Doing Something by Cole Parker

A sixteen year old boy faces major life changes, ones he hates,
and there isn’t anything he can do about them but make the best of it.


Chapter 2



I’d fallen asleep, because he startles me awake by calling me for lunch.  I push myself up on my elbows and see the bright sunlight streaming through my windows, washing the room with its uncompromising glare.  The brightness shows how dreary the room looks.  Faded wallpaper, threadbare throw rug on the floor, tired curtains on the window.  The house itself is just as bad.  It smelled stale when we first walked in, yet Dad hadn’t seemed to notice.  He’d been off in his own world again.  He’d walked around looking at things as though he had something in mind, but if he had, I had no idea what.

A cleaning crew had been in, but they hadn’t been able to remove the old or the tired from the place.

I get out of bed and walk downstairs.  Dad is already eating his soup.  I have a bowl at my place, too, and he’s made a sandwich for me.  I sit down.  He doesn’t acknowledge me.

Finished, I rinse off my dishes and stack them in the sink.  There isn’t a dishwasher.  I’m a little surprised there’s even electricity here—the house looks that old.  I guess we’ll wash our dishes by hand.   Maybe that’ll be my job, as Dad does the cooking.  If that’s what you can call it.  There won’t be that many dishes to wash.

After lunch, I look for my jacket, then remember it’s still on the porch and that I won’t need it.  Outside, I walk around the property.  There’s a large back yard; it’s in the same condition as the front yard.  But it lies flat and I see it stretching a long way out from the house before a gentle downward slope begins.  I walk to where I can see farther.  There’s a river at the bottom of the slope.  I don’t know if it’s on our property.  There’s a lot I don’t know.

I climb back up the slope.  I walk into the barn to check it out.  It’s empty.  There isn’t any smell in it other than damp ground.  There’s no floor other than hardened dirt.  I don’t know if animals were ever kept here.  I do know it looks as sad as the rest of the place.  It’s just a big, empty, mostly dark space.

There’s nothing for me to do other than unpack boxes.  I know I have to work on my attitude.  Maybe I can do that while I unpack.

I walk back into the house.  Dad is moving some boxes into the small room off the living room.  I watch him for a while.  He doesn’t look up at me.  “Dad?” I say.  He stops and turns to me, holding a box.  His face is blank; his eyes are mostly dead.  He doesn’t say anything.  I decide not to either.

I go back to my room.  That’s probably the place to begin unpacking.  But first, I lie down again.  That seems like the best thing to do.  What’s the rush?  And my stomach feels funny.  Probably nerves.  The boxes will still be there when I get up again.

I lie down and let my mind drift.  When I do that, I know where it’ll go.  I don’t want it to, but it does.  I relive these events all the time when I shut my eyes.

 

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It was nearly a year ago.  I came home, tired from football practice, and dropped my sports bag in the hallway after shutting the front door. 

“Mom, I’m home,” I called out. 

There was no answer and the house had that feeling, that illogical feeling, that said the house was empty.  Mom was usually home when I got there.  She made it a habit to be. 

I walked room to room just to be sure.  No one was there.  But the front door hadn’t been locked.  Feeling funny about being alone in the house when there should have been someone with me, I shook it off and got a drink out of the refrigerator, then went back to the front door, grabbed my sweaty practice clothes and took them to the laundry room; I threw them in the washing machine.

I heard the front door open, and after turning on the machine, went to see who it was.

My mother was standing in the doorway, simply standing there, and the expression on her face was one I’d never seen before.  It was a mixture of terror and uncertainty and abject misery.  

“Mom?” I said, and hurried to her.  She focused her eyes on me, and then collapsed.  I caught her.  She was a dead weight in my arms, but even at fourteen, I was taller and heavier than she was.  I somehow managed to get her into the living room and laid her on the couch.  My heart was racing.  I had no idea what was wrong.  But I couldn’t get the look on her face out of my head.

I heard a car race up the street and tires squeal as they turned into our driveway, followed by the sound of tires protesting as the car stopped abruptly.  The front door was still open.  Mom hadn’t closed it.  As I was watching, Dad rushed through it.  The look on his face said much the same things as had my mother’s.

“Dad!  What’s wrong?  Mom fainted or something.  What’s going on?”

Dad came into the living room, looking nothing like my usual calm, self-possessed father.  He glanced down at Mom, then turned to me.  “Carly’s missing.  Mrs. Banner had her at the park, and the last time she looked up for her, she was gone.”

