Part Two. 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 Two
I’d known Riley Robinson since he was a little kid and I’d like to think that for a while there I was a pretty big part of his life. I was there to see him have his first drink, his first cig, his first girlfriend, Hell, his first day at College. I was around to see it all, but his parents weren’t and that’s what mattered to him. When he turned seventeen he took his own life. He was just a kid, he hadn’t even finished school yet. It’s hard to believe anyone would do that to themselves but for someone so young… He still had so much to live for. I’m still in shock I guess. I mean, I was there for every defining moment in his young life and I just can’t get it through my head that he’s gone and done this to himself.
But I don’t want to get stuck on that just yet, so, I’ll wind back a little, back to the first time he rocked up on my front door step.
It was about two in the morning when he came knocking at the door. I was rummaging through the kitchen cupboards in search of a large pot. I’d really only stepped through the door myself after being out for my mate Andrew’s twenty-first birthday. I didn’t hear Riley at first, I kept banging around with those pots and pans making a great racket. I’ll admit, I was a little drunk and in desperate need of something to soak up the dozen or so beers I had in me.
When I’d found the right pot I turned to fetch the noodles, only to wind up dropping everything to the floor as I spotted Riley through the kitchen window. He scared the life out of me, just standing there, not making a peep. I couldn’t imagine what had prompted his visit at such a late hour, he’d never even been by my place before.
I left the kitchen in all its noodle glory and went to the door. As I opened the door I flicked on the porch light and it took a minute for my eyes to adjust from the darkness to what seemed like a blinding light. Riley stood there with his hands in his pockets, his nose dripping with blood and his cheeks glossy with tears. Seeing that I sobered the fuck up.
He could hardly speak. I remember how strained his voice was and the anguish in his tone as he tried to spit out a word. He was only managing in the slightest to hold it together.
“Can I crash here tonight?” He asked, snivelling.
I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him inside as I asked what had happened to him. I sat him down on the ledge of the bathtub and cleaned him up but he wouldn’t answer me, he didn’t say another word at all. I know I’d had a lot to drink that night but I remember it all so clearly. When one of your mates comes to you like that, when a thirteen year old kid is knocking on your door at two in the morning like that, something hits you and somehow you manage to sober up.
I kept asking him what had happened, it was obvious someone had had a go at him but I wanted to know the full story this time. I couldn’t imagine someone hurting Riley like that. He wasn’t a rowdy kid, he didn’t like fights, he didn’t think it was something to be commended for unlike a lot of his mates. He was a good kid, and I had to know what punk did that to him. But every time I asked I just made things worse, he’d start crying and become more withdrawn but I couldn’t understand why. So he got in a fight, that’s nothing to cry about, right?
I always knew there was more to this kid, something never quite felt right. He’d come into the shop with a bruise over his cheek or a black eye, I even began to question when he’d come limping in and say he’d just rolled his ankle skating. It seemed to me he had a kid that kept coming after him, I know what kids can be like in high school, but that wasn’t it.
I made up the couch, gave him a pillow and a blanket and set a glass of water down next to him. I couldn’t get anything out of him and by the end of the night he didn’t even seem with it. I wasn’t sure if he’d been knocked in the head a bit too hard and that’s why he seemed so out of it, part of me hoped that’s all it was but it seemed like there was something else going on. He wanted to lie down, he looked exhausted, so I figured if there was anything to worry about I’d take him to the Hospital in the morning. But still, I had a feeling he didn’t rock up on my doorstep because he’d gotten into some fight, there was more to the story, I was sure of it.
Riley wasn’t awake when I got up early the next morning so I ducked down to McDonalds and grabbed us—well mostly it was for me—some brekky with the expectation it would ward off my looming hangover. My car pulling into the drive way when I returned must’ve woken him, when I came in I found him sitting on the edge of the couch rubbing the heels of his palms to his eyes. I didn’t even have a chance to ask how he was feeling before he spoke.
“I thought I was dreaming, that I didn’t come here last night, thought I was at home in bed,” he said.
