When Jason broke his neck they gave him a halo. The thing looked like a medieval torture device, bolts screwed into Jason’s skull, a ring of papery tissue encrusted around each bolt. When they put it on, Jason said he wanted to be able to wear his winter hat, so they drove the bolts straight through his black ‘Warroad Hockey’ beanie. By the middle of winter, Jason’s head stank like when my uncle left a half-dressed deer up in the garage on a weekend when the weather warmed enough to rot it out. Sometimes things stored in the rafters of the garage would come down still stinking of it.
The halo was braced by some steel girders that came down to rounded plastic shoulder pads that sat atop Jason’s shoulders. It made it look like Jason was constantly shrugging.
I sat behind him in fourth period algebra and had to stop myself from twisting the knobs. I kept wanting to reach out and grab the screws. They must’ve found their way to somewhere just short of Jason’s brain tissue. I think I read somewhere that the brain itself feels no pain. Maybe if you twisted one of the screws just right, Jason’s arm would jump out like an action figure. Or he’d be shot through with flashing lights, like twisting the contrast knob on the old teevee we had at our cabin.
Jason broke his neck trying to suck his own dick. Or trying to lick his own asshole. Or craning to sneak a peak up Sally Hinkelman’s skirt. We invented a gang of explanations, knowing that if Jason didn’t like the razzing, he couldn’t do shit.
When it got close to Christmas we made a Jason tree, hanging garland and cardboard ornaments from his halo.
“Hey Jason,” we said, “How you gonna eat out Sally Hinkelman’s pussy with that fucking halo in the way?” Jason just looked at us and seemed to shrug.
There was a house party at the Carlson twins’ parents’ house by the lake. We took turns making Jason hit the beer bong, one person holding the spout to his mouth, two people holding the funnel and pouring the beer. Jon Carlson poured some Yukon Jack on the back end of some beer and Jason blew chunks all over the front cross bars of his halo. It hung in viscous strings and we all screamed and fell down with laughter and said “Holy fucking shit” with tears in our adolescent eyes.
Jason got piss drunk, just like the res of us. He kept falling up against walls and tables, his halo banging and bouncing dents into the Carlsons’ parents’ walls. One of us started calling him “Pinball.”
We took shots from the shot stick, which was a hockey stick with shot glasses glued across the handle. Jason tried but poured vodka down the neck of his shirt. The girl I’d wanted to fool around with ended up fooling around with Paul Engels, my winger on the checking line. I felt the old fuck-it-all throbbing through my head and grabbed a hold of Jason’s halo and pulled him outside for a smoke.
I lit my cigarette and coughed because I wasn’t really a smoker. Jason looked at me. “Christ, Pinball, sorry,” I said and put one in his mouth, threading my hand over the pukey cross-bar of his halo. I lit it and asked if he was having fun.
He nodded and banged up against the Carlsons’ mailbox. “Aren’t you scared you’ll bump one of those spikes into yr brain?” I asked.
We smoked. I tried to think of a new reason for Jason’s broke neck, but all the guys’d pretty much exhausted them. “You must be one clumsy fuck, Pinball, to fall off a fucking roof,” I said.
Jason looked back at the house through the left side of his metal head-cage. It was like an aquarium without any glass, I remember thinking. “I didn’t fall,” he said, “I jumped.”
“Well, then, you suck at landing.”
“No, I dove. Was trying to kill myself,” he said.
I remember thinking, ‘What a fucking idiot,’ and, strangely, wondering whether that meant he wouldn’t play hockey our senior year. “Jesus Christ, Jason. That’s fucking stupid. You ain’t gonna try that shit again, right?”
Jason didn’t say anything, only seemed to shrug.