Chapter Fifteen: Understanding It All

Sex is like pleasure and pain all at the same time Isaac had once told me. It's mostly pleasure. It feels good and you don't want it to stop. But at the same time you can feel it's exhausting you.

Call me a sick fuck, but I am about to compare sex to looking at pictures of my dead best friend. As I sit here on my bed with her pictures sprawled across my quilt I wonder to myself why I gaze at these photographs if it only hurts so bad. But I can't help it. The pleasure of her memory is irresistible. I run my fingers along the edges of the photograph. She's not laughing or smiling. She's just sitting there watching the television with a bowl of ice cream in her lap. That's how I remember her best. It's not that I remember her as a lazy over-eater or that I think she rarely smiled. She smiled all the time. It's just that's what we did most of the time. We just hung out in each other's company not trying to impress anyone. No two people will ever be able to chill as well as Ellie and I chilled.

I can't take it any longer. I toss the photograph down and step into my slippers at the foot of my bed. I try to walk slowly and quietly but I can't help it. I find myself practically sprinting for Jessie's room. As soon as I reach her room, slam the door, and climb into her bed with her I am free to cry all I want. No holding back.

But there he is again. There they both are. All three of them are crying and I wonder if someone died. I slowly tiptoe into the room. All eyes are on me.

"Guys…?" I watch their expressions carefully. Is Grandma sick again? Did Avery make it home from the movies? Please tell me Avery made it home from the movies.

Taylor wipes his nose with a ragged tissue and tucks it back into his fist. Jessie pats the bed and I slowly climb onto the bed with the three of them.

"What's wrong?" I ask. Suddenly my own sadness has disappeared in fear. "Is someone hurt?"

"No, everyone's fine Zac." Jessica says seriously, "Everyone except for the four of us I guess."

And I know this is one of the days my entire life has been leading up towards. This is the day we're all going to click. We are going to suddenly be on the same page and share our secrets. They won't have to be secrets anymore.

Taylor shakes his head fast and closes his eyes. He slaps his hands over his ears and starts humming. He's crying. Jess rubs his back and Isaac looks at him sympathetically. Taylor and Isaac have already shared. I frown at Taylor. I've seen him upset but this is scared upset. I can only remember seeing Taylor angry upset in the last year.

"Just make it stop Jessie. I'm crazy. It's crazy. It's too much." He rocks quickly.

"Tay stop. You're here with Ike, Zac and me. Open your eyes and think about what's in front of you. What's happening right now."

Taylor hesitantly opens his eyes.

"Count the pictures on my bulletin board," She instructs him.

While he counts I give Jessie a questioning look. She looks at Taylor. It's Taylor's choice if he wants to tell me or not.

"Tay? What's going on with you?" I ask him.

"See I am crazy Jessica! Zac thinks I'm crazy!"

"How many photographs?"

"There were twelve."

He seems innocent and young. He seems like he just could clutch onto anything right now.

Finally the questions have piled up too much. I cannot ask myself questions that I cannot answer any longer.

"Taylor, what's going on with you? Why are so angry all the time? Why are you crying? Why do you see a psychologist downtown?"

He looks at me, wipes his eyes, and runs his fingers through his hair. "It's too weird to talk to you about Zac."

"You talk to Jessica about it. And you talk to Isaac about it too. What's different about me?"

"Taylor didn't tell Ike. I had to when Isaac walked in on Taylor crying," Jessie explains.

"Then tell me," I probe. It's not fair. I'm equally part of this group! This is the night when everything becomes clear! It has to be!

"I don't know if this is a good time, Zac."

"Jessica, just get it over with! I deserve to know too! I'm his brother you know! I've known Taylor longer than you have!" I know it seems silly, but I have known him longer! I used to know him better too!

She takes a deep breath, glances at Taylor, pats Isaac's leg (who is wiping his own tears mind you), and starts talking.

What's being told to me doesn't seem real. It seems like I'm hearing the plot from a popular novel on the market right now- one Oprah Winfrey would probably review well. This does not happen in real life. This does not happen to an innocent, healthy family. This does not exist for my brother.

Taylor was sexually abused at the age of 3. He was abused by a supposed friend of the family who was later placed in prison because of it. I was too young to have any clue. Isaac, being the spacey kind of guy he is, was too oblivious and enthusiastic about starting kindergarten to really notice the drama. Tay was left alone with him one afternoon while Mom and Dad took Isaac to a soccer game. Taylor would have went to the game too except he wasn't feeling well. He had been throwing up all day but Mom and Dad promised Isaac they'd see his first game ever. They called their friend from our church at last minute out of desperation. He was nice. He taught Sunday school and came over to our old house for dinner once a week supposedly. He complained about the never ending battling of finding someone to share the rest of his life with. He seemed normal.

