Hey, You Know What We Should Do?
My college experience was filled with aimless Friday nights due to a lack of ladies and game—well, except for the video game on the TV screen in front of us.
“Wait. Stop. I need my Yoshi.” Aaron feverishly shook his remote.
“Then quit bubbling.”
“My remote is defective!” More vigorous shaking. Aaron had always loved Yoshi more than the game itself. He'd sabotaged many a mission for that damn dinosaur/lizard.
Aaron and I grew up together. For all intents and purposes, I was his big brother. I stopped him from lighting Roman candles while they were still in his hand, I got him down from trees when he got stuck, I helped pick out all the gravel from his knee after a big bad wipeout on his bike, and then there was all that stuff I did for him when we were kids. He taught me responsibility better than owning a puppy ever could. My little buddy Aaron was not a particularly bright bulb, nor did he have great foresight, but that’s why he had me.
“Is this all we’re going to do tonight?” I asked, navigating Mario to the end of the level without Aaron and his Yoshi.
“We only have half a world left,” Aaron said, shaking out his no doubt sweaty hands.
“Do we have anything to eat?” I asked. Another thing a good Friday night needs that we don’t have—pizza,
“I brought some peaches and a banged up melon back from work today.” Aaron worked as a stock boy at Sprouts, and sometimes they let him take home the blemished fruit. “I probably can’t make a career out of fruit stacking, huh?”
The Sprouts job was only on weekends, and he didn't much care for it. He'd been written up twice for sticking grapefruits up his shirt and flouncing around the store. Aaron couldn’t really keep a steady job. He got fired from a call center for calling me instead. He couldn’t hack it at Target because of his constant napping in the changing rooms. As much as he tried to grow up it just didn't seem to agree with him. I knew I'd end up doing his taxes for him well into our forties.
I just sort of grunted and went on playing the game. After a minute Aaron spoke up. Without looking away from the TV, he said: “Hey, Greg, you know what we should do?”
I should stress to you now that my roommate and I are not crazy. Well, he might be, but just a harmless little bit. We are by every definition of the term average Joes. We drink crappy beer out of cans, we make bachelor meals like mac and franks and beans, we could bathe more, etc.
College wasn’t a wild ride for me. I made my bed every morning. I tucked my shirt in when appropriate. I held myself to a twenty-four hour standard on cleaning my dirty dishes. My grade point average was a respectable 3.8. Respectable, that’s the word that people would associate with me. The wildest thing in my life was Aaron.
Aaron is a master at blowing off steam. He doesn’t like to sweat the small stuff, or anything for that matter, so he shirked as much as humanly possible while still maintaining a job and sound dental hygiene. But, the older we got, the harder it got to do as little as possible. He had a gift for dreaming up adventures and taking advantage of slow nights. So day in and day out, Aaron managed to just get by. I waited in the wings, ready to course-correct if he went in to a tailspin.
So, believe me when I say that busting out the machete I was given for my twenty-first as a joke and moseying on down to the patch of woods behind our apartment strapped with bike lights, a bag of bruised peaches, nectarines, and a melon is not a thing I would typically do.
“This is sketchy as all shit.” My headlamp lit the deserted trail and the puff of my breath visible in the bitterness of winter.
“Uh. This is awesome as all shit.” Aaron brandished the bulky knife. “It’s real life Fruit Ninja!”
“And also probably a little illegal.” I brushed my toe against the bag of fruit.
“Just toss me a peach.” Aaron flourished the machete, a little clumsily for my comfort.
I stood a good distance away from him, at least five blade lengths, just in case. Timidly, I tossed him a peach. It arched through the air, Aaron’s eyes widened and he swung at the peach three times back and forth, frantically. He missed it completely.
“Nailed it,” he said.
“No. You didn’t.” I shook my head. “There’s no way.”
“Totally did!” Aaron looked at the ground, “I’ll show you.” He shuffled along the dirt path, shining his light here and there until he popped up, proudly clutching the peach that looked as bruised as it had started.
“Look!” Aaron held the peach up, referring to the one bald spot on the top. It looked like only the fuzz had been taken off.
“That’s just from the fall.” I rolled my eyes.
“It’s totally from me. It is one hundred percent from my excellent marksmanship.”
“Oh, so you meant to take off that one layer of skin?” I asked.
Aaron narrowed his eyes at me. “You try it then.” He handed me the machete, blade first.
“You are not a cautious man, you know that?” I took the handle of the blade, carefully.
