Archive for the ‘Section 5: A Family Affair’ Category.

81 Integral to the Relationship

With the weekend drawing to a close, I knew I had to hit the books. I did have work assigned over the weekend, after all. To my surprise, when I went into the study for some privacy, Joey was already there, working at the desk. He looked up as I came in.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t think anybody was in here.”

He shrugged. “I’m just doing some schoolwork before break is over.”

“Oh. Yeah. Me, too. I just thought this would be a good place to–”

“The table’s free,” he pointed out. “You’re not going to be making a lot of noise, are you?”

“No, I… I just have a lab report and some reading to do.”

He shrugged again. “Suit yourself.”

The table that he had mentioned was just a coffee table, and I was bit doubtful, but I sat on the floor in front of it and tried to get comfortable. I only really needed it for the lab report, anyway – I could do the reading sitting in one of the chairs. After some experimentation, I found that kneeling Japanese-style was my best bet, and started working on my Organic Chemistry lab report.

We worked in silence for almost fifteen minutes before he hesitantly cleared his throat. “Uh, Marsh?”

I had to turn to look at him.

“As a pre-med… did you have to take Calc?”

“Yeah, I took it last year… why?”

“I just wondered… are you any good at integration by parts?”

I stared. Was he… actually asking for my help? I’m not bad at math – you can’t be, if you’re a science major, even for Biology – but Joey asking…? That was weird.  I got up and looked over his shoulder.

“I remember the basics,” I told him. “You sort of have to experiment a bit, and I haven’t used it in a while.”

“Well, can you try? I’m kind of stuck on this problem.”

I had to put my head close to his to look at his textbook; given my size, though, I didn’t even have to bend down much. I should be used to this by now, I scolded myself. At least with him sitting, I don’t feel quite so tiny. “What did you try?” I asked.

We got into a discussion of how to attack the problem, and the ideas behind the technique, and between us, we did manage to come up with the same answer that was in the back of the book. What I found odd was how uncomfortable he seemed. He hesitated every time he asked me a question, shied a bit when I told him he had made a mistake, and flinched every time my hand went near his.

“Is something wrong?” I asked, as we started on a second problem.

“What do you mean?”

He doesn’t even know he’s doing it, I realized. Whats going on here? Several possibilities suggested themselves, as I thought about his relationship to the rest of us. Before, he had had a younger brother to talk with, and when we’d gotten together, he had still chosen to be mostly on his own, although he had sometimes come in to talk to Tyler and me about cars. Tyler had probably listened more than I had, but I had never noticed Joey as being all that uncomfortable around me.

Of course, now he was the only boy among us. Was that the problem? Tara, Tina, and I had spent a fair bit of time together this weekend, talking, and the only time Joey had been a part of our discussions was right after the movie. Maybe he just needed to talk more.

“So, how’s school?” I asked him.

The look he gave me was completely mystified. “Um… Ok, I guess.”

My initial reaction was to be annoyed. What kind of an answer was that? Then I realized something that made me snicker. I had just spoken with a boy using a train of thought that had made perfect sense to me – and had totally confused him. I’m turning girl faster and faster. I clenched my teeth; I could not afford to freak out over it, though; not in front of Joey, and especially not after the last couple of days.

His eyes narrowed. “How is that even funny?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I was thinking about something else. I’m… just trying to be social, here.”


“So… what’s new with you?”

He looked at me sort of cross-eyed. “Um… I’m trying to do some calculus homework?”

I bit my lip. I suppose I might have answered the same way if a relative had tried to make conversation while helping me with math, so I could hardly blame him. I don’t know how helpful I was actually being; I was really rusty at calculus, now. Not only wasn’t I even taking math now, thanks to Marsha’s schedule choice, we weren’t using more than very basic derivatives in my science classes.

Still, Joey’s reaction to me was puzzling. After all, he’d known me – or rather, Marsha – all of his life. So what was his problem?

