By Jane Lebak (11/00), for C.A.L.
Draw: (n) The act or process of drawing. A removal of a handgun from its holster. A backward spin given to a ball by striking it below center. Something that is drawn, as a card drawn to replace a discard in poker. A contest left undecided.
"I don't see why we all have to go."
Of the whole family, only Jason remained in jeans. Anderson, Keyop, Princess, Tiny and Mark had been dressed and ready for a while.
"They canceled classes today so we could." Mark glanced at Jason. "The Chief already explained why he has to, and Keyop's in the same grade with Drew's brother, and Princess and Tiny were actually in the same classes as Drew, and--"
"--and you're such a saint you live for this, like it's a community service thing." Jason glared at the floor. "I never even spoke to this guy."
The Chief said with the force of a command, "Jason, you don't have to come."
"Right. And that'll look great." He stalked down the hall. Ten minutes later, he returned wearing suit pants and a dress shirt, and he knotted his tie in the elevator. "Are you happy? Is this the kind of joy you live for?"
It had been like this since Thursday night: Jason fighting about everything and then going along anyhow. The Chief kept his voice low as they rode down to the first floor. "It's not that I enjoy attending funerals. I don't think anybody does. But that's one of the responsibilities that comes with being in a position of power. I've attended more weddings and funerals in this job than I ever thought I would in my life. Your attendance doesn't seem like much to you, but it means a lot to the families."
Mark stood closest to the elevator buttons. "You do it to motivate them to work harder?"
"I do it because it helps them cope."
Jason finished subduing the tie as they stepped off the elevator. Together they walked in tension and silence from the ISO building to the UN Building's interfaith hall, where the funeral would be held. Over the past few days, any time one of them had started to talk about the death or their visit with the family, there had been a sudden and uncomfortable stop, sometimes mid-sentence.
When word had reached them last Thursday that Drew, a high-school junior, had slashed his wrists, the Chief had rallied the kids in support of his family. They visited that first night with a "survival kit" consisting of paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, paper napkins, and gift certificates for a local pizzaria. There were already relatives and four ISO officers in attendance at the apartment. The five of them learned firsthand about the ISO grief-teams. "We didn't always have these," the Chief said as they walked, "but three years ago, I mandated that any officer who killed someone receive grief therapy. Or if someone in a unit got killed, the other officers received grief therapy."
Mark said, "And they do it?"
"They have to. The fact that I ordered it removes the stigma. They wanted no part of it at first. The biggest resistors were the Border Patrol. They were big guys and were sure they had no feelings. Of course, now they're the biggest supporters of the grief therapy, and they've organized into teams to meet the needs of their fellow border patrol agents any time there's a death. They've become quite close-knit as a result."
Jason rolled his eyes, but he said nothing.
They reached the Interfaith Hall and signed the guest book. Princess and Tiny knew a lot of the other attendees, as did Keyop. Chief Anderson spoke to the parents, one of whom was an ISO agent, and Mark guided Jason aside to look over the photo board and the small display of Drew's precious things. From afar, it seemed as if the Chief was having a rather long and agitated discussion with Drew's father. All the kids sneaked looks at Drew's family: his sister, who hadn't owned a black dress and was wearing blue; his mother, eyes bloodshot and hands shaking as she tried to say they were holding up fine; the youngest brother, pained eyes unable to meet anyone else's gaze. When the service began, Jason took the seat farthest away from the Chief, and the Chief seemed not to be looking at Jason at any point in time. Jason seemed not to be listening to the eulogy. Chief Anderson could tell differently.
For the next two days, it seemed that anywhere he went, Jason either was already there or else arrived a minute or two later. The Chief wasn't used to having Jason underfoot, and this sudden overabundance of Jason startled him. Yet it continued: Jason would help prepare meals when it wasn't his turn; he'd stay around for cleanup. He'd watch the evening news with the Chief. He never said anything directly, but it became obvious. As though he were thrusting himself into the Chief's view as a living reminder that--and the Chief always squashed the end of that thought. But he remembered talking to Drew's parents and seeing them so devastated, and it brought him back almost two and a half years to when he'd last seen that devastated look in his bathroom mirror. It had been a scary moment, that morning when he hadn't recognized himself.
When the Chief settled in to work in his office and realized Jason was carefully positioning himself in full view of the security cameras, his throat tightened. It was a misnomer to say he felt touched-out, but he couldn't help feeling he was never alone any longer. Maybe if he brought things to a head, Jason would back off and give him some space.
Taking some work with him, he went to the library and spread out the paperwork on the table. A few minutes later, Jason arrived with some homework.
