It's been a long, long time since I've written a story, but today, an idea hit, and I wrote it down. I imagine it's close to done, but I wrote it all in one sitting, so I figure I'll open it up to suggestions and feedback before revising it to a final version.
Tommy's twenty-first birthday part had been a blast. Tommy (well, Tommy's parents, unknowingly) contributed more than a little to drink, and Tommy's frat buddies added plenty more. Even people like me, who didn't get along too well with the frat group he'd been spending more and more time with, enjoyed it. I'm not sure Tommy did, actually, mostly because I doubt he remembers anything.
But I'm getting off topic.
My point is that, a year later, his party was a whole lot more sedate. Actually, it ended up just being the two of us. After graduation, he and a bunch of his frat brothers had gotten an apartment together, and he'd apparently lost touch with most of his other friends. I only saw him a few times that year, so I'd figured his birthday party would be a great chance to reconnect.
When I asked him if he had plans, he explained that he hadn't found a job yet, so he was a bit short on cash. When I talked to one of his roommates and suggested we take Tommy out to dinner to celebrate, I found out that he was more than short on cash--his parents had cut off most of their support after he'd gone six months without finding a job, and he was now months behind on rent and mooching most of the food he ate from his roommates. Their friendship had worn thin, and they weren't at all into the idea of taking him out to dinner.
So, being the nice guy that I am, I took Tommy out to dinner. I was doing pretty well--I'd gotten a great job at a tech startup and jumped into it right after graduation--so I didn't mind so much. It was nice to see an old friend again, even if he was pretty down at the moment. Apparently his roommates had only let him stay this long because they'd been friends, and were now pretty close to kicking him out.
Now, I have a nice, big apartment, for which I pay a little bit too much, but, like I said, I can afford it. So I suggested that Tommy move in with me for a few months while he pulled things together. We agreed to a small rent, which, it was understood, I wouldn't be expecting to receive until he'd gotten a job. In exchange, he'd be stuck sleeping on the couch in the living room. Given that I was already paying the full rent for the place, it wasn't really even a hardship.
Why, you ask, was I doing this? I told myself at the time that I was just helping out a friend. I knew that Tommy tended to get really stressed when people put pressure on him, so I thought maybe letting him stay at my place, away from roommates who weren't constantly pressuring him to get a job, but help. But mostly, I think, I knew that Tommy didn't really want the responsibility, and my plan was already coming together.
His roommates, of course, didn't help him move. One of them even took me aside, and warned me that I was never going to see any rent from Tommy. I thanked him, but told him Tommy and I had worked things out.
And so, a week after his twenty-second birthday, Tommy moved into my apartment. It hadn't occured to me when I invited him, but there were some side benefits--my apartment acquired a bigger television, a stereo, an X-box, and a decent library of games, all in one fell swoop.
The only rule, we'd agreed, was that Tommy had to keep about the same sleep schedule as I did. Partially because I didn't want him making noise while I was trying to get to sleep so I could get up in the morning, but mostly because I thought it would help motivate him if I kept him on a real work schedule.
The first day, while I was at work, Tommy unpacked his stuff. Well, actually, he set up his TV and other gadgets, and then got distracted "making sure the X-Box was set up right." I shrugged it off. It meant he'd be living out of boxes for another day, but I figured he'd worked hard moving all his stuff the day before.
I mentioned that I was making dinner, and Tommy offered to help. I asked if he knew how, and he admitted that he didn't. I set him chopping vegetables, which he turned out to, well, suck at. When he'd finished, I assured him there was nothing else he could do, and finished the dinner myself. Tommy's a sweet guy--he clearly felt bad that I was doing all the work, and really wanted to help. It's just that he's pretty useless.
The next day, I woke Tommy up going out to work, and he seemed pretty tired--he'd probably just muted the TV and kept playing video games for hours. When I got back, he was still wearing the flannel pjs and t-shirt he'd slept in the night before, and was watching some rerun on TV.
