Part 8: When We Were Young

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“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Aiden

The sweat was probably pouring out of every orifice in his body as if the newly shoved-upon anxiety over his father’s death was forcing his pores wide open like a master clench. It hurt to swallow air.

Aiden had never moved so quickly in his entire life, including the time he ran across the desert at Coachella to make it to Florence + The Machine’s set on time. But while at Coachella he was conscious of everything around him as he flew to his destination, Aiden was very much in a trance as he slid through endless sidewalks to make it back home to Tom’s. His entire body was numb. An empty brain whirring away with no thoughts to give but one: Home. Home. Home.

“Keep up.”

This was said to the one aspect of the situation Aiden couldn’t shake, no matter how in shock he was. Lyle had registered complete bewilderment as Aiden stormed from the coffee shop, commanding him to follow but not to talk. Aiden didn’t care that forcing a suicidal human to follow him and his confused grief across the city was wildly absurd, but he wasn’t about to abandon the poor guy. Slightly tactless, even if the absurdity outweighed it.

However, Lyle didn’t respect the silence clause of Aiden’s command as he constantly wondered aloud where they were going and why. Aiden continued to huff along at an accelerated pace, eyes only on the final destination. If one extra thought was to drip into his stream of consciousness, he would surely collapse from overload.

“Look out!”

Aiden’s glaze returned to reality just in time to get out of the way of an incoming biker. He jumped out of the way, bumping into Lyle who latched onto his arm. The body contact felt foreign to Aiden, oddly, but the second it happened he realized all he wanted was a hug.

He took a few deep breaths, staring at the ground. Lyle stood in front of him, still holding onto his arm.

“Dude, you have to tell me what’s happening.”

An eternity of breathing passed before Aiden looked into Lyle’s cocoa eyes. Intense gaze meeting intense concern.

“My dad died.”

Lyle pulled Aiden into a deep hug. The saved hugging the needing-to-be-saved.

~~~

Fran

Fran prided herself on being a very patient person. Between raising Chase by herself when deadbeat Dean left them both to make dollars by stripping (the most accurate LA-stereotype she’s ever heard) and working in a building of the sick and perpetually needy, Fran had developed over time a meditative thought process to keep her cool, to stay in check.

In this moment, however, Fran didn’t give a flying fuck. LAX was the worst fucking airport on the planet, and she wanted everyone to know it by blasting her car horn.

“Mommy, what does it mean when someone sticks a finger up at you?”

Fran whipped her head to the right to see a Brentwood wannabe doing just that. “Oy,” she muttered. “Dunno, sweetie. Doesn’t seem very nice. Why don’t you keep reading your book?” The second Chase focused his attention back on his book about grizzly bears, Fran returned the gesture to her airport rival.

An eternity later, Chase was excitedly shouting and doing his own pointing (albeit with a different finger) as their car pulled up at Terminal 3 where Aiden was dutifully waiting for them. A hard mix of solemn, stoic, and happy plagued his expression. Getting out of the car, Fran wordlessly shoved her favorite and only brother/best friend into a tight embrace. Aiden returned the favor, only making room to smush Chase into the middle of the family reunion.

The trio piled back into the car, Aiden relegated to the backseat as Chase played his own version of “Game of Thrones” by acquiescing the front seat for himself and for himself only.

Aiden was clearly avoiding her gaze, so Fran made sure to stare at the rearview mirror until they locked eyes.

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Hi.”

“Welcome home.”

“Mm. Mind if I close my eyes for a bit? I…I just –“

“Sure thing. We can talk at home.”

~~~

An hour and twenty minutes of traffic later, the Trighton family pulled up to Fran’s place. She turned the key to cut the engine and slowly got out of her car. The street seemed quiet today, trees gently swaying in an equally gentle wind. The sun was just beginning it’s nocturnal descent, leaving the sky a warm mix of soft yellows and pinks. For one moment, the world was calm to the Trighton’s.

Chase bolted from the car to the front door, searching out the spare key taped underneath the grotesque Chia-pet he had proudly grown himself a couple months earlier. As he ran into the house, he called for Aiden to follow him and see his new turtle stuffed animal.

“I named him Toots!”

Fran saw Aiden not following. He was simply standing next to her car, staring at nothing in particular around him. The life in his eyes was gone.

She started to approach him. Apparently that was a catalyst, as Aiden took that moment to lurch to life and tread into the house. Fran felt her eyes flutter with a tear or two and followed suit.

“Chase, honey, can you give me and Uncle Addy a minute, please?”

The forever happy child zoomed out of the room, content to go read a book. Fran gently took Aiden’s arm and led him away from the stairs to the living room. She sat him down, hand in hand. She had to be the big sister, even if she was never meant to be. She had to control her sadness for the sake of her brother. She had to keep this family together.

“Aid.”

