Authors: J.S. Frankel
By J.S. Frankel
Copyright 2011 by J.S. Frankel
Cover copyright 2011 by Dara England and Untreed Reads Publishing
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
By J.S. Frankel
“Do you think about dying?”
That came from Greg. He was sitting next to me on my hospital bed and he sometimes asked me that question. Sort of strange that a kid like him, eight years old, would ask me that. My answer was always the same: “No.”
To be honest, most people don't think about dying, although if you're over seventy it may become part of your daily thought process; I don't know. However, for the vast majority of us under that three score and ten, you simply don't think about it; it isn't part of your life, nor should it be.
Still, once the verdict is handed down, that's when everything changes. As someone once said: “S**t just got real.” Yes, I knowâswearing is the avenue of the ignorant, but when one has to sum up a bad situation like this, sometimes only a four-letter word will do.
Pathetic intro, I'm aware of that. Getting back to the kicking off part, I doubt anyone ever thinks it's going to happen to them until it does. Most people my age thought dying was reserved for old people, victims of wars or natural disasters; it was for people who lived far away. When you heard about someone croaking, you thought about your Aunt Edna or your Uncle Fred.
Dying was a concept also reserved for people you saw on a news flash on TV:
“Nearly three hundred people were buried alive when a landslide occurred in such-and-such country at such-and-such time and almostâ¦.”
Then you'd say to yourself,
What a terrible thing to happen
and you'd forget about it ten seconds later. Not getting harsh but that's the way a lot of people think these days; they just can't be bothered. In other words, since those people weren't in their immediate family or circle of friends, they didn't count.
It was the same deal with people you knew. When something bad happened to
, then, “I lost my father/mother/aunt and could we talk,” and being the nice person you are, sympathies would always be extended.
However, when something bad happened in
family or to you and
wanted to talk about it then it was, “Sorry for your loss/too bad/tough break/take care of yourself” and all that false talk. School was calling, they had tons of homework to do, there were other, more important friends to talk to. “We'll catch up later” was the catchphrase meaning, “Who gives a crap?” and the bottom line was they couldn't have cared less andâ¦I'm getting ahead of myself a little.
Even the word “dying” was so final. Most young people can't grasp the concept. Not to get all philosophical about it because I never understood the complexities behind thoughts of the afterlife. People always theorize what will happen after it does: where they'll go or what they'll become and
they become anything and if there
something in the afterlife. Even the so-called “experts” don't know for sure and if
haven't figured it out then I don't suppose it really matters.
Alright, let's get to the introductions: Call me Bill. My full name is William Marshall Lampkin, formerly of Portland, Oregon. In many ways I'm a lot like you; then again, not really, but if I gave you more details right at the start then there wouldn't be much to say. So, let's just start with my name and stick with that for now, okay? All will be explained in due course; this is my story, and it's time someone heard it.
Like I said, call me Bill. Bill-the-Butthead; that was the first nickname I had.
From the third grade to the sixth, whenever I walked into school, the greetings were as follows: “Hi, Lumpy.”
“Morning, Mike.” I said that with my head down; I didn't like looking at anyone.
“How's it going, Wormy?”
No answer from me.
“How are you, Loser?” That one I hated most of all.
Everything that was wrong with being a kid was wrong with me. I was small for my age, a strikeout at sports, a reject at forming friendships, and a washout at being tough; in short, if someone had stuck a classification on me, it would have been “Classic Loser.” I'd been labeled as one and sadly, I believed it. Maybe some of you out there have already been down the same path or are going through the same thing; it doesn't matter. What
matter is how my path led me to where I am now, so like I said, try and have a little patience.
After reaching the third grade, I spent the next four years at T.C. Luma Elementary/Junior High School, located on the outer edge of suburban Portland, either being pushed around by the local bullies or jocks, or both; usually both. Being slammed into lockers became a ritual with everyone. “Today it's your turn, Joey.”