“Just batter up.” Aaron pulled a peach out of the bag and wound up.
This is stupid, I thought, as the peach rolled over and over in the air. It’s freezing out here, and there is beer in the fridge. And then the peach grew big as it approached, and my Little League years kicked in. It fell to the floor in half, cleaved right through the core.
“Whoa.” I looked at the machete, dripping with peach goo. I looked up at Aaron, who had a big dumb smile on his face and another peach in his hand.
“My turn!” Aaron tossed me the peach while the knife was still in my hand. I struggled to catch it without impaling myself.
“Try not to waste this one, okay?” I said, and gave him a nice little underhand toss. I found out that Aaron’s lack of hand-eye coordination didn’t end at Super Mario Bros. He missed again and fell backward a little.
“Mulligan!” he declared and picked up the peach, which had landed flat at his feet. Aaron then pitched the peach to himself three more times before finally getting a piece of it. You’ve never seen someone look so proud for making the weakest fruit salad you’ve ever seen.
He would get like this from time to time, where he looked more like the kid I grew up with than the man he was supposed to be. Shaggy brown hair and squinty, smiling eyes. He was always a little on the smaller side, but his huge personality made up for that nine times out of ten. And the one it didn’t, I got my tooth got chipped, trying to keep him from getting his lights punched out.
“Okay.” He swung the machete in small circles at his side. “I think I’m ready for the melon.”
Before I could argue with him about his novice Fruit Ninja status, the pounding of footsteps reminded me that we were standing in the woods with a huge knife and a fruit genocide at our feet.
A female jogger came bounding down the trail.
“Hey, how are you?” Aaron smiled in a way that would have seemed sweet if not machete he was waving at her.
I knew no matter how white collar we looked—me with my straight-laced blonde hair and Aaron with his friendly smile—this was not a socially acceptable situation.
I watched her pick up the pace a bit and put my hands over my face once she was gone. “Dude, I swear to God.”
“What?” he asked,
“You can’t wave knives at people!”
“I was just being friendly, God!”
I shook my head at him, slowly, suddenly exhausted by my child of a roommate.
“Wait, do that again,” he told me, looking into the distant woods. I wondered to myself if he’d seen a squirrel.
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Move your head that way.” He pointed with his chin, a simple nod in the direction he was looking.
The light from my head lamp roamed over the lumps of snow and the lonely trees until it hit something that shined back. It was an abandoned shopping cart knocked on its side, about twenty feet away from us, nestled between two trees at the top of this hill.
Aaron turned to look at me, his light blinding, but I could easily guess at the expression on his face. It was a weird little smile that made his mouth look like a triangle, brought out only on the not-so-rare occasion he had an idea that was beyond stupid. This smile was a lot more common during our youth, when nearly every active thought he had was on the stupid side.
“Hey, Greg, you know what we should do?” He dropped the machete in the dirty snow, burying the tip of the blade in the powder so it stood handle up.
At this point, I would like to state for the record that throughout this night we were both stone-cold sober. I could have walked a straight line and recited the alphabet backwards. But instead I was standing in a wobbly shopping cart, wondering how Aaron had not only convinced me that sending this thing down the uneven dirt and snow path in front of us would be “just like sledding,” but also how he talked me into letting him sit in the basket.
Sometimes I wondered who the hell I would be without him. Would I have been more successful or less so? An athlete, a ladies’ man, a jerk? I was glad I never had to know.
Tell you one thing though, I wouldn't be strapped into a rickety shopping cart without him.
“Why—No, actually, how? That’s the question I really want to ask here. How did you talk me in to this?” I gripped the bar.
“Because you and I both know, under that lovable curmudgeon exterior,” he poked my chest, “this girl just wants to have fun.” Aaron tipped his head back and began to sing his own rendition of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” “He just wantsta, he just wantstaaa! Gre-eh-eh-eh-g, Greg just wants to have fuuuuuun!”
I let out a laugh that ended in a sigh, an exasperated little puff of steam. This boy was going to hold onto his childhood if it killed us.
“We can still get home and save Peach before two,” I told him, ringing my hands on plastic grip of the cart.
“Come on, Greg. How much longer are we going to get to do stuff like this?” he asked, his wide eyes suddenly sober.
Not everyone got Aaron the way I do. Which is understandable, he's erratic and peevish and really relentless. I was the cautious to his chaos.
Even when we were younger, I was older. I was closer to him than my own brothers. I'd always been smart, I'd always been careful, never really saw the point in risk-taking when there was comfort to be had. Aaron always seemed to shake that up.
