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Thursday, July 18

Gapers Block

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(From my parent's house I saw small things: branches and backyards and half of the evening sky. The view was small, beautiful: the wind rattled against the side of the house and blew all of the branches of our maple tree against my window. I always remember it during winter, part of the moon hanging there and all sorts of starts lurking about. It was there that I wrote my first poem, about God and windows on the walls.)

Julie: Nothing. I don't remember anything at all. People have asked me, my dad has certainly asked me enough, that's for sure, but it's all the same in my head. I can't remember the hospital, and I barely remember the summer in my dad's basement after it all happened.

I've seen all the pictures and talked to the others that were there, but they don't know. I mean, I think Elsie knows the best of anybody because she called me and we are still friends and stuff, but the rest of them don't know. I was trapped in that fucking bed for an entire summer, trying just to walk and show an interest in anything and they would come and talk to me about, like, stuff they were doing. I don't know, it was dumb stuff, but I had to hear gossip from everybody at school -- but none of them came to see me, I just sat in this little room with a hospital bed and a VCR in a basement in Evanston. And besides the TV, there wasn't really anything to do, so I would start to dwell on stuff. I would cry when I was sure on one could see me and I would look at my body and it looked funny. It still looks funny but I'm kinda used to it by now. But then, I would get in the bathtub and look at all these scars I have, like this funny shape my leg has and this big pink spot below my knee that won't go away. I would look at my chest too and just cry because there's just this huge pink thing underneath my breast, this rip that my husband and my children and everyone is going to have to look at. And I'll have to look at all these and always answer questions at swimming pools, doctors' offices and wherever else it comes up.

Andrew: At the time I think I was honestly worried that I still had work to do and I wasn't going to get it done on time. But all of us wanted to go. Joel had been bothering us for months that he wanted us to come out to his parents place and see the suburbs. He lived somewhere near Hinsdale. It's kinda funny because I remember driving around and seeing all these nice houses. One of the houses was really big and blue and it reminded me of being a kid because my mom said that Hinsdale is the place where surgeons live and I thought, well, I'm now where the surgeons live.

It was Sunday, warm but grey and cloudy. I had these jeans on and an Earth Day T-shirt; I can't remember what else. Julie had borrowed this old sweater that I really liked. It was weird because it took me four months to really realize that it was gone.

Elsie: We all went for different reasons, not just because we were friends. I remember that morning we had gone to this weird museum about holograms. I wasn't used to Chicago -- everything was just so grey and empty and really dirty.

(Elsie didn't know him. I think they had met the day he died.)

I wanted to go because I wanted to see the suburbs of Chicago. I had seen Rogers Park and Evanston and stuff but LaGrange was different. Julie wanted to see the suburbs but she was into the Passover thing. She wasn't particularly religious, but she would always celebrate Passover, ever since she was little.

I think Andrew wanted to go because of Passover too. He had never been to one before and he always was asking Julie all these questions about what it was like. And Joel just wanted everybody at his house, that's what Julie kept telling me. He didn't care about the rest of it, he just wanted us to see where he had grown up.

(Germany had a different view. I could throw upon the window without a screen and see the whole world: sunsets, mountains, and the rooftops of my little worn-out town. Often I would open the window and sit for an hour or so, blankly watching nothing happen between the clay tiled roofs. I grew older, dreamy, and learned slowly how to sit still and not think.)

Andrew: It was kinda strange being in someone else's house. It was like being in Joel's childhood when we didn't know him or something, everything was so different.

I kept flipping to the wrong page because everything was in Hebrew and it went from right to left. I didn't really understand what was going on but no one else did really and we just kept skipping all this stuff. Joel's dad would just go, "Oh, that's not important, no we don't need to do that," and then go to the next part. After the Seder was over we had a large formal dinner. His mom was a fantastic cook, the food was just amazing.

(We all had wine, I mean at least just a little. But how many beers did he have? Was it two or three? I remember he was drinking one right before we left. The cops asked me later. I think it was three.)

Elsie: We were kinda happy, everyone was full and had had a really good time. We had bubbles with us, we just kept blowing bubbles as we went out to the car. I sat in the front and Andrew went to get in behind Joel when Julie said:

— "Hey no wait. You were cramped behind him on the way home. How ´┐Żbout I sit there this time?"

— "Are you sure? I don't really care."

