Chapter 5: Bubblefest

Eagle Hills Teenagers

Stage Bubble Bash

Two arrested as rain dampens spirits

at train station fest

Two Eagle Hills High School students were arrested Sunday at the Burlington commuter station. The youths were charged with littering and creating a public nuisance in connection with "Bubblefest." A small crowd gathered at the train station at 1 pm Sunday and blew soap bubbles onto Washington Street for approximately fifteen minutes, causing minor traffic disruption. When police arrived to disperse the unauthorized gathering on public property, one of the youths apparently threatened an officer, resulting in two arrests. The youths have also been ordered to remove the many flyers posted in Eagle Hills neighborhoods. Police confiscated approximately 100 duck decoys and a carton of "Wonder Bubbles" soap bubbles. They are searching for members of "The Gland Puppies," the apparent sponsors of "Bubblefest," to return these items. Police say they are grateful that this was the "Last Annual Bubblefest," as its local sponsors described it.



Journal entry:

Sunday afternoon, May 28th


I didn't think I was going to go to Bubblefest until I found myself half-way there. While I was sitting in church this morning, I thought at length about the job I have to do at Eagle Hills. My degree, the work I do is only possible because Dirk and the children make sacrifices for me. Balancing my duty to my family, my professional duties, and my duties to the students themselves is a difficult task at best. I can sense that I'm on the verge of an insight, but I can't seem to clarify it, or turn it into language. I just know that there's something about isolation, about being popular, about caring and being cared for. None of this seemed to have much to do with Bubblefest, and I had about decided to stay home and immerse myself in the stress and coping literature when suddenly - I don't know - one minute I was in the kitchen doing the lunch dishes and the next I was in the train station parking lot.

From Bill's description, I expected something weird, but I had also anticipated more people and more planned activities. Instead, the event was so low-key that it hardly seemed to be happening. I suppose the rain kept a lot of people away. The press did turn up, in the person of a staff photographer for the Sun. Even though I've been a nurse for all these years, I still have a hard time dealing with burns, and this man had obviously been burned badly in his youth. One whole side of his face was scarred down, and the pinna of the ear burned completely away. (Happily, no one said "Ear!") I don't know - I guess I assumed that the ability to disappear in a crowd would be important for a news photographer, but in this crowd, he would have been conspicuous if only by his normal apparel. Not that the students paid any attention to him, neither his maimed visage nor his load of equipment. The only person interested in this "photo opportunity" was Adam. He was striking, with his painted goose decoy hat. But his fawning demands of "Take my picture, take MY picture" fell on deaf ears (!!!) and his photograph never appeared in the paper.

What a spectacle! Boys in clown suits, boys in hats of all persuasions (a sombrero, a chef's hat, a hat with a toaster on it (!), two boys in Easter bonnets, a conehead, several stupid beer hats), a boy wearing a sandwich board sign that said I Killed Felix - Tapes for Sale Here.... Of course, there were girls, too, but they seemed to be more bystanders than active participants. And everyone was soaking wet, wetter than they could have gotten just by the rain. I wondered if perhaps they had been playing with water balloons, but a glance over the edge of the parapet showed an hilarious little group taking showers in the overpass runoff.

By the time they started to blow bubbles, a little sunlight was showing through a hole in the cloud cover. I remember a sunbeam illuminating Rob and his friends for a moment as though they were medieval saints - although I don't expect the saints spent much time blowing soap bubbles from train overpasses down onto passing automobiles!

While I was enjoying this admittedly silly image, someone touched my elbow. I recognized Councilwoman Wehrli immediately, although I couldn't imagine why she would be greeting me. We had exchanged some very strong language in the school board debates over allocating resources to the suicide prevention program, of which Councilwoman Wehrli had been the most vocal (and least intelligible) opponent. She had not taken her defeat gracefully.

"Ms. Dawson," she said. "I'm not surprised to find you here."

"DR. Dawson," I corrected absently. "You're not surprised to find me here?" I suppressed a smile, remembering how surprised I had been to find myself there.

"That's correct, DR. Dawson. Is this part of your suicide prevention curriculum?"

