"Why are you still his friend?" The distant sound of some damn cat in heat caught up with us. We whispered in the dark, in the silence pierced by Stan's slow breaths.
"I have no fucking idea."
"Try to think" maybe I could answer myself why I never walked away enough. It takes two to start a discussion, adults tended to say in their eagerness to define responsibilities in that cluster of moral concepts that I felt no one really understood.
"Pity?" He went on to say. His gaze was fixed on the ground, clouded by sensations I could not empathize with, I knew I had never felt them in my life, maybe I would never feel them. Kenny was the type who didn't overanalyze his own feelings, he didn't find himself on a moral dyke in his exploration of himself. So free, and yet brimming with an interesting altruism. For a moment I was envious.
He smiled bitterly. Suddenly he looked extremely exhausted.
"At first it was just pity. I saw him as someone miserable, responsible for a lonely and pathetic life, ruining everyone who stayed by his side long enough"
"And after that?" I hadn't noticed when he started smoking. It was cold, the dawn was still far away, and the silence seemed to trigger a dose of anxiety with no owner or reason. He licked his dry, somewhat chapped lips, somewhat obscured by the excess smoke, or the cold. I could not tell.
"Then we grew up. And one day... one day I realized he wasn't born that way. He wasn't born evil, narcissistic, sociopathic" I smiled, not hiding the mockery in my gesture. I felt his gaze on my profile, on my smile, he decided to ignore it, fixing his gaze on ashes melting into snow "We can escape from him, get away. But he... he is condemned to live with himself for the rest of his life"
"That doesn't justify anything he's done, or will do," his gaze shifted to Stan. He was resting against his shoulder, completely absent, emanating this intoxicating aroma of alcohol and something else; if sadness had a scent, it would definitely be the one that Stan was giving off right now. My chest shrank at the image, at the thought.
"It doesn't; it doesn't reduce his responsibility either... it just shares it" I pulled some messy hair from my best friend's forehead, rearranged his hat and pulled his scarf up to the level of his nose, trying, in kind gestures, to ignore that swirl of resentment, cynicism, even fascination that Kenny's words produced in my stomach.
"How do you feel about him now?" Smoke rose in my face, I ignored it as he pulled out a second cigarette. Apparently he'd thought about it quite a bit. I looked at the glass door of my kitchen, listening to the sound of the lighter, once, twice, three times, until finally fire came out.
"I feel that... I want to protect him from himself," he muttered, and then he took a long puff of the cigar. I couldn't help being surprised by the words, feeling my chest twist in something... something that only forced me to let out a soft laugh, slightly nervous, slightly broken. He detailed me with curiosity, yet did not ask.
"Come, help me take him up" the words broke the exhausting silence, in a murmur whose emotional tinge I ignored.
"Milk and sleep Stan" the unconscious body tensed at Kenny's words, opening its eyes shortly, looking into the face of that voice, smiling as it found him.
"Milk and Sleep" Stan repeated without looking away from him.
I couldn't sleep, the idea that right now Cartman was... being himself was pounding my chest in anxiety. Stan was sleeping, the absolute silence of the night gave room to any kind of thoughts, the most hateful ones always taking the lead. I hated the cloak of complicity, loneliness, and concessionary silence that insomnia in the middle of the night provided, everyone slept, while the sinner sinned.
I opened my door with a glass of water for Stan, some aspirin for when he woke up, a bottle of gatorade, and my list of questions to ask as soon as morning came.
Even as I tried to ignore it, I moved over to my laptop to turn it off completely, my heart pounding with anticipation, curiosity, even a flash of guilt at the omission of his evil.
" I can't sleep " I released a sigh of relief at the innocence in the phrase. I knew that if he had done something malicious, there was a high probability that the first one he would boast of his achievement would be Adolph Müller
"Still angry about today?" I took a seat at my desk, taking one last look at Stan, confirming through the dim light of the laptop screen that he was still completely asleep.
" Yes. I'd forgotten how much I hated him " I smiled distantly. How could you forget something like that?
"You haven't told me much about him"
" It's not worth it ."
"And yet, it's not letting you sleep."
" You're not helping. "
"I want you to get it off your chest."
" One night would not be enough to narrate the fucking aberrations that this asshole has carried out, it's as if he existed for the sole purpose of fucking up my life " I took a deep breath. You'd think it was the complete opposite.
"Tell me one."
" Kyle Broflovski. That's his name " my heart turned upside down when I saw my name in that chat room for the first time.
"He's Jewish, ginger and from New Jersey."
" Exactly " I rolled my eyes in the dark " I hate him, he hates me, it's a mutual feeling " I thought he would elaborate more on his point, he didn't write anymore.
"Why?" Even though the answer seemed so obvious, I was curious, a somewhat inevitable emotion, considering that in front of me I had a Cartman as sincere as he would ever be. Maybe I'd get a halfway decent answer, and if entertaining him in this conversation meant keeping away any retaliation against Red, so be it.
" A lot of things... But there's one in particular; maybe the last time I stopped trying "
" I don't know. "
" I guess I can trust you " I bit my lower lip feeling a little weight on my chest. I ignored it.