I heard the words, but it took a moment for them to sink in.  Then my head started feeling fuzzy.  Carly, gone?  No.  I couldn’t get my brain to accept that.  No!

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.  Dad stepped over and opened his arms, and I sort of fell into them.  He hugged me, hard, and when I looked up into his face, his eyes were wet.

“Mrs. Banner called your mother and then the police.  They’ve been looking for Carly, but there’s no trace of her.  She’s just gone.”

I felt him shake and saw tears running down his face.  I realized they were running down mine, too.

Carly was two and a half.  She was bright and beautiful, with blonde hair and intelligent, laughing eyes.  She was an active, inquisitive kid, always laughing, always wanting me to pick her up and read to her.  I couldn’t imagine her gone.

That was the beginning.  A widespread search was started with newspapers and TV coverage; it was a very big deal.  But nothing happened.  No clues, no leads, no Carly.  The search and the story gradually wound down, as they do.  Eventually, the newspapers and radio talk shows moved on to more current matters, and Carly wasn’t mentioned at all.  But the horror never left our house.  The empty feeling in my stomach never left me.

When it first happened, Mom seemed in a trance for days afterward, and then, one afternoon when I got home from school, I smelled something in the house I wasn’t used to.  It was sort of sweet, sort of heavy, different smell.  I went into the kitchen.  There was a bottle on the kitchen counter, a whiskey bottle.  Neither of my parents drank much at all.  But the bottle was mostly empty.

Mom had started drinking.  I don’t think, after that day, she ever really stopped.

Dad, who’d always been calm and open, warm and friendly, withdrew into himself.  He became quieter and quieter, and as the weeks passed, I could see the affection and closeness that had always been there, always been obvious between him and Mom was no longer there.  As she became more and more affected by despair and by the alcohol she was using to numb the pain, he stopped talking to her altogether—and then even stopped looking at her.  He simply stopped, withdrawing even deeper into himself.  He’d speak to me, sometimes, but only if I spoke to him first.

Mom had been an interior-decoration consultant.  She worked on her own, had her own private clients.  She tried to go back to work after the shock of Carly’d disappearance had lessened, but instead of getting over what had happened, instead of gradually recovering, it seemed the opposite was true.  I didn’t know if the alcohol was responsible or if she’d become mentally unbalanced because of losing Carly, but her behavior became unstable, her moods unpredictable.  It soon was the norm for her to stay home, ignoring her work and clients, and she was often in bed when I left in the morning and still there when I came home.  She stopped cooking, and Dad took it over by default.

He returned to his job two weeks after Carly disappeared.  His mood had changed, too.  He was no longer my best friend, my confidant, my greatest supporter.  He’d come home and fix dinner for me, then retreat to his den.  I hardly saw him. 

They’d lost their child.  I’d lost my sister and both my parents.

I handled it my own way.  I got mad.  I was popular at school, but that had been before.  Afterward, I changed.  I started snapping at kids and even my friends for no real reason, taking offense at the smallest things.  I was mad and wanted other kids to be mad, too, I guess.  I was fourteen, an eighth grader, and bigger than most of the kids in my class.  I took out my stress and anger on everyone around me.  On the football field, the coach had to take me aside a couple of times and tell me to cool it.  One day he simply kicked me out of practice and told me to go home.  In the locker room, while everyone else was still out on the field, I hit my locker so hard there was a big dent in the door.  After that it was difficult to open.

There was more than my missing sister and my parents neglecting me to fire my anger.  Along with all we were going through, we had many visits from the police.  A detective sergeant named Martinez was assigned to the case.  At first, he had Dad and me down to the station to give statements.  He was rigidly formal with us—no compassion, no humanity at all.  He asked questions as though he was sure we had somehow been involved in Carly’s disappearance.  He was tall and heavy, didn’t appear to be very bright, and was as sensitive as a tree stump.

I took an immediate dislike to him.  It had to be clear to him right from the start that I had nothing to do with Carly disappearing.  I mean, I was shaking I was so upset, and he made me cry several times.  I was fourteen.  I hated crying.

How could he think I’d been involved anyway?  She went missing in a park with a babysitter attending her, and I was in school at the time with about a thousand witnesses.  What did he achieve by trying to upset me even more than I already was?

He grilled Dad and me separately, so I didn’t know how he behaved with Dad, but Dad looked awful when he came out of his interview.  He wouldn’t tell me about it, wouldn’t talk at all, but he looked like he’d been flattened by a steamroller.

