Hit and Run – 7

Inevitably Joe’s determined curiosity widened to include the rest of the world. As his medical condition worsened, his parents curtailed family outings without saying a word or ever referring to the involuntary confined nature of the shorter vacations. “Any chance of a trip somewhere exotic, Dad?” he asked, once. He saw the anguished looks and exchanged, entrapped glance they shared over his head. Joey never asked again.

Joey’s queries toned down and became more secretive. On his way to the public library, he discovered a table covered with stacks of old postcards in a junk shop. Joey fanned out sanitized images of capitol cities and stared transfixed. He fingered the old thick cardboard and posited himself there, an alternate Joe someplace seen by him only in his imagination. He knew kismet had randomly assigned him the death card.

Perhaps a few freebies were in the mix as well.

Some magazines had coupons for glossy brochures of vacation getaways. He filled out coupons in his careful script and sent them off. He started writing away to travel agencies and to the embassies of foreign countries.

Descriptions began pouring in from around the globe and woke a deep hunger in him for all the things and places he’d never get to see. His reading matter shifted to books about exotic locales. Joey did weeks of research on the wide, wide world in the library’s travel and geography stacks. He read about Europe first, and next he planned to move on to Africa, and South America, and Asia, last stop the Antarctic!

Lou found an application sheet his brother had hidden. “A new opportunity for a new life …Whatever your origins, nationality or religion might be, whatever qualifications you may or may not have, whatever your social or professional status might be, whether you are married or single, the French Foreign Legion offers you a chance to start a new life…”

Lou went on reading, incredulous. Joey had filled out the forms right up to the paragraph indicating that selection for the Legion was carried out in person near Marseille, and that the applicant had to be physically fit to serve at all times in all places. Lou put the form back in the desk and never told his brother he’d seen it.

Joey had a huge hunger to go see everything he read about, but his doctors absolutely refused to let him fly. It would have killed him quicker than quick. “I’m going to die anyway!” he fumed, but his parents intervened.

“It’s not going to happen, Joe. Let it go,” they said firmly.

By then Joey’s time was almost up; and they didn’t want to sacrifice any of the time he had left with them. It was, Lou said, his parents’ one truly selfish act. Even though Joey’s final wish before he died was a first, and last, Grand Tour, like the adventures he’d read about all his heroes taking through the ages, they said no. They couldn’t take the time off to go with him, the Bocci family didn’t have the money to finance his going alone, and he now needed continued, around the clock medical attention.

Joey endured another emergency trip to the hospital. At the end of the medical interventions his parents gave an order to his head doctor. “The next time, do not resuscitate,” they said and signed the necessary forms. Everyone standing there in the sterile room knew, quite literally, they’d just agreed to a death warrant. The only trip remaining would be a final one back to the hospital, and accepting that fact might be what broke Joey’s heart.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 6

He entered magazine contests and it didn’t matter what the prizes were. Mrs. Bocci was the first housewife in their neighborhood to own a brand new Maytag dishwasher. He won an extra dryer, which his parents passed on to their aunt and uncle for Christmas that year when his newest cousin was born.

He loved the surprise of each free gift. Sur-prizes, he called them. Joey sent away for samples of things just for the hell of it. He had the time; what else was he going to do with all those hours stuck sitting in his wheel chair? His family received the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. A through Androphagi. He kept Mom in perfume and the rest of the family in soap and shampoo. Any time a new product came out, such as the first mint toothpaste, Joey ordered it. The Boccis were always the first ones on the block to try any of them.

His past time took on epic proportions. They didn’t just have free food samples to try. Joey ordered free animal feed samples too: packets of birdseed. Hamster food. Gold fish pellet food. Pouches of cat food and dog food, even horse feed. His parents finally told Joey to stop with the animal feed already; they couldn’t even have any pets because of the danger of allergies or infection from scratches. Joey’s dad donated it all to the local animal shelter.

