Everything Is Fine
by Allison Thomas
His hair was brown, but it looked auburn in a certain light. He was six feet tall. By all accounts he was an attractive young man with green eyes and wire frame glasses. His hair was curly, and he had only recently learned not to hate how disheveled it always looked. Charlotte was his girlfriend.
They had met in high school. She sat in front of him in AP Government. She always brought up controversial topics in class. She would always find a way to understand things from a new perspective. She never hesitated to raise her hand. Simon admired her for that, her fearlessness. He only raised his hand during roll call, and even then, he didn’t fully extend all of his fingers. He sat in the back of the class and doodled on his notes staring at the red hair in front of him, marveling at Charlotte’s confidence.
They got paired with one another for a project. That’s how it started.
They talked and laughed, and eventually there was more. Simon was sixteen, but he had never kissed anyone before. It’s not that he didn’t want to, he was just shy, and it all seemed like a lot. Everyone acted so casual about kissing and sex, most of his friends had lost their virginities, but it wasn’t casual for him. He wondered if maybe something was wrong with him. He wondered that until he was sitting on Charlotte’s bed with papers and textbooks strewn between them, and he caught himself not listening to her as she spoke about the interaction among branches of government but rather staring at her lips. He realized he wanted to taste them. She stopped talking, but he didn’t stop staring right away, his eyes lingered a moment too long before allowing his ears to take over again.
He shook his head slightly, “Sorry, I zoned out for a minute.”
He smiled weakly but knew that she wasn’t stupid enough to believe his cover. She smiled, pink coming to her cheeks and nodded going straight back to her homework.
After the assignment was turned in, he asked her out for celebration milkshakes, it was there that he had his first kiss. A couple months later they were horizontal on the floor of his poster covered bedroom next to a now ruined game of scrabble. They had never gone quite this far, and he loved every minute, feeling her every second until her hand began going south and his heart began to beat rapidly and his breath came out shallow, he felt like he was dying.
“Stop, please, stop!” he sobbed.
She immediately stopped, sitting up and pulling her shirt back on. “What happened? Di- did I do something wrong?”
Simon was still hyperventilating and couldn’t respond.
“Simon, you’re scaring me!”
He was scaring himself, he had never felt such panic before, he couldn’t think straight. He just sat there clutching his chest until he was able to form a coherent thought. He opened his eyes, not being fully aware that he had ever closed them and saw Charlotte, brave and beautiful Charlotte clutching his shoulders, her brown eyes full of worry.
“Simon, can you hear me?” she said softly.
“I think you just had a panic attack.”
“What?” he questioned, shaking his head back and forth attempting to process what had happened.
“A panic attack, they happen wh—”
He stopped her mid-sentence. “I know what a panic attack is, Char,” he had seen her have a couple in their time together. She suffered from them since her dad died last year. They always looked terrible, but fuck, he had no idea this is what she was going through.
She nodded and looked down nervously at her fidgeting hands, “Right, well I think you just had one.” She looked up at him, into his big green eyes, and self-consciously asked, “Did I do something wrong?”
Simon sat there as it came back to him slowly, as he realized what had triggered this. He shook his head, “No, no Char, this has nothing to do with you, I promise.”
She must know, he thought, or at least suspect, what teenage boy freaks out while making out with his girlfriend? He was mortified and asked her to go. She tried to stand her ground, not wanting to leave him like this, but he was adamant. He lied about the all the homework he had and how tired he was even though he already knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
They didn’t speak for weeks after that. He always looked exhausted even if he had gotten a full eight hours. A long night’s sleep just meant eight hours of reliving it, reliving the pain, the fear, the shame.
She couldn’t take it anymore. She marched up to his front door and knocked twice just below the holiday wreath. She was determined to get answers, to understand, to help him understand that she still wanted to be with him. He opened the door and let out a deep breath, knowing she wanted to talk and wouldn’t be shrugged off with a lie about homework over winter break.
“Simon, you don’t have to tell me anything if you aren’t ready, even if you’ll never be ready, but I miss you.” A single tear left his eye, and he broke open.
