Apathy. I'm a teenager, and there's nothing I disdain more than effort, even at the cost of my life. Family and people nag, always wanting me to do something, fulfil some type of purpose or responsibility, and not understanding that I never asked for any of it. Can't even consider or think of it. I don't want to grow up, or rather grow into this. A society – we live in a society. If I could I'd never see another person again, remain unbothered with just the two, three things I actually like. My only interests/obsessions.
"Lazy," Margaret, my grandmother often spits at me with hate. "You're just so damn lazy!"
She's a tiny, thin woman who is the bad kind of old lady. Hates kids, forever impatient with customer service. A typical dislike of most things and life in general. Judgemental, not that I give a thought to her or anyone else's judgement. She lives in a house by herself because she refused to move to a Nursing Home. "I'm not letting those bastards get my money!" or "I'm not even that old! Do I look that old to you?"
Margaret is 87. The embittered ones really do live longer. I think the real reason she doesn't want to stay in a hostel is because she'd hate other people being around her, in sight. She'd hate having to be civil. Unfortunately she does need help, because when shuffling to get the mail one morning last week she tripped, fell into her soft garden bed and broke her arm.
Now it's in a sling cast and she needs help witheverythingbut is still refusing to go into a nursing home. Instead it's on me to help her with things.Groaaaaan, long groan. I hid from her and the house as much as possible when she'd come visit. But as nagging is almost physically painful for me to endure, I usually do what she asks me to. Always in bed slack-bodied, trying to calculate whatever option will result in the least effort and hassle. The least amount of interacting with other people. It's an activity I spend the most time on, lying back and trying to conserve the tiny amount of energy and patience I have for each day.
My only other family member is Uncle Errol who owns the 'house' I live in. Errol is a diabetic with a colostomy bag. He sits in his moth-infested, fabric-ripped armchair and watches the small TV, and we never discuss the very real issue of when exactly is he going to die. Could take a turn and pass this month, perceivably. Could live another ten years, possibly. It could go either way.
He's just so expired, health-wise. Egg-headed, with weird perspiration on yellowing skin. When he coughs on his food his eyes bulge so much I imagine they're going to pop right out of his head. Or the veins burst, haemorrhaging with the red tree-branch arteries in his brain.
"You need to get a job!" Uncle Errol would regularly yell. "My disability and parent benefits don't cover us both!"
He didn't like me, didn't want me around, not that I'd expect him to. I did some jobs around the house that he wasn't able to, and so that was my purpose for him. But as I'd got older his dislike for me increased, this other growing adult moving around in his space, and I could tell he wanted me out. It didn't help that I was out of his sight as much as I could help it.
We live in a literal dump. A squatters' den. The house is technically in Errol's name, but is in complete disrepair. There are literal holes in the walls and floor. Through the edges of clapboard there are gaps to outside where the walls haven't been fitted, so inside never completely felt like 'inside' as you get the cold outer breeze coming straight through. The shower floor has sunk right down, a big hole of peeling tiles so you have to stand at the very edge by the wall. The gutters have entirely rusted to pieces. There are leaks in the roof, stains and marks on all surfaces. Bags of rubbish piled in the corner of rooms, everything junky. All furniture was more holes and tears on its surface than material.
The room (where I sleep on my bare mattress on the ground) is small and the floor slants drastically to the side. The curtains are just thin material that's been cut away, with moth-eaten holes. Aged. The windows don't have fly-screens, though some have bars. The front and back doors are misplaced and jam, have only security chain-locks to outside. It is easily the ugliest house on the street. And it's literally beyond repair, it needs to be demolished. It looks like a crack-house. To have been raised in a place like this, I'd successfully slipped under all department radars.
Grandma Margaret was over for dinner and the three of us sat at the rickety dining table, she was nagging and bitching about her favourite subject – me. I was typically slouched and ignoring them.
"...such a waste of time." She kept going on "So lazy. It's in the family of course. Not that I'd blame my genes. It's your useless Grandpa Paul's fault. Down there in hell he is, thank God. Even Sebastian's parents, both of them wereweird. Errol here, you were always a hermit and a recluse. Never came outside if you could help it. Basicallygave up" she widened her eyes and bobbed her head "and look what comes of it. You sit around indoors all day and you got sick. Especially in this place. Your body isdying, Errol."
"I'm eating. Enough, Ma."
But of course she continued "If you die and leave me to care for your lazy, incompetent excuse for a nephew I'll climb down to hell and drag you back myself!" The tiny bony fist of her one working arm came down and jostled the table. "This gravy is too sweet, you're going to kill yourself!"