It didn’t stop there. Once or twice a week the mailman delivered a package containing free items with company logos. Joey would read about a new product being promoted and bing, the coupons were clipped and filled out and in the mail before anyone could stop him. The Bocci household received free tote bags, baseball caps, tee shirts and socks and other products. Actually his parents didn’t try to stop him from sending away for those items once they realized how much money his obsession was saving them on clothes.

Joey’s hobby embraced the airways. The radio advertised promotional giveaways for new stores (a raffle for a bottle of whiskey from a new liquor store chain, which he couldn’t enter because he was under age), tickets for a theater opening downtown. He won a ride in the local weather helicopter – and because he couldn’t fly because of air pressure and collapsing sinus issues, Lou and Mr. Bocci went in his place. Now that was cool!

Here the tale ended abruptly, the silence Margaret’s cue to ask questions. It didn’t matter what she asked, really, as long as it gave Lou an idea of what she wanted to hear about next. “Was he persistent or just incredibly lucky?”

“Margaret,” Lou explained patiently, “no one was ever stupid enough to call Joey lucky. But yes, he had a run of luck where it seemed like the Universe was giving him a break to make up for the crap cards he’d been dealt just by being born. He really did have fun entering contests and winning stuff.”

“What’s the coolest thing he ever won?”

Lou frowned. “I just told you: the helicopter ride. At least to me and my Dad it was the coolest,” he amended, yielding to the apologetic look on his girlfriend’s face. “And he won fourth prize in a contest for a new Pontiac. My parents took the cash from that one and put it into savings bonds. That money helped put me through college.”

“It was okay with Joe? He didn’t want the money for himself?”

“Well,” Lou said slowly, “by then his lucky streak was running out. Joey hid it from the rest of us. He’d started getting weaker again instead of stronger… He didn’t have a whole lot of time left. And I think he was trying to win money and prizes for us to make up for the gap that would be there after he was gone.”

Margaret sighed and hugged her boyfriend. “Jesus, Lou. How could your family stand it?”

Lou shrugged. “We didn’t get calloused or anything, but it wasn’t like any of us didn’t know the end was coming. We just kind of… went on as we had been. What else is there to say? Joey was the glue for a broken situation; it was broke from the minute he was born. He was the glue holding the entire family together in spite of everything.”

“I just think, I mean, I can’t imagine how you all dealt with it.”

“Margaret, I never cease to be amazed at what people just deal with when they have to. How did my family deal with stuff? We just, did. Until we couldn’t any longer. When Joey went in the hospital the last time we thought it was temporary, just more of the usual batteries of tests. When his doctors found the tumor I think everyone knew that this was going to be it.”

“At least you all had each other. Your family was so strong!”

He looked at her with a strange expression. “Babe, that’s the whole point of what I’ve been telling you. We weren’t strong. Joey was! We were people he was supporting through his illness. The only thing we had in common was the DNA connection. Joey was never related to anybody I could figure out, not really, unless it was some kind of genetically defective super hero who hasn’t been invented or born yet.”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 5

Then Lou’s stories simply dried up. Margaret realized she’d need to prompt him to tell her more about his dead twin. Margaret tried to just enjoy Lou, sans shadow, but whatever they discussed would compel her to ask him about the lost brother. At first she was tentative, afraid to raise unhappy memories. But Lou welcomed her questions. Margaret merely had to pose a new query and Lou gladly launched into a lengthy story.

He warmed again to the topic of his dead twin. His confidences became more intimate and rambling, the conversations shifting like sand before Margaret could ask anything further. Joey’s dim, elusive form shimmered renewed with the next conversations.

“How did Joey deal with always being sick?” she asked.

Joe didn’t deal with it. He never adjusted to his death sentence. When he became a teenager, he began to fight back. After enduring a childhood dictated by pills and shots and special foods and what he could and couldn’t do, Lou’s brother went on both a mind improvement and body building kick. It was amazing.

