The Problem by Gee Whillickers

Curt finds that recovery requires family and friends.

I was going crazy, and there wasn’t anything at all I could do about it. Mom and Dad knew something was bugging me but their wrong guesses weren’t helping and I certainly couldn’t tell them what the problem was!

On my fourteenth birthday, three and half weeks ago, Dad took me and three friends out to Kart World for the day. With a planned trip for pizza and ice-cream afterwards.

The pizza and ice-cream never happened. Instead I spent the rest of my birthday, and a good part of the next day, getting X-rayed and pinned and casted after the go-kart accident.

Casts from shoulder to wrist, both arms, and another three or so weeks to go. Range of motion on my right arm and hand was pretty much nothing. On my left, the cast was just above my wrist, so I had that and my hand, but since my shoulder and elbow were wonky and immobile that wasn’t a lot of use.

Being fed like I was a baby was bad enough, though we’d worked out a few foods that I could manage from a dispenser thing that my dad built on a high tray. That helped. Good thing Dad loved to tinker and build stuff.

Going to the bathroom was downright awful. I had to sit down every time even if I didn’t have to, uh, you know, since I couldn’t aim standing up. That wasn’t too bad. Dad had rigged up this little hook thing I could sidle up to that would grab the side of my sweats. I would pull the little cord within reach of my left hand and down they’d slip. I could shimmy and shake a bit on the seat to get things finished, then stand up and use my left hand again to pull the little rope and pull my sweats back up. If the hook held on the side waistband that is. If not, then I’d have to stand there bare-assed until someone de-pantsed me (re-pantsed me? I dunno—I figure if being pantsed means someone yanking your pants down then de-pantsed means the opposite).

But when I did have to crap, well, there wasn’t any way around it and it was horrible and embarrassing for all involved.

Schoolwork was done by dictation or the touchpad and keyboard Dad had rigged up within reach of my left hand. I could work my computer this way, even use my phone, thanks to Dad’s ingenuity.

But there was one thing I couldn’t do. And it was driving me crazy.

Mom didn’t have a clue, of course. But I think Dad suspected. I saw him looking at me more and more, especially near bedtime, with what I think may have been a weird sympathetic look. He would never say anything of course, he was way too embarrassed by that kind of thing to do so. But he’d get that look when he was trying to figure out a new gadget for a few minutes, then it would change to an amused and horrified look, he’d shake his head, and that was that.

It all came to a head one weekend. It was Saturday morning. Early. I had just shimmied back into bed after peeing, figuring I’d grab another hour of sleep or so before getting up and figuring out which of my limited options of activities were going to be on the agenda.

I was wide awake though and my mind was wandering. And it wandered into an area I was working to avoid, which led to the inevitable.

Which seemed to have no intention of going away any time soon.

Mom knocked on my door a while later and seemed perturbed when I told her to go away and not come in.

Dad knocked a few minutes later and asked if I was all right.

“No,” I said. “Don’t come in.”

Yup, even with that going on I was still…well…you know.

Dad hesitated but I knew he was still there. I could hear him. Then, “Uh, Curt? Can I open the door?”

“No!” I answered.

“Why not?”

“’Cause!”

“But you are okay?” I could hear concern tinged with what I think was amusement.

“I’m fine! And it’s not funny!”

This time he let out a muffled guffaw. But he did walk away and leave me alone after saying something about needing a distraction.

Jamie texted me less than five minutes later:
coming over see u in 5

What? No! I texted back with my left thumb:
wut? nah not today, busy

too late im on my way

Well, crap. Then he texted again:
busy? lol as if-yer dad said you needed a distraction

Okay, I can handle this, I thought. I just have to concentrate on my math homework and it shouldn’t be a problem.

It didn’t work.

I liked Jamie, but I knew this was going to be a disaster. Jamie is not like me. Jamie’s family is not like my family. I’d spent enough time at his place to know this.

If Jamie were in this situation, and this were his house, he would’ve announced the issue to all the world while sitting down to breakfast. With his siblings, parents, siblings’ friends, you name it, all gathered ’round. He would’ve laughed while doing so. Not a hint of shame.

I could never do that. Even thinking about that made me turn seven shades of red.

Even weirder, his parents would’ve laughed too! And made jokes about it! And then Jamie would’ve one-upped the jokes! And even his sister would’ve got in the game!

I have no idea what would’ve happened past that because by then, if I was a guest in their house when all this was happening, I would’ve slunk off with a lame excuse about going to the bathroom or something.

I can’t imagine doing that. I can’t imagine my parents doing that. Night and day.

But Jamie was on his way and I had to try and figure out how to handle this. I mean, with my casts there wasn’t even any real options for how I could hide it.

A few minutes later there was a cursory knock on my door, and before I managed to get one and a half words into, “Who is it?” The door slammed open and Jamie walked in.