So I nodded—to let him know playtime was still a go.
Aaron took a few quick breaths to psych himself up. “Okay!” he yelled, way too loudly. “Engage rocket thrusters!”
“Oh God.” I rolled my eyes and kicked my right leg just enough to send us slowly forward. And then much more quickly downward. I think the proper term is careening. The path was not smooth, and the cart was not sturdily built. It was probably one of those awful screechy ones you can hear from across the store. If the wheels were screeching that night, no one would have been able to hear it over Aaron’s sound effects.
As we flew down the hill and I tried to keep both my grip and my pants dry, Aaron made race car noises—or maybe he was a rocket ship, it was hard to tell what he was going for. But it did, for a while, take my mind off how absolutely stupid and terrifying that ride was. Aaron was good at that, taking your mind off of something that would otherwise make you shit your pants. The cart was shaking so hard my hands were doing that uncomfortable tingling thing.
“This is awesome!” Aaron shouted from the basket. Every word came out as six wobbly syllables. “Thi-i-i-i-i-i-is i-i-i-is aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-suh-uh-uh-uhm!”
He’d spoken just slightly too soon.
Just after that final syllable, our front wheels dug in to one of the snow banks. The cart swung violently at a ninety-degree angle and threw us out. I caught a glimpse of Aaron while we were in the air, wherever we were going, and he was landing ass-first. And I would be on my face. Luckily, the snow saved us from crashing onto any rocks. Rocks that were no doubt waiting to chip a tooth or break a nose.
I had the wind sufficiently knocked out of me, but at least my neck wasn’t broken. If this had happened a few days into the future when the snow had started turning to ice, I might not have been so lucky. I was only sore from all of this stupidity the next day.
With one cheek in the snow and one ear to the ground, I heard a soft and muffled ruffle beside me. I pushed myself up to see Aaron waving his arms and legs in the snow, making a snow angel.
“Are you okay?” I managed to get on all fours and shake some snow off.
Aaron just kept swinging his arms and legs for a beat, and then he very carefully stood up and crept away from his little stretch of frosty canvas.
“I did it!” He lifted his arms straight up, triumphant.
I laughed a little and got to my feet. I stood beside him and looked down at his silhouette there in the snow. It was impressive how committed he was to remaining a child at heart. You could roll your eyes at his aversion to adulthood until they were permanently googly, but you couldn’t tell Aaron anything he didn’t want to hear.
“They never come out this well. I usually step on them or move too quick. But look at him, he’s perfect.” Aaron gestured proudly to his amorphous snow self.
“Right. Perfect.” I threw my arm over his shoulder and casually checked him for blood and abrasions. I caught a glimpse of the scar above his eyebrow, from the time we were doing “karate” with pool cues and he whacked himself in the face trying to spin it around his body. He had needed six stitches; he held my hand the entire time the doctor had that needle to his face, and I did my best not to squirm. Aaron wouldn’t let the doctor near his face without me in the room, even as a ten year old he was very persuasive.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the cart flipped upside down, with one wheel still spinning. Oh, the scars it could have given us that night.
“I think it’s time for a sit.” Aaron plopped back down in the snow bank. Sometimes he would do this, just stop what he was doing and sit down. I could say it was because his attention span was pea-sized, but really I think he was taking it all in. He was an unusually sentimental guy. I guess it was his way of holding onto where we came from. When we were kids, he kept this old cigar tin buried under the oak tree in his backyard, and it was filled with the littlest things. A sticker he got for cleaning up the play area in kindergarten, an old cassette tape his grandma would play while she cleaned the house, a peppermint candy from the fancy restaurant his parents took him to after his fifth grade promotion. He liked to keep those little moments close.
“It’s nice here,” Aaron breathed, and it came out as one steady stream of steam.
“It is.” I looked up at the sky. I’d never seen more stars.
The wind picked up a little and a small but kind of creepy squeaking drew our attention away from the sky.
From our spot in the snow, we could see the chain-link fence that surrounded the playground adjacent to our apartment complex. The playground was a little sad-looking, attached to a poor grammar school and in need of a new swirly slide. The kids seemed to like it just the same. Including the kid sitting next to me in the snow that night because it wasn’t long ‘til he turned to me with a familiar smile.
“Hey, Greg, you know what we should do?”
And that’s how we wound up dragging our twenty-something-year-old asses over a fence just for the sake of a swing set.
