"Dude! Omigod..." Adam gasped, and he tried to help me back up to my feet, but I just couldn't manage to find the strength to stand. That nervous anxiety had been burning up my energy for so long that, now that I was attempting to deal with it and let it all out...it didn't leave me with enough fuel to do anything other than stay down on my hands and knees...crying.
"I'm sorry..." I sobbed. "I'm so so sorry..."
"It's totally ok! Zack, come inside. Come on. We'll go up to my room." He said, starting to sink into a mild panic, himself.
"I don't know if I can." I said.
"Yes, you can. It'll be alright. I promise."
"Adam?" His mom called from the other room. "Is everything alright out there?"
"Everything's fine, Mom. It's just Zack. We were going to play a few games upstairs tonight. That's all." Adam stalled as best as he could, still trying to help me stand up again. It was soooo hard to not just let the emotional exhaustion just take me away at that moment. I felt dizzy and faint, but didn't want to get caught by Adam's mom while I was in this particular state of mind.
"Hi, Zack." She said, and I did my best to whimper a polite greeting in return as Adam pulled me inside and shut the door.
"You sure you're ok?" Adam whispered.
"I...I don't know. I don't know anything anymore...I just..." More tears began to run down my cheeks, and Adam tried to keep me from saying anything else before sneaking me up to his room. Luckily, his mom was a bit too preoccupied with whatever she was watching on TV at that moment to pay us much attention, but it was hard to keep from sniffling and sobbing as we hurried by her and climbed the stairs.
Adam dragged me into his room and shut the door, turning on some music to drown out our voices in case his mom came up there and heard us talking. He sat me down on the foot of his bed, and he asked, "What is it? What happened? Did he hurt you again??? That son of a bitch!"
"No...it's not that. Not this time." I said, and my face wrinkled up again as I leaned forward to cover my face with both hands. God, this was so humiliating, having a mental breakdown in front of my best friend.
"Well, what is it? What happened?" Adam seemed really worried about me, but it was hard for me to speak. Hell, it was hard for me to even find the words to put together if I could speak. I just tried to measure my breath and get my emotions under control as more tears poured out of my eyes in buckets. Adam sat next to me, and he put an arm around me, pulling me closer to allow me to lay my head on his shoulder. "It's ok, man. Seriously. Let it out. You can talk to me."
He reached over to the dresser by his bed and grabbed a box of tissues for me, giving me the warmest of embraces. And after a few more moments of desperation...I said, "I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Nothing's 'wrong' with you. Nothing at all."
"But there IS!" I cried. "I...I feel like I don't have anything left to give. I'm scared all the time. I can't even listen to my own thoughts without wanting to kill myself."
"Whoah. Zack, don't even say things like that."
"I used to be able to handle this. I used to...know how to work around it. I could smile, I could concentrate, I could fix things so they didn't hurt so much. But...somehow I lost all that. All of it. I don't have any armor left. I can't be normal anymore." I felt myself beginning to tremble violently, and I reached for a tissue to blow my nose. "I'm so confused. Why can't I go back to the way things were? Why can't I just go back to pretending it wasn't real?"
Adam gave me a squeeze, and he said, "Because...that would be a lie."
Immediately, I felt the need to defend myself. "That 'lie' is what kept me safe! It kept me sane! That 'lie' was the only thing keeping me ALIVE!" My tears were running hot, leaving long trails on my face and dripping off of my chin faster than I could wipe them away. "And now I don't know what to do. I can't deal with what I'm feeling anymore. And I practically ran away from my house, and now I'm here dumping all of this shit on your fucking shoulders, and it's not fair..."
"Shhhh...you're not dumping anything on my shoulders, ok? You're my best friend. This is what I'm here for." He said. "Just...take your time. Tell me what I can do to help you."
"I don't think anybody can help me. I don't even think I can help myself at this point." I said, wishing that I could sit up straight and stop leaning on Adam so heavily for support. I shouldn't be abusing his friendship like this. I should be dealing with this mess on my own. Just like I've always done, a million times before. "I feel like I'm breaking apart. I don't understand...I'm trying to do everything right. I'm trying to be the best possible person that I can be...but nothing works. Nothing is ever good enough. And when things aren't good enough...that results in pain. Lots and lots...of pain." I held my breath for a few seconds, but the misery of my situation kept building until the emotions pushed their way back to the surface and I began to weep all over again, my throat burning with its lame attempt to keep me from looking like a total basket case. "I just don't want to hurt anymore, Adam. I'm so tired. So very tired. I don't think I can do this anymore. I don't think I'm going to make it. It's like having a belly full of acid, eating me up from the inside...and I just can't take it." I sniffled. "I don't know what to do. I'm so alone."