"I won't, Ma." Errol muttered.
"What will you do if you can't get your insulin in time?"
"Fat lot of good he'll do."
"He's done it before. Good for at least that much."
"Well I'msickof it." Her fist came down again.Bump!"You may have kept to yourself, Errol. But Sebastian's parents were worse. Distant even with each other, it was all just usefulness to them, whatever they could get out of anyone for themselves. My useless son and that wife of his. I know they didn't want Sebastian, but I don't think I ever saw her show affection to him, even as a baby. He'll end up just like you!"
"Enough." Errol raised his voice. Stopped eating and looked across the table at her with a fixed gaze. It was his tense posture, I knew it was one of the rare moments Uncle Errol was going to hold his ground. However Grandma Margaret never backed down. I could feel the quiet tension, thick enough to be cut with a knife, but I still never raised my head. Chewing quietly.
Margaret spoke slowly and quietly, each word cut "Wellwhatdo you propose to do about it?"
"Do about what?" Errol's voice still raised, mad.
"Him!" she snipped in a prim whisper, pointing toward me as I chewed a brussel sprout. "What do you propose to do about him? He doesn't contribute anything! He's old enough to bring in money of his own!"
Money. I could feel both their eyes now salivating over my rigid posture as they considered the possibility of exploiting me for it.
"She's right, Sebastian. You need a job."
I grunted. Margaret released a sharp scoff.
"Sebastian." Errol's voice was raised. I had to lift my chin and look him in his swollen, globular eyes. "I've been meaning to get around to saying this and now is the time. You need to move out. If you don't have a job in one week, I'm kicking you out. Understand?"
There was no wavering. Margaret was wearing a satisfied smirk. I dipped my head back to my dinner.
"Good." And Margaret started complaining about something else, Meals On Wheels and some womens' churchy charity group. But I was far away from the table, in my head.
I never used my brain when I could help it. But, like a switch, it always began calculating at top-speed whenever self-preservation or my chronic apathy became an issue. I couldn't get a job, I couldn't work. The idea was rejected by my body as soon as I heard it. I hate getting up and enduring school six hours a day, five days a week. I couldn't be depended on to give up even more of my free time.
All I wanted to do was be by myself, down the long grassy backyard that stretched to the woods, pine trees and shrubbery, a turned-over rusted bike and broken tire swing, severed rope coiled like a dead snake, down and out further to an abandoned little storage shed. The wild where I was free to prowl, bush-walk and investigate the animals and fungi, a solitary untamed creature beyond the perimeters of civilisation but destined to return out of need.
For basic survival I would need to stay here. If I stopped going to school someone would find me, without clean clothes and a shower grown-ups would ask me questions, without food I would starve, and without someone to pay bills I'd have to learn how to understand copious paperwork and formalities, procedures, and I just wasn't able to do that. My brain kept humming throughout all of dinner, and into the night as I lay on my side beneath a heap of blankets atop my bare mattress.
The next day I got up and ready for school. Showered with my legs apart over the hole in the tiled floor. Studied my reflection in the cracked mirror as I considered my predicament. My expression was neutral, bored and droopy brown eyes under my mop of brown hair. I finished drying off in the cold and went to get dressed.
In my effort to avoid other people, I'd figured out the best route and time to get anywhere to avoid anything that could be problematic. Like bullies, or talkative neighbours. My steps quick and straight, posture inward.
I didn't have friends because I'd never had friends. I didn't know how to socialise. I also knew from early experiences in primary school that when teachers – or anyone really – found out too much it all led to more questions and Uncle Errol being called in and just hassle after hassle and effort. I was aware that my home-life wasn't like other kids', but it was manageable, it was usually easy, but if others knew about it there'd be interventions and meddling. Perhaps not now that I'm eighteen, finally full-grown and legally an adult. But it did mean there were 'life' expectations, none of which I'd been properly prepared for, or cared to be prepared for.
I was always going to take the easiest option.
By the gates of Tuttle High school I stopped by a long-leafed bush. Something marvellous had caught my eye: a creature from the world of which I belonged.
A melolonthinae. A beautiful scarab beetle known to inhabit this woodland, at the very edge of its leaf and wriggling its tiny legs in the air. Perhaps looking for a mate. School and civilisation was where I was sentenced, but the world of buildings and roads wasn't my home. I was at home free from all responsibilities in the wilderness, studying the fellow creatures that also lived without rules. I delicately extracted the bug, smoothly and efficiently nudging him into my palm, petting him with the tip of my finger while his sidelong jaw open-and-closed, antennae wriggling.
