Grief's Melancholy Shade - Chapter 6
By: Susan McNeill and Rhonda Hallstrom
"Kerrrrmit!" came the concentrated whisper into his dreams. Groaning,
then ducking his head under the covers, the teenage boy struggled to
block out the wet call draining into his ear. Late nights spent making
out with Calley Robinson at the Starlight Drive-In required a few hours
of sleeping in to recover.
The intrepid six-year-old continued his 7:00 a.m. quest. Crawling under
the blanket, David came nose to nose with his dozing brother. "Kermit.
Wake up! Peeeezzzzz wake up!"
"Squirt. It's Sunday. No school." Blindly, Kermit rubbed the boy's head.
"Gotta sleep...then we'll play....swear." Hoping to fall back into his
less-than-wholesome dreams, he ignored the little hand pulling on his
"But today's special. I brought you something." David was the proverbial
ankle-biter. Nothing could distract him. "Kermit! Please???" Flinging
the covers back, David bared the tired Romeo to the bright morning
Finding resistance to be futile and sleep a long lost memory, Kermit
pushed himself upright. Rubbing his eyes and trying to focus, he
addressed the grinning boy, "Okay, okay. I'm up." Bleary-eyed, the older
brother finally focused on the item sitting over his legs. Resplendent
with fresh daisy sat a breakfast tray; Lucky Charms soaking in milk with
a Hershey's Kiss garnish; Tang in a Flintstones glass; three powdered
doughnuts; banana coated in peanut butter and the funny papers folded
neatly to the side.
"TAH DAH!" David flung his arms wide to showcase his efforts. "All your
"Uh...." Kermit smiled with confusion. "Davey, I think these are your
"Yeah, I know! And I wanted to fix you the vewy best for your day!"
Grabbing a napkin, the first-grader began his duties as a happy junior
maitre'd. First, he jammed the cloth into the top of his brother's
T-shirt then handed him his glass.
Kermit noticed his mother standing at the door. Maggie Griffin took in
his puzzled expression and smiled warmly at both of them. Nodding
quickly at her eldest, she indicated that he should go along with the
forced hospitality.<Oh well...,> Kermit thought and plucked the candy from
atop his cereal.
"Wait! You're 'posed to eat that last," David instructed, "so it melts
and tastes like chocolate all the way to the laaaaaast drop."
"Oh," Kermit answered. "Sorry, squirt. I forgot." Dumping the candy
back onto the cereal, his curiosity took over. "This is great, but it's
not my birthday. What's up?"
With that question, their mother disappeared from the doorway.
"Father's Day, Kermit! That's what it is!" Turning his attention to
nibbling one liberated doughnut, David continued with a little less
enthusiasm. "Daddy's not here so I thought you might like it."
Kermit turned his anger at his father on then off immediately. The
disappointment was evident in his little brother's voice. "Hey," Kermit
reassured, "I'm sure he wanted to be here."
Perking up, David agreed, "Oh yeah, I know. But he's doin' real
important stuff for the soldiers so they won't get hurt. It's more
important than eatin' my breakfast." David scooted closer and
handed Kermit the banana.
His father's job was all. Marilyn and Kermit had accepted the fact that
weapons development was their father's life and family took a back seat.
It hurt but they'd moved past it. What Kermit would never move past is the
look in David's eyes. "Nothing but nothing is more important than you,
Squirt!" Taking a deep breath, Kermit forced himself to chomp down on
the smeared banana and make a groan of delight.
"OH! Almos' forgot!" David yelped with excitement and ran into the hall.
Upon his return, the child presented his brother with a gift wrapped in
more of the Sunday morning comics. Twisting his Lone Ranger pajamas in
anticipation, he watched as Kermit unwrapped the gift.
"Soap on a rope," Kermit held up the humorous prize and spread a happy
grin over his face at the joy on David's.
"Neat, ain't it?! You can use it in the shower, or..." David took the gift
and swung it over his head, causing Kermit to duck for cover. "Bop
somebody like Kado on the Green Hornet if they give you any trouble."
"Always looking out for me, huh, Squirt?" Kermit took back the gift,
while he still had his head, and looked at the folded paper in David's
other hand. "That for me, too?"
Quietly, as if afraid of a bad review, the boy handed the drawing to
Kermit. Bright colors and large friendly shapes greeted him. A tall figure
and a smaller one were holding hands under a bright sun adorned with a
big purple smile.
