Real Big

By Rachel Bell

Short Story


Trey and I were walking to the liquor store to buy potatoes, three for a dollar, and a guy at the body shop yelled ‘Looking sexy, girl’ out of his greasy car window and Trey told him to fuck off and smiled real big at me. The sky looked real good and I told Trey I had been thinking about the sky a lot lately. Not in a scientific way or anything, just how grateful I am for it and how universal it is. How it’s always free and always different. Trey said that sounded like some hippie shit and smiled real big at me. On the corner, outside the liquor store, there was a man selling heroin and I cringed when he hollered his advertisement. He said he had sawbucks. Very Chicago. The phrasing never failed to make me think of a David Mamet play I’d read. We saw an old man walking slow and dizzy and Trey said he was doing ‘the crack rock shuffle.’ Trey knew about a lot of things I didn’t know about. We walked back from the liquor store with Marlboro Reds and three potatoes and energy drinks and some of those candy coated peanuts that are for some reason called Boston Baked Beans. I had a small crush on Trey but blamed it mostly on my caretaking spirit, maybe it’s because I’m a Cancer rising, I don’t know if I believe in that stuff anymore or anything. I just liked helping him.


That morning Trey had sent me a selfie where he had wet hair and looked real bad, out of the blue, with no text or context. I asked if he was okay. Ben and I had broken up two days before in a McDonald’s during breakfast and it felt like all I did was cry and take baths for those two days. Trey asked if I could call him an Uber to my place, this was way before Uber was deemed to be fascist or whatever they are considered now, this was more than a year ago, in late July. I called him an Uber and sent him a screenshot and told him to get outside. He did and I watched the car get closer on the app and I wondered why he looked so emaciated and I knew he’d been up for days taking big risks. I buzzed him in and saw him looking all scrawny and tired but still good. I took him to my room and we lay down and I think we both cried. He listened to me talk about Ben and Trey always did a good job of not doing that thing where you talk about yourself too much. Like when you tell someone you’re heartbroken and they talk about their own heartbreak, he never did that too much. He said he had no money, that he wanted to fly a sign in Wicker Park and that he didn’t think he had an apartment anymore and that he’d smashed up his guitar and that he was freaked. I said let’s go get some potatoes and I’ll fry ‘em up for us. I said ‘nice and starchy for our tum tums’ and he smiled and said he couldn’t eat probably but he needed to. I had put all my pills in a Nike drawstring bag and hidden them under some clothes in a laundry basket but not because I didn’t trust him just because I didn’t want him to be tempted. It was the second to last day in July and my lease ended on August first and no one had ever lay down in that bed with me except for Ben and I was okay that it was Trey doing it because I cared about him and his spirit, felt protective of him. 


That night we fell asleep watching Badlands on Molly’s projector with it turned toward the wall, huge and bright. He said his legs were real itchy and he went between being hot and cold so I dug up those stupid thigh high American Apparel socks every girl I know had owned or thought of owning, white with blue and red stripes, and I put them on his legs for him while he groaned. My mom was coming in the morning and she was going to help me move, I wasn’t nervous about what she would think of Trey being around because she’s loving and has a Masters in Social Work and understands things, she knows I love my friends a lot and she knew I missed Ben a lot and I knew it would be okay for her to show up and find a potentially sweaty and shivering man in my bed. Ben and I had broken up as I ate my second Egg McMuffin, 600 calories. I had asked him if he was happy being in a relationship with me and he had said ‘Not right now’ and I threw up my hands and said ‘Let’s stop then’ and that was it. Then he left for tour with his band I didn’t like listening to, leaving me to move out of our shared home all by myself. That’s why Momma was coming to help me. 


When Trey dies Ben calls me, initiating contact for the first time since we broke up during McDonald’s breakfast, and he says ‘One thing I always admired about you was your ability to love people completely and fully for who they are right when you meet them and you did that with Trey’ and I cried on the street outside my stupid dirty apartment in Brooklyn. Because being Trey’s big spoon when he had no money or will to live, when I had no boyfriend or things to look forward to, had helped me heal from Ben and I falling apart.


In the morning my mom was on the way from Indianapolis in her dark red Subaru with the Sirius XM radio and I called her to tell her that my friend Trey was around and that he was having a hard time so he was going to stay around while we moved. I didn’t say what he was struggling with because I didn’t know if that was my place to say, I just said he was sad like me and it was good to be around someone who was sad like me. My mom got to Chicago and she called me to help her parallel park and Trey got out of bed to meet her and she said ‘I like your tats’ and I didn’t laugh even though I wanted to because she was being sweet to him even if her word choice was funny. And she pointed to a tattoo on his left arm that said ‘Left’ and asked what it meant and he said ‘Like my politics.’ I was proud of Momma in that moment because she was so full of love and if someone was special to me they were special to her too by default and what a blessing that was. Trey tried to help us move boxes but his body was worn out so he lay on the bed and slept while we packed and when he wasn’t sleeping he was making me and my mom laugh. My mom took us to Benny’s Pizza and bought us food and he was bashful. I didn’t see him bashful very often.


