Fragments: Detention

Shit I write.

Soulmates are fragments of a single soul separated by fate. Recollection of short gay-themed stories.

For some people, high school is the best time of their lives. Not for me. God no. For me these years have been the absolute worst. If I died and went to Hell, it would probably take me a couple of months to realize where I was. It is that bad.

To be fair, high school itself wasn’t that terrible at the beginning, nor were my classmates or professors. In fact, I would say it was pretty average. Actually, considering there have not been any school shootings during my time here, I would even dare to say it was good. I used to hang out with the cool people, classes were not hard, I had joined the track & field team… I, as a 15-year-old closeted gay boy, thought this was as good as it was going to get. I thought I had everything figured out.

I hate high school for reasons completely unrelated to the actual school experience.

I remember vividly the day everything went down the drain. It was on November 14th two years ago, a Tuesday, to be more exact. I was pissed because one professor had taken my phone away.

My parents were waiting for me when I got home. That was the first sign that something was wrong. I feared that all the incriminating pictures and texts stored in my phone had been revealed to a set of prying eyes, who in turn would share with my parents. I thought my life would be over.

“We need to talk,” My father said in a voice I had never heard before.

I took a seat on the couch furthest away from him, my body ready to bolt away from there at the smallest provocation. My mother was twisting one of her embroidered handkerchiefs in her hands. I had only seen her do that once before and that had been a very bad day.

There was a whisky glass on the floor, by my father’s feet. He would never drink on weekdays, and especially not in the middle of the afternoon. Something was really wrong and I dreaded I was the reason behind their behavior. The signs were telling: they had found out about my secret.

“Mom, Dad, let me explain-

“I have cancer.” My mom interrupted me, no longer holding back her tears.

My own tears came out as well. First from relief at not having been outed, then in fear and anger at what all of that meant. Cancer really has a way of putting things into perspective.

I wanted to ask, to curse, to scream, but no sound left my mouth. I sat there, tears running down my cheeks, my mouth opening and closing like a fish gasping for oxygen. There were so many things to say, but I only wanted to know one thing: Was my mother going to be OK?

My dad went through treatment options and what each of them meant. My mother was trying to reassure me that everything would be OK. I wasn’t really paying attention. I just wanted to leave that room. I excused myself and grabbed my sports bag. I didn’t have practice that day but I needed to go somewhere, do something, anywhere, anything, that could take away the anger and pain slowly growing inside me.

I found myself at the school’s track running as fast as I could. I am pretty sure I broke many personal records the more I ran, completely numb to the pain in my legs and sides. I didn’t even realize it had begun to rain. I thought I could do this forever, that is, until I slipped and tore the ligaments in my knee.

I spent the following months in and out of the hospital. The doctors suggested physical therapy at first, but later they realized that that alone would not be enough. I had knee surgery soon after, followed by an intense physical therapy schedule, in a room especially designed for this. The room could be accessed through two buildings. The one closest to the parking lot was where my mother went for her weekly round of chemo. I always made a point of walking around the buildings to get to my therapy through the other building.

My mother was by my side every time. She insisted many times to go through the first building, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I had convinced myself that the less I saw, the less real my mother’s illness would be. She stopped insisting after a while, and instead walked with me, always humming a song, trying her hardest to keep up in spite of her weakened state. I knew she felt rejected, probably guilty, as if any of this were her fault. I knew it wasn’t, I was just waiting for the right time to tell her so, as if there could ever be a right time.

I was so focused on fighting cancer by ignoring its existence, that I was nearly oblivious to the changes in my mother’s physique. Chemo might be a great healer, but it’s a shit beautician. Her head, once full of thick, wavy, black hair, was now covered in a silk scarf. Her eyebrows were almost non-existent now, as were her long and thick eyelashes framing her once-bright-now-dull blue eyes. The only thing that remained from the woman I knew was her smile, which she wore at all times, as if that alone could beat her cancer better than chemo.

Except it didn’t.

