Part 8: When We Were Young

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Aiden

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

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

“Keep up.”

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

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

“Look out!”

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

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

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

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

“My dad died.”

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

~~~

Fran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Hi.”

“Welcome home.”

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

“Sure thing. We can talk at home.”

~~~

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

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

“I named him Toots!”

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

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

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

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

“Aid.”

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

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

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

“Mommy! Phone!” came from above.

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

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

“It’s me.”

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

“Hi honey.”

“Hi.”

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

“How are you? Is Aiden home?”

“Yes, he is. We’re okay –“

“Put him on the phone, please.”

“Mom, he’s not –“

“Please, Francesca.”

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

“Okay.”

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

“No, please don’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

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

“Mom?”

“Addy.”

“Hi, Mom.” A voice crack.

“Oh, Addy. I miss you so much.”

“I’m right here, Mom.”

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

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

“Mom…”

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

“…Say something nice?”

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

“Yes, honey, something nice.”

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

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

“Okay. I’ll say something nice.”

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

That’d be too easy, she thought.

~~~

Aiden

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled ever so slightly and wrote back.

You saved me, too. 

~~~

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

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

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

“Something nice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aiden turned back toward the crowd, and whispered:

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

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

~~~

“What the fuck, that was amazing.”

“Tom! Language!”

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

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

“Not yet he won’t!”

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

“Fran!”

“No – look.”

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

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

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

Part 7: Talk Me Down

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Aiden

Unfortunately for Aiden, Tom’s front door was insanely creaky. With his sneak-out cover probably blown to a waking Tom, Aiden ran down the stairs of the building and sharply took the first turn he could to get off the street. The last thing Aiden wanted today was to talk about his feelings after what was supposed to be a healthy hook-up. He didn’t even want to think about it himself.

A vibration in his pocket. A text from Tom: Where you off to so early, my god…”

Ignoring it, Aiden stopped in a coffee shop. He stared at the relatively bougie menu (see: the herb-crusted egg and salmon croissant sandwich) for a time before ultimately choosing a protein-laced breakfast smoothie. Once the elderly barista handed him his order, he stepped outside and continued to shift down the street.

Aiden turned corner after corner, meandering through the streets of the city without any perception of where his feet were gliding. Halloween was nowhere in sight, but the nine-year-old boy who once terribly dressed as a ghost for the holiday was now actually a ghost. Not a thought flickered in his mind as he breathed in the bay air. Aiden was determined to flush out anything in his mind that had to do with himself. All that needed to remain were the simple functions of ordering food, swiping a credit card, and eating said food.

Another vibration, another text: You know I’m going to send a search party of gays if you don’t text me back. Inefficient plan but highly amusing.

He decided it was better to turn his phone off. Trying not to be insane and melodramatic, he could still only believe that if Tom really wanted to get in touch with him, he would try calling instead of simply texting. Too bad that his friend would realize it too late.

Two hours of walking and sitting in various places around the city, Aiden came upon Pier 15. Home of the Exploratorium. As a child, Aiden loved museums where everything was interactive, everything was touchable, and everyone was exploring. He realized that growing older had made everything less interactive and more solitary. Not everything was worth touching. Not everyone wanted to explore the world, or at least had the capacity to.

Aiden took a seat on a bench outside the museum and took stock of the crowd around him. The world may have five oceans, but the entire planet was a sea of people swarming its circumference day in and day out. All together at once, yet simultaneously all alone in their own trials and tribulations.

I’m pathetic, he thought. Here he was, fresh off of getting laid, living in a brand new city, loved by his friends and his sister (sometimes appreciated by his parents), and alive when he shouldn’t be, yet he was too busy moping about how miserable and lonely he felt despite it all. He couldn’t win. The lonely was always there no matter what.

However Aiden knew that was the point, taking a big sigh as he watched a young Indian woman walk by with a protective surgical mask covering her face. She violently coughed into it, as if it was some higher power’s way of reminding Aiden that he, too, was sick. Not necessarily physically or mentally sick; it was emotional. It was something he had to explore himself. Only he could find his way out.

With that, he reached for his wallet and sought for the Exploratorium, in hopes of finding inspiration despite a relatively overpriced ticket.

~~~

Three hours of mingling among the museum’s children later, Aiden emerged from the building having forgotten he turned his phone off. He could barely remember life before cell phones, but the past few hours made him wonder if the world would be a better place if everyone took themselves off the grid for a period of time to actually experience the world.

Aiden walked away from Pier 15, a brisk air flowing around him and a half smile on his face. His first smile of the day.

See? I can be okay by myself.

As he kept sauntering and closing his mind to his worries, his eyes caught sight of a tower in the distance. Intrigued, he changed direction and began to make his way.

Maybe this was the way to overcome his loneliness – by accepting it. Accepting that he was meant to be alone. Loads of people lived alone, technically. Nuns. Monks. Some priests… Aiden rolled his eyes. I guess the only way is to pick up a religion and run with it.

But wasn’t that a selfish life to live? Closing himself off to a point where no one else mattered but himself?

Aiden didn’t want to disappoint or upset anyone, but maybe that was his price to pay for letting his younger self get to such a dark place. Maybe loneliness was his punishment for his selfishness in trying to take his own life.

Maybe he could convince himself that a planet full of people could suffice as his extended family, and he himself could be his only close family.

The art deco tower grew closer and taller in vision as Aiden realized Fran would probably push him from the top of said tower if he ever completely disappeared. If there was anyone who would get revenge on someone who simply wanted to make her life better, it was Fran. Determined to a T.

He realized he was unsuccessfully numbing his thoughts by running in circles inside his head, deciding for the remainder of his walk to the tower to instead hum an early 2000’s Snow Patrol song. Busy himself.