"You think I am responsible for this festival? Thank you for your thought, but in fact I'm only here as an observer. What about you?"

Councilwoman Wehrli drew herself up, lowered her shoulders and stuck out her jaw. "WE, that is, Councilwoman Lewis and myself, are here to serve notice on the vandals who littered our neighborhood with hundreds of flyers advertising this - this event."

"Flyers?" I asked, employing an ActiveListeningSkill (tm).

"Flyers!" she responded, flourishing one under my nose. "Tacked up everywhere! Covering the windows of the grade schools! Unsightly! Disrespectful! ILLEGAL! And punishable by fines totally $2000!"

"Two thousand dollars," her plump companion echoed. "Five hundred dollars for each of the four separate ordinances in violation."

"Two thousand dollars!?" I was appalled. "For putting up flyers?"

"Certainly," the councilwoman snapped. "Now, if you will please excuse me, I have these citations to serve. If those flyers are still up by sundown, the ringleaders will be liable for the full amount of the fine!"

I thought about Rob and Ben and Bill. "I don't believe `ringleaders' is an appropriate descriptor," I replied stiffly, reverting, as I often do when under stress, to jargon.

"I might have known you would try to shelter them," Councilwoman Wehrli snapped.

Councilwoman Lewis murmured, "Harboring fugitives."

Councilwoman Wehrli stared her down. "I'm sure we can locate them without your - assistance."

"Harriet," Councilwoman Lewis muttered. "Harriet! Up there! That must be them!"

Bill stood on top of the overpass beside a boy I hadn't seen before. Bill was wearing an ordinary baseball cap and handing out bottles of bubbles to the slowly growing crowd. With his lean frame, long jaw and clean-cut appearance, he reminded me more than ever of Ryne Sandburg, the Cubs' golden glove second baseman. The boy beside him was considerably scruffier and wore a black ten-gallon hat with snakeskin boots. The addition of a black leather flight jacket made him look like a particularly young and rakish test pilot.

The councilwomen approached, citations in hand. Before they could utter a single accusation, Bill had stuffed bottles of bubbles into their hands. What took place after that was unclear. Bill smiled graciously. Councilwoman Wehrli made her speech. The cowboy/test pilot gave an occasional hoot of laughter and blew clouds of bubbles around Councilman Wehrli's head. When the women turned to leave, apparently satisfied, I felt a wave of relief. Bill shouted out as they walked away, "Yeah, don't worry about it! We'll take care of the whole mess!" and the cowboy laughed again.

The councilwomen left the overpass. I gave a little sigh, thankful that trouble had been averted, but my optimism was premature. No sooner had the councilwomen disappeared than three police cars pulled up. Six officers stepped out. They conferred briefly, then four of the officers walked toward the bubble blowing group while the other two lounged in the parking lot. Bill and his cowboy friend seemed to notice the approaching policemen first. I expected them to melt into the crowd, but instead they met the officers' eyes and stepped forward. I wondered if they were trying to make one last stand before their innocent revelry was dispersed. The four officers formed a semi-circle around the two boys. They appeared to be talking peacefully. Then for awhile the crowd interfered with my view, and I couldn't see anything. I thought I saw Bill's baseball hat above the crowd, then realized that it was Rob, also wearing a baseball cap. A sudden flurry of activity opened a lane through the crowd, and through the gap emerged all four officers shoving two boys in handcuffs none too gently towards the parked squad cars. One of the boys was wearing cowboy boots, and the other a baseball cap. Bill, I thought, not very surprised. Then as they came closer I could see that the dark head beneath the baseball cap belonged not to Bill but to Rob. Rob! Oh, no. Now, like it or not, I had to get involved. I couldn't let Rob go to jail. How could this have happened? What could he have done? He seemed always the most passive of boys. What in the world could have set him off?

I set off for my car. The police had loaded Rob and the other boy into one squad, leaving two officers to guard them. The remaining four began dispersing the crowd. The crowd put up little resistance. Our moment of sunshine had passed, and heavy rain once again drenched the overpass. It drenched me, too, and slowed my progress towards my car. I was just wringing my hair out when Bill appeared, humming cheerfully, water running down his face. "What happened up there?" I asked. "What did Rob do?"