Joey was one of the jock rejects at my school. He was six feet tall at the age of fifteen, very strong and very stupid. In my case, that always spelled trouble. “Lumpy wants to get slammed, don't you, Lumpy?”
Oh God, not me again!
And then, WHAM! Time to kiss a locker and there was nothing I could do about it, either. The teachers couldn't always be around to watch who was doing what to whom, and they figured this kind of hazing was all part of school life. I always wondered if the teachers themselves went through that kind of hazing when they were young; I still do.
For those of you who came in late, here's a little primer about school life. In school, regardless of race, religion, or creed, there are always three classes of students. At the top; The Elites. They're bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, nicer-looking and just all-around better at everything than everyone else. They have it all, brains as well as brawn. I wasn't in that class.
One rung down the ladder; The Tweeners. Not in the Elite class, they get by on charm, tact, guile, guts, or a combination of those traits. No, that wasn't my class, either. Tweeners straddle the “Twilight Zone” at school. They can't really break into the Elite category, but at the same time they're desperate not to be stuck in the nether regions of social/academic life and they'll do anything to avoid being labeled as someone who brings up the butt-end of school society.
Here's my class; The Barrel Scrapers. These are the students who suck at sports, aren't all that smart at any subject save English Literature or History a.k.a. “nerd studies” and
do well at PE. They have the social skills of a donut hole and can't even make friends with the other Barrel Scrapers. The reasonâsee the “social skills of a donut hole” analogy. I had nothing in common with anyone else, and it seemed nobody wanted to be friends with me. Does that sound like loser talk or what? Yes, it does, but those were the facts and I'm just relating how it all went down.
So now that we have the basic ABC's about yours truly, let's get down to what really happened. Like I said, being the punching bag for the majority of the school populace wasn't easy. It seems in every school there's someone who just has to be the target of all jokes, and that someone happened to be me.
“Fight back,” said my father. “Empower yourself.” That's all he ever said.
Right, I tried “empowering” myself and got my face beat in every time. I hated that word. The fights never happened over a girl; they happened because I was there and mainly because
let it happen. It was open season on Bill-the-Butthead and it lasted all year 'round, but when I got sick they didn't dare lay a finger on me; I guess that was something to be thankful for. Getting sick changed everything, it always does.
* * *
Remissionâthe first big word I learned. Dad had taken me to the hospital just shortly after I entered the seventh grade. I'd been feeling unwell for a while. Sudden fevers, tiredness and joint pains, and after a lot of tests, a specialist named Dr. Harrison came in to talk to us.
“Your son has leukemia, Mr. Lampkin. I'm sorry,” he said to my father.
“What type?” Dad asked. No emotion, no hugs for his son, just the question.
“Myeloid leukemia; we'll do what we can.”
With that, my father got up and went to the window, looking out of it. I was left to stare at the walls and think about what would happen. Not a word was said to me.
When my father turned around again, he simply asked: “What do you suggest?”
“Chemotherapy; it looks more promising than stem-cell treatment.”
Bad genetics; they get you every time. My mom had died from the same disease when I was six, so I knew something about death even though I didn't understand it very wellâapparently, the Dr. and my father did.
“Do what you have to do, Dr.,” my father said.
So, Dr. Harrison opted for an “aggressive approach,” as he put it. That meant stuffing me full of chemicals to combat what was attacking me.
Did it work? Well, all that “aggressiveness” meant it was brutal on my stomach and the rest of me. High fevers on and off, remissions and relapses, upchucking; I spent more time “calling Ralph” than I could count. Couldn't keep any food down so my weight plummeted, and my hair fell out and grew back so many times I took to naming each new follicle as it came in. Yeah, life sucked, and all I could do was put up with it. The initial treatment went on for about two months.
* * *
“Want to watch some DVDs?” That came from Greg again, the only kid who talked to me on a regular basis. We both had the same disease and we were both in the same condition; bald and skinny. Every day he'd ask the same question. There wasn't much else to talk about.
