Okay so it’s almost been ten years since this happened but it’s probably the best-smartest-dumbest-funniest thing I ever did throughout my college experience.
In the fall of 2014, I was attending classes at the University of Cincinnati and worked part-time as a waitress. My parents had just made the move to Arizona that summer so it was really the first time I had been on my own, but I was living with my mom’s best friend. We had completely different schedules though so only saw each other in passing.
I took a light semester load and had two classes back to back with the same teacher. One of those classes was a creative writing course that I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the prompts that he gave us close to Halloween was to write about something that we were embarrassed about or something we’d be ashamed about others knowing. I’m kind of a shameless person in some ways and am pretty much an open book. If you want to know, ask. I am clumsy and I’ve accepted that about myself. I had a hard time thinking of something that would be a good secret, nothing was coming to mind. I went to my professor for suggestions. His best advice was: Go out and do something dumb.
Okay. So I took it to the next level. Without intending to.
The day before Halloween, my restaurant gave the floor staff permission to dress up for the holiday. I didn’t have anything prepared so I stopped by a Spirit Halloween to pick up one of those vampire make-up kits. The kit came with some of those fake eyelashes, which I’ve never worn in my entire life. I watched the videos and had the glue that came with it. I felt pretty confident that so could do this.
Halloween didn’t start off well, to be fair. My five-year-old Guinea pig Gustave started showing signs that he was dying. In a panic, I rushed him to the emergency pet clinic thirty minutes away. But he passed away en route. Thankfully the staff there took care of his cremation and everything.
Needless to say, I don’t go to class that day. I was an emotional mess and needed to get myself together enough to go to work later that day. Slept in a bit more and had a good cry over my late furry friend.
I decided to get ready for work early so I could stop by and see my boyfriend before work, as he was on the way. I put on the most gothic clothes I had and began to apply the makeup. But when I got to the eyelashes, my day went from bad to worse. The glue that they had given me was equivalent to that which comes with the stick-on nails you find at Walmart or Target. When applying the first eyelash, the glue slipped off the fake and had got in my eye, and cemented my eyelids and lashes together. I looked in the mirror and said: “F**k, did I just glue my eye shut.”
Yes. Yes, I did.
I called my boyfriend who stifled his laughter and offered to take me to urgent care. When we arrived, the doctors there had no idea how to handle this situation. They had to call Emergency to figure out what to do. I was sent home with an eye patch and a cream to help break down the glue. But after a few days and a lot of irritation, I ended up going to the Cincinnati Eye Institute.
The doctor walks in, and without introducing himself, pushes my head back in the chair and says, “I need you to open your eye.”
“I can’t, it’s glued -”
“If you don’t open your eye, you will have to have surgery to open it. You don’t want that.”
He was right. So I opened my eye, and he snipped off the eyelashes that were glued together and then walked out *mic drop*. I could see it again.
Now before all of this, I had sent a message and had been to class and my teacher was very much aware of my predicament. I had sent an email as a follow-up with me and my eye patch, saying “Was this the kind of stupid you were talking about?” And thus, Gus, the Pirate, was born. That professor told me that they kept that email and my story.
Moral of the story: I understood the assignment.
And now may I present to you, the fruits of my poor makeup skills: Gust, the Pirate.
Every university has people like Gus, that one person that catches your eye; who goes above and beyond to stand out from the business majors, athletes, and art freaks. There are always going to be students who think they are brilliant aliens from another planet who believe that they can speak complex foreign languages, and then there are people like Gus, students who don’t realize how brilliant they really are. Students like Gus give inspiration to other people to be themselves, and that’s exactly what Gus did for me. He helped me become the man that I am today.
The first time I saw Gus, he was standing outside the Fine Arts building holding a sign that said, ‘Looking for me booty’. He was tall and muscular, dressed in black wrap pants, a purple fuzzy vest, crocs, and a pink hello kitty bandana was wrapped around his head, barely covering his curly red, unkempt hair. It was late December; snowfall had created an arctic dome around the campus. Gus didn’t seem bothered by the weather; he stood there alone, clutching the sign that was being ignored by students rushing past him to get to their next class.
