Innocence: A Question


Once on a piece of white paper with blue lines
He wrote a poem
He called it ‘Autumn’
Because that was the name of the season
And that’s what it was all about
And his teacher gave him an A
And asked him to write more clearly
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door
Because of the new paint
And the kids told him
That Father Tracy smoked cigars
And left butts on the pews
And sometimes they should burn holes
That was the year his sister got glasses
With thick lenses and black frames
And the boy around the corner laughed
When he asked him to go see Santa Claus
And the kids told him why
His mother and father kissed a lot
And his father never tucked him in bed at night
And his father got mad
When he cried for him to do it
Alex sits in his new eighth grade classroom. It feels different and awkward to not have Jack sitting next to him, but he will later. Eight grade is the year you spend preparing for high school, where you’ll spend four years preparing for college and the ‘Real World.’
Alex isn’t sure about how he feels about preparing for any of that without Jack by his side. At the very least, he has the last four classes of the day with his best friend.
For now, Alex decides he can suck it up and listen to Mr. Willow as he talks. Mr. Willows is an older man who has lived long enough to have the life sucked out of him, leaving nothing but a monotone shell of a man behind. He makes Alex realize how great he had it in third grade when Ms. Sky was his teacher and Jack sat in the seat next to him every day.
Alex sighs and turns his attention back to the front of the room. He’s barely paying attention until the word poetry falls from Mr. Willow’s chapped lips. Similar to Ms. Sky’s instructions, Alex is to write a poem and hand it in, good or bad because they ‘haven’t talked about it yet.’ Alex wonders if teachers realize half the things they say they haven’t gone over, they have in previous years.
Alex pulls a piece of white paper with blue lines from his notebook and writes ‘AUTMN’ in the margin. He decides that it’s simple, but not so simple that he can’t make something out of it.
He writes in between the blue lines and notes that his hand writing has improved greatly since his first attempt to write a poem.
The leaves are changing from a bright healthy green to a dying brown
And every day, you do the same
Everything I knew about you has gone with the seasons
And the dazzling smile I’m used to seeing is hidden with an insecure hand
It blocks the metal that now resides in your mouth
If I even get to see it at all
But I never ask if you’re okay
And you never so otherwise
So all I do is sit and hope that like the leaves on the trees
You’ll survive long enough to live again
On the home that you’ve come to call your own
Much like Chops, the poem isn’t the best. Alex knows this as he knew before but now things are difference. With age came the recognition of other people and other people’s talents, and Alex knows he’ll never measure up. He often wonders if he’ll ever find that one thing he’s good at.
Mr. Willow notices that Alex is done and comes to see what he’s produced in the last twelve minuets. He scrunches his eyebrows but leans over the desk to press the paper to it and label it with a capital A. He hands it back to Alex and straightens his spine back up.
“This is good but it could be better. Write more clearly, please,” he says, before moving on to the next student.
Alex knows this is just a helpful critique and he shouldn’t take it to heart, but he can’t help but to let the comment hang over his head for the rest of the day like a storm cloud threatening to crash down on anyone who dare question his bad mood. Jack tries his best to help, and praises Alex’s poem at lunch with a wide smile, braces showing and all; his attempts to lift Alex’s spirits are in vain, because the cloud bursts and pours all over Alex for a reason he finds to be completely stupid but he’s crying and he can’t stop.
All because his mom doesn’t put the poem on the kitchen door, too afraid to ruin the new coat of paint.
Alex sits in one of the church pews with his head held low. Jack is standing next to it, nervously biting his lip.
“’Lex?” he calls gently. “Are you okay?”
Alex shakes his head and wipes at the stubborn tears that just keep falling.
“He smokes cigars, Jack,” Alex says quietly.
Jack scrunches his eyebrows together and slides into the pew.
“Who smokes cigars,” he asks slowly, “and why do you care?”
Alex sighs and leans back to make eye contact with concerned caramel colored eyes.
“Father Tracy,” Alex says, “I care because I looked up to him. Cigars, cigarettes, drugs, they all kill, Jack! They killed my grandparents. All of them were addicted to something. I can’t look up to someone who is okay with the stuff that has killed people that mean a lot to me.”
Jack doesn’t get it. Maybe it’s because he’s not Alex and he hasn’t lived Alex’s life; he doesn’t feel what Alex feels and even though they’ve basically been conjoined at the hip since birth, he doesn’t always know how Alex thinks.
So that’s why he doesn’t laugh in Alex’s face about being upset about something stupid and just lets him cry into his neck. Jack glances over at the statue of Jesus that sits in the middle of the church for everyone to see. He can’t help but wonder, if there really is someone up there watching over this world and controlling the way things go, why would he make someone so kind hearted hurt?
