I got detention for walking out of class today. But it wasn’t my fault.
It went like this: Mr. Peters was talking about Henry Rathbone, who, if you don’t know was the guy sitting next to President Lincoln in the theater when Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth. Anyway, this Rathbone guy, he and his fiancé are with the Lincolns, watching the play when Booth busts in and blows the president’s brains out. Rathbone tries to catch the guy but Booth has a knife, too. Rathbone gets stabbed. He lives but blames himself about Lincoln. So much it drives him crazy. Really. The guy ends up killing his own wife then stabbing himself five times. Five times.
Mr. Peters was always telling us stuff that wasn’t in the books, but this story was too much. I don’t know, but when he was talking about Henry Rathbone, the way he was…haunted, well, I asked to be excused. I did, I asked, but Mr. Peter’s told me to wait. He said the bell was about to ring. But I couldn’t wait, and so I left, and even when he called out behind me, “David, where do you think you’re going?” I didn’t turn around. Couldn’t.
I had to get away. Why did I want to hear about shooting and screaming and Lincoln’s blood stains everywhere and how this Rathbone guy went nuts because he let the president die?
When I got home Mom knew all about it, thanks to the stupid Class Dojo app on her phone that alerts her about everything single thing I do wrong and nothing I do right. So I walk in and she’s all like, “David, what happened at school today?”
Like she cared. But before I could answer (which, what was I supposed to say?) there was this loud bang in the basement. I jumped and Mom closed her eyes for a super long time and exhaled and sighed and pinched between her eyes. “You know what, just, just can you go outside and check on Bev?”
I must have stood there for too long. Long enough to think about how a person could be haunted, not just a big house on a hill like on TV. I stood still until there was another bang and my mom finally snapped and said, “David, just please.”
My dad came back from Afghanistan jumpy and nervous. Haunted, I guess. He stays in the basement (where we hear the bangs) but if you go down there and try to talk to him about the Indians or how the Browns might actually be decent this year, he either stares at the cinder-blocks or tells you to go away. Tells me to go away.
I wonder if Henry Rathbone wanted people to go away. And when Mom squeezes between her eyes and her voice shakes and quivers and snaps at me like she never used to until Dad came home, it makes me wonder. Henry Rathbone was in the Civil War. My dad was in Afghanistan. Really, it makes you wonder.
When Dad was gone, I didn’t worry about him like Mom did. He was a soldier. I knew he would be okay. I figured he’d finish his tour and come home and tousle my hair and maybe hoist me up and ask me how my fastball was humming along. And he did tousle my hair, but he didn’t hoist me up. He couldn’t drive and his smile was different, it didn’t stretch out like it used to, didn’t shimmer like the American flag on a sunny Fourth of July. He ate supper with us—for a while—the first night we ordered pizza and Uncle Jim and some friends came over and Dad seemed like Dad. We even tossed the football some but he mostly stayed near Mom, hugging on her like he never thought he’d see her again. And then he stopped. He started waking up at night. He started going downstairs.
And I’ll bet old Henry Rathbone never screamed like that.
So with Dad banging and Mom sighing I ran out to check on Beverly. I scooped up my football from the lawn. Beverly was singing, doing cartwheels in the yard and when she saw me she stopped and smiled. She’s only eight, too young to remember the old dad, which was kind of nice for her but sad, too. Because the old dad used to smile like that.
Just like that.