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April 15, 2024

The Deconstruction of Eric Cobbs, Part 2

By Steven P. Servis

In the Adroitt police department was a small jail used for holding drunks, but Eric was not in there. He was sitting in the visiting room, which seconded as an interrogation room. He laid his head on his arm, which offered a soft padding from the cold, hard surface of the desk where he sat. He closed his eyes, and began to fall asleep.

The doors were locked. He had already checked. Eric wanted out. He thought about making a run for it when the police were to open the door, but he realized he would not make it far. He lifted his head and looked out the window. There were cops everywhere. The secretary kept looking at him, watching for movement. She expected him to run. She was waiting for it.

Behind the mirrored wall were two juvenile officers and a psychiatrist.

"Kids are hard to read," the psychiatrist said, "but they are predictable. I don't know about this one. I don't deal with many mentally challenged rapists. If he's a sociopath, the only way we can find out is by running some tests, and that requires parental consent."

"I don't care if he's a sociopath," said the tall, thin juvenile officer. "I just want to know if he did it or not so we can put him away. Last thing we need is some kind of horny psycho-tard running around trying to stick his dick in every pretty girl he sees."

"Boss-man says he wants him booked. Apparently, the girl he raped is the daughter of a school board member," the shorter, disheveled officer said.

"Mark Roberts."

"Yeah, that's him."

"Well, let's get this over with."

The tall one opened the door. They walked in and Eric had his head buried in his arms.

"Eric?"

Eric looked up with swollen eyes and a red mark on his forehead where it was laying on his arm.

"I'm Officer Coleridge, and this is Officer Haney."

"Hi, Eric. I'm Angela. I'm a doctor; understand?"

Eric nodded. "Why am I here?"

"Eric, a girl has accused you of raping her," Angela said.

"Lauren Roberts?"

The three looked at each other quizzically.

"You did it, didn't you, Eric?" Haney said.

"Did what?" he asked.

"Don't play dumb with me," Haney said, pointing his finger. Coleridge put his hand on Haney's shoulder, and Haney retreated.

"Eric, did you rape that girl?" Angela asked.

Eric looked confused and disgusted, "No."

"When was the last time you saw Lauren, Eric?" Coleridge asked.

"I saw her in class today."

"What did you say to her?" Haney asked.

Eric's face burned and stiffened, "Nothing; I didn't say anything to her."

"Nothing?" Angela asked. "You sit right by her. You never speak to her?"

"No."

"Why not?" Coleridge asked. "She's a pretty girl."

"I don't know."

"Do you like girls, Eric?" Angela asked.

"Some of them."

"Do you like Lauren?" Haney asked.

"No."

"Why not?" Haney asked, raising his voice.

"She doesn't like me."

"Do you think she's pretty?" Coleridge asked.

"I don't know."

"Come on, Eric," Haney said. "We already know you did it."

"Did what?"

"Don't play stup ... "

"Haney!" Coleridge said. Haney ran his hands through the small patches of hair left on the sides of his head and walked to the corner of the room.

"Look, Eric. It's okay to admit when you think a girl is pretty. Don't you think Lauren is pretty?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Eric, is there ever times when you want to touch Lauren?" Angela asked.

"No."

"Not even a little. What about when she accidentally touches you. Do you think about it at all? It's kind of nice to be touched sometimes," Angela said.

"I don't know. We never touch. She's never touched me before. I don't touch people."

The door opened revealing a lawyer in a suit followed by a determined and angry Kemp.

"This meeting is over," the lawyer said.

"Dad!" Eric said, and he ran to Kemp and hugged him. Kemp put his arm around Eric and guided him toward the door.

"Come on, son. We're going home."

* * *

Eric lay in his bed in the bathtub. The lights were out, except for the red alarm clock numbers that gleamed 3:30. Eric thought about Lauren. He couldn't understand why she would say that he raped her. She said quit staring at me. What does that mean? He just didn't get it. Was he really retarded? Is that why it didn't make sense? Is it possible that he really did rape her, but he just couldn't remember because of his condition?

Eric supposed it didn't matter whether or not he was mentally challenged anymore. He was a rapist now, whether he did it or not didn't matter. He would never be able to go back to school now. His dreams of playing in the NFL were doomed. Maybe, I could go to another school and play sports, Eric thought. I could stay out of trouble this time. But where can I go? How? Eric remembered arguing for vouchers in his debate class. He thought that everyone should be able to attend the school of their choice. But the reality of the matter was that vouchers were still theoretical, and Kemp could not afford to send him to a private school.

There's nothing I can do, he thought. Nothing. I'm just a kid. I don't even have any rights. That's what the teachers always said. Children are the property of the guardian. Eric got out of the bathtub. He turned on the light. He looked in the mirror. Retarded? He thought as he gazed into his dilated pupils. He looked at the tub. Last night I was in there, I was doing my home work; wasting my life on homework. Retard, he thought.

