Tallulah

At a little creek, beside the woods, a three minute walk from my old childhood Park Ridge home, there’s an awkward stone bridge that someone made, the idea being that you could hop from one stone to the next to get to the other side, where the woods would give you enough cover to get high out of sight and smell of parentals. I didn’t want to get high, but my tiny self did want to get across, if only so I could say I did. But every time, every damn time, I’d come up short about halfway across and fall into the creek, soaking my Converse. I’d have to turn back and head home in my soggy shoes, leaving wet footprints behind.

There was a gaggle of kids that would give me shit at recess, follow me home and shout taunts till I reached the house with the pitbull that was always in its yard, the pitbull that gave me slobbery kisses but growled at the kids anytime they got near. One day, I decided to pick up some rocks and whip them at the kids’ heads. That got them off my back, until a couple days later when they told me I was adopted. This was before I found out that I actually was adopted. But anyway, that’s what they said. Because you know. Escalation.

When I asked my parents about it, I got a bowl of mint chocolate chip and an episode of Pokémon. I don’t know why I didn’t ask them again. Why I didn’t press it. But I didn’t.

There’s a thing you do when you’ve just found out something that huge about yourself and are trying to get to sleep that first night, or at least there was a thing I did. I clenched my pillow with all ten fingers till my knuckles went red, then white, till my fingertips hurt and beyond even that. I smothered an invisible person and yelled into the pillow till I thought I might go hoarse. I punched the pillow, then the mattress, then the bed frame. I snuck into the kitchen, scooted a chair up to the fridge so I could reach the freezer, and iced my bloody knuckles. I didn’t want the parentals to notice.

I remember sneaking into our partially finished basement, dirt floor in the farthest corner, the place where the light didn’t quite reach, and plopping myself down, not caring if I got my pajamas dirty. Listening to the sound of the furnace dying out and coming back to life: a coughing, wheezing resurrection. I don’t know why, but I started digging. It wasn’t long before I found what I hadn’t been looking for: an empty Jim Beam bottle. Jim Beam, what Dad had been drinking before he “quit.” What he’d given up after Mom started needing surgeries and four hours of sleep in the middle of the day.

Anyway, I took the bottle and smashed it against the wall. I hadn’t planned any further than that, so I picked up all the shards and put them back in the grave I’d robbed them from. All except one. It was a big piece of glass, narrowing out to an impossibly sharp tip. What I did was I brought it to my feet, bare, dirt clinging to the bottoms of them, and I started jabbing little pricks into my ankles. I was careful not to go above where my socks would be able to hide what I’d done. I don’t know how long I sat there, alone, in the dark, on the dirt, and poked little constellations and swirling galaxies into my ankles. All I know is it kept me from crying, and that’s all I really needed in that moment.

I hate myself for it, but I never really said anything to those kids after that. Took all of their taunts, their laughter, their following me home everyday. I didn’t throw any stones, didn’t yell back. Just took it. All the while here I was, in my room, unrolling my sock and adding a little bit more to my painting every day. I’d work in sections, letting one part heal before circling back. I always had something to work on.

I guess it all came back to that creek for me. I’d go there day after day, hopping from one stone to the next, taking those leaps of faith, and inevitably I’d fall in about halfway through. The water would soak my shoes, and I’d get home to see that the individual pinpricked bloodstains on my socks had bled together and faded to a light pink. I let the creek launder my socks, hiding them from the rest of the laundry so that the parentals would never find out.

Until this one day.

This one day, I walked straight from the school bus to the creek. I went without hesitating, jumped from one stone to the next as if I was born to do this. Reached the halfway point, the creek rushing a little faster that day, the water lapping the stone’s edges, turning it a darker color. All around me, things were moving even though I wasn’t. Things were carrying on. So I jumped. And when I reached one stone, I jumped to the next. And the next and the next, until I made it to the other side. When I got there, I plopped myself down on the grass, on my back, and watched the clouds slice through the sky, watched the planes slice through the clouds. And it was like that for who-knows-how-long. But eventually, I left. Eventually, I went home.

button

Rodhi

Baba is on the couch. Mama says he’s resting, but I know what that means. His breath reeks, even across the room, and I tiptoe as if I might wake a sleeping giant. Mama tells me I’m not to drink when I grow up, that it’s against our religion. She tells me this as if she has to. The air is thick with the stink of paint, and I breathe in gasps before holding my breath again, a diver getting ready to enter the deep.