“It’s me,” he said, standing in front of me.

“I can see that,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You’re already in here.”

“What’s with the laundry in your lap?” he asked.

I looked down. “Just trying to figure out if I should throw all this in the wash.”

Jamie blinked. “Uh, Curt, good luck with that.” He was staring pointedly at my casts.

I shrugged with my mouth. My shoulders were inoperative for a few more weeks.

Jamie squinted, “Uh, is your laundry twitching?”

“No!” I said.

Jamie figured it out in a heartbeat. I could see it in his eyes. Then I could see the lopsided grin, and wheels turning for the first of no-doubt many jokes I wouldn’t know how to handle.

“You had plenty of time before I got here!” is all he said.

I looked at him befuddled, then realized what he wasn’t saying. I blushed seven shades of red.

Jamie laughed. “Well, you did!”

Despite the blush, and my state, I was getting annoyed. “Jamie….” I said slowly, and it was my turn to pointedly stare at my casts.

Jamie stopped laughing.

For almost the first time since I’d known him I saw a pitying, sympathetic look on his face. “Holy crap! I should’ve realized… Oh my god… I couldn’t handle….” Then the look turned back into a smirk, “Well, I guess you can’t either!”

I waited for his laughter to subside.

Eventually it did. The sympathetic look was back, “What are you going to do?” His voice tone sounded like he was asking about dealing with a terminal disease.

“I have no idea.”

“Well, you could talk to your parents, maybe….”

“No!!!” I yelled.

Jamie looked genuinely confused. “Why not?”

“Why not?! Are you kidding? I’d rather die!”

Jamie shook his head. “Your family is so weird about this stuff.”

My family is weird?”

At that moment Dad walked through the open door, no doubt to see what the commotion was all about. He looked at the laundry, looked at me, then turned around and walked out without saying a word.

“Yeah. Weird,” said Jamie, while shaking his head sadly. “It’s just a….”

“I know what it is!!” I cut him off angrily.

Jamie sighed and sat down on my desk chair. “What are you going to do? You can’t go through three more weeks of that.” He pointed at the laundry. I blushed.

After a half minute I said, “I know. I’m going crazy.” It’s a testament to how crazy I was that I said this without a hint or shame.

“What you need is a distraction,” said Jamie.

I rolled my eyes. “That’s what my dad said.”

Jamie looked at me quizzically. “So you did talk to your dad about it?”

“No. Not really. Kinda. But no.”

“Your family is so weird,” repeated Jamie.

Fortunately though, the conversation and time had managed to do the trick. I breathed a sigh of relief and stood up. The laundry fell to the floor. “Let’s go for a walk down to Joey’s. It’ll give me something to do,” I said. Joey’s is probably the best donair* shop in a hundred kilometers, and I haven’t been there in ages.

“How the hell are you gonna eat a donair?” asked Jamie.

I just grinned. “That’s what friends are for.”

Jamie rolled his eyes, but nodded his assent.

Half an hour later Jamie was looking at the half eaten donair on the wrapper in front of me and shaking his head, “Nope. I’m tired of feeding you. Besides, I still have mine to eat.” He ignored my pleading eyes and hungry look and picked up his own sandwich. He began eating it with far more visible enjoyment that the act required.

“Dammit Jamie! That’s not fair!” I complained.

“Sure it is. It’s your own fault you crashed.”

“No it wasn’t! It was that kid that stopped dead in the middle of the track in front of me.”

“Yeah, but why didn’t you see him and go around?”

“Because I was looking at… something else.” I tailed off the last half of that sentence rather awkwardly, having to change it halfway through. I was looking at something else, and he had been two cars beside me and one in front. But I obviously couldn’t tell Jamie that.

Jamie grinned widely and laughed. I had a feeling he knew more than he was letting on. Then his grin, already impossibly wide, widened even more as the bells hung on the shop door behind me jingled. He waved and yelled, “Hello something else! Hi Mike.”

I turned my head around in horror. But it was too late. Something else and another of our group, Mike, were already grinning and walking towards us, both looking a bit sweaty after, no doubt, BMXing over at the park.

“Something else?” inquired Rob, his eyebrows raised questioningly towards Jamie. He was standing beside our table now while Mike was dragging two chairs over from another table. He and Rob sat down, four now crowding around a little round table better suited for two, even worse since the position of my casts didn’t exactly make me compact.

“Sure,” Jamie began, waving nonchalantly while simultaneously raising his sandwich to his lips. “We were just talking about Curt’s accident. I asked him what he was looking at when he didn’t see the kid stop in front of him.” Jamie stopped short after that little nugget of information and took a big bite of roast beef, a dribble of sweet sauce stuck to his chin. I couldn’t help notice the tiny bit of unneeded emphasis on the ‘looking at’. I could’ve sworn he waggled his eyebrows ever so slightly too. He was grinning at me while chewing.

