“To not have your suffering recognized, is an almost unbearable form of violence.”
~ Andrei Lankov
“Jack, come back! Jack, where are you going?”
“Damn it! What is he doing now? Why can’t you control that kid?” Greg Anderson was Jack’s stepfather. He never understood Jack, nor did he ever want to.
“Jack!” Lorna Anderson called after her runaway son. “What the hell does that mean, Greg? Control him? Really? I hardly understand him. I’ll be back. Just… just take care of Trevor until I get back.”
Here she was again, just like last week and the week before that. Lorna Anderson felt betrayed. Motherhood was not supposed to look like this. It wasn’t supposed to feel like this. Where were all the warm and fuzzy moments other mothers talk about? She had some with Trevor, but Jack took all her attention, so those moments were rare. Jack was always precocious, but when he turned three, she could not get him to hold still. He was a handful, and now he was unpredictable and a nightmare at school. That’s what never made any sense. Jack was brilliant in math and science. During his downward spiral, and lately down was down in the basement down, Jack read book after book. His mind just didn’t turn off. Lorna was at a loss. She feared that he was turning into a bad boy, like his biological father, Tory Shelby. She loved Tory with all her heart, but he was an untamed stallion that had to run, and he had no place for a family in his life. But that was the past, and her most pressing concern was here and now. Unfortunately, Jack resembled Tory in every way possible. There were the highs and the crazy behavior, and the debilitating depressions that lasted for days. Lorna didn’t know what to do.
Continuing the search for her son, Lorna went to Jack’s best friend’s house. Antonio Mengele had the same kind of temperament as her son. They found each other in group therapy. What a joy that was for both Tony’s parents and Lorna. As if they didn’t have enough to keep up with, now two of the most dreaded boys in school had teamed up. The school did everything to schedule them in different classes, but there was always lunchtime and afterschool activities. Greg would muse, “Imagine having one unexpected explosion after another… now double it.”
Lorna kept a look out for Jack as she rang the Mengele’s doorbell. He was nowhere to be seen.
“Lorna, hi!” The door swung open revealing the svelte figure of Alyssia Mengele.
“Alyssia, I’m sorry to barge in right before dinner, but have you seen Jack?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact. He and Tony went running. Do you want to come in?”
“No, thanks. I don’t want to interrupt your dinnertime. I’ve just had it with Jack and all of the problems at the high school.”
“I get that. Listen, come in for a glass of wine. Joe isn’t going to be home till late, so our dinner is on hold. Besides, I could use a little commiserating myself. What do you think of this new guy, um, Fergus Chesed? The kids call him ‘the Cheez’.” Alyssia laughed. “I don’t think that he is going to be the answer to our prayers. He’s a real ballbuster.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why Jack ran off. We got a call from ‘the Cheez’ and it has been decided that Jack is suspended for three days for provoking a teacher to tears.”
Alyssia muffled a laugh. “Which snowflake did Jack irritate, now?”
Lorna heaved a great sigh and said, “Ms. Dove. He challenged her answer on a math problem, and when she discovered Jack was right… she was embarrassed. She tried to fix it and move on, but according to Jack, and this is only according to Jack mind you, she insulted him all the while she was correcting her mistake. So, he felt compelled to push back and called her an odious spinster.” Lorna saw Alyssia choke back her wine. “It caught her off guard and after already being mortified by her student, she broke into tears and sent Jack down to the office. That’s when he got the pleasure of meeting this new guy, Fergus Chesed, and you can imagine what happened then.”
“Oh, no. Did Jack…?”
“A total loss of control. Yep, Jack called him a bald, self-aggrandizing cock sucker, whose pomposity was only surpassed by his inability to operate a blender much less manage a school program.”
“You know why Chesed is visiting the high schools, don’t you? He’s the district’s Alternative Programs Supervisor and he wants to rein in the so-called troublemakers and punish them with mandatory custodial work on the weekends. I looked into his history. He’s been bouncing from school district to school district. It makes me wonder why he didn’t take root somewhere, and from what I learned, he’s old school and would use a paddle if it were still allowed. His methods have been challenged before in other districts. I’m sure that Tony and Jack are going to buck this. It could be really bad for them.”
“By mandatory custodial work you mean like a sort of community service?”
“Yeah, well, this community service will be ordered without a judge. I don’t know how I feel about it.”
“Well, is it punishment, or is Chesed trying to instill structure?”
“Could be both. My problem is that he is the only one passing judgment. Our kids don’t respond to injustice very well, and this guy doesn’t care about their mental diagnoses. Everyone is treated the same and he just wants quick results.”
“Boy, is he in for a surprise.” Lorna took a big gulp of wine.
“Sha, yeah! When are these educators going to realize that there is a bigger problem out there, and what has been used for discipline in the past doesn’t work with some kids?”