“Any questions?” the tour guide asked, a large smile wavering like a flag. I could tell that she was about as happy about being here as I was. The tour group I was with was small, and only the parents were paying attention, their kids were staring at Gus just as much as I was. The tour group moved along, but I stood there, staring at Gus. Gus just smiled at me, I smiled back just as my father nudged me along.
I didn’t see Gus again until I was walking to my first class that spring semester. I wanted to go say hi to him but I didn’t have the time as I was running late.
Later on that day, I was in the library working on homework with my new friend, Jack. We had set up camp on the second level of the library, in front of a window where Gus could be clearly seen from his usual spot.
I pulled Jack aside who was in the aisle of books next to our table, and asked him who was crazy enough to be out there looking for their booty.
“That’s Gus, he’s not exactly all there in the head,” Jack chortled.
“How so?” I asked.
“He thinks he’s a pirate.”
“A pirate? Pirates aren’t in this year.”
“Maybe he’s trying to make a statement, who knows? Anyways, we need to get started on this project,” Jack said, grabbed the books he had stacked on the floor, and skulked over to the table.
As it grew later, the snow grew taller. Gus was still out there, holding his sign, shivering. He wasn’t wearing a shirt of any sort under his vest. I felt bad for the guy. I pulled on my hoodie and grabbed my winter coat. I stopped by the library café and got a hot chocolate and made my way out into the blizzard. Gus was now crouched to the ground, arms crossed and shivering.
“Excuse me, Gus?” I called out. Gus looked up at me.
“I, um, I brought you some booty. A cup of hot chocolate, and a coat,” I said unsure if he would speak with someone who wasn’t like him. A large smile melted through the frost on his face and he scrambled to his feet and let out a loud ‘Yar’ and did a victory dance.. He took the hot chocolate and the coat from me very graciously.
“I’m Peter,” I said, holding my hand out to shake. He took it and shook it vigorously.
“Captain Gus, matey,” he said and started to chug the hot chocolate. Once finished, he threw the cup over his shoulder and ran over to a mound of snow in the middle of the campus, and started to do snow angels. I lit up a cigarette and watched him cover the ground with snow angels. After he had covered every inch of the ground,, he got up to admire his work. He looked at me for a moment, as if he was assessing me and then did not hesitate to tackle me to the ground just as I was lighting up another cigarette. Gus cradled me in his arms, “I’m a barnacle, sometimes barnacles attach themselves to the sides of boats, other times they attach themselves to other barnacles.”
“That’s nice, Gus,” I said, trying to pull free, but Gus was much bigger and stronger than I was, so I was stuck. There is nothing manlier than two guys cuddling in the snow together.
From that point on, Gus and I were good friends. Although I did not understand most of what he said, he was probably the friendliest pirate I had ever met, not that I had met many pirates. He would sit with me at lunch with a telescope and observe people walking past us. We would play games of I Spy, and he would win most of the time, but he didn’t know that I let him. Many people gawked at us as we would banter about absolutely nothing, most of our conversations consisted of just yelling ‘Aye’ at each other, which almost got us kicked out of the library. Gus would sit with me while I did homework, rereading Treasure Island over and over. One night I asked him, “Gus, are you still reading that book?”
He just looked at me and smiled, “Aye, Peter, for one tale can never grow old, no matter how many times it has been told.”
“Have you read any other pirate books?”
He shook his head. I got up and dragged Gus through the library to the fiction section. He found many more books on pirates, and I felt as if I had released a sugar-crazed child in a candy store.
It had been a month since I had met Gus and I had yet to have been to his place until one night I was dropping him off after chilling with some friends of mine. Usually, we chilled at my place, drank rum, and played poker while passing a blunt back and forth. Gus lived in the dorms on the first floor of the main building, he had a room by himself.