"It's you and me. Did it this morning. Like it?" David gnawed on his
"You bet I do!" Hugging the little boy close to his chest, Kermit kissed
him on the head. Enjoying the feeling as he hugged back. "I'm gonna keep
this with me always and forever."
"Love you, Kermit."
"Love you, Davey."
He had tried to keep that promise. The crayon drawing had been folded
into his wallet only to disappear in Vietnam after his capture. He
still remembered the fury as his VC jailer had methodically torn the
drawing into tiny pieces.
Looking over at David twitching and sweating on the bed, he tried to
feel that embrace again. Walking over to where his brother lay encased
in a nightmare, he whispered, "Guess I wasn't a very good sub for the
real thing, huh, squirt." The Valium had allowed David several hours of
sleep - or at least, a fitful excuse for sleep.
It had been almost 20 hours since David's last hit and the backlash was
building within his tired, skinny body. As Kermit tried to pull the
boy's damp hair away from his face, David began to moan in the agony of
a nightmare. Holding his knees in a frantic grip, the pain broke through
sleep into reality.
"Uhhhhh...." David voice groaned out his pain as bloodshot eyes snapped
open from the nightmare. Too wrapped up in this first wave of suffering
to notice, he let Kermit pull him up into his arms without resisting.
"It's okay, Davey," Kermit tried to comfort the boy as he wiped the
sweat off his forehead. "I'm here with you. Ride it out."
Words wouldn't force themselves up through the rock hard cramps in his
gut. Grunting his agony, David let hot tears of pain and fear flow
freely. Wave after wave of nauseous ache raged through his body.
Holding onto David as he convulsed in the throws of withdrawal,
the mercenary shoved down his emotion. It was necessary. If he was going
to help David, he had to ignore his own despair. It would still be there
for company when this ride was finished.
Obsessively wiping the dripping forehead, Kermit rocked David slowly
against his chest. "It'll pass, David. Hold on."
With an agonizing jerk, David vomited the little dinner he'd taken in
hours before. Wrenching uncontrollably, he begged, "Help me,
"I'm here, Squirt," he consoled, trying to let the cycle of sickness
ease before he moved. After thirty gut-wrenching minutes of vomiting and
shaking, David's symptoms began to ease.
Falling back onto the bed in exhaustion, the trembling vessel that was
David Griffin lay limp and unresponsive. Without asking permission,
Kermit carried the boy to the bathroom. Stripping off his soaked
clothes, he cleaned him up as he bobbed in and out of consciousness, too
weak to resist. Leaving David resting against the cool porcelain of the
sink, the older brother quickly changed the bed then carried the boy
back to rest.
Until the next wave.
Hour after hour began to blend together into an endless cycle of
suffering for both; one, a participant assaulted by violent claws of
angry pain; the other, a heartbroken guardian helpless in its wake. Days
bled into a meaningless blend of pain and waking nightmares for both.
David's withdrawal escalated exactly as the doctor has said it would.
The sweating and fever ravaged his young body. Seizures twisted his
legs into jelly and vibrated the bed with such strength that Kermit had
to hold him onto the mattress with both arms. All mingled with
a selection of cursing at the older brother and pitiful begging for help.
Keeping to the program, Kermit struggled through the slack times in the
battle to force juice into his brother and encourage him to eat. Most of
which would trampoline back up from the pathetically equipped stomach of
the anguished child.
Returning from another trip to the kitchen, Kermit found David huddled
against the headboard of bed. Face bathed again in sweat, the colorless
features looked back at him with unspeakable hatred. The power of that
hatred stopped Kermit at the end of the bed. Not even in the eyes of his
worst enemy had he seen such venom.
As before, he tried to replace this twisted monster's face with the
clean expression of his little brother.
<"Love you, Kermit!">
<"Love you, Davey!">
Shaking one accusing finger, the snarling addict fought back against the
only tangible enemy in sight. "You...you...don't deserve to live! I hate
you!!!!! You're a bloodthirsty killer...you're trying to kill me! You
did this to me!!!!"
"Dad hated you and Mom would hate you and everyone knows what you are
and you should DIE!!!!!"
More violent tremors clamped down over the accusations. Still numb
from David's anger, Kermit resumed the role of nurse. Holding
David tightly, they both lived through another round of convulsions until
he collapsed into the temporary relief of unconsciousness once again.
In the privacy of the cabin, as David lay in a pathetic version of rest,
Kermit Griffin let his guilt and sorrow free. Sinking down into the
nearest chair, he felt the tears roll down his cheeks, tears for lost
innocence -- his own and his brother's.
