The Valentine’s Day That Never Was

On February 24, 2011, in Original Posts, by Lauren
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I always think about Timmy around Valentine’s Day. He was my first boyfriend, or he would have been had he not gotten his head bashed in with a bat.

Tim came into my life late one night through my bedroom window. We were twelve. Tim, like my ten year-old brother, was short, blond and scrappy. He often sported contusions from schoolyard rumbles or his mother’s fists. Tim fought with everyone other than his Mom. He resembled an elf with poor tree-climbing skills: pointy ears, pointy chin, bumps, scrapes and wide blue eyes.

My brother, Billy, had unlocked my window for Tim, who was his best friend, but then had forgotten to tell me. I slept directly beside the window; my two younger sisters snoozed away in a bed across the room.

I was dreaming that a monkey was sitting on the sill. I woke up fully when Tim’s foot slipped and kicked my head.

“What do you think you’re you doing?” I demanded.

“It’s me…Tim,” he answered as if that explained everything. “I didn’t mean to wake you up. I was looking for your brother.”

“Maybe you should consider entering through the door, Batman,” I snarled.

Tim’s mother was an alcoholic. She liked to practice kung fu on Tim (who never fought back). On her good days she was abominably mean. On her bad days, she gouged gashes in her face with her nails and then called the police, accusing her son. She was from the southern hill country, part of a growing population of emigrees to Chicago from Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

My mom was schizophrenic. She wasn’t mean but she was convinced that Richard Nixon was trying to poison our family through our meager supply of meat and bananas. I kept finding bunches of perfectly good bananas in the garbage and leathery strips of meat in the fridge covered in rock salt. Tim and I were were both eldest siblings of single, dysfunctional mothers. We had a lot in common.

Timmy thanked me for not screaming and left my room to look for Billy who slept in a small parlor off the living room. I followed, determined to give Billy a piece of my mind. But my brother slept like a log and could not be roused.

I had been drawing before I fell asleep, and my set of 64 artist’s markers was sitting on the living room coffee table beside a sketchbook and a box of pastels. “Wow!” exclaimed Timmy. “Look at all those colors!”

“Wanna draw with me?” I invited him.

“Do I ever!!!” he cried out.

Timmy was a talented artist. He loved to draw cartoons. I liked to draw portraits and fantasy landscapes. We stayed up the rest of the night sketching, comparing work and discussing technique. We talked about flying saucers, too. And whether vampires were real.

After that night, I always left my window open for Tim. “Effing, Laurie,” Billy would complain. “He’s supposed to be visiting me but all he does is hang around with you!”

I was a pariah at school, a gawky goody-two-shoes with glasses, knee socks and too many books. Contact with me resulted in immediate and certain social death. Timmy and my brother were aspiring hoodlums. They conducted a booming business selling oregano to kids in the upper grades. At least that’s what they told me they had stashed in their baggies. When he wasn’t hanging with me, Timmy chased after a short, trampy girl from Tennessee who smoked, drank, cussed and wore far too much orange pancake make-up. She reminded me of Tim’s mother. I referred to her as “Ellie Mae.”

My friendship with Tim was a delicious secret that I kept from the world. Sometimes he brought over two copies of a book and we read together. Chariots of the Gods was a favorite. We would stay up discussing crop circles, the Bermuda Triangle and whether aliens had implanted radio receivers into Jesus’ skull. Or we would draw. Or, we would sneak into the tiny pantry off of my kitchen to hold an enticingly scary seance.

“Do you want to come?” we’d ask Billy excitedly.

“Go eff yourselves,” he’d usually respond. “I’m not talking to effing Beezlebub, or whatever you call that guy, in a closet!”

One day, after two years of midnight drawing/talking/conjuring trysts with Timmy, he climbed in through my window and ran off without a word to look for my brother. I could hear them arguing in the sun parlor. I closed the window and went to join them.

Timmy was trying to convince Bill to help him rob a drug store. “I know how we can get in,” he told Billy. “I know where the money’s kept. I feel like I have to get out of Chicago right now. If I don’t get out of here, something terrible’s going to happen.”

“Where you gonna go?” demanded Billy.

“I dunno,” mumbled Tim. “Wisconsin I guess.”

“No way,” said Bill. “I’m not gonna do it. We’ll get caught. You’re not goin’ to Wisconsin. The only place you’re goin’ is the Audi Home.” (That’s how we referred to juvenile detention in Chicago in the 70s. I don’t know why.)

“I’ll help you,” I offered.

“No effing way!” exclaimed Billy. “You’re turning my sister into a gang-banger. Laurie can’t go robbing drug stores! No effing way are you gonna corrupt my sister! She’s not one of those trampy girls you chase after.”

