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Humor was a good way to hide the pain, a tactic, Joshua was all too familiar with. When his aunt dragged him to see his mother in the psych ward he just stared at her with a too wide smile and too bright eyes and listened to her speak broken english and french. He’d listen as she called him her little brother’s name over and over and over again and he’d laugh. He’d laugh and ignore the lingering glances from his aunt. He’d laugh and he’d ignore the feeling of total dread and disappointment in his gut because, why won’t his mother remember him. And he knew why, because she was crazy with alzheimer's and schizophrenia.
But he didn't’ dwell on that, of course not. It hurt too much to think about his mother at all and he often found himself not thinking about anything. And that was fine too, in his book, anything to not feel so sad. Because Joshua was not a sad person. He was always happy, always smiling and giggling and cracking a joke. Even when his father beat his older sister to a pulp and was sent away to jail. Even when his older sister got hooked on drugs. Even when his best friend committed suicide. He smiled through it, ignoring the pain in his heart because Joshua didn’t do pain. Like he didn’t do alzheimer's or suicide or death or abuse, all prominent things in his life.
He knew his aunt knew. He knew she knew about his crying at night, about his constant need to drink until he felt, truly nothing. He was 15 for god’s sake and he knew that his liver was as black and green as the trees and soil on a rainy day. But he didn’t care, not really. It didn’t affect his school work. And more importantly, it didn’t affect his art.
Drawing was Joshua’s only expression of his feelings inside. Humor was a way to cover them up; drawing was a way to let them out. He drew what he felt, usually. Very abstract with his work. He tended to use dark colors only. And of course his friends did not see his artwork. He doubted they even knew he liked art, other than from the required high school classes.
His friends. Were they really his friends? They didn’t know him, not really. They only saw the giggly, joke cracking boy that laughs too much. And then again, that was because that was the only side he let them see. And he told himself every day that he was okay with that. Because he was. He was and he told himself that so he believed it until he didn’t think he was lying anymore. And when his paint and paper couldn’t satisfy him, the Jack Daniel’s rum could. And he’d wake up the next morning with a damp towel on his head, aspirin by his side, the empty bottles in the trash and his aunt sitting at the dinner table reading the paper. They never discussed those nights and that was totally fine with Joshua.
Then one day, a new kid moved in across the hall from his aunt’s apartment. And of course, his aunt though that it would be a great idea to befriend the new kid’s mother, simultaneously forcing the two into meeting. With much protest, groaning, moaning, and rolling of the eyes, Joshua found himself face to face with a boy named Daniel. His aunt and Daniel’s mom had set up dinner at Joshua’s apartment. Apparently, the two women had a lot in common, both working at the firm downtown and having an uncanny love for Seinfeld.
Daniel was rude, to say the least. He met all of Joshua’s smiles with eye rolls or blank stares and Joshua immediately found himself not liking the boy. He came off as moody and untalkative, both traits Joshua undoubtedly did not have. After the dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, the two women sent the two boys into Joshua’s room to ‘get to know each other.’ The second the door closed, Daniels’ hands were already flipping through Joshua’s sketchbook. Joshua nearly had a heart attack and resulted into him screaming his head off, turning his face pink and shoving Daniel out the door and locking it. A few minutes later he heard the front door close and his aunt softly knocking, in which Joshua unlocked the door and hugged her. She sighed and hugged him back, whispering sweet nothings in French into his ears.
Later, she made him go up to Daniel's apartment to apologize. Joshua knocked on the door and Daniel opened it. Joshua smiled the biggest smile he could muster and thrust the warm brownies he had made into the boy’s hands. The boy cocked an eyebrow and let him in. On the way to Daniel’s room, he grabbed two plates and a fork. Once in his room, Daniel locked the door and set the brownies in the middle of the floor, giving one plate to Joshua and sitting down. Joshua sat down next to him and let Daniel take the first brownie. Daniel’s eyes widened at the taste and Joshua smugly grinned to himself. He knew how to make a good brownie.
After the brownies, the two boys decided to watch TV. After that became boring they played Call Of Duty on Daniel’s Xbox. Unfortunately, Joshua was a lot worse at the video game than Daniel was and made jokes about him sucking at it the whole time. Daniel just laughed and shook his head, occasionally scolding Josua for looking at his screen.
