"If it wasn't for my grandfather, I probably would have killed myself when I was a kid..."
The tap on the door came early that Saturday afternoon.
As usual, no one answered, so he let himself into the house quietly, hoping he wouldn't disturb them. With quick strides, he made his way over to the kitchen sink and turned on the faucet, all the way to the right, as far as it would go. He could barely contain an audible sigh of relief as the icy cold water touched his face. He let it drip off his chin and down his neck, watching with fascination as the bottom of the basin turned pink, the blood from his nose swirling slowly down the drain. His whole face throbbed, as if he'd been thrown down onto concrete, and the water was never cold enough, no matter how long he let it run.
After several agonizing minutes, he reached for a dish towel, shaking the water from his hair. When his face was dry, he headed for the bottle of aspirin in the cupboard; he was pushing the heart medicine and daily vitamins out of his way, when a large man appeared in the doorway.
"Seeley?" The boy jumped and spun around quickly, dropping the aspirin bottle on the floor. When he saw his grandfather's look of concern, he tried to cover his face, but he knew that it was no use hiding. It wasn't like this was the first time. "Oh, God, not again."
The words brought tears to Seeley's eyes, and he reached up to wipe them away, wincing when his fingers dug into his bruised cheek. The tiny yelp sent his grandfather to the refrigerator, where he pulled an ice pack from the freezer and held it out to his grandson. Seeley took it and pressed it to his swollen eye, before following the old man reluctantly to the kitchen table. "What happened?"
"He-" His voice broke painfully, fresh tears threatening to fall. Again, he forced them back, and his expression hardened, his dark eyes glued to a fleck of paint on the table. "He didn't come home until early this morning. I asked him where he'd been all night. I-I shouldn't have. It wasn't any of my business."
"Cheatin' bastard." The old man grumbled. He put a hand on Seeley's shoulder and squeezed gently. "What he's doing to your mother ain't right." Seeley glanced up briefly, but wouldn't really look at his grandfather. He felt so ashamed about what had happened, for instigating another fight with his father. He'd known it would irk his old man, being questioned like that, but he couldn't help himself. It was his big mouth, always getting him into trouble.
Suddenly, almost as if he'd read his grandson's thoughts, the older man tapped on Seeley's chin, urging him to raise his eyes and meet his grandfather's gaze. "It ain't right what he did to you, either. It wasn't your fault, Seeley." The boy lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "I know you're thinkin it. But it ain't nobody's fault but his."
"Yeah," Seeley croaked, scratching at the paint stain with his fingernails. His eyes fell suddenly, and his voice was barely above a whisper. "So, um, do you think I could stay here tonight?"
"What?" He didn't know if the question meant his grandfather hadn't heard him or that he was surprised by the suggestion, so Seeley cleared his throat and continued on a little louder. "I was hoping you'd let me stay here tonight. Old man threatened to snap my neck if I came back." He said the words nonchalantly, as if it were normal for a father to say such a thing to his son.
"He said what?" His grandfather slammed a fist down on the table. "Now, that just ain't right! A man doesn't say somethin' like that to his boy! What the Hell was he thinkin'?" The man's sudden outburst finally got a reaction from the room beyond the kitchen door, and Seeley could hear the shuffling of feet down the hallway.
"What in the world is goin' on in here?" As his grandmother stepped into the kitchen, her eyes went wide and she immediately rushed to his side, her hands coming up to cradle his face. "Seeley! What's he gone and done now?"
"It's nothin Gram, really."
"It doesn't look like nothin."
"The boy's fine, Marie." His grandfather insisted. "Nothin for you to fret over."
"Nonsense." She turned back to Seeley with a warm smile. "You just come on back to the guest room and I'll fix ya up with some ice and some good pain killers. Come on." She pulled him up from the chair, one arm tucked under his armpit, and began to lead him back down the hall. He didn't have the energy to protest.
"You just wait here." She told him, before disappearing through the door again. She returned a few minutes later, this time with a cold pack and a bright orange prescription bottle. "Here," she exclaimed, holding out the items for his inspection. "These are for my back. Just take one, they're very strong." Seeley nodded meekly and gave his grandmother a half-hearted smile.
"Thanks." She patted him softly on the shoulder and ran her wrinkled fingers through his hair. Just then, his grandfather peered into the dimly lit guest room, and motioned for his wife to join him in the hall.
"You just rest now, Seel. We'll be here if you need us."
"Thanks, Pop. I..." He couldn't quite say what he was feeling, but, as always, the old man seemed to understand somehow. His grandfather nodded and a small smile tugged at the sagging corners of his mouth.
"Where is he!" The familiar crack of his father's voice shook Seeley into consciousness as he lie sprawled on his grandfather's bed. He flinched involuntarily when an angry fist pounded on the front door, making the window above his head rattle. "Tell me where he is!"
