Warning this excerpt about a troubled teen is thematically similar to 13 Reasons Why.
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Once upon a time, I had a best friend Anthony “Tony” Keller. My handsome prince took after his Greek mother, with his olive skin tone, dark brown hair, and his dreamy, soulful eyes. He was beautiful, but the first thing people tended to notice was the fact he had prosthetic legs.
I had known him ever since kindergarten. On the first day of school, my mother made it a point to introduce me to him. He was very shy and, at the time, walked with crutches. At first, I assumed Tony’s shyness was due to him being self-conscious about his appearance. Then one day I learned the truth: his daddy took sick pleasure in beating him.
Tony had been born prematurely. He had special medicine to take several times a day from the nurse. All throughout elementary school, I was allowed to accompany him. We would talk about cartoons, or how much we hated certain teachers. I would try to ignore the way his body trembled, or how he couldn’t sit down without flinching in pain.
I will always remember the day I finally confronted him- we were ten, about to graduate, when he came to school with a massive bruise on his neck. During our walk, he explained to me that his father had tried to choke him.
“Tony, why does he hurt you?”
Tony made his way to a nearby bench before answering. “Because I was born without legs, and mama can’t give him any more babies. So when he gets mad or drinks too much…”
I gave him a hug, making sure to be gentle. “We don’t have to talk about it, but we do have to tell an adult.”
I asked him to wait with me at the parent pick up bench after school. There my mother saw what I saw. “Oh my God Sunny, did he at least have anything to eat?”
Tony shook his head. “My Mama didn’t pack me a lunch. My Papa beat her so hard last night her eyes were swollen shut. I had to walk to school.”
Elena grabbed his hand. “I’m taking you down to the police station.”
“No, please. I can’t leave my Mama. I’ll be okay, I promise.”
Elena kissed his forehead. “You’re a brave little boy. I’m going to make you something special so at least you won’t go hungry.”
For the remainder of the semester and all throughout junior high, my mother gave me some special milk to give to him. The potion my mother created allowed him to grow strong and athletic, despite his medical issues.
Freshman year of High School I started to refer to him as my boyfriend. We talked about sci-fi and anime but also Frida Kahlo and Vincent van Gogh. He loved to draw all manner of landscapes, and characters. On the outside, Tony appeared confident and strong. But on hot Midwestern days, when he wore a short-sleeved shirt my eyes would go straight to his wrists. I among the horrible bruising I could see straight lines. I knew Tony was cutting himself.
October 11, 2014, Tony was my first kiss. I was watching him from the bleachers during soccer practice while drinking a coke.
Tony was one of the greatest soccer players the school had ever seen. Yes, I said soccer. The experimental robotic technology of his legs, designed by his mother, a professor of engineering at the university. They connected directly to his nervous system. Tony could run, he could kick, and he could even execute awesome flying jump kicks.
Tony took a break to sit beside me. I handed him a can of Coke from my Pokémon lunch box. We held hands for a while, looking out over the field.
Tony put his arm around my shoulder, to ask if I was going to the Halloween dance. It was so sweet. I was like, “Are you asking me on a date?”
And he was like, “What are you talking about Sunny? We’ve been on lots of dates.”
I said, “I mean real dates, dates that end with a goodnight kiss.”That comment made Tony blush. I traced my tongue along his lower lip to coax his mouth open. Tony closed his eyes as our lips touched softly. I gently bit his lower lip then stuck my tongue in his mouth. I could feel him put his arms around my waist as I ran my fingers through his hair. I wanted so badly to touch his body. I reached my hand under his shirt, touching the skin of his back.
That was when he filched in pain. I could feel scars, cuts even blood. “Tony, please show me. I can get you help.”
“Not out here,” he whispered.
We went to the unisex restroom and locked the door. That was when he finally took off his shirt. I could see bruising, lacerations possible broken bones. I was surprised he could even play soccer in his condition. “When did it get this bad?” I asked.
Tony looked at me with his innocent eyes. He swallowed hard and replied in a soft breath, “It’s always been this bad.”
I told my mother what I saw. Tony’s life was in danger. She tried to go to the police, but Tony’s father blocked her. The bastard had friends in very high places.
So instead my mother hid a copy of our house key for Tony inside of a fake plant. Our house would always be a safe place where he could get a hot meal and have a place to sleep.
May 4, 2015, Tony came to my house with a broken arm. That was when he told me he was bisexual. He liked me but he was also hooking up with older men. I agreed to remain friends with him, especially when he told me the story of how he broke his arm.