"You were never alone. Don't you get that?" He said. He took his arm from around my shoulders and looked me in the eye. "Hey, we can get on the phone and call the cops right now. We can wait until they get here, you tell them what's been happening, and we can all go back over to your house tonight and put an end to this tonight."
"I can't do that..."
"Yes, you CAN! Zack, for Christ's sake, let me HELP you!!! What are you protecting him for?"
"My mom is over there too..." I whimpered.
"GOOD! Don't you think she deserves to know what's been going on too? Don't you think she would want to protect you from something like this?" He insisted. "Fuck this noise! I'm calling the cops!" He got up from the bed, and I had to shout to stop him.
"NO!!! Put the phone down!" I actually got up and snatched it out of his hand, slamming it back down on his desk. "You don't know what you're doing. I didn't come here to have you snitch on me. I just...I needed to get away for a little bit before I lost my mind and did something stupid."
"Are you fucking kidding me? This is insane!"
"I KNOW it's insane, just...can you please just be my friend for a little while? Please? I don't want you to get all riled up and try to solve my problems. I just wanted somebody to listen."
Frustrated, Adam grunted, "I'm not going to let this keep happening to you."
"You have no idea what this is doing to me, ok?"
"And what do you think it's doing to ME, huh?" He said, getting misty eyed himself at this point. "Do you have any idea what it's like, to look over at your house from my bedroom window, and wonder whether or not my best friend is getting the living shit beat out of him...and there's nothing I can do or say about it? What happens when things get really bad? What happens if your dad actually ends up putting you in the hospital, and you have to do more than just wear a sling on your arm for a few weeks?" Then I saw a single tear drip from his eye as his voice got shaky. "What happens if it's even worse than that? What happens if you end up DEAD...and you leave me, and Sam, and Brody, behind...knowing that we could have done something to help you and we didn't? THAT'S the part that's not fair, Zack! That's the part that hurts me the most."
"I'm sorry, Adam..." I said. "...I didn't mean to be such a burden with all this. If you guys had just left it alone instead of always trying to peek behind the curtain..."
"THAT'S *NOT* THE POINT, GODDAMMIT, AND YOU KNOW IT!!!" He shouted.
His mother heard the ruckus, even over the music, and called out to see if everything was ok. Adam was able to calm down enough to give her a convincing reply, but he was now crying almost as bad as I was, and I felt awful for ruining his life the way that I had ruined my own. The way that I had ruined Brody's.
Adam knelt down in front of me, taking a hold of my hand. "If you won't let me call the police, let's at least go over there and tell your mom about this. You can't keep living this way. We can ask her to come outside and talk to us if you're uncomfortable being in the same house with that asshole, and we can spill the beans on everything that's been going on. Let's go. Let's do it. Right now. I'll put my shoes on."
"You don't understand..."
"You're right. I don't get it. So let's just give it a shot. Let's see what happens."
"I can't, Adam. Please stop."
I pulled my hand back from him and I stood up from the bed. "There is a part of me that really loves and appreciates what you're trying to do here. Ok? I mean that." I tried to wipe my eyes, but my vision kept blurring up with more tears just as quickly as I got rid of them. "But, as much as it hurts...this is my life. It's all I have. It's all I know. Something like this is going to rip my whole family apart. My parents, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, cousins...people that I care about. People I love. And once the whispers start getting around at school? I won't have anywhere to call home. No comfort. No freedom from judgement, or ridicule. Just 'poor Zack', the kid who destroyed his family and his life because he wasn't strong enough to hang in there and take a little punishment every now and then."
"A little WHAT??? Dude...!"
"I'm being serious."
"So am I." He said. "You're telling me that you'd rather live in constant fear of a man who has made it his life's purpose to beat on you and cause you pain, not to mention whatever psychological damage he did for you to even consider letting this go on for one more day? Zack...tell your mom. Your mom can get you the help you need..."