I made dinner, again, and didn't bother getting Tommy's help this time. He argued politely, again, and once again, let me do it once I insisted there was no way for him to help. Over dinner, I probed a bit to see if he'd gotten anything done, and the answer, of course, was no. He'd checked online for jobs, but hadn't found anything worth applying to, and he still hadn't unpacked his clothes.
The rest of the week was much the same. As far as I could tell, the closest he'd come to doing anything productive was taking a shower in the middle of the week (after I mentioned it too him...and loaned him a towel, since apparently he hadn't done laundry in a while). He switched t-shirts, and from blue pajama pants to green ones, and otherwise he didn't even change clothes.
On the other hand, he's really good at Halo 2.
It was the weekend that made up my mind. Actually, specifically, it was the moment at lunch on Saturday when I offered to help him look for a job online, and he told me he wasn't going to because it was the weekend. Tommy had spent the whole week playing video games, but he couldn't work now, because it was the weekend.
For a moment, I was angry. But the truth is, this is what I always liked about Tommy. All through college, people had been surprised that I was friends with Tommy, because we seemed so different. But I'd always appeciated his earnest lack of motivation--he was fun to be around, fun to talk to, just completely unprepared and unwilling to grow up.
So I came up with a different solution. My company makes these clever little devices you hook up to televisions to broadcast motivational messages--"go exercise," "don't smoke," that kind of thing. They're not subliminal--they stay on the screen long enough for the person watching to know there was a message. Otherwise, well, people might use them unethically. And to change that, you'd have to get raw access to the code and know exactly what to change.
Which, of course, I can do.
Monday afternoon, I brought back one of our samples. I figured it wouldn't be fair to go ahead without Tommy's consent, in one form or another, so the first message I wrote into it was "Playing the X-Box means you'll be taken care of." Nothing that forced him to do anything--just an offer, being signalled to his subconsious.
I hooked it up while he went to the bathroom that evening, a rare instance when he was out of the room.
The next day, when I got back, Tommy was watching TV, as he often was. When I mentioned dinner, he said he was about to start a game. I told him I didn't need help, and let him play while I put on some pasta and sauce.
The next day, when I got home, he was already on the X-Box. I mentioned that it had been a few days since he'd showered, and he informed me that no, he had showered, but he'd changed back into the same clothes because they were the only clean ones he had. He'd meant to do laundry that day, but he'd gotten distracted by his game.
I mentioned that I was doing some laundry of my own, and I'd just do some of his while I was at it. Tommy was grateful ("'cause I'm right in the middle of this game, anyway").
I took this as clear evidence that Tommy had accepted my offer, such as it was, so the next day, I reprogrammed my little subliminial device to take things up a notch.
I didn't notice an effect until the weekend. Saturday, we'd ordered pizza (okay, I'd ordered pizza--and, needless to say, covered Tommy's part of the bill as well). While sitting on the couch, talking about fun times in collegs, Tommy attempted to pick up his glass of soda and entirely missed, knocking it to the floor, shattering the glass, and spilling all over the carpet. We quickly cleaned it up, and he was quite apologetic. Of course, I was quite pleased at his sudden loss of coordination, so I was quite forgiving.
By the end of the weekend, though, it was clear that Tommy was getting frustrated at the way his video game skills, so carefully honed over the last year, had dried up over night. Suddenly, moves he routinely pulled off two days earlier were almost impossible. Unfortunately--and unexpectedly-this put Tommy in a pretty bad mood. I suggested we go out to a movie, to distract him, and he agreed. Unfortunately, I hadn't prepared for this, so he wasn't even willing to consider any cartoons. So we saw a nice action movie; well, a pretty mediocre action movie. Nice car chase, one good fight scene, and some crappy dialogue in between.
I also added some new programming. Mostly, to make Tommy accept the disadvantages of his new position.