He had dated several men from the mattress factory where his redneck father Keith worked as a foreman. These were big football watching, beer drinking men who would certainly never admit to receiving a blowjob from a fifteen-year-old boy. But if they did, the relationship would be very one-sided. Tony was nothing more than a cum dumpster.
One day one of the men said it to Keith’s face. I imagine it was something vulgar like, “Your little girl sure has a talent for sucking cock.”
When Tony came home Keith grabbed the boy by his throat as Tony’s mother Maria screamed. He dragged Tony to the basement, throwing him down the stairs. He put Tony’s arm in a vice and cranked it shut. He removed Tony’s prosthetics, to prevent any possibility of escape. Then he turned on a power drill. Tony cried, out of panic and fear, but he didn’t even bother to beg for his life.
There was a loud bang, Keith fell to his knees. Maria had located one of Keith’s shotguns and shot her husband in the leg. She kept the weapon trained on Keith as she freed her son.
She carried Tony up the stairs. Maria took Keith’s truck keys and loaded Tony’s body into the passenger seat to get him to a hospital.
From the hospital, she was given a contact at a battered women’s shelter where she and Tony could stay while she started the divorce proceedings.
Knowing how bad things looked for him Keith offered her a deal: if she dropped all charges he would give her a divorce in less than a month. And if she didn’t ask for child support she could keep the house.
Tony was sobbing. “I don’t know why she took the offer. My father deserves to be in prison- not shacking up with a different girlfriend every week.”
My mother made Tony some broth to soothe his stomach and prepared the sofa for him to sleep. She even kissed him goodnight. “Help yourself to any food. There are extra pillows and blankets in the hallway closet.”
“Would you like me to stay with you?” I asked.
Tony took my hand cuddling it like a stuffed animal. “Your hands are so soft and soothing. You’re going to be a wonderful mother someday.” His language was creepy, to say the least. I should have taken it as a sign.
I went to bed, shutting off the lights and crawling under the covers. A few hours later I awoke to a crash. The noise had come from the bathroom. “Tony!” I screamed. The door was locked. I banged on my mother’s bedroom door. “Mom, wake up, I think Tony’s hurt!”
My mother kicked in the door. Tony had taken one of my mother’s lipsticks and written the words, “I’m sorry” across the now broken mirror.
Tony was sitting in the bathtub. He had stabbed himself in the chest.
My mother was crying. “Why?”
Tony’s mouth was filling with blood. “A few weeks ago I went to the hospital for yet another staph infection. It turns out I’m in the early stages of HIV.” He started to laugh, looking up at the ceiling. “I came here tonight because this is where I wanted to die.”
I grabbed the house phone and dialed 911. Tony’s eyes looked at me like a lifeless doll. “I love you Sunny,” he said as he lifted his arm ever so slightly. “Will you please hold me?” I held him in my arms as his body convulsed. I didn’t care about the blood. I would have gladly died with him. “It’ll be alright,” he whispered with a smile on his face. “The pain will finally be over.”
Tony survived, but sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if he hadn’t. Over the summer, while the divorce settlement was being finalized. Tony switched from cutting to pills.
August 11, 2015, Tony met up with me after school at Taco John’s, very hung over and with quite a story to tell.
Three days prior, Tony and his mother were still living in the shelter when she was hit by a car on her way to work- fracturing her spine. The driver sped away. Luckily the next pedestrian, a university student on a bike, helped her to the curb. That part I knew. Tony had been pulled from class and escorted to the hospital.
“That was where I met her…” he said, blushing, “She had sky blue hair, like nothing, I had ever seen.
Tony continued talking. “I told her I was still in high school. But it didn’t matter, we talked about our love of art, all the classic painters.”
“And your legs?” I asked, a little ruder then I should have.
“Yeah,” he answered, “She said I was a rare creature; a cultured Midwestern boy who’s part robot. QRC said she wanted to take me to a party, introduce me to her crew.” I assumed QRC stood for those square-shaped coded but that was not the case. “Quiet- Rocker- Chick,” Tony said with the biggest smile. Cleary he met a girl who was both his crush and his hero. And true to her word she was his opening to a world beyond Beloit High.
Later that day, as his mother still lay in the hospital. QRC took him to a party by the river. That was where he met Alicia: a girl with long red hair the color of fire and arms covered in tattoos of forest animals. Or spirits, as QRC told him. Alicia smoked weed by a bonfire while shouting poetry, a certain stanza Tony was more than happy to recite. “Bring me your tall dark and handsome your sexual beings yearning to break free.”