" It's a long story, I hope you have time. I hardly remember it. It was a couple of years ago, I must have been 12 or 13. At that time I didn't know what my mom did for a living; it had been repeated to my face a thousand times, every day I heard at least one derogatory remark about it, yet I just assumed they were doing it to fuck up my goddamn life, it wouldn't have been anything new " Of course, like he tended to do with all of us.
" Every now and then I'd hear Liane scream, cry, or so I thought. I thought they were hurting her, or that she was just sad, I'd gotten used to the idea that my mother tended to cry at night, to lock herself in whenever she did. Sometimes I would go to her room in the middle of the night to check on her, but she never opened the door. I learned to ignore her, seeing her always happy the next day, preparing a huge breakfast for me, it was as if she had never suffered. I guess I got to confuse the boundaries of happiness and sadness a little bit, Liane's emotions turned complex for me, trying to empathize with something I didn't know was a pain in the ass "
I shuddered at the sudden outburst of sincerity. Never in my fucking life had I heard him speak like that; implicitly, there was even an analysis of himself, a glimpse of someone's mind growing up, and thus trying to reason out how he felt at the time, and the consequences of that feeling. I didn't think he'd go to the trouble of doing something like that.
" One night she forgot to lock the door " and that particular phrase brought back memories. It wasn't the first time I' d heard this story.
" I had seen a man come in the house, I took my knife and moved to her room. I would try to open it, knock a couple of times and ask if she was all right and then go back to my room to sleep without any answer as usual, but the door opened on my first attempt. This damn beast was on top of her, big and disgusting, squealing like a damn pig being gutted, moving grotesquely rhythmically and violently. I remember having a sudden urge to vomit, an absurd fear, replaced by the wildest rage I felt in my short life. I charged at that animal... "
I remembered. My chest started to shrink in understanding, my stomach started to hurt.
" I've never stabbed anyone with my knife before. It felt strange, the flesh gave way too easily, blood gushed out almost immediately, it was everywhere. The screeching of that animal was more a grunt of rage than pain, I knew then that it was someone dangerous, someone who had dealt with worse things than a stupid half asleep child. I only managed to stab him once before that giant monster stood up, it was too big, or maybe my memory made it too big, I felt it was at least three times my height. I've never felt so small in my life "
The first time I had heard the story from his lips, it had been through insults, grunts, clumsy and broken words, through tears and dried blood. His face was brimming with bruises, he could barely open one of his eyes. It was not the first time I had seen him so wounded.
" He hit me, Liane tried to defend me, it was she who received most of the damage, even though I didn't see it at the time, everything was too dark, too distant " when she opened the door that morning her face was perfectly, all mended between skin-colored ribbons and makeup. I remember noticing some puffiness in one of her eyes, and an uncomfortable way of walking... I remember she started crying, tears running down the powder, the blush, the shadows, the lipstick, the lies, reflecting shades of green and purple on her snowy skin.
" It was all very quick, but it felt like a thousand fucking years of torture. I remember hearing Liane apologize. Not to me, to that man. As he pulled out the bloody knife and threw it at me, getting dressed amidst insults. She was apologizing to her client for the inconvenience, at the time I didn't understand. " I didn't want to read any more. I didn't...
"I'm so sorry."
" I got so mad at Liane for apologizing to that damn pig, I locked myself in my room, ignoring her wounds, leaving her there, lying on the floor, her body... shattered. She was always crying, always screaming, never needed my help before. Why would she do it this time? "
"She was hurt, she hadn't been hurt before "
" How the fuck should I know? I thought the next day she'd be like always, smile on her face and a fucking bowl of brownies for me in her hands. I thought about punishing her for doing this to me, not eating her fucking food or talking to her. She deserved it for being a whore, for ruining my fucking life "
How distorted could someone's reality be? Kenneth said it was a shared responsibility, that distortion was the result of past experiences, of wrong and ignorant cause and effect relationships. I took a deep breath, a shuddering breath coming down my hands at the surge of feelings I didn't want to contemplate.
" Kyle came. Two days later I think, I hadn't eaten anything, I hadn't bathed, some of the wounds had worsened in the absence of care. My room was a mess, at least half of it was completely destroyed, the other half would be by the end of the day. I don't know if Liane called him, I don't know if he came of his own free will " I couldn't remember the reason either, I forgot the whole incident easily, like everything related to him.
" I let him in, I don't remember what damn Jewish trick he pulled. Maybe I was too lonely, maybe I really needed to talk to someone. Unfortunately God decided to send a walking shit and not a real person " I kept the urge to close the chat, aware of what was to come.
" I told him that I had stabbed the monster in the ass, that he had gotten angry and hit us, and that stupid bitch Liane instead of begging for my fucking forgiveness, apologized to that scumbag who had broken into our house " I covered my eyes for a moment listening to the sound of another message. I couldn't handle it.