"He's not here, John." His grandfather's comforting drawl floated in from the hallway, and Seeley could feel the tightness in his muscles ease just a bit. With a sigh, he pushed himself up from the bed, teetering on the edge until the room to came back into focus. Then, silently, he made his way to the bedroom door, and peered out into the hall. He felt his throat constrict at the sight of his father standing in the doorway, his face stained red with rage.
"I know he's here, Frank. You're hiding him in there!"
"John-" But the drunken man would have none of it. He leaned in, pointed an unsteady finger at his father, and snarled.
"You tell the nosy little shithead, the next time I see him, I'm gonna break his legs!"
"Get outta here, John. Or I'm gonna call the police."
"Fuck you, old man!" His father growled, and shoved the man backward before storming out onto the porch. Cursing, he slammed the door against the side of the house, and several of the panes shattered, littering the porch and front hall with broken glass. Seeley held his breath until he heard the rumbling of the pick-up truck, and when he was sure that his father was gone, he closed the bedroom door and flopped back down on the bed.
"I can't do this anymore." He whispered, squeezing his eyes shut against the burning tears. It isn't fair. Angrily, he rubbed his hands over his face and let out a deep sigh. Pop shouldn't have to deal with this. It's my problem, not his. Seeley's eyes steeled with determination, and he sat up, his fingers digging into the edge of the mattress. I can't let this go on...
Again, he stood up, crept to the door, and looked out, his eyes shifting from the front hall to his grandparent's bedroom. His grandmother was busy sweeping glass up off the floor, and the jubilant Happy Days theme song told him that his grandfather had made his way back into the living room. Quietly, he slipped across the hall and through the door, making sure to latch it tightly behind him.
As soon as he was inside, Seeley rushed over to the closet and pushed the bi-fold doors out of his way. Reaching back into the far corner, he felt his way to the plastic case he knew he'd find there, and pulled it free of the mess. But there was no triumph in this find. He felt strangely heavy as he sat the case on the floor in front of him and slowly clicked the latches open.
For a long moment he knelt there, staring blankly at the gleaming black pistol in the foam. Then, he reached out and took it in his hand. Pushing himself to his feet, Seeley shuffled awkwardly to his grandparent's bed, and let his body fall limply amongst the pillows.
Everyone would be better off if I were dead. Dad wouldn't be so angry and Pop wouldn't have to deal with all the bullshit. That's all I am...a bunch of bullshit that everyone just has to deal with...
Seeley ran his fingers along the barrel of the gun, reveling in the feel of the cool metal against his skin. Then, he nudged the cylinder out of its hiding place and checked the chambers. His grandfather still kept the weapon loaded and ready, just like always.
If I did it, would anybody really care? Mom would I guess. But all everybody else does is complain. Even Jared. He hates me. He said he wished I would die. Well, I guess he'll get his wish after all...
The weight in his hands was all he felt as he let his eyes drift to the photographs on the bedside table. One of them was from an old vacation, two dripping wet boys in swimsuits, their skinny arms wrapped around each other's shoulders. Jared's smile was as big as a house, and his hair hung over his eyes as he leaned in toward the camera. Ten year-old Seeley looked happy too, hugging his brother on a sunny beach in August...but he couldn't help but notice that the grin on his face didn't quite reach his eyes. To anyone else, they would have seemed a pair of normal, carefree children. The bruises on their arms were barely visible...but Seeley knew. They were always there, a stinging, ugly reminder of what waited for them when they got home.
I'd rather die...I'd rather die than take one more beating.
A tear rolled down his cheek, and, for the first time, it didn't feel wrong. It was almost comforting, to know that he still knew how to cry, even after all this time. Stiff upper lip, his father used to say. Don't cry. Men don't cry. Suck it up. Deal with it. But he couldn't. Not anymore. Sometimes it was okay to just give in. To cry, even when you know you shouldn't.
God, please don't hate me for doing this.
Hesitantly, he reached down to finger the safety. A loud click echoed in the empty room, and Seeley jumped, before swallowing back the sob in his throat.
Tears streamed down his face as he lifted the gun from his lap. His hands shook violently, and he took several breaths in an attempt to calm himself, summoning the few happy memories he had to ease his fear. He and Jared playing together on their new swing set. Push me higher, Seeley! Higher! His father before the army. Aunt Janet's homemade cookies. His mother's lullaby...
If they knew sweet little you
They'd end up loving you, too
All those same people who scold you
What they'd give
Just for the chance to hold you...
Seeley's eyes darkened as he pressed the barrel against his temple. It was so cold, and the pounding in his ears was so loud he could barely breathe. His body shook with sobs as he tightened his grip on the handle, his pointer finger slowly curling itself around the trigger.
I love you, Mom. I love you, Jared.
He squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath, his finger pressing down lightly on the trigger...
"Seeley?" Suddenly, his grandfather's voice pierced the silence, and Seeley's eyes snapped open, his body stiffening in shock. For a moment, he considered squeezing the trigger, before the old man had a chance to find him. He pressed the barrel harder into his temple, welcoming the stab of pain that shot through him, and let out a frustrated sigh when his muscles froze in defiance. He couldn't do it.