The Coit Tower was known for it’s three hundred and sixty degree view of San Francisco, notably beautiful on those bright and sunny days the city was surprisingly currently having. Aiden wanted to see the city for what it truly was, so he began to climb the tourist-prone stairs that would lead him to the top.

As a writer-on-hiatus, Aiden was embarrassed at how easily the view took his breath away.  Maybe it was induced by the serenity he was attempting to invoke in his being, but seeing the blue horizon mesh with the lush greens and stark grays of the Bay Area’s dual nature/urban aesthetic was truly a sight to behold.

“Amazing, innit?”

Aiden spun around to find he wasn’t the only one taking in the tall views. There, on the railing, was a man, roughly his own age with an insane head of shiny, prestine, chocolate hair and an Adam’s apple that could feed the world. No, he wasn’t standing behind the railing as good citizens do. He was on it.

He walked in on a man about to jump.

What the fuck was it about Aiden that led him to end up in the presence of every suicidal person on the west coast? This was probably why he was supposed to be lonely the rest of his life: So he could still empathize with all those about to die and make them feel at ease, possibly saving their lives.

I’m not a fucking savior. Jesus Christ, why is this happening to me?

“Guess it’s not so amazing,” the man said.

Aiden breathed through his nose. “Are you okay?”

“Just okay.”

“Been better…?”

“A long time ago.”

Aiden took a step towards him. “I can relate, dude.”

The man turned away to stare out at the city streets below. “Nah, you probably can’t. Most people can’t. But it’s okay. That’s how life works, you know? Always figuring the shit out for yourself.”

Aiden blinked. “I can relate, dude.”

“You here for the view too?”

“Aren’t we all.”

A crow hopped over to squawk in the conversation, but the man waved it off.

“Just not today,” Aiden added.

“Why not?”

“Tried years ago. Shit’s exhausting.” He turned about face and went to a different ledge to look out elsewhere. He had no idea if the man was continuing to move closer to the edge. Aiden hoped he wasn’t but wasn’t too hopeful he had it in him to stop what might be the inevitable.

Silence from him. Aiden quickly glanced back, suddenly praying with all his might that his new acquaintance didn’t complete his mission.

But there he was, now off the railing. Leaning against it, rather, staring directly at Aiden. Simultaneously saddened and piercingly interested.

“Hi,” he murmured. “Name’s Lyle.”

“Aiden Trighton.”

Lyle extended his hand. Aiden walked across the tower to accept the shake, clocking the man. Despite his aggressively molded hair, Lyle seemed disheveled and rather nervous. That, coupled with his crooked jawline and crinkled eyes, put him on an temporary do-not-cross list. If he learned anything from last night, now was not the time to be making new male “friends.”

“Probably inappropriate to say,” Lyle continued, “but it’s nice to meet you.”

“is it?” Aiden raised an eyebrow.

Lyle slid his back down the wall to sit on the ground of the filthy concrete floor. Aiden turned his back to Lyle as a couple of people made their way to the top as well. To the casual passerby, Aiden was intent on taking in the sight. Instead, Aiden was desperately trying to find a way out of his situation. He should have just left with the tourists when he had the chance, but they came and went as Aiden uncontrollably found himself planted in place.

Private party for two again. “Well…?” Aiden wondered aloud.

His new partner in self-crime looked at him in surprise at the continued engagement. “Well what?”

Aiden nodded his head in the general direction of the tower railing.

Lyle sighed. “I’ve got no one.”

“Technically we only have ourselves, always.”

“No. Physically no one. No family. No friends. No ties to anywhere. I’m an actual fucking ghost among the living and I can’t take it anymore!” His voice was rising with an undercurrent of extreme duress. Aiden recognized this was Lyle’s precipice. He could fall over either side of his mental cliff at any moment. Every word Aiden said was crucial and possibly misconstrued in Lyle’s mind.

“Technically, I’m your friend now that you caught me up here.”

Lyle blinked slowly. “Don’t think that’s how it works.”

“Friend is an arbitrary word. It can work however you want it to.”

“Bullshit and you know it.”

Aiden forced a laugh, despite that noise being the last he wanted to make in this circumstance. “We’re friends because you noticed my bullshit.”

Lyle inadvertently cracked a crooked smile but hid it as he caught himself.

“Don’t make me laugh.”

“Because then I’ll talk you out of it?

“Yeah.”

Aiden shuffled his feet for a moment before subtly rolling his eyes and sitting next to Lyle.

“I don’t think we should talk up here anymore.”

He noticed an ever-so-slight nod of agreement from Lyle. Aiden stood (annoyed that he had just sat down) and offered to help up his new friend. Lyle accepted the gesture, and they began their silent descent from the top of the world.

~~~

Finally, with the click of the Starbucks’ bathroom door, one fucking moment alone.

Aiden had told Lyle he hadn’t peed all day and was thus about to combust, giving him at least five minutes of peace. He realized no matter how hard he tried to seclude himself and be on his own, the world was always going to find some fucker to throw in his path. Lyle equaled his current fucker, and not in the sexually gratifying way.

With that understood, he pulled out his phone to turn it on. Immediately, notifications for five missed calls from Tom and eight from Fran appeared. Voicemail galore.

“Jesus,” he muttered as he dialed his sister. “Can a bitch just live his life…”

And then – “Aiden! My god, where the fuck have you been?”

“Busy, sorry, are you okay? Is Chase okay?”

A silence. A different kind of silence from his sister.

“Aid.”

“Fran…what’s wrong?

His eyes began to tear up out of habit. He wasn’t ever going to be alone after what came next; he was almost positive.

“I’m so sorry, Aid. Dad died in a car accident last night.”