“Oh shit! What is that smell?” I gagged as I stepped into the room, the door didn’t open all the way due to the pile of Long John Silver’s to-go bags that was overflowing from the extra closet. I realized then why he had the room to himself because if anyone had stepped into the room without precaution they would have died from the stench.
He had stacked the beds on top of each other to make a bunk bed and pushed them into the back corner of the small room and a hammock hung in the other corner. He had a stuffed animal of a parrot and a pillow stuffed with hay sitting in the hammock. He had an assortment of ship models covering the dresser. I noticed when I closed the door, that he had replaced the doorknob with a hook, which I am sure was not allowed but I wasn’t going to question it. His closet doors were barely closed due to the large collection of pirate garb protruding through.
“Nice setup, Gus,” I said, looking around his room in amazement. There was a pile of papers and envelopes that were unopened stacked up on a surface, which would usually be recognized as a desk, but it would be hard to tell due to all the junk piled upon it. I recognized one of the envelopes to be from the financial aid office, it too had been unopened.
“Gus, why haven’t you read your mail yet, some of this is important stuff,” I said, pointing at them. He looked at me with the look of a scolded child.
“What are they?” he asked.
“Letters from the university Financial Aid office. You know, the people that pay you to go to school?” I said opening the first letter.
He watched me read the first letter.
“Gus, how long have you been on academic probation?” I asked.
“Many moons, Peter, many moons,” he said, pulling a bottle of rum from one of the dresser drawers and started chugging it.
“You know, you’re not supposed to have alcohol in the dorms,” I pointed out, but it seemed as though the rules don’t apply to Gus because he just kept chugging.
“How many classes are you taking?” I asked.
“Five, mate,” he answered after taking a breath from chugging.
“Do you ever go to them?”
“I am there in spirit,” he said.
“Gus, you’re flunking out of all of your classes.”
“Aye,” he said. I looked at Gus in disbelief. He really doesn’t do anything other than be a pirate.
“Gus, have you ever thought about getting a job? Like, do something other than being a pirate?” I asked.
“Yo-ho, yo-ho a pirates’ life for me,” Gus slurred as he fell into a drunken slumber, still leaning up against the dresser.
For the next couple of days, I spent some serious time creating a resume for Gus to send out to small businesses. I had no knowledge of Gus’s past so I had to make up a past for him since I could never get a straight answer out of him. He got a call back from the Hallmark store in Florence Mall. He would be the greeter at the door and hand coupons to customers. I took him to the interview, after manhandling him into one of my dress shirts and pants, which were a bit tight on his built figure. I promised him that if he wore this just for an hour then could bring his best pirate garb to change into after he was done. He enjoyed the car ride to Florence Mall, opening the window to let the cold air in, poking his head out of the window, and yelling, “Sail-ho!” at each car that passed us.
Gus walked out of Hallmark with a job and a smile on his face. He eagerly grabbed the pirate garb out of my hand and ran to the bathroom to change. I treated him to lunch and we took a walk around the mall.
Some teenagers walking behind us started yelling obscenities and teasing Gus, but Gus ignored them. Then one kid, with a hideously large nose and buggy ears caught up with us,” Hey pirate! Where’s your eye patch? You aren’t a pirate without an eye patch,” he taunted.
“Hey, kid, scram,” I said.
“What are you gonna do, make me walk the plank?” he said.
“Yar! To the depths of the sea you go!” Gus said, charging at him but I stopped him.
“That’s what I thought, a pirate my ass,” the kid scoffed.
I grabbed the kid by the scruff of the neck and pushed him against the wall, “Gus is more of a pirate than you will ever be!” I roared into the kid’s face. The kid trembled, broke free, and ran off with his friends.
Gus was nowhere to be seen. I looked in the food court, in Spencer’s gifts, but no Gus. I scoured the whole mall until I approached Victoria’s Secret where I saw Gus being hauled out by two mall cops, he was yelling, “ I found thee booty! I found thee booty! It’s me booty! Get off me booty!”
