“Hey what the hell happened, are you okay?!?!” The man shouted at me.
“Help! There was an accident, my buddy is in bad shape, he’s not moving and I can’t find a pulse, please help us!” I cried out.
He reached into his pocket and tossed me his phone telling me to call 911 as he sped off down the road behind me towards the scene of the accident.
I dialed the emergency number and spoke to the dispatch operator as I ran back to Damien. I thought to myself, what a horrible nightmare, it wasn’t fair, that was not supposed to happen to us. Not to Damien, he had lived through so much pain and suffering already, such difficult loss and abandonment, he deserved nothing but good things in his life.
There he was laying in a field, bloody and dying if not already dead. In just a matter of seconds, his happiness was just ripped right out of his hands. And he was ripped from mine. He was my happiness, he was everything to me. He was the first thing I thought of when I woke up in the morning and the last thing to grace my mind before falling asleep.
That wasn’t going to be our fate, I refused to believe it, I refused to accept it. Damien wasn’t dead and he wasn’t going to die. We were meant to be together, I was convinced of it. He was too strong to die that young and in that way. A damn cow wasn’t going to be the end of him.
He was a hell raiser, a fighter, he was tough as nails. He had finally felt loved for who he was and damn it I refused to believe that his life was going to end so soon.
Eventually the ambulance from Terryville got there. The man on the ATV turned out to be a veteran and as fate would have it, he had been a corpsman in the Navy and served with Marines while deployed in the Middle East. He had emergency medical training, knew how to deal with situations like that.
In the rapid hours that followed our tragic accident, we rushed to the hospital and it wasn’t until the EMT’s told me, that I learned I had just as much blood on me as Damien had on himself.
I had no idea that my ankle had been broken, nor had I felt the pain from numerous fractures and cuts all over me. I was so concerned about Freckles that my own bodily injuries were meaningless. How I ran down that road with a broken ankle I have no idea, I guess our minds push out the things that don’t matter when our hearts have more important things to focus on.
As I laid in that hospital bed, I kept worrying about Damien. I just wanted to go see him, to walk into his room and see him sitting up and smiling at me with that stupid cocky grin of his, to see him wearing that ball cap like he always did.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. Damien wouldn’t have been sitting up in his bed because he wasn’t even awake. The doctors told me he was in a coma, apparently he had hit his head pretty hard when he landed and they didn’t know when or if he would ever wake up.
As the days passed painfully slow and I was released from medical care, I spent most of my time at the hospital, talking with Damien’s family. His mom, sister and brother were there almost every day. Taking turns to be by his side.
With a broken leg and bandages wrapped around his head, I hardly recognized him. I had never seen him so physically weak and broken. A state of being that really hit me hard. It was just so hard for me to see him like that after all we had been through.
The weeks continued to go by as Freckles remained in a coma. In that time I got to know his family very well. I refrained from telling them just how close Damien and I had become, but I was certain they knew something was up, they had to have suspected something simply by how I refused to leave his side.
Every opportunity we had to be alone, just he and I, I spent by his bed talking to him. Reminding him of everything we’ve done, everything we’ve been through, and all the conversations we’ve had.
I told him how much he meant to me, how I would never leave his side. I’d use my phone to play his beloved country music at his bedside and when his physical head injuries had healed, I put his ball cap on his head because I knew he would have wanted to be wearing it.
His family had retrieved our belongings from the scene of the accident, as well as from his truck which had ended up at a junkyard. It had been totaled by the insurance company who said it couldn’t be repaired.
Evan had taken a few pieces of the truck with him, knowing that it would mean a great deal to Damien to still have something from it. We all knew he would be heart broken that his truck had met its end.
Every day that passed and Damien did not awaken, another little piece of my heart fell into darkness with him. I began to fear that he would never awaken and his family would face the devastating choice of letting him go. And that I would also have to let him go, a thought that would utterly destroy me each time it haunted my thoughts.