It didn't get any better. In fact, it had been hellish by even Kermit
Griffin's tortured experience; an endless cycle of convulsing, sweating
agony for his younger brother. He lost count of the times he had
stripped off David's clothes, soaked by his heaving stomach and sweat,
and changed him and the bed. Watching him suffer was hell, pure hell
beyond anything he could imagine. Knowing the reason this boy had fled
into the solace of illusion only compounded the burden. The only thing
he could do was to not allow himself to think, just to be there.
Not willing to chance leaving David alone, Kermit sat in an
uncomfortable bend trying to doze on a chair, feet propped against his
brother's leg. Knowing that the slightest move would jolt him awake, he
closed his eyes as David lay unconscious.
The respite was short lived.
In an electrically charged jolt of limbs and sheets, David rattled from
his fitful dreams, screaming with terror.
"NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! GET 'EM OFF MEEEEEE!!!!!!" Clawing at his legs, the
tormented child scraped and battled an invisible enemy. "Stop! No! Help
me!!!!!" David fled his waking nightmare, pressing himself into the
grain of the heavy wooden headboard.
Leaping to his aid, Kermit tried to battle the imaginary demons for him.
"David, there's nothing here," he reassured, grabbing the boy's bony
shoulders in a firm grip.
In his abject terror, David looked up into his brother's face. Grasping
for any shred of comfort and finding no shelter. "NO!" he screamed in
the tone of a panicked child. "See 'em?! They're all over...all
over...me!!!!" Jerking his body to shake off the unseen enemy, David
grabbed handfuls of Kermit's heavy sweater. "Please...help....get 'em
They were real. He could seen them squirming and slithering all over the
bed. Nowhere to escape. The snakes popped their wiggling heads up through
the sheets to slide over his legs at will. Heavy limbs seemed unable to move
away. Why didn't Kermit do something? He could see them. "LOOK!!!!!!
They're right there...all over...pleeeeeeeeeeease!!!!"
Folding into himself, David struggled to retreat from the covers
writhing with fictional horror. Sobbing into the large chest that
offered no protection, his words were unintelligible babble.
All Kermit could do was hold him. Physical pain he could soothe.
Hallucinations could only be battled from within the twisted eye of the
beholder. He knew this, but the knowing only made it more difficult.
"David! Listen to me," he grabbed the pasty white face and forced it
to read the words he spit out before him. "It's not real! You're safe
with me! I wouldn't let anything-"
Screeching disbelief flung the ball of terror that had taken the form of
David Griffin off the bed in a desperate search for freedom. Scratching
his way over the floor, fighting knotted muscles and shadows of
fabricated reptiles, the terrified child took refuge in a dark corner of
the room. Dressed only in the sweat pants that flapped loosely over his
thin figure, he trembled against the wall.
Diving over the bed in pursuit, Kermit followed. Praying that this wave
would soon crash and release his little brother from this illusion,
he carefully approached David's back. His touch met prickling
resistance and he withdrew. "David. There's nothing there. Come here."
He touched the shoulder gently again.
Whimpering in his fear, David cautiously relaxed into the arms open wide
to welcome him. "That's right," Kermit soothed as David folded into his
arms. The boy hid within the embrace, still appraising the bed that was
now cleared from the thousands of wiggling snakes that had tormented him
moments before. In the haze of his relief, another vision appeared.
Kermit gently rocked his brother as they both knelt on the floor. Trying
to keep him warm and calm him down before moving him, the mercenary
focused on his brother's breathing. Slowing down from the ragged pace of
horror, his screaming was now replaced by sorrowful moans.
Following David's glassy stare, Kermit could see that he was still
transfixed by whatever had terrified him on the rumpled bed. "Davey,
there's nothing there."
"Yes she is...she's there, Kermit...don't you see? Oh God...I'm
sorry..." David jerked as the guttural sobs wretched out of his body.
<Oh, no...> Kermit mentally gasped and held on tighter.
Maggie Griffin's memory presented itself to her young son. Wearing the
faded blue hospital gown he had last seen wear, the mother shook her
head sadly at the boy cowering at her feet. Her dark brown hair waved
in a fantasy breeze and huge tears of disappointment drained down her
"Mom...Mommy....I'm sorry...forgive me...I was bad...please don't hate
me...please...." David's pleading met only disgust as his mother averted
her eyes from his pitiful state. "Don't...please....she hates me!!! She
should hate me! I'm disgusting!!!!! Don't leave me!!! I'm sorry...so
sorry...Mommy, don't leave me!!!"
