Road to Nothing

Road to Nothing

A Story by Lalli
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This story was inspired by a true life character. A friend of a friend. Please if you have the time to read it... I would really appreciate honest feedback.

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Road to Nothing

By Jason Lalli

 

We stood staring in disbelief as we watched the event unfold, while the giant muscular man stood hovering over my blank-faced friend who was rudely interrupted in the middle of his performance.  The behemoth was just inches from his face with veins bulging from his neck screaming, “Go get a real job you bum!” The rest of it was slurred with rage so I couldn’t really understand him. Except, I remember hearing something about being ashamed because panhandling was lazy and dishonorable.  The man was so close to Reggie’s face, I thought about handing him something to wipe off the spit. Yet, I found myself wondering how he was staying so calm. Maybe he was in shock like the three of us. Regardless, I looked at Reggie’s father beside me and asked, “Don’t you think we should we go help him?” His father paused for a second.

Still staring at his son analyzing the situation then broke his gaze, looked at me, and said, “No, he’s ok. Let it play out.”

Our friend Darin argued, “If we don’t get over there Reggie’s going to get his a*s kicked!”

Reggie’s father looked at Darin with this look of his that could melt an ice cube in your hand from fifteen feet away. Then like any father, he reassured us Reggie would be ok. His dad wasn’t a big guy or anything it’s just we had so much respect for him that even an irrational angry Darin would back down to the, ‘Are you really questioning me?’ look.  Sure enough, the man made his point and stormed off with his girlfriend. My friend just smiled un-phased, looked at the three of us, and kept on playing.


Reggie was always beyond talented as a musician. For fun he loved going down to Heritage Square near the college to perform for anyone walking by. He always got a kick out of opening up his guitar case just to see if anyone would toss a coin, a dollar, anything, even a piece of gum like it was some social experiment of his. You’d be surprised the crazy stuff people would give him but this was never his motivation. It was his love for music. I was always amazed how he played with such passion. Like every lyric, every note strummed, or melody sung had built such pressure inside him that they could not be imprisoned anymore. I always admired his talents and I never missed an opportunity to watch him perform. Not just because I viewed him like a brother but there was something about his stage presence that mesmerized everyone within hearing range.  Well, except the angry meathead showing off for his girlfriend.


Another twenty-five minutes passed when he hit his last note harmonized with a strong finish. The fifty or so people standing around applauded then went on their way. Some walked up, shook his hand with compliments, and dropped something into the guitar case. He actually made decent money on most nights. His father, Darin, and I let him wrap up his conversations and collect his things. Reggie strolled over with a mischievous smirk, all of us knowing why, and he let out a burst of uncontrollable laughter. He joked, “Am I really dressed that poorly that someone would think I was actually a bum?”

 We all laughed when his father chimed in, “Remember what I always say son, ‘Life is dictated by your decision of how you perceive it’ and that man saw what he wanted.”

 Reggie lovingly shook his head and in a joking manner said, “Pops, how did I know you would respond with some profound teaching moment?”

It’s true though; his dad was the wisest man I’d ever met. He was always using situations like that as an opportunity to teach us something through some motivational quote. But the “your life is how you choose to see it” line must have been his favorite because even I had heard it so many times I could have interrupted him on the first word and quoted it verbatim.


Reggie, Darin, and I all grew up together. We all went to the same schools, lived in the same neighborhood, and became so close that it seemed like we had three sets of parents. Reggie’s parents were the real loving type always trying to teach us a life lesson and insisting to help with whatever we needed. Darin’s parents, well they were kind of out there and were definitely hippies in their youth since they always talked about being free spirits. They smoked a lot of weed and always encouraged us to hang out at the house and party with them. We always politely declined with lies of some fake plans filled with tales of promising adventure, lust, and yeah…running around as free spirits while rushing out the front door. Then there are my parents, hearing about them would be more like stabbing your eardrum with a needle, so I’m not going to say much besides they are religious and pushy. They always used to corner Darin so they could try to save him from eternal damnation since he was not a born-again Christian.  

 

 “I’m sorry Crystal I digress. It’s just these guys have always been such a big part of my life it’s impossible to go through this scrapbook without going off-track with each pictures backstory. Plus, it’s your fault! Yep, I blame you! I mean who grabs the scrapbook on the third date!”

 She chuckles, “John you are such a goof! I like getting to know more about you though. Plus, I already knew there’s no way we are getting passed the first page. But I’m curious what’s the story behind this picture?”

