whoever comes for me
I didn’t even know who I wanted to come for me.
Not Carl. I knew I didn’t want the first person through the door to be Carl. Because a boyfriend was always going to think the worst about another guy who was with his girl. And I was only with her because he wasn’t. He let her down, and if he hadn’t, things would have been way, way different. He wouldn’t want to hear that, but it was the truth.
I might have wanted my sisters to come, because they loved me, and that’s a good thing to have when a guy is in trouble. Fran, though. Fran would have been better than Mary, because Fran would listen to my side.
My dad, Ray. Ray would take my side before even hearing what my side was. Maybe that wouldn’t be the best thing. Maybe better if the campus police came, impartial, taking my statement and seeing there was nothing to this.
Nothing but craziness, mistakes, and misunderstandings.
I didn’t know what I wanted. I just knew I was going to wait for it to come.
That was a lie. I knew what I wanted. I knew who I wanted.
I wanted Gigi Boudakian to walk back through that door. I wanted Gigi Boudakian to come back and say how crazy all that was, how the fresh piney air and the clarity of morning light breathed sense back into her and back into the whole universe. Because I could never rape anybody. Rape. Even saying the word, even saying it to myself, nowhere else but inside me, caused my head to crackle with lethal pain, caused my stomach to try to launch right up my throat and out of me.
And to think I could do that to Gigi Boudakian? Hurt Gigi Boudakian in any way at all?
How could she? How could she think that? How dare she? How fucking dare she? How fucking dare you, Gigi Boudakian?
No. No, no. This was a nightmare. Was this even a nightmare? Even nightmares needed to make some sort of sense, come from some real place somewhere. There was nothing real about this.
No. It was not her fault. Nothing was, nothing could be. I didn’t know whose fault it was, but I knew it was not Gigi Boudakian’s fault.
I also knew I was a good guy. Good guys didn’t do bad
things. All we needed was for Gigi Boudakian to remember that, to know it like she always knew it, and come back. So we could all know it again.
• • •
“Get the fuck up.”
It wasn’t like I was unprepared for this. But I couldn’t have gotten “the fuck up” if I tried. I didn’t try. I stared at the cinder blocks in the wall, counting them like I had been doing ever since it got light enough, tracing the straight, right-angle lines of mortar holding them together.
“I’m not gonna say this a whole lot of times. And I’m not gonna just let you lie there, and I’m not gonna kick the shit outta you while you’re already down. So, if I have to pick you up and put you on your feet first, that’s what I’ll do, so you might as well just get the fuck up, now.”
The wall had 120 cinder blocks altogether. You would think they could slap a layer of something, anything, over the blocks so they didn’t have to look so cold, penal, and punitive. How much could something like that cost anyway? Hardly anything, I would guess, and the difference would be transforming. Anything would be better than this soul-sucking business here.
He was good to his word, though. To all his words. He wasn’t having any of this nonsense of mine.
I felt weightless as Carl lifted me up off the rotten little bed. It was like it was no effort for him at all, as if he was doing it almost tenderly. Like a dad taking a little kid out of bed
to get ready for preschool. He must have remembered. Carl. He must have remembered when we were friends and who we were and how we were and that’s why this was all wrong and why when he manhandled me it was with a gentleness almost. This was the reality, and soon enough everybody would be back to the right reality, the one where I was the guy I always was and the insanity would go away and Carl and me and naturally Gigi would come back to earth and realize how everything just went a little mental and forget about it. Because we knew better, didn’t we? Carl thought I did something terrible to someone we both love. We all knew better than that. Right?
Carl’s surprising and reassuring soft grip, lifting me and then lowering me, said as much. You can tell more from touch, and from every other human connection, for that matter, than you can from words. That’s what I have learned. And Carl’s manner told me what I needed to know, that everything was going back to okay.
Until it told me otherwise.
At the best of times, Carl was a man of the minimum of words. Now was not the best of times, and he minimized even the minimum.
He held on to me with his right hand, pulled the collar of my shirt up over my left ear, and the intensity of his expression almost, almost, pulled my attention from his big gnarly fist thundering down and crashing into my eye socket. I heard the snap-crack of bone-at-bone and remembered how deadly
Carl always was. Left-handed, smooth, great balance. He had unfeasible hands, huge, hard, and almost as big as his head when he held fists up either side. He had a small head anyway, but still I marveled, and admired and cheered him on and never once considered those fists would be a problem for me.
