Gus, p.1
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       Gus, p.1

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  Copyright 2017 Michael P

  Gus is only fifteen-years-old. Gus works two part-time jobs to make enough money to support his family, but he’s only fifteen-years-old. Gus manages his family’s finances, files their taxes, puts food on the table for three people, saves extra funds for an emergency, and pays the rent. Still, he’s only fifteen-years-old. Gus doesn’t have friends, go out to parties, play any sports, watch TV, or go to school, even though he’s only fifteen-years-old. Gus never smiles, says hi, or even acknowledges anyone around him. He’s only fifteen-years-old.

  As long as I can remember, I have known Gus. For the longest time, I thought that he was no different than any other troubled child in a troubled family. I never saw his mom, and every time I saw his dad the man would appear to be travelling farther and farther down the path to insanity. The boy himself was quiet, never initiating any interaction and only using monosyllabic responses until he could afford to slip away. If you’d asked me what I thought of him, I’d say he seemed unstable and weak. I don’t know when or how I learned the truth about Gus’ sister.  It certainly wasn’t a truth I ever would have guessed.

  Apparently, she has cancer. I’m not sure what type. I’m usually far too busy to keep track of minor details like that, but I know that it’s expensive. The boy has to use up all of his father’s finances just to pay the bills. Gus is lucky that his father is a washed-up author whose book was made into a fairly popular movie because there’s no way his father could make any income in his present broken state, and there’s no way Gus’ measly two job’s could pay for even a fraction of the medical bills.

  Sometimes, Gus thinks about giving up on his sister. It may not fix his dad, but their lives would be so much easier if he didn’t have to worry about the extreme medical bills. I wouldn’t let him do that though. It’s Gus’ job to take care of his family. I try to help whenever I can, but he can’t shirk that responsibility. They can’t survive without him. After all, his father is a pathetic, useless lump of meat and his sister is a fragile shell of a person. They’re lucky to be Gus’ family.

  I’m not sure that I’ve yet driven home quite how worthless Gus’ father is, so I’m going to do that now. The man has not left the room since Gus moved in. Even before his wife ran away and his daughter was diagnosed with cancer, he was to terrified of leaving the house. When the girl had gotten sick, he had yelled at her, telling her it was her fault and that he wouldn’t bring her to some doctor. When she got so sick that it could no longer be ignored, Gus had had no choice but to carry her to the hospital himself. I can’t imagine what the ER doctors thought; an ten-year-old boy carrying his six-year-old sister to the hospital. The doctors wanted to call child services, but I wouldn’t let them. I didn’t want Gus to be separated from his family. I wasn’t sure if they could survive without him. Since then, Gus’ father will never leave his daughter’s side for any reason, nor will he let her leave the apartment. He won’t work, exercise, go shopping, or help Gus with any of the work needed to stay living in their apartment. He makes the boy do everything alone.

  Gus really does work hard to keep his family’s lives in check. Every second that he isn’t working is spent taking care of his family. Sometimes, his sister is too weak to feed herself and he has to feed her. Sometimes, his dad is to depressed to feed himself, and Gus has to force him to eat. After taking care of them, Gus spends the rest of his free time managing any paperwork or bills that his father owes. The boy will spend hours sitting on a desk working on that stuff. Then, when he’s done with everything that needed to be done, he’ll write a red X on the calendar next to the broken mirror above his desk and lay down on the cold hard concrete floor, using some old papers as protection from the wind chill blowing in through their apartment’s broken window, and sleep.

  One of the few things that I believe keeps Gus sane is his music. He has an old worn-down mp3 player that he stole from his dad a long time ago. I had told him that doing so was wrong, but backed down on the point after realizing how much music meant to the boy. He listens mostly to punk rock and heavy metal. I guess he feels that he can relate to those bands. He is always keeping rhythm along to the songs. I often enjoy listening to his rhythmic tapping. However, recently I’ve been fighting with Gus a lot more than I ever have before.

  The problem is, lately Gus has been slacking off. I’ve seen it clearly with my own eyes, or I would never speak poorly of the boy. It’s an unfortunate truth, but a truth nonetheless. He’s been coming home late, too late to properly manage everything, and almost every time I look at the boy I see that his eyes are totally bloodshot. He even missed his sister’s last doctor appointment. He’s been spending more money on drugs than he can afford to. He met a dealer on the street a few weeks back, and he’s become totally hooked. He’s allocating more money and time to getting high every day that passes.

  I’ve tried to talk to him about it. I’ve confronted Gus every chance I’ve gotten. I’ve told him everything I know about the pain and damages that drugs can cause. I’ve made it clear to him that he is ruining his life. I’ve tried every method I know to get him to stop, but he just won’t listen. I’m entering his apartment now to see if for some inexplicable reason he’ll listen to me now.

  As I walk into his apartment, the first thing I see is his sister, lying helplessly in her bed and looking even more deathly pale than the last time I saw her. Kneeling beside her is Gus’ father. His black hair and long beard are disgustingly unkempt, his blue eyes have heavy-looking black bags hanging under them  and are open wider than I would have thought possible, and the dirty clothes he’s wearing are  tattered to shreds. He is shaking violently, rocking back forth and muttering, while holding his daughter’s hand. It’s a truly pathetic sight to see, but it is one I have witnessed many times before.

  After I walk in, Gus walks over to his desk and sits down, staring at his shattered mirror. Sure enough, his eyes are bloodshot. His entire body seems to be emitting that stark, almost skunk-like stench that is so clearly from the pot he has been smoking. The whole apartment smells like that at this point, but it’s strongest on him. I look up at his calendar and see that the long line of Xs is now followed by series of white spaces. It seems that it has been a while since Gus has finished the work he wanted to. He was beginning to look like almost as sad an image as his father, if not sadder.

      Gus screams. It is a high-shrieking, heart-wrenching, scream filled with a powerful combination of frustration, rage, pain, and misery. I’m not sure how to react. Of course, I want to help Gus, but how do I do that? Is that even possible at this point? Gus is clearly at an all time low, and I’m not totally sure how to deal with that.

      “Are you ok?” I ask. It’s a stupid question with an obvious answer, but I have to start somewhere. What the hell else am I supposed to ask?

      “No.” Gus answers in his classic monosyllabic manner with a scowl. Actually, the scowl may have just been his default face. I’ve never seen him smile, after all.

      “What’s wrong?” I ask. Again, a stupid question, but I have to keep the conversation going somehow. I’m the only one who can save Gus at this point. He has no one else who cares about him.

  “Shut up.” He responds, acting even less conversational than normal. I won’t let that deter me though. I am going to help Gus, no matter the cost.

  “No.” I look right into Gus’ red-stained blue eyes as I speak in the most solemn voice I can muster. “I won’t shut up. Look at your fucking calendar. Look at all the red Xs missing. You’ve been slacking off lately. It’s pathetic. Do you want to end up like your dad? You’ll be worse. He didn’t break down till his twenties. You’re fifteen. Don’t throw your life away just because you’re under a little bit of fucking stress.” I know it’s harsh, and doesn’t all make perfect sense, but I’m pissed. I believe in Gus. I believe he can change. What the hell is he ruining his life for? I know the drugs make him feel better. I know they let him forget the world and lose his stress for a little. I know that he really likes Ivy, the pretty blonde he smokes with. None of that is an excuse. He needs to man up and deal with reality. He needs to stop being the bitch he’s been lately.

  “Why bother?” I look up, surprised. Normally he wouldn’t say anything at all at this point.
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