Aiden was clearly struggling to keep his eyes on her. His eyes were darting in directions she didn’t know possible, all while his body ever-so-slightly vibrated out of control. Telling Chase the news wasn’t nearly as bad; there was no way a child would be able to comprehend this type of tragedy. Nor would there be an ounce of care. Aiden was the complete opposite. All the strength she might’ve needed for Chase and herself she had saved for her older brother.

“Aiden, look at me. It’s just me. Your sister.”

She placed her hand on his right cheek, gently guiding his gaze to meet hers. Just as they met — ring! — the house phone shrieked to life.

“Mommy! Phone!” came from above.

“What the fuck…” she muttered furiously as she flew to the source of the most inopportune noise.

She yanked the phone out of the kitchen. “What?!”

“It’s me.”

“Oh.” Guilt flooded her. Too much was happening right now. She was losing control. “Hi mom.”

“Hi honey.”

“Hi.”

Silence. Julia broke it with a raspy voice, hints of former sobs creaking through the breaks in syllables.

“How are you? Is Aiden home?”

“Yes, he is. We’re okay –“

“Put him on the phone, please.”

“Mom, he’s not –“

“Please, Francesca.”

A tear trailed down her face as a surging moment of the past, one that encompassed all the anger from being put second to Aiden’s issues and emotional instability albeit one that was not as overpowering as concern for Aiden’s well-being, bubbled forth. Fran took a breath of all depths and blinked the tear away. Don’t fail now. Not after everything. They need you. They’ll always need you.

“Okay.”

She handed the phone to Aiden in the living room. “Sorry, Aid.”

“No, please don’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

A compromised moment between the siblings passed before Aiden took the phone, hand trembling. He placed it on speaker mode.

“Mom?”

“Addy.”

“Hi, Mom.” A voice crack.

“Oh, Addy. I miss you so much.”

“I’m right here, Mom.”

“I can’t wait to see you. Can you do something for me, please?”

Fran locked eyes with Aiden. It never took long for Julia to ask for some sort of service. Aiden looked genuinely terrified.

“Mom…”

“Speak about your father for me at the service. Say something nice about him. I think it would be a very good thing for everyone to hear.”

“…Say something nice?”

Fran gripped her brother’s arm. She was furious with her mother, but she hoped gripping Aiden’s skin would let him know that she already understood what he was about to say. That she supported him and his words.

“Yes, honey, something nice.”

And then Aiden paused, giving Fran a moment of concern. She had no idea what Aiden was processing. Was he falling back into his dark place? Was he resorting to his isolation? She didn’t know which way the road was curving and it immediately made her panic.

Aiden shook Fran’s grip, took the phone off speaker, and put the phone to his ear.

“Okay. I’ll say something nice.”

With that, he ended the call and stood up. He gave Fran the briefest of small smiles and went upstairs. Fran watched her brother silently go, wondering exactly what happened in San Francisco and if Aiden had somehow discovered an inner peace.

That’d be too easy, she thought.

~~~

Aiden

Sunshine slammed into his face through the window the next morning. He had quickly forgotten how harsh the Angelino sun was, thus quickly remembering the power of the star in the southern part of the state.

He rolled over in Fran’s guest bed, surprisingly not feeling too tired despite the multitude of events over the past few days. Instead, he felt as if the sun’s warmth was already inside him. Aiden felt like Aiden, but not the Aiden of old. He felt like the Aiden he was supposed to become.

His eyes trailed over to the floor, where pages on pages of scribbled notes were sprawled. He had spent all night writing “something nice” for his father’s eulogy he was supposed to deliver later today. Anxiety-ridden flashes of memory from the suicide walk he had failed to successfully deliver saddled his mind as he poured everything he knew into those words. These words, however, felt different. They felt different from the words he had poured into his blog to thousands of people.

These words not only felt honest, but pure. As if the one thing that had been blocking him for years and years, even before his suicide attempt, was suddenly dissolved.

A buzz from his phone. Aiden rolled the other direction to view the text.

Hey, it’s Lyle. Saying hello. You’ll do great today. Just wanted to thank you for everything. Tom helped me find a clinic to work through my issues. You both saved my life. xx

He smiled ever so slightly and wrote back.

You saved me, too. 

~~~

Prior to this moment, Aiden had always perceived death as a roadblock. An emotional blow to the psyche to remind you that you were finite. At a moment’s notice, it could all end. He took his own potential death, now almost four years ago, as something that was supposed to hurt those around him who had hurt him; i.e. his parents.

However, today marked a new perception. As Aiden was gestured to to take the podium at the church where his mother had set up the service, he walked firmly with a purpose, no longer scared of the crowd of family and friends around him.

Death was about honor. If he had easily given himself up to the stars four years ago, he would’ve robbed himself of the chance to do something honorable with his life. Something small. Something large.

“Something nice.”