— "No, no, I'm sure. We said we were going to switch so let's. You're too big anyway, I mean come on, you'll need the leg room Elsie. I'll sit there."

I know we took some sort of special route so that we could go through Oak Park. We should have taken the expressway but Joel didn't like them, we wanted to see the city and the suburbs and stuff. We talked about relationships the whole way, how important it was to be friends with your boyfriend first and how no matter what, communication was the most important part of a relationship. We all totally agreed, we just said that it's really important to talk about things instead of just having fights.

(College gave me no windows, no views. Everything was coated with bulletproof screening and disagreements with roommates. I had four different roommates and it never worked out. My bed was by the wall, away from sunlight. And in the winter, when it was hot in the dorms, should the window stay open or closed? I wanted it open, but they always won: closed.)

Elsie: Have you ever been to Cook County Hospital? The old one? I don't even let my friends talk about "ER" in front of me. The place is a fucking hole. I got this gross sausage every day to eat and my nurse smelled funny when she would walk me to the bathroom. Everything smelled like piss, like just rotting misery. I was just in so much pain and just wanted to go home. I felt bad leaving Julie behind, but I was so glad to leave Chicago once I did. It felt so good to get back to San Francisco.

Andrew: I know I woke up in an ambulance and Else said to me Andrew are we gonna be all right? Is everything ok and I said Elsie we're gonna be fine. We're gonna be fine Elsie so just don't worry.

I got to the hospital, I don't even know what happened. I was strapped to this board with all this blood on my shirt and I felt so weak. Everything happened at once, though I think I was strapped to that board for eight hours or something. Nurses kept coming and I had to sign things, the cops came and asked me too many questions, I talked to my parents on the phone and then my parents showed up and kept talking about how this was the second time that night they had been to the hospital because the dog had gotten a stick in his eye and I kept telling them that I had worn a yarmulke. Joel's parents came and I said We had fun tonight didn't we and they said yes we did.

I was covered in a hospital gown and they were wheeling me to Radiology for X-rays. There was sort of a cool breeze in the hallway, I know because it was the first time I had been moved for hours.

— "Your friend's dead. They tried saving him for four hours but his brain was squashed. All sorts of hemorrhaging, he was like a vegetable. The surgeons did everything they could."

— "Oh."

It was quiet, but I know there were lots of people moving about as he wheeled me through the hall. Everything was this weird color of green, a sickly green I remember. Odd for a hospital.

(Sometimes I would walk and just start crying, like no one would say anything or I'd be in my bedroom and it would come to me. Julie said she did the same.)

Andrew: Julie's face never looked the same afterward. Before she had this sort of sarcastic smile and she would roll her eyes or she would agree and say "Ya know! Ya'd think they'd do something about it." But afterwards all that was gone. I guess it was after they told her that Joel died. She just had this awful frown on her face, like a permanent scowl. She used to have all this beautiful curly hair and they cut it all off in the hospital and when her hair grew back it didn't look good anymore, like it was dirty. The dirty hair and that scowl, it was like she wished that she had died or something. That was one thing I always wondered, if she wished she really had died. I mean maybe it will go away and one day she'll smile again. Who knows? But I sure as hell am not going to hold her hand and coax her back to happiness.

For me it was the aftermath that made it so horrible. I was OK for awhile, we managed to salvage things and keep a relationship going. But one night we went up these stairs near school to sit and look at downtown. It was September, already cold. I remember because I was shivering. I don't know what it was, but I felt completely naked and wounded. I put my head on her lap and stared at the mixture of the pink shy and the skyline downtown.

— "But honestly Julie, what did I do? I just tried to be there for you and just act like nothing happened, you know, tell you about what was happening in my life. I was so busy that summer and didn't even know if I was coming or going, I mean, I tried to do the best that I could.

— "Yeah but all you talked about the entire time was fucking parties that you went to and how much fun you had with Natasha or Eric or whatever. And no once, not one god-damned time did you think about me sitting in that stinking basement, barely able to walk. Not once did you think about me being able to shower and looking at myself in the bathtub and seeing all these scars. You didn't give a flying fuck. You still don't give a shit, running around partying with those damn twins and getting stoned and whatever else while I have to study fucking rock patterns from last semester so I can fucking graduate on time."

— "But that's not it! I did think about it!"