For a moment I was lost to my surroundings and thought I was back in the forest, alone. But that wasn't the case, I caught sight of a group of girls whispering and giving me reprehensive looks. I tossed the beetle into the bushes and continued along the path into school.
It was early, there was something I needed to do. Quickening my steps toward A block, I slipped inside, scanned the numbers atop the grey-green lockers. Unslung my backpack, an old Adidas one that'd been lying around Errol's house for ages, and deposited my love letter into Corey's Kentwell's locker. Nobody saw me.
While typically apathetic about everything, I can be startlingly clever, sneaky and efficient when it's something I need to do. When that switch gets flipped. I walked away before anyone could see me loitering.
I realised in my middle year of junior campus that I was homosexual. Prior to that I'd already been masturbating vigorously to the thought of men. My eyes naturally drifting away from girls, lying to rest instead on the man in pornographic films. I didn't think anything of it. I never cared for other people or anything beyond my personal bubble. I never imagined it to be relevant. The fact simplywas.
I learned what the term 'gay' meant, realised it applied to me, and stored the information without further thought. The bridge between me and other people was just as difficult to cross whether I'd been straight or gay or whatever. I'd never had any friends of the sort, and I'd certainly never even considered the possibility of having a boyfriend. I was solitary. I'd not even pondered the concept.
Iwasa frequent masturbator and often watched pornography on the laptop Uncle Errol had been forced to buy for me so I could do school assignments. In a moment of rare curiosity and desire to learn, one afternoon I'd looked up blogs by other 'gay' teenagers and that's how I found Corey by remarkable, serendipitous coincidence. We both had roll call in Lab 7, we had Maths, English and PE together.
I'd already known he liked boys – in PE I'd overheard him and Zoe Bailey whispering about it, they hadn't heard my quiet feet pacing the grassy track behind them. Most of the class split up along the oval. And I'd had my head down, walking quickly alone, only to look up upon hearing them and noticing I'd been closer to other people than I'd realised, closer than they'd realised. I'd sat behind Corey in the levelled rows of seats and caught his scents in the morning wind. In Errol's broken bathroom I washed my whole body and hair with a scentless white soap. Corey's auburn hair wafted smells of berries, the smooth skin of his neck the aroma of kiwi-fruit. Enticing like a meal.
If Corey was 'gay' too, did he want to do things with me like the men in videos I watched secretly and stealthily at night? Yes, he would. That's what being 'gay' means: it means you like boys, and I am a boy. I was hard that whole lesson sitting behind him and thinking about it, trying to hide it.
But even though I knew Corey would have sex with me (it'd been confirmed to me and Zoe that hewasin fact gay) I still didn't know how to even begin talking to him about it. So for about a month, I didn't. I only watched him instead, without him noticing, around the school, fixated. Imagining what it'd be like for us to jerk each other off. How it'd feel to have his mouth around my sensitive cockhead, or vice versa. A virgin burning with a need to explore this unknown. I started picturing all the ways we'd do it while in bed at night, I began masturbating to the thought of him.
And now to have discovered his blog, Hopeless Romantic (romance is when two people decide to spend time together and do sex right?). I considered replying anonymously to the blog, but internet comments are often ignored, and since I'd carefully watched him enough to know his locker, I thought a more direct approach would be better. He could reply to me by email. And if not, he was bound to say something about the letter on his blog.
Corey Kentwell, my future sex partner. This is just what adults did, they had sex – one part of adulthood I was actually gungho about. Now that things would start moving, I felt antsy and impatient. I couldn't predict how Corey would react to my letter. I didn't understand other teens and was often a terrible judge of character, certainly of social cues.
I didn't speak more than five words all day, pretty standard. After tedious classes where I sat alone in the back-corner of the room, sometimes mocked by the more well-liked students, after tedious lunchbreaks where I stalked the perimeter of the school's fence borders, like an animal in a cage, the day was done.
I walked home through the woodland, as I often did, aware how important it was to stay close enough to town. As a child I'd been lost in the forest a few times – once for several days. And there were wolves out there. So I creeped over dips and logs and bushes, swerving my path close enough to glimpse the 'other world' of human life so I knew I was headed the right way. I came home through the backyard, which there was no fence to, only fewer trees until I came to my secret shed, and then the rusted junk before our overgrown back-lawn. Then the cracked steps to the crooked backdoor of the house.
When inside, in my bedroom, I went to my computer and found that Corey Kentwell had written me an email after all. It'd worked – I had a good feeling about this.