He told Taylor that if Taylor uttered a word to anyone about it Mommy would be very upset with him. Mommy would be so angry with Taylor for letting that happen. She would think Taylor was a very bad and dirty son. It had to be kept a secret so Taylor would not get in trouble.

What the man didn't know at the time was that Taylor was the mama's boy in the family. When he left that afternoon Taylor immediately went running to mom crying. In his three-year-old vocabulary he told mom that he was violated and forced against his will. The police later told Mom that is extremely rare for a child to do and she ought to be very proud that he was honest. Abuse continues for years upon years with most children- children who are too afraid and brainwashed to stop it.

Taylor was put through intensive therapy at the time to coax his feelings of shame and betrayal. He visited a psychologist twice a week and she came to our house once a week as well and did activities with Taylor. Sometimes they made pretzels in the oven and sometimes they built plastic towers and let the marbles run down them. After two years of much needed therapy and extra love from Mom and Dad- Taylor started kindergarten seeming no more traumatized than any of the other sticky hands, snotty-nosed five year olds. Taylor never did suppress what happened like they hoped he might. He always remembered what happened- he just didn't remember how it happened. He didn't remember being in the situation. He only spoke to Mom and Dad about it very occasionally in hushed voices at night in their room. He was never upset or emotional about it. It was just a fact that only the three of them in our family knew about.

The story would have a happy ending if that were the end of it. About a year ago, a bit before Ellie died (which is sadly how I calculate all my time), there was an incident backstage at one of our concerts. Taylor was in the dressing room alone drinking a Snapple and trying to take the wrapper off the new Counting Crows CD he had picked up at Walmart on the way to the venue. A man walked in, closed the door, and cornered Taylor. I'm not going to get too graphic, and thankfully I don't really need to. Before much happened my dad strolled into the room and noticed the guy. Within seconds he pulled Taylor free from the pedophile and security took him away. At first Taylor seemed fine. He was shocked and scared but he didn't even cry. Jessie explained he just let my father hold him and rock him for longer than he usually would. About a week later Taylor started having awful memories. He would be sitting there staring off into space and start trying to cover his eyes. He didn't want to see the images before him. He didn't want to hear the sounds from 15 years ago. He would start crying. It continued for another 6 months until Mom and Dad insisted he enter therapy. He couldn't tell them that Jessica had been counseling him in the middle of the night. Jessica was supposed to be innocently and happily clueless about his trauma- just like the rest of us.

He's been going through therapy for the past 6 months now. He's had nightmares, night terrors, and panic attacks without me knowing. He's haunted by the memory of what happened to him as a three year old.

I stare at Taylor and suddenly see my brother in another light. I suddenly love him more for everything he's gone through and every time he didn't complain. Sure he yelled at us and put up a wall. He locked himself in his bedroom sometimes and swore at us through the closed door. "Get the hell away from me Zac!" But he never complained.

I lean in towards my brother and wrap my arms around him. I'm taken by surprise as he hugs me back. The Taylor I know is usually numb. I cannot help but break into tears with him. Now the three of us are all just sitting here crying together in the black of the night. We take a moment to mourn together.

"I'm so terrible, Zac…" Taylor cries into my shoulder.

"You are not terrible. You are incredible. You are strong and incredible." I don't know what else to say. But I mean what I say.

"Stop lying to me…I'm terrible and bad…" 15 years later, the brainwashing has taken it's toll.

Jessica speaks softly to me, "It's post traumatic stress disorder. He'll be okay. He's getting better though really. And I think it's really going to help him now that you and Isaac know. It's relieving right, Tay?"

Taylor nods and pulls away from me, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. "It is relieving. No more secrets to keep from my best friends." He smiles a bit and continues wiping tears that won't stop falling. There is something so comforting about him saying that.

I wipe my own tears and Isaac pats Taylor's bare foot. Isaac speaks to him calmly, "It's okay Tay. It's a terrible thing that happened TO you, something you couldn't help. It sounds cheesy but you had to go through the pain alone- but you wont have to go through the healing alone. We're with you now."

He's right. It does sound cheesy- but I nod in agreement. I want to make up for the past year that I haven't been here to help Taylor through this. I hope he knows that had I known I would have been backing up him all the way.

Taylor keeps nodding over and over. He nods and wipes his tears, nods and wipes his tears, smiles, and then nods and wipes his tears again. We all laugh together at how silly we all look.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore right now guys. Maybe later, but I'm exhausted from talking about it." Taylor's voice is shaky.

We understand and nod. Isaac looks at me seriously. "I guess you want to know why I come to Jessie's room at night too."