Joey spent his time in the library leafing through every magazine in the school racks. Being weak meant he perused anything to be found in print. The other kids basically left him alone; even the bullies went out of their way to avoid him. Joey was a pariah because kids are even more superstitious than adults. His peers looked at him and were scared just being near someone so sick might make it catching.

His fragilities didn’t stop him from attempting to do what he wanted. Joey was the 90-pound weakling, desiring to recreate himself. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger, wanting to build a perfect body from scratch. Joey never did steroids, though. He was on so many delicately calibrated medications that when Joey got healthy for a short while, a magic period of hope, he refused everything except aspirin.

“Remember the Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrappers?” Lou said. One of them advertised a booklet Joey could send away for, ‘How to transform yourself from a 90 pound weakling into a muscle mass.’ Okay, the booklet was a joke, and Joey recognized the joke immediately, but that booklet was merely the start. He started following more serious bodybuilding manuals. He got hold of an old Air Force exercise booklet, which began with 5 girlie push ups a day, working up to 50-75 real push ups, the ones complete with clapping hands between each push up as you lift off the floor. Joey didn’t actually get that good at them. But, he changed his body. If his limbs still twisted, he managed to gain a significant amount of control over his motor functions. Once he felt as if he had his physical body slightly more in his power, Joey turned next to improving his material environment.

Joey sat in the school library for hours. He hid there during recess and lunch periods, but the sounds of everyone out on the playground came through the open windows. Hearing the sound of other children shrieking was bad, and as Joey listened he tried to imagine it came from children somewhere far away. When he did see them the distance apparent between what they could do and what he could not was too terrible. He would perch at the dark wood of the windowsill, holding himself upright and steady with one hand as he watched. Children in groups skipped ropes, chased balls, played tag. The teacher with recess duty wore a light jacket and an expression of endless weary patience. He or she sometimes called out across the tarmac, “Hey! That’s enough of that, Loreen!”

Unseen and unimportant, from the high window Joey observed when the teacher rushed to the aid of a fallen child or broke up a playground fight. He hated it. Watching reminded him that no one would ever need to run to prevent him from doing something he shouldn’t; watching only reminded him that he couldn’t run.

Joey moved to a table where he could sit with his back to the windows. Determinedly Joey closed his ears to the cries of his peers playing outside the walls and forever beyond his ken.

Eventually Joey made his way through all of the school magazines. He began to take the bus to the public library. After school Joey sat among the adult publications where he felt less excluded. Around him sat members of his home city’s increasing homeless population, noisily turning pages and keeping a careful eye on their oversized bags of belongings. There were a few students, or grown ups coming in to claim the copies of recent novels they had put on hold, and every so often a class of younger children arrived for reading hour. Otherwise though, Joey could feel like he was simply another library user, ageless and without handicaps.

At the school library Joey had pored over National Geographic Kids, Odyssey, Ranger Rick, Highlights for Children, and Boys’ Life. He took that same determination and perused the magazines he imagined his mother and father would each read if their time hadn’t been taken up with his care. This was when he discovered adult magazines with their endless advertisements for write-in contests, coupons to win prizes, and teasers to learn more about great deals. Joey flipped pages hunting for things to win, things to present to his parents. Joey wanted, Lou said thoughtfully, to present them with distractions from the nonrefundable item they’d brought home from the hospital: their youngest son and his damaged body.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 4

Lou became a different person when he talked about his dead brother. Each time he mentioned Joey’s name Lou’s own plain, pleasant face would animate. It was as if a locked cabinet door suddenly swung open, each time letting out bright treasures long stacked up and locked away for safekeeping.

Margaret learned not to interrupt the flow of memories; when she asked too many questions the stories might derail. Plus Lou tossed out medical terms that meant nothing to her. She had no idea he knew so much about medicine and genetic diseases.

She preferred the details about what his days with Joey had been like. “We’d sit on an old couch in the rec room and watch TV,” Lou recalled, and it took shape as he spoke. It was yellow and brown plaid and really ugly. Mrs. Bocci had covered it with a clashing afghan, luckily out of sight down in the remodeled cellar. Lou and Joey watched television down there in the darkened room, drinking cokes and eating candy bars. Or Lou did; Joey had to avoid sugar as his parents and medical team tried successive diet regimes to control his myriad conditions.