Tony closed his eyes as if recalling a beautiful dream. “She said, ‘They call me Butterfly, why? Because I get high- and I can get you high- Can you dig it?’ And that was when I was presented to her; a gift to the Goddess.”
I grabbed his wrist. “I need to get you home; clearly you are in no condition to be out in public.”
“I’m not kidding. Alicia is a creature not of this world,” he said. With his eyes still closed he was reaching for my hand. “She asked how old I was. I said, ‘Sixteen.’ That was when she invited me to her trailer. I told her I had HIV. That was when things got strange.”
“Strange?” I asked. “Like pills and needles strange?”
“Nah, she…” He looked at me as if for a moment he forgot that I was the daughter of a witch. “Alicia did a backflip transforming into a cat with no tail. The cat jumped into the air changing into a butterfly with three wings. And finally back to her human form.”
If he had ended the story there I would have been ok. We might have been able to remain friends. But he had to go and add one last piece of information.
“Then Alicia said, ‘I don’t contract human STDs,’ so I followed her to her trailer, we smoked for a while. One thing led to another…”
I preemptively hurled my cheese covered tater tots at his face. “You slept with her?”
“She was a little scary,” he cried, like a bitch, “I kind of felt like I had to.”
I was too enraged to listen. “Tony, you cheated on me!” I screamed. The whole restaurant was staring but I didn’t care. “You said you were into men!”
“No, I told you I was bisexual,” he said as if that would help his case.
“So you’re into women just not into me?” I asked. There was nothing he could have said that would not have resulted in me storming out in tears.
Tony looked at me with his puppy dog eyes. “I love you Sunny.”
I flipped my entire tray of food on him and stomped out the door. “Fuck you! You are a horrible person! A terrible friend! I should have let you die!”
August 12, 2015, I located Tony in the hallway. I slammed him into a row of lockers and kissed his lips. Pressing my lips to his ear I whispered, “My house after school.” In my mind, I planned on losing my virginity to him. We would use a condom, and when the deed was done he would be mine again.
Tony was shivering. “I-I don’t know…” he said a voice that was sad, embarrassed.
“Let me see your wrists,” I said, grabbing him as hard as I could. Tony fell to his knees in pain. His wrist was covered in track marks. He had been shooting up. Worst, on his left wrist, was a painful looking blood blister. “I have two hundred dollars,” I said, releasing his wrist. “I will pay you two hundred dollars to come to my house.”
Tony reluctantly agreed. After school we walked together to my house, going straight to my room. I locked the door. And told him, “I want you to take your clothes off and lay on my bed.”
Tony did as I asked, removing his t-shirt off, then his jeans. He laid on my bed, as still as a corpse, staring up at the ceiling. “Sunny?” he said, his voice quivering.
I gazed at his tattoos, his body piercings, and scars. It was as if he truly did die that night and his body had reformed into something that I no longer recognized. I touched the scars on his chest. Apparently, he had stabbed himself five times before getting the mirror glass stuck.“Yeah?” I replied as tears fell from my eyes on to a tattoo image of an angry clown on his ribs.
“Did you want me to take my legs off?” he asked.
“Sure, I guess.” I proceeded to watch as he took off his prosthetics. The robotic components flexed then fell limp as he disconnected the straps. It was the first time I had fully seen the truth of Tony’s legs. His left leg contained half of a thigh, the right contained slightly less.
Tony turned his head to look at me. He said, “Do you want me to take my boxers off?” The way he said it made me sick to my stomach. Like this was all he was good for. He would lay there and I could go to my mom’s room and get a condom.
He would have gotten himself hard for me. He would have let me fuck him. Maybe he would have kissed me, touched me. But that wasn’t what I wanted. I moved closer, resting my head on his chest. I told him, “It’s ok; I just want to hold you.” I could feel his heart beating but as I reached for his hand my fingers brushed his wrist. He had started to cut himself vertically, tearing open his veins. “You need to get help.”
“I’m sorry, Sunny, I’m so sorry.”
I sighed. “I don’t know how to love you- I don’t know how to save you.”
Tony put his arms around me. “There’s nothing to save; I’m a worthless piece of shit.”
“Please don’t say that,” I said as a buried my face in his chest, next to what appeared to be the half-finished image of a dragon.
“It’s true,” Tony sighed through tears. His grip loosened. “Just answer me this- Sunny, are we still friends?”
“Tony, I’ll always be your friend,” is what I should have said, what I will always regret. Instead, I got off the bed and retrieved the money, gave him the two hundred dollars and told him to go.
That was the last time I spoke to him.