It feels like if there isn’t some kind of noise, some kind of video playing that might make her laugh, Rye might be swallowed up by sorrow. She could miss Ben disappearing forever, withdrawn and miserable.
She hates it. It wasn’t a thing about showing weakness or anything. Rye always liked to keep her sadness to herself, so no one would know. That way no one could bother her. No one tried to smother her and ask her what’s okay, not that she could even tell them without her voice breaking. She hated feeling weak, but it wasn’t about image. She could fight people who could call her weak. She couldn’t punch her sadness in the face.
Right now, her best friend, her only friend, Benjamin Jacobs, was in the hospital with no indication that he might live.
The video on her laptop keeps chugging away. Three guys are playing a video game. She’s watched this one too many times, but she loves it. It kind of makes her chuckle despite this being likely the tenth time she’s watched this Let’s Play all the way through.
Life in this stupid, boring little rich people town made Rye want to sob tears of blood. No adventures to be had. All these damn old people who yelled if they saw her even looking at the fence to their backyard funny, let alone jumping it in the heat of the moment for an intense Cops and Robbers game. She was 12 and they were already talking about college, already asking her about her future. And of course, a shit kid who got terrible grades and talked back to teachers was a bad example and influence. Rye had been thoroughly branded a trouble child by practically every adult. Fuck ’em anyway, adults were useless. This life was useless.
Ben made that life a little less unbearable. He smiled a lot. They nerded about the band. He’d show up at her door unannounced, asking if she wanted to go an adventure – Rye would gripe about it, but still pull on her shoes and a hoodie and out the door they went, off to go get ice cream or just stand at the beach and talk. He had a wonderfully dull idea of what an adventure would be. Rye thought an adventure might entail running through the woods, or swimming out in the lake to find hidden islands, digging at the beach for hidden treasure or searching mysterious places that weren’t all that mysterious. And yet, she didn’t mind Ben’s not so exciting expeditions.
“If he does survive, he might not be the same.” Her father told her this. “Not to be a downer, but he’s not out of the woods. They don’t know if he’ll be able to walk or even talk again.” Dad wasn’t wrong. He was just relaying facts. Rye couldn’t be mad at him. But it still hurt. She was better off not knowing.
She desperately wishes her last words to him hadn’t been something stupid like ‘Hey, watch this’ or whatever. She can’t remember clearly. She wishes she could have said something else. Maybe ‘let’s go home’ or ‘thanks, bro’ or something. But she had blurted out some kind of challenge like she does every day.
Rye had been so unfathomably stupid. She was the one supposed to be unconscious on a hospital bed, perhaps crippled for life or simply with time running out. That speeding car had been coming right for her, because she had been stupid, she didn’t think. She just walked out into the road, the driver hadn’t seen her coming, and Ben reacted far too fast for any of them to comprehend.
Before the tears well up, Rye snags a pair of scissors off her desk. They’re tiny kiddie scissors, but it’ll get the job done. She nabs a hair brush too, working out her beautiful blonde hair. It was the one thing people seemed to like about her. She had thought her grandmother had told her it was soft and gorgeous because that’s what grandmothers do, but it wasn’t just that. The ladies who worked in salons fawned over it, people she didn’t even know that well told her that her hair was shining and soft and caught the sunlight just right.
Off it goes. It’s a shit job, but she quietly snips away at the locks, wondering what’s worse – if Ben had just died instantly, or the glimmer of hope that getting run over might not have killed him. Snip snip snip. The video buzzes away, Rye pausing her work to turn the volume up. Right now, she needs to focus, not be weighed down by encroaching anxiety.
Her hair only goes to her ears now, and there’s a mess on the floor. That’ll be for later. It was her idea of solidarity, Ben’s hair was short and messy, now hers would be too. No more people telling her she had pretty hair. She could hear it now. That her hair was short and ugly, little old ladies telling her she looked like a boy, and she’d just spit and tell them to shove it up their ass.
It was 5 AM. She could not sleep. If she slept, Ben might slip away. If she stopped listening to the videos, the sadness might become too much for her to bear. So now it was just this state of barely existing, just to make sure she could.
The car accident plays in her head again and again. If only it had been her. Rye laughs darkly – if the car accident had put her in the hospital, at least she wouldn’t be conscious for all this crap.