"My mother loves me! She does, ok?" I sniffled. "She...she would move Heaven and Earth for me. She compliments me, and hugs me, and tries to make me feel like I can achieve anything that I put my mind to, if only I put for the effort. She's never been anything other than guiding light for me my whole life...and I should be grateful for having her there to help me get through the tough times. She's always there for me. Always." I paused as more tears ran down my cheeks. "And...every single day, that woman comes home from a long day at work...and I lie right to her face. I lie about how I'm feeling inside. I lie about the bruises, I lie about the tears, I lie about the women that my father has over at the house when she's not there. And I'm ashamed, Adam. I'm SO ashamed! Every day, it gets harder and harder to look my own mother in the eye, and it's all because I know in my heart that what I've been hiding from her is unforgivable. I've been doing it for so long that I'm afraid to stop. I can't have her hate me too. I can't. She's...all I've got left. All this is going to do is wreck our household, destroy her marriage, and embarrass us both to the point where we won't ever be able to hold our heads up in public again. That's the thanks she gets for loving me so completely? For inspiring me to keep going? That's what she deserves for doing her best to be an awesome mom? A son the lies to her face and makes her feel like shit for not being there to stop him from hurting me?" I asked. "I can't do that. I won't. I don't know what I'm going to do instead, but I'll figure it out. One way or another." I watched as Adam sat down beside me again, feeling upset and defeated. "I'm sorry, ok? I know that you're trying to do the right thing. I just need some time to think of something that won't make my life one hundred times worse than it already is. That's all. If I run out of options...I know you'll be there for me. I really love you for it, dude. Honestly."
Taking a pause, Adam looked down at his feet, and he said, "Brody's really scared that something bad is going to happen to you before you come to your senses. You know that, right?"
Hearing his name used to bring me so much excitement and joy. Now? It's just more shame. Shame for being as awful to him as I have been. "He told you that?"
"He's worried about you, Zack. Really worried..." Adam sort of peeked over at me for a second, and then directed his eyes back down to the floor. A short silence passed between us, and Adam seemed as though he was struggling with something at first, but then let out a deep sigh to get it off of his chest. "Zack...dude....if I ask you something personal, do you promise, like, not to slug me or anything?"
"Slug you? What are you talking about?"
He hesitated again. Then, "Like...what's the deal? With you and Brody, I mean?"
"The 'deal'? Dude, you lost me."
It made me uncomfortable to see Adam start to shift and fidget the way he was, and as he looked back at me, I saw something in his eyes that I don't think I had ever really seen before. A 'question'. One that has always had an assumed answer between us, but now he seemed to doubt its validity without actually asking me to find out for sure.
"Brody seemed to be pretty torn up over this whole thing. More than...well, more than I would have thought for someone who just met you a little over a month ago." Adam said. "You guys have been spending a lot of time together. Sam and I don't see you as much as we used to, and I have to adit that I've noticed a certain, ummm...'closeness' between you two."
I felt my blood run cold. My stomach began to quiver nervously as a flood of previously rehearsed excuses and diversions all came rushing to the surface to shield me from having anybody see my biggest shame of all.
"I...I don't know what you mean. We're just friends. We can be friends, there's nothing wrong with that."
"I didn't say that there was anything wrong with it..."
"Well, why say anything at all then? I mean, what are you getting at?" I asked, getting my guard up.
"Brody is overreacting to this whole thing. That's all. There's no 'deal', there's nothing going on."
Adam stared me directly in the eye, and he said, "Look...if you and Brody have something...'going on', I mean...I'm not going to think of you any differently or anything."
"Going on? We...I'm not..." I studdered and wiggled for a moment, and then tried to put my best mask back in place. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. Change the subject."
"Dude...I'm trying to tell you...it's cool. You know. If you 'are'. No hate."
"There's nothing to hate, because there's nothing going on. We're friends. That's it. End of story." I demanded. "You and me are friends, right? There's nothing 'going on' with us, is there?"
"You know what? Forget I said anything."
"No. I don't want to forget it. I want you to say that there's nothing going on." Why did I feel so hurt? Why did I feel so guilty? I lie to my mom, I lie to my friends...what kind of monster am I?
My whole life is falling apart...
"Fine. Have it your way." He said. "There's nothing going on with you and Brody. Happy now?"
"I just think that it's fucked up that you would even think that about me. As if I don't have enough to deal with right now."
"Alright, already. Geez..." He said.
I really didn't mean to be a dick about the whole thing. I just...I can't stand being exposed, ok? I have secrets. And I keep those secrets private for a reason. I don't LIKE living my life out in the open. If people were to look in and see who I really was on the inside, they might turn tail and run away from me. And I know that sounds ridiculous to some people, but who says that fearful emotions and heavy doses of self loathing have to make any kind of logical sense? It's what I feel. I'm too scared to feel anything less than super vigilant when it comes to protecting what little heart and soul I have left within me. I don't know if I have the tools to rebuild and replenish my scavenger's resources once their all used up. They may be gone for good after that.
So...my deepest apologies, Adam. But if we're going to continue this conversation, I'm afraid that we're going to have to leave my secret relationship with Brody out of this.
He's got to remain off limits for now.
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