I was horrified.

I stared at Jamie, trying to inject a look of pissed off indignation towards him while trying not to look like I was doing that. I didn’t want Mike and Rob to see it. I risked a glance towards Rob.

He was looking at me. He had a thoughtful look on his face. I quickly looked away and down at my donair.

“Aren’t you going to eat the rest of that?” asked Mike.

I tore my eyes away from my donair sitting on its red and white checked wrapper and tried to get my brain working again. I looked at Mike with exasperation. “I was planning to, yeah. If Jamie stops stuffing his face and gives me a hand.”

Mike laughed, obviously having forgotten my predicament. Jamie stuck out his sauce covered tongue at me. Rob just kept looking thoughtfully at me.

Rob had only really been a part of our group for a bit over a month. He was close to my age, his birthday coming up next week. But he was kinda small for his age, and I think he was a bit self-conscious about that. Probably that went part way to explaining why he looked so scared on his first day in our school. He had kinda blondish hair in contrast to my unruly dark curls, and he kept it long. His face was the best part of him. Big brown eyes, small mouth, small nose. So expressive.

He and his family had moved into town just over a month ago and he showed up at school, halfway through the year, looking like a scared puppy. I noticed him in the first class of the day but didn’t talk to him. By the third class—he had been in every one of my classes so far that day—I had invited him to join our table for lunchtime. Two days later I invited him to my birthday party. He’d been a part of our group ever since.

Now he was sitting there on my left looking thoughtfully at me. Then the expression changed to a smile. “I’ll help you,” he said and he picked up my donair.

His eyes were still on me. They were unreadable, but he had a small grin on his lips. He raised my donair to my mouth and I obediently, like feeding a baby, opened it. He slid over on his seat a bit to get a better angle, now almost touching me as I breathed in and caught a whiff of Rob’s still sweaty body and of his hand.

And my problem came roaring back.

I closed my mouth suddenly while blushing madly. The donair mashed against my closed lips, causing bits of lettuce and sauce to cover my mouth and chin. Surprised, Rob put down the sandwich looking at me oddly.

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I just used my legs to pull my chair a bit further under the table, hoping beyond hope they wouldn’t notice.

After one glance at my face, and Rob sitting next to me, shoulder to shoulder, I knew it was too late. He started to grin, but maybe taking pity on my desperate expression, my cold sweat, my frantically shaking head, he relented before he blurted out the joke I knew was on his lips.

But all three were looking at me. I couldn’t deal with it. I stood up suddenly, the chair falling on its back behind me. I turned at the same time, hoping they wouldn’t notice, and practically ran towards the bathroom. I used my knees to lower my one good hand to the door handle and grasped it, walking backwards a step to open the door. Before it could swing shut I darted inside, found a cubicle, and stood there trying to figure out what I was going to do.

Fortunately, my horror and fear at the predicament in public took care of business soon enough and I was temporarily saved. It was only a few minutes before I slunk back to the table where Jamie was holding court to Mike and Rob’s aghast expressions.

With Jamie as a friend, you had no secrets.

I steeled myself and sat down. All three faces turned to look at me. All three faces were looking at me with pitying sympathy. I doubt it could’ve been stronger if I’d announced I was dying from terminal brain cancer next Tuesday.

Rob’s expression finally did me in. Their expressions, the environment, the whole situation seemed to hit me all at once, and I realized how ridiculous the whole scene was. My amusement overrode my shame and I found a chortle escaping my lips, then another one. I was then shaking my head, looking at my friends and almost falling over laughing. “You should see your faces!” I managed between guffaws. “I’m not dead, you know.”

They seemed to all realize what I was seeing at the same instant, and then all four of us were laughing, loudly, to the point where Joey, the owner of the shop, began to frown. I stood up and quickly apologized to him, and motioned with my head for the others to follow me outside.

We walked a block and half before the laughter stopped. Every time it started to die down, someone would say something like, “I just can’t handle it,” or, “It’s too hard to stop,” or, “Boy, that really got me pumped,” or, “Did you see the stiff looks the other customers were giving us?” and then we’d set off all over again.

We made it halfway back to my place before I thought of something. “Didn’t you guys ride your bikes to Joey’s?” I asked Rob and Mike.

“Oh shit!” said Mike, looking at Rob, and they both turned around and tore off back towards the donair shop, me and Jamie laughing at their retreating backs.

I hadn’t enjoyed myself this much since my birthday. I looked at Jamie. “Thanks,” I said.

He grinned and said, “That’s what friends are for.”

By the time we made it to my house Rob and Mike had caught up to us. They dropped their bikes on the lawn and we all went inside. Not being able to be much of a host, I told them to help themselves to a can of pop from the fridge, and we all made our way downstairs into the rec room, where Mike and Jamie fired up the video game system.

