Authors: Geoff Herbach
Andrew Thinks I'm on the Cusp of Recovery (Uncovering Causes Recovery?)
When Andrew first left for Florida, he said that of me, him, and Jerri, he was the only one who had managed to grieve for Dad appropriately.
“I figured out what happened. I figured out how old Jerri was when she got pregnant. I figured out that Dad was angry and mean and that he slept with other women. I sat in the garden eating pukey tomatoes and crying. That was what I needed to do to make peace with our father's demise.”
“You burned your clothes and shaved off your hair,” I told him. “You didn't shower for like two months. I'd say you went nuts.”
“No, I went sane,” Andrew said. “You started running like a scared ostrich so you could bury your head someplace else, and Jerri started taking antidepressants so she could see straight enough to buy new clothes. You're both in trouble still. But I want you to know I still respect you and will be here for you when you break.”
“Oh, thanks a lot, you little asswipe.” That's what I said to him back then.
One night during January, while I was totally suffering my Curtis-Bode-induced Dad memories, I called Andrew. Andrew said, “You're doing it, Felton. You're dealing with it. Maybe you should see a counselor or something? Someone who could help you make some sense.”
“You didn't see a counselor,” I said.
“I've read a lot of philosophy and religion, you know?”
“I know, Andrew. I know.” Even though I like books, I used to make fun of him for his reading habits. He read the complete works of Spinoza last summer for Christ's sake. What kid does that? (I don't really know who Spinoza is, by the way, other than that he's some philosopher.)
“I made the decision to move on in my life in a certain way. And I'm very healthy, emotionally speaking. I'm my own counselor,” Andrew told me.
“You're fifteen, Andrew.”
“I'm timeless,” he said. He didn't sound like he was joking.
“Okayâ¦okay,” I said. “I'm not timeless and I can't be my own counselor. After this ESPN announcement, I'm going to get some help. I'm so tired of this shit. I have to get out. I'm dying, man.”
“I'll help,” Andrew said. “I'll research psychologists who accept Jerri's insurance.”
“Okay. I'm going to do this,” I said.
When I was little, Jerri did send me to therapists and I had a really bad time. Terrible time. The therapists made it all worse, I swear to God. I didn't want to go back to thatâ¦
But this Dad stuff. Seeing him hanging. Missing him. Talking to him. Seeing his funeral in my brain. Not being able to study or sleep or think reallyâ¦I knew this shit could take me down for real. I felt it. (Andrew told me I had a healthy response in that I understood the danger.)
You know what dudes like me love? A good excuse not to deal. I created a huge one too. Nationally televised.
Some part of my messed-up brain decided to screw up bad so I wouldn't have to deal. Really.
I'm weak and weird and scary.
I'm also normal.
You are not alone.
The Badger Baiter
I knew it was coming. Those football programs, especially the four I'd visited, texted and texted. Called and called. I didn't respond to any of them, not even Stanford, but I knew it was coming.
Early in the afternoon of January 31, Mrs. Duensing, the assistant principal, got on the intercom and announced that second-hour classes the next day should go to the gym instead of meeting in their rooms because the whole school was invited to see my ESPN announcement live. “We could all use a reason to celebrate,” she said. “Let's show our school spirit! Everybody wear school colors!”
My classmates were pretty psyched to get out of an hour of school. Jess Withrow actually hugged me because my ESPN thing delayed her chemistry exam.
Here's what I thought:
Are you shitting me? A reason to celebrate? Curtis Bode is dead, Duensing.
The ESPN producer called me in the evening and told me all I had to do was show up. “Your family can come out on the floor with you, and we've already talked to your coach. Just relax and get ready to make a little history. Sound good?”
“Uh-huh,” I mumbled.
“Bring your A game,” he said.
I didn't ask Jerri to go with me. I barely slept. I saw Dad hanging in the garage.
Then, that morning, after I got out of the shower (after I listened to messages from coaches at the four schoolsâ¦“We look forward to watching the broadcast!” they all said), I checked email and saw I had a new message from Tommy Bode. (He hadn't been in school that whole time.)
I swallowed hard and opened the message.
Here's all it said:
I know who killed Curtis.
“Jesus Christ,” I shouted. “Curtis killed freaking Curtis!”
I leaned back in my chair and stared at the ceiling, the inside of my head crackling.
I asked myself.
Yeah, good luck, idiot!
I shouted (in my head).
I shouted back.
Stop. Ask Jerri to go with you. Stop. Please.
I slapped my computer shut, dressed, climbed up the stairs, and found Jerri dressed up, ready to go. “You're coming with me?” I asked.
“Of course,” Jerri said.
“Thank you,” I said, nodding.