She points to a picture of a broken down old billboard in front of a breathtaking sunset. It was barely hanging upon four long splintered posts, tilted slightly to the right with a chipped faded like a sun battered newspaper background and big bold red letters that spelled, ‘NOTHING’.  Underneath the picture was written, ‘Even nothing sees the beauty of the sunset’. My eyes flashed memories like a movie-screen; I instantly became weak as they welled with tears. My chest became heavy and my throat forced a swallow of courage"“Crystal, it was one of the most influential moments of my life.”

 

We were eighteen, just starting our senior year of high school. Reggie had been complaining about not feeling like himself for some time. He complained about pains in his stomach and feeling weak. Before long, we all noticed he started unexplainably losing weight. I’ll never forget it; I was the first person he called. When I picked up the phone I immediately could tell something was wrong by the tone of his voice when he said my name. He was always very positive and lively. He handled stress and bad situations better than anyone I’ve ever met. If he wasn’t jovial and upbeat then something was seriously wrong. He got straight to the point, “John, I have stage 4 colon cancer.” He paused with a deep sigh and continued, “My parents and I were concerned about the pains, fatigue, and weight-loss so we went to the doctor.  As soon as I got home from my follow-up appointment I called you. John, I don’t know what to do…” He just fell silent. I couldn’t speak; words were not formulating, and I sat there in the brief silence. I felt this wave of disbelief engulf my entire body.  I went to speak but there was nothing.  I didn’t know what to say.  I just felt so helpless.

Nevertheless, after a couple seconds I gathered my composure and said, “Oh my god bro, I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do? Have you told Darin?”

“Just be there for me man and no I haven’t called Darin. He’s going to lose it!! You know how he is.”

Reggie and I both knew it. Darin was going to flip out. Darin was a lot of things but he was not the person you wanted around in a real stressful situation.

So I told Reggie, “I think we need to sit down and tell him together.”

“Agreed, lets head over to his house. I’ll come pick you up.”

I immediately stopped him, “No Reggie, I’ll come get you bro you shouldn’t be driving.”

 I don’t remember fully his next words except he made it very clear not to give him pity, sympathy, or to treat him any differently than before. He made me promise. So I did.

When he picked me up there was a heavy tension in the car, an awkward sense like a child scolded for misbehaving, I sat staring out the window, and we said nothing to break the silence. We pulled up, got out of the car, walked up the doorsteps, and walked-in. We never knocked, like I said we were all like family.  Darin was in the back yard mowing the lawn. When he saw us he turned off the mower with a look of surprise. He saw it in our body language.

He joked, “Why do you both look like death came to pay me a visit?”

No one laughed.

I said, “Come inside bro, we need to talk to you.”

“S**t, it’s that bad huh?”

No one answered.


We sat on the couch; the kitchen table seemed too formal. Reggie looked Darin dead in the eyes and I swear before a word was said he knew. “Darin, I have stage 4 colon cancer.” Darin, like myself at first said nothing but you could hear the gears grinding in his head as he tried to digest if he heard him correctly.

The only word Darin could mutter was, “What?”

 Reggie said, “You heard me man, don’t make me say it again it’s hard enough.”

We were right; Darin lost it as he stood up screaming, “What the f**k! F**k you both! This s**t isn’t funny!”

Along with a whole other long list of obscenities about what a messed up joke it was. It took a few minutes for him to gain control of his reaction, so we waited quietly until he was done. He sat back down, took a deep breath, then I was met with an interrogating look as if he was investigating for any signs, body language, or facial expressions as a clue that it wasn’t real. My face reflected the truth of his pain, Darin looked at Reggie, without any idea of what to say.  We sat in the silence.

 

It didn’t take long for Reggie to accept it and keep moving forward with his life like nothing was wrong. He never really let it bring him down. Every time I’d call him to check up he’d always have something positive to say and would continue with a regular conversation. It drove me nuts when other people would call or text him complaining about some situation in their horrible daunting lives. The audacity of these people! I even asked him once, “Why do you give them the time of day and respond?”

Reggie paused, made eye contact as if to speak to my soul and said, “Everyone needs strength and release”.

I couldn’t really argue with him.  He had me there. He found some of that strength and release in his music. Hearing him play always gave me a sense of hope. The same sense of hope I got from him when he didn’t let it stop him from a good work out at the gym even though he knew the cancer had spread. It was like watching a champion fighter prepare to retain his belt in a title bout. Despite the pain and fatigue his drive and strength out performed anyone in the gym. Like nothing could ever beat him down. Reggie “The Unstoppable” I called him. Honestly, he just didn’t see himself as being different from anyone else. He lived as a true example of his requests of me when he broke the initial news.  Eventually though, cancer landed a few too many hard hits. It wasn’t too long before he was bedridden. The next few months were internally troublesome. I tried to keep the peace. I tried to honor Reggie’s wish not to treat him any differently, not to pity him, or see him in the light of sympathy. It wasn’t fair! His request wasn’t fair! I had to watch as he went through chemotherapy. He turned pale. He looked so brittle and weak. After a few months he looked like a starved prisoner of a concentration camp approaching his death. I’d try to talk to him about it but he wouldn’t have it. He’d change the subject with something positive and motivational. He was so much like his dad. As much as I hated it, I stared at him in disbelief of his mental and physical strength. Even when his hair began thinning, I joked with him, “You’re turning into a bald old man.”

