This time putting the topical pain relief on him wasn’t so bad but it still wasn’t a joy ride for either one of us. He was sweating and shaking by the time I was finished and just pulled up the sheet and turned his face away.
“You gonna be OK if I turn the lamp off? It’s eatin’ the batteries.”
He didn’t answer for a minute and then when he did it was with a question of his own. “You … you really OK Joey?”
I sighed. Tony could be so hard headed. I really didn’t want to talk about it all but I’ve known Tony long enough and well enough that if I didn’t throw him a bone he wouldn’t sleep and it would keep eating at him. And he needed to sleep. He was better – not so much like the half dead guy he’d been earlier – but any little thing might set him back.
“I’m as OK as I’m gonna get for a bit. It just ain’t sunk in yet. I mean it has but … but I’m sure it’s gonna be like when Papa Ralph and then Gran died. Things are under control and then you suddenly think on something only you have to remind yourself they’re gone and then you gotta deal with the hurt all over again.” Sighing I finally said, “I’ll live. I’ll live because it’s the right thing to do. Just we both know sometimes the right thing to do ain’t the easy thing to do.”
I thought he was done but then he said, “Turn the light off.”
I switched the lamp off and started to slide into the bottom bunk on the opposite wall but stopped when he said, “Come here.”
Quietly he said, “I swear I ain’t gonna do nothing Joey, ain’t in no shape to … just come here.”
The room was pitch black but since I knew there wasn’t anything in the floor between the bunk and the twin bed it was an easy couple of steps to make. He was waiting for me and I felt his hand take mine and tug me down beside him. He kept holding my hand and rubbing it with his thumb. There’s no forcing Tony to get where he’s going any faster so even though I was so tired I coulda passed out I just sat on the edge of the bed and waited.
Like the words were being pulled out of him a syllable at a time he said, “I need to ask you somethin’.”
“I’m right here and it ain’t like you ever had trouble talking to me before.”
He sighed. “Don’t know how to do this.”
The grip of his hand on mine was getting uncomfortably tight but I didn’t say nothing or budge. Whatever was coming Tony needed it. I could feel it building and building and building until I was nearly as suffocated with it as he seemed to be.
“I … I need you to forgive me Joey. I can’t … can’t get away from it. I see ‘em, everywhere I look I see ‘em. I see ‘em in my sleep too. I know you say you don’t think it’s my fault but … but it feels like it. I’m drownin’ here and you’re the only thing that I got to keep me from goin’ under for the last time.”
He was shaking like he was cold so I used my free hand to pull the sheet up around him better. “Tony, you don’t need my forgiveness but if you gotta have it then it is all yours to have. This ain’t your fault. Trust me. Right now you … you just ain’t thinkin’ clear. You’re … you’re sick from that stuff you got on you. If you wasn’t you could see it for yourself. You really think Dad would want to see you like this?”
I heard the rasp of his hair on the pillow as he turned his head. “Look what he said about me. He thought I’d mess with you when you wasn’t nothin’ but a baby. I still don’t know what I did to make him think that but that your ol’ man could think it – him bein’ the way he was – it just kills me. I figured I’d have time to prove to him I could wait, that I’d be good to you … we were supposed to have all the time in the world.”
I swallowed and could hear the dry click. I was scared. It was handle this right or accidentally destroy something that I might be miserable without.
“Tony, Lucia told me a few things recently. Said she overheard your Aunt Belinda and my mom talking. Heard Mom say Dad wasn’t set against you … or you and me … just he wanted something different for me than … than just being your girl, being a piece of arm candy for a while for some important schlub, getting’ my heart broke and then tryin’ to find the next guy to fix it. We’ve both seen women like that. Dad … well … I been thinkin’ and maybe … maybe Dad kinda set us up. I mean, he was sick and we all thought he was dyin’ … he was dyin’ accordin’ to those doctors … I heard Mom say he was puttin’ his house in order. Dad was old fashioned so maybe … maybe he wanted to have a hand in picking who … well who took care of me when he wasn’t around no more. He liked you for the job ‘cause you made good money and had a future but I was still too young and nothing but a little sister to you. And maybe he liked you but not everything about you … you was still going around with a lot of girls back then, and some of ‘em wild. So maybe he planted some seeds, put ideas where they weren’t at before, hoping they’d grow … but grow the way he wanted ‘em to and not … not just any old direction.”
I felt him right behind me and his face pressed into the small of my back. When he spoke, the words caused vibrations to run up my spine. “Lucia really tell you that?”
“About what she heard our mothers talking about? Yeah. The rest … the rest is me thinkin’.”
He breathed in and it’s like he didn’t want to let it go but finally I felt the heated air escape, felt it curl around me about the same way Tony’s arm was trying to do. I told him, “You move too much you’re gonna start hurting.”
“Don’t care,” he muttered. “Just need to know you’re here and real. Saw you on the road too … looking at me with them big bits of chocolate you got for eyes. Only it was me that was meltin’. Sometimes the only thing that brought me back around was Ana screaming like a freakin’ banshee. Got to where I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. Didn’t know if I wanted to know because if I lived I’d have to explain …” His voice cracked.
“Tony, you need me to say it again? It ain’t your fault and I don’t blame you. Someone someplace cheated me … us … of something precious. They had no right to do what they did. It was wrong and I hope they rot in hell for it. But I ain’t gonna let what they did take you from me too. Stop hurtin’ yourself Tony. I need you to get well. I need you to help me make some plans. I can do this by myself if I have to … but I really don’t want to.”
He didn’t say anything after that. He’s breathing just slowed down and got deeper and eventually even his arm relaxed enough for me to wiggle off the bed. I was frustrated but figured something as broke as Tony seemed to be wasn’t going to get fixed in a day. And he was really sick even though he seemed better than he had been. I still didn’t know what was wrong with him and was worried that he wasn’t out of the woods yet, but at least we’d made a start. I could live with that … and could sleep on it too.