" He got angry, he was always angry about my stupidity; this time more than usual. He said I deserved it, that I was stupid, that it was my mother's job to please those fucking beasts, that I was fucking retarded if I hadn't already faced the fact that Liane was a cheap prostitute, that she was paid to let those animals ride her. That she didn't cry because she suffered, she cried because she enjoyed it... "
I read between my fingers, covered my face again in rage. When I arrived at that house that day, and noticed how hurt Liane was, the blood between the wooden floor, the clear despair of her mother and all the mess he had made in his room, I soon blamed it all on him. It was inevitable, it was always his fault.
I could not understand how he had done something so terrible to his own mother and not feel even a hint of regret, talking about her as if she were less than a bitch in heat. I remember the anger that that caused me. How could someone screw up so badly and still blame it all on the person most affected by the whole situation? He was hurt, yes, but it was the least he deserved for stabbing someone and doing that to the woman who made the damn mistake of not aborting him.
Now, as much as it hurt me to admit this, I could see how little understanding Cartman, in his twelve years, had of the situation. From his bubble of delusions, his castle of mirrors, everything seemed to be predisposed to damage him. He got used to hearing his mother crying, he got used to the sight of monsters entering his home, he got used to the indifference, the confusion of emotions, the denial of any show of empathy
At the time I only wanted to make him feel bad, to move some of that putrid part of him that could perhaps generate even a hint of guilt; to make him understand that he was only one of the victims, but not the main one, not the only one, that the world didn't owe him shit, that he had what he deserved, that his whole speech was absurdly wrong. I didn't understand how anyone could be so fucking retarded.
"I'm so sorry Eric, and thank you for trusting me, I really appreciate you opening up to me like that" for a moment I wanted to apologize, but the feeling was immediately replaced by the memory of the thousand and one tortures that fucking animal put me through. No, he didn't deserve forgiveness, I didn't either, so as always, I would bury the wound on my less rational side and throw dirt on it. Ten feet of moral mathematics.
" But he was right " I raised my eyebrow in curiosity, that was the last thing I expected to read today.
" she cried because she enjoyed it "
"What led you to that conclusion?" but he had disconnected.
"Kyle?" I took the Gatorade on my nightstand and a couple of aspirin to pass on to Stan. He grabbed them in the middle of the dark and said, "Thank you, you're like a fucking angel or something".
"No, I'm not." I watched the chat for one last time before I turned off the computer.
Cartman's humming in the car made the atmosphere extremely sinister. He didn't usually handle being slapped in front of a crowd so calmly. Kenn cleared his throat, attracting everyone's attention except Cartman, who was too focused on his cell phone.
"Cartman, I heard that yesterday..." the fatass raised his index finger to cover his own lips in a sign of silence.
"Shh, I'm watching a video" and Kenny's frown was almost immediately lifted.
"What the fuck did you do?" he shrugged indifferently, never looking away from his screen.
"Nothing. Your bitch still has time to apologize to me," he looked up at Kenny. I detailed that sinister flash in his eyes that characterized him "Can she suck dick and talk at the same time?" but the anger in Kenny's blue eyes was not far behind.
"You're not going to do anything to Red, Cartman; or I swear on your mother's fucking ass that... " the car skidded for a second, taking away the tension that had settled in the car.
"Shit" muttered Stan, stopping the car suddenly, sending us all straight to hell, each of us falling against the front surface with a colorful insult in between "Sorry, I think I'm still a little... tired."
"What the hell Stan?!" shouted Cartman from somewhere.
"God damn it Stan, you said you were fine" I talked rearranging my ushanka, and while I was at it, my goddamn spine, preferring this a thousand times to an argument between Kenny and Cartman. Unlike the arguments between me and Cartman, those tended to have consequences.
"Let me drive" Kenny instructed. Amidst uncomfortable and unnecessary movements if they had the will to get out of the car, they took their positions.
"Sorry" mumbled Stan.
"It's okay" I smiled in his direction, a reminder of how shitty he looked seemed the least he needed right now. He smiled back.
"Fuck. You're gonna get a fucking A.A. diploma before high school. Fucking life achievements."
"Shut up Cartman" Kenn spoke. I watched the sudden coldness in Cartman's eyes, the way he let go of a bitter, ironic smile to concentrate on his cell phone.
But he was right . She cried because she enjoyed it.
Something about those words made me feel strangely... uncomfortable. Maybe this time it was worth giving in.
"I'll help you" I said when we stood in front of the school's entrance. Kenny had gone with Stan to park the car.
"On the perfect note. The exam is in three days, so I'll help you" I looked back at him, detailing that strange look, a mixture of surprise, of doubt.
"What are you planning?" he asked. Rarely did I see him so confused. I couldn't help but smile.
"My essay" I started my way to the institute. He followed me in a hurry.
"I told you, as soon as you get your perfect grade, you'll help me with my essay.
"I wanted to ask you about it... How?" I looked at him sideways, I didn't even know the answer. I imitated the gesture he made in Stan's car. I brought my index finger to my lips.
"Shh, I'm thinking," he snorted at my gesture as we entered the classroom.
"Are you on drugs?" I sighed as I sat down; strangely, he sat down next to me.
"No, I don't think so."