As a month’s worth of time began to near, I felt my bravery, sanity and my hope slipping away. To have him so physically close to me and yet so mentally far away was more painful than anything I had ever experienced in my young life.
I felt so desperate and so hopeless, I would have done anything at all to bring him back to me. I had read studies that gave theories on how coma victims were in some way still conscious and they could still hear or feel people’s presence. That tiny little glimpse of hope was all that kept me from breaking apart completely.
On the 29th night of Damien’s coma, I had his room to myself as his brother went out for a walk. I pulled the chair up close to him like every time before and I held his hand in my own. I slid his cap off his head and put it on me. I ran my fingers through his amber colored hair, looking over the very face that had graced so many of my dreams over the years. His face was shaved, with just the hair on his chin remaining. His mom had made it a point to shave him exactly the way he always kept it himself.
I leaned in close to his ear and whispered what I hoped would not be my final words to him, “I’d give anything to see that damn smirk on your face one more time, to see you open those aqua colored eyes and look right into my soul, just like the very first time I saw you. I want to hear your laughter again, I want you to reach up and punch me in the shoulder again, it was your own strange way of reassuring me.”
With tears slowly flowing down my face, I continued “I don’t know if you realize how immensely difficult this has been. This world seems so much colder without you in it, so fucking depressing. If you don’t come back to me, I don’t want to live this life anymore. I didn’t wait all this time just to lose you the moment you told me how you felt.”
Choking up and finding it hard to speak, I fought back the tightening of my throat and continued, “You have changed me Freckles, you have made me a better man, but my friend your time here is not done. There is so much more for us to do and talk about, we are supposed to have a lifetime of you getting me into trouble. You need to open those god damn amazing eyes and tell me to fucking grow a pair because I can’t take this anymore. You’ve showed me how to love you, now you need to wake up so that I can actually do that, you’ve gone through too much shit to lay here and wither up like this. If you can hear me, then fight my friend, fight for your life with the tenacity I know you to have. My heart belongs to you, now wake up and claim it!”
As I spoke to him a hand came down onto my shoulder and startled me out of the chair. I turned to see Evan standing behind me. I didn’t know how much of what I had just spoken to Damien that he heard, but based on the tears in his eyes I assumed he had heard enough of it.
“Evan, I didn’t know you were…” I said pulling Damien’s cap off my head. Evan held up his hand and cut me off before I could finish my sentence.
“You don’t need to explain, I kind of figured it out when you refused to leave his side. Only two things can make someone have that kind of commitment, either guilt or love and after what I just heard it’s obvious.” Evan pointed out.
“Right, hope this isn’t weird for you?” I asked feeling cautious.
“Ha!” Evan shouted with a laugh, “My brother was born a girl, nothing is weird to me anymore. Me and mom were talking about you this last week, she said the way you looked at Damien was not the kind of look any of Damien’s other guy friends ever gave him.” He explained.
“Yeah, I guess it probably was obvious then. I don’t really know what to say about it.” I said standing there feeling uneasy.
“You don’t have to say anything man, there’s nothing but love in this room and that’s exactly what my brother needs. I’m glad he’s got you by his side, I’ve always been worried that no one would ever understand and love him. I just wish he was awake to feel it.” Evan said with a tone of both acceptance and defeat.
With those words he stepped towards me and embraced me with an unexpected hug. Though initially awkward as are all first experiences, I really needed that hug and I suspected he needed it too. Evan and I stayed there by Damien’s side late into the night until their mom showed up to send Evan home. I decided to leave as well and try to get some sleep. His mom offered to let me stay the night at their place if I didn’t want to be alone.
I told her I didn’t want to be an unnecessary burden, but she corrected me, “You’re anything but a burden, it means a great deal to us that you are such a great friend to Damien and have consistently shown up to be by his side through this whole thing.”
“Who can refuse a mother’s sincere and warm welcome?” Evan reassured me, he continued, “Come on man, it would be an honor to show you the same acceptance and love you’ve shown my brother. Come spend the night and you can tell me stories about you and Damien.”
