Friday, October 26, 2012
Simon had been beat down all his life, he felt. He had grown up in New York City; the “Big City.”
His parents had been too busy for him. His father worked on Wall Street and his mother was a big time lawyer. This meant that Simon was well provided for, at least as far as possessions are concerned. He attended an expensive private school with a bunch of other well-provided children. He had a live-in nanny that fed, dressed and cared for him for most of his life. Every year he, his parents and his nanny would go on an extravagant vacation of his parents’ choosing; usually either the caribbean, Hawaii, Paris, or the like.
Every vacation Simon got up his hoped that this would be the vacation when he’d get to really spend time with his parents, but every year was the same, and Simon would sit, bored on the beach with Nancy, his 60 year old, grey-haired nanny as his parents were yelling on their phones next to each other in their matching beach chairs.
“They love you, my Simon,” Nancy would say, putting down whatever romance novel she was currently reading. “They’re just very busy. Life doesn’t stop because you’re in the caribbean.”
It wasn’t that Simon didn’t enjoy his time with Nancy, but he wanted to be with parents.
Simon had all the newest things. He had an XBox 360, a PS3 and a Wii. He had every version of iPad, iPod and iPod Touch. He had several laptops in every different shape and size. His tv was as big as his wall. He had so many toys that he had an entire room just to hold the overflow from his room. He had every possession that a ten year old could want or need, and a lot that he didn’t want or need, but he was lacking friends.
Going to an elite private school was supposed to be an honor and a good thing, but Simon didn’t see it that way. When he watched TV, he wished he were in a school like the ones he saw on the shows he watched. The students on TV complained about math tests and book reports. When they left school, they hung out with friends and played baseball or soccer. At Simon’s school, they had creative group circles, wheat grass smoothies, and interpretive dance. And forget about spending time with friends or playing sports.
The other children who went to school with Simon were much happier and adjusted to their life styles. They would brag to each other about the things they have or where they’re going for Spring Break, competing to be the best. Even though he had been in school with them all for years, he couldn’t remember a single real conversation with any of them.
As for sports, the only sport that his parents allowed was fancy, which he did three times a week. He had a private coach he practiced with, and the whole time he just though about how much he just wished he could be outside playing regular sports with regular kids.
When he made it to high school, he was in a more traditional, but still elite school. Suddenly he was expected to understand math, biology, read books and write reports and be able to speak French. To say that he struggled was an understatement.
After his first semester, he learned he had failed every course. When his parents received his report card, he thought that they would scold him, or say something, but instead, they called up the school and made a donation, erasing the “F’s” from his transcript and then called for a very expensive private tutor, never even speaking to him, or asking why he had done so poorly.
Four years passed with Simon feeling like an outcast; studying with his tutor five days a week, balancing fencing and viola lessons, as his parents had decided, without speaking to him, that he needed to play an instrument, that it would look good when applying for college.
What didn’t change was his loneliness. He still didn’t have any friends and found that he was unable to relate to people. He had spent all his life uncomfortable that he couldn’t figure out how to properly interact with people. He never dated, went to a dance, joined a club, a team, and most definitely didn’t attend prom/
His parents didn’t attend his graduation. He looked into the crowd and saw little old Nancy waving back to him, romance novel tucked under her arm in case the ceremony got a little boring.
He wanted to go to a “normal” college, but his parents decided, without as much as a conversation, that he should go to their alma mater. So they gave Princeton University a very large donation, and before Simon could object, he was an ivy league man.
The first week of school, Simon was recruited to join the crew team. He had been scouted due to his physique; the lean, toned body of a man that had survived solely off of a gluten-free, organic vegetarian diet and fencing lessons his entire life. It also didn’t hurt that he sprouted up to six feet over his senior year of high school.
Simon’s parents hadn’t objected to crew since the Princeton crew team was very prestigious.
Simon was put in the 5 seat in the freshmen boat. “Not a bad seat at all,” his coach told him. “Right in the middle of the boat.”
The other guys in his boat were nice, but a little snooty and Simon found it hard tom communicate with them. Over the first two years, they were amicable, but they were never friends.
Meanwhile, Simon was still playing the viola,by his parents’ command, and was in pre-law, at his mother’s command.
Simon, despised what he was learning, and found he was happiest when he was on the water.
The synchronization of the oars, the power put into every stroke, knowing that without his power, full attention and timing, the boat would fail. It was the first time he felt like he was necessary. He may not have been friends with his teammates, but when they were in the boat, he was one of eight, and he was needed. They put their faith into him. Over the first three years he remained in 5 seat and only once was 5 seat the cause of a loss or concern.
His parents had felt that he shouldn’t have to share a room with anyone else, so after another donation, housing looked pass the rule that no freshman can have a single, and for four years, Simon had a single room and, in turn, met no one in his residence halls.
He had no need for study groups, as his parents had, once again, paid for a private tutor. As such, he didn’t make any real connections with any of his classmates.
He was never a large concern to his professors. He passed all of his tests and papers. They might have all been “B’s” and “C’s,” but that was fine. In turn, his professors never knew him, outside of his name on his papers and the roster.
In what little free time he had between early morning crew practice 6 days a week, class, orchestra on Wednesday nights, viola lessons and practice 7 days a week, and tutoring 5 days a week, Simon enjoyed reading.
He found that when he read, he was able to, momentarily, escape his own personal life. Suddenly understanding Nancy and her obsession with romance novels, Simon always made sure to have a book with him.
In his junior year, Simon went to check his mailbox and found a letter from his father. He was thrilled at seeing his father’s familiar handwriting on the envelope. The envelope was thing, so he knew that it couldn’t be anything, but his heart still raced as he carefully separated the seal.
He pulled out the letter inside and unfolded it. The letter was written on his father’s letter head. The handwriting was no longer his father’s, but his secretary, Mary Stewert’s. It read:
Your father asked that I write to inform you that on November the 7th, your nanny, Nancie Thoman passed away from heart trouble. The funeral was on the 11th in Rochester where her parents are buried. Your parents and tutor thought it best to not bother you around mid-terms so decided to wait to inform you until now.
My condolences and sorry for any inconveniences this may cause
Simon held the letter in his hands, standing in the post office, unable to decide how he felt. He was angry that his parents had not told him about Nancy until now, that his father couldn’t tell him himself over the phone or even writing the letter himself, and that Mary Stewert had written Nancy’s name “Nancie.” He was confused as to what heart problems Nancy had died from. She was 76 or 77, he couldn’t remember, but she had never shown any signs in the past few times he had seen her of heart trouble, although, he acknowledged, he hadn’t seen her since the summer, and it was now December. He was curious if his parents had attended the funeral without him. He was furious that they hadn’t told him sooner so that he could have attended to pay his respects and that they probably hadn’t gone and had most likely just sent some flowers with a pre-written card stuck onto them. But mostly, he was sadder than he had ever felt, knowing that the only person he ever really spoke to or was able to feel comfortable with was now gone and he hadn’t even been able to say goodbye.
At that moment he dropped the letter to the floor and couldn’t stop himself from breaking down. At first, no one helped him, but rather they just stared at him like he was delusional and someone to avoid.
Suddenly Simon felt someone touch his shoulder gently.
Simon realized he was on the ground in the middle of the post office and that he had been crying and screaming. He looked around at everyone looking at him in horror. Their eyes showed absolute terror, as though he were about to jump up and start shooting a gun he had concealed in his breast pocket.
He turned and looked at the person touching his shoulder and saw it was Sean Worthington III. Sean was the stroke of his varsity crew boat. (The stroke is the most important and, in the varsity, heavyweight boat, arguably the best rower on the entire team. He and Simon had only spoken one other time when Simon had made it into the varsity boar at the beginning of the year when Sean, who was also the team captain, and a senior, came over to him, welcomed him to the varsity boat with his too perfect smile, and introduced himself, even though Simon of course knew who he was. After that, for the past three months, they both rowed in the same boat together, and Simon would only be addressed by Sean when he was addressing the entire boat. He was the type of captain that wouldn’t yell at the team when they were not performing to his standards, rather he would give encouraging words and speak only of what they could do to make the boat better. Simon loved that about being in his boat. In his experience, it was bad enough to be yelled at by the coach, lest by the stroke of the boat, one of his peers. Sean was never that way. He seemed to be the “glass is half full” type of guy at all times.