Alex, Jack, Rian, Zack and Lucy walk home together from school that Friday. Lucy’s five now and has started Kindergarten, which she loves. Until today, that is.
“They all laughed at me!” she exclaims. “I hate these new glasses!”
She pouts and tears collect in the corner of her eyes in that childish way of hers that Alex can’t wait until she grows out of; she cries over anything and everything and it doesn’t annoy him as much as break his heart.
He had to admit though, the glasses do look a bit silly. They’re much too large for her small round face and much too thick looking for someone who has just starting losing their eyesight. Thankfully, Alex got out of this inherited trait by gaining more of his father’s features than his mother’s.
“It’s okay,” Rian soothes. “You’ll grow into them one day and they won’t have anything to laugh about.”
This wasn’t necessarily true and the boys all know it. They don’t say this to her in fear of her gripping her brother’s hand tighter, who is already clamping his mouth shut by pressing his teeth into his bottom lip with a large amount of pressure to keep from whimpering in pain.
Zack spots an ice-cream truck down the street and grins. It’s the same truck that starts coming around every day once it becomes May and hides away again once September’s last warm breezes melts into October’s cool winds, but that doesn’t make them any less excited.
“Look, Luce, ice-cream! Come on, I’ll buy you some. You like the ones that look like SpongeBob, yeah?”
Lucy’s eyes widen.
“Can I Alex?” she asks.
Alex isn’t quite sure how his parents will feel about it but saying no to Lucy isn’t a skill he has.
“Yeah, sure, just don’t tell mom. Rian, can you go with them? I have something I have to ask Jack,” Alex whispers the next part into his athletically built friend.
Rian nods without hesitation and grabs Luce’s other small hand. They pull her down the sidewalk and she skips in between the two middle school boys.
Alex fills the gap his friends left by stepping closer to Jack.
“Do you want to come see Santa Claus with me?” he asks shyly.
Their church does Christmassy things in May. They have a specific reason for it, or so they say. Alex is just pretty sure that by May they’ve run out of ways to keep the kids entertained. That’s not to say that ‘Christmas, before Christmas!’ (Yes that’s really the name of it; Alex just doesn’t question it anymore.) isn’t successful . It definitely is; who doesn’t like getting a head start on their Christmas list? Double the chances means Alex has twice the amount of time with Santa to persuade him to Alex’s thinking.
Alex is one of those sheltered children who never learn about what really goes on in the real world, because of over-caring parents who mean well, but will surely be his ultimate demise. He doesn’t know how to handle unpleasant situation simply because he has almost no experience in them. He only knows the things that unpreventable: Everyone dies, not everyone is as happy as they seem, not everyone is as nice as they seem and people get sick.
Is someone were to shove Alex into the ‘Real World’ and cram all the horrible information about it down his throat he’d have the ultimate break-down. Sometimes all they’ve managed to shield him from surprises even his parents. They had figured that public school would ruin almost all to all of his childhood innocence but it never left.
Jack rolls his eyes playfully.
“Santa Claus? Honestly Alex, sometimes you’re such a child.”
Alex squishes his face into a frown.
“What do you mean?”
Jack snorts with the effort of holding back a barely contained laugh. Could Alex really not know that ‘Santa’ is his father in a fat suit; a silly lie he was told to get him to be a ‘good’ boy.
When he sees the honest to God confused look on Alex’s face, he can’t stop the laughs that spill from his mouth like a whip, lashing Alex’s skin and injecting poison into his insecurities.
Alex knows the hurt he is feeling is over dramatic but the though doesn’t stop his chest from constricting, his lungs to ache and a ball to lodge itself in his throat. He doesn’t let himself cry but a bundle of hurt settles in chest that he carries with him for the next week.
Jack had never laughed at Alex before. Jack is Alex’s rock. Jack is that voice of reason when the hereditary anxiety he’s plagued with creates it’s playful illusion in his lungs, squeezing it empty of air when in reality he’s getting enough and he knows he can breathe but that doesn’t stop him from shaking with internal paranoia and crying with tears of frustration; frustration at his self and the stupid disease he’s let run his life.
The very person who has always dispersed it is now creating it. Alex is left with the hope that if someone can tear it apart they can put it back together.
That too gets destroyed when Rian and Zack notice his distress and ask him what’s wrong. They exchange quick glances before gently telling him the truth, that Santa isn’t real and the letters Alex has been writing and the cookies he’s helped make and the reindeer nip he’s laid out has all been for nothing.
That night, feeling empty yet full of that damn hurt that just won’t leave, he begs his father to please, just this once, tuck him into bed. His father snaps at him, tells him that he’s thirteen now and he needs to learn how to handle life’s struggles without someone else’s help because someone else won’t always be there to dust him off and send him on his way.
He just wishes his father would have taught him that lesson before life could.