It felt wrong to turn down their invite and I didn’t have to work the next day, so I agreed to go with Evan. He told me he would drive me back to the hospital in the morning to get my car. I slid Damien’s hat back onto his head, turned and walked towards the door with Evan. I looked back one last time at Freckles laying in that bed.
I was still convinced that he and I had been destined to meet and still destined to be together, that from the beginning, from the time we were born, we were fated to be in each other’s lives and I absolutely refused to believe that this was how it was going to end. I needed the chance to tell him while he was awake to hear it, just how madly in love with him I truly was.
Evan’s car was a ’98 Plymouth Neon coupe, blue with a grey interior. The seats were slightly worn and I could see the foam showing through from underneath. The dash was dusty, the car smelled like ashes and vanilla. I looked up at the rear-view mirror and noticed a vanilla scented tree-shaped air freshener. The floor mat on the passenger side had bits of sand here and there, it was apparent to me that he had spent some time down at the sand bar along the river.
I looked down at the center console, in front of two cup holders there was a tray molded into it, just underneath the stereo system. Evan was putting a duffel bag in the back seat, so the overhead light shown down into the car, into places the parking lot lights previously couldn’t reach. Inside the little cubby-hole, I could see a pair of aviator sunglasses, a tin can of breath mints, some old pennies, and a power adapter meant to be plugged into a car’s cigarette lighter. What it was meant to power or even where the cord led to, I couldn’t tell.
Evan pushed his seat back until it clicked and sat down in the driver’s seat next to me. “And we’re off!” He announced with a smile.
As we drove off into the night, I looked over at Evan. He was staring intently into the distance, simultaneously being vigilant about the road ahead of us, and also clearly deep in thought about his brother back at the hospital. Evan was very different from Damien. His hair was longer, hanging down just to his eyebrows. It was brown and unkept. His clothes were loose fitting and he always wore sneakers, the flat-bottomed kind that skaters often wear. His socks went all the way up to his calves, and every day at the hospital he wore a bracelet on his right wrist made out of some kind of thread.
“Does that have some kind of meaning?” I asked, pointing to the bracelet.
“Oh, that?” Evan asked innocently, touching the bracelet by wrapping his left hand around his right wrist. He continued, “Damien made this for me, a really long time ago when we were kids. I was going through some old stuff at the house, found it, and just decided to wear it. Stupid I guess.”
“Nah, man that’s not stupid at all, in fact I think it’s great and when Damien wakes up and sees it, he’s going to give you that classic Damien smirk.” I replied.
“Thanks dude, you’re right, Damien would appreciate seeing me wear it again. Do you really think he’ll wake up?” Evan asked sincerely.
I took a moment to grasp what Evan had just asked. The thought that Damien would never wake up again was one that I kept pushing out of my thoughts. I didn’t want to think about it as a possibility at all. But at that point, Evan basically forced me to think about it again and more seriously. It filled me with this feeling of emptiness, hopelessness, as though something vital to my survival had just been taken from me.
I shook my head and replied with certainty, “He’s not staying in that coma forever, your brother is a fighter, he’s going to wake up, get his strength back, and be the same ass-kicking, ball-cap wearing, boot wearing, cussing, redneck, we both know and love him to be!”
Evan laughed slightly at my description of his brother and then confessed, “I hope you’re right, I’ve been having nightmares about him not waking up and dying in that hospital bed. I’ve been losing a lot sleep and no amount of weed is making any of this better. I’m terrified I’m going to lose my brother.”
I watched Evan as he vented those feelings to me and I could see the hurt in his eyes and the trembling in his lips as he spoke those words aloud, probably for the first time to anyone. As we pulled into their drive way, I took some time to gather my thoughts and figure out the best way to console him. I had spent a lot of time thinking about Damien and his condition, but I hadn’t really spent enough time considering how his mom and siblings must have been feeling.
Evan put the car in park and announced, “Alright man, we’re here, this is home.”