I couldn’t play of course so I plopped down on the couch behind them to watch. Rob plunked himself down beside me. Far closer than he really needed to considering the size of the couch. Maybe it was just me but I could swear I felt some kind of charge in the air between us. We ignored each other while watching and listening to Mike and Jamie battle some unknown assailants somewhere else in the world.

It must have been at least fifteen minutes before I felt Rob’s eyes on me. I turned to look at his expressive big brown eyes. He smiled. “So you think I’m ‘something else,’ do you?” he asked, grinning now.

I blushed again, looking right into his eyes. I couldn’t answer. But I think the look on my face, the way I was looking at him, answered for me.

He shifted on the couch, bringing himself closer. His head leaned over towards me, real slow, and he didn’t break eye contact. He looked a bit apprehensive now. But that went away when he saw my own head start to lean over towards him.

Naturally, my problem came back again. He smiled and his head almost had traversed the needed distance when we were rudely interrupted.

“Well,” announced Jamie, “I see my work here is done. Come on Mike, I think it’s time I beat you in one-on-one again.”

Mike was looking at the two of us with an unreadable expression, but followed Jamie’s insistent wave and they walked towards the stairs. I could hear them talking on the way out. I think Mike was saying something like, “Did you know?” and I think Jamie was saying something like, “Well, duh!”

Rob and I were left on the couch looking at each other. I couldn’t help notice he seemed to have developed a bit of a problem himself.

Rob’s head finished its interrupted journey and we were a bit busy for the next little while.

Less than an hour later we went upstairs, me feeling more relaxed than I had for weeks. It had taken a bit of maneuvering, but we found I could help out Rob with his own problem too if we did it right.

I found Dad and asked him if Rob could stay for supper.

Dad started to answer then did a double take looking at me. I’m not sure what he saw, but he was sure looking at my face intently. I began to feel uncomfortable.

“What?” I asked.

Dad blinked, seeming to think about how to answer. “You look a lot more relaxed than you did this morning, Curt.”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that, and found myself blushing, and beginning to get a bit worried too. I had no idea what Dad would think about such things.

Rob answered before I could think of anything to say, “Yeah, he had a bit of a problem, something he couldn’t manage with his arms in his casts, but I helped him out with it,” Rob said with forced casualness.

I began coughing. Dad was looking at the two of us, his eyes going back and forth. I could see he was flustered. My worries began to increase to serious anxiety, but then I noticed something. He was trying to hide it, but I noticed it all the same. He was trying to hide a little smile.

“Oh,” Dad finally said, also with forced casualness, “Well, I guess it’s nice to have good friends.” He was trying not to laugh now. I couldn’t believe it! Maybe parents still have a few surprises in store even after knowing them for fourteen years.

Rob stayed for supper. Mom seemed clueless but Rob and Dad were cracking extremely subtle little jokes back and forth about ‘helping out friends.’ Shocking myself to no end, I found myself joining in at the end.

Finally Mom had enough. “If you boys,” she was pointedly looking at Dad when she said that, “are quite finished, you can begin clearing the dishes.” I began standing up but Mom wasn’t finished. She was looking at me and Rob, “Maybe next time you two help each other out you could be a bit quieter, hmmm?” With that she walked out of the room hiding her own smile. “By the way,” I heard her say from the other room, “we’re all going to be sitting down for a little chat sometime real soon.”

I wasn’t worried though, I could tell from the tone of her voice it wasn’t going to be all that bad. Embarrassing, sure, but I had a feeling I’d live.

Like I said, maybe my parents still have a few surprises left.

Later that evening after Rob had gone home and I was lying in bed I used Dad’s little rig to text Rob:
you up for helping me out again tomorrow :)
I asked, rather boldly.

yeah I think I can squeeze it into my schedule :)
and I’m already up

I laughed while texting:
me too. u know after my casts are off
I’ll need months of physio I think I’ll
be needing help for a long time yet

I waited for his answer, holding my breath. Finally it came:

Good
is all it said.

I smiled and we said good night.

Then I texted Jamie:
thanks again Jamie

He texted back:
np I take it all went well :)

I replied:
yeah problem solved  how’s Mike?

He was shocked but he’ll be fine. he’s not a
bigot you know–he just never really thought
that kind of thing through before.

That was a relief.
good. well I owe you one thanks again

That’s what friends are for.
is all he said.

At that, I went to sleep with a smile on my face.


The End


* For those who don’t know what a donair is, here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

“donair” was introduced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early 1970s. Peter Gamoulakos migrated to Canada in 1959. When he failed in his attempt to sell traditional gyros, Gamoulakos adapted the dish to local tastes. He substituted beef for lamb and created a sweet sauce known as “donair sauce.”  Gamoulakos created the donair in 1973. In 2015 Halifax named donair the official food of the city.


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