My mother passed away a few days after spring break. Everything went south from there. My father tried to cope with her passing by throwing himself into work. I started skipping classes and failing tests, my GPA dropping so low that I lost my spot in the track & field team. Not that it mattered anyway, I had given up on therapy a while ago; my sports career was over. I was caught smoking a number of times, got into one too many fights, and basically became a complete asshole to my classmates and teachers.

That was the only way that I could grieve my mother’s loss and the infinite amount of guilt I felt over how I behaved with her; I was punishing myself for the things that I should have said but didn’t, and the things I shouldn’t have said, but did anyway. I hated myself and I wanted others to see me the way I saw myself.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure I cared anymore. I just continued behaving this way out of habit. Wake up, go to school, act like a dick, get detention, rinse and repeat. I had spent almost every school afternoon in detention for the past year. At least it kept me away from home and from all the memories I couldn’t face.

It was pretty quiet there, except for the occasional noise that the TA in charge of supervising the school delinquents made. She had given up on me a long time ago. She attempted to talk the attitude out of me at first, then she tried to drown it with increasingly complicated exercises and tedious readings. It only took a couple of months before she put all of that to rest, and started ignoring my presence while she focused on whatever she needed to do.

I didn’t mind one bit. I spent most afternoons napping until I was allowed to go home. The rest of the school year went this way. I spent most of the summer home alone, my knee never fully recovered (most likely my fault), and ached a lot during humid days. The few times when I actually hung out with people, they were, as adults would say, bad company.

Does that mean I am bad company too? I wondered one autumn day, not long after the new school year had started. I had already spent more hours in detention that month than in actual class. I smiled at my achievement, as I got ready to nap. I was just about to fall asleep when a sound coming from the music room one day pulled me out of my slumber. It is probably a new student, I thought, or else I would have noticed it before.

The music room was a couple of floors above from where I did my time. The sound traveled clearly through the building, in spite of the walls, doors, and windows separating me from that piano. The sounds were harmonious, calm and subtle, as if the player – in my mind, a man – was afraid of drawing attention to himself. I didn’t recognize the melody, but I welcomed its company as I waited for the clock to strike 5 PM, when detention would be over. I saw the TA bobbing her head to it. We finally have something in common, I acknowledged before falling asleep.

This became a frequent event in my detention life. Frequent, but not constant. In the many weeks that followed, only one time did I listen to the piano player the full five days of a week. On average, he would play three times a week, but there were times when I would go one or two weeks without hearing any signs of life coming from that room.

Another thing I realized was that this person always played the same tune. It was beyond me why he would play it over and over again, as every time he did, it was perfect in my non-expert opinion. He probably doesn’t know how to play anything else, I thought. But I didn’t really mind.

The third thing I realized was that I actually looked forward to listening to him play. My mood instantly improved whenever I had one of those private concerts, even though I was in detention, even though my life sucked. My days were truly awful when I had to spend the whole afternoon in silence, my thoughts the only thing to keep me company. I should play some music, I thought. I checked my phone, barely any battery left. The screen was cracked beyond hope, how it held itself together escaped me.

“I miss the music too.” The TA said, smiling at me.

I grunted something, slightly embarrassed at my secret being discovered. I buried my face in my arms with a long sigh and attempted to recreate the piano tune in my head. I tried to picture the mysterious piano player; I imagined everything from his face, the color of his eyes, the length of his hair, his body shape, downright to how his fingers moved over the keyboard, lightly pressing the keys. I even began to wonder if he could be interested in me.

An idea slowly formed as I did this. I needed to know his identity, perhaps even talk to him and ask him the name of that song. I knew I would probably not go that far, but I decided I would at least find out who this person was.

There was one issue with this plan: I didn’t know when that person would come back to play, which meant I had to keep my ass out of detention every day until that happened. I got myself into a lot of trouble the last time I tried to skip it. The school even involved my dad that time, it wasn’t worth going through all of that for this. Curiosity had already killed too many cats.

