Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of rape and violence.
Andrew kicked up the dust at his feet. The particles drifted lazily in front of his eyes, swayed every which way by the air around him.
“Is this it?” asked Trisha dryly, her tone complimenting the air around them.
“I thought there would be more given the way you were describing this place.”
She scanned the perimeter of the fence outside the fair, looking at the mechanisms with abject disappointment.
Rusted, the steel contraptions stood as sentries on the old Tuckahoe Funland fair grounds. A forlorn atmosphere embraced them.
“The magic factory where dreams are made,” she read aloud off the metal signboard held up by clinking chains. It was no doubt a disappointment.
Earlier that morning, Trisha had been jolted awake by Andrew’s sudden presence in her room. Breathing into her ear, he was kneeling over her immobile form clutching a travel satchel in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.
Without as much as a “good morning,” she was dragged from her bed and shoved unceremoniously into the shower.
“Get dressed, bitch. We’re going to the greatest place on earth,” he shouted.
Of course, she didn’t hear a word of that standing under a steamy shower head, fully clothed. She was trying to shake off the state of shock and confusion as a million questions swirled around in her head.
Between the rush of water and Andrew’s incessant chatter, she was trying to ask him when he got back, wasn’t she supposed to get him from the airport and how the hell did he get into her room, much less her house?
“Oh, you know. I took a cab from the airport,” he replied flatly diffusing the tone of paranoia in her voice. “Plus, I was just so excited that I couldn’t wait.”
Trisha’s shouts echoed in the bathroom.
“What?” Andrew asked, trying to distinguish between her screams of “House! How did you get into my house?!”
“Oh yeah. That. I owe you a new door,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. He could hear Trisha smack her forehead from behind the shower curtains.
A lot of things went through her head. She hadn’t seen Andrew in half a year after he was deployed to Kabul as part of his active duty in the army. This was his third stint in the Middle East. Prior to that, he was sent to Afghanistan. He hadn’t done well there.
His first duty in the field was cut short when he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and was flown back with enough pills in his government issued haversack to open a bootleg pharmacy back home.
For the first few weeks, Andrew’s family didn’t know how to handle him. He would regularly wake up in the middle of the night brandishing his Beretta M9 sidearm, threatening to take his own life if “Someone could just stop screaming!” unaware that he was the cause of it.
Trisha approached Andrew’s family as his long time best friend and took him into her 700 square foot apartment.
The first few nights were tough. Since they shared a bed, she would often wake up with his hands around her neck or worse, with him attempting to rape her.
The outcome would be the same though. Trisha would push him, or punch him off of her and he’d end up crying in the corner of the room apologizing to her profusely.
When told about this, Andrew’s family would suggest she give him back to them since she was lucky this time around that such a small girl like her could have pushed him away. But Trisha knew better. There was something deep down inside Andrew that didn’t want to do those things to her, that was forcing himself to do those things. She knew that somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind, in a place where the shadows of his 6 month-life couldn’t penetrate, the old Andrew was hiding. And that Andrew would never let anything happen to her.
So she persuaded his family to leave him with her for a few more weeks. Reluctantly, they agreed.
The healing process was a bitter battle for them both. It wasn’t like weaning a drug addict off all his substances; they couldn’t make him go cold turkey from his dreams. So by the time Andrew was deployed again, any progress made had little or no value to either of them. But Trisha promised him that when he got back, they would try again.
The second time he came back, Andrew had redrawn into himself more and more. He was a shell of his former self, the good person he was — the army had made him tough as nails. Everyone knew the person they were seeing in front of them wasn’t the real Andrew. It was a cold reproduction of the shell he is today. He had regressed from all the effort Trisha had put in the first time around.
Their Andrew would hold a spoon between his thumb and index finger while eating cereal, not grab the spoon and stab the bowl, shoveling it into his mouth.
Their Andrew would say ‘no’ instead of ‘nah’. But more importantly, their Andrew would never lay a finger on anyone.
No, they agreed. This is not their Andrew.
After Andrew arrived home, he didn’t even spend a lot of time with his family. They had a quiet lunch with him and drove him straight to Trisha’s place after.
That night and all the nights after, she stayed up with him. They talked, made frequent runs to 24-hour diners and took walks in the park.
She would tell him about all the guys she had dated while he was away and he would tell her about the time his unit found out he was gay. They would force him to rape a fellow marine, male or female and would beat him with towels wrapped around their carbines. The cushioned blows would never leave a mark, but it would hurt enough to “beat the gay outta him” they would continuously say.
Trisha would end up hugging him every time he told her the stories. But they were just that; hugs. They weren’t shots of morphine that could take the pain away; they weren’t Benadryl that could put him into a dreamless sleep. They were useless and they were a sad, cold reflection of the things he used to be privileged to; remnants of his former life. But Andrew would never tell Trisha that. It would break her heart. He wanted to get better. Or at least convince her that he was making an effort.
By the end of his army leave, Andrew displayed signs of recovery. He would stop having night terrors and he could go hours without staring off into the distance. Conversations could be held longer and he would start to take an interest in men again.
“He’s cute,” Trisha caught him saying one day.
“Too cute for you, maybe, not for me,” she jested.
He scoffed. She smiled. They shared a long pause together and then they burst out laughing.
It felt more and more like old times to Trisha, but what Andrew felt was beyond her. She was just glad they could share moments like that together before he was back in Kabul.
That morning, when she saw Andrew standing there with coffee in his hand ushering her out of bed, it was as if he had never left.
During the car ride, Andrew was talking incessantly about the fair he used to go to when he was in primary school.
“You should’ve seen it then, Trish. The rides, the music, the food…”
“I don’t think carny food is all that nice,” she interjected. She had her eyes on the road the entire time, casually glancing at the speedometer and making sure he was driving responsibly for both their sakes.
“But as a kid you kinda wished you had carny food all the time, y’know?” he said. “All those greasy corndogs and hotdogs. Those cheesy nachos that dribbled down your fingers…”
“…the candy floss?” she offered.
“Nah, I hated sweets as a kid. They fucking get stuck in your teeth,” he grimaced.
For the entire time since he got back, Trisha was looking at signs of his relapse and there it was. Andrew was slightly out of character, but she dismissed her paranoia. It’s not difficult for people to adopt certain traits once they’ve been around a certain group of people, much like adopting an accent abroad. And Andrew was with brutes every second of every day. Swearing should be normal, she told herself.
“Do you remember what it was like to be young, Trish?” he asked, bringing her back from her thoughts.
She laughed. “But we’re still young, Andrew,” she said with a wink.
“No, no. I mean, when we were kids in high school?”
Truth be told, it’s all Trisha had thought about all those times Andrew came back from deployment.
Back then, they thought high school was tough. The cliques you belonged to, the effort (or lack of) you put in and the rewards you got at the end. All of it seemed so engrossing back then.
The proverb, ‘youth is wasted on the young’ was just a saying they heard of back then. It didn’t mean anything and they honestly felt like they were making the most of their youth back then.
Trisha held out her hand, Andrew took it and heaved her up. After patting herself down, she stared through the wire fence at the steel contraptions designed to instill artificial feelings of joy in little children.
“Honestly? It looks like shit.” she said flatly.
He stared in the same direction as her, looking to see what she saw.
“Yeah…it kinda is.”
“Let’s go home,” she suggested.
“Hang on,” he interjected before she could make her way back to their car. “I came here to burn this place down.”
Trisha went quiet. She went quiet for a little while.
“I’ll get the matches,” was her only reply.