Bill grinned ingenuously, then looked serious. "Maybe he said something. You know, he gets really nervous sometimes when we're doing weird things. I mean, he likes it and all, he likes it alot, but it makes him real nervous. Maybe he just said something."

I noticed again Bill's baseball cap, and thought about Rob. They were of similar height, both tall and dark-haired, both wearing baseball caps and blue jeans. I gave Bill a very serious look. "I wonder," I said carefully, "if they could have mistaken Rob for someone else who might have made an unfortunate, perhaps a critical remark...."

Bill was unabashed. "Yep," he said. "You caught me. It was an accident, though. Rob just walked into it. I was right there and they grabbed him instead. John didn't do anything, either. We were just fooling around. I don't know why that guy thought John was trying to grab his gun. John isn't that stupid. I don't think."

"John," I said. "Is he the boy in the hat?" I knew before the words were out of my mouth that I had made a mistake.

"Yes. He was definitely wearing a hat."

"Of course. I think I must be the only one here who isn't. I meant to say, was John wearing the cowboy hat, and the boots?"

"That's John."

"I didn't see him at the Battle of the Bands. Is he a friend of Rob's?"

"No, I don't think they even know each other. John hasn't been here very long, he just moved here last year. Guess where he's from."

I unlocked my door. "Are you going home?" Bill asked.

"No," I replied, "I think someone should go and get Rob out of jail, since this is after all a case of mistaken identity."

"Since I'm somewhat responsible for what happened, maybe I should go with you. I owe John a bailing out anyway. Can you give me a ride?"

"Sure, get in. You can help me explain why Rob doesn't belong in jail in the first place," I said, only half joking. Bill looked so contrite that I laughed. "Don't worry," I assured him. "I won't tell your secret."

We got in the car. "So. Did you guess?"

I was concentrating on getting out of the parking lot and wishing I had spent the extra $120 on a rear window defogger. "Guess?"

"Where John is from. You know, with the hat?"

"Of course. He must be from Texas."

"Right! He moved here last year. He's in my Advanced Speech class. We did a book report on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest together. It's on video tape. You should see it. It's great!"

"Wait a minute... You did a book report for advanced speech?"

"No, no, no, we did the book report for English, of course."

"Of course. So John was here because of you?"

"Not exactly. In fact, I think this may have been partly his idea. Him and Ben put up all the flyers. He likes to walk around late at night."

"He and Ben put up the flyers? Then they're in considerable trouble, according to Councilwoman Wehrli."

"That won't be any problem. They'll just go out and tear 'em down."

"That's going to be difficult for him to do while he's in jail, isn't it?"

"I'll get him out, if Kathy isn't there already."


"Adam's girlfriend. Did you see her at the Battle of the Bands? Real cute, great haircut, great clothes, hyooooge - tracts of land. Always telling him to hurry up."

"Oh. Yes, I did. Kathy. Is Adam a friend of John's, too?"

"No. But Kathy is."

"Ah. Well. Here we are." And there we were, at Eagle Hills' state-of-the-art glass-and-marble police-and-civic-facility. It looked to me like quite a lot of jail for two high school boys. I was worried about Rob.

Bill and I walked into the waiting room. It was clean and well-lit but still dismal. There was no sign of Rob, or John, or the policemen who had arrested them. A nice-looking girl in a cowboy hat sat on one of the chairs. She recognized Bill and hurried toward us.

"Are they here?" he asked.

"Being booked, they told me. They said they'd call me when they were done," she replied.

"Well, they will speak with me NOW," I said, and rapped smartly on the glass, wondering why these officers felt so unsafe in their quiet suburb that they protected their desk sergeant with bulletproof glass. Probably, I decided, for the same reason that the crossing guards wore Kevlar vests.

No one responded. I knocked again, using my ring, and called, "Hello? Hello!"

Finally, a young man walked out. "Can I help you?" he asked, sounding as though he hoped he couldn't.

