Issue 35, Final Fringe

The Oldest Guilt I Know

by Jon Chopan Issue 29 02.27.2012


John Mully and I were sitting in the ER, Johnny holding my undershirt to his bleeding eye, me tapping my foot to the rhythm of the heart monitor attached to a bum lying in the hall. We were waiting for our mothers to come find us.


All I could picture was Eddie standing over Johnny screaming, “Stay on the floor motherfucker, stay on the floor.” I remember that sounding funny to me because as a matter of fact, Johnny was on the ground, rolling around in the dirt and grass, and not on the floor. Part of me wanted to let Eddie in on this but then seeing the blood oozing between Johnny’s fingers and making little dirt pancakes made me think it was smarter to just let Eddie keep on like that.


Eddie threw a rock at Johnny when they were running at one another during a kickoff. When Eddie finally stopped yelling about the floor we got out of him that he’d done it because Johnny had winked at him. “I ain’t down with that faggot shit,” Eddie said.  I got that mixed feeling I always got about Johnny. What I mean is, Johnny didn’t need to wink for someone to go hitting him with a rock. He was just that kind of kid. The kind of kid people hated and tortured even though most of the time they couldn’t give you a good reason why. Still, when he did shit like that—winking at a crazy asshole like Eddie—it made me buy into what the other guys were selling: “The fucker was asking for what he got.”


In the ER I tried to play it cool with Johnny. I didn’t want him to think I was mad at him, because by then I wasn’t. He called me his friend and I was pretty sure he meant it. I could tell by the way his dopey eyes glazed up every time he said it. I wasn’t sure where Johnny stood with me. I was the closest thing he had to a friend and sometimes that did as much to make me dislike him as it did to make me like him.


During the six hours we sat there mostly waiting, Johnny must have asked me, without malice or hint of desired response, these same questions fifty times:

“What do you think of Eddie?’

“Wouldn’t it be cool if I got to wear an eye patch?”

“Do you think he really did it just because I winked at him?”


Because I was conflicted I struggled with the two tough questions—the ones about Eddie. So I focused on the eye patch.

“I bet you’d get a lot of ass with an eye patch,” I said.

“My dad had to wear an eye patch once. Man, he looked real cool.”

“You could miss a ton of school and still get As just off the sympathy for having to wear an eye patch.”


Johnny was more perceptive than any other guys I hung around with. Maybe that’s why they all hated him. “Eddie kept saying ‘floor’ ‘cause his dad beats on him,” Johnny said. “I’m sure he’s been told to stay on the floor so many times he just had to say it to someone else.” Johnny’s dad hit him too. He’d told me about it once when we were hanging out alone. That’s how he knew about Eddie. The strange thing is I think Eddie knew about Johnny too.

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Jon Chopan

Jon Chopan

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Jon Chopan is the author of the novel Pulled From the River, which was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2012. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such places as Glimmer Train, Post Road, Hobart, Hotel Amerika, and Redivider. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.