He told her what had happened when he was twelve. They had matching tear stained cheeks as he recounted the moment he had buried deep inside his mind until then. He hadn’t told anyone, but he trusted this fierce redhead with his soul as he poured it out right in front of her. He felt more naked than when they had been shirtless and sweaty. He felt raw and bare to the world. He had to get it out, had to say it before it devoured him from the inside out. She held him until they fell asleep on his bed watching old reruns of Cheers.
He hadn’t told anyone else since the snowy afternoon with Charlotte. He never mentioned it to his parents or his older sister. It all just seemed so awkward. They would look at him differently. If they knew, it would change everything. Even though Simon’s world was changed four years ago, he wasn’t sure he was ready to alter his family’s world quite yet. He knew he probably should tell them. He was discussing it with his therapist. He was still working through it himself. His nightmares were happening less often but they were debilitating as ever when they did occur. He no longer had panic attacks when he was with Charlotte. He was normal. Just a normal sixteen-year-old boy in love with a pretty girl.
Charlotte was out of town visiting her sister when he found out that Grandma Ida had died. He was sad, but she was old, and he knew she had lived a full life. Her death was expected. The funeral was set for Saturday morning, and his mom wanted him to be there. Family gatherings always made him uneasy. He never liked his mother’s family. They were all aggressively evangelical and judgmental. He didn’t see it as a coincidence that those two things seemed to always go hand and hand. Nonetheless, family was important to his mother, and it was the least he could do for her.
He sucked it up and put on his black suit, slightly taming his curly mop and adjusting his silver rimmed glasses. He nodded at his reflection, sad that Charlotte wasn’t there, but today wasn’t about him. Today was about being strong for his mother.
The church was small and unimpressive, no grand steeple to speak of, just a small cross in front of the gravel parking lot. It looked the same to Simon now as it always had to him growing up, except today there were distant relatives in shades of black surrounding him and his palms were sweating.
He never liked funerals. Not that anyone is very fond of them, but Simon especially hated them. He hated the whole ritual. It all seemed so false to him. He was fidgeting with his black tie when he saw him. His mouth went dry and his heart doubled in speed. Simon hadn’t seen his uncle in four years. He rarely showed up at family events, and no one in the family really kept in contact with him. Uncle Carl looked just the same as he remembered, except for the new disgusting addition of a goatee. Becoming increasingly nervous, Simon ran his fingers through his hair and excused himself into the church bathroom.
He went into a stall and leaned his head against the germ ridden door with a youth group flyer full of smiling children on it. He leaned over the toilet and vomited up his sustenance from the last seven years. His face was now covered in sweat. He wiped the back of his across his forehead and took a deep breath, beginning to count as his therapist had suggested. He felt so defeated. He was supposed to be over this shit. Taking another deep inhale and exhale, he pulled himself together. As he exited the bathroom to the sea of blackness, he saw his mother talking to her brother. Talking to the man that had tried to rape him when he was twelve. He turned to find a seat in the sanctuary, but his mother waved him over. He gulped down his panic, put his hands shaking uncontrollably in his pockets, and approached them. Simon was there for his mother. He never felt so small. In this moment, there was no loving parents, supportive older sister, or perfect girlfriend, no, it was him, and he was a scared little boy, all alone.
“Well, you have really grown up haven’t you, how old are you now? Seventeen?” his uncle inquired.
Simon wondered how he smelled the same, after all these years his breath still reeked of cigarettes and menthol. Simon barley got out his response, tasting bile as he spoke, “Sixteen,” he corrected in the calmest voice he could possibly muster.
His mother was pulled away by a family friend, and it was just him and his uncle Carl. Such a stupid name, Carl, who was named Carl anyway. Simon stared at his uncle trying to understand how he could be so casual. Just walk away, Simon thought. Get the fuck out of here. He was stuck, somehow frozen, gone back in time. Carl put a hand on Simon’s shoulder making him jump a bit.
“A bit jumpy? These things are always so hard,” Carl squeezed Simon’s shoulder, but it felt like the hand was on Simon’s neck, suffocating him.
Simon managed a nod. There were people, all in black, passing tissues and old stories back and forth as the pastor approached the pulpit. No one around him knew what had happened. Everything was fine, other than Grandma Ida dying, everything was just fine.