I nod slowly. I figure if I nod too enthusiastically I'll scare him off but if I don't acknowledge him enough he'll figure I don't want to hear it. Then I wonder if I do want to hear this. If this is as bad as Taylor's secret then I cannot handle it right now. I take another quick moment to feel deep, deep sorrow for Taylor Hanson before clearing my mind again and waiting for Isaac's story.

Isaac looks down at the comforter and pulls it over his lap a bit. It is chilly in Jessie's room and the comforter is not big enough for all of us to bundle up in. Taylor, Jessie, and I watch Isaac intently.

"You have to promise not to hate me. You can't disown as me as a big brother."

"I won't disown you, Ike." After all, he is the only big brother I've got who doesn't wear purple scarves around his neck and call it a fashion statement. This is not the right moment to be thinking insulting thoughts about Taylor, I remind myself.

Suddenly the words come pouring out of his mouth. He doesn't speak slowly and carefully like Jessie did when she told me Taylor's story.

"I'm a Dad, Zac. I've got a child. There is another half of me in this world that I don't know. I don't know my own little girl and I can't ever know her. She will never know her father because I'm a sissy who doesn't understand that unprotected sex comes with a price tag. When she enters kindergarten some day and it's bring your father to school day she will not be able to do that. Maybe if I had been a man and done the right thing then she would have been able to say, Here is my father! Isaac Hanson the musician! But she won't be able to say that Zac." He seems angry at me. He speaks to me as if I am the reason his daughter will not able to do that.

"Isaac, I'm confused. Where is she? Why don't you know her?" I'm an uncle? I'm an uncle! "I'm an uncle Isaac?"

"An uncle who will never know his niece." Ike bursts into tears and puts his face in his knees. "This is the difference between Taylor and me. Taylor couldn't have stopped what happened to him. My problems are my own fault."

Tears start falling down my cheeks again. I'm an uncle?

"I got a letter in the mail about 9 months ago Zac. Right around the time Ellie died." Everyone measures time based on Ellie when they're speaking to me. "She wrote to me and said, Remember me? Remember having sex with me Isaac Hanson? Well guess what- your child was born last week. It has taken me nine months and one week to find your address and I am letting you know. She told me that she does not want my money. That is the last thing she wants. She refused to be made into the slutty bitch trying to get money from the innocent rock star. She just wanted to know if I wanted a part in this baby's life."

"Who is she?" I have no clue who this woman is!

"You don't know her Zac. I met her after a concert. I was drunk and it was stupid. I wasn't thinking that night"

"What if she is lying? What if she sleeps with everyone?"

"Very small possibility- except I can feel it. I can feel that she's telling the truth, that I do have a baby, and I lost her."

I rub his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him.

"I told her I would be happy to give her money but that at age 21 a baby was something I could not handle. That the baby could benefit from my financial security though. I didn't tell anyone Zac! I didn't tell Mom and Dad cause I was scared they would hate me for getting someone pregnant I didn't even know! You know they would! I didn't tell you guys cause I knew you would tell Mom and Dad!"

"Mom and Dad should have known Isaac! They could have helped you make the right decision!" I yell at him.

"I know! Don't you think I know that? I said goodbye to her and didn't regret it until about three months later. She moved. That's when I realized that I had a beautiful daughter out there who I would never know. That's when the regret set in Zac. I tried to find her. I didn't even know her goddamn name! I don't know my daughter's first or last name Zac!"

I reach out to him and hug him tight. It's as manly as a desperate hug can get- both of us roughly patting each other's back. My poor brother was so stupid when making the decision- but so alone and so naïve. And now he will never be able to fix the mistake he made.

"I can't take any of it back, Zac. I can't take the sex back, I can't take my decision back. I wish it all never existed but it does. And I can't make it right now. I can't find her."

As if on cue, we all cry again together. Taylor and Isaac's innocence has been ripped away from them both. They are both forced to carry burdens too large for them. They carry burdens not even weight lifting 30 year old men could carry- never mind scrawny Hanson boys.

"I'm sorry, Isaac. I wish you could have known. I wish we could have known her too."

He only cries harder when I say this- but he is cleansing himself of secrets. He is letting all his emotions out- not just some of them.

"I don't even know her name…" He cries and I can feel him shaking. I cry with him.

"Ellie," I whisper, finally.

"What about Ellie?"

"Let's call her Ellie. I'm sure her name is something different. It's probably something popular like Alexa or Meghan. But let's call her Ellie. Just the four of us."

It's one of the rare times I've mentioned Ellie without hostility in front of them. But this is the night everything has been building up to.

"I think that's a good idea," Taylor nods. "Can we Isaac?"

