“Hey, Google. How long does it take for a person to bleed out from a knife wound?”
“It depends. Is the injured party screaming, or no?”
Jay is cradling his innards, shuffling toward me and I think about running.
I ran the last time he needed my help. That was in eighth grade and I was only running because everyone else was. Through a part in the crowd I saw the extra tall boy who threatened Jay’s life every day in fifth period, lying on the concrete and bleeding from his face. Some girls were crying so I thought the boy was dead.
Jay was in a corner nearby. He too was lying on the ground, but his hands were being zip tied behind his back by a school administrator. A pair of bloody brass knuckles was wrapped around one of those hands.
My whole crew got suspended for two weeks. They all played a part in the scare tactic gone wrong. They only wanted to shake him up. Get him to leave Jay alone. My best friend had a locker full of weapons, one of them being a lead pipe. They were all honor roll kids. They didn’t want to involve me because I was the innocent one, the tiny one, the baby. Plus, my parents were the most likely to murder me for getting into trouble.
Jay was sent to the “bad kids” school. Jay was put on Lithium. Jay didn’t talk to me for six months and I was too afraid to admit I missed him. I didn’t condone what he did but I thought I understood why he did it. The tall boy, Watson, had a bad concussion and needed stitches but he was going to be just fine.
“I just snapped,” Jay said over the phone six months later. His father’s name flashed across my parents’ caller ID and my heart froze. I remembered that Mike Tyson said the exact same thing when he bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear. I believed that snapping could happen. I saw it happen in real life with my own too young eyes many times. It was something both men and women did. Intuitively, I knew it would happen to me someday too. I wasn’t afraid of the violence I knew I was capable of, I just wondered what would finally drive me to act upon it.
Another boy named Dan who lived on my street went to the “bad kids” school with Jay. These kids rode a bus home that arrived five minutes after the “regular kids” school bus. One day it got there early, so our buses arrived at the stop at the same time.
A maniacal voice screamed my name. It was Jay, hanging out the bus window. His hand was reaching for mine. I stood on my tiptoes to grasp it. The bus driver was screaming at him to get back inside.
“Write me a letter! Give it to Dan!” Jay yelled.
“Back up, little girl!” the bus driver yelled at me.
Jay called that night to tell me Dan could be trusted. We passed love notes back and forth through him. We talked on the phone long past phone curfew. Eventually we took our relationship to AIM messenger boxes. Then one day near the end of ninth grade he told me in a low voice that his family was moving to another state.
Our correspondence continued. We could make long distance love work. Our love was strong and even though my mother warned me about “psycho boys” I hid the letters from her and didn’t listen.
When we were sixteen, he called to tell me he had a girlfriend and that he was so sorry. “You’re still my best friend,” he said. “Please don’t stop writing me letters.”
I didn’t even when he did. Then two years later I decided to stop torturing myself. I sent a goodbye note and sealed it with a tear stained cotton candy Lip Smacker kiss.
Jay and I are 21 now and he’s paler than ever under the streetlights. We’re both single. He called last month to tell me he’d be back in town and that he desperately wanted to see me. I bought a new dress because I’m that kind of hopeful romantic girl.
It’s just after sundown and I’m staring at his bleeding torso.
“Watson–” he mutters when he falls into my arms. “He gutted me.”
“What?” I don’t know what to do other than take off my sweater to try and stop the bleeding. I also have to keep telling myself not to pass out or panic.
“After all these years, he still held it against me.” Jay coughs and a trail of blood trickles out of the corner of his mouth.
“You got a cigarette?” he asks.
“You can’t smoke now.”
“Like hell I can’t.”
It’s a Bogart and Bacall moment. I light the cigarette for him and he smokes it shakily.
“I’m calling 911,” I say when I spot a pay phone to use because neither of us are cool enough to own cell phones.
“Don’t. I need you here.”
“I’m not going to let you die,” I say. “Hold this here and I’ll be right back.”
I run and do what’s necessary and in thirty five minutes I’m using the same pay phone to call my mother to pick me up after an ambulance has transported Jay away to the nearest hospital. I’ve also convinced the police that showed up that I had no idea what happened but that Jay mentioned Watson’s name.
I’m covered in Jay’s blood and all my mother can do is scold me not to get her van all messed up and say, “I warned you about those psycho boys.”
Jay succumbs to an infection from the knife wound three days later. His parents let me visit the day before he dies. He isn’t conscious but I finally tell him I love him anyway.
“I just snapped,” Watson tells the courtroom during his trial. Trauma does things to people. Trauma causes grudges we don’t even know exist.
Watson happened to be walking to the park that night on a drug run. He saw Jay and knew he was going to stab him. He knew he had the knife in his pocket for that reason. He said that for years every time he got a headache he would think of Jay. “It’s like it was…destiny…or something.”
I think of Jay now too when I get really bad sinus headaches. It’s a Spring thing and Jay left this earth during the Spring. The new life, the heat, the flowers, the vibe–it all makes me sick with grief.
I get offered a job as a nanny for a single mother with twin six year olds four years after he died. She’s got a bed of snapdragons in her yard.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” Her smile is too wide. I nod in faux agreement.
I decline the job but later that night I sneak into her yard and stomp the shit out of all those flowers. I don’t feel better though. I probably never will.
Jennifer Patino is an LCO Ojibwe poet residing in Las Vegas. She has had work published both online and in print with publications such as The Ginger Collect, Half Mystic Press, L’Éphémère Review, A Cornered Gurl, Font Magazine, The Chamber Magazine, Briefly Write, and Door is A Jar. She is also a regular contributor to Fevers of the Mind. You can visit her blog at www.thistlethoughts.com.
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