“Simon,” he said softly in Simon’s ear as Simon looked at the people around him at the post office. “Simon, let’s get you up and out of here. We’ll go talk somewhere else. Okay?”
Sean put his arm around Simon’s waist and his other hand under Simon’s arm to help him stand up. He stooped down and picked up the letter written by Mary Stewert and tucked it into his front coat pocket. before putting his arm back around Simon, as though he were worried he would collapse a second time.
He walked Simon through the crowd of people that had formed, neither yelling “What are you looking at?”, “What, you never cry before?” or “Go on, you spectators!”, or pushing them aside, but rather he just calmly walked Simon through the crowd, saying normally, “Excuse me,” and “Pardon me.”
Sean walked Simon to Triumph Brewing Company and sat him down at a table in the back of the bar area, out of ear shot. He went up to the bar and came back with two beers.
“Here ya go,” he said, putting the beer in front of Simon. “It seems like you could use it right about now.”
The thrum of the music calmed Simon down a bit. He took the beer off the table and looked at it. He wasn’t turning 21 until February, and he had never drank a beer before, having never had friends to invite him to a party. He took a sip and must’ve made a face because Sean laughed a real hearty laugh. “You not much of a beer drinker?” he asked with his irritatingly perfect smile.
Simon swallowed hard, “First time,” he choked.
“Really?!” coughed Sean, having taken a sip of his beer, eyes slightly bulged. “You’re a junior this year, right?” Simon nodded. “How on Earth did you accomplish that one?!” he laughed slightly. It made Simon laugh as well.
“You know,” said Sean, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile before dude.” He laughed again, taking another sip of his beer. Simon followed suit, fighting the urge to make a sour face at the foreign taste. “So,” began Sean, losing the grin, replacing it with a face that showed more concern than Simon was used to seeing directed to him. “Do you want to tell me what that was about at the post office?” He handed over the letter. “You don’t need to, of course,” he threw up his hands in a way meaning to show that he didn’t mean to push Simon. “It’s your call here man. If you don’t want to, we could talk about something else. We can just sit here and talk about... I don’t know,” he playing with his slightly long, purposefully unkempt looking dark brown hair as he though, “You watch Survivor, or follow our joke of a football team?”
Simon felt that he was smiling slightly again. “No,” he sighed, “it’s okay. I mean...” he stumbled for words, not used to speaking this much normally. “I guess it would be good to talk to someone and,” he paused, realizing just how strange his life was, “I don’t have anyone else, really, to talk to about it.” He thought of who else he could talk to. He saw in his mind’s eye his crew coach, who he had never actually really spoken to before, his viola instructor who he feared, and his tutor, who he though would rather be anywhere but with Simon every day when he was tutoring him. (Simon acknowledged that he was supposed to be with him right now and decided to ignore his phone vibrating in his pocket, knowing it was him calling to see where he was.) ‘So,’ he thought, ‘why not talk to Sean Woorthington III about it?’
Simon found himself pouring himself out to Sean. He had started with talking about the letter and about Nancy, but soon after he had started talking about everything; how he had never been happy at home, or school, and how he had never had any friends other than Nancy and how he was in pre-law because his mom wanted him to be, but he had no interest and he couldn’t even tell her because he couldn’t even remember the last time they had ever actually spoken, besides saying good morning and goodnight when he is home for holidays, and even then she’s always on the phone or busy in her office.
He felt time passing as he talked. Sean had ordered a second and a third round of beers for them, but otherwise he had sat very attentively, nodding and “mmhmm”ing, looking very interested.
Simon started to feel the affects of the alcohol as he talked and he was saying more than he probably would have it he had been sober.
Simon began to be aware of the time as he looked towards the front of the bar and saw the darkness out of the front windows. He could’ve sworn it was only two o’clock when they had gotten there. He started to feel guilty, acknowledging that Sean probably had other things that he was keeping him from, like classes or friends. He stopped telling the story he was telling about the time that he and his family had gone to Disney World and his parents had told Nancy that she could take the day off so they could spend some quality time with him, but then had done the usual thing and had taken calls the moment they got into the park. Simon had spent the rest of the day wandering around the park alone, at twelve years old. He stopped and looked at Sean, amazed that he was still listening intently, even though the clock behind him on the wall said it was 8PM.
As Simon looked into Sean’s deep brown eyes, Sean just said, “What happened then?” asking for more of the story; the first time he had actually spoken in hours.
Simon was in awe. No one had actually talked with him this long before, lest listened to him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, dropping his head, breaking eye contact with Sean.
“For what?” asked Sean, sounding honestly lost.
“You don’t want to hear me ramble on, feeling bad for myself for hours.”
Sean laughed heartily, “Simon, it seems you really needed to get some stuff off your chest! I’m happy to listen to you!”
“But don’t you have classes to go to, or friends you’d rather be with?”
“Eh! Dude, I’m a senior. If I haven’t figured out how to pass my classes without skipping a classes every now and then by this stage in the game, then I should be embarrassed, and dude, you’re a friend. Why not spend time with you instead of one of my other friends? And hell,” he scoffed, “one of those friends will lie to my Italian professor about why I’m not at my Italian Lit. class right now. So we’re all good.”
Simon’s mind began to race as Sean called him a friend. Was that true? Had he actually made a friend? They had never really talked before, but if Sean called him a friend, then they had to be right? He had no idea what it felt like to be friends with someone. ‘Was this what it was like?’ he wondered.
“Thanks Sean,” said Simon, with a smile on his face. “You are a good friend,” he put a little too much emphasis on the word “friend,” he thought. He didn’t want to blow this.
“No problem dude!” laughed Sean, drinking more beer.
‘What should I say next?’ thought Simon, panicked. He really had no idea how to communicate with people his age. The only conversations he ever had were with Nancy. “So, what about you?” he asked Sean, almost questioning his choice of questions while questioning Sean. “Do you have any terrible family stories?”
Sean burst out laughing, making Simon feel like he had made a mistake. He felt panic building within him, but Sean just said, “Man, who doesn’t!” and laughed again. “But dude,” he said, seriously, “you don’t need to hear my family problems. I mean, for the most part they’re pretty tame. All in all I had a really good childhood.”
“Well,” said Simon with a grin, “I told you about my family,” he paused, “go ahead.” He leaned back in his chair.
Sean gave him a half grin, raising an eyebrow. “Okay,” he laughed slightly.
Sean explained how he had grown up in Connecticut. One of three children, the middle child between two sisters, he explained how his grandfather had been partially responsible for the invention of crazy glue, although the credit goes to Harvey Wesley Coover Jr.. Regardless, the fortune from even being a partial inventor made it possible for his family want for nothing.
He told a story completely different than Simon’s, but strikingly similar. Where Simon had never gotten to really spend much time with his parents, Sean spent maybe “too much,” Sean joked. He described vacations where he, his sisters and parents would do everything together. He explained how his father was also a lawyer, and made good money, but how he chose his cases were based on his personal values. He would oftentimes represent clients pro-bono just because he felt that they needed help. He told Simon how he had gone to private school as well, but had been a rower there as well and had made a lot of friends, many of whom he was still in good touch with. He bragged that he had been homecoming king, and later, even though administration said he couldn’t, he was also voted prom king. Lastly, he told Simon how he had chosen to be come to Princeton because his parents had met there, making him a legacy like Simon, and his father had been a rower and he wanted to follow in his footsteps. He had also chosen to go to school for Italian because he wanted to live in Italy one day and teach English while traveling around Europe; not as someone wealthy, but as just a regular guy. He also told Simon how his parents are completely supportive of this, feeling that it will be good for him to see how other people live, and to become more appreciative for what he has.
While Sean spoke, Simon was listening, completely jealous of the life that Sean is living, as well as just thinking how excited he was that Sean was talking with just him; friend to friend.
“Wow,” sighed Simon, finally, finishing off his fourth beer.