Those two first words rang throughout the church with a hint of surprise from the attendees at Aiden’s relatively cheery tone. He noticed Tom in attendance, a couple rows behind his family, giving him a proud smize with his eyes. He also realized Fran’s face was struggling to maintain composure as she oozed concern for her brother. Aiden gave her a gentle nod to let her know he could do this. Julia cocked her head, as if half-intrigued, half-anxious what her usually unstable son was about to say. No matter, though. Aiden was alive today.

“That’s what my mother told me to say today. Something nice about my father, Lawrence Trighton.”

He clocked Julia placing her hand on Fran’s knee for stability. Even Chase was intent on listening to his uncle.

“There was a moment, not long ago, that if I was asked to say something nice about my father, I probably wouldn’t have done so in the slightest.”

Aiden almost chuckled out loud at how white his mother’s face became.

“When we were young, my father used to make me feel as if I would never amount to much outside of the things he himself had accomplished. Which, to be honest, wasn’t much in itself. Moderately successful car salesman in Los Angeles? Cool, dad. Cool.

“He would look at how easily my sister Francesca floated through school, as she found ease in being social and involved in every activity, even if it meant practicing soccer while practicing her Spanish and Latin. As if one language wasn’t enough, Fran, my god!” He winked at his sister as a couple nervous church-goers chuckled. “And that’s why my sister has a beautiful life, balancing an amazing, life-saving career with her beautiful, life-saving son. Because she had support, and she learned not to waste that support but to hone it and turn it into self-sufficiency. My sister learned to live her life being whoever she wanted to be.

“My father, instead, took my weakness, my anxiety, and thought the best way to raise me was to make me see how my anxiety made me hurt Jenna’s feelings in the second grade because I wouldn’t play with her. How it made my teachers scared to use the wrong syntax in a sentence for fear I’d become a recluse. How it made my own parents afraid and unhopeful for their own child’s future.”

Julia shifted uncomfortably in her seat. This clearly wasn’t what she anticipated, hoping for Aiden to conform to her will like he usually did. Aiden wished she would realize there was always dark before dawn. The same applied for her here.

“But now,” Aiden continued, smiling sadly at his mother and sister, “I understand. And I’m not angry anymore. For once in my twenty-seven years of life, I’m no longer angry.

“Being a parent isn’t easy.” Aiden wagged his finger at his nephew. “Chase, are you listening? This part is important.” A couple grins from the crowd emerged. “Not easy at all. You’re constantly, and I mean every waking moment constantly, worried about your child: what he’s eating and if it’s healthy, who she’s befriending and what influence they have on her, what career she’ll eventually choose and if it will be enough to support her, what woman or man he’ll finally settle down with if at all… I thought I had anxiety, but it was nothing compared to that of my parents’.

“My father did his damnedest to make me see that I had no reason to be afraid of everything, most of all myself. He knew that if he told me what he was doing, I wouldn’t understand the point of being alive. Not that I’ll ever fully understand what it means to be alive, but after coming close to losing that feeling once before, I have an inkling of how precious it is.

“I needed to learn that my anxiety was a manifestation of absolutely nothing. I was hindering myself for no reason. Pushing myself inside myself because I was scared of myself. Of what I could be.

“So, Mom, this is what I have to say. This is my something nice.”

Tears began to stream down his mother’s face, as if she was finally seeing her son come alive for the first time. Fran and Tom were beaming.

“My father was an honorable man. He changed my life. Thank you, Daddy. You showed me how to see the world without the chains I thought it had. You showed me how to be myself. Thank you for allowing me the chance to live freely, and…”

He suddenly found himself without air in his throat. Salty water immediately curated in his eyes. He closed them and took three deep breaths, trying to maintain composure. When he opened them again, he found Chase at his side, holding his leg. Aiden picked up his nephew and held his face against his neck. It felt good to hold the little kid. He missed him when he was up north.

Aiden turned back toward the crowd, and whispered:

“Thanks, Dad, for not hating me when I thought I hated you. I love you.”

Chase took that moment to smush Aiden’s cheeks together. “I love you too, Uncle Addy!”

~~~

“What the fuck, that was amazing.”

“Tom! Language!”

Fran jokingly hit Tom’s shoulder as the two of them, with Aiden in the backseat accompanying Chase and saving the child from the profanity, drove back to Fran’s place. The group was in a relatively jolly mood following Aiden’s successful speech.

“Whoops, he’ll learn to like that word.”

“Not yet he won’t!”

Fran parked the car and slowly rolled up the window as she muttered, “Oh fuck.”

“Fran!”

“No – look.”

She pointed at the front door before Aiden and Tom climbed out of the car. There, on the front steps, sat a man with a large bandage on both wrists.

“Who’s that?” Tom asked. “That’s damn creepy.”

Aiden breathed in deeply, knowing this eventually was supposed to happen. Just before he opened the car door, he stated quite clearly for his friend, “His name is Rylan.”

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