Lou and Joey were exactly the same height, and they had the same features. The boys were monozygotic, what they call identical twins. They were truly identical. Only 8% of twins are monozygotic, and double births like Lou and Joey make up only 3 in every 1,000 deliveries worldwide, regardless of race. The chances of a fertilization ending in monozygotic twins are the same, for every population everywhere, all around the world.

Lou’s voice took on a slightly lecturing tone as he recited each fact about Joey and his life. Margaret ate them up. The more facts he imparted the smarter she became, both about the topic of twins and about her boyfriend. With fraternal twins, Lou told her, the most frequent occurrence is brother/sister births. In identical or monozygotic twins, brother/brother births are the rarest births of all.

When the boys were out together in public it was more than obvious something was wrong. Clearly Joe was confined to a wheelchair or needed to use a cane to walk. If the viewer didn’t see the handicaps, though, Joey and Lou were identical. Without the cane or braces in plain sight, it was only when Joey coughed that someone could identify which twin was which.

As they aged they would likely become more alike, with the same IQ and personality. How twins are brought up, whether in the same house or separated at birth – that factor makes surprisingly little difference. Of course, the fact that Joey was born with congenital defects complicated the math equation for the prediction. But the boys loved being twins; it was cool. Because of his brother, because of Joey, Lou was automatically special. While Joey was still alive, Lou stopped wanting to be an astronaut. For a time he wanted to go into genetic research.

Margaret went home each evening to sleep that was attended by strange dreams. Cells replicated in her dreams, forming up on the left into a perfectly regular human shape. On the opposite side, a tragically beautiful über-human took form. The gestalt was unquestionably male. But then the contour of the image blurred and curled at the edges, unable to hold his ideal form.

She woke up thinking about Lou and his frail, pale double.

Margaret began looking at Lou with different eyes. He simply wasn’t the same person as before. Lou hadn’t changed, of course, but his past and the absent twinned half that had been tragically cut down by illness, the part of him inexorably gone was the part Margaret found mysterious. The lost duplicate cells were of endless fascination for her.

In the hours between dates with Lou, Margaret daydreamed about her lover. How many other seemingly ordinary men and women might there be in the world, persons who seemed so common on the outside, all of them with their secrets and old tragedies. How many people had strange cloned or parallel universe doubles, tragically vanished and never to be retrieved? Maybe, she mused, maybe we all have doubles we sense on some strange level, and we mourn them without ever realizing it. When we talk about the search to find your soul mate, maybe what we really mean is your other half, the part you lost in some earlier life. And when you meet again in the current incarnation, you come together to be whole without even recognizing it’s happened. It’s just your missing twin, whom you’ve refound.

She scoffed at herself for such fanciful notions, but Margaret was a little bit envious of her boyfriend’s past history. Strangely, his incompleteness made him whole. Lou wasn’t a decent guy with a good if boring career. He was somehow so much more than the sum of his parts, both those existing and the ones that had vanished. Or maybe especially those parts that were dead. Not only did Margaret observe Lou with new eyes; she really saw him for the first time. Margaret began to fall in love.

Margaret started to observe everyone around her in terms of what didn’t show. For the first time in her working life she paid attention to office gossip. She filled in the blanks of inferences, the hushed stories of office affairs and scandals. A sales representative reported his company car had been stolen, and Margaret listened avidly to the delighted gossips whispering the Chrysler had last been seen parked a few blocks from the train station… back by bars that advertised pole dancing. More ominously, the car was reported as found on a corner reputedly trafficked by transvestites.

When a man in the neighboring business office was fired, Margaret listened just as avidly as the same delighted gossips repeated the rumor he’d been caught with his hand in the pocket of someone’s jacket in the coat closet. Weirdly, the story was that he only wanted the ring the person’s keys were on and hadn’t intended to steal the keys at all.