Monday went smoothly. When I brought some plastic cups ("to avoid anything like what happened Saturday"), Tommy agreed that it made sense, and didn't even comment on the fact that I was still drinking from a glass while he had a cup.
On Tuesday, though, Tommy was upset at me when I got home. You see, every day for lunch, Tommy--who, recall, had no money to buy food for himself--had been making himself sandwiches. Of course, that usually requires cutting bread, and one of the new subliminal messages prohibited Tommy from using knives. (It seemed only prudent, given that he wasn't coordinated enough to use them safely anymore, anyway.)
So Tommy was, naturally, upset at me for not leaving him a sandwich. You see, Tommy now believed that I was responsible for providing him lunch, a sensible enough thought, given that he couldn't do it for himself anymore.
I apologized, and made up for it with a trip to the grocery store where I bought him a bag of candy. (Before you ask, no, he didn't need any help from me to accept that one.)
Why, you may wonder, didn't I leave him a sandwich? Because this was the first time I'd really taken some specific away like that, and I wasn't sure if the suggestion would hold, and if so, how strongly and how quickly. Having confirmed that Tommy really was so susceptible, I could safely step things up yet another notch. Beginning the next morning, I made him lunch every day before going in to work.
One problem with the state of affairs up to now was that it really wasn't very healthy for Tommy. I was letting him stay around the house watching television and playing video games pretty much non-stop. If I was going to start taking care of him, I was going ot take that seriously. The next day, I proposed that Tommy could earn some spending money from me be helping out a little around the apartment. I didn't call it an allowance, but the subliminal messages did, and he eagerly accepted.
Unlike before, when he would just stay up into the wee hours of the morning playing on his X-Box after I went to bed, now he actually went to bed when I told him to. He even started, without any prompting from my messages, arguing a little bit--"Aw, come on. It's only eleven. A little bit more?" It was terribly cute. Of course, I was firm but understanding, sometimes allowing a few more minutes, but often setting my foot down. And Tommy obeyed.
For the next week, I gathered some materials while I tested out the current set-up. Tommy now casually accepted that I was taking complete responsibility for his life. He took out the trash, when I reminded him, because of our agreement. He never remembered to take a shower, but he did when I told him to. He went to sleep when I told him he had to, and brushed his teeth first because I reminded him.
Finally, one Saturday, when I had everything ready (and had been prepping Tommy with new messages for several days), I sent him on an errand for me, to pick up some things at the grocery store (it was within walking distance, if you're wondering--I hadn't worked further on Tommy's coordination, so he probably could have driven, but it seemed like a bad idea). I even let him buy himself some more candy while he was there.
Why didn't I go with him? Well, remember those boxes of clothes Tommy didn't unpack when he moved in? It shouldn't surprise you to learn that, all these weeks later, they were still taking up room in my living room, and the plastic dresser we'd bought when he moved in was still empty. So, while he was out, I filled the dressers with clothes, and tossed out the boxes.
Some of the clothes I put in the dressers even came out of the boxes.
But most of them didn't.
I kept a few generic items--mostly jeans and shorts--and some of the better (from my perspective) t-shirts, but that was about it. (Oh, and the Scooby-Doo boxers. It turned out that Tommy already owned Scooby-Doo boxers. Which made the ones I'd bought for him redudant.)
The rest, I tossed. In its place, the best children's clothing I could find in adult sizes. In place of those checkered flannel pants, I'd found ones with dinosaurs and ones with Simpsons and even Pokemon. In place of vaugely patterned boxers came a wide assortment of new boxer shorts with every cartoon character I could find (it's amazing what they make in adult sizes, these days). Colorful new shirts and pants, too. It's really, really amazing what they make in adult sizes, these days.
Tommy got back, and I told him that I'd unpacked his clothes for him. I suggested that he take a shower and change for bed, and he _object_ed that it was too early. (I just wanted to see him in one of his new outfits.) After some negotiation, and a promise that I wouldn't make him go to bed early, he agreed.
