Ben wasn’t pleased with the way his former best mate, Eric, was treated by his girlfriend turned caregiver. Before he contracted ACDV Eric had been a well groomed, metrosexual guy who was about to start law school. His parents had raised him with good manners, taught him the value of appearance. He was the kind of guy who spent an hour getting his hair just right in the morning.
But when he caught ACDV all that changed overnight. Eric’s dad had died a couple years earlier and his mum just wasn’t young and fit enough to want to take on a grown toddler. So it was agreed to let his girlfriend, Claire, take care of him. Claire had a very different style of parenting though and it pained Ben to see the changes in Eric’s behaviour that he knew would have horrified his mate if he’d had his mental faculties.
Obviously the days of styling his hair for an hour and wearing flashy ties and designer jeans were going to be over, that was a given. But Claire took things much further. She let Eric wear whatever he felt comfy in, insisting children didn’t need to conform to societal norms yet and Eric was a child now. She even threw out every last pair of his shoes, even his jandals. “Boys are much more comfy in bare feet anyway,” she told Ben.
And of course Eric didn’t complain, he couldn’t. The poor young man had lost all his manners, all his grooming and dress sense. He was soon running around the main streets of the town in his bare feet, dropping to his hands and knees to look under tables, and cars or just to roll around on the filthy ground, giving everyone a good look at how tar black the soles of his feet had become.
It wasn’t just his clothing either. Please and thank you left his vocabulary. Eric was a wild, feral little boy now. He would tear around the supermarket, screeching and giggling and knocking things off shelves, bumping into other shoppers and continuing on like they weren’t there. And Claire just smiled and said, “Boys will be boys.”
But certainly the worst part was his total loss of body modesty or awareness. Claire encouraged him to streak around the house and yard in his birthday suit all summer. She called it a perk of toddlerhood he needed to indulge in. But poor Eric, his adult sensibilities stripped from him, had no concept of boundaries, of public and private and he took to regularly stripping down in public. Usually his nudity was at least brief since Claire at least insisted he keep undies and shorts on and would chase him around and re-dress him. But if it was the park, or a public fountain, or a beach, she’d strip him naked herself right there in public view.
Now it wasn’t like he was the only grown-down virus victim playing in the buff in public. No he had good company in that. But it wasn’t like that was the norm either. On a beach with a dozen grown-downs Eric might have one or two bare naked compatriots, at the park, maybe one other big tot would be toddling about with free bouncing boobies or a pee-pee. But the point was it wasn’t required and it marked poor Eric out as particularly juvenile, a very immature and wild little tyke.
But despite all that Ben didn’t say anything to Claire about her parenting. He wanted to remain close to his friend, help out when he could and he knew Claire didn’t take criticism of her parenting well. So he kept his mouth shut.
But he kept it shut a bit too long. That’s how he ended up in a bad position one afternoon when his day long fever and sore throat suddenly escalated to serious mental fog and confusion. Lying in a hospital bed at A&E, his head a fuzzy mess, he at least knew that he was in big trouble. It had been a relief when he’d seen his mum standing outside his room. But she was there with Claire and Eric. At first Ben had felt even better, seeing his friends there. But then he could see his mum was very upset, and in the end she left and it was Claire and Eric who came into the room.
“Hi there sweetie, look who’s come to visit,” Claire had greeted him.
Ben hadn’t liked the way she spoke to him in a juvenile way. But his head was so foggy, he knew what was happening, he understood he had the virus, that the feeling in his head was only going to get worse, much worse. And in how long? Did he even still know how to tell time? He’d looked at the clock on the wall and, though it took him a long time, he managed to read it and felt a bit better.
“I’m not little like him,” Ben had insisted, pointing to Eric, the twenty-four year old man who was standing there shirtless and barefoot in some neon green board shorts, a toddler leash on his wrist connecting him to his carer while he innocently picked at his nose.
Claire had seemed understanding. She hadn’t antagonised him, just took a seat on the bed at his side and let Eric drop down on his hands and knees to play with a toy car she’d brought to distract him.
“I know honey. But Ben, you know you’re going to be, very soon. And when that happens, you’ll need someone to take care of you.”
“I got my mum,” Ben had told her.
But she’d frowned. “I’m sorry Ben, but your mum isn’t really up to caring for a boy your size. I had a talk with her about it just outside.”
Ben felt apprehensive, more than usual. He knew it was his emotions getting harder to control. Soon his behaviour and maturity would devolve as well, joining his simplifying intellectual abilities. He was going to lose all his manners and grooming too. He didn’t want to be a dumb feral little boy like Eric! He needed his mummy, she’d make sure people didn’t point and laugh at him for being silly, make sure adults didn’t roll their eyes and mutter about him being a dirty little brat.
“Where’s mummy gone?” he’d demanded.
