The Sun Shines on the Midwest
By Ian Cruz
“I seriously don’t see why I am bothering with this anymore.” said Joel to his parents. His mom, Peggy, who was on the right of Joel in the cushioned chair, looked up to her son.
She smiled and said “Maybe there are just some problems you need worked out.” She stopped short of breath, and continued on. “I mean, you said it yourself that you wanted to talk with someone, and now is your chance.” She looked over to the boy’s father who sat at the other side of the room reading a Readers Digest he found on the lobby table.
“What do you think, Gerald?” said Peggy.
“Huh?” Gerald was looking through the few jokes that were in every publication of Readers Digest and could not find any funny ones to tell the guys at work. He figured they wouldn’t mind anyways, and would just put in a comedy album.
“What do you think about our Joel seeing a psychiatrist?” questioned Peggy. Gerald continued to flip through the rest of the magazine, and only attracted his gaze away from the thing when Peggy sneezed.
“God bless ya’.”
“Oh, Gerald.” replied Peggy sternly.
“Aw come on, Peg. What do you want me to say?” Gerald gave a glum look and said “For Christ’s sake, what do you want? I’m already getting tensed just being here.”
At this point a woman in a bright chemise that reflected some of the sunlight, lighting up the entire room, entered the lobby from one of the doors on the far wall. Taking a quick peek at the name on her clipboard, which she cupped in the bow of her arm, the woman glimpsed back up to the lobbyists.
“Mrs. Roland?” She looked to a grey haired woman, and gave a wince. The woman got out of her chair and said “Hello” to the chemise wearing person at the door.
“Right this way, Mrs. Roland.” And the two disappeared back behind the door.
Looking questionably to one another, the family began on another topic to talk about. This time regarding Joel’s dance with the illegal Cannabis, which he claimed to have been addicted to for the past three months. Along with a few occasions from Mushrooms, and Ecstasy.
“Why have you been smoking that in my house, Joel?” Gerald had recently caught Joel for smoking the illegal Cannabis in his house when he went into Joel’s bedroom to put his son’s clothes away. “It goddamn reeked in that room, you know that?” Gerald continued accusing the boy for his evil, and said to his son “Do you think I’m stupid or something’?” Joel pondered on this question for sometime before seeing as his father had asked this question repeatedly for the past six months of their lives.
Continuing their conversation after being interrupted by the answering machine, Dr. Faulding looked at his yellow notepad and scribbled down a few notes he had collected on the family.
Nothing of great importance. Your average family, with the average issues and the average debts they are to society. Most of the cases that come into Faulding’s office, he found, were the dysfunctional ones that thought they had more problems than any other family unit.
Faulding put down his glasses, and scratched his eye for a second while the mother of the family spoke.
“Why do I bother these days?” the doctor asked himself, while closing his weak eyes and listening to the mother who was now beginning to swell up with tears.
“It’s just, my son,” she began. “I think he is going down a path that I dread will lead to nowhere.” She shook her head for a moment and paused to look at her son who was sitting on a sofa that was also accompanied by her ex-husband.
The parents (Dr. Faulding noted) were both plump, mid-thirties people raising a son who was an unexpected birth. Seeking for help on a family relationship and more for their son, the mother arranged for Dr. Faulding to meet with the boy and the parents for a session. This being the first session.
“Mom, you don’t have to talk about that right now.” interrupted the son. A tear fell from the mother’s cheek and onto the sofa she was sitting on. Feeling the need to comment, Dr. Faulding spoke to the boy.
“All right, Joel.” He blinked his right eye to try to get an eyelash out, but did not succeed on its removal.
“Peggy, I’ll come back to you in a second.” Looking over to the father, Dr. Faulding announced “I’d like to talk to your husband, Gerald, for a moment.”
Gerald began to shake. Sharing his personal thoughts about his family, and doing it right in front of them made him unnerving. He usually tended to keep to himself, and work alone. Most friends of his rarely came over, unless Peggy told him to invite them over for a Christmas party or other occasion.