Thus began a friendship, a friendship Joshua wasn't prepared for. Because he wasn't prepared for Daniel. Joshua thought he could fool Daniel like his other friends. He thought he could just smile and crack a joke and Daniel would just go along because that's what all his other friends did. But after about a month of them hanging out Daniel asked him about it.
"Why are you so sad?" They were at a McDonalds eating hamburgers and fries and Joshua had just told a joke about falling off of a cliff before going to a certain teachers class. Least to say, Joshua was completely baffled by the question. His face fell and he stared at Daniel with shock.
"What are you talking about?" he had asked. He cleared his throat and threw a smile on his face again, trying to act confused. Trying to get Daniel to believe him. But Daniel wasn't falling for it. Not like his other friends.
"Your eyes. They're sad. They're always so sad. And when you think no one is watching you, you let your real self show. And when you sleep over, you have nightmares. And sometimes you cry and scream. And I'm not stupid. When I go over your house I see your stash. And your aunt knows too. And I see your glances at the family picture in your living room. And when I ask you about it, you clam up and you get nervous and change the subject. That may work with your other friends but not me. I see you. I see the real you, Joshua. And I want you to know that there's nothing wrong with being sad or letting it show. I just want to know why."
Joshua was out the door faster than he realized and the tears immediately fell upon his face. He was only a few blocks away from home and he ran all the way letting his feet pound the pavement in a quick rhythm.
Finally getting home, he sprinted to his room, ignoring his confused aunt and shut the door, locked it, and sank to the ground shaking. He started clawing at his hair, fighting the urge to scream for he knew his aunt would not hesitate to break down the door if she thought he was having a panic attack. Which, of course, he was.
He did not really think Daniel could see through him like glass. He thought Daniel would be oblivious of Joshua's sadness, but he wasn't and that frightened Joshua more than he cared to admit.
He knew his other friends had become suspicious of him before. One time when a friend of his was over, they saw the empty bottles in the trash. Joshua immediately laughed and lied in one breath about his aunt throwing some stupid party. Another time was when they were out driving and he nearly had a panic attack in the back seat when someone bucked at him, intending to play punch buggy. Joshua literally flinched so hard, his seat belt tensed and let out a shriek so high, his driving friend stopped the car.
Lying out of that one was a lot harder than the bottles in the trash. But over the years he had gotten extremely good at concealing his brokenness. He hardly ever flinched, he never threw the bottles out in his apartment but always in the dumpster outside, and he always, always, always had a smile on his face. He had gotten so good that even his aunt wouldn't give him those sad pitying eyes unless she caught a glimpse of the missing bottles or his red puffy eyes.
He thought, Daniel would be exactly like them, falling for the façade. But he wasn't. He wasn't. He wasn't.
Joshua threw up right then and there, completely soiling his shirt and simultaneously cursing himself because he would have to clean it up later. He wiped his mouth and stood up, using the door for support and leveled his breathing. He needed to calm down.
He heard the doorbell ring. Immediately he threw off his shirt and wiped his mouth with it, and ran out the door screaming at his aunt.
"Don't open it!" he started screaming, running to the door and blocking his aunt from opening it. She stared at him with wide eyes and nodded quietly.
"Look, Joshua, whatever has happened, whatever it is, it'll be okay in the end," she told him quietly. He had heard those words ever since his mother was first diagnosed with the disease. First from his own mother and now from his aunt. He nodded absentmindedly and turned towards the door.
"Joshua," he heard Daniel's voice say, "I didn't mean to...I didn't mean to scare you, okay? I shouldn't have said anything, especially not like that. I've known you for what...a month?..." Joshua stayed quiet behind the door. "I just...I just wanted to know what could make a person like you so sad. I wanted to know who did it to you and why. I just wanted to know." Joshua swallowed and took a deep breath.
"You know," he started, "they say curiosity killed the cat. But I think worse things can happen to someone other than death." Joshua swallowed again and backed away from the door, not looking at his aunt, not looking at anything, not feeling anything, only dread. His hands found the alcohol before he realized what was happening and he locked himself in his room. The door hadn't even shut all the way before the cold clear vodka was swimming in his mouth.