The Chief felt the heat of a potential argument gathering in his chest, and then his son spoke.
Jason's voice emerged unsteadily, as if he weren't sure he were the person speaking. "I bet he didn't think about how they'd feel."
The Chief squinted. "Excuse me?"
Jason never looked up from working on a math problem. "Drew. I bet he didn't think his family would feel bad afterward."
"He thought sure, they'd be sad for a few days, maybe a week, but then they'd get on with things and would forget all about him."
"Of course, that's absolutely not true."
Jason had his eyes riveted to his workbook, which the Chief didn't realize because he was staring at his paperwork.
The Chief fumed for a moment--wasn't Jason the one who'd protested he didn't even know this kid? What gave him the right to pass judgment--until he realized Jason wasn't attacking Drew's parents, nor was Jason attacking him.
It was a backhanded way to have this conversation, but he decided to play along. "What do you think Drew was feeling?"
Jason swallowed. "I think he must have hurt like hell. That's why he didn't think about how his family would take it. I'd like to think he wasn't that much of a jerk, to want that kind of pain for them. He just wanted his own to stop."
The Chief shrugged. "He left his family a note. He said it was over a girl."
"Maybe that's what made him make the decision. But if everything else was okay, who gives a damn about a girl? So she dumped you. A normal guy gives her the finger and finds another girl."
"I believe a normal guy feels bad as he says goodbye and wishes her the best," the Chief said, "but otherwise, you may be right."
Jason shrugged and made a couple of nonsense markings on his loose-leaf paper. "Do you think they still feel bad?" He sounded angry. "They put on a good show for the outsiders at the funeral. Everyone wore the right colors and said the right phrases. But do you think they feel bad today? It's been almost a week. They're used to things now. Maybe Drew was right, and they don't miss him."
"Jason--" The Chief felt his throat tightening. "I promise you, they're not over it already. They may never get over what he did. I'm sure they're blaming themselves and wondering what they could have done to prevent his death. They've probably combed over everything they ever said or did with him and searched for where they missed the clues."
Jason punched a few numbers on his calculator. "He probably hid it very well."
"So well that everyone was in total shock afterward. It's a fairly awesome realization, that someone could so completely hide something that consumed him so much." The Chief glanced at Jason sideways. "Why did he work so hard to hide it?"
Jason finally had to stop going through the motions of doing his math. "He felt like a freak? He was afraid that they'd tell him he was right, and he was just a big joke the universe had played. It was safer not to find out for sure that he was an embarrassment to everyone."
The Chief drew breath sharply.
Jason resumed making zeros on his homework. "Just a big, ugly, shameful loser that everyone laughed about behind closed doors. He'd figured out that much on his own, and he knew that if he asked for real, they'd lie and say he had lots of potential and that everyone feels that way. But how could they?" The tip snapped off Jason's pencil. "Everyone else talks about sports and tv shows and they're always happy all the time--when they're not laughing at you behind your back."
The Chief found his hands shaking as Jason reached into his book-bag to get another pencil. He managed to say, "That's a dark view of the world."
"So do you blame him?" Jason looked up, and the Chief met his eyes. "He was right, though, and that's the sad fact--his family didn't know him. They put on an act for the crowd at the funeral, but did you listen to the eulogy? How they talked about him? His favorite team was the Jets and he loved to watch wrestling and his favorite X-gamer was some weirdo I've never even heard of. He had good grades and he played trumpet in the band. And that was that for remembering him. He could have been anyone. They had no idea who he was." Jason frowned and looked back at his book. "How can you miss somebody you didn't even know?"
Then came a long silence. Jason actually started working on a math problem for real. The Chief looked out the window at the sunlight streaming through the motes in the air. "You're not thinking about what you just said: he kept himself secret because he wanted to hide. How can you get to know someone when he doesn't want to be known at all?"
Jason nibbled on his eraser.
The Chief added, "But you're on-target about the eulogy."
"If dead people attend their own funerals, I'm sure he felt vindicated."
"A lot of real live people also attended. If he'd gone to even one of them asking for help, they'd have given it."
"That's not true either. There are people in school--particularly girls--who would much rather take a seat at your funeral than take a seat at your lunch table, let alone see a movie with you. It gives them an excuse to cry and be emotional and write truly bad poetry. Some people went because their parents told them to, and some parents went because they felt some kind of weird sympathy for Drew's parents. If Drew felt like nobody cared in the world, maybe Drew was right. The fact was, the people who were closest to him didn't know at all who he was. And if they don't know, who does?"
