I Can Hardly Spell My Name
Prologue: Christmas Break - Junior Yearwritten by Shrink - illustrated by Broflove and Zteif
Kenny's funeral had been two months ago. All of the build up to that day seemed to string time together, from the call down to the principal's office during third period, to riding home in his Mom's car, her hand clamped down hard on his shoulder.
Today Kyle stood on the stoop of Stan's house, hearing the doorbell ping on the inside, and the shuffling of Sharon's footsteps. She smiled as she pulled the door back.
"Snowing still?" she asked, as Kyle swiped the soles of his boots on the mat in the doorway. She was wearing her name tag from work. Kyle forgot that people still had to go to work over Christmas break. The five days he'd had off of school had, in other years, meant watching cheap movies with Stan in his living room until they'd both passed out.
But now Stan wouldn't return his calls, so Kyle was reduced to showing up unannounced in order to not give him enough time to leave. He hoped for a while it'd been a coincidence that Stan was never home after he'd called and told him he was on his way over. He'd have an excuse ready later like Randy had asked him to run to the store at the last minute. And Kyle had believed him, because it didn't fully enter into his mind not to. But one night, Sharon had told him Stan had just left, and Kyle, feeling particularly disheartened, decided to take a longer way home. He'd spotted Stan's car parked a block away with Stan smoking in the driver's seat with the windows up. Kyle had abruptly turned and walked back the other direction, trying to think of any explanation other than the obvious, that Stan just didn't want to see him.
Stan said he wasn't avoiding him—that Kyle had a different schedule filled with AP classes, and he was busy with football practices.His excuses sounded good when he said them, despite there not being practice in winter or AP classes on break. Even then, they'd found the time before.
"He's in his room," Sharon said. "Dinner will be ready in about 10 minutes—did you want me to fix you a plate?"
"That's okay." Kyle passed her and walked purposely up the steps. He couldn't fully suppress the feeling he was crossing the Atlantic in a rowboat. He stood at the bottom of the stairs looking up to the dark hallway. He wasn't even certain what he thought he was accomplishing with this. But if he could just get Stan to talk to him he was sure they could figure it out.
He knew it was somehow connected to Kenny's death. That's when it all started, anyway. Cartman had told him later that it was Karen who found her brother's body that morning before school. The paramedics she'd called found her sitting against the wall of his bedroom, her book bag strapped to her back, and Kenny's clutched to her chest, as if holding them would change where they were both going. It had been a drug overdose, which would prompt an assembly about the dangers of marijuana and alcohol the next week in school. Kenny had taken prescription pills, but there weren't as many pamphlets readily available about cocktails of Oxytocin and Xanax.
At the funeral, Stan had sat in the back row of metal folding chairs that surrounded the grave with Kyle at his side. On that day Stan had still held Kyle's hand. Maybe a little too tight, but nothing that would indicate anything had changed between them. They'd been dating for a year and it felt like even though this was something sharp and painful, it was something that their relationship could absorb. Still, it was hard to figure out the new normal in the days and weeks that followed.
The railing of the steps to Stan's room were covered in fake pine tree garland that prickled his palm when he touched it. Even the hallway had snowmen pictures hung along it. But the gaudy decorations stopped at the door to Stan's room. It was closed. For a moment Kyle wondered if he wouldn't find the window opened with a trail of sheets leading to the ground. But Stan was in his room, curled up on his bed. All of the lights were on. His laptop was closed on the pillow next to him. When Kyle sat on the chair at his desk, he lifted his head to look at Kyle and sighed.
"You should have called first." His hair was matted and flattened to his forehead, and Kyle wondered if he'd gotten out of bed all day. He was suddenly, blindingly consumed with anger at Stan trying to absorb all of the sympathy in the town, like he was the only one who felt anything deeply enough to be properly affected. He noticed Stan anxiously picking at his sleeves and all of the fight drained out through his feet in a moment.
"You don't answer your cell phone."
"My house," Stan said, making Kyle feel guilty though he knew he shouldn't.
"I wanted to make sure you'd be here."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Stan sat up and leaned against the wall.
"Nothing, dude," Kyle said, drawing a circle in the layer of dust on Stan's desk. Even when he was given a perfect opening for confronting Stan, he was backing down. He wanted to be an hour in the future, when this conversation would probably be over. "I just miss you."