He unbuckled his seat belt and reached for the door. I reached out and took him by the arm, “Wait, I want to say something first.”
He looked over at me and resettled himself into the seat. His eyes reflected a sense of yearning, maybe out of consolation or maybe just out of mere curiosity as to what I was going to say.
“It seems to me,” I began solemnly, “That we always think about the victims of a tragedy, being the only victims of that tragedy. But the truth is the people closest to that victim, the ones who love him or her the most, they also suffer, they too are victims in some way.”
“I would agree,” Evan responded.
“What I’m trying to say,” I continued, “Is that I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything that you might be feeling. I know you don’t know me very well, and I don’t know you very well either…” I paused and recalled something Damien had told me, “Well I do know about the Rastafarian tattoo on your ass,” Evan cut me off and started laughing loudly. I continued, “Seriously though, you matter a great deal to Damien, and that means you matter a great deal to me.”
His face turned serious for a moment and he replied, “Thanks dude, that actually means a lot to me. I could tell that you’re someone I can talk to about stuff like this, you seem like a really deep person. And I heard all those things you said to Damien at the hospital. That really got to me, I’ve never been with someone who loved me as much as you obviously love my brother.”
Evan smiled at me and proceeded to exit the car, “Okay, let’s go inside, I’m fucking starving.”
I followed Evan up the sidewalk to his home, the place where he and his mom had been living ever since they left the family farm. His father abandoned him before he ever got into kindergarten. His grandfather died when he was about sixteen years old. And at this point, having just graduated from high school, he was at risk of losing his brother. Evan had faced a hard and painful life, equal to the suffering any of the rest of us have ever faced.
Inside he began rummaging through the refrigerator for food. I took a seat atop a bar stool placed around the island in the center of the kitchen. I watched in amusement as Evan scoured about to sate his appetite when suddenly he stuck his head out from the fridge holding a box.
“Hey, does this sound good?” He asked, showing me a box of frozen pizza.
I responded with a stupid grin, not so much at the pizza, but at Evan. He was so much like a kid. He may have been eighteen or nineteen years old, but his behavior really was that of an innocent child. He had this playful, youthful, innocence about him. The way he talked, the way he walked, he truly was a child trapped in a teenager’s body. He seemed to have this wonder about him, this curiosity about the world, how it worked, a desire to have a good time at all times, a vigor for the amazing, a hunger for new experiences. It didn’t surprise me at all that Damien had called him a pothead.
Before I knew it the oven had beeped, indicating that it was heated up. Evan tossed the pizza in and set the timer, “Can you keep an eye on it, I’m gonna run upstairs and shower real quick?” He asked.
“Sure man, no problem.” I assured him.
“Cool, thanks, I’ll be right back.” He announced, as he hurried off into the next room. As I sat there, I took a moment to look around the kitchen. They had beautiful granite counter-tops, the walls were tiled halfway up, and the cabinets were a deep and rich cherry wood. The house smelled of apples and cinnamon and as I looked around, I noticed the window above the sink. Out of curiosity, I got up to investigate if I could see anything outside.
When my feet met the floor once more, I realized for the first time that the floor was tile, it had an uneven natural surface and I bent down to touch it with my hand. It was both smooth and slightly bumpy at the same time, and I wondered to myself how hard it would be to keep clean. I made my way to the window and stood up on my tip toes to glance outside. The night was dark, but being in town there were many illuminating lights scattered throughout the distance, glowing with their soft amber light. The color made me think of Freckles and his amber colored hair.
I closed my eyes and I could see his face, his stunning aqua-blue eyes, glowing from the sunlight, just as I had seen them many times before. I would have given anything in that moment and every moment since he fell into a coma, to see him greet me with those incredible eyes once again, to see them looking into my own, with that dorky grin adorned across his face, and all of those beautiful freckles. My heart ached from the events that had unfolded, it yearned to be in his company again.