Sean laughed, “Yeah, it’s been an okay life, I guess,” he laughed again. Suddenly he looked down at his watch, a gnarly looking metal thing with a shockingly blue face. “Woah! I didn’t realize how late it was!” (It was 11:10PM) “We sure know how to talk!”
Simon felt that familiar pang of panic, making it feel like he was going to vomit. He was terrified that Sean would have to go and they’d never talk again like this; that they were only “friends;” that this was only a one time thing.
“Some of the guys from the team and I are going to catch the midnight showing of that new Bruce Willis movie tonight. That one where he travels into the future, finds his future wife, impregnates her and then travels further into the future, takes his future child, who’s now like 28 or something, and brings him back to the present to help him assassinate the president who’s from an alternate future run by zombies. Or something like that...” he scrunched his face up a little. “The preview seemed confusing but awesome!”
“Oh,” said Simon, while Sean was still saying “awesome” more like “awwwwww-some.”
“So, you gonna come with?” asked Sean with a huge grin. “We could still get a ticket. I got the Fandango app on my phone. There are bound to still be tickets. You in?!”
Simon was in shock. He had never been invited anywhere before. “Um... sure!” he mumbled.
“Sweet!” Sean shouted, holding his phone. “Okay, I bought your ticket. You can just get the next one.” Simon’s heart raced at the idea of a “next one.”
“We better get going,” Sean said, jumping up from the table, making some sort of hand gesture to the girl at the bar, who smiled giant at him, nodding. “I said I’d meet the guys at the theater in 15 minutes, so we better move!”
Sean had a cool sports car. Simon didn’t know much about cars, but he knew enough to know it was expensive. He really appreciated the fact that Sean didn’t make a big deal of it. It was as though he just thought, ‘Eh, yeah, it’s my car, whatever.’ Simon could imagine him saying that if he asked him about it.
Sean drove with both windows down and the music playing loudly. He had asked Simon if that was okay. Simon, of course, said it was fine. He would have minded if Sean had said he’d need to ride in the trunk. He was going out to a movie with his friend, and the coolest guy he had ever known.
When they got to the theater they met up with Sean’s other friends; all the guys from the JV and varsity boats, who were already in line waiting to get into the midnight showing.
“About time!” shouted out Adam Gravis, who Simon recognized as 7 seat.
“Who’s that?” asked bow seat, Thomas Okra.
“Dude! It’s Simon!” said Sean, very nonchalant, as if to say, “Come on, really?!”
All the guys just stared blankly.
“Simon Carlisle?” asked Sean, trying to get them to recognize Simon. They continued to stare. “5 seat?!” he asked, arms out to his sides, as though he were about to scream at them.
“Simon!” they all yelled.
“Sorry bro,” said Michael O’Neill, 4 Seat. “I usually only see the back of your head in the boat!” He spun Simon around so he was behind him. “Ahhhh! See! If you had walked in backwards I woulda known you immediately!” They all laughed at that.
“How you doing, my man?” asked 6 Seat, Eric Wenshellier. “You don’t usually come out!”
“Heh, yeah, I don’t know. I’m usually busy?” he said for some reason as a question.
“Well it’s good to have ya here, ya jerk!” 3 Seat, Paul Karlowitz, pushing him. “Finally we can start building some team unity! About time!” he threw his hands into the air, comically.
2 Seat, Matt Smith, grunted slightly and nodded his head his way. Simon always seemed to feel Matt was irritated that Simon was farther up in boat than he was even though he was only a Junior and he was a Senior. He never really understood this though, since Matt was a port rower and Simon was a starboard.
All the JV guys introduced themselves, which felt weird to Simon, since some of them were Juniors and he had rowed with them the past two years and he knew all of their names already, but he didn’t say anything.
Simon barely watched the movie. He was just so excited to be there that the movie didn’t really matter.
The following months were some of the best Simon could remember. He still was upset about Nancy, but things were so much better now. He found himself praying, asking God to thank her for him; that her death had, in its way, had been one last kind gesture she had done for him. Her death was the only reason, Simon realized, that he and Sean had become friends in the first place.
And what friends that had become.
Crew practice had become so much more fun, now that the guys new him and didn’t only think of him as “5 Seat.” Suddenly, the time before and after they practiced on the rower machines, or ergometers, as they’re called, or “ergs,” as they called them, was filled with conversation, goofing off, and pranks on the coach or the JV or freshman rowers. He wondered if this had been happening the whole time and he just hadn’t noticed before.
Before winter break, after practice, they’d all go to the dining hall, like the plague of locusts.
During the day, he and Sean would text back and forth during boring classes and would usually meet up for dinner and then would oftentimes hang out afterwards; sometimes with the other guys, sometimes without.
When winter break came, Sean invited Simon to spend it with him and his family. He said his family would be happy to have him along for their trip to Disney, where, Sean joked, “you’d get to see what a real Disney trip is like!”
Simon called his dad several times and left messages with Mary Stewert before receiving a call from her saying that “[His] parents regret [his] decision to spend Christmas from home, but they will permit it.”
So began Simon’s best Christmas ever.
Sean’s house was a mansion on the water. There was a giant yacht on the house’s dock. Simon stood with his mouth agape.
“Don’t make a big deal,” Sean pleaded. “I told you we have money, but it’s no big thing. Except,” he grinned, “that yacht you’re staring at is out little one... the big one has to stay at the marina... It’s too big for the dock,” he laughed crazily, walking into the house, giving the butler by the front door a high five as he passed.
Christmas eve dinner was like nothing Simon had ever experienced. Sean had said the seven fish dinner was an Italian tradition. It was wild. All of Sean’s family was present. He got to meet his immediate family (parents and sisters) as well as his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, second cousins once removed, and so on. They were all so wonderful. It was a little too much to take in.
They all went to midnight mass after dinner, which was beautiful, and then went to sleep.
Christmas morning, Simon didn’t expect any presents, however Sean’s family had gone all out and he had a good twenty gifts; all of which were heart-felt, not necessarily expensive. His favorites were the blanket Sean’s mother made that was a deep blue with constellations stitched into it so that it seemed to be a perfect astrological map, the scarf and hat his sisters had made him, and the very complex looking dreamcatcher that Sean made him, which had many different interconnecting rings and stitching. He preferred this gifts to any gift he had ever received.
The rest of the day they just enjoyed the day and each other. They watched Christmas movies and lounged around the house in their pajamas.
Disney was amazing. They left for Disney World the day after Christmas, and they stayed until the day before he and Sean needed to go to winter training for crew, which was also down in Florida.
When they had to leave to meet up with the team, Simon was so sad to leave Sean’s family that he couldn’t resist crying. They all kept reminding him that he was welcome back at any time. Simon liked that and tried to imagine himself as part of the Woorthington family. They all hugged him as he left with Sean.
Winter training down in Florida was like one giant, ridiculous vacation with friends, where you just so happened to also be rowing twice a day, and felt close to death at all times, but somehow that made it even more fun.
He couldn’t believe how he had spent the previous years at training; completely alone, going back to the hotel and resting between practices.
When they were done with each practice every day, they’d go get lunch or dinner and then they’d go swim in the hotel’s pool, go catch some movies, go see the local night life (not drinking, of course) and do some touristy things. They’d make sure to always get back to the hotel by 10PM though at night so they could get to bed to be ready for the following morning’s early morning practice.
Sean and Simon shared the same bed. Simon felt happy and safe knowing he was sleeping with him.
When they got back to school after training, it seemed as though the time spent together had really cemented the bond of their friendships with Simon. He was really a part of their group now, and that felt great.
Now that they were back at school, they all hung out daily.
On February 1st they were back on the water, and happily so, even if it was still bitter cold. Anything was better than being on ergs every day. Simon thought that if he ever saw an erg again, it would be too soon.
Simon’s 21st was on February 12th. He didn’t expect anything but Sean wouldn’t hear it. He got the guys together and they ended up throwing a huge bash for him. They went to almost every bar in the area trying to get Simon to the 21 drink mark. His tolerance had improved greatly since he started hanging out with the guys, but he was still very grateful that it was Saturday and they’d have the following day off, because he was going to be sick.