“Yeah, okay.” Greg would break out his collection and we'd spend a few hours watching cartoons. He liked the superhero stuff, and even though I wasn't all that interested, he told me who was who in that cartoon world. He was practically an expert on the subject; to me, the animation was just a good way to pass the time as no one ever visited me.
When someone asked me why my father never came, I just said, “He's working, I guess.” That was the question Greg asked me every day. His parents came to see him; my father couldn't be bothered. And when I said my Dad was working, that was a lie. He was actually drinking most of the time.
My father was a big man, well over six feet, muscular and very imposing looking. He was salesman for a hotel chain, so he was often on the road. He also had a huge boozing problem and a total lack of affection for me. Never all that warm when Mom was around, he was even less so when she passed on. When he got the news that I'd been diagnosed with my illness, he took me home and told me to get packed.
“Aren't you taking me to the hospital?”
“I need a drink first.” After finishing half the bottle, he unsteadily drove me to the hospital, checked me in, and then went home to play “spin-the-bottle” with Johnny Walker again.
* * *
Things to pass the time were studying and also watching TV and reading. In between bouts of illness, I would read what the others were reading. The youngest kid in my ward was five, the oldest was me, and most of the others always had comics lying around. It was a kick looking at them at first, but the artwork, great as it was, was just too staticky and way too unrealistic, even though I'd seen the movies with all the great CGI and music. I was only thirteen, but this stuff was for little kids; novels were more my style.
On one my father's rare visits, he found me watching one of those superhero cartoons with Greg. Ironicâthe only time I could make friends was with other bed-cases like me. Anyway, he came over to my bed and asked me about it.
“More like boring,” I answered. Greg ignored the both of us.
“They seem to have good qualities,” he remarked. “Something for you to aspire to,” he added.
wanted was to be the same as everyone else and not be in sickness or in pain. Greg had a lot of DVDs and comics, all about the different leagues of superheroes, and one day, when his parents came to take him home he left behind his collection. I thought he'd call me, but he didn't. After a couple of weeks, I asked one of the nurses, “Have you heard from Greg?”
She hesitated and her face got a stricken expression on it. “I'm sorry, Bill,” she said. “Heâ¦” she hesitated, “he left us three days ago.” The way she said it, I knew that he'd died. His parents never came back for his things, so his stuff was passed on to me. I just put it under the bed; I felt so bad about Greg I didn't feel like watching anything for a few days, it was too depressing.
The rest of the time spent there ran the same routine every day. At eight in the morning, a nurse would come to wake me up. “How are you this morning?” she'd ask.
“Are you ready for breakfast?”
“Is it another Mystery Meal?”
“Yes, try guessing what it is.” No wonder I'd lost weight; the sickness was killing me and the food was helping it along. Hey, I knew everyone was trying their best to cheer me up, and Dr. Harrison would tell me that the medicine was working and that I had to give it time. How much time did it need? Anyway, after breakfast, it was study time and then watching movies or something like that until I threw up or slept. Boredom suckedâthe story of my life.
One day when I wasn't feeling too bad, I looked through Greg's bag of comics. These weren't like the usual thing. Done by an unknown author named Val Quinn, the comics were twenty in number; they were called “The Cosmic Guards.”
“Yeah, I read those once,” another kid told me. “The series was cancelled; they were crappy.”
“Were they that bad?”
“Worse than bad,” was his answer.
Quinn's comics were along the same lines as the regular league of superhero stuff, and with the usual counterparts instead of the regular cast of characters I'd read about. Names like Miracle Lady, Black Guard, The Plutonian, and PowerMan, the strongest of them all.
PowerManâthat had to be the lamest superhero name of all time. I guess all the other cool names had been taken and “PowerMan” was the best he could come up with? Give me a break; the writer couldn't even separate his name correctly. I read a few of them, not bad in spite of what everyone said. Actually pretty good, in a way.