When Aiden's mother and the others approached us Carman introduced me to his own mother, whose name was Betty. I shook hers and Bryon’s hands, and looked at Aiden’s mom. She looked very sad, but didn’t say a word. I looked at the ground and was beginning to think that maybe she did resent me after all, when suddenly she strode forward and embraced me in a tight hug. This was too much, and I started sobbing.
She held me tighter. I could feel her sobbing. I put my arms around her and returned the hug, sending her positive feelings with my mind, and we just stood there hugging each other for what seemed like forever.
Finally she broke off the hug, wiped her tears, and said “Oh, Carmen, we’re so glad to see you. I’m sure Carman told you about how Aiden is dealing with things. I hope seeing you will cheer him up”.
I looked at her, amazed. She was putting on hold her own grief over losing her youngest son in order to try to help her oldest. A surge of affection washed over me and I wanted to hug her again.
Instead, Betty piped up. “We’d better go inside, dear. I’m sure you’re anxious to see Aiden.”
I was, but I was also having doubts. Why hadn’t he come out with the rest to meet me? A sudden urge to jump back into the car and insist on being driven home hit me, but I couldn’t do that. Instead, I said “Yeah, where’s he at?”
Carman, who was just coming from behind the car after retrieving my things, said “He’ll be in his bedroom. I’ll show you where it’s at”.
We went into the house. I thought it looked like a cool house from the outside. I was not prepared for the inside! The others stayed in the front entrance and Carman led me on a quick tour. It was thoroughly modern but filled with antique furniture, and it was enormous. Every piece of trim looked like it cost what our whole house did. Six bedrooms, each having its own full bathroom. A kitchen bigger than any I’d ever seen, with built-in wall ovens and two refrigerators. A dining room bigger than my family’s living room. The living room was huge as well, with a full wall bookshelf on one end and a huge TV set with high end stereo gear at the other. A second living room (they called it the “study”) loaded with more books. Had I been there under happier circumstances I’d have been staring at everything in awe. Instead I was dreading the end of the tour, which of course would be Aiden’s bedroom. Sure enough, we headed down a short but wide hallway with a peaked roof that obviously led to one of the additions to the main house. At the end of this hallway was a closed door. Carman walked up to this door, set my stuff down, and knocked. Silence. He knocked again, and said “Aiden? Carmen’s here”.
There was another silence, and Carman and I looked at each other. He had just shrugged his shoulders when we heard “Come in”.
Carman mouthed “Good luck” and walked away down the hall. I walked over to the door, turned the antique knob, and pushed it open. I then picked up my luggage and entered. The room had the same peaked ceilings that the hallway did, but taller and wider. There were two dormer windows facing onto the back yard, both of them with blinds drawn. At the far end there were two more doors: One was a closet, one was a bathroom. It was dark and musty in there, with a vague smell of body odour. Along one wall was a dresser with a TV set and clock radio on it. Between the two windows was a queen sized bed with a bedside table on each side, and on that bed there was a lump balled up under the covers.
I stood there for a moment holding my luggage, not sure what I should do. I decided the direct approach was best. I set the luggage down and walked over to the bed. I sat down next to the lump. It did not stir.
“Uh, Aiden? You’ve got to talk to me, bud. I’ve been worried. Everyone’s worried.”
Silence. I sighed. As my eyes were adjusting to the dim light I was noticing more of the room. It was filthy. Dirty clothes all over the floor. Half-eaten meals mouldering on plates on the dresser and bedside tables. This was out of character for Aiden, who had usually been fairly tidy for a 13 year old, and it was out of place in this beautiful house.
“Aiden, I’m not going anywhere until you talk to me. And I’m going to open a window. I can barely breathe in here.”
A grunt emanated from under the blankets. At least he made a sound. Progress. I got up, walked to the dormer closest to me, and pulled the blind. I was nearly blinded by the light that flooded the room. I unlocked the window and pulled it up, and was greeted by the cold but refreshingly clean early February air. I walked back over to the bed and sat.