It was an amazing night, what he remembered of it. The guys brought him back to Sean’s off-campus apartment at around 3AM so that he could keep an eye on him so that he wouldn’t die in the middle of the night. They threw him down on one side of Sean’s king-size bed before all leaving, still in an uproar, except for Paul, 3 Seat, and Adam, 7 Seat, who shared the other room in the apartment.
“You sure you got this?” asked Adam.
“Yeah, bro looks ripe for blowing some chunks,” laughed Paul.
“Yeah guys,” grinned Sean, pulling out a bucket from the closet. “Just in case...” he laughed, putting the bucket on Simon’s side of the bed near his head.
“Oh man... you’re gonna be paying for the cleaning supplies and air freshener to make this place not stink of vomit for weeks, man,” said Paul, with a sneer on his face. “And we’ll get to see your potential as a janitor in the process.”
“Got it,” Sean said, smugly, as though cleaning was a hard task, or that it would hit his wallet to buy some cleaning supplies in the event things got out of hand.
Adam and Paul left the room and Sean turned off the lights and threw himself down on the other side of the bed than Simon, and passed out.
At around 5AM, Simon woke up with that, oh familiar feeling that he needed to throw up. He sat up fast in the bed, realizing he was not in his dorm room, but Sean’s apartment. He saw the bright red bucket out of the corner of his eye and quickly turned to it just in time to empty, what felt like, everything in his body into it.
He sat for a moment with his face partially in the half-vomit-filled bucket, breathing hard. Finally, he lifted himself back up into a seated position on the bed.
“Here ya go,” Sean said, groggily next to him, handing him a bottle of mouthwash, still lying down, eyes closed, hair flat against his head.
Simon grinned, took the bottle from Sean’s outstretched hand, took a swig, swished it around and spat it into the bucket.
He sat back up on the bed and turned to see Sean, already passed out. He laid down and looked at his face for a moment before going back to sleep, smiling every time they bumped into each other over the course of the night.
Shortly after his birthday, everyone’s classes seemed to all pick up. Suddenly they were all trying to do things together, but classwork kept getting in the way, and by the time race season started up, outside of practice, Simon had only seen Sean a dozen times for a meal, and the rest of the guys, even less.
Race season meant traveling. Simon was excited to get off campus, even if one of those races was just down at Rutgers University.
The first race was up at Yale University in Connecticut. Sean was excited since they’d be going near home. The previous two years Yale had raced at Princeton, so Simon thought to himself that even though the boathouse was amazing, Yale’s was just so “cool,” he thought. The front gate was made of metal oars and the whole structure looked like a giant boat. He loved everything about it and tried to imagine how much fun it would be if he had gone to Yale and that was where he rowed every day.
The coach decided it would only be a day trip, and they wouldn’t be staying the night. Simon had slept up the whole way and was excited to race. It had been so long since he had, besides practice races back at school.
Yale put up a good fight, but their boat just beat them out in the end, and so they began the season on a positive note.
After that, every race was theirs. The unity of the varsity boat was complete. They moved as one and put everything they had into each race. One by one, Georgetown, UPenn, Columbia, MIT, Cornell, Syracuse, Harvard and Brown fell the by the wayside.
The final race was at Rutgers. When they got to the boathouse, which was off the main highway, Simon had a moment of shock, as he did every time he came to the state university, at just how crappy and small their boathouse was. Regardless, he feared the Rutgers rowers a bit. He had beat them the previous two years, but there was something to them that was somewhat intimidating. He thought it might’ve been how they were so unlike him. He had grown up going to private schools, with a silver spoon in his mouth. The Rutgers rowers were the public school kids he had never known. They were tough. They looked somewhat dirty, even though they dressed in clean unisuits as they were. Simon saw them as scarred, angry and bigger than they were.
The race wasn’t too hard. They held onto their perfect season and beat the Rutgers boat by a boat length, but that didn’t change how Simon thought; watching their stroke shout out in exasperation, knowing Rutgers’ strong desire to beat Princeton every year. He felt for them.
They got back to campus around 5PM. It was a Saturday, there was no practice the following day, and they had two weeks until, possibly, their final race at Sprints, unless they ended up being asked to race in the IRA’s.
When they were back on campus, they partied. Sean had everyone over to his apartment, and had bought several kegs prior to leaving for Rutgers. All the boats were there; varsity, JV and freshmen. He also recognized some of the lightweight and women rowers every now and then, although he knew none of their names. He knew they had done well in their seasons too though, although his boat was the only undefeated team. There were also many others he didn’t know who must’ve been friends of some of the rowers.
Around 2AM, the party started to slow down. Some people were still sitting in the living room talking and drinking. Simon had been having some funny conversations with the JV 4 seat, women’s varsity 6 and 3 seats, the varsity coxswain, a small red haired guy who normally never hung out with them, and a freshman lightweight who was close with JV 4 Seat, though Sean hadn’t caught was seat he was, or his name.
Sean had gone into his room an hour earlier. He said he had a headache, which was normal for him. He had said he just needed to get out of the noise of the living room.
Simon thought he should go check in on him. He knocked lightly on his bedroom door, in case his head was still bothering him. “Hey Sean, it’s Simon.”
“Ah, come on in dude!” Sean called back.
Simon went into the room. Sean was sitting on his bed playing some game on his iPad. He was shirtless still from when he had spilled his seventh or eighth beer on himself. Simon marveled at how muscular he was, making himself feel self-conscious.
“Pop a squat!” Sean said, not looking away from his game, but hitting the bed with his left hand before going, “Oooh!” and quickly grabbing the iPad’s other side with his left hand and quickly tapping something on the screen.
Simon sat down, kicking his shoes off over the end of the bed. “So, you feeling better then, I’m guessing?” he asked.
“Oh God yes!” laughed Sean. “Motrin is quite the amazing thing.: He turned the iPad suddenly, tapping it simultaneously. “Anyone still out there?” he asked, head turned to look at the tilted screen.
“Eh, only a few.”
“Damn!” Sean called out.
“Yeah...” he sighed. “I can’t beat my stupid high score on this thing!” He frowned, pressing the home button on the screen, leaving the game.
Simon grunted, as to say, “That sucks!”
“Hey,” grinned Sean, “I got some good videos I’ve been meaning to show you, but we haven’t really hung out recently at all!” He found a video on the iPad. “Seriously,” he looked into Simon’s eyes, only a few inches away, making him feel weird, “you gotta watch this. It’s hys-terical!”
They watched video after video, cracking up at them. Simon thrilled at how close they had to sit next to each other so they could both watch the sae small screen. He took notice that their legs were touching.
“Come on,” said Sean at one point, turning to look at Simon. “You know that was funny!”
Before Simon knew what he was doing, he grabbed Sean’s face and kissed him on the mouth.
Their lips were connected for only four glorious moments before Simon felt Sean’s hands push against his chest, separating them.
His face seemed to be shocked and apologetic, but what hit Simon was the small amount of disgust across his face, as though Sean wanted to spit off Simon’s germs from his lips or something.
“Woah,” said Sean, moving away from Simon on the bed, making Simon’t chest constrict. “Dude,” he seemed to be looking for the right words, pausing, “you know I think the world of you,” he paused again, “and you’re one of my closest friends,” another pause, “but,” the pauses were unbearable to Simon. “I just don’t swing that way, dude.” He reached over, as though it were hard to, as though Simon were suddenly some sort of dangerous, poisonous creature, something to avoid. He touched his arm, awkwardly. “I mean, I think no differently about you dude, but I’m sorry I can’t see you that way.”
Simon was having trouble breathing. He knew Sean was trying to be nice, but he knew he thought differently of him now. Hell, he thought differently of himself now.
Fighting to find the strength to speak, SImon quickly rattled out, while he still had himself together “No, you’re right, I don’t know what I was thinking, I should just go, I mean, it’s late, and I have a lot of work to do tomorrow, and I should be sleeping, and I should get back to my dorm, we’ll talk later, we’re fine, sorry.”
“No,” Sean cut in. “You don’t need to go. You can stay... here.” Simon could feel that he didn’t really mean that. He wanted Simon to leave as much as he did at that moment.