But right then, that expression on his face was almost as alarming. Famously stone-faced, Carl allowed his features to crack like pond ice, and I was sure I saw him start something like crying as he dropped the hammer on me.
I didn’t see much else after that. Felt quite a lot of sensations, though. Anyone who says they felt nothing throughout a violent trauma because they were in shock is talking crap just so they don’t have to keep feeling it forever. Because I was deep into shock already and still felt a whole lot of sensations that Carl handed out to me. Felt every one at the time, and will feel every one for as long as I can feel.
After the massive left overhand exploded the right side of my face, Carl met my nose with a right uppercut that shocked me back upright before I could dive to the floor and be done. I couldn’t even get my bearings before he hit me with the exact same right uppercut, catching my chin this time, clattering my teeth and hopping me briefly in the direction of the ceiling.
It was only when I landed, when I felt my feet galumph back to earth, that I realized I had left it. It was only then that I realized I could seriously be leaving it for real if something didn’t change here quickly.
“Just talk to me,” I said, reaching out semi-blindly to try to wrap Carl up in a boxer hug to get him to stop punching me. “It’s not the way it looks—”
I got nowhere near tying him up, as he got nowhere nearer to talking to me. He had already decided. As if to return my words to sender, the next thing I got was the full force of Carl driving his whole self behind a straight left hand that hit me flush and drove my jaw back so ferociously I could hear it bang, both sides, into the base of my skull behind my ears.
I went almost entirely deaf with the impact. Now my eyes were bleary with blood and mucus and panic and probably all that additional blood I was picking up off Carl’s knuckles, and the front of his powder-blue button-down shirt, so I was as close to deaf-blind as possible when I threw my first serious angry punch with malice aforethought toward my old friend’s head.
I had to. You have to, at some point, unless you have already given up the will to survive. I didn’t want to hit Carl, because I didn’t want to make this horrible nightmare of a lie any more real. Fighting him made it real, but not fighting him could kill me.
He surely wasn’t expecting it at that stage, because I felt the pop from my knuckles right through to my heels as it landed bang-on his silent, fuzzy orb of a face. He backed up two, three awkward paces, and thunked into the yellow closet door.
“Okay now,” I said, surprised and I suppose also a little
bit jacked at what it seemed I could do. “Let’s cut the shit, Carl, okay, and sort out what’s really going on here.” I held my hands up as I approached, still only able to make out a slushy, sloppy outline of the guy I once knew, from that fading world I once knew. I thought it was going to be all right now. Or some version, some approximation, of all right.
My hands-up approach to him was like surrendering, or like greeting an old pal after a long time away.
He came launching off the yellow closet door to meet me before I could get to him. I saw his mouth motoring and thought this was just perfect, Carl finally deciding to talk back to me just when I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Someday we’d laugh about this, probably. Probably. When all was put back right. Maybe not laugh, though, okay. But get there, and be better, and be sane about everything.
But not today.
I could not even count the number of sharp, scorching punches Carl threw at me then. He banged and battered my face, my skin, my skull, with left and right and left and right-hand shots that had me reeling rapidly backward. My blood was shooting in every direction, the globlets clearly visible to me as they sprayed off, like pulpy tiny rats abandoning the sinking ship of me.
I landed eventually—half landed—back on the bed where he’d found me. Perfectly halved, with my spine back-bent between the mattress and the floor. Carl let himself fall dead on top of me.
“It’s not like you think, Carl,” I said, freaking myself out with the underwater sound of my own voice.
I was thinking my only chance was to read his lips and hope to read just the right things on them. But even that small chance was dumped when he roared, or howled, or made whatever lipless big noise that was before slamming his head into my chest with enough force to snap me like a jackknife. My chin cracked into the back of his head, and one or both of us opened up a whole new flow of blood that finally turned us into one great disgusting indistinguishable soupy mess.
How? I thought, as I lay there flattened, back-bent, blood-swamped, with Carl’s head embedded in my chest and not going anywhere anytime soon. How did we get here? I thought, as the two of us, or one or the other of us, made the whole room shake with the sobbing that nobody could hear but anybody anywhere surely could feel.
I would not have budged if I could.
Anyway, I couldn’t.
When I finally woke up, I was not on my back, not on the mattress. I was on the cold, whitish, blood-awash floor. I was on my face, and I was alone.