“I don’t mind,” I answered. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to Timmy. If he needs money to run away I’ll help him.”

“You’d really do that for me?” asked Timmy.

“Yeah.”

“You don’t have to. I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t.”

“It’s okay. I’ll help you.”

So Timmy and I repaired to the bathroom where we painted each other’s faces black. He gave me a black cap and we put on black clothing and gloves, like cat burglars in the movies. “You look just like Gomez Addams,” I told Timmy.

“You look like Cousin Itt,” he retorted pulling off my cap. He waved the cap over my head and my hair stood out even more than usual. We giggled.

We climbed out my window and ran, holding hands, down back alleys to West’s pharmacy on Morse Ave and Sheridan Rd near the beach. It was a busy intersection but we hid in the alley. Timmy carried a hand axe.

We stopped at the back door of the pharmacy.

“There are shelves on the other side of the door holding hydrogen peroxide,” explained Timmy. “We have to break in the door and then put all the bottles under the stairwell here. He gestured to some concrete steps leading to the second and third stories of the building.

We took turns beating the door with the axe. There were at least a hundred dusty bottles of hydrogen peroxide on the shelves. “Does anybody actually buy this stuff?” I asked Timmy. He shushed me. We meticulously lined up bottles under the stairwell. Then Timmy rammed the door with his shoulder. “Ouch!” he exclaimed.

The alarm went off.

“Shit!” Tim shouted. He grabbed my hand and dropped the axe. “This way!”

He pulled me into a doorway. Suddenly we were dashing through the crowded lobby of a hotel dressed like cat burglars serenaded by the screeching of the alarm. Elderly patrons gawked at us as we streaked past.

Tim pulled me out the front door of the hotel. We ran down Morse Ave to the beach. I could still hear the alarm ringing in the distance. Waves lapped gently along the shore of Lake Michigan. A full moon rose over the water. It would have been romantic if we could have lost the alarm.

Tim pulled me over to a lifeguard’s rowboat upended on the sand. He lifted it up.

“Quick!” he ordered. “Climb under here!” He crawled in behind me and gently lowered the boat onto the damp sand. Police sirens howled in the distance.

“I’m cold,” I told him. He put his arms around me. “Is that better?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I answered, shivering. I didn’t mind being cold. I didn’t even mind that we were hiding under a lifeguard’s boat, fugitives from the law.

After a few minutes, police cars pulled up to the edge of the beach. They doused their sirens but their lights were still flashing. Blue and red flickering seeped under the boat like water, lighting up Timmy’s face. “Shh,” he whispered, and pulled me closer. We both shivered.

“They musta come down here,” one of the policemen informed his companions. He blared the siren a few times and flashed his searchlight. They drove up and down the path beside the beach, shining searchlights hither and thither.

“I don’ see nuthin’,” shouted an officer in another car. After awhile they gave up and left.

“You okay?” asked Timmy.

“Yeah,” I answered.

He kissed me on the top of the head. “Thank you,” he told me. He hugged me and then we crawled out from under the boat. We crept back home through the alleys, holding hands and giggling.

“Did you see the face of that old codger at the counter when we ran through the lobby?” he asked me, laughing.

“He probably thought you were Gomez,” I answered.

“No,” said Timmy. “He prob’ly thought you were Cousin Itt.”

The next day at school, everyone was talking about the attempted robbery at West’s. A boy in my eighth grade class who worked at the pharmacy flexed his muscles and told me, “Yeah, the guy that done it piled up about a hundred bottles of hydrogen peroxide under some stairs. If I’d a been there things woulda gone different. I’d a punched that m.f. right in the chops.”

“Oh, Craig! You’re so strong!” I sighed accommodatingly. “I bet you’d of stopped him for sure.”

A few weeks later, I came home from my job at a greasy spoon to find my mother hysterical and my brother looking ashen.

“Timmy’s going to die!” My mother was shrieking at me. “Why don’t you care? You’re a monster!

I tried to ignore her. “What happened?” I asked Billy. We ducked into a closet to talk. My mother continued to pound on the door. “Don’t either of you care about Timmy???”

“He picked a fight with some kid in the school yard,” Billy whispered to me. “Called him a nigger. And the kid was holding a bat. So he smashed Tim in the head with the bat.” Billy looked like he was going to cry but he sucked it in. “Tim’s eyes were rolling back in his head and he was shaking all over. There was foam coming out of his mouth. They took him away in an ambulance. Nobody knows if he’s going to live.”

“Where is he?” I asked. “Can we see him?”