“No, I...” Simon stopped, feeling tears welling up in his eyes, not wanting to cry in front of Sean. “I... I... I should go!” he barked, trying to open this door, failing twice. At last he swung it open, passed through the living room, ignoring Adam and Paul’s questions, and ran out the front door as the tears started to streak down his face and he fought the sobs that tried to escape.
He cried himself to sleep in his dorm room that night, repetitively asking himself, “What is wrong with me?”
He was grateful to have the whole next day to himself. Even though he didn’t think he could talk to Sean if he were to call, he continually hoped that he would contact him somehow. Every few seconds he would look at his phone for texts and check his Facebook.
On Monday morning he went to practice. The coach had them huddled together to talk about how well they’d done and how that didn’t mean that they could give up, that this was the time for them to keep pushing themselves for Sprints and the IRAs.
Simon couldn’t bring himself to look at anyone on the team, especially Sean. He knew Sean must’ve told everyone and he just wanted to pretend that he was back at the beginning of the year when he never spoke to anyone.
Practice was fine. As soon as they got back to the boathouse, cleaning off the boat and put it away, Simon quickly grabbed his stuff, jumped on his bike, and sped off, figuring he could shower back at the dorm before class.
The next two weeks went by much the same. He hadn’t heard from Sean outside of some texts that simply said, “Dinner?” or some that asked, “You okay?” Simon couldn’t decide which was worse, the ones that seemed to be uncaring for his feelings, or the ones where it seemed as though he had no choice but to ask how he was doing. Any communication with Seam, Simon decided was far to painful.
By the time they were heading to Sprints up in Massachusetts Simon hadn’t spoken to anyone on the team in two weeks. He knew somewhere in himself that this was all his fault, but the paranoia building inside of him made him feel as though they had all cut him off after hearing about him kissing Sean.
The drive up, he sat alone with headphones in his ears, ignoring the laughter behind him from the varsity guys, deciding it was probably at his expense. He had forgotten his phone at home, which had his most recent playlist, so he was listening to his iPod, which he had been meaning to update. ‘This day is off to a great start,’ he thought.
When they reached Worcester, Mass., all the varsity guys walked by him, getting off the bus, hitting him on the shoulder, laughing; with every hit making him feel worse than he already did. Sean exited last. Before getting off the bus, he looked back over the front seat and have Simon a small smile that made Simon divert his eyes.
They went out on the water just to practice the course. The row was easy, with some small pieces every now and then; to practice their start or their “power 10’s.”
They went to their hotel after. Simon had asked the coach to not put him in the same room as Sean. The coach had obliged, not asking any questions. Simon figured he knew the reason. Instead, he was with Wayne, the coxswain, Thomas (bow seat), and, to his dismay, Matt (2 seat). Somehow, Simon ended up in the same bed as Matt.
Matt was already laying in bed when Simon came out of the bathroom and went to lay down. As he got into the bed, Matt snorted, “Now you stay on your side, okay?” he laughed, nastily. “I don’t need any goodnight kisses or anything, although I guess a blow job is a blow job.” He laughed again, then said, “Wait, scratch that, keep to your side,” and chuckled to himself, rolling over so he faced the wall, away from Simon.
Simon was in too much shock to even say anything in response. His mind was racing. So Sean had been telling everyone. He was laughing behind his back with the rest of the team. He was laughing stock. He wanted to break down in tears, but at the same time he was so angry that he just wanted to yell. He wanted to yell at Matt, he wanted to yell at Wayne and Thomas who were already asleep in their bed. He wanted to yell for the sole purpose of yelling, but mostly, he wanted to run out of the room, find Sean’s room, bang on the door until he opened it and yell at him until he couldn’t yell anymore; until his throat was sore and all he was able to do was wave his arms around, angrily. He might even punch him in that pretty face of his.
Instead, Simon pushed these feelings down and laid down, turning away from Matt, feeling him move even further away from him, making a grunted laugh in the back of his throat. It was hours before sleep finally overpowered Simon’s anger and depression and he slept uneasily.
When he woke up, Simon ignored Matt’s snickering, put on his uni and sweats, packing his bag, left the room, and headed downstairs to the lobby, headphones in his ears. He walked outside to the bus. He was the first one downstairs and it was still very early and mist hung cold in the air. He banged the door of the bus and the bus driver, who was already aboard, opened up. He got on the bus and went to the back, sitting down with his bag on the seat next to him, looking out the window opposite the hotel so that no one would see him as they came to the bus. He pretended to go back to sleep and waited for the bus to go.
When they reached the regatta, he made sure to be anywhere else by around the team. He went and looked at what the vendors had, sat by the water on the beach watching lightweight heats, it didn’t matter, as long as he was away from his team.
Before they were going out for their heat he heard his coach yell, “Carlisle!” down the beach. “What the hell are you doing?! You’re going out on the water! Meet up. Now!”
They met with the coach and heard his pep talk. It was always much of the same. He tild them to row together and that all they had to do was make it to the finals; that if they didn’t win the heat, it wasn’t the end.
Simon avoided everyone’s eyes and was happy to just be in the boat.
They did the same practice “power 10’s” and things on the way to the starting line.
The race felt like it passed in the blink of an eye and they won their heat.
When they got back to shore, their coach congratulated them and told them to rest up until 2PM, when he wanted them back to talk before the finals.
Once again, Simon made himself vanish as quietly as he could before anyone could say anything to him.
At two, after watching some really exciting heats and the lightweight finals where Princeton came in second to Columbia, Simon walked to where his team was meeting up.
The coach’s pep talk was a little more dramatic than usual, but definitely what they needed. SImon was ready.
As they went to get the boat, Sean came over to Simon. “Hey dude, cane we talk after the race?” he asked, gently. “I’ve been trying to catch you, but I guess you’ve been busy the past two weeks, and today you seem in the zone, but you think...”
Simon cut him off, “Just quit it, Sean!” he snapped and went to his place at the boat, ready to take it off the racks and down to the water, ready to destroy the other teams.
He was furious. As they got the boat to the water, and paddled to the starting line, taking it easy before the race, he couldn’t help but hear what Sean had said. “I’ve been trying to catch you.” He thought, ‘Catch me? he practically ignored me for the past two weeks while joking about me behind my back to the other guys! The nerve of that guy! Trying to act as though he’s still my friend!’
They were at the starting line, waiting for the signal to go. He was at the catch, oar blade in the water.
The start of the race was always his favorite part. It was so fast paced. Their coxswain had them go: half stroke, half stroke, 3-quarter, lengthen, lengthen full; high stroke rate, before settling into a steady pace that they would be able to maintain throughout the course of the 2K race.
The call was made and they took their first stroke, then their next. Simon put all his frustration into each stroke. Then, what ever rower hopes will never happen to them during a race, happened. While Simon angrily went to lengthen to a 3-quarter stroke, his oar got caught, or, as they say, he “caught a crab.” His oar was stuck in the water and he had no choice by to lay back as the handle flew over his head in a neon green blue.
Everyone started to cry out in exasperation and the coxswain yelled for everyone to stop so that Simon could get the oar out. Everyone’s eyes were on his as fought to get his oar righted as they all watched the other teams’ boats fly down the course.
Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, Simon was ready again and he saw Sean’s face, looking at him with a face that he read as fury fury, after all, this was his final Sprints. He then heard him yell, “We might be down, but we’re not out! We can still take this back!”
The coxswain called out, “Let’s do this! From the start!”
As though it hadn’t happened, or as if they were back on Lake Carnegie in a practice race, they redid their start and then followed as the coxswain called for “power 10” after “power 10.”
“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up!” he called. “Give me everything you’ve got!”
They moved, and passed the farthest back boat, Harvard, and was coming up on Rutgers. As they began to overtake them though, Rutgers seemed to gain some strength from seeing Princeton trying to take them out and picked up speed, making Princeton’s move unlikely as they approached the final 500.
Simon’s body ached as he put every little bit of himself into each stroke. He could feel the lactic acid coming up in his throat and wasn’t sure he had it in him. The sound of Rutgers’ coxswain yelling, “We might not win this, but we’re not gonna let Princeton beat us!” filled his ears along with the coach’s words that a good rower is one that thinks he has nothing left and then finds a little more that he didn’t know he even had. He pushed every reserve up until he heard the coxswain yell that it was the time for the sprint and they needed to pick up the stroke rate. They were probably rowing at 32 stroked per minute, but it felt like they must’ve been going at 50, the way he felt. He saw stars in his eyes and yet he kept getting his oar to the catch and taking it out at the finish along with the rest of the team.