“Um… so… is something new going on with you?” he asked, sounding as though he was forcing himself.

“Well, my play is opening on Friday…”

“Uh huh.”

“And…” I knew that there was more going on in my life than that, but I certainly wasn’t going to share most of it with him. “Um… I’m starting to learn to play the guitar…”

He flinched as though I had struck him. “Geez, Marsh, will you lay off about the guitar, already? It was almost three years ago, OK? Gramps left it to me and I had every right to sell it! You girls will make out just fine from Gran’s jewelry and silver and who knows what else, so cut it out, will you?”

I backed away, hard. I had been angry with him, to be sure, but I really hadn’t intended to berate him about it. Finding out about Tyler had sort of put that out of my mind, and I hadn’t mentioned it to him. But Marsha could have been on his case for years.

“Joey, I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I… I wasn’t thinking of Grandpa’s guitar just now, at least not consciously. I guess… it was more the connection with him… since guitar playing was so important to him.”

“Look, I tried, OK?” he continued, now on his feet and looming over me. “I really did try to learn to play it. Dad even hired somebody to teach me. I don’t think you have any idea how hard it is to play a guitar. I mean, he always made it look so effortless, but I’m not him. I tried and tried until my fingers ached. I’m just not musical like you and Tina.

“It was just taking up space, and reminding me. Reminding me of how I could never be what he wanted. I could never follow in his footsteps and tour with that guitar. So in the end, I sold it to the son of one of the guys who used to play with him; somebody who could play, and who could do the instrument justice. That’s a better use of his guitar, don’t you think? Being played by somebody good rather than hanging around my house like some stupid trophy?”

“I… I didn’t know. I just thought…”

“Of course you didn’t know! You never gave me a chance to explain! I sold it and then like two weeks later you suddenly called up and started screaming at me. You just kept going on about how it wasn’t mine to sell, that I should have held onto it until somebody in the family learned to play the guitar. You totally shot me down when I tried to say how bad I felt about the whole thing. If it was so damned important, why didn’t you learn? What’s the point of waiting several years after it’s too late and then taking lessons? I mean, that’s just really rubbing it in, Marsh!”

I stared at him in shock. Marsha had judged him without all the facts, and so had I. “You’re right,” I said, looking down at my hands. “You’re right. Maybe I was subconsciously still getting on your case. Maybe I…” I sighed. “No, I guess I was still angry. And… I guess I had no right to be.”

“You’ve got that right.”

“Yeah… anyway, I’m sorry. Um… did you still want help with calc?”

He stared at me for a few seconds; I guess he could tell that I really did feel bad about the whole situation, so he eventually nodded and sat back down. We finished the problem without talking about anything other than math.

He didn’t immediately move onto the next problem after that. Instead, he looked away from me for a second and said, “So. You’re learning to play the guitar, huh? Are you any good at it?”

I laughed. “Not really. I mean, I can play a few chords. I’m almost to the point of putting them together in a song.”

“That’s good. That’s good.”


“So you bought a guitar?”

“No, I’m borrowing one from a friend. A Fender Stratocaster.”

“Oh.” He turned to face me. “That’s not the same type as–”

“No. Grandpa’s was a Les Paul.”

He nodded. “And the… Stratocaster is less expensive?”

“Well, this one is. Grandpa’s was pretty special and rare. This type is still made and you can get one for about $1000.”

“That’s a lot.”


“So… you gonna buy one?”

“Eventually. I mean, I obviously can’t afford one right now.”

“Right, yeah. College is expensive.”

“Um, I should probably get back to my lab writeup,” I said, after a few uncomfortable seconds. “Unless you need more help?”

“No. I mean, thanks, but I think I’m OK, now.” He put out his hand to shake. “Thanks, Marsh.”

I automatically started to reach for his hand, but impulsively gave him a quick hug, instead. “You’re welcome, Joey.” I smiled at him. “I’m really glad we talked.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Me too, Marsh. Me too.”