A Boy Called Joe

Chapter 3

After lunch, which I didn’t eat, I thought about what I should do. I was tired of sitting at the table feeling sorry for myself. Deep inside I knew that I had to get moving, that somehow I needed to find a way to let go of my old life and everything that had happed and move forward, even if I didn’t really want to. Sighing, I decided to go out to the vegetable garden and work. After all, what else was there to do?

I put on my straw hat and gloves and went outside. Gran was working in the garden. I walked over to her and gently took hold of her hoe. She looked a little surprised but then handed it to me and went back into the house.

I worked all afternoon, trying not to think. I briefly wondered if the doctor had left enough pills so that I could kill myself, but I realized I didn’t even know where Gran had put them, and I suspected that he hadn’t.

When Gran rang the bell for supper, I went into the house, cleaned up, and sat at the table.

After Gramps said the blessing, he began to pass the food dishes around the table. There was Gran’s chicken casserole made with part of one our chickens. In addition, there were green beans and salad with cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, and of course lettuce all fresh out of the garden. I took a little and began to eat. Working had made me hungry and up till then I hadn’t eaten all day. When I’d cleaned my plate, I took more food and gobbled it down. There was cherry pie for dessert, one of my favorites.

Gran and Gramps talked as we ate. She told him about the doctor visiting and my working in the afternoon. Gramps looked at me and smiled a little. I didn’t really feel smiley, but I did give him just a little quirk of my mouth.

At bedtime, Gran gave me my next pill, which I dutifully took. I thought briefly of just pretending to take it. That way I could build up a store of them and later take them all at the same time, hoping they would kill me, but Gran watched too closely.

The next day, Gramps said he needed me in the cornfields, so that’s where I worked. As usual I tried not to think, but it was hopeless. Weeding seemed to be the perfect physical activity for thinking. It wasn’t too hard and I didn’t have to pay close attention to what I was doing, so it was easy to think about something else while hoeing. I thought again about killing myself, but the more I thought, the more I realized I couldn’t do that to Gran and Gramps. They’d had a loss, too. Losing me would be brutal, and they might feel responsible. I just couldn’t do it.

At supper that evening I again ate everything in sight. I wondered if I was just feeling better or whether the pills were actually helping me. How could I tell?

As we finished eating, there was a knock on the door and Sam walked in. He was so comfortable with my grandparents that he just came and went when he wanted to.

“Hi,” he said, sitting down in an empty chair.

I nodded.

“Can we talk?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Okay. Come on out on the porch and I’ll talk. You don’t need to say anything if you don’t want to.”

Reluctantly, I stood and followed him onto the porch.

Again, Sam talked and I listened. A couple of times he tried to get me to tell him what was bothering me, but I sat silently and he went on. I don’t remember what he talked about. I think he mentioned his friends from school and that he and I would be in the same grade.

School, I thought. Up till then it hadn’t really dawned on me that I’d have to go to school, and in school I’d have to talk. How could I even do that?

The next day I worked in the vegetable garden. Gran came out and showed me which vegetables were ready to harvest and which needed more time. She picked some tomatoes and cucumbers and went back in the house.

 After supper, Sam arrived and said we should go to the creek because soon the weather would be too cold. “After all,” he said, “December’s not a very good month for swimming.” He laughed and I had to admit, inside me I even smiled a bit, but I didn’t let it show.

The doctor returned one morning and asked if I was feeling better.

I shrugged.

“Have you heard the word ‘depression’?” he asked.

I nodded, not telling him I’d heard Gramps say it.

“Do you know what it means?”

I shook my head. I really did, but I wanted to hear him explain it.

“Well, sometimes, especially after something bad has happened, we get feeling very sad, and we can’t seem to shake that feeling, so we need some help. That’s what the pills are for. People think they should be able to get over their sadness, but sometimes they just can’t. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “I want you to keep taking the pills. In time we may adjust the dosage, but we’ll see how you do.”

With that, he gave me a little pat on my back and left.


The days passed slowly, as summer days do. I worked hard, and Sam began to come over around 5 o’clock every day. Gramps said it was fine if I stopped working then so we could go to the creek.

One day, as we lay in the late afternoon sun letting it dry us, Sam asked if I’d go to his house for supper. 

I shook my head.

“Okay, then I’ll go to yours. Your gran’s always willing to feed me.”

When the bell rang we both got up, put on our clothes, and headed across the fields to the house, which I was beginning to think of as my home.

We walked in the door and Gran greeted us, telling us to clean up for supper. Since we’d just come from the creek, we were pretty clean, but we obeyed.  Sam, Gramps, and Gran chatted away while I ate and listened.

Everyone at the table was hungry, and soon the food was gone, even the blueberry pie. I don’t know how she did it, but Gran always seemed to be able to put enough food on the table even when there was an extra person.

When we finished and got up from the table, Sam said to Gran, “Thanks.”

