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He couldn’t look up. I don’t think he wanted to look at me and cry, not right now, because I think he might have lost it if he gave in at that moment. He looked down and ground his teeth under a clenched jaw. He continued his story, telling me about what happened the only way he knew how.

“The edges of his face were all pushed in, and the top of his head and his brain and all, they were all over the blackboard where this math problem was.” Mike motioned with his hands like he was grabbing at the edges of a bowl, a hole dug in wet sand, or maybe the edges of his brother’s collapsed face plate.

“The math problem, it was seven divided by forty-nine. Answer’s lucky, answer’s seven.” Pause, silence. “What am I going to do?”

“I don’t know.” I thought for a minute. “I have no brother. Let’s talk. What’s your name?”

“I’m Mike.”

“Hey, you wanna play? I’m playing.” I asked timidly, “Do you like to pretend?”

The wild brown-haired boy nodded, and the nurse gradually loosened her hold on his arm. He sauntered over next to me, and together, we pretended for a while.

The rest of that, well, that’s history.

In my living room, Mike coughed and looked at me with those wet, brown, rabid puppy dog eyes and said again, “Heal,” his shoulders shrugging.

I shrugged back, unable to look up at him, staring at my rug. Tiny shimmers of electric light jumped across the carpet from the cathode ray tubes inside my t.v., making me feel like we were standing outside in the heat lightning before a summer storm. Mike just shook his head again, thinking about God only knew what.

“I got that one way thing going, you know?”

I nodded.

I thought back to another time in my youth when my little league baseball team lost the Suburban 1 district championship game. I remember losing so clearly because it was my fault. My teammates were all cheering for me, chanting my name, and I got called out on strikes. I struck out for the last out of the game, didn’t even swing my bat. The kids, my coach, they’re emotions all ranged from disappointed to demanding my head be torn from my neck and paraded around the fields on a stick. To my dad, though, it didn’t matter. My dad, smiling ear to ear and full of encouraging words, met me, his teary eyed son, behind the backstop after the game. He took me out for ice cream after the game. He told me the ump didn’t know a strike from a hole in the ground. He told me that this would build character, and that I was still the best kid on my team, at least the one with


 
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