"Yes. I am Janet Dawson, Dr. Dawson, and I'm here because one of your - officers - dragged one of my students in handcuffs, HANDCUFFS, away from a perfectly harmless gathering at the train station. I would like him released, please. Now. I believe his emotional health is somewhat fragile, and I will not be responsible for the consequences if this young man, this MINOR CHILD, remains in your facility. So please let him go. Now."

"And what would be the name of this `minor child,' please, doctor?"

"His name is Robert Sullivan."

"Yes, well, Dr. Dawson, I'm sorry to say that Mr. Robert Sullivan is still being processed. If you'd please have a seat, we'll be happy to call you when his paperwork is done."

"Officer - " I squinted at his nametag - "Officer Dwyer, I appreciate your need to have complete documentation for your records, but I believe you should recognize the implications of your actions. If, as I believe is possible, Mr. Sullivan should come to harm, and in particular should harm himself while in your facility, even after I have alerted you to this possibility, the consequences for you and for your facility would be quite unpleasant. As I'm sure you understand."

"Yeah!" Kathy called out. "And you can let John out, too!" With that, Officer Dwyer disappeared behind a partition.

Bill stepped quickly between Kathy and me, and steered Kathy outside. I paced back and forth across that dreadful little room for perhaps five minutes until Officer Dwyer returned with Rob in tow. Rob looked awful. He was pale and dishevelled, damp and shivering. His shoulders were slumped and his head hung down despondently. He looked for all the world like a large wet dog about to be scolded for messing the carpet. I wanted to laugh, to cry, to hug him, and to scold him, all at once. "What are the charges?" I asked.

"Littering," said Officer Dwyer. "And creating a public nuisance. But they'll be dropped if the flyers are down by tomorrow. Sign here."

Rob mumbled something. "Yes, Rob?" I asked.

"Did they call my parents?"

I didn't know, and turned to Officer Dwyer. "Have Rob's parents been notified?" I asked.

"They'll have to be called," he replied, "since, as you pointed out, Rob is a minor child. One of our juvenile officers is taking care of that now."

"Oh, God," Rob moaned, and shrank further into his slouch.

"Come on, Rob, let's get you home," I said, and, reached for his elbow to guide him out the door. He flinched visibly. I withdrew my hand, walked around him and, careful not to touch him, led the way out into the rain.

As we walked out the front door, we passed Bill and Kathy, who were talking together in the shelter of the overhang as Kathy finished her cigarette. "Good job, dude," Bill called.

Rob smiled weakly.

"Where's John?" asked Kathy. When she got no reply, she hurried over to Rob, who stopped walking and stood facing her. "Where's John?" she demanded. "How come you're out and he's not?"

"I don't know," Rob said listlessly. "I think he had more charges. They didn't seem very interested in me, but they acted pretty mad at John. I think they're going to say he assaulted an officer, along with everything else they think we did."

"Assault?! He was just fooling around! John would NEVER hurt ANYBODY! He takes a lot of chances, but he wouldn't ASSAULT anybody. That's ridiculous! It's terrible to lock him up like this. John should be FREE! He's a FREE SPIRIT! He belongs OUTDOORS!" All of this sounded a little silly to me, since outdoors consisted of a manicured upper-middle-class suburb currently pouring with rain. I moved Kathy aside and Rob and I continued towards my car.

"Don't worry about John," Bill called. "I'll take care of him."

"NO!" said Kathy. "I'LL take care of him."

That was fine with me. It was my great hope never to see that young man or his boots again.

Rob sat, speechless, motionless, in the seat beside me. When we stopped at a traffic light, I turned to him and asked if he thought his parents would be very upset. He just said "Oh, God" again and turned away.

Finally, I pulled into the driveway to let him out. "If there's anything I can do, Rob, please let me know. Bill told me about the misunderstanding. I'll be glad to talk to your parents if you want me to."

"No," said Rob exiting the car. "Nothing can help. I think I may as well just kill myself."

I opened my door and leaped out of the car. "Rob?" I asked.

"That'd be funny, wouldn't it?" he said.