"I guess we could call her Ellie, if it makes you feel better Zac." He states. We all know that while it might make me feel better, it is meant to make Isaac feel better. Naming his baby will help him deal with accepting what happened and moving on. We won't tell him that. He's too much of a big brother to accept our help.

"It would."

"Then Ellie it is. I wish I could have a chance to love my Ellie."

I cried for Taylor and I cried for Isaac with all my heart. But new tears fall from the corners of my eyes that are just Zachary Hanson's tears and no one else's. I cry for the pain in my heart that begs to just hold Ellie for one more day.

"I wish I could have a chance to love my Ellie too…" I whisper.

Taylor looks at me and shakes his head, "Zac, you did love Ellie. She loved you probably more than anyone on earth."

"That it Taylor. Ellie loved me and she wasn't afraid to admit it. This is my secret. Here is the time when I reveal." I look at Jessie in the eye. I am ready to tell my brothers. "I love Ellie. I never told her I love her but I love Ellie with everything that I am. I always have. I love her in every single way. I love her with every kind of love that exists. It's the most real kind of love I've ever felt. I never told anyone except for Jessica- but guys. I love Ellie."

Isaac smiles at me slowly. "We've always known you've been hiding something- what with whispering to Jessie and all that. But…that's your secret Zac?"


"We've all always known you've loved Ellie. When you sat outside her house for weeks after her death in your bike pretending you were just taking a water break, but were really staring at her yard remembering her, we knew you loved Ellie. When she was alive and you held her until your arm went numb but you didn't move it anyway we knew you loved Ellie! That isn't a secret Zac. You did tell Ellie you loved her before she died. She could feel it." Isaac touches my arm carefully and watches my face.

"She asked me. The night she died I spoke to her on the phone. On her birthday. I told her I didn't love her. And she was confused! She was angry!"

"Of course she was. Because she could feel it! She knew you loved her and she didn't know why you wouldn't say it." Isaac explains.

I look at Taylor. Did he know too? He nods at me. "Of course you loved her Zac. Of course you still do. You don't have to pretend to not miss her, you know."

I chuckle to myself and accept the clean tissue Tay is handing to me. "I guess my secret is kind of stupid isn't it?"

"Not stupid. Just not very secretive," Taylor assures me.

We all sit there in silence, reflecting on each other's pains.

"So what now?" Isaac asks, looking around at all of us.

"We go on…" I tell him, "We accept the tragedies and we move on."

Taylor nods in agreement.

"And you call that nice girl back and tell her it isn't going to be easy to date you, but Ellie knew you loved her and Ellie wants you to love someone else too," Isaac says.

"Does she?"

"Of course she does. Ellie loves you enough to want what's best for you. She'd like Prairie and she'd like you to date her. She probably would be a bit jealous…knowing how crazy she was about you," Ike grins, "But she'd be happy to see you with Prairie."

I smile, "If she'll take me back."

"I have a feeling she will," Isaac assures me.

"And I have a feeling that if we keep searching, if we tell Mom and Dad, Isaac, we can find her. Dad is a powerful person, Ike," I remind him.

"I'm scared to tell them…"

"You were scared when you wrote her out of your life and what good did it do to humor your fear?"

"I guess I have to tell them…"

We all nod.

"I'll tell them with you if you want," Jessica tells him, touching his arm lightly.

He nods. "Tay, are you going to be okay man?"

"I want to be. But I can't control the memories that come back to me."

"You're right. You can't stop them," Jessica says, "But you always told me venting about them made them hurt less. Now you have Ike and Zac too. You can't stop the memories but you can at least deal with them Tay. You really should speak to Anna about it. I know she would be more understanding of your anger if she understood where it came from."

I nod with Jessie, "Anna and you have to stick together. If Ellie and I can't, you have to stick with Anna for me because I see Ellie and me in you two. Always fighting but happy enough the rest of the time to make up for it all. You should tell her Tay."

"I want to stay with Anna more than anything," He speaks softly.

"I want you to, too…" Isaac says. "We're going to make it guys. We've got each other again and we understand our losses. And so we can move on from them."

Jessica nods, "I'm sorry I didn't help you three as much as I wish I could have for the past year."

We all lean in and hug Jessica. "You did everything you could…" I tell her.

We all laugh at the corny sibling moment but we're all taking it in for all it's worth. I never want to forget this moment for the rest of my life.

I sigh and take a few deep breaths of fresh air. We all lay back together on Jessie's bed. I don't know whose shoulder my head is lying against or whose foot is making me uncomfortable by jabbing into my back. But I do know two things. We all do. I love Ellie, and we're going to be fine. It's like we're men taking their first steps on the moon. It is the night everything has been leading up to. We are talking our first steps in this new atmosphere around us- looking down at the world and suddenly understanding it all. Together. We are men on the moon.