Dεαr Sεcrετ Αdmιrεr,
Um, hι. I goτ your lεττεr. Wow, I cαn'τ bεlιεvε τhε shouτ ouτ on my blog αcτuαlly workεd! I nεvεr ιn a mιllιon yεαrs τhoughτ somεonε would fιnd mε. Buτ, yεs, ιτ ιs α lιττlε wειrd for mε τhaτ I don'τ know whατ you look lιkε. I'm αcτuαlly α rεαl shy ρεrson mysεlf, τrusτ mε, so don'τ bε nεrvous. Anoτhεr gαy τεεn romαnτιc ιn Tuττlε τown huh? Mαn wε musτ bε τhε only onεs. I mεαn, I havε my susριcιons αbouτ somε of τhε sτudεnτs, buτ nobody ιs ouτ αnd I'm ofτεn wrong αnywαys...
Wε should mεετ uρ αfτεr school onε dαy. Fαcε-τo-fαcε. Iτ mιghτ sound scαry, buτ wε jusτ goτ τo do ιτ. If noτhιng εlsε, wε could sτιll bε frιεnds rιghτ? I rεαlly wαnτ τo know whατ you look lιkε! And I hαvε a mιllιon quεsτιons I wαnτ τo αsk you. Arε you ouτ? Do your frιεnds know? Would your fαmιly bε okαy wιτh ιτ? Buτ mαybε wε should sαy αll τhιs ιn ρεrson, I jusτ rεαlly wαnτ τo mεετ you.
Yours ιn lovε (hαhα), HR (Corεy)
I could imagine him, skinny, bespectacled and pink-eared, fingers typing out the words in an eager rush. I was hard again.
I closed the laptop. Got started on homework, which I hate doing but know I have to. Then I left the house and Errol watching TV, globe-eyes fixed to the screen, skin looking slimy and sick. I went out the back to play with nature.
Beyond a dozen or so trees I started examining ants, peering down upon their single-file marching like a god. I found a Phalangopsinae, a spider cricket, but it evaded capture. Springing away from me while I pounced after it. I climbed a tree to study moss, and then settled on my capture of a female Wolf Spider, even though I already have about eight of them. They're not poisonous, otherwise I would've brought a jar. I had the arachnid enclosed in two hands before I slid down the trunk, creeping carefully to the shed, pressing open the thin door which held rows and rows of glass jars filled with bugs and spiders of all kinds.
I slipped the Wolf Spider into her new home, a jar from which I could study her along with the other specimens of my collection. This was my greatest hobby. Several of the bugs in here were poisonous. I'd pierced holes in the tin caps, but they still often died within days. Though I could often feed the dead ones to the living. Lifting the jar I gazed at my new addition admiringly as she attacked the confines of her prison.
That night, finishing off homework in my room, bundled in blankets and several layers of jumpers to fight off the chill, I was disturbed by Uncle Errol's hacking from the other room.
His coughing fits can go for several minutes, but this seemed different. It sounded like he was vomiting. He croaked my name through the wretching and I jumped with a start, realising this was in fact another emergency. Scrambling out from the blankets and racing out the door and into the living room, where Errol was shaking, retching into his little waste-bin.
Hyperglycaemic attack. Which meant he needed insulin and not the epipen forhypoglycaemic attacks. When Errol's blood sugars were under he becomes difficult to rouse, I had to call an ambulance the one time that happened. When his blood sugars are over, which has happened half a dozen times in my life, he gets sick like this but recovers in minutes after an insulin shot. Though this attack looked quite bad. I raced to the bathroom, to the medicine cupboard filled with prescription bottles, took his ready insulin from the case and ran back to the living room to administer it and save my Uncle's life.
I stopped in the doorway.
Uncle Errol was the one who owned this house, the one who put food on the table. I needed him like he needed me. But watching him retch on all fours now, so revoltingly sickly and helpless, I realised that... if I give the shot he would come around in less than twenty minutes, he'd say thanks and be off to bed. He'd still kick me out at the end of the week when I surely didn't have a job.
Where Errol had formerly been a necessity, my whirring brain which hadn't stopped calculating since dinner last night saw him for what he'd become – a liability. A threat to my safety. Because he couldn't kick me out if he didn't get his insulin shot.
Errol kept coughing and hacking and shaking for several moments. He looked up when he realised I was only standing there. His wiry arm made a grab for my leg, for his medicine, so I made sure to step back and remain just out of arm's reach as I watched my Uncle die.