How hard can it be to be a good boy for once? I thought a little too arrogantly as I arrived at school the following day. Turns out, it was. I was so used to behaving like a caveman that anything, even the smallest thing, triggered me, prompting a detention-worthy reaction from my mouth and body before my brain even realized what was going on.

Back to detention it was.

Monday two weeks ago marked the fifth week since the last time I heard him play. Maybe he got tired of playing the same song over and over again, I thought unconvinced, but also a bit scared that that might indeed be the reason behind his disappearance. I hummed trying to recreate the sounds that came from the piano. A big wave of nostalgia invaded me as it did every time I attempted this. I couldn’t wait to meet this guy and ask him about it.

A note coming from the music room brought me back to my senses. I waited for a couple of seconds, completely alert now. The TA stared at the door as if honing her hearing. The music began after a few minutes. Only a few sloppy notes hit at the wrong tempo, but I recognized it as the melody that had haunted me for months. I stood up abruptly, my chair falling backwards.

The TA looked at me and nodded towards the door. I took that as my cue to leave. I tried not to let my excitement show, but I was already running. My knee ached like a bitch. I really should go back to therapy, I thought with a wince, determined to not let that stop me.

The music stopped before I arrived. I spent a couple of minutes trying to catch my breath, clutching my knee between my hands until the pain faded away. I could listen to a few muffled voices as I waited. I wondered if he was teaching others how to play.

The music began again, only a few notes, slightly better than the previous time, but still not correct. I took a deep breath and took a peek inside the room. I could only see three adults there: the school principal, the woman sitting in front of the piano, and a man with one hand resting on her shoulder.

I didn’t understand what was going on. I had so many questions, but I did not dare make a move, lest they would notice my presence.

“Here are all of his things.” I heard the principal say as he handed the man a closed box.

The woman sniffled loudly; I could see her searching for something in her purse. The man put both hands on her shoulders and mumbled something unintelligible.

“Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.” The principal continued shifting his weight from one foot to the other, “I’m so sorry.”

I stood there dumbfounded. Just what the fuck was going on? The woman calmed down and pressed a few keys in a very slow sequence, but the tune I had grown so fond of was still recognizable. I held my breath, at least one mystery had been solved. I accidentally rested my back against the door, the door knob slamming against the wall.

“What are you doing here?!” The principal turned around with a surprised expression on his face. I could see the vein in his forehead popping like it always did when he was about to explode. It was time to make a move.

“Wait!” I heard the other man call out as I turned on my heels.

“Do you- did you know my boy?” The woman’s voice broke.

That stopped me dead in my tracks. The verb tense correction boomed in my head. I turned around and took a good look at both of them, taking in the whole scene. The black clothes, the puffy eyes, the box full of his things. Their faces had the same expression as my dad’s when my mother passed.

My mother… And then something inside me clicked. A memory, or rather, a string of brief memories flooded my head. I remembered all the times my mother took me to therapy, her frail body walking behind mine, no words between us, just a faint humming. I backed away with a sudden gasp, a million thoughts running through my mind. I needed to get the hell away from there. I dashed through the hallway, completely ignoring the yells behind me. I ran downstairs, oblivious to the pain in my knee. I remember thinking just how much trouble I was in as I approached the exit gates.

It was raining hard outside, but that didn’t stop me. I continued running, drops of water falling all around me, all over me, my drenched clothes making my body heavier by the second. I was running without direction, as fast as I could, ignoring the waves of pain flowing through my body, but my knee gave up soon after.

I fell down and started screaming. I screamed in anger at my knee for being so weak, at myself for fucking up my life beyond repair. But mostly, I screamed at cancer for taking that mysterious piano player’s life, for taking my mom’s, and for leaving me behind to deal with it all.

Today’s my first day of therapy. My father parks in front of the building I know so well but never dared to enter.

“Do you want to go around?” He asks knowingly. I guess my mother mentioned that to him.

My eyes dart between the buildings. I can feel my father’s glare behind me. I lower my gaze and come to terms with reality. “We can go through here,” I open the door, switching my cane from one hand to the other.

