Why Can’t Sophomore Summer Be Like Pizza?
Andy V. Roamer © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Chapter One—A Different Summer
I can’t believe it’s summer again. I’ve finished two years at Latin School. Halfway to graduation.
And I just turned sixteen. Yeah. Sixteen. Wow. Am I an adult? I can do some things, like drive once I get my license. I can have sex here in Massachusetts. As if I’m going to, LOL. Though my parents can still forbid me to see certain people until I’m eighteen. Whoa! What? I can’t buy a drink yet. And I can’t vote. But I can pre-register to vote? What?
So, I’m, like, half an adult? A third? Two-tenths? Three-eighths? Double LOL!
Do I feel like an adult? Sometimes. And sometimes I still feel like that scared, confused kid with so much to learn about life. So, what is life going to teach me next? Where do I go from here? Where do I go from here?
!#[email protected]#[email protected]$#!$!!!
Okay, RV, chill out. Stop getting ahead of yourself. Learn to stay in the moment like all those books say. Not just books, but Mr. Aniso too.
I hear you, Mr. Aniso! Hope you’re enjoying summer in— Where did you go? Ames, Iowa? Helping out your partner Ben’s parents. You’re such a good guy. Will I ever be like you? Helpful. Confident. And strong. Yes, strong. Maybe not macho strong on the outside, but definitely on the inside. As I keep pointing out to Bobby.
Oh, Bobby. Took him to our favorite place in the woods today. It was a perfect afternoon. Blue sky, green trees, those hills in the distance that always make me believe there’s a future. A good future. I wanted to share it with Bobby. Wanted to celebrate the start of summer, sitting on our rock, looking out at everything.
I don’t think Bobby was into celebrating anything. He just sat there, not saying a word, looking out into space.
Celebrate. Maybe it wasn’t the right word to use. I know Bobby teases me whenever I use a fancy new word—me and my words!—but “celebrate” isn’t fancy, is it? It’s regular, something everyone does. I know he probably doesn’t feel like celebrating these days, given everything he’s dealing with, but I’m just trying to stay positive. Is that so wrong?
I glanced over at Bobby. He just kept sitting quietly, staring straight ahead.
Wasn’t sure whether to say anything else that might come out as annoying. Or better to keep my big mouth shut. Last thing I ever want to do is upset him.
I decided a question would be okay.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked quietly, staring straight ahead too.
“Nothing much,” he repeated. “Only about last summer.”
“Yeah. Do you remember how we began last summer?”
“When we went to the park, you mean?”
“Yeah. Larz Anderson Park. It was nice, wasn’t it?”
The memory of sitting on the hill in that little grove of trees, looking over at the twinkling lights of downtown Boston, came back to me. And then another memory. Bobby’s hand on top of mine, making me feel happy and secure.
Today was and wasn’t the same. Bobby’s hand was resting on the rock right next to mine. I wanted to place my hand on top of his, connecting to that moment a year ago. But I didn’t dare. This was a different summer. And a different beginning.
“Crazy how things change,” Bobby said. “Who would have thought the beginning of this summer would be so different? Last year we said it was magic. This year—” He stopped, and his voice grew quieter. “This year it’s about my trying to be a human being again.”
I knew what he was referring to, of course. All the work he was doing to recover from that injury he’d suffered at the Thanksgiving Day game.
“How’s the rehab going?” I asked.
Bobby shrugged. “It’s going. Some days I think my vision is getting better and other days things are blurry again. My reflexes are a joke. And I still get tired. Very tired.” He let out a laugh. One of those laughs that’s more angry than happy, which I now associate with Bobby. “One good thing, RV. I won’t need practice when I become an old man. I know what that f-feels like now.”
I winced, hearing Bobby stutter. Something that had appeared only recently. I know the second concussion was very serious, making his brain swell, as his parents explained to me. Bobby was incredibly lucky the doctors were able to stop the swelling with some kind of intricate procedure that most probably saved his life. But Bobby’s parents also told me there was damage. Especially to his vision. Other cognitive damage too. “Cognitive,” a serious-sounding word. It was complicated, but as the doctors explained to them, injuring the brain affects a lot of areas. Symptoms might come out later and might take a long time to heal.
“All we can do is stay positive. And most importantly help Bobby stay positive, taking one day at a time.”
His parents’ mantra. Where have I heard that before? Easy to say, harder to put into practice.
I glanced over at Bobby again. No joke about being an old man was coming to me. And nothing positive to say that didn’t sound fake or patronizing. Ha! “Patronizing.” Can’t resist those ten-cent words, can I? Boy, have I learned about patronizing in the last few months. Saying something that pretends to be helpful and soothing to someone but is just fake. Like if I ever say, “Bobby, I know what you’re going through.” Or “Bobby, I know how you feel.”
Bobby will jump down my throat if I say anything like that. Being a Black person, he tells me he’s especially sensitive to anyone being patronizing. “People do it without even realizing it. And they don’t realize how much I hate it,” he adds, those big dark eyes of his flashing a deep anger. “I’m just me. Bobby Marshall.”
That anger in his eyes always scares me a little bit. But Bobby’s right. I don’t know how that feels, obviously. Or how it feels to have a serious injury that nearly killed you when you were just playing football, the game you loved. So, I keep quiet. And try to be honest. Painfully, slowly, haltingly honest.
