The event that changed it all, I was not even present for. I had graduated high school and my mother threw me in the car and took me to Milwaukee. She did not want me hanging out with my friends or going to any celebrations. I went to Wisconsin for two weeks, and when I came back, everything had exploded.
Braveheart had just been released, while I was in Milwaukee, I had seen it. Back home in Waynesville Harvard, Chanel, Jammy and Careful headed to the theater for the same reason. It was the first time Careful had been with them in a long time. After the break with Harvard, she had disappeared into the oblivion and no one had heard from her. This night, she went out with them and even sat in the front seat of the car.
Harvard drove around a corner, and they say it came out of nowhere.
The collision was immense. It threw everyone everywhere. The two cars hit so hard that the radio flew from Harvard’s dash. In the briefest of moments, everything changed.
Jammy told me Harvard sat on the curb weeping, injury free and wishing for death. Jammy took a radio to the face. Chanel’s hipbone snapped in three pieces. Careful took a hit to the mouth. No one died, but everyone was rushed to the hospital, and everyone but Harvard was admitted.
I remember the phone call I got when I returned to Waynesville and I walked in the door of our house. They told me it had been ringing since the accident because no one knew when I was getting home. Katty broke down into tears when she told me, and I told her to have Harvard come get me. It was late, but when I told my mother what had happened, she set me free.
Katty called me back almost instantly. “He won’t come get you.”
“Of course, he doesn’t have a car. ” I said. “Well, I will get a ride and—”
“No, Jesse, he won’t come get you. They have gotten him a new car. Insurance paid for it almost right away, but he won’t come out of his cave. He hasn’t seen anyone since the accident.” Katty was crying again. “I think we lost him.”
“We didn’t lose anyone. I’ll meet you at Jammy’s house. I have to see you.”
“I’m so glad you’re back.”
“I love you, Katty,” I said.
“We all love you too, Jesse,” she said. “Hurry.”
She complained about it, but after all of the driving she had done that day my mother got back in the car and took me to Jammy’s. My mother went into the house and hugged everyone. Promised prayers and disappeared. I met them all in the living room and Katty and Jammy wrapped their arms around me, and we all wept.
I grabbed Jammy by the head and looked her in the eye. Panicking, I looked at her head, her eyes, her face. I was frantic. I was desperate. “Are you okay?” I asked near to breaking.
She took my hands and looked me in the eye. “Jesse, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m OK.”
I grabbed her by the head and kissed her forehead.
“First thing we do is Chanel,” I said. “And where the hell is Walleye?”
“We haven’t been able to get together much since Harvard’s car is out of the game,” Jammy said. “What do we do?”
Tony was gone by this time. He had shipped off to the Air Force and was out of my reach. It didn’t take me long to figure out exactly who I needed to call. I grabbed the phone and called our group’s mom.
“Hey girl, hear you’re all beat up,” I said when Chanel answered the phone.
She laughed, but I knew it an act. She was holding it together for us. Trying to keep me from freaking out. But it was far too late for that.
“How are you, honey?” she said. “A lot has happened since you left.”
“I need to see you now. I need to get Walleye, too. We need to regroup.”
“I would say,” she said.
“We need a ride. Can you manage it?” I said. She knew everyone in town and they all loved her. If she needed anything, she could have it from many different sources.
“I’ll send someone,” she said.
“I’m at Jammy’s,” I said.
D’s sister Precious was there within a few moments. She was not driving yet, but she had her mother come pick us up. We piled in and grabbed Walleye on the way. We had not called him. Chanel must have. He was sitting on the porch when we pulled up. We all headed to Chanel as fast as we could.
When we got there, Basic was there. I hadn’t seen him in years, didn’t know him very well at all. I hugged him and turned to Chanel. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She sat on the porch with a blanket on her lap. She looked as if nothing had happened to her.
“We need Harvard,” Chanel said.
“I can get him here. Where is your phone?”
“No, dear one, you can’t get him. He is not answering. Walleye and Basic went looking for him the other day. He won’t come to the door.” She shook her head and the first of her tears began to fall. “He blames himself. Says he wants to die. He is going to kill himself, Jesse. We are losing him.”
The depth of it was falling on me, the ground falling out beneath me. We could not do without Harvard. We could not stand a death in the family. We had been through too much, had just found each other. We had to get him back.
“What do we do?” Walleye said.
“Give me a phone,” I said. They brought me a hand held and I called him. The phone rang forever, finally giving up after fifty rings. I called back. When Harvard picked up, I said, “Hey, Harvard. It’s Jesse.”
“No,” was all he said before he hung up. I pulled back, looking at the phone as if I could reach in and shake him.
“You call him,” I said to Chanel.
She shook her head. “No, Jesse. He needs time.”
“He needs us,” Jammy said.
“No dear, he needs time,” Chanel said. “I will get him back, but for now, he needs to be alone.”
I trusted her, but I pushed a little harder. Finally she shook her head.
“Can I talk to Jesse alone?” she asked. They all left and I sat beside her.
“Careful got hit in the face. Her chin was cut up really bad and they stitched her good, but it’s gonna leave a scar.” Chanel took my hand and squeezed it. She held it to her mouth and kissed my knuckles. She was crying then, and I joined her. “She called Harvard, she yelled at him. Told him that she would have a scar on her face for the rest of her life. Said she was ugly now and it was his fault. She yelled at him. Called him a monster and told him she hated him.” Chanel shook her head. “She said this to Harvard. Jesse, he still loves her. That phone call alone nearly killed him. Knowing that she hates him is enough in itself to kill him. We need to let him work through that.”
“You don’t think he needs his family?”
She wrapped her arms around my head and pulled me in for a hug. She held me to her breast and smoothed back my hair. “No, he needs the dark.” She shook her head. “You know, none of them came to see me.”
She wiped tears and looked at me with wide eyes. “None of them came to see me except Basic. None. I was alone here,” she said. “All alone. But he came every day.” She squeezed my hand and smiled at me. “He is one of us now.”
“Sure thing. He’s in. I’m sorry they didn’t come, but they had no car.”
“They could have gotten here if they wanted to. They just didn’t want to.” She shook her head and wiped another tear. “I know how they feel about me now.”
“You’re wrong,” I said. “You’re so wrong. You’re family. You’re one of us.”
She nodded but didn’t believe it.
“What can I do? Show me the cast, I’m gonna write a poem on it.”
“I broke my pelvis, idiot. They don’t put a cast on your pelvis. All they can do is set it and make me stay in bed,” she said. “They told me not to get out of bed.”
“Then what the fuck are you doing out here?”
“Fuck ’em. I want to be outside. It’s not their pelvis.”
Before we left I helped her back to bed. She said goodnight to the rest of us and we got home. But before I left her, I hugged Basic again.
“You’re one of us now. You earned it,” I said.
“Earned it how?”
“You were here for her. That makes you one of us.”
“Why would I want that?” He looked at me like I was a piece of shit. I stared back, shocked.
“I— I don’t know, I guess we can—”
He laughed. “I’m just fucking you, Jesse. God, you’re gullible. This is gonna be fun,” he said.