— "Well then, what did you think about, because it was sure as hell not me, right? You had things to do and suffering, but did that matter? I had no one and couldn't go anywhere but did that matter to you? Is that what you were thinking about?"

While she was saying all this I couldn't find the words to reply. I just sat there with my head in her lap, thinking how good it felt that she was crudely running her hands through my hair.

— "You know Andrew, I don't even know why you came that summer to my dad's or to the hospital to visit me. I didn't ask you to come, my mother didn't ask you, my father didn't ask you, and no one else sure as hell asked you to be there. Friends are there for each other, you know? Friends don't drop by when they can and talk about how drunk they were or what parties they went to. Friends don't do that and you know what, I don't see why the hell you had to do that because no one else did. I'm sure you were healing, aren't we all? But Andrew, why the hell did you do that to me?"

(Only now, five years later, do I have a view from my bed again. Electrical lines outside my window all run perpendicular to one another on different planes. Just the other day I saw a squirrel walk past. The trees are back but without the moon and sometimes, at night when I write poems again, I can hear the fury of the El pass by.)

Julie: I was pissed. I was totally pissed, just really angry. You know my dad was my only contact with the outside world and he decided to start treating me like a baby again, like my little sister. Andrew would show up and tell me all this bullshit about what everybody else was doing, like any of them stopped to think about all the shit I was going through. My mom wanted to regain control of me from my dad and have me move back to San Francisco. I wanted Elsie to call every day but she couldn't and didn't, she only called a couple times. And my fucking doctors all acted like I was supposed to be grateful to them or something. One of them even introduced himself as the one that saved my leg. Like that isn't what I paid that asshole for.

(Julie had this way of saying dad, kinda like it rhymed with gaga. My daaaad called she would say or I have to go to my daaaad's this weekend. Usually I could forget that she was different from me, that her father was from New York and the she had grown up in a different world, in San Francisco. But not when she said dad, then she always moved away from me, separated herself.)

I had all this work to do. I had four incompletes and I wanted to graduate on time and go to Israel for a semester. So I would pull out my papers and stare at them, drawing lots of little things in my notebook and just getting angry at myself. I couldn't really do anything that summer, I would try but it never worked. I would try and think about school or my little sister but it never worked, it always came back to him. I know I wasn't in love with him anymore, but I had been and now he was gone. He died and I didn't and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I don't know if it's the way I want it. That's the question I just can't answer.

Andrew: I went away. I wanted to escape the street where it happened and the faces and the buildings too. I didn't want to see her or a Chicago streetlight for the rest of my life. The problem was that I couldn't just take up and leave, the shit followed me. I read this book called Herzog where this guy lives in Chicago and his ex-wife does everything imaginable to make his life a living hell. And to escape, to justify what happens he writes all these notes to people to try and make them understand his point of view, why he was ok and really right in what he did after all. But he never sends them. He just writes notes and never sends them.

I wrote all these notes too; my ex-wife has a garbage bag full of them. From Auschwitz, from Paris, from Vienna, wherever I went, it didn't matter. Finally though, I had the sense I saw it all. I looked through my old notebook that I carried everywhere with me and copied something I wrote a month after it all happened:

Everything in life must be balanced -- the rich and the poor, fat and thin, the hungry and the full, and the dry and the wet. So was this weekend. Thursday was sad, Friday was happy. Thursday was painful, but Friday (whenever it ended) was somehow afloat -- it rose above the rest.

Thursday began showerless, something that never helps a bad day. I woke up, dressed myself, and took the subway to court. I didn't really have to go, but I was asked and had nothing else going on, so I went. We were there as a show of force to clear Joel's tickets from the accident. The sad part was the judge wasn't even there. Even sadder, Joel, the person we all needed just then, wasn't coming back.

I saw that guy the killed him, the driver of the other car that hit us. He was just as evil as you and me, but somehow he had gotten caught. We were hoping to convict him, but that will take a long time.

I left and wandered through the loop in order to meet someone at four. She was standing outside the restaurant, I was sitting inside it. We missed each other. I suffered through some fries at The Steak Palace and was left alone to question class struggles. "The hereto history of mankind is the history of class struggles..."

I later attempted to go see a movie, but I had seen the film already. That left me on my own until 8:15 when a different one started. In a city of millions, I felt alone, so so alone.


About the Author(s)

Brian Sobolak is a Gapers' Block staff member. Read his thoughts and poetry at Planet Shwoop.

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