Detective Martinez didn’t back off.  He started coming to the house to question Dad again and again.  His whole demeanor reeked of arrogance and suspicion.  He acted like everything we told him was a lie.  He liked to get into our personal space when talking to us. And he worded all his questions as though we were guilty of something and it was our job to convince him we weren’t.

He spoke to me a couple of times at our house, too.  His questions were mostly about whether we’d been a happy family, whether my parents argued, even if my dad ever hit me or Carly.  After a while, I’d stopped being polite to him and even refused to answer questions I’d already answered.  He told me he could arrest me for not cooperating.  I suppose I should have been intimidated, but I wasn’t.  I was just angry and was getting angrier with him more longer I spent with him.  When he said he’d arrest me, instead of being afraid I’d laughed at him, which infuriated him.  He said I was personally making it more difficult to find my sister.  I stood up when he said that and told him if he was fourteen instead of an old man, I’d beat the crap out of him for even thinking that, let alone suggesting it.  I had my hands clenched tightly, and he must have seen something in my eyes, because he closed his notebook then and simply left.

But it was mostly Dad he came to see.  His questions were repetitive; it seemed he kept going over the same ground, over and over again.  I guess every time he returned to our house he wanted to see if Dad’s story had changed at all, or see if he could trip Dad up on some detail.

He’d come into the house, and when I’d go to get Dad, I’d come back to find Martinez wandering around looking at things he had no business looking at, like opening drawers in the living room, glancing through the calendar in the hallway near the phone, standing in the doorway of Dad’s den looking like he’d been in there.  He’d started coming at inconvenient times, too, and the look on his face when he was interrupting dinner told me it was on purpose.  The last time he did that, I was the one who went to the door.

“Detective Martinez,” I said, standing in the doorway and not moving aside.  He smirked at me.  I was angry, as I’d been ever since Carly had disappeared.  My anger would get really hot at times, and other times it would wane, but when it was just at pilot-light level it took very little to fire it up to an intense heat.  Now, looking at this policeman who always seemed to enjoy himself at our expense, I felt my blood rise.  Just looking at him infuriated me.  It probably was why I was able to say what I did to him.  When you’re mad, I guess you can say things that you’d never say when calm.

“Troy.  I’m here to talk to your father.”  He spoke gruffly, importantly, as though whatever he wanted, he was going to have by some sort of divine right.

“He’s eating,” I said, not moving aside as he expected me to.  “You’ll have to come back later.”  I had some force in my voice.  I made no effort to hide how mad I was.

“Sorry, but no, that doesn’t cut it.  This is official.  I need to talk to him right now.  Let me in.”  He edged forward.

I stood my ground.  “Detective, you’ve been here four times in the past two weeks just when we’ve sat down to dinner.  You’ve said you had urgent business, but I’ve listened to your questions, and they weren’t urgent at all; they were the exact same ones as before, ones that have been asked and answered.  Coming here and saying this is urgent isn’t investigating, it’s just harassing.  And we’ve had enough of it.  So, no, you can’t come in now.  Wait till we’re done if you need to talk.  Come back in an hour.”

“No, kid.  Now.  Let me in.”  He reached out to lay a hand on my shoulder.  I batted it away, hard.  I didn’t even think about it, about how it was a cop I was striking out at.  My anger was doing my thinking.

“You want in, get a warrant.  And try to touch me again, I’ll swear out a complaint for battery.”

He was seething by then.  “I’ll get a warrant and arrest you both—you for obstructing justice.”

“Screw you!” I said, my voice rising.  “Justice!  I wish!  What have I obstructed!  There’s been no justice here at all and certainly none from you!  You haven’t found anything.  Finding my sister would be justice.  You’re just wasting time.  You know my father didn’t have anything to do with it, but you don’t know what else to do other than harass a man who’s going through hell.  What have you done to find Carly other than that?  What have you done?  Tell me!”  By now I was screaming at him, and his face was almost purple.

He just looked at me, his face hard and closed, his anger ready to erupt into action, but he didn’t respond to my words—perhaps too mad to speak—and so I rushed on.  “Go ahead, get a warrant, if a judge will give you one based on absolutely nothing.  Everything I’ve seen on TV tells me you have to have something specific to justify a warrant, and what do you have?  Nothing!  I can tell from your questions you don’t know any more now than you did at the beginning! So go ahead!  Get laughed at by a judge!”

He was so mad by then that he was ready to force his way past me.  I could read his body language.