"Well, you've seen me. I'm tired. I want to sleep," he said. His arms were folded over the hoodie Kyle had bought him for his 17th birthday.
Kyle would have liked to leave. He would have liked to slam the door behind him and run home to his own room—to his own bed, but he walked closer to Stan's instead. He wasn't crying even though he wanted to, but he could feel tears gathering on his lower eyelid. He knew crying wouldn't help, but when Stan's blue eyes held such contempt in them, it was hard to remember to be tactful.
"Stan—I love you." He sat on the edge of the bed, trying hard to remember what he thought this conversation could change. "And if you respect me, you'll tell me what's wrong. Whatever it is. Whatever I did."
Stan laughed, scrubbing a hand over his face.
"Of course you'd think it's about you."
"Then what?" Kyle missed the way Stan would pull him into a hug from behind when he was upset. Now the air around him was empty.
"Really Kyle? What?"
"Is this about Kenny?"
"What do you think?"
"I don't know!" Kyle flung his arms into the air. "You won't talk to me, you won't let me touch you or kiss you, you can barely acknowledge that we're in the same room. I don't understand what Kenny has to do with our relationship. God, Stan—I was his friend too!" Kyle wanted to force his brain into Stan's so they would have to stop arguing because they would want the same thing.
"Were you Kyle?"
Kyle had known Stan could get vicious when arguing with other people, but he'd never been quite on this side of it before. His chest hurt with the effort of continuing to talk.
"I miss him every day."
"Then how can you expect everything to be like it was before? Every time you try and kiss me Kyle—all that tells me is that you can still be happy. And I realize how much you don't care."
"You were always telling Kenny how much he wouldn't have a future if he didn't apply himself in school. Now it looks like you were right. Congratulations."
"Stan, come on."
"You thought Kenny was worthless and poor. Not someone who was going anywhere, like you. Because you have daddy to pay for your college tuition."
"I think you're confusing me with Cartman," Kyle said.
"You don't make it hard," Stan said. "You're both heartless."
"I can't believe you're saying this to me." Kyle was standing now. "Just tell me what I can do to make it okay. I'll be better. We don't have to kiss or touch, we can just be friends."
"What don't you understand? I don't love you. Fuck. I don't even like you." It was all of the fears that Kyle had never spoken about. That everyone was just laboring through being around him. That every time he turned his back, whoever he happened to be talking to turned to their actual friends and shared a pitying look that he could be so delusional about their interest in anything he had to say. He had been so nearly convinced that Stan had at least considered him worthwhile. Still, he couldn't just let go.
"Why?" Kyle said, crying now as he stood in the center of the room they'd both grown up in.
"I've told you Kyle. You think you're better than everyone. You thought you were better than Kenny and I couldn't see it until he was dead. That's why. Do you get it now or do I have to print it on an AP test to get you to understand?"
But Kyle did understand. The person sitting on the bed wasn't the same as the one who used to kiss him. There wasn't anything else to say; he wished he'd seen it sooner. So he turned and walked towards the door. Downstairs Sharon waved goodbye to him as she set a plate on the dining room table.
It was snowing heavier now, and Kyle zipped his coat and walked back the way he'd come. But everything was different now; his coat, the sidewalk, the snow—because they were all a part of it now, the world where Stan didn't love him.
He'd spend the next week of Christmas vacation meticulously completing all the assignments he'd been given over the break and finding ways to feel productive in thirty minute increments. Thinking beyond that was overwhelming. If Stan didn't want to love him—or like him anymore, then it was because he deserved it.
When school resumed Kyle avoided the hallways he knew Stan would be in, and only a few times happened across him in the alley smoking with the goth kids before he learned to walk a different way home. He walked with his books to his chest and his elbows cinched tightly to his sides, watching to make sure his feet didn't trip over any cracks in the sidewalk. In February Cartman knocked him into a locker as he passed and instead of laughing and calling him Jewboy like he expected, picked up his books and walked next to him. Kept walking next to him for the rest of the month until Kyle thought, this could be okay. Cartman never did anything he didn't want to. Cartman would never let him believe he was something he wasn't.