"I don't think that would be funny at all, Rob," I replied, somewhat shortly. It had after all been a rather trying afternoon. "I think that would be a very serious thing indeed. Are you saying that you think you might want to do that?"

"I just think it would be pretty funny. I'm going to make a foodball." With that, he walked into his house and shut the door firmly behind him.


I slept fitfully that night. Every little noise the cats made, Nick's sighs, Britty's little murmurs woke me up. When the phone rang at 3:15, I felt dread but not surprise. I answered on the first ring.


"Dr. Dawson? Is this Dr. Dawson?"

"Yes, speaking."

"Dr. Dawson, this is Lynn Sullivan. I'm Rob Sullivan's mother."

"Yes, Mrs. Sullivan." I kept my voice level. Mrs. Sullivan sounded upset, and angry, but she did not sound like a woman who had lost her only child. "Is something wrong?"

"Wrong? Something WRONG?! Yes, there's something wrong, Dr. Dawson. I've just returned with Rob from the Emergency Room at Central DuBose Hospital."

"With Rob?"

"Yes. With Rob. He - he - oh, Dr. Dawson, he tried to kill himself!" Her voice broke, and she sobbed for a moment, then regained her composure.

"You said he came home with you?"

"Yes, yes, they let him come home."

"Can you tell me what happened?"

"What happened. I don't know exactly what happened. This has been a terrible day, a terrible day. First the police - the POLICE - and now this! I don't know what to do! You know more about this than I. Is it true that you brought Rob home from the police station?"

"Yes, I did."

"Rob wouldn't talk to us about it, and when the police called and told me what happened, I got so upset. I told Rob that if he persisted in hanging around with those boys, we would have to withdraw him from Eagle Hills and send him back to Calvary Temple. Then - then he lost his temper. Rob has a temper, I know most people think he's so quiet, so calm, but he has a temper. We had a terrible fight, and he stormed up the stairs and locked himself in his room. He turned the TV on so loud. I knocked and knocked on his door, but he wouldn't answer me, so I called his father at work. When Billy came home, he talked to Rob through the door and told him he would take the door off the hinges if Rob didn't open up. When he did, he told us he had taken some pills, and we took him straight to the Emergency Room. Oh, Dr. Dawson, what shall I do?"

"It sounds like you're very upset. What do you think you should do?"

"I just don't know, Dr. Dawson, I'm at my wits' end. Rob has always been such a good son, so steady, so - so normal. Not like his friends - not like Ben. I know this would never have happened if he had just stayed on the hockey team. But how could I have guessed? This band formed out of the church youth group! How could I object? How would I know it would turn into some kind of adolescent rebellion?!"

"You think this happened because of adolescent rebellion?"

"I think this happened because of his own immaturity and because he made bad choices - of his friends, and of his activities."

"And what do you think the solution is?"

"I don't know! I don't know! I don't want anything like this to happen again! What have I done wrong? I never dreamed being a parent could turn out like this! I never worked, I stayed home, I devoted myself to him! I took him to hockey games, I baked cookies, I made our home a place where he could always bring his friends - I did everything. I sacrificed my life for him. That's what motherhood means - you live for your child. We only had the one - he means everything to us. I feel like all my efforts have met with failure!"

"Mrs. Sullivan, you sound very upset, and you're probably also very tired. You may find that a little rest will help you prioritize the steps you wish to take to resolve this difficulty. If you'd like, I'd be happy to see you tomorrow in my office at -excuse me, let me just look at my calendar - " (I reached over Dirk's inert form; he muttered and pulled the pillow over his head when I turned on the light) " - yes, tomorrow at ten."

"Thank you, Dr. Dawson, but that won't be necessary. The Emergency Room referred us to a physician. We have an appointment in the morning. Thank you very much for your time. Good night."

"All right. Please feel free to call me - during office hours - if you have any further questions. Good night." But she had already hung up.

What a peculiar conversation. What did she want from me? If she didn't want to see me, why did she call me? She had undoubtedly been given my number by Gail McNamara, night charge nurse at Central DuBose. Gail was a core member of CO-HORT, and gave my name and number to friends and family members of patients who met our criteria. I decided to give Gail a call.