His voice was still croaky and he looked like Hell. He looked worse than I felt even with my seedy hangover. I sat down on the couch beside him, dumping the two brown bags of food on the coffee table.
“You wanna’ tell me what’s goin’ on?” I asked.
I thought I had a chance of getting an answer this time given he’d already managed to say something but all he gave me was a shrug. I waited patiently for something more than a half-assed shrug of the shoulders as a response. He sat there, fidgeting, I could see the thoughts ticking over, like he was going over what he was about to say. Then he dropped his head to the palm of his hands, cursing and sobbing as he did.
“Riley?”I asked after him as I gripped his shoulder in an effort to comfort him.
“It didn’t happen, didn’t fucking happen,” he kept saying it over and over.
It was only going on seven a.m. as I sat there with Riley that morning. He told me he couldn’t go home, that he wouldn’t go back. Then it was like he snapped, he starting pacing around the living room and going on about needing to get out of this place and away from everything for a while. He looked like he was about to break, like if he didn’t get in a car and split that second he’d have a meltdown right then and there. So, we jumped in my car and I drove us around in my seedy state. There were a few moments when I lost concentration on the road and we could’ve wound up wrapped around a telegraph pole. Thankfully, I managed to keep the car in one piece. I drove out to the park, not the sketchy one by my place but the big city park that gets locked up from ten at night ‘til six in the morning.
We sat in silence for a good few minutes while I wrestled with what to say to Riley. It was a real ice breaker when he turned to me and asked for a cigarette. I knew it wasn’t right to let him smoke those things at his age but I just listened to my gut. I had to let him do whatever he needed until he could tell me what had happened.
I didn’t know a great deal about his family just that for a kid his age he sure didn’t spend a lot of time with them. He’d come into the shop with his mates saying about the night they’d had or the weekend they had planned and this was how it went pretty much every day. He didn’t ever talk about his family but I guess that’s not unusual, I mean what kid does talk about their family really? It just seemed like he didn’t ever go home. Yes, maybe I went over things in my head a little too much with Riley, but my gut always told me that I had to pry, that I had to ask questions. And I was right to, if I hadn’t kept pressing the issue he wouldn’t have told me his mother had passed away that night.
Once he’d said that the rest came pouring out. I felt terribly guilty sitting there stuffing my face when he was confiding in me but I needed the food to keep going if I had any hope of getting a grasp on the situation. While we sat there talking his blood nose started up again and he didn’t even react. He just sat there wiping his arm across his lips to catch the dripping blood in between puffs of his cigarette. He said he didn’t know where else to go or who he could turn to and I just thought if a kid has to come to me for help they’ve really got no-one else to go to.
He told me his Mum had been fighting cancer for the past few years. She had been on chemotherapy but without letting anyone know she stopped receiving treatment a few weeks earlier. She told Riley so that night. He said how she looked so sick, so pale, so he carried her to bed and that was when she told him what she’d done. He said he couldn’t stop crying, that he frantically tried to call his father but he wouldn’t answer his phone. He said how he tried to figure out how her chemotherapy worked because she was too weak to stop him from administering it but he didn’t know what to do. She told him to sit with her and hold her hand. He didn’t finish his sentence and I knew it was then when she’d passed away. Riley said when his older brother Dylan came home and found them like that in her room he just started laying into him. I’d never felt such an ache before, a pain that engulfed my chest, when Riley asked me if it was his fault that his mother had died. To see that doubt in someone’s eyes, that they’re so tormented by the thought that they can’t stand to live with it anymore. Having to see that in him was one of the worst moments of my life.
I pulled him into a hug, trying to hold it together for his sake as I told him that he couldn’t control her illness and that his Mum did what she felt was best.
This was the first I’d ever heard of Riley copping a beating from his brother but it wasn’t the first time it had happened. In retrospect, I should’ve known better than to dismiss it as a one off poor reaction response to a terrible situation but I didn’t know better and Riley didn’t tell me any differently. It was a long time yet before Riley would tell me the truth about his brother.