid tube-thing helping him breathe.
Helping him breathe.
And that was the problem there, wasn’t it. Because standing there awkwardly (which was further proof of this not being Benny—he and I were never awkward) made me think about the two weeks of school that I didn’t pay attention to because I had no idea where my best friend was and he hadn’t been at school and we didn’t hang out at recess and we didn’t hang out in the hallway before we had to go to opposite classrooms for two whole weeks. And that was practically a lifetime.
Then, last night, I had almost wished it was still those stupid, miserable two weeks because it was so wrong that Benny had stopped breathing. Old people had health issues and yeah, I knew Benny had bad asthma (whatever that meant) and I knew his mom smoked all the time, because it always made me hate the way she smelled, which apparently made his asthma worse, but not breathing was a little extreme.
My mom had told me and at first I’d just wanted to be angry or cry or something, but I just felt numb because it had to be a lie. And then she’d put me on the phone with him and he had sounded so weak and old and it couldn’t have been Benny because Benny said “pascetti” instead of “spaghetti” and “puter” instead of “computer”, he didn’t sound like he was always out of breath.
Now the hospital bed was too big and he was too small, which didn’t make sense because Benny always stole the covers and even when we made the living room floor into a huge bed, he still pushed me into the coffee table and laid a splayed out, like he was making an effort to take up all the room.
So, I just stood, awkward and sad and mad and nervous and tired.
Then he smiled, and shrugged, looking straight at me. “You missed me?”
And okay, maybe this was Benny. “Not much.”
We both grinned.