Sometimes I marvel at the stupid shit I do. When I was seven, I tried to see how many dandelions I could put up my sister’s nose. She was three at the time, and as it turns out, four was the magic number. It took a lot of concentration on my part, especially because she wasn’t quite so sure she wanted to participate. But it was only two in each nostril, so I didn’t think it was a big deal.
But that wasn’t the truly stupid thing I did on that occasion. When she started getting upset that her nose was clogged full of flowers, I tried to pull them out, but dandelions are a lot easier to stuff into closed quarters than to pull them out with clumsy little boy fingers. Apparently, it was a brilliant stupid idea to get my mama’s crochet needle to pull them out.
While, technically, I didn’t yank her brains out with the hooked end, I wasn’t as delicate as I guess I should have been, and there may have been some blood involved. That earned me an ass whippin’ from my pa—using his belt, of course—that made it impossible for me to sit down for three full days.
From my ma, I only got the guilt trip. “Christopher James Barlow… I’m so disappointed in you. You could have pulled her brains out.”
No, Ma… pretty sure I couldn’t have done that.
Then there was the time in high school when some buddies and I thought it would be fun to break into the principal’s office at night and super glue every movable object in there to something else. Turns out, not so fun when you get caught.
Or when I was dating Cici Carlan and thought I could also date Kim Flick at the same time, and neither would be the wiser.
Turns out that girls talk.
Stupid, stupid shit I get myself into.
Of course, those were just things that were pettily foolish. I’ve committed far worse idiocies over my life that resulted in bad consequences death and destruction for all involved. Sounds dramatic, but it’s completely true.
But today… at twenty-six years of age… I marvel over my latest act of foolishness as I head west on I-40. I’m driving my big black Suburban filled with a misfit crew of people I can barely stand but have committed to spending the next several days with them on the open road.
“Christopher, can you turn the A/C down a bit?” a timid voice asks from the backseat directly behind me. My eyes cut to my rearview mirror, and I look at Dead Kid’s reflection. His hand pulls nervously at the collar of his t-shirt and I can see a thin layer of sweat on his forehead, extending upward to the bald top of his head and across his acne-infested cheeks.
“You going to be sick?” I ask suspiciously as I turn the temperature down before looking back in the mirror to try to determine if that’s a tinge of green to his skin.
“No,” he assures me, tugging at his collar. “Just hot.”
“Tell me if you’re going to be sick,” I insist, my foot easing off the gas and my eyes going to the passenger-side mirror to see if I can start making my way over to the shoulder of the interstate in case he needs to puke.
He shakes his head and looks at me through the rearview mirror, giving me a reassuring smile that fully reaches his brown eyes, which, admittedly, haven’t seemed as dull as they had for the past few weeks. “Not going to be sick.”
I let my gaze drift back to the road, accepting his word.
Not going to be sick, but you’re definitely going to die. That’s a fact, kid.
“Here… barf in this if you have to,” Goth Chick says from the backseat, and my eyes cut back to the mirror. She hands him a McDonald’s bag that had previously held the sausage biscuits we ate for breakfast.
“I’m not going to puke,” he reiterates in a firm voice, but I notice he takes the bag.
“You better not,” Goth Chick warns, her teeth flashing in a grimace made whiter by the black lipstick she’s wearing.
“He said he’s not sick so leave him alone,” a softly lilting voice says from beside me in the front passenger seat.
I have to force myself not to turn my head to look at her. Even a brief glance at Jillian Martel and her droopy blue eyes wouldn’t be safe to me, and she’s probably the real reason why I think I’ve made a stupid mistake in taking this trip.
She claims to be suffering from depression because of her condition, but fuck if you’d ever get that from her. Her disposition is as sunny and bright as her golden hair, which I know will be shimmering from the late morning sun that pours in through my glass sunroof overhead if I were to look at her. I’d nicknamed her Sexy Eyes on the day we met and that still holds true today, so it’s best I don’t look at her.
I don’t need the reminder that this girl is the epitome of everything that I am not.
I met this weird-as-hell crew—Sexy Eyes, Goth Chick, and Dead Kid—in a group therapy session where our pit-bull of a leader, Mags Bundy, is desperately trying to facilitate a friendship among us as we work through our issues.
I have little in common with the lot, but there is a thin thread of commonality that connects me to Dead Kid. He’s dying—and I want to die on some occasions—so I guess I’m a bit envious of him. I also have some resonance with Goth Chick. She’s bitter, angry at the world, and likes to smoke pot. I’m also bitter, angry at the world, and like to smoke pot.
But I can’t find anything in common with Sexy Eyes.
There’s an aura of something odd that comes off her. It’s her words, her tone of voice. It’s the way her eyes crinkle slightly when she smiles, which is the most movement I ever really see from them given her medical condition. The way she looks at you directly and the way her shoulders are always loose and relaxed, displaying an overt confidence in herself and surroundings. Out of all of us, she has a firm acceptance of her fate. Setting her even further apart from this group, she doesn’t seem upset about it at all.
In fact, I can’t figure out for the life of me why she’s even in our support group because Jillian Martel is just in a league all by herself, regardless of her disease.
She actually radiates light.
Invincibility regardless of her situation.
She seems filled with so much goddamn delight over life as she knows it that it sort of makes me hate her for it.
But the reason I made a stupid decision and came on this trip is that I’m as equally intrigued by Jillian Martel as I am repelled by her. My intrigue won out, and I agreed to this ludicrous idea of a group journey so I could be near her.
I agreed because I need to know how she does it.
How she can have such a grim future and still smile as if all is right with her world.