“Well, uh” began Gerald. “I guess I should start with saying my son is right.” Gerald looked to Joel, and back to Dr. Faulding who was jotting down more notes on his yellow notepad. “I have been on medication for the past six years for my depression. I guess that I do seem kinda’ depressed and “mopey”.” Gerald started twirling his fingers, and watched himself as he did it. “I just,” He looked over to Peggy, who had been listening to every word her ex had coming out of his mouth. “I just work so hard everyday, that when I come home I just wanna’ rest and relax. I don’t feel like being bothered.”
Dr. Faulding shook his head understandingly, and began to speak, but Gerald cut him off before anything could be spoken.
“Ya’ know what I mean?” asked Gerald. Faulding quickly replied to Gerald.
“Yes, I understand.” Faulding looked at his yellow notepad, and asked Gerald about his work schedule and what his childhood was like. He then asked the same question to Peggy, and found that both parents grew up with negative influences from the start. Gerald’s mother was an alcoholic until the day she passed away, while Peggy’s siblings have all been addicted to pain killers and other narcotics.
Joel was now in the backseat of his ex-girlfriend, Elaine’s mother’s car. It was a white car with a leather interior. There was a plastic cover surrounding the two front seats, and the backseat. Elaine sat in the back of the car with Joel as her sister, Ashley, sat in the passenger seat. She continuously turned back to watch Elaine and Joel, and asked both of them questions about their so called “love life.” Elaine’s mother and sister were trying to guess how long the two had been dating, but had no exact idea.
“How long have you two been going out?” Was the first question.
“We’re not dating.” Elaine answered quickly.
“Are you sure?”
“How long, you two?” asked Elaine’s mother. Elaine rolled her eyes, and Joel shook his head and stared at the floor of the car. There were a few coins, and a paper clips spread across the interior, Joel noticed.
He had been counting the months it would have been if they had continued dating. It would have been four months, he figured, since they first dated. But he had broken up with the poor girl countless times, and repaired the damage, he couldn’t get her off his mind. He thought of her feelings towards him, and how they must be horrid thoughts. Maybe he had hurt her, but she always said he did not and told him not to worry about those kinds of things.
“I got over it.” she said as the two laid in Joel’s bed. “I mean, I figured you would come back.” Joel had come back more than four times in the past month, and still the girl accepted him without pity. She may have felt pity, but Joel didn’t like to think so. The very thought of it put guilt on his conscious.
“Why do you continuously break up with me all the time?” Elaine asked Joel, as she stayed in between his arms.
Joel had no answer, no reason for his fault.
Her fault, he thought. It wasn’t her fault, though. Joel was changing, and he knew it from the first mood swing when his mother had first started dating. It wasn’t the fact she was dating other guys, just the type of guys. The low-brow, blue collar guys who have no backbone. His mother wanted to get serious with a guy she was seeing who was one of these, and he was one of the lowest, Joel felt.
Joel was awoken by the telephone in his room. It was only five in the morning, and already the kid was calling. Joel wasn’t upset though, he was expecting it to hit him early.
The person calling was a younger kid named George from school who had admired Joel for his “mysterious” ways. Every morning, George would call Joel to wake him up and ask him if he wanted to come over, possibly get lifted before school. Of course Joel had become bored with the kid, and there was no use for him anymore. But what the hell, Joel thought, and agreed to come over as long as George would pick him up.
Sure enough, there was George waiting outside of Joel’s house, waiting in his brother’s truck. The truck was once their father’s, but he handed it down to his eldest child, Mitch. Now the father was driving the industrial-sized blue van.
Joel climbed into the truck, and rested his arm on the window. Outside the truck was piles of snow all along the streets, and in front of the houses. The sky was almost pitch black if not for the street lights outside. It was uncommon to see cars pass along these streets at this early time of the day.
“What’s up, man?” asked George.
“Nothing really, George.” said Joel. He was thinking about his old town, and feeling deep nostalgia for the place. His father lived there, but Joel lived fulltime with his mother who cared for him his whole life.
George drove Joel back to his place, and went into the garage where inside a table was set up with a chair from the back of the blue van. There was also a space heater, and a pipe filled with a bowl. Joel noticed the bowl before George could even get to it.
Walking over to the table and looking it over, George said in a phony voice “Oh what is this?” and looked to Joel who was making his was to the chair.
“A bowl–” said Joel.