Eric opened the cabinet. He took out the Tylenol, opened it, and took two tablets. He put his face under the faucet and turned it on. He looked at the Tylenol bottle. I just don't understand, he thought. Why would she say I raped her? I loved her. I loved everyone. He dumped the contents of the pill bottle in his mouth and put his face under the faucet again. He drank the water and swallowed the wad of pills. He laid down on the bathroom floor and stared at the light bulb mounted on the ceiling. After some time, he could see the "75 watt" stamp on its surface. So I'm retarded, he thought. I'm really, actually retarded. That's why I don't know anything. That's why I don't get to play in the games. That's why I'm worthless. That's why I don't care anymore, and that's why my life should have never happened.

He picked up the hairdryer, and he looked at the bathtub. He turned the water on, soaking his blankets. Steam rose and covered the mirror. He got in the tub and put the hairdryer on the floor beside him. He hadn't used the bathtub in years; at least, not like this.

Eric splashed water on his face and opened his eyes to blurred vision. He wondered what his dad would think. He would probably cry a little. Eric never saw his dad cry before.

Mrs. Cobbs would cry. She was already crying. That's why she didn't hear the faucet running. She had the television turned up to drown out her sobbing. Kemp was in the garage sneaking a cigarette.

Eric thought about Coach. He knew Coach would be disappointed, but there was nothing he could do about it. There was no chance of making it into the NFL now; not as an accused rapist; not as a high school dropout. Mrs. Anderson would surely be glad to see him dead.

Eric flipped the hairdryer on high and placed it against his naked chest, pretending the hairdryer was a football. He pictured the end zone. He laid down in the steaming water. Cobbs has the ball. He's really hauling. Here he comes. Cobbs weaves left and right. He hops over a fallen linebacker. Cobbs is in the open field. He flies over the forty. Ain't no one gonna catch him now! The thirty. The twenty. The ten. Touch down! Touch down! Cobbs did it! Cobbs did it! The lights flickered and went out when the breaker switch flipped off.

"Eric!" Kemp yelled. He reached into the dark and took Eric's arm, heaving him out of the water. "Help! Help! Jesus, God help me!" Kemp pleaded as he held his only son in his arms. Breath did not pass his blue lips.

* * *

Kemp opened the door and Lauren timidly walked into the hospice room, its white tile flooring and a hazy sunlight illuminating the stagnant dust particles.

Kemp closed the door, but she didn't notice. She looked at Eric; at his condition. A few hairs over his lip had not been shaven. She had not seen his facial hair before, and she didn't know that he could grow any. His foot had escaped the woven covers. She tucked it back under.

"Your hair's longer than I remember; and darker. You must be one of those guys whose hair gets dark over the wintertime. That's the way my brother's hair is."

She knelt down and placed her hand on his. She looked at his chin and his nose. It was surprisingly unfamiliar to her. She thought she knew him better than her father or Principal McCarthy, but she could see now that he was a stranger. Despite it, she knew he didn't deserve what he had been put through.

"You're probably wondering why I'm here after everything that's happened. I'm not a bad person, Eric. I didn't accuse you of rape. It was McCarthy, the police chief and my father. They all graduated from Adroitt high school together. They wanted you out of the school system. The school was failing, and they were afraid the best students would leave. I'm scared, Eric. I would never do anything like that. You have to believe me. I know you'd never do anything like that."

She watched his torso move with his breath and remembered the day she found out about the accusation. She had been standing at her locker when the football players questioned her.

"Coach said Eric Cobbs raped you," Terry had said.

"What?" she said.

"Cobbs raped you. That's what Coach said. That's why he's not in school today."

"That's not true."

"Where's Eric then?"

"I don't know."

"If he raped you, why are you here and he's not?"

"He didn't rape me," she had said, her eyes teary. "I don't know what you're talking about." She then ran to the office and called her mother to pick her up. It was like a nightmare, and it was true. Her father -- the school board member -- had helped file the report.

She couldn't contain her tears as she looked at Eric.

"There's nothing I can do, Eric," she said. "They won't listen to me. Kemp is the only one who believes that I didn't accuse you of rape. The police won't listen. The school won't listen. What else can I do, Eric? I'm just a kid for God's sake. I'm just a kid caught in the middle of a war."

The next day Lauren ran away from Adroitt. The children were helpless against the power of the three men. There were no checks and balances in Adroitt; not since the Safe Schools Act. The administration could do as they saw fit, and no lawyer good or bad could say otherwise. It was the law. Despite it, Adroitt High School improved on paper; students weren't given vouchers, and when they graduated from Adroitt High, they scurried off to college.

The struggling students, arbitrarily expelled from the school system, could be seen loitering in downtown Adroitt. Cast into the real-world unprepared, many became victims of a growing drug culture, and eventually meth addiction took over the lives of young, uneducated families. As prosperous, educated people continually left Adroitt for better lives, the town's commerce slowly faded, leaving behind a drug infested town with an outstanding, meaningless school.

All the time, Eric lay in the hospice like a hidden monument of hope -- until a final breath passed his lips, and those who struggled like him -- who dared to dream despite their meagerness, accepted their lives, gently packing their hopes into the back of their minds, stowing their dreams away like outgrown clothes.

-- Steven P. Servis

Article © Steven P. Servis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-11-23
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