“It might be interesting to see what creative things the boys come up with to test Chesed’s new program.” Lorna quipped knowing full well the intellect behind the madness.
“Yeah, interesting… and scary!”
Jack turned sixteen last month. He thought it was going to be the magic number and he would grow out of this frozen hell he had been living in. His entire life from age three was a blur of inexplicable impulsive behaviors. Sixteen seemed to be everyone’s turning point into bigger and better things. But for him, his existence turned into a roller coaster ride. There were days where he couldn’t sleep, and he was up all-night banging around the house. It irritated everyone, but it seemed to aggravate Greg the most. His stepfather had no sympathy for whatever torments kept Jack awake at all hours. That intolerance is what Jack had become accustomed to and could honestly live without… as if anyone cared.
“Hey, Jack! Parkour!” The two boys had run to the business center of the city. It was the perfect place to be at night since Ouray all but shut down after the dinner hour. There was no one around to harass them. Tony pushed off the side of a downtown building followed by a series of leaps onto and up a fire escape. As he reached the top he screamed, “Yahh! I’m the king!”
“Tony, wait for me!” Jack followed Tony up the fire escape. Once at the top the two of them wall climbed to the roof of the building, ran across the rooftop and leapt across the divide to the next building. Jack faltered a bit and Tony swirled around and grabbed him before he lost his footing and fell the thirty feet to the ground.
Not only was there little concern for his near calamity but the sensation intensified Jack’s adrenaline rush. He screamed at the top of his lungs, “That… was the effin’ hizzle!”
Tony equally as pumped said, “Let’s not go home tonight. Let’s do this all night long.”
“Alright! Let’s go!” Jack and Tony didn’t even consider that they were breaking curfew, they were just more than happy to release the anxiety and pent up energy from their bodies, brains, and mangled spirits. They did this without a glancing thought of repercussion. It’s what they needed here and now.
Neither understood why their episodes seemed to jive. But whenever Jack was flying high, so was Tony. When Tony was submerged in depression, so was Jack. They were tighter than tangled yarn, and just as infuriating. Mirrors of each other’s terrors, they were also each other’s support when times were rough. Suicide had crossed their minds, and despite their parallel episodes, they were there to talk each other out of ending it all. It never became a thing where they even considered a joint suicide and the hope was that their overburdened souls would never come to that.
Building after building, the two bounced off and flipped over every surface at their disposal. Drenched in sweat and every muscle aching, night faded into dawn and as the sun began to peek through the darkness, Jack and Tony began the task of dragging their drained bodies home. It was a success. All impulsive urges, every random thought and night long wrestling of indiscriminate memories that harassed and taunted their psyches had been purged by rigorous activity. But it was a tradeoff. Walking home, hard-won minutes of peace were gradually oozing into the grave despair of depression – one that could afflict and debilitate them for days.
Clinical depression is where Jack and Tony split from their similarity. Even though they shared the timing, the suffering was distinctive. Jack’s episodes were thick with days of sleep and torment, while Tony’s anguished dreams overflowed with dark creatures that became the cornerstones of his graphic novels. Yet, they shared equal levels of intelligence. Although, Jack was blessed with a natural ability in math and science, Tony excelled in art and writing. Befuddled teachers strained to keep up with their exceptional proficiencies. With the sum of their inability to sit still, their brilliance, and the guaranteed disruptions at Ouray High School, it grew into the perfect storm, and Jack and Tony rode the tsunamis like masters.
“How you doin’, Tony?”
“This is going to be a bad one.” Tony’s walk slowed. He shook out a leg where he had strained a muscle. “How about you?”
“Ahh, I’m sinking. I can feel myself slip.”
“You remember our pact, right?” Tony wanted Jack to remember their obligation to each other.
“Yeah, of course. Are you expecting visitors?”
“Oh, you bet. They are conversant even as we speak.” He tried to make light of it, but Tony’s face was drawn. Not only were his dreams dark, but the participants took form and dropped in while he was in the shower or walking to school or whenever they liked. He tried to emulate his hero, John Nash, and ignore them, but that wasn’t foolproof. No doubt it was due to their unnerving and terrifying natures that Tony lived with dread taunting him day and night.
“Alright, man. Here it is. You keep your phone next to you on your bed. When it gets too much, you text or call me. I’ll get you through it.”
“Yeah? What about you? Did you ever think, Jack, that one of these days you and I will be completely in sync, and we won’t be able to be each other’s fail safes because our devils will overcome us at the same time? Then what? What will we do then?”
Jack walked slowly beside his friend. There was always that possibility, and it wasn’t like he had never thought about it before. “Look, let’s worry about that when it happens. No sense flirting with something that hasn’t reared its soulless head. I’m here for you, Tony, just like always. And you’re here for me, just like always.”