“She needed some time to absorb what’s happened sweetie. It’s tough on her too. But the good news is she was happy to take up my offer, to look after you and Eric, make sure you aren’t pulled apart. Won’t that be lovely dear? You get to be buddies and brothers now!”
While the thought of being brothers with his best mate was appealing, especially in his vulnerable state, the idea of being cared for by Claire was terrifying. He didn’t want to be wild and free, he liked wearing shoes, he certainly didn’t want anyone seeing his private parts!
“Claire, I don’ wanna be like Eric, okay?!” he snapped.
Claire frowned and nodded, brushing a hand through his hair. “I know baby, you don’t want to get all little. I know it’s scary, but I can’t stop that. What I can do is make it fun for you. You get to be little all over again, and that means everything will be an adventure for you. We’ll have lots of fun, I promise.”
Ben shook his head. No, she didn’t understand. He had to explain that he meant he didn’t want to run around in nothing but a pair of shorts, if that, in public. But when he tried to explain, when he opened his mouth, the words weren’t there anymore. In horror Ben realised his intellect was dropping again, dramatically. He opened and closed his mouth in terror, straining his muscles, needing to tell her, to explain, but totally incapable of doing so.
And then it was too late. The terror of the intellectual regression faded as his maturity, his behaviour regressed as well. All at once his muscles relaxed and the feeling of Claire’s hand stroking his head became heavenly. It felt so good to have that physical contact. Benny wanted more. He opened his arms towards the pretty lady. Even though he knew her, she suddenly seemed so much bigger, so totally in control. She’d keep him safe, she’d love him. And sure enough she accepted his need for a hug and pulled him into a big, tight cuddle. Oh yes, and her hand was on the back of his neck and it felt so, sooo good.
The next morning, after the doctors finished their observation period on Benny and declared him stable, Claire was able to take him out of the hospital. Benny held her hand as they walked through the lobby. He didn’t want to get lost. He accepted that Claire was in charge of him now, he yearned for her guidance. She carried a bag filled with the clothing and possessions he’d entered with. It had his watch and his iPhone, his wallet and belt, the checked shirt and khakis pants he’d been wearing when admitted, his Adidas sneakers and socks. As they neared the sliding doors Claire stepped to the side and dropped the bag into the rubbish bin. Benny wouldn’t be needing any of those things again. All he wore for their trip home was what she’d brought him that morning, a simple pair of cotton underoos decorated with Goofy prints, covered by a baggy pair of blue board shorts with big red flames down the sides. Benny didn’t have a shirt or shoes to wear anymore and the twenty-four year old didn’t seem to miss them either.
It was a lovely warm day to go to the beach. Benny was having lots of fun. As soon as they arrived Mummy had set up a nice towel for them to lie on and broke out toys for him and his brother to play with. Grown-ups were just lying around on their towels, reading books and stuff. Boring! Benny couldn’t believe he used to be so boring like that. How could anyone just sit still when there was so much space to play!
But before they could go skipping away to dance in the waves and roll in the sand Mummy stopped Eric and slipped his shorts off him so he was nakey bummed. How wonderful! Benny hurried over to Mummy and yanked down his own shorts cuz he was big and knew how to undress himself.
“Benny get nakey Mumma!” he chirped, kicking the shorts away.
Mummy giggled and told him, “You sure are! Look at that silly pee-pee bouncing around.”
Benny hopped up and down to make pee-pee even more bouncy. He was a very silly boy! The grown-ups couldn’t go nakey-bum. They had to keep undies on. Benny felt a rush of happiness at knowing he was just a little boy and he didn’t have to wear clothes if he didn’t wanna. And just like that he took off, running helter-skelter all over the beach, screeching his glee.
Later he and Eric dug holes in the sand and were joined by a grown-up man who helped them dig. He asked them questions about being little but Benny found them confusing. He didn’t have enough words to understand big person questions now. The man seemed to see that and moved on after a bit. But not long afterwards Benny noticed Eric squatting down and feeling his pee-pee. He crept over and looked at his brother’s willy. It was getting big. He was having a good time. Boys like them got happy pee-pees when they had a lot of fun.
“Gots all happy,” Eric told him, gently fondling it.
Benny nodded and wanted to help brother, make him feel good. “Goza wub wike dis,” he instructed, reaching over and taking Eric’s big pee-pee and rubbing it harder, faster. Brother liked this, breathing faster too, closing his eyes after a moment. Grown-ups nearby looked away, clearly uncomfortable. Benny didn’t notice. He was just making his brother feel good, the same way they often helped each other during or after bathy time. The fact they were in public meant nothing to him. His mind had been wonderfully unburdened of such concerns.
It took a minute or two before Eric make his stickies. Then the happy brothers held hands and toddled back across the sand to show Mummy the lovely mess Eric had made.