"It's not REAL, Davey!" Kermit shouted in an attempt to break the
fantasy born of sickness and regret. "She would never hate you! She
Sobbing his shame as the vision faded away with her revulsion burned
into his mind, David couldn't believe in the words. Burrowing into
Kermit's chest, he moaned in desperation. "I'm disgusting! She was so
good...how could she stand me?...I don't want her to hate me...please
Pulling the defeated child into his arms, Kermit carried him back to the
bed, whispering into his ear along the way. "Don't worry, Davey. She
forgives you and loves you. She's here with us trying to help. She loves
you. I know it."
"No...I'm bad...everybody knows it....I'm so sorry...."
Putting him to bed as the wave crashed once more, Kermit continued to
stumble through his attempt at comforting. "She was good and so are you,
kid. You got lost but we're finding you, Davey."
"I want to die...."
"Well, that's too bad, because I'm not letting you." The words fell
softly over the boy as he was claimed once more by sleep. "You
don't really want to die, anyway. No more than I do." Pulling the
covers back over David's bare shoulders, he returned to his chair.
"Mom, I'm sorry, too." That apology given, Kermit grabbed at rest
Kermit opened his tear-swollen eyes reluctantly and rubbed at
them.. When had he cried? He couldn't remember. <Maybe last night, with
Alarmed, he threw a look at his brother sleeping on the bed. The boy was
cocooned under several layers of twisted bed sheets and blankets. Forcing
his tired limbs to obey him, Kermit got up to examine him, make sure he
was still breathing. He was. The breathing was steady until it was
interrupted by a hiccuping sob.
"Davey?" Kermit asked quietly, sitting on the bed.
"Mommy...I don't feel good...." David curled further into a ball, nearly
asphyxiating himself under all the blankets.
Kermit unraveled him and spread the blankets evenly just as David's hand
shot out and grabbed his arm. He let himself be pulled with the
movement, kneeling beside the bed to look into his brother's red-rimmed
eyes. "Davey? It's okay, it's Kermit." He tousled the sweat-soaked head
of hair as David gripped his arm harder. "It's okay. I'm here."
"Kermit, Mom's mad at me...."
"No...Mom could never be mad at you," Kermit consoled. "Squirt, don't
you remember when you helped her bake cookies? Huh?"
A brief smile was shared by both. Kermit had come home from high school
one day only to be greeted by a thoroughly-exasperated mother and a
thoroughly-covered-with-flour-and-cookie-dough brother. His mother had
silently deposited the filthy David in Kermit's arms and made herself
scarce as Kermit, trying not to laugh hysterically, bathed the happy and
helpful child. A half hour later, Mrs. Maggie Griffin was all smiles
again, starting the cookies all over again after Marilyn had been
drafted for kitchen cleaning duty.
"Squirt," Kermit said, chuckling, "if she didn't get mad at THAT, she
won't get mad at anything! You were a mess!" More than anything he wanted
to rekindle the happiness that had once been their lives. A happy home.
Happy family. Normal.
David began laughing, a bit hysterically, until the laughter somehow
grew into sobbing once more. Kermit sat on the bed
and held him, rocked him, and rubbed his back until the sobs dissipated
into absolute silence. After a minute, Kermit was aching to break the
silence but knew his brother meant more. Finally, David did break the
"You don't think she's mad at me?" David asked quietly over Kermit's
"Squirt," Kermit told him, "she's not mad at you. I guarantee it."
Kermit steeled himself not to react. His father and his father's opinion
could go hang as far as he was concerned. But he couldn't express that
thought to David. How did David feel about the absentee and now deceased
Mitchell Griffin? Kermit didn't know and couldn't take a chance with
David's fragile psyche. "I think he'd be very proud of you for fighting
this thing, David," Kermit told him. "I am, too. And so's Mom and
Marilyn. We're all with you."
"Why'd you come back, Kermit? Did you come back to kill me?"
The question was shocking enough to make Kermit draw back. His brother
sank back onto the bed while he waited for an answer. "Kid...I came back
FOR you. To help you live again."
"You won't leave me?"
"Kid, I'm not going anywhere," Kermit said strongly. "I'm right here."
Reassured, trusting, David closed his eyes and fell asleep.
To Be Continued...