“He’s at St. Francis.”

St. Francis was in Evanston, about 30 blocks to the north. It was already dark out but if I walked along Ridge Avenue, which was busy and well lit, I would be able to make it. “Want to come with me?” I asked Billy.

“Yeah,” he said. We left the closet.

“You don’t even care about him!” Mom accused me again. Looking back, I realize she was not even talking about Tim and she wasn’t talking to me. She was screaming at her mother, my Grandmother. She was remembering the death of her father when she was seven. But at the time, I had no idea why she was yelling hysterically into my face. “Just shut up!” I yelled back. “Get out of my face! I hate you!” I ran out the front door with Billy and slammed it behind me.

We walked briskly to Morse Avenue and then up to Ridge. “He’s in a coma in the ICU,” a nurse explained to us when we arrived at the hospital. “His skull is fractured and his brain is swelling. You can sit in his room with him. If you talk to him, it will help him. He can hear you.”

Tim was connected to an array of tubes and monitors. I couldn’t really see him. I eyed the heart monitor nervously, terrified that it would suddenly go flat. “What do we say to him?” Billy asked me, looking miserable. We both stood by the side of the bed.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe we should talk about flying saucers.”

Billy nodded. “Yeah, he’d like that. You talk to him though. He never talked about that stuff with me. He just talked about that hillbilly girl…you know, the one with the orange pancake make-up and the tight jeans.” I glared at Billy. “Aw, c’mon Laurie,” he protested. “That’s just how men are.”

“Why don’t you hold his hand?” suggested the nurse. “It will help to bring him back.”

Everyday after school I hurried along Ridge Avenue to St. Francis. Sometimes Billy came with me. Sometimes he stayed behind.

I held Timmy’s hand and talked to him about flying saucers, vampires and whether Jesus had radio receivers implanted in his head by aliens. I talked about what I was drawing. I even talked to him about the trampy girl with the pancake make-up and tight blue jeans. “She really misses you,” I lied.

Once I bribed her with a few packs of cigarettes to come with me. We had to take a taxi. There was no way whatsername would walk forty blocks to the hospital on her six inch platform shoes. She could barely totter down six stairs. She looked just like Linda Blair from The Exorcist, Timmy’s favorite movie. I wondered if her head could spin around in a 360 degree circle. I hoped she didn’t share the movie character’s penchant for doing nasty things with crucifixes.

The nurse smiled at me. “I see you brought a friend with you,” she remarked.

“Yeah,” I answered. “She really misses Tim.” I pinched the girl’s arm. “Tell Timmy how much you miss him,” I ordered menacingly.

Whatsername walked up to the bedside and looked at Timmy, who was no longer attached to tubes other than an IV. “Hi Tim,” she said tentatively. “It’s me, Alexis. I really miss you. Y’all get well now, okay?”

I gave her the cigarettes and ten dollars for a taxi. I wondered if I should have thrown in something goopy for her face. I stayed long after she left, talking to him about his brothers, Billy’s oregano business and how Craig told me he would have beaten up the burglar if he’d been at the pharmacy.

One day, after I’d kept my vigil for three or four weeks, Tim’s eyes stopped roving aimlessly in his head and came to rest on me. For a moment, it seemed as if he recognized me.

“He’s getting better,” I told the nurse. “He recognized me.”

She patted my hand. “There’s always room for hope,” she said. I could tell she thought I was imagining things. “You know, he’s a very lucky boy to have a friend like you.”

In the coming days, his eyes fixed on me more and more frequently. “I think he’s getting better,” I told Billy. Billy accompanied me to the hospital. “Yeah,” he said. “You might be right.”

One day Billy and I got there and Timmy was sitting up in bed. He turned to Bill, “You brought Cousin Itt,” he teased, but there was a nasty edge to his voice. He wasn’t funny any more. He was mean. He peered at me. “What happened to all your hair?” he demanded.

“I cut it.”

“Well it’s even uglier than before.”

“I can’t walk yet,” he told us. “I have to use a wheelchair for awhile.” I noticed that his hands were shaking. He had developed palsy. He wouldn’t be able to draw. “I want a beer,” he told Billy. “Why don’t you go out and get me a beer?”

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4 Responses to “The Valentine’s Day That Never Was”

  1. Nancy says:

    Lauren,

    Great story, super writing and I leaves me wanting more. Please write a book.

    Thanks
    Nancy

  2. BarryG says:

    I agree!
    Barry Ira Geller

  3. Kathy B. says:

    Wow, Lauren! Great writing!

  4. Theo says:

    Thanks Lauren! Great! What a story.

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