When we were kids, Aaron and I met on a swing set. We were always the first two kids to the swings at recess, and for a few weeks we just got in jumping contests, seeing who could get more air or make the longer skid in the sand. It didn’t matter who won because we were back on those swings almost as soon as our feet hit the ground. I don’t remember ever telling him my name, but one day he and I were inseparable.
That night, after all of our sober debauchery, we fell back into our elementary school selves. Swinging silently side-by-side and never totally in sync with one another. Aaron was whistling the theme song from one of our favorite cartoons growing up.
Everyone needs a friend like Aaron. Sure, he was responsible for a broken bone or three, but there was a reason my parents never tried to stop me from being his friend. A genuinely good person is hard to come by, no matter your age.
“Hey, Greg, you—”
“Aaron, I’m gonna stop you right there. I don’t want to do anything but swing right now.” I wiggled my hips in the sling that was too small for me.
“That’s not what I was gonna say.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Do you ever think about growing up?”
I looked over at him. Our kicks were not synchronized, so I only came face to face with him every other swing. “I think we are grown up.”
“That’s so harsh, man.” He shook his shaggy little head.
“Maybe not,” I said. “Look at all the stuff we’ve done tonight. I wouldn’t say that any high-functioning member of society would risk his life with the kind of crap we’ve pulled tonight. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“But what happens when all of that goes away? When we have, like, kids and mortgages and bunions and stuff?”
I was actually surprised he used the word bunion there. I would have guessed he thought a bunion was a vegetable or some weird nocturnal animal.
“Well, yeah, this won’t last forever, but while it does, don’t you think we should focus on that?” I asked.
“I guess.” His legs kicked a little less enthusiastically.
“Hey, remember that time you were convinced that you could fit down that pipe in the construction site by our neighborhood to get to the Mushroom Kingdom? And you got stuck and I had to figure out how to get you out because your parents would have killed you if they found out you got stuck in something again?”
Aaron laughed to himself. “Yeah.”
“And I had to steal all the butter from both our fridges and from the kid who lived next door?” I went on.
“I smelled like butter for a week after that,” he said.
“So, my point is, if I could get you out of that pipe, don’t you think I’ll be able to get you out of any normal, boring predicament that grown-up life throws at us?”
“What if we grow apart, though? That happens to people sometimes . . .” Aaron sniffed. I don’t know if he was cold from snow angel construction or if he was trying not to cry, but either way, that little sniff sent a lump straight to the back of my throat. It never occurred to me that Aaron thought we could ever drift apart. I guess grown-up worries find you no matter how hard you try to outrun them.
“I’m not going anywhere, Aaron. You are stuck with me the same way I’m stuck with you,” I told him. “Besides, my kids are going to need a crazy uncle who teaches them how to do things that will give their mom and me ulcers. You’re the perfect man for the job.”
“So, what you’re saying is . . . there’s still hope?” Aaron kicked his legs the way you would expect him to, floppily. The way a puppy moves.
“There is definitely still hope.” I smiled. As much as he got to me sometimes and as much as I wished he would buckle down and pass a class with more than a C, he kept me honest. He was my best friend. He made me take myself less seriously and he reminded me that there is a time and place for responsibility. I went along on his wild rides not just because I needed to keep him safe, but because I wanted to. Growing up too fast was an epidemic in this world, and Aaron was my cure. Eventually he would grow up and so would I, but deep down there was no denying that we would still be those two guys with no game who were really subpar at real life Fruit Ninja.
But that night, we were allowed to be dumb and in our twenties.
“Hey, Aaron, you know what we should do?” I asked for a change.
“On the count of one!” Aaron shouted.
I laughed and started kicking harder. “Three . . . Two—”
“See you on the other side, my friend!” Aaron whooped.
“One!” I yelled and let go.
Aaron and I flew through that crisp winter air a few seconds apart. Aaron’s arms were flailing around in a way that would make a less-than-perfect snow angel. Time stopped passing for a moment, and we hung in the air next to each other, stuck somewhere between being kids and being grown-ups.
Rachel Gonzalez is a comedy and creative fiction writer. She is graduating this spring with a degree in English and two certificates in literature and creative writing as well as minors in anthropology and journalism. Rachel is from a small town outside of Phoenix. Her hobbies include watching Friends for the forty-second time, dogs, and cooking. She is currently the Chief Campus Editor for The Black Sheep Online and hopes to work in publishing after graduation to pursue her passion for writing. Her long term career goal is to become a published author.