I resisted the urge to laugh, although slightly embarrassed. The disgruntled mall security let him off with a warning. Gus sat in the back seat of the car, embarrassed, looking out the car window, resistant to catching my eye in the rearview mirror.
“What makes you think you’re a pirate?” I asked.
“What makes you think you’re a lawyer?” he asked.
I thought about that for a moment. I am only going to law school because my ol’ man wanted me to. I wanted to be a psychologist that dealt with mental disorders.
I didn’t see Gus for a few days after the mall incident. I figured he was at work. I got him a bus pass for the Tank bus that would pick him up every day in front of the dorms and take him directly to the mall. It wasn’t until Hallmark called asking if I had heard from Gus that I began to worry about his whereabouts.
“No, actually I haven’t, I just figured he was at work. He doesn’t have a cell phone so I have no way of getting in touch with him.”
“Well, he didn’t come into work today. We were wondering if he was sick or something?” the lady said, with concern in her voice.
“I will go check on him and get back to you.”
I ran to my car and sped over to the dorms. I knocked on the door. No answer. I tried opening it, but it was unlocked. The lights were turned off. I flicked the switch and Gus cried out. “Gar! Why?” Gus sat up, shielding his eyes from the light.
“Gus, you were supposed to be at work today! What are you doing?”
Gus lowered his hand from his face. His right eye was all swollen, red, and crusty.
“Gus! What did you do?”
“I am a pirate,” he said, and threw a small tube at me; it missed and hit the door and fell to the ground behind me. I turned and picked it up and read on the small tube ‘Super Glue.’ Oh shit, I thought.
“Gus, why would you super glue your eye shut?”
He just looked at me and shrugged. I grabbed Gus by the shirt and pulled him into the bathroom and made him flush his eye out.
“No sea could wash this out,” Gus growled at me, sputtering water.
I put a coat on him and got a wet washcloth and made him hold it onto his eye as we drove to Urgent care. The best the doctor could do was put an eye patch on it and give him some ointment to dissolve the glue. Gus seemed proud to be wearing the eye patch. I glared at him.
“Gus, do you realize how serious this is?”
“But Peter, I’m finally a real pirate,” he said, pointing at his eye patch.
“No, Gus! You’re not a pirate! You’re an idiot with super glue in your eye!” I said.
Gus’s smile sank like an anchor.
“I’m sorry, Gus. I didn’t mean that,” I said, realizing what I had just done.
Gus didn’t want to hear it. He stumbled through the door; I saw the tears trail behind him as he parted the sea of confused nurses. I chased after him. Gus sat on the curb by the car, with his head docked in his hands, his body shaking so hard that he moved like a wave in a stormy ocean.
I sat next to him and put an arm around him.
“You know, I wasn’t always a pirate, Peter,” he cried.
“Oh really?” I said, with a hint of sarcasm.
“I was like you once,” he said, still trembling, “and I was miserable.”
And with that, he stood up and got in the car. I got up and got in the driver’s seat.
As I was starting the engine, Gus said, “My father told me I could be anything I wanted to be. So I became a pirate.”
“Why did you choose a pirate?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
And with that, we pulled away from the urgent care, and drove, we drove as far as our ship would sail us, just me and Gus the Pirate.
Gus taught me a lot about life, and that is to always be yourself, even if that means being a pirate. So as I was walking down the stage graduation four years later, I let out a loud “Yar” of victory, because I found my piece of booty, a degree in Psychology. I looked up into the audience but didn’t see Gus, instead, I saw two paramedics standing near the entrance to the arena. My spirits went down like a ship in a storm. As I stepped off the stage, I marched to the back where the two paramedics were standing.
“Sir, do you know this man?” one of them said, showing me a picture of Gus.
“Yes. He’s my roommate,” I said.
“Well, he took a dive in the shallow end of the pool during a swim meet, injuring one of the swimmers,” he said.
“Well is he okay?” I asked, not really giving a rat’s ass about the swimmer he injured.