He laughed then said, “It’s all how you want to see it right? I think I’m aging like a fine wine. Hell man, I’m near hiring a few bodyguards to keep the ladies away.”


One day we were watching a movie in his room and he turned to me on the couch from his bed with this big smile on his face and said, “You know John, I’ve never felt so alive.” Puzzled, I listened as if every word might be his last as he continued, “It’s like the closer to death you get all the things you took for granted become important. Man, even with each breath I feel the life of oxygen through my veins. I used to just live each day like I HAD to. Now I live each day like I GET to. As if every experience good or bad is a gift. I can’t even tell you how much life that brings to each moment. The best way I can describe it is like a vivid connection, an over-stimulated awareness of all the small moments within the big ones.  Even this moment, right now bro, I’m so grateful to share it with you. I want to let you know, even though I’ve never told you, I love you. You are family to me.”

I stood up, walked over to him sobbing like a widow at a funeral, and gave him a hug barely able to mutter, “I love you too brother.”

When we hugged, somehow he gave me strength. I couldn’t believe it! How was my friend so weak, near death, able to give me strength? Strangely I became at peace with the situation, and I believe it was from Reggie’s constant unwavering positive attitude.


After we found out about the cancer Darin wasn’t around much. He said he couldn’t stand to see or think of Reggie that way. Enraptured in self-pity he would begin to complain about how bad his life was. He was known for his negative outlook. Reggie and I never fully understood how he became that way especially since his parents pretty much didn’t care about anything. It got worse though. Darin almost became unbearable to be around. His negativity became such a focal point that it became his reality. He’d complain about the look the teller gave him at the bank, the a*****e that walked half a step to slow down the hallway, or it got so bad he even had the nerve to say how he couldn’t stand to be in the room with Reggie.  He felt the positive attitude Reggie always had was a mask like it was a way to disguise his true feelings. Who cares if it was or if it wasn’t, at least he seemed at peace. But since Darin couldn’t step outside of his negativity long enough to talk to Reggie without blinders, he wasn’t hearing what Reggie was saying. Darin was spiraling like a kamikaze pilot with one wing riddled with bullet holes. It was like being a witness in Hiroshima watching the atom bomb fall from the sky; I knew it was going to be bad. I just didn’t know to what extent.  

 

“Oh my god, Crystal, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’ll stop telling the story.” “No John, I want to hear what happened. I want to know about the picture. I’m crying because it’s so sad to hear, I’m sorry you had to go through this.”

“It’s ok Crystal, remember I said I became at peace with Reggie’s situation but it was Darin I really began to worry about. I started to question if his self-pity was going to lead to suicide. It was comments Darin would say like, ‘When Reggie dies, how long do you think it’ll be before we see him again? Do you think we will?’ or, ‘I can’t take it anymore John, I don’t know what I’m going to do when he dies.’ Darin was a mess. I was just waiting for the moment when he’d turn to drugs. Thankfully, that moment never came. But I knew I needed to keep close to him when Reggie passed, I needed to be the strong one.“

“So what happened John?”

 

It didn’t take long. Once he started treatment the cancer took a more aggressive course. Seven months later Reggie was admitted to the hospital permanently. It had spread to his liver and his lungs. At this point, we all knew it was coming. No matter how strong Reggie was the poor guy never stood a chance. At least nobody could question whether he made the best of every moment he had remaining. It was impossible not to be affected by his personality because no matter how much pain he was in, he cracked jokes and kept to his positive upbeat ways. While always making sure to let us know how much he loved us. I watched a young boy become a man in a heartbeat and that man, is forever my hero.  

 

We were all there the day he died. The coming days had been difficult and foretelling so we made sure to be there for him. He couldn’t keep any food down and the pain was so great no medications worked let alone helped him sleep. Yet, there he was even on his deathbed telling us, “Everything is going to be alright, don’t feel bad for me, don’t pity me, I’ve never felt so alive.” Of course, we wanted to believe him, but it was hard. I even began to think Darin might be right. Like all the positivity was a mask. Only to be reminded of Reggie’s integrity every time I looked into his eyes. I’ll never forget the moment; I was having a conversation with Reggie’s dad who had been searching for strength through his Christian faith. He had just finished quoting a verse from the Bible, Isaiah 40:31, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” It was almost like Reggie heard him because the energy shifted in the air. All conversation stopped, we knew it was happening. We watched the cancer in it’s full control take hold and squeeze his last breath until he was finally free from pain and his lungs were filled with nothing.