Without thinking, I said “Thanks,” too, and then stopped short. Gran looked at me and answered, “You’re both welcome.”

Saying no more, Sam and I did the dishes and then went out on the back porch and sat. Sam looked at me and asked, “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

I didn’t move. I was actually shaken that I’d spoken.

“At least I know now that you can talk. So, if you’re able to talk and you don’t, I guess you just choose not to.”

I didn’t respond.

“Damn it, Joe, say something!”

“I can’t.”


“Because if I do I’ll cry.”

“That’s okay. There’s only the two of us. Talk to me.”

I shook my head, went back in the house, and climbed the stairs. It wasn’t until I got to my room that I realized Sam was right behind me.

“Go away, I don’t want to talk,” I said.

Sam sat on the one chair in my room and said, “Nope.”

I lay on my bed and he sat there. Neither of us said a word.

It must have been nearly an hour later and darkness had fallen when Sam said, “Talk.”

“No. Go away.”

“Not until you talk with me, and I mean really talk.”

I was silent.

“Okay,” he said, and again we stayed silent for a long time.

At last I sighed and asked, “What’s your family like?”

“That’s not what I mean by talk, but I’ll answer you anyway. There are Mom and Dad, and two younger brothers, twins. My aunt Esther lives with us too. Dad works full time on the farm, and in the summer I do what I can to help. When it comes to harvest time, he usually hires a man to help. What about your family?”

“I don’t have one,” I replied.

“No brothers or sisters?”

I shook my head.

“But you have your grandparents. They’re family.”

“I guess so.”

“Any uncles or aunts?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Are your grandparents your dad’s parents or your mom’s?”

I teared up. I was silent for a while before I said, “My dad’s.”

“Did you know them before you moved here?”


“I guess this is all pretty new to you, living and working on a farm. I bet it was confusing at first.”

I nodded.

“What’s the most confusing?”

I thought a bit. “When I wake up in the night and don’t know where I am.”

“Do you wake up often in the night?”

I nodded.

“How often?”

“At first it was every night. Now it seems to be just when something upsets me.” I stayed silent before finally saying, “Sometimes I wake up screaming.”

Sam just sat there, nodding. “What do you dream about?”

“I can’t tell you. I can’t talk about it.”

“Do you mean you can’t or you won’t?”

I sighed and replied, “Both.”


“Why don’t you just leave me alone?”

“Because I’m your friend.”

“You are? Who decided that?”

“I did.”

“Well I didn’t. Just go away.”

Again we were silent for a time before Sam finally said, “Wait here. I’m going downstairs to ask your gran something.”

He stood and got as far as the door before he turned and said, “Joe, I really am your friend, even if you don’t believe me.”

I heard him walk down the stairs and talk with Gran a little before he bounded back up the stairs and announced, “I’m sleeping over here tonight.”

Fuck! I thought.

Sam didn’t seem to need to tell his parents where he was. We got ready to sleep, used the bathroom, and climbed into my bed. It was a bit of a squeeze, but we managed to fit. I lay on my side, turned away from him. Soon I felt him moving so that his chest was touching my back. At first I thought I’d tell him to move away, but then I decided I liked it, even when he put his arm over me, gently hugging. I quickly relaxed and fell into a deep sleep.


When we awoke in the morning, I realized I hadn’t had a nightmare. I’d slept through the whole night without waking.

Sam stayed for breakfast before departing for home while the rest of us went to work.

Late that afternoon, Sam found me in the cornfield. As we walked towards the creek, Sam said, “You really should get some overalls. That’s all the boys here wear. Even a lot of the girls wear them. If you don’t wear them to school in the fall you’ll feel really, really different. I don’t think you want to feel that way, do you?”


When we got to the creek, we stripped off our clothes and climbed into the water. This time, for some reason, the water didn’t feel as cold. We made our way down to the pool and lay in it, side by side.

After a bit, Sam asked, “What do you like to do? What do you like in school?”

“To read,” I answered.

“What do you like to read?”

“All kinds of fiction,” I replied.

Sam talked about the things he liked ─ games, food, books. He did most of the talking. I just added a word here or there.

Sam asked, “What about girls?”

I shook my head.

“Me neither.” He laughed and I smiled a little. “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve seen you smile.”

Damn, I thought. Why am I letting him do this?

After we lay in the pool we got out and once again let the late afternoon sun dry us.

At length we heard Gran’s bell ring and we headed back to the house.

Sam headed home and I went inside to clean up.

Back in my bedroom that night, I lay down and was soon sound asleep.


The convertible hurtled down the road. My heart raced. I wanted to reach out and stop the car but I couldn’t. It slammed into and under the rear of an 18-wheeler. I screamed.

I was still screaming when Gran came into my room and sat beside me. “The dream?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Can you tell me about it?”

I shook my head.

She stayed with me until I calmed down and fell back into a fitful sleep.