FATAL FOOD

The perfect boy held something that could kill him.

It was a clump of spongy white material, kept in a freezer for stability. And, at exactly the right moment, we brought it out.

Carefully, we cut five slices, one for each of us. And we held it in our hands, smiling, laughing and living on the edge of life, like teenagers should do.

Just to be safe, we searched the box for a description of what this thing was made of, but there was none. We sniffed the outer layer and bisected the material, but it all seemed fine.

So I tested it.

”Kinda taste like peanuts … or maybe caramel.”

Isaac, the perfect one, looked at his slice — the thing that could kill him. Then he whiffed up a cloud with his fork, and put it behind his teeth. I worried a little, since it could’ve killed him. But he tasted it so casually, so carelessly. To further quell my anxiety, he quickly spit it out and told us he was fine. And, soon, the stuff was gone without any casualties.

So we sat back in big leather couches, watching basketball and talking about which girls we would ask to the high school dance. We all gave hints about our chosen girl, making sure to defend the choice with a conclusion that ended with, “She’s cute, and really nice.” Then, finally, we asked Isaac, because it would be the most comical of answers: evasive, indecisive and uncertain — the kind of things teenagers like to mock. Plus, we liked to tease him because he was the perfect kid: straight A’s, great athlete, National Honors Society president …

But he was gone.

We found him a few minutes later, the perfect boy. He was upstairs, stabbing himself with an EpiPen, injecting medicine into his leg.

Just a precaution, he said.

And then we heard emergency sirens screaming throughout our suburban Kansas neighborhood, which was almost a caricature of upper-middle America.

Just a precaution, he said.

Ever since we’d met in fourth grade, I’d been warned of this moment, almost like a prophecy. And I was told how to prevent it. But the sirens told us we were too late. So we waited on the stoop outside — Isaac in the center, us around him — and, like teenagers, we joked around as poison was potentially spreading through our friend’s body.

“Imagine what tomorrow’s paper will say: ‘Perfect boy dies.’ ”

“No, no! It’s gonna say: ‘Humans kill Jesus again.’ ”

Amidst our laugher, we saw an ambulance — and a fire truck and a police car. Seemed like overkill, but they said it was normal. Isaac was plugged up to machines. Uniformed men took him away into the cluster of bright lights. They drove away. It was quick. It was mechanical.

We went back into the basement where birthday balloons hung. And we were caught between festivity and worry, unsure which direction to sway. But then we saw it — the logo on the ice-cream cake box: Reese’s.

He ate the thing that could kill him — lost a game of Russian Roulette with ice-cream cake.
Still, we convinced each other he’d be OK, smiling with our mouths but lying with our eyes. At that moment, life was about worrying about the future, not about enjoying the present and knowing the future would be fine. It was a rare sensation for our young hearts — one lacking the certain hope that regularly fueled us.
But soon, the phone rang. He was fine.

And right then, our worries lifted. Quite quickly, we returned to joking, teasing and living on the edge of life. Sure, we had one of our short episodes of adulthood. And, of course, eventually — a few years down the road — those episodes would get longer and longer until it would reverse and we would instead have short episodes of carefree moments during which we would be free to not only dream, but to achieve those dreams.

So when we got that call, we returned to being teenagers. And with that came a powerful mix audaciousness and hope — something we’re only getting glimpses of now.

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