 

John, that’s just horrible! You actually watched your friend die?”

“Yes, I did and I cried and I cried and I cried.”

“You poor thing come here, let me cuddle with you”

 “I’d like that, thank you. You know Crystal, If I had known this story would have been my in, I would have told it on the first date.”

 She snickers, “You are horrible! But tell me, what happened with Darin?”

 

Well, I made sure to ride home with him. At first he was quiet, which is never a good sign with Darin. He turned on the car without a word, put it in drive, and drove. It wasn’t until we missed the turn home that I realized he had something else in mind so I asked him, “What’s up man? Where are we going? And are you ok?” He wouldn’t even look at me. He just stared straight ahead, straight-faced, and scarily calm. We drove to interstate-17, where he went north until we reached the outskirts of town.  He exited west onto Carefree highway that took us passed the lake, to a town an hour away. Still not a single word, we drove. I didn’t press him for conversation; I knew he’d speak when he was ready. We went through the small town continuing northwest, driving for therapy’s sake. Then about thirty-five minutes out of town I heard him sniffle. I looked over, the levy had broken and his face was flooded with tears. I could see the pressure had risen until critical blowout. He screamed at the top of his lungs, “AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” Then continued on a rant saying, “Life isn’t f*****g fair, I miss my friend, he shouldn’t be gone! I would have died in his place!” His ranting lasted for about ten minutes before he looked at me with a face red like an over-throttled tachometer and said, “You know the worst part John? Even though he lived, he never got to really feel what it’s like to be alive! He never got to feel real love, have a child, or damnit; he never got to have an opportunity to live his dreams! What kind of a messed up reality is this?” Before I had a chance to answer we heard a loud BANG! The car jerked to the right because we immediately began decelerating as we heard a loud whistling noise and smoke started coming from under the hood. Darin yelled, “You seriously got to be kidding me right now! We are in the middle of know where!” as he pulled off the road into a dirt lot of an abandoned rundown gift shop.  The sun was just going down over the horizon as we got out of the car to inspect the damage. Darin kicked the bumper a couple times and mumbled a few words I didn’t comprehend. Then he stopped and just stared at the smoking hood. A gentle cool breeze blew by. It wasn’t any type of breeze though; it had a certain familiarity to it, a peace. Darin looked up at me with tears dried to his face then looked behind him where that broken down old billboard in front of a breathtaking sunset. It was barely hanging upon four long splintered posts, tilted slightly to the right with a chipped faded like a sun battered newspaper background and big bold red letters that spelled, ‘NOTHING’. He turned to me and said with an unfamiliar peace. “Even nothing sees the beauty of the sunset.”





© 2013 Lalli


Author's Note

Lalli
I hope you enjoyed the write. I've just began to delve into the medium os short stories. Please let me know your thoughts.

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Featured Review

there is a poignant story here - and the ending really got to me. you touch on much of the human condition. How some face illness with grace and others run from it screaming. It all rings true. Keep writing. Stories don't get as much attention here as poetry but this one definitely tugs at the heart.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Lalli

7 Years Ago

TL, Thank you for taking the time to review my story. More so for giving me some feedback, I really .. read more
TL Boehm

7 Years Ago

No problem - I write stories and post them myself. Even though they're not reviewed as much as poems.. read more
Lalli

7 Years Ago

Yes, I enjoy the form as well. I see it as another medium to be able to share my messages and my gif.. read more



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Thank you for sharing this

Posted 2 Years Ago


there is a poignant story here - and the ending really got to me. you touch on much of the human condition. How some face illness with grace and others run from it screaming. It all rings true. Keep writing. Stories don't get as much attention here as poetry but this one definitely tugs at the heart.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Lalli

7 Years Ago

TL, Thank you for taking the time to review my story. More so for giving me some feedback, I really .. read more
TL Boehm

7 Years Ago

No problem - I write stories and post them myself. Even though they're not reviewed as much as poems.. read more
Lalli

7 Years Ago

Yes, I enjoy the form as well. I see it as another medium to be able to share my messages and my gif.. read more

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Added on October 8, 2013
Last Updated on October 9, 2013
Tags: short stories, cancer, lalli, nothing, road, interesting

Author

Lalli
Lalli

Phoenix, AZ



About
It takes one voice, one passion, and one heart to create a positive existence in anothers life Lalli is an awareness/performance poet in Phoenix, AZ with a unique creative use of off-.. more..

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