Finally, he heard the coxswain shout out, “Final ten strokes! Make them count!”
He pushed himself to breaking just to cross the finish line in fifth place behind Navy, Brown, Syracuse and Rutgers. He didn’t even think before he hit the water again and again with his oar, yelling with some extra strength he found at his moment of agony.
At that moment he heard Sean shouting, “Simon! Stop that!” He stopped and made eye contact with him, around the staring eyes of 6 and 7 seats. “Crabs happen, but that is no excuse to bring dishonor on our school! I expect better from you!”
Simon snapped. He dropped his oar, screaming, trying to fight his way forward in the boat, his feet strapped into the boat and 4 seat holding his shoulders and 6 seat pushing him back.
Everyone on the other teams and all the spectators were silent as Simon ruined the moment of Navy’s win.
Finally, after a time, 4 and 6 seats were able to calm him down and the coxswain told him and 6 seats to sit out as everyone else paddled them back to the dock.
When they made it back, they put the boat in the racks and strapped it down before Sean came over to Simon and asked, stern, yet concerned, “Simon, what’s up?”
“Fuck you!” shouted Simon, and swung a fist to Sean’s face. He felt bone crack as Sean fell to the ground.
All the other guys gathered around and held him back, even though he wasn’t going after Sean, now that he was down as some ran to Sean to help him.
“Carlisle!” shouted the coach. “I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you, but get yourself on the bus and you don’t dare let me see you until we leave!”
Simon pushed off the guys and huffed off to the bus.
Hours later the team came onto the bus, all looking angrily at him. Last onto the bus was Sean. His nose was bandaged and his right eyes was swollen and purple.
“You broke his nose and almost fractured his eye socket,” said Matt, looking over the seat at Simon, who was laying low in his seat to avoid as many looks as he could. “I hope you’re happy, you fag.” He turned around and sat down.
Graduation was a week later.
Simon went. He didn’t know why he still wanted to go, but the idea of not being there for Sean was unthinkable, even though they hadn’t spoken or even seen each other since they got back to Princeton after Sprints, as they weren’t going to the IRA’s, largely because of Simon’s behavior, and, in turn, their season was over.
He sat in the back of the crowd, feeling awkward, being alone. When they called Sean’s name, he still stood up and cheered. Sean’s eye was still a little discolored and now that the bandages were off, and even though he had had plastic surgery to repair his nose, it still didn’t look quite right. Simon sunk into his seat, feeling guiltier than he could’ve imagined after feeling terrible for a week already now.
After graduation, he walked around and all the crew guys frowned at him as they saw him pass by. Thomas, Bow Seat, gave a polite smile and shook his hand and walked away.
When he saw Sean, his heart began to race. Sean saw him across the crowd and made eye contact. For a moment Simon thought he was going to call him over, but then he turned away, shaking his head, disappointment across his face as he walked away.
Simon snuck away back to his dorm room, feeling like an idiot and a poor excuse for a life.
Later in the day he went to speak with the coach at the boathouse. He had asked that he come see him.
The coach informed him that his behavior was unacceptable, but that Sean had refused to press any charges and had vouched for his good character and his place on the team. He told him that that along with a very large donation from his parents for a new boat and set of oars, was the only reason why he would be able to return to the team the following year. He told him, however, that if he ever demonstrated that type of behavior again, no amount that his parents wrote out on a check would be enough for him to stay on the team.
He left the boathouse feeling even worse, knowing that Sean had defended him.
Simon moved home for the summer the following day.
It was the first time he was home since Nancy had died and it felt foreign.
He spent the summer at the gym and practicing his viola, completely alone, as his parents were busy at work, and later, decided to go on vacation without him.
He continually hoped that Sean would call him or message him on Facebook, or something, but he never did. He didn’t know what he would say to him if he did call him anyway.
Instead, Simon saw pictures posted on Facebook from Sean’s family vacation to South America to celebrate his graduation and statuses and pictures regarding all the graduation parties and other fun activities he was doing with his family, fellow rowers and high school friends. Every post or photo tagged of him was like a hot poker jabbed into his side. He was still so angry at him, but he still missed him so much that it hurt. He wished he had more to do to keep him occupied, but outside of the time he spent at the gym, he would just sit around his parents’ apartment playing video games, watching TV or reading. The whole time, without trying, his mind would always wander back to Sean.
As much as he missed him though, he didn’t dare call him. He knew he wouldn’t want to talk to him.
As school was approaching again, his senior year, he saw that Sean had gotten a job through Teach for America at a lower income school near enough to Princeton that he was planning on staying at his old apartment. This made Simon miserable. He had figured that if Sean had been traveling around Europe as he had planned, then at least they were far away and he could tell himself that even if they were still okay, they’d still not be able to spend any time together or anything. Now though, he would be right down the street from him, reminding him of how they aren’t speaking and his embarrassment all the time.
When he was back at school, the second day back, he was back at the boathouse. There were many days when he thought that he didn’t want to return. How could he face them all? But at the end of the day he decided to be strong.
Everyone in his boat had graduated except for 6 Seat, Eric and himself. The rest of his boat were JV rowers that had been moved up. The coach knew that Simon was still one of the best rowers he had on the team, but he also knew that no boat would follow him as their stroke after the previous year. The team had voted on who they wanted for their team captain and Eric had been made captain. Eric was still wary of Simon, but he didn’t hold what he did against his rowing. As they stood, huddled up outside of the boathouse he said to coach, “Coach, I suggest we row the starboard stroke Vespoli. Carlisle can take 7 seat.”
The coach looked at him questioning if that was a good idea, but then nodded and said, “We’ll give it a try and see how it works out.”
The boat felt fine, and Simon felt slightly proud to be 7 seat, even if he had been able to have been stroke if he hadn’t been an idiot.
But no matter how good things were on the water, when they were off the water, things were quite the opposite. Everyone still looked at him like he was a liability, or as though he were a pariah and he didn’t have to try to avoid everyone’s eyes any longer, because they were all trying to avoid his. He felt more alone than he had before he had made friends with Sean.
He thought a lot of Nancy again. He reconsidered the thought that this was a good gesture she had done, giving him a way to make friends, and instead thought that she had been setting him up to fail. He thought of her and how he wished he could go confide in her. He also thought of Sean, of course, as well.
Weeks went by. The guys on the team gave him sour looks when they weren’t in the boat and whenever there was any trouble on the starboard side, people felt it was appropriate to blame it on him every time since he was 7 seat.
The coach never defended him, nor did Eric. The coach seemed to be harder on him than the other guys in the boat and when they did pieces for time on the ergs, the coach was right there over his shoulder the entire time, not once going to one of the others, seemingly wanting him to fail.
While it used to be that he always felt happy on the water, now he felt tense, nervous and worried at all times. Every time he got off the water he felt relieved to have gotten through another practice without anything going wrong.
His unhappiness at crew seemed to transfer over to everything else he did. He was more miserable in class than he had been the past three years. Even though he was still studying with his tutor, he was still failing. All of his drive was gone. The tutor seemed irritated and showed no support, rather, just frustration.
He quit the orchestra because he had been pushed back from 2nd chair to 5th and had become a problem, making mistakes frequently. He couldn’t get it together, so, without telling his parents, one day, he just emailed the conductor that he would not be coming to practice any longer.
He slowly stopped going to his viola lessons as well. His instructor never called to see why he had stopped coming. She must have been happy to have that time back to herself and, after all, he hadn’t told his parents, so she was still getting a paycheck, even though he wasn’t coming to meet with her.
He stopped going to classes. At first it was just a class every now and then, but after a few weeks, it was rarer to see him at class than not.
He spent any time that he wasn’t at crew in his dorm room. He spent most of that time sleeping and watching TV. He tried to convince himself to do things, but he couldn’t find the strength. He couldn’t find a way to face people any longer. He had put everything into his friendship with Sean and that had not turned out well. He started to think of his life and had a hard time remembering a time he was happy besides the few months he had been friends with Sean. He couldn’t figure out what to do with his life now that he had screwed that up.