“A bowl!” yelled George while grabbing at the pipe. “Wanna’ hit it, man?”
Joel looked at the bowl.
It was packed.
George was sitting on the chair from the van, and hitting the glass pipe that he had bought from a local head shop.
Joel was sitting next to the kid, and could already feel the high consuming his body. First his head and finally his legs, which were heavy like stone. His pupils were dilating, and dilating. Larger, and larger. His eyes began to droop, and the red veins started show. A deep relaxation took place, and his rushed body was chilled.
It wasn’t anything new, Joel thought, as he stared in awe at the skewed figure sitting next to him, Joel realized it was no one else, but George.
“I’m feeling it now.” said Joel.
George passed the pipe.
“Why do you waste your time with that kid?” asked Elaine. This question came up every time Joel spoke a word of George who was Joel’s dirty pleasure. The two were not friends because they got along, because they liked the same music, or read the same books. George could not even read.
No, Joel saw his relationship with George to only be strictly for drug use. Joel knew the kid had the hook ups for anything.
If Joel wanted a bag, George got it.
If Joel wanted Shrooms, George got it.
If Joel wanted Alcohol, George got it.
It was like that for everything else, too.
Elaine began dressing, and turned back to Joel who was still on the bed facing the wall.
“Are you all right?” Elaine asked. “If you want me to go, I will.”
Joel felt guilt playing inside of his rushed body. He didn’t want the girl to leave, but he felt no reason for her to be around. Soon his friend Will would be dropping by, and he wanted to be left alone to reminisce.
There was a knocking at the door, and then at the glass window that was located at the bottom of the house, which peered into Joel’s bedroom. Everyone knocked on that window if they needed Joel, because he was usually down there minding his own business. It was his place. His pad.
Joel ran up the stairs to the landing, and opened the door. Outside was his close friend, Will. The two had been playing guitar together for a few years, and were about to grab some lunch. No where selected yet, but Will suggested that they eat at a Coney Island.
“I got this itch for some of their Chilly Cheese Fries, man.” said Will.
“For sure, man.” replied Joel in an earnest voice. “I could go for one of those cheese burger’s they got. With some bacon, ya’ know?” Joel put a hand up to block the sun from shining in his eyes, and smiled.
Sitting at a booth in the middle of the crowded Coney Island, Joel and Will relaxed and drank coffee in a patriotic booth, reading a patriotic menu. No Coney Island around this part of the state was anything like this one. Consuming the size of a middle grade Laser Tag, the Coney Island housed to minimum one hundred fifty persons. What made this one better were there gracious workers and delicious eats.
Making small talk, Will said to Joel, “Me and the lady” the lady, “may finally break in the old Escort.”
“Oh yeah?” said Joel. “I thought you would have already got her in that thing. I assumed you two were like jack rabbits.” Joel took down the last gulp of his coffee.
“You would think that with a cutie like me.” replied Will, then adjusting his view to his half full cup. He brought the cup to his parched lips, and took a sip. “Maybe water would have been better at a time like now.” Will fixed the cup between both hands firmly, and shifted his weight onto the table. “Man, these Goddamn headaches.” he said, and released the cup from his right hand and put it to his forehead. His face was beat red, and his lips were beginning to crack.
Joel gave Will the water he had got from the waitress as a side beverage, and Will drank the glass in one heave. Will sat back into the bench and looked over to where his friend was sitting, and asked him something that had been on his mind for a while.
“What happened to you, man?”
Joel felt discomfort with Will thinking of the possibility that Will may no longer view Joel as the bright kid, but now the incompetent lowlife. The sleaze in the world, that gets by with mediocre performance. The old friend, that lost his life to drugs. Now living their lives scrapping items to make ends meet.
“I do not know.” Joel said. “Not certain.”
“You’re not certain?” asked Will intriguingly. Will stared off looking at a couple who were feeding each other fries with ketchup all over them. “Listen, dude.” said Will solemnly. “You’ve really changed these past few months. I don’t know what it is, but I have a good idea.”
Joel was correct, he thought. Will did probably think of Joel as the mediocre lowlife he had feared for.
“I mean,” Will started again, as Joel sat listening in silence. “you haven’t looked happy, or even together since August, and now it‘s…What?…January?” Will slammed his hand onto the table and stared Joel in the eye.
