Today is November the fifth. In the UK this is known as Guy Fawkes Day. I won't bore you with a history lesson this early in the day, and it isn't important anyway. What does matter is that it's also Patrick's birthday. There's a bit of rhyme about Fawkes that kids in Britain learn almost universally somewhere along the way that starts, "Remember, Remember, the fifth of November..."
Chances are some of you saw V for Vendetta or read the old comic by the same name and have heard the rhyme. It's how I remember Pat's birthday every year. For a long time I made a point of sending him a message with that rhyme in it, sort of as an inside joke. In fact, I made him breakfast this morning and took it over to his house, piping out the rhyme as I came through the door.
Pat wasn't feeling very festive. He's still frustrated and upset about the recent developments. I offered to spend the day hanging out with him, even if that included working at the forge doing his grunt work. Turns out his assistants conspired to give him the day off. Too bad there isn't any cake to be had. I've seldom seen Patrick stay in a bad mood when there are baked goods to be had.
Yes, that was a fat joke. And no, I don't feel bad about it. Pat is my best friend, and we've spent a lot of time over the years giving each other as much shit as possible. I think the best way I can help him deal with the things he's going through is to treat him as normally as possible. Personal upheavals that involve powerful ethical conundrums, moral outrage, a vague sense of hopelessness and wrongness, topped with depression and with a side order of anger aren't helped by people catering to your bad moods. Pat is at his best when he sees others around him being themselves. He can't help rising above the hurt when you're smiling at him, at least a little. And let's be honest: sometimes all we can do to cope with the pain nowadays is to just keep our metaphorical heads above water. It might not make us happy, but it's enough.
So imagine how surprised I was that Pat asked me to go out zombie hunting with him. Normally he isn't allowed to do that at all--even when he's just going to do work outside of New Haven he gets an armed escort that hovers around him at all times. There have been a few exceptions, very sparse and that make the higher-ups very nervous--but Pat generally doesn't rock the boat. He knows his skills are valuable to our community. Others have learned on the job much as he did, but so far no one has managed to sharpen their skills with metal from rough and patchy to fine and smooth the way he has.
But man, it's his birthday. And we weren't alone. A bus was heading out to the schools anyway, which Pat knew. It was only a short trip, just a quick twenty minute run around the place to keep the number of zombies gathering there at a minimum. For the most part the huge group of people living at the hospital do a good job keeping the area clear, and that includes the schools since they're right across the street. But twice a week we send people over to give them a break from having to do it.
I was surprised that Will agreed, but Pat wasn't really taking no for an answer. Pat himself caught me off guard twice in one morning by hauling out this leather and steel contraption that looked like a weird leg brace. Turns out he's been pretty upset that he hasn't been able to fight for so long because of his missing hand, so he made something to even up his odds. It's a sleeve that goes almost all the way to his shoulder, made of two layers of really thick leather and covered in small aluminum plates, each one sewn in. There are thin aluminum rods that run down it in two sections so he can still bend his arm. It's capped off by...well, a fitted piece of aluminum over his nub. There's a bit of memory foam cut from an old pillow inside there to absorb shock.
So we went out killing, which is another thing Pat and I have done together over the years. Though he did some fighting not too long ago, it wasn't like this. I'd forgotten the kind of primal dread he can inspire when he's angry. Pat is a big guy--six foot three--and while I joke about him being fat, the last few years have whittled his barrel chest and heavy frame into shape. He's heavy and strong as hell, which made me very glad it wasn't me he was angry with.
With his good hand he swung a hatchet he made for himself, a single piece of metal nearly two feet long. It's lightweight and thin, with a narrow head that pierces skulls easily. I've picked it up, and the thing is pretty easy to use two-handed. One hand would be awkward for me. Not for Pat. Hundreds of hours of swinging a hammer makes him a holy terror in a fight. I watched him move up to the front of our group, block a zombie with his makeshift armored sleeve, and drive that thing clean through a skull. You've heard people mention splitting their head open? It was like that. Like watching someone cut boiled eggs in two with a knife.
He got into it, and I think it was a good thing. Patrick let out a lot of frustration, and it was only as I covered his weak side and watched that I began to understand how much pent-up emotion the guy really has. He can't really vent as well verbally as other people, or at least is isn't as effective for him as it is for me. He needed to blow off steam physically before he could even start getting it together emotionally.
The only bad part in our little hop into the danger zone was right at the end. Our group had cleaned up maybe forty zombies total, all swept up in our neat little line of fighters working together, when we reached the end of our assigned section. There were three more undead in front of us, and the line leader had just called out orders to move in when Pat let out a yell and jumped out of line.
For a fraction of a second, I thought he was committing suicide by zombie. Every sad moment in his life flashed in front of my eyes. I remembered the tears in his eyes that I pretended not to see when we burned that group of murderers and rapists to death inside my old doctor's office. The ache in his voice when he first joined us here, only days after The Fall, when he still believed his entire family was gone. In a flash I believed all those scars had opened at once and broken him. I think that's because of my own experiences. My own memories nearly killed me, after all.
But as I watched him fight those zombies, I remembered that Patrick is stronger and tougher than I can ever hope to be. Life and the universe have tried to beat him down time and again. He survived more before The Fall than a lot of people have since. There is a core of greatness in him, a pillar of strength and love and grit that nothing will ever be able to damage. There's laughter and hope in there too, though it's hard for him to see.
I watched him easily cut down two of those undead in as many seconds. The third he killed by smashing that metal cap on his wrist into its face. I swear I saw metal come out of the back of its head. It was really super gross. Also a powerful reminder not to get into a fistfight with him. He was out of breath when it was all over, and seeing the set of his shoulders and the way his eyes scanned our surroundings for other signs of danger, I felt like an idiot for thinking even for a second that he would abandon the people he loves. Pat is so much more dedicated than that. He loves others more than he loves himself.
I think that fact has given me more hope over the last few years than almost anything else. Few of us have heroes left in this world. I'm damn lucky to still have one of mine.