She wasn’t developing an appetite for gossip. In a strange way, it was the opposite of gossip: what Margaret experienced was a genuine curiosity about other people and the sides of their lives that weren’t apparent. She was learning to care about the quiet inner lives of the people she sat beside in the office or passed on the streets every day.

Margaret paid more attention to her sisters, too. On the next walk around Scupper Lake, she really listened as Lila alluded to an argument with Margaret’s brother-in-law Claude. “We always end up in the same disagreement, his needs versus mine, and where it’s all going.”

Ginny rushed to comfort Lila. “You have to make a decision at some point,” she said gently. “This has been going on forever.”

Margaret stopped dead in the middle of the lake path. She grabbed Lila and hugged her sister close despite the weights. “I am so, so sorry! I’m so caught up in my own trips that I just always assume you and Claude have to be doing fine! I haven’t been a very good listener.” Ashamed, Margaret realized she did all the talking. Their walks around the lake had turned into opportunities she used to muse about Joey, ever since she’d finally told her sisters about him.

But her sisters had noticed that she was paying more attention to their lives, too. “We’re mostly doing just fine,” they reassured her. “So, tell us the latest on Joey!”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 2

A few nights later she sat on the nubby brown couch at Lou’s apartment. They had eaten a mediocre pizza and watched a movie to match, set in a future containing a wooden Keanu Reeves. Margaret slid the DVD back into its case and yawned.

“You know, Joe loved science fiction.”

At the sound of the twin’s name Margaret suddenly resembled a house pet, a cat or dog with ears perking up. Lou hadn’t mentioned him again since that Saturday afternoon in the coffee shop, and she’d been trying to think of a way to reintroduce the subject.

“Is that how you ended up watching so much Star Trek?”

Lou nodded and crammed the last piece of pizza into his mouth. She held her breath and waited. Then, in a posthumous portrait of words as his surviving brother spoke, Joey began to take form.

Sickly children either become television addicts or they are voracious readers; Joey was both. Joey read the Dune series over and over and over, loving the complex mythology and the idea of using will power to rule others, and oneself. His favorite quote was how fear is the little death. Despite his fragility, Joey’s whole existence was a total lack of fear of death.

He hated his disabilities, and avoided mirrors. But he loved anything to do with Star Trek. What he found so inspiring was the idea of a future society where beings with all sorts of handicaps or differences still had their places and their strengths.

When the boys were still little, Joey became a connoisseur of serial television. The amount of time Joey could go out and play was limited. Sometimes Lou watched old series on television with him during the afternoons. Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Lost in Space were their particular favorites. Margaret had been a closet fan of most of those shows all her life. Hearing how Joey cajoled his twin Lou into watching the shows, and then turned him into a follower of them, was fun.

One afternoon, Lou told her, the television show credits had begun rolling down the screen. In the green glow of the darkened cellar room Joey looked over to where his brother slouched and methodically cracked peanut shells.

“Sometimes I get this feeling,” Joey said quietly.

“What’s that?” his brother mumbled, his mouth full of peanuts.

“Like I have a hit and run life.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“A couple different things.” Joey kept looking at Lou until he was convinced he had his brother’s full attention. “I get born into this cool world, but I can’t run, or play ball, or even walk right. My life is a hit and run accident. First the accident happened (my birth) and afterwards life left me behind at the scene of the crash to deal with it.

“Or maybe the whole point of it is, it’s like I was always meant to deal with it. That I have to get up and run, even after being hit. Make the best of things.”

Lou swallowed the last of the nuts. “Maybe there’s a third option,” he objected. “Do you ever stop to think that maybe it’s the same for everyone? All of us live in a random universe, where every day totally random stuff happens. Good or bad, it’s always a surprise.” Lou sat up and leaned over the messy, scarred table to emphasize his words. “Maybe,” he went on slowly as he thought it through, “maybe it can be positive. Good stuff happening. Hits like hit songs or movies, runs like home runs and a player’s lucky streak.”