He quickly gets out of the car and runs to my side. I don’t really need his help but I let him grab my arm for support, my other hand steadying the cane on the ground. We are hardly on good terms; there is still too much water under the bridge. I wonder if our relationship will ever heal, or if this is as good as it will get. He seems just as clueless about it as me. Our silent agreement works well for now: He offers his help, I accept it, even though we both know I don’t actually need it. I guess it’s the little gestures that will make amends for each other.

“One step at a time,” I mutter to myself. Literally and figuratively.

I take small steps, my grip on the cane tightens as I approach the main entrance. I stop for a second. I wonder if I am ready to do this, to go through the building where my mother faded away until she was no longer with us. I wonder if it’s not too late to ask my dad to drive me around, but I shake my head, take a deep breath, and walk forward and into the reception area.

We walk past nurses and doctors, everyone minding their own business, turning a couple of corners, until the double doors connecting the physical therapy building are visible. A distinctive sound makes me look to the right. The hallway there has a big sign that reads ‘Oncology’ and an arrow pointing forward. I look at my dad who looks at his watch and shrugs. We walk down that hallway, the sound becoming louder with every step.

A couple of turns later, we arrived at a large room with doors on each side. Some of them are closed, but most of them are open. I can see patients connected to IVF there. I find the sound source in the center of it: A girl sitting in front of a black medium size horizontal piano, two wrinkled music sheets sitting on it, just above the keyboard. She’s 8 at most, I conclude, my eyes fixated on the colorful silk scarf wrapped around the girl’s head. A woman, her mom, is standing next to her as her fingers hit the keys once again. The melody is off tempo, but I recognize it as the one I heard so many times during detention. The same tune that my mother used to hum to herself.

“You’re very good,” I say before I can stop myself.

The girl turns around, finally noticing my presence, and blushes. 

“I once knew someone who played that song too…” I say, unsure of where I’m going with this. Well, I guess I didn’t actually know him, I think to myself. I snap back to reality and realize I’ve made things awkward. “Can you play it again, please?”

The girl looks at her mom and then back at me and nods shyly. She starts, presses the wrong key, and immediately stops. She gives her mom a side look, but the woman just nods her head encouragingly. The girl starts again and, even though her tempo is a bit off, she plays for about a minute without any major mistakes.

“You will be a great piano player one day!” My dad claps when she finishes. There are two nurses behind us who are also clapping.

“You hear that, Ella?” Her mom whispers with a big smile.

The girl nods and gets off the bench, taking the hand of one of the nurses as she leads them both inside one of the rooms.

“Such an adorable girl, isn’t she?” The remaining nurse says. “I’m so happy someone is playing the piano again, it makes everyone here so happy.” She walks to the piano and closes the fallboard.

My jaw must have hit the floor because the nurse is looking at me funny. She follows my gaze and realizes what I’m staring at. The word ‘Danny’ is visible in the center, engraved in golden thin cursive letters. “This piano belonged to one patient, he used to play that song all the time when he was here.”

Danny, I repeat in my head as I mentally place the final piece in this puzzle.

“He was here so often he even started teaching little Ella how to play too, but unfortunately…” Her voice trails off, no words are needed to explain what became of him. “Anyway, I’m happy Ella is so interested in the piano; music is powerful, you know? It can heal people.” She says with a smile before walking towards the closest door where a patient already waited for her.

I give the piano one last look.

Music can heal people, her words echo in my mind. I can’t help thinking of my mother, of Danny, of Ella, of all the people in this room. Did they feel that way too? My mind immediately takes me back to the first time I listened to Danny playing months ago. Has music healed me? I am still a mess, I conclude. But deep down inside me, although It is barely noticeable and I refuse to admit it, I have started harboring a new feeling: Hope.

“It’s time to go.” My dad’s voice sounds distant, his hand tightens gently around my shoulder bringing me back from my thoughts.

“Right, therapy time.”

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