“You are a Goddamn mess, Joel.” Will finished.
Joel knew Will was right. He hadn’t been the same since Summer ended, and school began. Joel sat at his side of the patriotic booth, and felt his body begin to heat up. His pores opened up and he could feel the sweat fall from them.
Was he changing for better or for worse? Was he losing his life to the evil and darkness his parents had forewarned him of since he was only a kid? Maybe he was becoming addicted to something, to that evil. Whatever it was, Joel felt the need for a fix.
Just something to let go to, he thought.
“I think we are growing apart, man.” said Will. “It’s scary. I don’t want to want to lose you to something so stupid like drugs.”
Will was now taking Joel home. The two hadn’t talked to one another much for the past twenty minutes, and continued on the silence in the car. Joel was still stricken up with grief, confusion and guilt. Not knowing what to say to Will, who was driving with his shoulder leaning on the window, Joel said
“I’m quitting.” he paused, and took a breathe. Saying something like that seemed hard to do for Joel. “I am going to quit.”
Will looked to Joel, and back to the road. He could not believe what Joel was saying, but he could only hope it was true.
“Joel, buddy,” Will started. “you said that before, and again two more times. I don’t know what to believe anymore. You say this and that, but it’s never true.”
The car began to pass along a winding road, and went over train tracks that went for miles. It was chilly outside of the Ford, and the trees outside were blowing. The wind came down hard on the pedestrians walking the streets. Their winter clothes wrapping their fragile bodies to keep them warm.
“What about this time, ya’ know?” said Will somberly. “If it’s not today, it’ll probably be tomorrow.” Will continued driving until he had to stop for a red light at a four-way intersection.
A woman and her daughter were walking out in front of their vehicle, and Joel watched the two pass along the street. He thought about what would happen if Will just decided to spontaneously step on the gas once the woman and her eight-year-old daughter were directly in front of the vehicle. It would be insane.
The woman, the daughter, on the ground.
What happens next?
Will driving away, fast, hitting sixty in less than a minute in his Ford Escort with racing stripes.
“We’re making it, man.” says Will. His eyes are fiery, burning with a fury.
Will races the car down the busy street, and merges in and out of lanes to avoid collision. Screaming, Will taunts other drivers as he passes by.
Joel holds onto the handle of the car, hoping that the seatbelt will work in case of a crash. Thinking about George and his recent crash with their friend Tracy.
Will starts making turns left and right.
“We need to get to Ohio, man.” says Will.
“How about you just let me out, Will?” replies Joel, who is scared to death. “I… I promise I won’t tell anybody. I just got to go home.”
“I can’t do that buddy.” says Will and looks right to Joel. The two stare at each other, not noticing the traffic coming straight at them.
Joel always envisioned himself dying in a car crash.
But this never happens. Of course it doesn’t.
Instead, Will and Joel continue their drive until they make it to Joel’s house.
“Listen,” began Joel. “I’ve got like three bucks, in my room. I -” Will cut off Joel before he could say anymore about paying him back for lunch.
“No need, bro.” said Will. “Just be careful. I don’t want you to become another miserable low-life like the rest of those kids.”
Joel took off his seatbelt, and shook his head in agreement.
He didn’t want to become anything like that, he decided, and opened the door to the car. Stepping out, he fixed his hair, and dropped down to look through the window of the car. He knocked on the glass, and signed to Will to roll down the window. Will followed and did so.
“What ya’ need?” said Will.
Joel squinted a bit, and said to Will, “I’m going to do it.” He looked down and started again, “I at least have to try to. It wouldn’t hurt.”
Will smiled, and rolled up the window. His rear lights turned on white, and he started pulling out of the driveway. Joel watched, and thought about how he didn’t have a car. He didn’t even take driver’s training.
Joel turned in a circle twice, sliding on his feet and turned back towards his house. Walking up the driveway he began singing a soft tune to himself, and made his way to the door. He kicked his shoes free of the snow on the side of the house, and walked inside where it had been warmer than the cold “great outdoors.”
Looking at the sun, which shined from the west, Joel closed the door and turned the lock. No more would he have to go outside.
Not for today.
Not until the next time.