“He’s fine, just a bump on the head. But we have to admit him,” he said. The other man was trying to hide his snickers behind his jacket.
“To the hospital?”
“Not the hospital you’re thinking of,” the guy said smiling.
“What hospital then?”
“Your buddy thinks he’s a pirate, what hospital do you think?” the guy laughed.
I grabbed the guy by the jacket, “Just tell me what hospital, you scurvy dog!” I snarled in his face. The guy gave me an address and I ran out the door before my family could get a chance to congratulate me.
On the way to the mental health hospital, I just pictured Gus in a rubber room, trapped in a white jacket with his arms pinned to his side and no one else to talk to, the image just made me feel my heart sink into the depths of my stomach, and with that, I pressed on the gas pedal, weaving through traffic like a mad man.
The waiting room was small and smelled like a nursing home, miserable and – well just that, it smelled like misery. I sat there with my head in my hands, tie undone, and cap and gown in the seat next to me. I didn’t have to wait long until my name was called, I jumped to my feet and followed the nurse, leaving my cap and gown in the waiting room. She led me down a series of white hallways where nurses in white jumpsuits were preparing medication on medical carts, tapping needles to make sure they were full, and many, many closed doors. She led me to the end of the hallway where the door was wide open and Gus could be seen sitting on a medical table in a hospital gown getting evaluated by the doctor. He looked all dazed and confused, more than usual. He looked my way and stood up and ran to me and jumped in my arms.
“Gus, are you okay?” I asked, putting him down.
“Peter, I don’t understand why I am here. I want to go back home,” he said, starting to cry.
“I know, Gus. But we have to see what the doctor says, you may have to stay here for a little bit,” I said.
“How long?” he asked, with a scared look on his face.
“I don’t know,” I said, scared for him.
I followed him back into the room and the doctor closed the door behind us.
“I am Dr. McCallister,” Dr. McCallister said, outstretching his hand for me to take, I shook it weakly. Dr. McCallister was an older man, with white hair and black-rimmed glasses.
“Peter, Peter Lund. Can Gus come home tonight?” I blurted out.
“Let’s take a step out into the hall,” Dr. McCallister said, “Gus stay here.”
Gus sat on the table and watched us as we entered the hallway, shutting the door behind us.
“Gus is a special man, you’re a lucky man, Peter,” he started off, “but we are going to need to keep him here for a little bit to run some tests.”
“For how long?” I asked.
“Hard to say, a week at least,” he said, “but he is in good hands, you needn’t to worry, Peter. Go home, and get some sleep.” He clasped a hand on my shoulder.
“Can I have a minute with him, alone?” I asked.
“Of course,” he smiled.
I walked back into the room to find Gus waiting by the door like a puppy dog waiting for its owner to come home.
“Can I come home, Peter?” he asked.
“You will have to stay here for a little bit, Gus, a week at most,” I said.
Gus’s face sunk once more.
“You’ll be home before you know it, though. Just be good and things will be okay.”
“I’m sorry I ruined your graduation,” he said.
“It’s okay, Gus,” I said.
I gave him a hug and left him in the room by himself, my heart still in my stomach. The nurse led me back to the waiting room where I found my parents there waiting for me. They took me out for a celebration dinner, but I could barely eat. My father nudged me, “Peter, he will be okay, maybe this will be the best thing for him. Maybe he will be normal after this,” he said, putting a comforting arm around me.
“But I don’t want him to be normal. I want him to be Gus,” I said.
My father reached into his pocket and pulled out a box with a small ribbon around it and handed it to me.
“This was your grandfather’s. He was the first mate on a ship in the navy, he would want you to have this,” he said, with a tear in his eye.
I opened it and inside was a gold compass on a chain.
“It helped him find his way home, and I am sure it will help you find your way through these troubled seas you are facing,” he said.
I gave my dad a hug, got up, and gave my mother, who was dabbing her teary eyes with her napkin, a kiss on the cheek, and got in my car and started driving. I knew where this compass was taking me home, home to my first mate, Gus the pirate.