I thought about that time at the Mexican restaurant when he reached across the table and brushed his hand through my hair, and that day while we were camping on the farm when he tried to comb my hair down with his hands. To feel his warm hands touch me again, brought an ache so deep that I could have sworn I felt it in my bones. I opened my eyes and looked back into the darkness outside. The night looked so empty, as empty as my soul felt inside.
“That damn pizza done yet!?!?!” Evan demanded to know, startling me back into the reality of the moment I was in.
“Oh, uh, I don’t think so, I didn’t hear the timer go off.” I proclaimed, making my way to the tiny window in the oven door. I peered inside and could feel the warmth escaping from the seal around the door.
“Let me see,” Evan proclaimed as he gently pushed me aside.
I glanced over at him and was bewildered by the image before me. Evan’s hair was still wet, sticking up wildly in all directions. He stood there in nothing but his pot leaf covered underwear, looking down through the tiny window with a hunger probably equivalent to an African lion on the Serengeti.
I laughed out loud at the sight of him, unable to fully grasp the vestige in front of me. Disgruntled by my sudden amusement, he inquired, “What’s so damn funny?”
“Dude, what the hell, did you not think to take time to dry your hair and put on some clothes?” I said, after re-gaining my composure.
“What’s wrong with how I look? I’m going to bed eventually, not out for a night on the town. Besides my hair will air dry on its own.” He asserted.
“Okay, but you didn’t think you needed to wear pants?” I wondered aloud.
“Pants?” He asked, giving me his own look of bewilderment, as though I had just asked him if he had a pet unicorn.
“Yeah, you know, the clothing garment worn on the lower half of your body?” I countered.
“Man your lucky I have underwear on. When I’m home alone, I go full birthday suit.” Evan declared.
My jaw hit the floor just as the timer on the counter rang out that it was time to eat. I sat down on my chosen bar stool as Evan pulled the pizza from the oven and slid it onto the island counter. He handed me a plate and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I asked for water and he tossed me a beer from the fridge instead, and retrieved one for himself.
“Um, aren’t you under twenty-one?” I asked, as he popped the cap off.
“So,” he replied, laughing at me and my clearly ridiculous question. I needed only remind myself that I was in the presence of Evan Finley, the Earth child, weed smoking, free spirit, who has the tattoo of a Rastafarian lion on his butt cheek.
He slid one of the bar stools over next to me, handed me a plate, and plopped down next to me. He was taller than me, slender build, long feet, hairy arms and hairy legs with a tuft of hair in the center of his chest.
He must have felt me staring because he looked over at me out of the corner of his eye. I leaned over and commented, “Really? Pot leaf underwear? Isn’t that a bit much?”
He didn’t look over at me, but he smiled saying, “It’s not just about a plant, not just about smoking, it’s a lifestyle, it has its own culture, its own ideology, it’s a part of who I am. I wear it proudly.”
“Clearly,” I attested.
He smiled again and asked, “Did you see this one?” Pointing down at his crotch.
Right in the middle of his crotch was a large pot leaf with the peace symbol in the middle of it. I responded, “I probably should not have looked at your crotch, after all, I am in love with your older brother.”
“True, but let’s not pretend you hadn’t already checked me out.” He said with certainty.
“Damn you.” I muttered.
He laughed hysterically in his chair and then took a bite of his pizza. I was convinced at that point that he was absolutely immature. I wasn’t so sure about the whole innocent part anymore, but he definitely had the mind of someone blissfully naive. His cocky attitude reminded me of Damien and in that moment I realized the obvious, the two of them were undeniably brothers.
We ate our pizza in what was mostly silence, both of us lost in thought about Damien undoubtedly. More than ever before, I desperately wanted him to wake up. There I was, sitting, talking, eating, laughing with his baby brother, having been invited into his mother’s home, having been welcomed into his family. And yet, he wasn’t there, he was completely unable to interact with the world outside, unable to live alongside me, unable to be in this dream that was unfolding all around me. It was Damien who was supposed to be sitting there next to me, not Evan.
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