I kept talking.  My anger was spilling out, and he was the target.  I’d never have been able to say what I did without his goading me at a time when I was already furious.  “If you manage to get a warrant and arrest us, we’ll bail ourselves out, and you know what’ll happen then?  We’ve been pestered for newspaper interviews ever since this happened.  Editorials have been written about how terrible this was, very supportive editorials about our suffering.  I know just who at the newspaper to talk to.  I’ll tell her about being arrested and how you’ve accomplished absolutely nothing in all the time you’ve had the case.  How out of sheer spite, you arrested a grieving father and his fourteen-year-old son, arrested them because his son didn’t want you interrupting his dinner for the fifth time for no reason at all.  They’ll love that.  They’ll love how an experienced cop couldn’t even deal with a kid without having to arrest him!”

Detective Martinez would have liked nothing better than to shove me aside or even hit me.  He was boiling.  He opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again, then backed up.  “We’ll just see,” he said.  “Kid, you’re in deep shit here.”  And then he scowled at me and left.  That had been one of the last times that he’d come to our house.

But his constant pecking at us was part of why I was so angry all the time.  Just a little part, but it had an effect.  It also changed my attitude regarding the police.  I’d believed what I’d been told in school, that they were there to help people.  I didn’t believe it any more.

So I was angry at my parents, most of the people at school, and the police.  The only person I wasn’t angry with was Chase.

 

--- --- {} --- ---

 

I get up.  Thinking about Chase always upsets me.  I look out the window and realize I need to wash it.  Wash all the windows.  Weed the front lawn and spread some grass seed.  Go buy some grass seed.  Buy some equipment to do lawn work.  That was just what was needed outside.  Even more was needed inside.  Dad sure wasn’t going to do any of that.

I stand at the window for another minute, contemplating all that, then lie down again.

 

--- --- {} --- ---

 

Chase was in the grade below me.  He was younger, but not by much.  I was barely on one side, he was just on the other side of the cutoff date for starting school.  I was born in late July, he in early September.  Those two months meant a year’s difference in starting school for us.

He lived in my neighborhood, which was why I knew him, why we’d become friends.  We were a funny pair, I guess.  He was small and thin.  I was tall and solid, maybe even stocky.  I had blondish hair with darker undertones; his hair was black as it could be.  He had an impish sort of personality and quick wit and adventuresome spirit while I was more stoic, more reserved.

We were friends growing up, and when we were twelve, we became closer.  We’d just been friends the way boys are friends.  Then something happened, and things changed between us.  From that point on, we became more important to each other.  Soon thereafter, we were much closer.  None of our parents knew how close.  We kept it secret. 

But as much as we experimented and learned about ourselves while we were together, it was just as important that we had each other to talk to.  I told him everything, which for me was odd because I never talked much to other people except for my dad, and I didn’t tell anyone what I was feeling about boys and girls, not even my parents, or especially my dad, even though I felt very close to him.  I thought I could tell him about Chase and me, about what I’d learned about myself.   I didn’t think he’d have a problem with it, but I knew he’d tell my mom, and I thought she might not be accepting at all. 

Chase didn’t tell his parents, either.  I liked his mom, but his dad scared me a little.  He was really big and not terribly friendly.  I didn’t like the way he looked at me.  I was glad Chase wasn’t going to tell them any time soon.

After Carly was taken, after that initial day, Chase was the one I cried with.  I was simply angry with and closed off from everyone else.  With Chase, I let it all out.  He held me and tried to calm me down, but he let me cry, too.  I did that a lot with him, at first.  I was a different person with him than with everyone else.  A better person.  He kept me sane, and even with everything else I was feeling, I grew even closer to him.  Without Chase, I’d have been lost.

The days passed into weeks and the weeks into months.  We never heard anything.  Carly was just gone.  And we had our lives to live without her.

We didn’t do it very well.  Mom was in her own miserable world, sedated with alcohol; Dad was in his own world, too, but I didn’t understand his because he just wasn’t communicating any longer.  I was angry all the time, and at home I was as isolated as both of them were.  We were three people living in one house without much contact at all and no emotional support.

And then, one day when I came home from school, Mom was gone.  She was simply not there.  Her bed was empty, unmade.  Her closet had a bunch of missing clothes.  There was no note, but when I asked Dad when he came home, he told me she’d phoned him, sounding half sober for once, and told him she was going to her mother’s house.  I asked for how long, and he shrugged his shoulders.

We’d been getting by without her for a couple of months.  Detective Martinez had stopped visiting, and I was learning to handle my anger better even if it wasn’t going away, when Dad dropped his bomb on me.  We were moving.  And my arguing, and then yelling, and cursing, and even throwing a couple of things, made no difference at all.


Continued


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