I looked around a bit more. The light revealed just how dirty the room was. It looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned in a month. I then realized that this was probably the case, and turned to look at the lump.
“Aiden, I’m sorry.”
A stirring under the blankets, then suddenly he flung them off and was sitting up, glaring at me. I looked back at him and was filled with both pity and fear. He looked like hell. His face was pale grey with a tinge of pink around his eyes and his hair was greasy and unkempt. He was fully clothed in what looked like a filthy track suit. He had even started growing a little bit of scruff on his face on the corners of his upper lip – at any other time I’d have thought that sexy – but even worse than how dirty he looked was how unhealthy he looked. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes had a yellow tint to them, and those lips that I had admired before were cracked and dry looking. He noticed me staring and his glare went from anger to pure hatred. I was becoming scared.
“I said, ‘STOP’. I don’t need your apologies. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything. It was...”
He then looked away and laid back down. At least he didn’t pull the covers up over his head again though.
“Well I don’t know what else to say. I’ve never had to go through anything like this. I know I can’t possibly feel what you’re feeling. And I’m sorry for that. And I’m sorry that you have to have those feelings alone. I can’t understand them so I can’t help them.”
“Tell me you’re sorry one more time. I dare you...”
I just sat there, looking at him. He ‘dares’ me? What does that even mean? Was that a threat?
He then sat up again. This time there was less anger, but there were tears streaming out of his eyes. The anger very quickly came back though.
“You want to know what I’m feeling? FINE. I’ll tell you what I’m feeling! I’m feeling that my brother is dead, and that it’s all my fault! He ran out of the house because I was being an asshole to him! He was actually afraid of me! Barely even had time to pull his boots on and run out the door! Mom sent me out looking for him, but I would have gone out after him anyway. Not for the reason Mom thought though! I wanted to hurt him! I really did! If I had caught him I probably would have, too! But no, the little bastard was too fast, and I couldn’t catch him. He ran into the woods, and I couldn’t find him. The last I ever saw of him was his sticking his tongue out at me and disappearing behind some bushes! I looked all over the place and couldn’t find him. I came to your house and got you and Ian to help look for him, but even then I still wanted to kill the little bugger. First he ratted us out, then he pulls this stunt! At first I thought that while we were looking for him that he was just avoiding us to be a dick, but when it got dark I started to get worried. When I heard that little girl went missing too I figured that they were just hiding together somewhere. I had a little hope. But as that night went on and there was no sign I started becoming really worried. Then when the police found that hole in the ice...”
He stopped talking, laid back down, and was now sobbing. I sat there watching him for a moment, wondering if I should talk, or what I should say. He saved me the trouble of wondering, as he started talking again.
“I still can’t believe he’s gone. And it’s my fault. It’s all my fault. Mom hates me, and I don’t blame her.”
Now I had no doubt as to what I was going to say.
“That’s ridiculous. Your mother doesn’t hate you. Nobody hates you, and nobody blames you. Brothers fight all the time. I should know, I have two. If I had a dollar for every time we’ve gotten into fights, hit each other, called each other names, ratted each other out, I’d be rich. We stay mad at each other for a few hours, then we get along again. Remember that time I ruined my oldest brother Kevin’s Culture Club record by forcing it to play backwards? I thought he was gonna kill me. I had to buy him a new record with my beer bottle money. And the time I pulled all the little light bulbs out of Mark’s stereo? Dad and Mark were both pissed at me then. Mark wouldn’t talk to me for a week. Heather and I get into some dandy fights too. Two weeks ago she smashed one of my mother’s decorative plates over my head because I was being a dick to her. I ended up helping her to glue it back together because we were afraid of how Dad would react when he found out.”
“Yes, it was like that. Don’t act like you know what was going on. You weren’t even there.”
I almost said “But I WAS there”, but didn’t. Instead I just sat there in silence.
He spoke again. “You know what the worst thing was, though? The thing that I’ll never be able to forget? The thing that will haunt me for the rest of my life?
“What?”, I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“You know what the very last words Richie ever said to me were?”
“As he was rushing to pull his boots on, crying his eyes out, he looked at me and shouted ‘I HATE YOU AIDEN!’, and then he disappeared.”