And that means shutting up a lot of the time. As usual, Bobby sensed what was going through my mind. He turned to me and gave me a slight nudge, bumping his shoulder up against mine.
“I’m sorry. I’m a real downer, aren’t I, RV?” he said.
I started shaking my head and was about to say something patronizing like “Oh, no you’re not, Bobby,” when luckily, he stopped me, giving me another nudge.
“No, no. Go out and celebrate. Don’t make excuses for me. No excuses.” He shook his head. “Something else I’m working on. That’s with my therapist.” He let out another one of those half-angry laughs. “I’m seeing a therapist, a neurologist, a neuropsychologist, an optometrist, an ophthalmologist, my primary care guy, the rehab nurses, technicians. I never knew there was so many ologists! But enough about my wonderful summer.” He turned to me. “Tell me about you. How’s your summer starting out?”
“I’m going for my learner’s permit. That’s my big project for the summer. Since I’ll be sixteen, it’s time.” I pumped my fist. “And then I get my license in six months. It will be so great to drive!”
“Yeah.” Bobby made a face. “I have to wait on that.”
I felt bad, realizing how my enthusiasm sounded to him. So many normal things weren’t available to him. Not yet.
“But soon. You’ll recover soon and get your license. And we’ll go driving together.” The second the words left my mouth, I felt self-conscious. Didn’t I just tell myself not to be patronizing? And wasn’t what I just said a little patronizing?
Luckily, Bobby didn’t get mad. Or maybe he just didn’t care. “Yeah,” he repeated. “Soon.”
He was staring straight out ahead again. I didn’t know what to say that didn’t sound stupid or wouldn’t annoy Bobby.
Those moments when we are together but don’t know what to say to each other are terrible. Like today. Even though he was sitting right next to me on this beautiful summer day in this beautiful place, I felt like he was so far away. And I felt so alone. Why are those moments the worst when you really care about someone?
Luckily, Bobby spoke first. “Do you have a job?”
I nodded and told him I was about to start work at the multiplex the next town over.
That seemed to perk him up a little. “Oh, wow. All those free movies. Cool. What will you be doing?”
“I’ll be an usher.”
“An usher?” Bobby gave me a funny look. “Pardon me! Sounds fancy.”
I laughed. “Don’t go by the name. Yeah, maybe once in a while I help some little old lady to her seat. But mostly it means I’m a jack of all trades. I maintain the facilities, which means I clean the auditoriums and the bathrooms. Also, I tear tickets. I put up posters. I pitch in at the concession stand if they’re short. I check backpacks and packages if necessary. I help customers out with the POS system.”
“What’s a POS system?”
“That’s the computer screen customers use to buy tickets. You know, point of sale.”
“No, I didn’t know.” For the first time it seemed that Bobby smiled. And laughed. A genuine laugh. “Oh, RV, I’m so glad one thing hasn’t changed. I learn so much from you. Even if some of it is crazy!” He reached over and put his arm around my shoulder, drawing me a little closer to him. “I know these past few months haven’t been easy.” Suddenly, he was back with me. “For everybody. You included. But I’m glad we’re still friends.”
Bobby was looking at me intently. No, staring at me, his big dark eyes a few inches from my face. I’m sure I was doing my RV blush, turning red, magenta, purple, and whatever other crazy shades there are on the color spectrum.
“I really do appreciate our friendship,” Bobby continued, turning away again. “I know sometimes I’ve been too busy to be the kind of friend you want, but things are different now.” There was that half-angry laugh again. “Not too much fun and football for me this summer, that’s for sure. Instead, I’ll be spending my time with all those ologists. Maybe they’ll give me time off for good behavior. Or cognitive improvement.”
I wanted to ask him how long the doctors said it would be before he was back to his old self, but I felt it was not the time.
As usual, though, he seemed to be reading my mind. “And don’t ask me how long it will take for things to heal. That’s something else I’ve learned. Ologists don’t want to commit.” He began to mimic one of his doctors. “Take it day by day, Bobby. The brain is an amazingly complex, sensitive organ, Bobby. We just have to keep at it, Bobby. And celebrate every improvement, Bobby.”
He stopped himself. “Well, I guess I’ll be celebrating too,” he said with a laugh. “Good. Both of us will be celebrating. You taking driving lessons and seeing free movies. Me happy that I walk around the house without getting exhausted or reading for ten minutes without getting a headache.”
So, I’ve been lying here in my room, trying to compose myself. It’s going to be a different summer all right. With Bobby, most of all. I will not let him down. I keep promising myself. No matter how difficult it gets sometimes. His parents say as much. Keep repeating how much they and Bobby value my friendship. Want to make sure I know I’m always welcome. They want me to understand that Bobby doesn’t see other people often, not even his teammates. That’s why it’s important he stays in touch with me. And I stay in touch with him. And they even admit he can be difficult at times. “It’s the injury,” they say. “He’s not used to being injured.” It’s not you. Please understand.
I understand. I understand. Or so I keep saying. But do I really? And what about me? What about when I need a little empathy this summer? “Empathy.” Another one of my ten-cent words. Different from patronizing, which is fake. Empathizing is real. Means you understand the world from someone’s else’s perspective. Makes you a better person.
Like Mr. Aniso. Giving up his summer to be in Iowa and help his partner Ben’s parents. Is that what I’m supposed to learn this summer? What empathy is all about?