“But I’m tired of it, Jack. So, so tired.”
“Me, too, my friend. Me, too.”
Jack and Tony cringed when they saw Alyssia sitting on the Mengele’s front porch. “Where in the hell have you been? Do you know how worried your dad and I are? He’s out scouring the streets right now. Why didn’t you take your phone with you? Get in the house.” Alyssia’s head snapped towards Jack. “Jack, your mother is on her last nerve. Go home.”
Depression weighed Tony down to the point that whatever punishment his parents could inflict didn’t matter. Let them do their duty because, at this point, whatever they concocted had no significance. Punishment, for punishment’s sake was futile, and from his viewpoint it was stupid. It never budged the needle from being a bad kid to becoming a good kid. Punishment had no value in the scenario that was his life. It was just a petty annoyance.
Tony walked to his room accompanied by his dark phantasms pressing against him and instilling fear and anxiety into his fitful sleep. Crashing onto his bed, he made note of the fact that his phone was charging on his nightstand (just in case), and then he buried his head into the pillow hoping to find comfort. Unlike Jack, Tony had secrets – terrible, terrible secrets. His therapist was the only one who knew all of what had happened to him when he was six.
Tony’s life changed forever the day he met Peter Gibbons, his first art teacher. He enchanted Tony with his talent, and he wooed him into an unnatural sexual relationship between child and adult. Tony didn’t know. He was just a little boy with admiration for a great talent. Gibbons was obsessed with Tony and won him over with flattery and treats. It was six months into his lessons that Tony’s parents saw a change in him, and they started to ask questions – questions that panicked Peter. That is when his fixation for Tony escalated into mania. He kidnapped Tony and kept him hidden.
An entire month went by before Peter was captured, and Tony was discovered bound and gagged in a closet at a studio apartment Peter rarely used. Tony had been raped, starved, and tortured. Peter had done his worst. After what Tony had been through, it was a miracle he still wanted to draw, but his artwork somehow purged the horror he lived through for that brutalizing month. During the healing, his distress acted as a muse for his art. Like babies, dark heroes were birthed from Tony’s agony and suffering and they seeped out of his imagination onto the pages of his novels.
The news story of Tony’s abduction was all the buzz in the small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania. So, Tony’s parents decided it was best they move as far away as possible and landed in Ouray, Colorado. There he continued his therapy, and as he started school, he was diagnosed with ADHD. But it was soon clear that there was more going on in Tony’s brain than lack of focus. Although his parents supplied support and mental healthcare, Tony was never going to be the same. His nightmare existed in his broken psyche, and there it would remain until someone solved the mystery to release it.
Meanwhile, Jack walked through the door of his home and all hell broke loose. Greg lunged at him and threw him against the wall. “Where the hell have you been? Your mother was sick with worry. Don’t you care about anyone but yourself?”
“Stop it! Greg, get off him!” Lorna ran in from the bedroom to intervene.
“Why do you defend him? He’s a crazy pain in the ass and you constantly protect him. What is wrong with you?”
“He’s sick, Greg. Don’t you get that?” Lorna turned to Jack. “Why did you stay out all night?”
“I was with Tony. He and I had so much cracked-up energy that we decided to run it off. That’s all. It worked. Now, please, just let me go to bed.”
“You’re not getting off that easy, Buddy. You are grounded two weeks for mouthing off to your teacher and that other guy at school, and another two weeks for staying out all night. Now get the hell out of my sight.” Greg was known to be intolerant and heavy handed sometimes, but since Jack grew into adolescence, he backed off on corporal punishment. It didn’t do Jack’s disorder any favors. No one could diagnose him correctly until he turned seventeen, but his doctors, his family and the school knew he had at the very least, bipolar disorder. His life was never under his control.
“Jack, wait up.” Lorna hurried to follow her son. “What can I get you? Do you need something to eat?”
“No, Mom. I just want to crash. I’m swinging down and I’m tired. Can you all just leave me alone? I don’t want to be disturbed.” The grounding bestowed on him meant little to Jack. It essentially allowed for complete isolation, which sometimes was good, but as far as penance for his behavior… he didn’t need it. His condition was punishment enough.
Lorna left her son lying on his bed, still sweaty and dirty from his night on the town – too depressed to feel hunger or the need for hygiene and searching for the sweet solitude of slumber. She never knew if Jack would sleep soundly, or if he would be plagued with dreams and suicidal urges provoked by depressed thoughts and visits from the specters of his delusions. Those red sheets of delusion, billowing and glistening in front of him, were not near as potent as Tony’s, but they pushed and elbowed Jack into deep hopelessness from which he could not escape. The next few days would be a test for both him and Tony.