Memories of the long walk home and growing up the child of an alcoholic.
| Stone Road
Uh, yeah pausing to "catch my breath" is too obvious. Standing at the top of the hill, bent at the waist, inhaling deeply is an excuse. A reason to stand across the street from the Dale's hoping Jenny's older sister might make an appearance. She of the lemon bikini top with the matching bottoms peering from the fissure of the unbuttoned Daisy Duke shorts. This memory running on continual loop through my adolescence.
Somewhere along the line I edited another time she was close to me with the Lemon String Bikini Sighting. Her high school boyfriend doing tricks on his skateboard in front of us neighborhood hooligans. She reaches to hug him and her sky blue, Ocean Pacific t-shirt rides up exposing her abs. The gossamer tresses on her mons pubis leading me south to uncharted territory. Now from across the street I believe I will see that golden trail leading down to that magnificent mystery.
She caught me staring once. She waved, a flirtatious fluttering of her fingers. I wanted to wave, I raised my hand even. She turned with a giggle and walked into her house. I stood half-salute, crippled by her.
I possess a worldly knowledge of sex, gleaned through; peaks snuck at a neighbor's Playboy, awkward after-school specials, mixed with exaggerations and outright lies tossed in by the older kids on the street. I have no idea what to do with these images and feelings. They are constant.
Just once more I'd like to catch her out. I will walk across the street and ask if she knows how exquisite she is. Later in time I realize that yes, yes she did.
Steeling myself I inhale, a shaky thing. Thoughts of lemon strings darting from my memory. Lemons and tan skin do not help me now. Now there is only the last few houses until home. It is 600 feet. Measured the same way we walk off penalties at recess playing football. It feels appropriate that it is three football fields long. (It disappoints me when my feet hit 12 inches and I walk, heel to toe, heel to toe, the length of the street and discover my longest stride is not a yard long. So it is 591 feet, not the length of three gridirons). If I laid four of my longest throws end to end, I'd be home. These kinds of dimensions I use over the next few years to drag myself from this street.
My grandfather, the World War II vet, spoke once of the Bataan Death March. Muddled in my mind is Rattan and the prisoners' walk. I think those poor boys were scourged with broken furniture, those heartless bastards. I come to think of these last few acres as my own long walk.
The first house to pass is the Wiggins. They're not social, three brothers sticking to themselves. In an Us-Against-the-World defense they stare, sullen and withdrawn. I pass by. Their banter resumes.
Across the street, the Bradley's. God I hope she isn't home, peeping through her blinds like some enormous beast with tail twitching. She's the founding member and chairwoman of the Committee for Neighborhood Beautification Through the Cleansing of Moral Turpitude (self-appointed). She's Southern and not far removed from White Hoods and Crosses. It's a shame, her son is a decent enough kid. Her daughter disappeared at 17. Not under suspicious circumstances. More like "put away privily". The blinds twitch and I focus back on my side of the street, ready to sprint if her door opens.
The next house, my side is the Tebbs. I know nothing about them. I envy them their anonymity. Across from them is the Butlers. A young family. They offer me popsicles in the heat of summer but are wary when I am near their home. I do not blame them. Labels applied to single parents trickle downward. Sometimes adults hide their feelings behind kind smiles. Sometimes adults want to be good and are unsure what being good entails.
Back to my side, the Halversons. He is an EducaTOR and an AdministraTOR and I think that adding TOR to any adult's title makes them sound officious. He is a firm believer in education for the masses and considers me one of them, however unkempt or unclean I appear. Without saying anything memorable he convinces me to work harder at my grades. His wife is an intelligent woman who seems to work at a job that is not wise enough to use her intelligence. Their older son plays soccer and I like to watch him drill with the soccer ball. Their youngest son is two years older than me. I'd like to kill him.
By kill I mean the old school, circa 1979, usage of the word. I want to beat him until he ceases to torment me. I want him to cry for mercy and never look my direction again. He and his friend Lewy. I think the two of them are starting to get it.
Lewy is the first kid I knew hated me. I cross the street to avoid his house. Too many times I hear his screen door slam and feel him bearing down on me. He follows me the rest of the way home. His sweating bulk and tepid breath obscuring Lemon dreams and happy thoughts. I'll realize later that he is not tough and he is not strong. But I fear him. Last week he followed me home, pushing, prodding, seeking my weaknesses. All the way to my home he came, trying to get me to turn, to give him an opening so he felt justified. I walked in the side door to the garage and couldn't take it anymore.
We have a bat. It is wooden. There is a blue stripe separating the handle from the barrel. A slab of wood has chipped off running length wise for most of the fat part of the bat. It makes a flat surface on a round object. If you catch a baseball just right it goes for miles. If you miss and catch it on the edge it is still a good bet you will end up on base. No one knows where the ball will bounce or what kind of crazy spin that flat part creates. It sits inside the garage and I see it as I flee inside. I pick it up and no longer feel afraid. I am no longer at anyone's mercy. I take it outside and offer to pita his knee the next time he comes near me.
Coursing through me is a new-found energy. It feels better than most anything I can remember. The self-doubt and loathing are gone. I feel powerful. I feel in control. Fat Lewy must sense that I am not his victim any longer. He sneers that I don't have the guts. He does so as he backs away, a bit too quick for dignity. I think this is the end. I am wrong.