He left my house after that and I didn’t want him to but he was an adult and I could only do so much so he left and later that day as I was driving the U-Haul north to Humboldt with Jermaine I would see him headed south on his skateboard and I would know where he was going and what he was going to do. I texted him and he texted back from the old iPhone I had given him, I said where you headed just saw you skate by and he said he was going to Johann’s and I knew he was lying because he was too far west to be going to Johann’s. No one would see him for four days and I would cry every night imagining him dead somewhere where no one could find him. I prepared myself to hear that he was dead. I slept in his stupid shirt that he left at my house with my sound on my phone turned all the way up in case Jack heard from him and called me. I called my dad and asked him to pray for my friend Trey and he did, he prayed with me on the phone and I cried again. He was gone for four days then someone heard from him and he came back to my life but this time to my new apartment and I had been sleeping in until 5 pm every day and never putting on any clothes besides my robe and never leaving the house because I couldn’t believe I was actually alone and that I wasn’t dating Ben anymore. This time Trey stayed around longer and I talked to his mom and he wouldn’t tell me where he had been but he looked worse than the time before and his mom came to town and gave him a Dunkin Donuts gift card and a Subway gift card and he tried to buy me a bagel and I wouldn’t let him. We watched a whole season of Friday Night Lights and there wasn’t a thing ironic about it, we both cried watching it and it felt honest and good to care about these made up people instead of our own problems. I still had a crush on him but I didn’t do anything about it. I let him sleep in my bed and one night I woke up and he was grabbing me by the shoulders and yelling ‘stop’ and I told him it was okay but he was asleep, just yelling in his sleep in a nightmare. Trey left again and he seemed better. He left a bunch of clothes at my house. Then Trey texted me and said he got in a fight with Jack, that he jumped Jack, and I talked him down even though I was mad that he would hurt my friend. I talked to Jack and he was mad too and everything seemed real hard and scary, I felt like I was giving everyone so much. I wrote a poem about taking care of Trey and I posted it on Facebook without saying it was about Trey and I posted it with the privacy settings so that Jack and Trey couldn’t see it because boys, in my experience, think something must be very serious if you write a poem about it. Sometimes that’s true, I don’t know. I guess it was very serious, I just didn’t want anyone to think I was in love with Trey. But of course everyone knew it was about Trey and someone sent it to Jack and I had just got back from the coffee shop, where I had a crush on the barista and she made me a double shot Americano, when Jack called me. And he yelled at me. He was mad I wrote a poem about Trey after Trey had attacked him and I understood why he was mad and felt guilty and it was weird that a small piece of art I made could cause turmoil like that. And the espresso and the Adderall I take combined with the Jack yelling at me, and I had a real bad panic attack and hung up on Jack because I couldn’t breathe. I had forgotten what a panic attack felt like and I called Trey, gasping for air and regretting the Americano, curled up in my rolling chair at my desk. Trey talked me down and calmed me down and told me to watch a video of puppies on YouTube and I made a video on Photo Booth of me crying and then watched a video on YouTube of Danny Trejo playing with puppies and I thought about how Danny Trejo had been sober for 47 years and I hoped Trey would be like that someday. Danny Trejo ended up seeing the video of me crying after I posted it on Instagram and tagged him, saying in the caption that he helped me through a panic attack, and Danny Trejo reposted it to his Instagram and said ‘glad I could help mija!’ Then Trey blocked my number because his girlfriend wasn’t fond of me and he was trying to make things work with her, he would do that sometimes, and I understood, and I wanted her to like me, and I saw him at a show and tried to be friendly to him and he avoided me and it hurt real bad. I told him to come get his clothes from my house and he ignored me. He ended up moving in down the street and unblocking my number and I called him an Uber to my house again and he had smashed some other belonging of his and he told me he wanted to drink and that he had hid a bottle behind a tree and wanted to go get it. And I said how about I drive you to a meeting and I did. We’d go get coffee sometimes and I told him I was moving to New York and he said ‘Remember that first time you took care of me and I tried to get you to buy me a plane ticket to New York?’ and I said yes and that I didn’t do it then because I was afraid he’d just go there and die. I texted him on March 30th and asked if he could help me pack my moving truck because I was leaving for New York the next day. He said yes and then got offered a second job interview and couldn’t make it.


When he dies I remember the last time I saw him and how I gave him that David Letterman jacket that you can buy on eBay for like one hundred dollars now and how I thought I would see him again and how good he looked smiling in that jacket in the cold part of springtime. When he dies I wish he had helped me pack the truck. When he dies he has me blocked on Facebook and I ask everyone to send me pictures of him and I cry every night in bed and at my desk at work and I decide one night that this is the night I don’t cry before bed, tonight I’m going to be okay, and then Bon Iver comes on shuffle and I can’t help it. And when he dies I spend three nights in a row on an air mattress in the living room at Holden and AG’s apartment because I can’t stand to be alone at night. And when he dies I watch videos of his live shows and smile and cry when he puts his hair behind his ear and I remember how mad and hurt I was when he wouldn’t let Justin put me on the list for his band’s show at Thalia Hall. When he dies I remember resenting him for cutting me out of his life over and over and then letting me help him whenever he needed me. When he dies I get so scared and I don’t have the energy to support any of my friends and I let them down and I feel like I can barely prop myself up and I’m grateful that I have a huge monitor at my desk at work because I cry quietly behind it every morning. And I drink a double shot Americano and don’t have a panic attack. And even though I had prepared myself for him to die when he went missing for four days, when he dies I don’t feel prepared at all. When he dies I think about Colville and how Colville died months ago but I still get fucked up over it and I can’t believe that death is forever and before I sleep I talk to him in my head, like, through God or something, and swallow the phlegm that pools in my mouth as I cry.




artwork by Bethany Robertson 


Rachel Bell is a writer living in Queens.

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