“My mom want me to start seeing Doctor Balm again.”
“She says she’s worried about me…”
(She’s crazy, you’re perfectly fine!)
“I know that but she thinks I spend too much time with you…”
(Well what does she expect? I’m your only real friend.)
Johnny nods to the empty seat in front of him, “You’re right, but maybe we should stop talking in front of her—”
“Who you talking to, Freak?” a group of boys approaches his table, the biggest one slamming his palms down on it hard enough to rattle Johnny.
“No one, Ty.”
“Sure looked like you were talking to someone to me. Is that why mommy sent you t the shrink? Do you talk to yourself, Freak?”
“Just leave me alone, Ty…” he starts to get out of his seat but two of the other boys with Ty push him back down.
“Excuse me, Freak? Are you giving me orders?”
(Come on! You can take him! Do it!)
“Shut up.” Johnny says through gritted teeth.
“What’d you say?” Ty grabs him by the collar and throws him down.
The whole cafeteria is looking at them now.
“Get up, Freak!”
(Yeah, Johnny, get up! Hit him in his ugly face—)
“Stop it! Stop talking so much! I’m not going to hit him!”
Ty looks down at him, confused.
Johnny can feel everyones eyes on him.
“You really are a freak, Freak,” Ty begins to laugh uncontrollably, “I can’t believe you still talk to yourself! Did you tell you to hit me? As if you’d stand a chance. Let’s go, this freak is worthless.”
As they walk away Johnny starts to hear others laughing. Soon the whole cafeteria is filled with laughter. He can hear the kids close by whispering to one another.
“Oh man, did you hear him?”
“What a weirdo.”
“Geez I didn’t realize he was that crazy.”
“No wonder he used to see the shrink.”
“Better not laugh, he might snap and kill us all.”
(Why wouldn’t you hit that asshole?)
Johnny can feel his throat tightening up. The tears are starting to roll down his face as he runs from the sound of everyone laughing at him. He spends the rest of the school day in a utility closet. When the finally bell rings he runs all the way home and locks himself in his room.
His mother will be home from work soon and she’ll want to know what happened. Of course he won’t tell her, if he did she would just insist he needed to go back to Doctor Balm.
(Are you alright? You wouldn’t talk to me at school.)
“Do I look alright, Peg?”
(Well, just thought I’d ask…you know what she’ll say…)
(You can’t go back to that guy, the last time you started seeing him we barely ever talked.)
(I missed you a lot, Johnny.)
“I nearly forgot about you.”
(And how did that feel?)
“Not so good…” that’s not quite the truth, it felt wonderful to have his head clear for once and only hear his own voice, but he knows it’ll hurt Pegs to hear that.
(I’m your only real friend!)
“I know that, but what if I tried to make…real friends?”
(I am real! I’m your friend! You shouldn’t need others!)
Johnny looks at the empty space on his bed where he knows Peg is sitting. He used to be able to see him so clearly, that crazy blue hair, those wild green eyes, his little colorful overalls…but now all there is is empty space. He’s not sure when he stopped seeing him.
“Peg…I haven’t been able to see you in years…”
(What does that mean?)
“I’m not sure what that means. I just know that after my mom sent me to Balm I can barely remember ever seeing you…”
(I’m still here, Johnny!)
“I’m tired of being made fun of! I’m tired of having to talk to you all the time and other people looking at me like I’m crazy. When you talk I’m forced to listen and can’t hear anything else clearly…I want to just be normal.”
(Normal is overrated. We’re best friends.)
“You’ve been around so long I’m terrified of life without you. But maybe if you’re not here I can make other friends.”
(No! You don’t need any of those people! They’ll just make fun of you—)
“They make fun of me because of you! They mock me because I’m always just…whispering and they can’t see you…I can’t even see you anymore, Peg.” Johnny stares at the empty space, concentrates on it as hard as he can, imagines Peg as he remembers him, but he still can’t see his beloved childhood friend. Maybe he is too old to still be holding on to Peg. Maybe he should see Doctor Balm again.
He was happier without the burden of Peg, those first few weeks after seeing Doctor Balm were quiet, calm and easy ones.
“Maybe we both should move on, Peg.”
“I’m tired of being made fun of…I’m tired of kids pushing me around. I’m tired of being laughed and pointed at.”
(That’s their issue not yours—”
“No, Peg. I’m talking to you all the time but I can’t even see you anymore…”
(You’re my friend…)
“But I’m so tired of being made fun of,” he sits beside the spot where Peg is, “Please understand. I still think you’re the best, I’ll never forget how much fun we had when I was little, but I need to stop living like it’s just you and me.”
He swears he can feel Peg, for the first time in years he can feel him hugging him. When he looks down he can see a foggy image of Peg. It’s brief but it makes him smile.
(I won’t ever be far away. You may not hear me but I’m here.)
“Thank you, Peg. You made me so happy when I was little but I need to grow up now. You’re the best friend anyone could ever ask for.”
His mother knocks on his room door, “You alright in there, John?”
He opens the door and smiles at her, “Yeah.”
“Your school called, they said you skipped some classes.” She crosses her arms.
“Is that a bruise?” she moves his hair away from his forehead, “What happened? Are the kids picking on you again?”
“Dammit, Johnny. I’m making you an appointment with Doctor Balm—”
She looks shocked, “Alright? Are you sure you’re okay? You practically went kicking and screaming last time I took you to him.”
“I’m tired of not being able to talk to anyone.”
“Oh, honey…” she wraps her arms around him and hugs him tight.
“I’m just so happy to hear you talk directly to me. I’m so used to your little ticks and it just feels good to have you back.”
Johnny smiles to himself and just enjoys the sound of his mothers rambling. It’s nice to hear another voice besides Peg for a change.
“My mom want me to start seeing Doctor Balm again.”