“Terry's going to drive us in the Cadillac,” she said.
“Terry?” Jerri said, squinting at me.
“Oh. I don't care,” I said.
I cared that Terry drove when we got to the school and Abby was in the parking lot. She stared at us as we rolled into a spot.
When I got out of the car, I sort of waved. Terry smiled big and stupid and waved. Abby stared for a second longer, then turned and walked fast (half ran) into the school.
Turns out brave Terry Sauter hadn't told his kids that he was dating anybody. Turns out he didn't really talk to them at all. I never mentioned him to Abby because why the hell would I want to talk to her about our gross parents making out? Plus, I was quietly going psycho all January. Plus, I figured she knew anyway.
Anyway, she was quietly going psycho too.
How can I communicate the intensity of the next hour or so? They stuck a mic pack in my pants and clipped a mic to my shirt. Jerri and I got very sweaty while people told us how to sit, stand, where to look, and the gym filled up, up, upâ¦
Not good enough.
Okay, imagine this:
I am thinking about my dad hanging. I sit behind a table on the floor of the gym. I am surrounded by TV lights and a TV crew and there's a camera pointed at me. The stands are filled with people not just from the school but from all over the state of Wisconsin. I'm serious. Maybe from the whole damn world.
I'm shaking in my boxer shorts. I think of my dad in a body bag.
Coach Johnson sits next to me. He keeps patting me on the shoulder. “Good stuff, my boy. You earned this,” he says.
Jerri stands behind me. She's a little twitchy. “Wow,” she keeps saying.
(That's my heart pounding.)
“Looking cool, my man. Use this towel to wipe your forehead, all right?” An ESPN guy hands me a towel.
“Uhhâ¦” I say, taking the towel.
“You're fine, man. You're fine.”
9:14 a.m. The crowd gets louder. They're really packed in.
I find Gus. He sits next to punk girl Maddie. Her bleached hair explodes off the top of her head like a big white chicken. Her black eyeliner makes her eyes look like bat caves. She gives me the finger, laughs.
Jerri sees. Jerri says, “Nice manners.”
I wonder if my dad made an official announcement when he decided to go to Northwestern, when he was alive, when his body wasn't dangling from the ceiling of the garage.
Karpinski, Abby, Cody, Jess, and Reese sit twenty feet away from Gus and Maddie. They're all clean shaven and dressed in their Bluffton black and gold. They're all laughing and joking, except Abby, who stares off into space. Her face is hot. She's blinking. I can tell her face is on fire, even from the gym floor.
And then a crew of freshmen comes in. At the back of that line, wearing his BULLY ME, PIG BOY T-shirt, is Tommy Bode. He's back. He's here. He looks skinnier. He looks confused. My number, 34, is on his back. He squints to the front of the gym and sees me. His mouth hangs open.
I nod. My heart pounds. His brother, Curtis, is buried in the ground. His brother, Curtis, is decomposing.
Don't think what he looks like in that coffin. Don't thinkâ¦
Tommy nods back. He gives me a slow thumbs-up.
“Who is that?” Jerri asks.
“Dead kid's brother,” I whisper.
“He's staring at you weird,” Jerri says.
Coach Johnson leans over to me. “Are you friends with him?”
“I'm his protector,” I say. “I'm not a great protector.”
“Oh?” Coach Johnson squints at me. “You okay, buddy?”
“Fine,” I nod. I see Dad's zombie body in the ground, his neck cracked to the side.
here? Pointless shit.
The ESPN guy points at me. He nods. It's 9:15 a.m. and the TV lights come on for real. It's so damn bright I can't see the people in the stands. I can't see anything.
Coach Johnson says, “Get ready.”
My heart pounds in my throat.
The ESPN guy says, “Here we go. Nick's going to ask you a few questions, then you'll make your announcement.”
I nod. My throat is dry leaves scratching. I cough.
There are baseball hats from the four schools sitting on the table in front of me: the Not to Be Named, Wisconsin, Stanford, and Northwestern. I'm supposed to put the baseball hat on my head from the school I chose when I make my announcement.
“We're live,” says the ESPN man.
The whole gym explodes in shouts and cheers. Kids chorus,
Clapping and repeating.
A voice comes over the sound system, a voice from back in the ESPN studio.
“Felton Reinstein,” says the sportscaster. “Good to see you, buddy. Nick Clemmons here.”
“Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah,” I say to the air. “Hello, sir.” Lights so bright they're burning my face.
“Looks like you have a full house out there in Wisconsin.”
“Big,” I say.
“Well, there's a lot of excitement in the studio too. How are you feeling about your choice?”