The Chief waited a moment before saying, "Go on. Ask me."
Jason was looking right at his face. "What would you have said at mine?"
"Off the top of my head, that you don't like the Jets and you don't watch professional wrestling." They both smiled a bit, but the Chief knew that wasn't a genuine smile from Jason. "I'd have said you were an extremely smart boy who could work with impressive intensity when a problem commanded your whole attention. You had no tolerance for hypocrisy and mistrusted authority figures until they'd proven they took their responsibility seriously. You didn't mind silly jokes, even if you were on the receiving end, and your family could catch you with one if you weren't on your guard." The Chief's gaze narrowed. "More frequently, though, you had a negative sense of humor, and it aggravated me when you directed it at the others. I wouldn't let it turn into an unrelenting love-fest. You spent a lot of your intellect getting into mischief, which I often found infuriating. You liked nothing better than to slack off on your school work and pretend you had no responsibilities in the world. But I'd point out your better aspects mostly. You liked to design and build, and you had an uncanny sense of how things fit together, so that when we packed the car to go on vacation, you could fit in two suitcases more than any of the rest of us, even when you were only twelve."
Looking amused, Jason said, "Is that why you always had me do it?"
"That and it kept you out of trouble for ten minutes." The Chief chuckled. "And I'd have told them about that one Halloween where you worried me sick by trick-or-treating for four hours--and came back with two pillow-cases stuffed with candy. You didn't really want the candy, but you wanted to prove you could do it, so you did. Are you satisfied?"
Jason shrugged. "At least you wouldn't have snowed everyone with that nebulous potential-crap."
"But you do have potential. I wasn't sure yet where you'd find your vocation. Remember, at that time, you didn't have much interest in automobiles, and I was baffled by your application to take a college-level class."
Jason looked a bit flustered. "I'm glad you approved it, though."
"But we'd never have known that about you, since at the time you didn't watch NASCAR any more than you watched football."
Jason stared at his hands. "I guess." Swallowing, he added, "Maybe he's sorry now. For letting everyone down like that."
"He let himself down most of all. Nobody wins, Jason. It's hard to grieve and forgive someone at the same time." The Chief squinted at him. "Maybe his family is sorry they let him conclude he wasn't important to them."
Jason said, "Yeah. Maybe. It'd be nice to think. That probably doesn't matter as much to him as you suppose, though."
The Chief said, "There's something I've been wondering. If Drew had survived this--" (Jason's shoulders tensed) "and then heard of someone who completed a suicide, how do you think he'd feel?"
Jason whispered his answer. "Jealous."
The word went like a knife through Chief Anderson. "Jealous?"
Jason spun his pencil on his fingers so he appeared unconcerned, but he was biting his lip.
The Chief said, "Why jealous?"
"Because someone else had the nerve to do something he couldn't."
"Not for want of trying."
"Yeah, but there's always the chance to do it again. Instead, he's just a failure. It's just one more way it looks like everybody else can do things better than him. It doesn't matter if it was a dumb dream: he had the same dream once and didn't follow through. This other guy did something he was too chicken to do."
The Chief's brow furrowed. "Did you ever think that maybe surviving was something Drew was too chicken to do? Maybe Drew is jealous of everyone who lived when he didn't think he could. Dying was an act of fear, not of strength or courage."
Jason said, "It's still scary."
"Living scares you less than dying does."
"We're not talking about me."
The Chief raised one eyebrow. "Of course not. We're talking about Drew."
"Who you just called a coward."
The Chief sighed. "I suppose I did."
Jason closed his text book. "I think I'm done with homework for now."
The Chief got out of his seat and walked around the table, placing himself between Jason and the door. "Don't you think Drew's parents would be thrilled if they could have him back? Despite everything you said about them earlier, about them not knowing him and not caring if he was in pain? If they had been given a second chance, do you think things would change for him?"
Jason tilted his head.
"Honestly, I guess so." Jason half-smiled. "I suppose he'd be glad if he had a second chance and things did change after all. It'd be asking a lot of people to do a lot of work, and he'd doubt he was worth any of it. But if they did, I think everything could get better."
"And," said the Chief, stepping closer to Jason, "he'd do a lot of changing himself, no doubt, because I'm sure he wasn't the kind to be put off by hard work, once he was shown it would pay off in the end."
Jason studied the carpet.
The Chief returned to his seat.
"You know, Chief," and Jason took a deep breath, "it's not really the same, just because two people do the same thing."
The Chief gave him an inquisitive look.
"That's all I wanted to say. Thanks." Jason hefted his books and left the room.