“Maybe,” Joey said. “But not for most of us. And not me, that’s for sure. My hit and run life is the version that occurred on the back road in the middle of the night. The next morning there I was, lying by the side of the road.

“But I know what you’re saying.” Generously Joey added, “I guess I’ve been trying ever since to turn it into the hit and run version you mean.”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 1

It was almost a year before Lou mentioned his brother. “You already know all the details about me, Margaret,” he repeated flatly. “The most unusual thing about me is that in Italian my last name means lawn bowling.”

Margaret composed a mental grocery list as she listened. In Italian… Italian food. Ground meat, ricotta cheese, maybe lasagna?

“Now, my twin, he was extraordinary.”

With that comment her attention snapped back. “What did you say? I didn’t know you had a brother! I thought you just had two sisters who were a lot older. And I sure didn’t know about a twin. How come you never told me you have a twin?” Margaret stared at him, astonished.

“Had,” Lou corrected her, and shrugged. “Had. What is there to say? His name was Joe. Joey. He lived, he died. He’s gone, I’m here. Although I wonder sometimes what it would have been like the other way around.”

Margaret felt she was viewing something she took for granted for the thousandth time, an inanimate object, and it suddenly winked at her. “What’s that supposed to mean, the other way around? What was he like?” she prompted, intensely curious.

Lou looked away into the distance for a minute before he eyed her sideways, considering whether or not to talk about his brother. Finally he came out with, “Joe was great. He was born 25 minutes after me, but that was the only time I did anything ahead of him. We were yin and yang.”

They sat with their coffees in the café as Margaret waited for him to go on.

“My twin, who died,” Lou said with difficulty, “was a great guy. Much more fun than I was. Am.” Lou sat on a straight-backed café chair with his left leg crossed over the right, his foot tapping up and down ever so slightly. “We were what they call change of life babies. By the time we came along, both my sisters were almost out of the house already. I remember them taking care of me when I was a really little boy. They helped my parents a lot, to prepare them for the time after both my sisters left to go lead adult lives.
“But my brother,” Lou went on slowly, “Joey almost didn’t get born.”

He stopped talking and Margaret knew he was revisiting old pain, hesitant to open up a new aspect of himself (his brother, she amended as she waited) to review. Margaret carefully nodded to show she was listening and wanted to hear more.

Finally Lou went on. “I was born first, an easy delivery, but Joe was turned sideways or something.”

“He was a breach birth?”

Lou was annoyed at the interruption. “Breach. Right. Whatever. I was only 25 minutes old, so I don’t remember the details. Anyway, they had to do a Caesarean on my mother.”

“Don’t hospitals automatically do those for multiple births?” Margaret kept interrupting the flow of Lou’s story, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Damn it, Jim, I’m an office manager, not a doctor!” Lou grinned.

“Sorry,” she said contritely. “I promise, no more interruptions. Tell me about Joe!”

Joey was the youngest Bocci child by 25 minutes. He had a difficult birth but was an easy child. Joey was sweet natured from the moment he entered the world. Lou was a normal boy, engaging in activities such as Little League or pick up kickball games in the park. Lou liked stories about astronauts and wanted to be one when he grew up. Joey, though, was fragile.

For the most part, their parents left Lou on his own. He had friends and did passably well in school. They didn’t need to worry about him, and that meant they could concentrate on Joey.

Joey spent much of his own childhood at doctors’ offices or in the children’s ward at the hospital. It was impossible to pinpoint what was wrong with Joey’s body. Each new medical team identified new problems; each specialty branch of medicine claimed a piece of the little boy. Congenital disorders, the original hospital report stated.

“Congenital disorders. What a term!” Lou stood up. It was the signal it was time to go, and disappointed, Margaret trailed him to the front door of the coffee house.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

Write A Revolution

Interview with self-published author Jadi Campbell

Posted by Steve on December 2nd, 2013