To my delight, he picked out the matching Spongebob Squarepants t-shirt and flannel pants. I decided to push my luck, and commented on what a nice outfit he was wearing. He responded--here I quote exactly--"Yeah, they're some of my favorites. They match my boxers, too." And here, he pulled down the pants a bit, and lifted his shirt, so I could see.
(Yes, fine, I specifically included instructions to take pride in the new clothes, and to be less modest around me. But still, I was pleased at how well he'd taken to them.)
To recap briefly, I now dictated Tommy's schedule, picked out his clothes, prepared all his meals, did his laundry, and gave him an allowance. There were, in my view, only a few things left to go, and I promptly set about those.
As always, I laid groundwork carefully, getting everything ready before moving forward. I put a whole bunch of new instructions on my device, and gave them some time to sink in. Mostly, they centered around one theme: "it's okay." Whatever Tommy still did, all the independence he had left, every time Tommy used his X-Box, he was told it was okay to just let them slip away.
And so, a week later, while I was making his lunch before heading out to work, Tommy dropped the milk he was pouring onto his cereal (Count Chocula, in case you were wondering). The carton hit the bowl, and both of them went flying to the ground splattering milk all over. Tommy just looked at me, and tears started rolling down his cheeks.
"I'm sorry," he gasped, between sobs.
I ran over and patted him on the head. "It's okay. I'll clean it up, and get you a new bowl of cereal." I comforted him for another minute, while he calmed down, and then got him a new bowl of cereal. Tommy quickly recovered, and happily ate the bowl of sugar down while I cleaned up the mess he'd made.
That was the first time Tommy cried in front of me, but far from the last. That's not to see he cried all the time, far from it. I like to think I kept Tommy pretty happy. But when things went wrong, when he lost too many games in a row, when his increasing clumsiness made him knock something over, you could see the tears well up in his eyes.
By now, Tommy's life was fairly childish, of course. He was only allowed to play a limited amount of the games that used to be his favorite--they were too violent, or too mature. And he'd earned some new games, which he liked more--Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dr. Seuss chief among them.
Sometimes we played board games. Tommy was enjoying Candyland more every time we played it. Sometimes we went to movies, or rented them, mostly cartoons. I'd bought him the Harry Potter books, and he'd started reading them. After a while, as he'd had more and more trouble with the big words, he'd started asking me for help, and soon we developed a nightly ritual of my reading a few chapters to him before he went to sleep.
It came as no surprise when, one morning, Tommy came up to me with his shirt half off, and asked for my help. His coordination had, at last, reached the point where he couldn't dress himself. He took it completely in stride, and as I sat him on the couch, pulled off his shirt, picked out a new one and put it on him. Then, I had him stand up and I pulled off his pants and underwear. He didn't react at all, finding it perfectly okay to be naked in front of me. For old time's sake, I dressed him in his old Scooby Doo boxers, for one last time, and pulled some jean shorts over them.
That night, knowing I'd finally completed my project, I took Tommy to Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate. I helped him through ordering, since he couldn't read the menu any more, and gave him some tokens to play with. He had a blast. He got some odd looks, of course, but he didn't even notice.
He was so happy that he didn't even protest that night when I told him he had to take a bath. All modesty gone, he was perfectly content to let me undress him, put him in the bath (he made a mess, naturally, scattering water all over the bathroom), and dry him off after.
While he bathed, I finished setting up the apartment, and moved his dressers into the bedroom. When he got out, I told him that I'd bought him a bed. I took him into my room, where I'd set up a race car bed for him (yes, you can get them twin size, although it took some hunting to find one). Tommy was thrilled.
I dressed him, pulling on a new pair of colorful briefs one leg at a time, and then helping him into a footed sleeper which I zipped up. My little Tommy fell asleep as I read him a bedtime story.