“I don't know,” I say. I blink into the lights. I feel sweat roll down my forehead.
Where's that towel?
“Your mom happy? She sure looks proud.”
I feel Jerri move. She puts her hands on my shoulders. She squeezes.
The whole thing is only supposed to take a couple minutes. ESPN will cut to another recruit in just a few minutes.
“So let's get to business. Felton Reinstein is rated the number three running back prospect in the country byâ¦”
And then I think:
I picture him crushing a tennis ball, exploding across the court, crushing another, which I've seen on fuzzy VHS video at Grandpa Stan's house.
Nick Clemmons keeps talking. But I don't listen. I think: Dad. I think: Dad ran across the court. Dad crushed the ball. Dad didn't move when he was zipped into a bag. Dad. Where did that energy go? Where did his life go? Where? Are you there, Dad? No. You're dead with Curtis, but Pig Boy is here and Abby is here and Terry is up there in the stands staring down at Jerri and probably thinking he'd like to be making out with her on our damn couch because his marriage is done and Jerri's been done with it all forever because Dad, you're dead and gone foreverâ¦I see him crushing a tennis ball. Exploding across the courtâ¦
can't take this anymore.
And then Nick Clemmons says, “It's time, buddy. Are you still in deliberations?”
I hear him. I jerk to attention. “No. Sorry.”
“Where you heading next year?”
I look at the hats. I see them, see the insignias. (I'm not blind.) I reach and pick up the Wisconsin hat. The crowd completely erupts. There are huge cheers, like screams of joy. I say, “Shit,” on national television. I shake my head. I say, “No.” I put the hat down and pick up the Stanford hat.
“Ouch. Harsh, my man,” laughs Nick Clemmons from the ESPN studio.
I hold my breath. I know what I've done.
“No. That wasâ¦I'm going to Stanford,” I mumble.
Then there's this giant hissâthe whispering of a thousand confused Wisconsinites.
“We wish you best of luck, Felton. Enjoy California, buddy,” says Nick Clemmons.
“Thanks. Okay,” I say.
The TV lights go off. Jerri says, “Wow, Stanford. Didn't see that coming. That's wonderful.”
The gym is so quiet. People murmur. Confused.
The gym is so quiet.
Then Karpinski yells, “Good one, Rein Stone.”
Coach Johnson says, “I'm surprised. It's a good school. Good for you. I'm very surprised. We looked forward to seeing you up in Madison.”
“I'm not going to Wisconsin,” I say.
“No. I see that,” Coach Johnson says. His face is red. I've embarrassed him. The crowd hisses.
I decide right then I'm taking the rest of the week off. “I need to leave, Jerri,” I say.
I pull the mic pack out of my pants, unclip the other part from my collar, hand it to the ESPN guy.
“Congratulations, man,” he says.
While kids flow out of the gym into the commons, Jerri and I leave by the side door. We don't go through the school. People from the town and the state and wherever else are in the parking lot. A few say, “Good school.” But they're quiet. They're mad. Of course. I picked up the Wisconsin hat.
Terry Sauter meets us in the parking lot. He says, “Was that hat thing a joke?”
“No,” I say.
His face is red. “Good. Crappy joke. Wow,” he says. Terry Sauter drives me and Jerri home.
Holy shit. I saw the insignias. I saw my hand reaching for the Badger hat. Holy shit.
Wisconsin doesn't call. Northwestern doesn't call. Not to Be Named doesn't call. Stanford leaves a message and tells me to call back that afternoon. “So excited,” the coach says. “Good times coming.”
is my dad screwing your mom?
At home, after ten minutes of looking at the Internet in my bedroom, I hold my head in my hands. I sort of laugh.
The State of Wisconsin hates me. Wisconsin wants me dead. You should see some of those messagesâ¦
A couple hours after I held my head in my hands, I called up the Stanford coaching staffânot to get the letter-signing crap set up, the administrative stuff (we did deal with that), but so I could hear these people who were happy, who didn't care that I was an asshole. The running back coach said, “Can't wait to get you out to Palo Alto, buddy!”
“Can't wait to be there,” I said.
I needed that. I didn't like being hated, even if I'd caused it, even if part of me wanted it.
I think I know why.
Hate causes hate. My Badger hat grab worked. For days after the grab, I stopped seeing my dad hanging. I stopped seeing him buried in the ground. I stopped trembling all the time. I had a new battle. Against the State of Wisconsin.
Uncovering stopped. Covering up started.
Rebury the dead.
Guys like me don't want to deal because dealing is goddamn hard. Dealing is torture. Living the hell again and again. Who wants to do that? Do you understand? Fighting with the State of Wisconsin is easier, even though it's stupid and useless.