Part Three. Riley, a young child, is struggling to deal with grief and abuse when he meets Jimmy, the local skate shop owner. Jimmy takes it upon himself to look out for Riley but is it enough to keep him from spiraling out of control?
This Kid I Used To Know – Part Three – Read part one here
I went to the funeral for Riley, he didn't ask me to, but if showing up at my house that night told me anything it was that he was in desperate need of some support. I sat in the back of the funeral hall keeping a close eye on Riley and his family the whole time. His father, whom I hadn’t met, didn’t openly cry but sat wiping his cheeks every now and then. Riley’s brother on the other hand sobbed and wailed the entire time. It was awful sitting there seeing so many people grieving, everyone dressed in black, and listening to some man praise this good woman and the life she’d lead. But what’s worse was sitting there seeing Riley hold it all in. He numbed himself from it, he just sat there, quiet as ever. I wasn’t even sure if he knew what was going on half the time, he seemed so distant from it all. I couldn’t blame the kid for being that way but it was hard to see.
That night he came back to my place and we shared a drink together, his very first drink. It was the first of many milestones in Riley’s life that I was lucky enough to be a part of.
I’d known Riley for four or so years by then. I’d seen him every other day at the shop or down at the skate park but as long as we’d known each other it wasn’t until that week when I really started getting to know him. After his mother passed away, Riley finally let his guard down with me and I realised that in all that time I'd actually learned very little about him. I don’t think letting people in was something that Riley did very often, he tended to keep everyone at arm’s length.
He started hanging around my place more and more as time went on until it reached the point where I had to remind him he had a home to go to. But even the times when he did leave, I don’t think he ever went home. He had a lot of friends and no shortage of places he could crash at if he was in need. I think he’d have gone just about anywhere really, as long as it wasn’t back home.
Riley losing his mother like that was something that scarred him deeply and changed him from the person he once was. He was a lot more withdrawn, sullen, just wasn’t himself at all after that. It’s hard trying to help someone cope with a loss like that because there’s really not a lot you can do for them. You can’t make things better, you can’t change what’s happened, you can only be there for them.
He stayed over at my place for a week straight after the funeral. He spent the week lying around on the couch, smoking his cigarettes and damaging his young body, he wasn’t coping. I didn’t know if he’d even called by his place to say he wouldn’t be around, I didn’t think he’d been in touch with his father or brother at all. So, after work one night I stopped by Riley’s place. I thought his father needed to know what his son was doing to himself and that he needed support from his family at a time like this.
I came to the door, rung the bell and waited. Riley’s brother answered the door and I tell you this guy looked worse off than Riley. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week, let alone shower, shave or eat.
He didn’t greet me with a hello but instead spat out, “What do you want?”
I told him who I was and said I wanted to speak to his father.
“He’s not here,” Dylan said.
I asked if he knew when his Dad would be home and he shrugged in that same manner Riley always did when he couldn’t spit something out.
“I came home and all his shit was gone so I’m guessing he isn’t, ya know, coming back,” he said.
Hearing that was like getting kicked in the gut, I couldn’t believe Riley’s father would take off on his kids like that. I didn’t get in another word before Dylan slammed the door in my face. I thought it was fair enough, I wouldn’t want some guy coming around and talking about my old man if he’d just taken off either.
I went home that day feeling sick to my stomach. I didn’t know how I’d tell Riley his Dad had taken off but I didn’t want him going home to be shanghaied with that, I had to tell him. When I came home that night the boys were around, they had the skate DVD Hoon Run playing and Riley kinda’ looked like himself again. I sat down on the couch next to him, they were all laughing so hard and carrying on that they hardly even noticed I was home. I leant over and gave my mate Preston a shove knowing this would’ve all been his idea. It was the kind of thing Preston always did, just show up and make himself at home whether you were there or not. Not that I had a problem with the fellas being over, they’re always good for a laugh and it seemed to be doing Riley a world of good, just a little bit of notice would’ve been nice.
I glanced at Riley, not knowing how to break it to him but knowing that somehow I had to do it. He turned to me with this beaming smile slapped across his face and I guess he knew something bad was coming ‘cause the look on his face just melted away. I took the beer from his hand thinking he shouldn’t be drinking like this at his age and said we needed to talk.
He turned away, he looked like I’d sucked the life from, like somehow he knew what I was about to say. I gripped his shoulder and came to a stand. He followed my direction, reluctantly though it seemed, as I lead him outside. It was bad timing having to tell him right now, when the boys were around and he looked like he was enjoying himself for a change, but it wasn’t something that I could sit on. I lead him down the backyard, away from the racket inside the house and sat down on the bench.
Riley sat down beside me and said, “You’re real serious.”
I nodded and breathed out a heavy sigh. When you say these words to someone, they’re words you never forget.
“Riley,” I said. I wasn’t sure how to start but I knew there was no easy way to say it, I just had to get it out. “I stopped by your house on my way home.”
He interjected with a disapproving “What’d you do that for?”
I didn’t answer him, I just told him to listen. His moment of anger faded quickly and morphed into an expression of sheer terror over what I might say next.
“I went to see your father, because I am concerned about you.”
He shook his head, switching straight back to anger.
“But, when I got there Riley, your brother answered the door.” I hesitated and tried to think if there was a better way to say it but there wasn’t, it was still going to hurt all the same. “I’m sorry, but he seems to think your Dad’s taken off,” I gripped his shoulder, aching over what I had to confess. “And he doesn’t think he’s coming back.”
Riley sat there motionless for a food five minutes. I gave his shoulder a squeeze and asked after him but he didn’t respond. He pulled his mobile phone from his jeans pocket and started dialling a number. As he raised the phone to his ear I withdrew my hand to give him some space.
“Dad,” his voice came out rife with apprehension. “It’s um, me, Riley. Can, can you call me back, when you get this, please?”
He sat with the phone against his ear for a little while longer before hanging up. He snivelled and gave his nose a wipe across his arm, he looked like he could’ve burst at the seams. I told him I was sorry and asked if there was anything I could do but he didn’t answer me. He lowered his gaze and started tapping his phone against his knee as he tried to hold it together. A minute later he came to an abrupt stand and said he needed to go for a walk. I don’t know where he went but I didn’t see him again for two days.