What would Pop think?
He let his hand fall heavily into his lap, his dark eyes widening in horror.
If he hadn't called, I would've done it. I was going to do it.
"Seeley?" The bedroom door opened, and his grandfather peered in, his brow furrowing at the sight of his grandson's still form on the bed. As he made his way across the room, his eyes fell on the
.38 in Seeley's hands, and his heart stopped. "Seeley, oh my God."
Seeley didn't say a word. He just stared straight ahead, not wanting to acknowledge the terror on his grandfather's face. He barely felt the bed dip under his slight weight, or the arm the old man wrapped around his shoulders. He didn't hear the throaty voice, begging him to answer, to look at him...hell, even to breathe. All he felt was the cold, the icy fingers holding on to him, making his chest ache.
I was going to kill myself...
"Seeley, give me the gun." The words seemed to reach him somehow, and his fingers twitched, loosening their hold on the weapon. "That's it," his grandfather urged softly. "Everything's gonna be alright." He took hold of the revolver, and Seeley let it slip easily from his hands. With a deep sigh of relief, the gun was placed back in its foam cocoon; the latches were clicked shut and Frank pushed it away, before settling next to his grandson and taking him roughly by the shoulders.
"Seeley, look at me." For a moment, Seeley's chest tightened, hot tears searing beneath his eyelids. "Look at me, boy!" Slowly, the young man raised his head.
The moment the two pairs of glassy, identical brown eyes met, Seeley lost it. He cried...harder than he'd ever cried for anyone or anything. His shoulders heaved and the tears stained his face, and for a long moment, he wondered if he'd ever be able to stop.
"I'm sorry, Pop, I'm sorry," he sobbed, burying his face deep into his grandfather's sweater. "I'm sorry." He felt a strong hand on the back of his neck, stroking his hair, but there was no response. The old man said nothing.
"Please, don't hate me," he begged. "Please. I'm sorry." A sharp intake of breath made Seeley look up, and he saw that Frank, too, was crying. It wasn't a loud, burning cry, but the tears were there just the same, and Seeley felt another pang of guilt shoot through him.
"Seeley, I could never hate you." His grandfather's voice was coarse as he took Seeley's face in his hands, softly wiping away the boy's tears with the pads of his thumbs. Seeley could feel their warmth spreading across his cheeks, and he brought up his own hands to cover them, stroking them gently with his fingers like he'd done so often as a child. "I'm scared for you, that's all."
He let his hands slide down and curl around the young man's shoulders, his eyes filled with a sadness Seeley had never seen before. "Why? Why would you ever think to do such a thing?"
"I-" he began, wiping the tears roughly from his face. "I just couldn't take it anymore." The soft wrinkles in his grandfather's face changed shape as his frowned deepened, and Seeley couldn't help but notice the obvious sag in his shoulders, as if he were carrying an imaginary weight. "I just couldn't let you and Gram deal with this anymore. I mean, he pushes you and breaks your window." He took a deep breath and worked his jaw, holding back a sob. "I mean, if it was just me, I could take it. If it was just me. But it's not. You shouldn't have to take it, too."
"Seeley, I'm a grown man. And I've dealt with a lot worse in my life. A broken window can be fixed, replaced. But you..." A tear rolled down his cheek and Seeley felt his heart constrict. "You can't."
He wrapped his arms tightly around the skinny, black-eyed teenager and held him close, feeling the warmth, and the pain, and the life that flowed through him...and the burden that seemed to lift from the room in that moment. There was no question in his mind. This boy was meant to be something bold and meaningful in this world, and the strength in him was incalculable.
"I love you, Seeley." The old man whispered. "No matter what."
"I love you, too, Pop."
"And even if everyone else in the world disowns you, I'll always be here."
Booth stood at the foot of the old, neglected grave, a fresh bouquet of flowers dangling from his hands. The wind that whipped through the trees was bitter cold, but for some strange reason, he could feel a warmth radiating from beneath him. It had been seven long months since he had been here, and yet it still seemed familiar, like someone had missed him and was happy he had come.
As he let his eyes wander over the cemetery, a tear slipped from the corner of his eye. Quickly, he wiped it away, knowing that the man who lie here wouldn't want him to cry. If he were alive, he'd say that death was a part of life, and that it was no use crying over someone who didn't need your pity. He'd say he was in Heaven now, and Booth hoped with all that he had that it was true.
Slowly, he bent down in front of the headstone, sweeping some of the stray leaves and other debris from its base. Then, he placed the handful of lilies and waxflower on the ground and lifted a hand to trace the name that had been carved into the granite.
FRANCIS S. BOOTH
JANUARY 6, 1933 – MARCH 23, 2010
BELOVED FATHER AND GRANDFATHER
With a heavy breath, he pushed himself to his feet, his dark eyes glistening with moisture. For a long moment he stared at the mound of dirt, his heart aching with regret at the thought of the debt he would never be able to repay. Touching his hand to the top of the stone, he rubbed it gently, a sad smile spreading wistfully across his face.