The following day, Lewy and the Halverson kids show up soon after you get home from work. These earnest fellows have something they need to bring to your attention. They wring their hands and look "oh so pained" to have to tell you this, but your son (that's me in case you lose track) has been making fun of the special needs boy in the neighborhood, Eddie. This is bullshit of course. Eddie and I are good. Whenever I hear the fwwatt, fwwatt, fwwatt, of the playing card wedged in his bike fork hitting the spokes of his tire I smile. Eddie and I talk about how fast his bike is and just how much air he gets on jumps. I tell you this but you ignore it.
"How can you be so cruel to Eddie" you ask.
I deny it and watch as Lewy and the Halverson kid give me the eye behind your back. How did they know you would betray me? Was it a gamble or is it so obvious to everyone. Their gamble works and you lay in to me in front of them. I wish I had a bat for each of you.
I think about this as I walk the last few steps to our yard. The toes of my shoes are marred. I think of them as hooves and the sidewalk becomes marsh. There are no cars in front of our house. I am relieved. It pains me if I might not be there first. You parents stop by often. I hope their timing is never unfortunate.
Across the street, George is not sitting on his front porch. George is a grandfather. Kids are fortunate. There are great grandfathers around, including mine. I even forgive George for ratting me out for playing on the roof. He does it because he cares about me and about the roof. Next door to him, Van is not home from work. He is one chill dude. He played Lacrosse before it was cool out west. He gets out his stick and throws with us. We catch the ball with our baseball mitts and wing it back hard at him. He does not miss. He drinks a beer now and then which cools him out even more. I do not want him or George to be the ones to help me when I need it.
The house beyond ours belongs to Barney and his wife. They are yin and yang. She is authoritarian, a worshipper of rules. He is the kindest person I know. He is a paramedic. He is who I plan to run to when it happens. Now, I feel guilty for my plan but he exudes competence. He will help me handle it.
I pass the garage. There is no running car inside. A good sign but not conclusive. I approach the front door. My fingers reach out and make the barest contact. I want to feel through the wood the spirit of the house within. In science, we talk about the space that pervades everything. Whether between the nucleus and the protons and electrons or the light years between stars. Space is everywhere. I imagine I can sync the space between my cells and the cells in the door. I want to grow cell walls. I want to be wooden. Probing through my fingertips I get nothing. No Thing.
Opening the door, I rise on the balls of my feet. Hackles raise on my neck and sweat forms in my armpits. I walk up the stairs. From room to room I walk, flinging doors open. Convinced that if I just get it over with, quickness will ward off the inevitable.
The house is silent. The oven is empty. I had to ask a teacher about this you know. It seemed so gruesome. She explains it to me laughing. It makes no sense; our oven is electric. It is a mystery I ponder often. I rely on other women to explain me to myself and you to me. I retreat to my bedroom.
Above my headboard is a small shelf. On it rest three knives. Two are flimsy, worthless pieces of tin, good for nothing but accidents. The third is a hunting knife. It is my fail safe. When the time comes, I will wield it against what is coming. I am too young to realize my futility.
From my room, each night I venture out. I check the locks on the doors. The front and then up the stairs and through the kitchen to the sliding back door. Then back down and through the laundry, my feet enjoying the cold cement floor while passing to the basement door that we never use. Each night I make the rounds, check the locks then the deadbolts. Double check them again and head back to bed. Climb in bed, then worry I might have nudged the bolt as I walked away and weakened our defenses. I fret about it for minutes of eternity, then climb out of bed and make the rounds again.
In my bed, I surround myself with pillows, barricaded against the coming attack. Sheet is stacked upon sheet and blanket upon blanket, like the folded steel in a Samurai sword. Underneath I bury myself against the darkness.
I blurt out once, in defiant angst, just what the hell am I if not a reason to live. Your head snaps around, your eyes widen and your nostrils flare. Too late I realize my error and hasten, "And my sister and brother". This doesn't placate you. Your teeth are sunk into my mistake. I cannot shake you.
I'm getting older and faster. You telegraph your slap. I could dodge it. This I know. Instead I stand, stoic, and accept my sentence.
"You selfish bastard"
That's me. The selfish bastard. The One Who Stayed. The one who cannot do enough. I am not your favorite. I am not your second favorite. I am just the one here. I am foolish to think this makes us comrades, survivors together. I have seen your worst. You despise me for it. Who wants a reminder like me?
And I am coming to realize now that I cannot be anything but a selfish bastard. I am exhausted. I am scared. I cannot defeat your demons. No matter how many locked doors I cower behind, no matter what metal I cling to in the night, your demons are too strong for me. At 13 I know I am a coward. Worse, I know I will fail. It is heavy on my shoulders.
So, in the night, when you find your oblivion, I am still here. Waiting in the dark, blade and teeth bared. Knowing the demon will come and take you. Knowing I cannot defeat it. And in the silence, I try negotiating with it. I ask it to be painless. I ask it to be clean. I ask it to end soon.
You must sense this in me. You must understand it before I do myself. I am a Bastard. I cannot endure your demise any longer. I wait for you to find your peace and perhaps give me mine.