It was December and Sean had been working at his new job for a little over three months. He found it very fulfilling to help teach the students at the school and he found that he had a knack. The students really connected with him and he was able to teach whatever material he was given and keep them interested. He was given all of his lesson plans ahead of time, but he was able to find ways to make the information more entertaining for the kids and test scores were higher than they had been in years, so the administration approved.
The job had kept him busy though. He had barely had time to think for the past few months. It wasn’t that he had that much to do after school hours, but the amount of energy he needed to put in every day to keep the students interested in history or math was a lot. He still got to the gym regularly, but besides that, he was happy just to sleep.
He hadn’t spoken to many of his friends since the summer. He had figured that, since he was still living in Princeton that he would be able to see his friends a lot, but instead outside of a few times he went to the bar for happy hour with Eric, now the new stroke of the varsity boat, he hadn’t seen anyone.
His mind sometimes went back to Simon. He had tried so hard to give him his space after he kissed him while trying to still keep the lines of communication open. He was really concerned that he would think he had a problem with him now, or that he didn’t want to be friends any longer or something like that, but Simon had continually seemed to avoid him, and he didn’t want to push him, even if he did miss hanging out with him. After all, over the past year, he had really spent more time with him than his other friends. They had really bonded. He was still straight, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t care for Simon and hoped they’d eventually make up.
He kept thinking back to the Sprints trip. He couldn’t figure out what had lead to what happened.
After Simon had tried to kiss him, Sean had respected Simon’s privacy. He had spoken with Adam and Paul about it, since he was close with them and knew he could trust them with the secret. They had agreed with him that it be a good idea to give Simon his space and not try to confront him about it and make it a big thing.
Suddenly, when they got on the bus to go to Sprints, he seemed a little off. Sean, still trying to give him his space, sat towards the back. As they were getting off the bus, the guys were really excited for the regatta. He remembered everyone patting him on the back, trying to get him as psyched as they were too, but when Sean was leaving the bus, he turned around and Simon’s face really seemed to add to Sean’s concern.
After practice on the water, the coach asked Sean to talk, so they sat at the very front of the bus back to the hotel. While talking to the coach, he looked back several times and saw Simon looking dismal. He decided that when they got back to the hotel that enough was enough. He had given him enough personal space, but now he was worried about him.
When they got to the hotel though, Simon rushed into the hotel and up to his room while Sean was still talking with the coach. He found out that Simon was staying with Wayne, Thomas and Matt. He understood why he wasn’t staying in his room, but it still bummed him out that he would go as far as to request a different room. He was also shocked that he would agree to room with Matt, since they never seemed to get along that well.
He went to their room to try and talk to him. He knocked on the door and Matt opened up. “Hey Matt! Is Simon in there?” he remembered saying.
“Yeah...” groaned Matt, “He’s in the shower.”
“Okay, let him know I dropped by and tell him I’ll be down in the lobby. Tell him to come down, he and I need to chat a bit.”
“Yeah,” grinned Matt, a little deviously, “I bet you guys do.” He winked.
Sean punched him in the arm, laughing. Matt was always an ass, but in the end he was always a good guy. He thanked him and headed downstairs.
He sat down in the lobby for over an hour. He texted Simon’s phone just asking if he were coming down, but he never replied. It was 10PM. They were getting up really early, so a lot of the guys had been getting to bed at 8 or 9. He needed to get upstairs. He sent one last text just saying that he was going upstairs and that they’d talk the next day, just in case he came downstairs and he wasn’t there.
The following day, he went downstairs to the lobby and didn’t see Simon anywhere. He waited until he saw Wayne come into the lobby. “Hey man, is Simon still up there?”
“Nah man, he left the room earlier. He’s probably already on the bus,” said Wayne, struggling with his bag. ‘Coxswains...’ Sean thought, taking his bag off his shoulder and throwing it onto his with his own bag.
He walked outside and got on the bus and saw Simon tucked into his seat in the back. ‘I’ll talk to him when we get to the regatta, where we can have some privacy,’ he thought.
When they got to the regatta, Simon was missing. He must’ve snuck off. The coach was having them unstrap the boat and bring the oars down to the water, setting them up on the coast, like they do every year, getting things ready for the day.
He and the other guys did everything and then he went looking for Simon, but he wasn’t able to find him. There were a lot of people there. All the other teams, their friends and family that came, vendors, etc., it was hard to find anyone in that mess, especially someone who seemed to not want to be found.
Simon showed up for their heat, but then he vanished again right after.
Finally, he showed up again for the finals and Sean, who had figured he didn’t want to make any kind of scene or anything just thought he’d say something to him. He asked to talk after, so he knew at least that he was trying to talk to him. Simon snapped in his face.
Sean was so shocked that he just went to his place in the boat and went to race.
While they were on the water, Sean couldn’t stay completely focused. He kept thinking of Simon when he yelled at him. He seemed so angry. He was so confused as to what he had done to warrant that much anger. He hardly noticed that they had reached the starting line.
As worried about his friend as he was, he put that aside. It was race time. He got in position for the start of the race. Sean always hated the start. It was exciting and fast paced, but Sean had heart palpitations and one one always tended to show its face during the start of the race. He was always happy when they had reached their grove.
The first two strokes felt perfect, together and perfect. He expected to feel his chest constrict, but instead he felt something else far too familiar. Suddenly the boat jerked and lagged; someone had caught a crab. He heard Wayne yell for everyone to stop and he turned around and saw Simon’s oar had caught.
After Simon had righted himself, Sean called out, “We might be down, but we’re not out! We can still take this back!” He always believed that support was better than saying anything negative.
The race was a disappointment, but things happen. He wished that he had been able to win Sprints in his Senior year, but apparently it wasn’t meant to be.
As they finished the race, he heard Simon yelling out. Something was definitely wrong. This was completely unlike him. He turned around and shouted down the boat, “Simon! Stop that!” Simon stopped and made eye contact with him, around the staring eyes of 6 and 7 seats. “Crabs happen, but that is no excuse to bring dishonor on our school! I expect better from you!”
He meant to get him to stop, but he also thought that he hadn’t been at all out of place or rude, but Simon must not have seen it that way. He launched himself at him. Sean jumped in his seat, but then stared in horror. What was happening? Eric, 6 Seat, was pushing him back and Paul, 3 Seat, was trying to hold him back. He couldn’t even process what was happening. He was grateful when they got him to calm down. He turned around and sat silently. Wayne asked him what they should do. He couldn’t even find the words to tell him what they should do. He didn’t know what to do about this.
Adam, 7 Seat, behind him put his hands on his shoulder and looked over his shoulder at Wayne, “Have him and Eric sit out and the rest of us can bring us in.”
Sean paddled, completely silent, eyes wide.
When they got back to shore, he had found himself again. They strapped in the boat and he went to talk to Simon. That was the final straw. They needed to talk. Something was wrong. He walked up to him and asked, “Simon, what’s up?”
Without warning, Simon yelled, “Fuck you!” and threw a punch to his face. His fist went straight into his nose and into his right eye. Sean crumpled to the ground. He looked up and saw the other guys holding Simon back. The look on Simon’s face was one of absolute hate. What had he done to deserve that?
He heard the coach yell at Simon and send him to the bus. He was brought across the street to the hospital and his nose was badly broken and he had to have some minor plastic surgery to fix it. The doctor told him that if the punch had be slightly to the right that his eye socket would have been fractured. He barely spoke the whole time he was at the hospital. He couldn’t wrap his mind around what had happened.
His nose all bandaged up, he got back onto the bus.
He needed time to process what had happened. He sat down close to the front of the bus, away from Simon.
After they got back to campus, Sean decided that he needed time away from Simon. While driving back, he had thought and thought and became angry and disappointed with him. He had only tried to be supportive and in return Simon had made a fool of him, the boat, and the university and then he broke his nose. He didn’t want to talk to Simon when then got back to campus. He knew he might say some things that wouldn’t help the situation.