I was shocked. “He didn’t mean---”
“SHUT UP! You weren’t there! You didn’t see his face! He meant it! He looked me in the eye and said ‘I hate you Aiden!’, then went and killed himself!”
My shock gave way to anger; I was so angry I was shaking.
“OK, THAT’S ENOUGH! NO! That’s not what happened! He may have yelled that at you, but he didn’t mean it. I tell my brothers and sister I hate them a dozen times a week but I don’t mean it. They say the same thing back to me and don’t mean it. That’s what siblings do. They piss each other off and say they hate each other. But if you think for one second that Richie walked out onto that ice and killed himself because he hated you, then you are WRONG! How dare you say that kid killed himself! He was six years old, for God’s sake! He was on the ice because he didn’t know any better. He was curious, and to him it was fun. We told him to stay away, but obviously that didn’t work. Our parents told us to stay away from cigarettes, and look at how well that works! Kids do dumb things. Lord knows the things we have done. We’ve been lucky. Everyone we know has been lucky. Richie wasn’t so lucky. He made a mistake, and that mistake cost him his life. That young girl did too. They may have died, but they did not ‘kill themselves’. To say he killed himself is unfair to Richie, and it’s unfair to yourself.”
I was still shaking. I didn’t know how Aiden was going to react, and frankly I didn’t care. I was genuinely mad. I sat there expecting to be attacked at any moment. Instead, Aiden started sobbing. My anger started to ebb, but I was still upset.
“Look. You can blame yourself until the cows come home. If you’re going to do that there’s nothing in the world I can do to stop you. But Richie is dead, and no amount of blaming yourself is going to change that. Your mother is very upset, and she needs you to be there for her. She has already lost one son. She shouldn’t have to worry about losing two.”
I sat there and glared at him for what seemed like forever. Finally he rolled onto his side to face away from me and pulled the blankets back over his head. This conversation was over.
With that, I got up, went over, shut the window, pulled the blind, and left. I could not help. As soon as I closed the door behind me I realized I had made a terrible mistake. Not that I had made Aiden feel worse – I was too mad to care, and besides, it probably wasn’t even possible. No, I had made a mistake because I was now lost in a huge house full of people who were mostly strangers. Also, I’d left my stuff in the room with Aiden. I slowly made my way back down the hallway to the main house and stopped. I had no idea where I was at. The problem with those old farm houses was that they were so full of hallways, passages, and closed doors. I made my way down one of those hallways that looked vaguely familiar and came to the top of a set of stairs.
These I remembered, so I went down them. As I descended the stairs a worrying thought occurred to me: What was I going to say to Aidens mother, or Bryon, or Carman, or Betty? They brought me here to help, but I had failed. I was not looking forward to the conversation at all, but I made my way to the bottom of the stairs and stopped. I could hear voices, so I followed the direction they were coming from, and eventually found the kitchen. They were all seated at the nook talking. I’m sure they were discussing me because as soon as Bryon looked up and saw me standing in the doorway he stopped talking. The others turned to look, and the expression I had on my face told them everything they needed to know. Aiden’s mother got up and left, and Bryon followed her. Betty went over and started poking around in the fridge. Carman remained seated at the nook, so I walked over and sat down next to him.
“So I suppose I don’t have to ask how that went, do I?”
“No. It didn’t go well. He said a bunch of really bad things. He blames himself, like you said, but for really stupid reasons. I tried to explain that he was being stupid, but he just shut me out.”
Carman sighed. “Yeah, I was afraid of that. Sometimes when people are sad they don’t want to hear about why they shouldn’t be sad. It may seem strange to us, but that’s how it is. We can’t possibly see things the way he does because our minds aren’t in the same space his is. Still, I hope that some of what you said to him has sunk in.”
“I don’t think so. He just didn’t want to listen.”
I sat there looking at the counter top. Betty placed a can of pop in front of me, smiled, and said “Drink this.”
She then turned to Carman and said “Why don’t you show him around the house? I’ve got to get dinner ready.”