by Galilea Oregon
After the incident with the brick and window, Tristan got grounded for two weeks without his phone, and he was supposed to pay for the window repairs with his own allowance money. I honestly doubt that he would ever pay back. It wasn’t any of my business so I wouldn’t bother him about it.
I spent the next morning with Cole after skating. We hung out in our usual spot. It was an empty lot just behind the elementary school. I guess it was made to be used as a parking area, but it was always empty, littered with trash and old cigarette butts. We used to sit in the grass field for hours on end, until our parents started blasting us with worried unanswered voicemails. He pulled out some of his brother’s cigarettes.
7/11 slushies and McD’s.
Soft winds and loose trucks.
Dirty torn up Vans and threads hanging off our crusty t-shirts.
Grass stains on my jeans.
Dirty hands and messy hair.
Melted slushies and half eaten burgers.
Cracked up iPhone screens.
“Want one, King?” he asked, pulling a cig out of the box. I nodded silently. We didn’t start smoking until Travis stole cigarettes from his dad towards the end of summer of our freshman year. It began as a game and quickly turned into a crazed addiction. We smoked when we were bored. We smoked to relax. We smoked when we were feeling down. I think we all knew that smoking was slowly killing us, but we didn’t start to use smoking as a pretense to die faster until we realized how shitty our lives really were.
“Hey man what are we gonna do after high school?” Cole asked as we lay next to each other in the tall grass.
“Who knows…” I stared up at the cloudy blue sky.
“Can’t be futureless bums…what about college?” He turned over to play with the lady bugs resting on skinny blades of grass.
“Hm, I guess…” I tucked my hair behind my ear, pulling out a lighter from my pocket. I lit up my cigarette and took a long thoughtful drag, thinking about my far off and distant future, and my 1.4 GPA.
“Or we could do nothing,” he laughed, messing with the striker wheel of his lighter, setting ladybugs on fire.
“Nothing sounds good.” I blew a smoke ring into the blue infinite above us.
“What if we were ladybugs?” he blurted out.
“Hmm? So that some teen smoker can come and set us on fire?”
“Nah. I mean think about it, do ladybugs have responsibilities? Do people miss them when they die? And look,” he took one in between his thumb and index finger, “Look how painlessly they die.” And he crushed the poor little thing, wiping his hand carelessly onto his jeans. He used to laugh and joke around and flirt with girls in the hallways. But on this cloudy March day, Cole was stern and angry, frustrated with his too perfect life.
I can only recall a single other occasion where Cole was as quiet and serious as when we sat in the grass field, and that was two years ago, before we entered high school as freshmen.
I had slept over at Cole’s after my parents had an ugly fight. It was around two am when he woke me up to go outside. I followed him groggily out the window and down into his backyard. I remember climbing up into the tree house, our shadows reflected by the pale moonlight onto the plywood floors.
“What happened this time?’ He asked me quietly, afraid that his parents would find us outside.
I closed my eyes, thinking back on all the screaming and yelling and the broken glass on the floor.
“She came home drunk again. Dad got mad and started screaming at her. I don’t know.” I whispered, still in shock. Mom always came home drunk, but never as bad as that night. She didn’t start drinking until after my brother Jeremy had left home. He was the glue of our house, he stopped the fighting and yelling and the screaming. But when he left, Mom and Dad became cold towards each other. We stopped eating dinner together and soon we all lived our own lives within the confinements of our home.
“Why was he yelling?” Cole laid on his back now, the moonlight illuminating his tan face, his freckles like stars speckled across his cheeks and nose.
“He said he was tired of her irresponsibility. That she should start involving herself into my life. Then she took a picture of all us and threw it at Dad. It’s funny, they only use me to get back at each other. I wish my parents got along okay. Just like yours.” I stared at him.
“Please, it’s all an act,” Cole scoffed. My eyes widened in surprise. He never really talked about his parents and never mentioned them fighting, “You really think all of that is true? Sure, they don’t throw plates at each other’s faces, but that’s only because they hardly ever see each other. My dad…” he trailed off, turning his face away from mine, he looked so afraid, but of what? What could frighten Cole so much? He was brave. he was the one that did the scary dares that could get grounded for months. “My dad has another girl. She’s like in her twenties or something. I saw the messages. I think my mom knows. So don’t even think about wishing your life was like mine, buddy.”
“Our lives go further than just being rich. It’s stupid because even we stereotype each other. You’re supposed to have my back. Prove everyone wrong, yanno?” He sat up and leaned towards me, as if to tell me a secret, “Sometimes I wish I didn’t exist. Not to die or anything, but just to not be here. To never have been born. You think that’s crazy for a fourteen year old pretentious rich boy to say?”
I shook my head furiously. I was confused and scared. I’d never seen Cole act like this. I was worried for the sanity of my best friend…
“Good, c’mon let’s go. My mom sometimes checks on me when I’m asleep.” We climbed down the ladder and back up to the tree by his window.
We never talked about anything that happened in the tree house that night, and I doubted he’d remember now.
“You’re insane, man.” I forced a laugh to hide my nervousness.
“Sure I am, we’ve both known that I’m just a tiny bit crazy since I told you I didn’t want to exist. You remember that?” Cole laughed, running his fingers through his golden wavy hair. He grinned devilishly at me one last time before leaving me alone in the grass field smelling like burnt ladybugs. I sat there and pondered about everyone: Cole, Travis, Tristan,and Princeton. I thought about Cole, becoming more and more insane with every passing year. I thought about Travis and his addictions and his fights. I thought about Tristan and his tired eyes on Monday mornings after long restless nights. And Princeton, who was much too quiet, always secretive. I sat and stared into the nothingness and wondered what our lives would have been if we hadn’t met each other.