"Emergency Room, Mrs. Alsworthy."

"Hi, Jackie, it's Janet Dawson, how are you?"

"Running my ass off, Janet, how are you?"

"Wide awake at four a.m., and I'll bet you know why."

"Yeah. Sullivan. Right?"

"Right, is Gail around?"

"She's in with a trauma right now. Can I have her call you back? Oh, wait a minute, here she comes. Gail - it's Jan."

"Jan, hi. She called you, huh?"

"She sure did, but I don't know what for. She was going on about what a terrific mother she was and how she did everything for him and where did she go wrong - you know how they do it - and then as soon as I offered to make her an appointment, she hung up. What's she like?"

"Nuts, that's what she's like. The kid walked in, he was never in any danger at all - there wasn't much in his stomach but junk food, maybe a little ASA, but it can't have been much, his pH was 7.5 - of course, he was blowing off a lot of CO2, he was blowing like a whale and just hyperventillated himself into a little respiratory alkalosis, but metabolically he was fine. She was the problem. She almost lost it when we put in the sump, but she wouldn't leave the room. And then he fought it, and puked all over us, and her, too, but still she wouldn't go out. I thought I was going to have to call Security when she finally calmed down. Who is Ben Benson?"

"He's a friend of Rob's. Why?"

"Did he give him some drugs or something? She seemed to think he sat on the right hand of Satan. Does he wear a skirt?"

"I don't think Ben Benson gave Rob any drugs. They're in a band together, part of the Knox Youth Group. But I hardly think he's responsible for what happened to Rob. If anyone's to blame, it's the Eagle Hills Police Department."

"Those assholes? What did they do this time?"

"Oh, the boys put on some kind of little festival at the Washington Street overpass -"

"Sure, Bubblefest."

"Yes, exactly, Bubblefest. Were you there?"

"No, that's the middle of the night for me, but I heard about it. Was there a riot?"

"Hardly. There weren't enough people there to stage a riot. They just stood around with a bunch of artificial geese and blew bubbles down onto Washington Street. It was pretty dumb, actually, but they seemed to be having a good time. Then, of course, Harriet Wehrli showed up with her little sidekick waving around some citation for littering. Pretty soon two squads of cops rolled up and somehow Rob and another boy got taken away in handcuffs."

"Handcuffs? For blowing bubbles?"

"AND creating a public nuisance. Come on, these are dangerous criminals, here."

"Yeah, right. God, sometimes I hate this town."

"Don't get me started. Anyway, I bailed Rob out of jail and took him home, and as he got out of the car, he said something like, Well, I might as well kill myself. And then he pretended it was a joke. So you can imagine how I feel."

"Sure. Like an idiot. But everybody has one slip by now and then. And this was just a gesture - he probably took a couple of aspirin just for show. If he hadn't come in here, I don't think he would have even felt sick. Certainly nothing compared to the way he felt after we were done with him. I hope he's not a singer with that band - his throat is going to be raw for a week. That lavage tube isn't gentle."

"So why did she call me?"

"Probably because I told her to. I wanted her to have somebody to talk to."

"Who's the on-call psychiatrist?"

"Abrams caught the referral."

"That won't last. Mothers hate Abrams."

"Abrams hates mothers. But he likes kids. Maybe he'll do your boy some good."

"I hope so." I heard a commotion in the background.

"Uh-oh. Sounds like another customer. Karen says we've got a housefire. Mother and two kids, second degree burns at least. Not bad by Loyola standards, but bad enough for me. See you at the team meeting."

"OK, great, thanks, Gail. Bye." I could hear sirens approaching as I hung up. Burns. I shuddered. It was burns that finally forced me away from the bedside and into academic nursing. I hated burns. I've always been terrified of fire, I don't know why. Poets esteem its cleansing beauty, but to me it's a monster, out of control, raging. I drew a little closer to Dirk, who shrugged me off.

"What time's it?" he muttered.

"After four."

"Leamme alone. Turna lide oud." He began to snore.

I shut off the light, but I got no more rest that night.