A week later was graduation. His nose was healing, and the swelling in his eye had gone down. His vision had originally been a little blurred, but he was seeing clearly, and he was excited to graduate, however every time he looked in the mirror he found himself being angrier and angrier at Simon. Finally, on graduation day, he took off the bandages on the nose for the last time and looked at his nose. It still didn’t look right, and it was still a while longer until it’d be completely healed. He still had stitches in some places and his eye was still a little bruised. He noticed that his nose wasn’t really right. It was just slightly off. He was furious that for all times, when he looked at pictures of himself on the day he graduated from college, he would have to be reminded of Simon. Forever his graduation pictures would have him looking like he lost a bar fight.
He enjoyed graduation, even though he knew that he looked the way that he did and everyone noticed.
After graduation he saw Simon in the crowd. He was not in the mood.
Over the summer, when his face was healed, he started to relax and began to change his mind about everything. His nose was still not the same as it had been, and he would just have to get used to that, but he started to feel more kindly towards Simon and started to try to figure out what he could possibly have been feeling and why he would’ve acted the way he did.
He kept meaning to go talk to him. He thought that this conversation shouldn’t be one over the phone or, even worse, Facebook, so he was trying to find a way to get into the city to go see him, but around this time he started training for Teach for America and the next thing he knew, he was busy. He then started thinking that he’d talk to him soon enough when he was back in Princeton, where he was living.
He felt terrible that it had been this long and knew he had really been a bad friend and had dropped the ball this time. This was his place to reach out to him.
As he was thinking this, his Facebook alerted him that Simon had posted a new video. “Woah!” he said out loud, loving the fact that he didn’t have roommates anymore and that he could talk to himself occasionally. “Talk about coincidence,” he laughed, clicking the link and being grateful for the stupid “Close Friends” setting on Facebook, which made usually made him feel like his friends’ stalker. “Simon hasn’t posted anything in a while!”
The video opened and started playing. Simon was sitting in front of his desk. His dorm room looked just like it had the year before. It was very stark behind him. Simon never bothered to decorate his dorm room. It made Sean smile, thinking this and seeing Simon on his computer screen.
“To those of you watching, I think this video has been coming for 21 years. I think I’ve been beat down my whole life. I always wanted to be loved by my parents and to have friends, but those weren’t the cars dealt to me.
“I have spent most of my life feeling out of place. I lived in a household where I felt more like I lived alone, being raised by a paid nanny than my parents. I spent year after year in school feeling more like I was just filling space.
“Finally in college I found something that made me feel somewhat necessary and wanted. For once I felt that I wasn’t just filling space. I was still lonely, but I was a part of something bigger than myself.
“Eventually, I made a friend. I had gone my whole life without one and was shocked at how good it felt to finally have one. He made me feel like I mattered. For once I had someone to talk to who actually cared about what I had to say and wanted to speak with me and took my advice to heart. He would call me to do things with him, where other had never done that before. He made me happy.”
He dropped his head slightly. A tear ran down the length of his nose. Sean knew what he was going to say. He slowly lifted up his head.
“I never have thought of myself as gay or straight. I still don’t know. All I knew was that I loved Sean more than I had everything loved anything. It was a mistake, one that destroyed everything.
“It had all been a lie. I had fooled myself into believing that Sean cared about me. I’m not sure what I had expected from kissing him that night, but I didn’t expect him to respond with cruelty. Never did I expect him to speak behind my back. Quickly, I felt as though I were being looked at differently, like I was some sort of alien. Suddenly I was gay. I was different, and apparently not in a good way.
“I was called things and was made to feel little and felt worse than I had ever felt before. I felt as though I had been depressed before, but I had known nothing. I hated him with everything in me, but at the same time, I still couldn’t control how I felt about him. Even though he was the reason that I felt worse than I ever thought I could feel, I still would think back to the good times. He was the first friend I ever had met, and I still loved him. I love him with all my heart.” Sean felt terrible. Simon had seen things completely wrong. He had never said anything behind his back. He never meant anything bad.
“Even though he’s not in my life anymore, he still is with me. I can’t do anything without seeing him and hearing his voice. And suddenly, the one thing that used to make me happy only makes me feel even worse. None of my problems have gone away. They were always there when I had him, now without him, they’re all I have. Today seems to be the perfect day for what I’m about to do, seeing as it was the day that I was shown what my life could’ve been. I now know what life could be like, and what I have missed out on. I’m just glad that I got to experience it even for a time.”
Suddenly Sean became eerily aware of the knife Simon had been playing with in his hands just below the screen. A chill ran up his spine, his heart began to race and he flew to his feet as Simon pressed the blade against his wrist and, pushing down deep, began to cut up his arm.
Sean was out of his room like a gunshot. He ran from his apartment without shoes and without closing the door. He knew that Simon would’ve had to post the video. It wasn’t a streaming video, he had posted it, meaning that he would have had to click the “post” button and it would still need to upload. He didn’t know how much longer the video was, but he was still okay enough to post it, which means that it had probably been a few minutes since then.
Simon’s dorm was about 5 minutes away at a run. He called 911 as he ran, explaining to them, in a pant, and telling them where they needed to go. He got to the dorm and ran through the front door as someone was exiting. He ran to the third floor and straight to his room. (He was glad that Simon was living in the same room as the year before.) The door was slightly ajar.
When the EMTs arrived on scene, they came in and saw Sean with Simon cradled in his arms, sitting in a pool of blood, completely soaked in it. Sean’s face was pressed into Simon’s chest and he was crying in heavy sobs.
He had arrived too late. Simon had already passed by the time he made it there.
Sean could barely bring himself to give his eulogy. He had learned that Adam, 7 Seat, had made a mention to Matt, 2 Seat, about his and Simon’s kiss. Matt also admitted to him about what he had said to Simon.
While Sean was furious with Adam and Matt, he knew their guilt was much worse than anything he could say. Matt’s face and tears at the funeral were proof enough of that.
Sean felt a guilt the weight of a man’s life; a friend’s life. He was responsible. He walked up to the podium fully knowing that this gathering was entirely his fault. It was cold and there was a small layer of snow on the ground and he could see his breath dance in the air. He looked down and saw Simon’s parents, who he recognized from pictures. They seemed sad. He wondered what kind of guilt they felt.
“Hello everyone,” he began, looking down at the coffin in front of him, ready to be lowered into the ground. “Simon was the best friend I had ever had.” He stopped and choked back a sob, wiping the first of many tears from his eyes. “I know that we didn’t really meet until last December, the same day as...” he didn’t say it. “but we were kindred spirits, I guess. I felt more comfortable with him than anyone else I knew. Quickly he became the first person I would want to talk about something with. I knew that he felt the same. I didn’t know how much though.” He stopped again to wipe his eyes. “I did love him. I might not have loved him the same way that he did me, but that doesn’t change how I felt. I never thought of him differently after that night. But when he started to act differently, I should have been the friend that he deserved. All the signs were there! I had to give him space!” He was screaming. “I could have called him! I could have gone to his dorm! Why didn’t I do anything?!” Paul ran to the podium and started to pull him away, calming him down. “I abandoned him!” he was bawling, hugging Paul. “I abandoned him!”
Paul rubbed his back, “You couldn’t have known,” he said. Sean knew he didn’t mean that. This was on his head. This was his fault.
“It was my fault!” he cried. "I love him so much!" He sobbed, "And he'll never know that!"
Paul gently said, "If he didn't know, he knows now. You need to believe he's in a better place looking down on us."
Sean had no desire to hear about faith. He ran to the coffin, falling on top of it, repeating, “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
No one came over. The whole crew team was there. Matt, 2 Seat, was sitting in the back, hunched over wailing.
After they lowered the casket and Sean threw in some dirt, gasping for air, chest hurting from crying, Simon’s mother came over to him, and, dabbing her eyes, as to not mess up her make up, she said, “You are responsible for the loss of our son. I hope you never forget what you did.”
She walked away with Simon’s father.
Sean yelled after them. He didn’t yell anything in particular. He wanted to yell about how guilty he felt, how much he loved their son, and how if they had only shown him a fraction of the amount that he did, their son might still be here, but instead, he just yelled until he couldn’t anymore. His friends were around him, but the only friend he wanted to see was buried in the cold December ground.