There’s a canvas sitting on the floor next to the couch, half-completed, the scene a sunset with a willow weeping its fronds over a little boy who’s looking out over a pond. You can almost see the swan at the farthest edge of the pond, but just barely. Only a dab of its gleaming white in the fading light. Even when he’s drunk, Baba can paint the most beautiful pictures. He always tells me he could’ve been a master. If he’d just gotten his chance, he could’ve been a master.

Mama hands me my shoes, the ones with velcro that light up every time you take a step. I have this thing where every time I put the shoes on and velcro the straps, I take a stomping jump to watch them light up, but I know not do that this time. This is our competition, between Mama and I, to see who can be the quietest. We’re like sneaky robbers making off with our own safety, Baba that errant brush that can ruin an entire canvas.

I lose this competition.

I trip over a toy I left out, one that Mama told me to pick up earlier, nearly fall but don’t quite, right foot coming down hard, stomping, loud enough to wake Baba, my only consolation being that the shoe finally lights up like how I wanted it to.

Baba asks what’s going on. As if he has to. As if he doesn’t know that Mama’s taking me away from all of this, taking me away from the paint stink and the beer stink and his drunken stupors. It was always only for a couple hours, just staying at Nani’s till it was safe to go back, but everything seemed different this time around. So I didn’t know. So Mama, I think, didn’t know.

Mama instinctively hugs her arm around my neck, motions me over to the door. Baba tells us to wait, but we don’t. He gets up, holds his arms out to regain balance, and staggers to the side. Knocks over his canvas with his ankle, then steps right through it. Sunset reds gather at his ankle where his foot pushed through, giving him the illusion of a serious injury, blues mingling with the reds as he pulls the foot back out, then steps onto the carpet, spreading the paint as he finally gets his feet underneath himself.

Baba does that yell he does sometimes, the one where spittle goes flying from his lips and he looks like a rabid dog. He yells at Mama with such rage that you can hardly make out the words. Says it’s all her fault, that she’s ruined it. Mama tells Baba he’s been drinking, and the way Baba looks at her after she says that, you’d think that this was news to him. He takes a step toward us, cracking one of the corners of the canvas in the process. He reaches down and grabs the canvas. Whips it at the wall, where it makes contact and sends paint flying to the left and right of the hit, as if this is the supernova of a painted star. That’s all Mama needs, apparently, because she takes me by the hand and opens the door, shuts it on Baba’s words right as he’s making his way over.

Mama doesn’t cry until she realizes she didn’t grab the car keys, and even then it’s that silent cry she does, the one where she looks away and doesn’t make a single sound. She takes me by the hand, and we make our way down to the pond in the center of Bay Colony, sit on the grass by the water’s edge and take a second to catch our breath, to figure out what to do next.

After five minutes or so, Mama looks at me. She opens her mouth to say something, the lightning bugs flashing behind her, but nothing comes out. But then, finally: “Bus.”

Des Plaines doesn’t have many bus routes, not like Chicago, so we have to walk about a mile down Potter to the nearest one. I ask Mama if we’re going to Nani’s, and she says that we aren’t. I ask her where we’re going, then, and she says nothing.

We finally make our way to the stop, and we sit on the bench next to each other. At least I sit, anyway. Mama gets up after a minute and paces back and forth. Five minutes pass, maybe ten, before Mama tells me to stand up. The bus isn’t coming, she says. The bus isn’t coming. Except it is, down the street a bit, LCD screen on top announcing the next stop. I tell Mama. Look, I say. Look. She does, then looks back at me.

“We have to go.”

I start to cry as we walk back home, but that doesn’t work, so I tell Mama that my feet hurt from all the walking. Without hesitating, she picks me up into her arms and cradles me. I actually drift in and out of sleep in her arms, sometimes looking up to see her calm face, eyes ahead, tears running their course down, leaving her chin and making contact with my face.

button

The Cold of the Night

Female Warrior # 17

There’s something to be said for getting out of bed and going about your day. For understanding the sullen weight of what you’ve got, and for putting the mask on before you leave. For putting your kitchen knives away when you need to, locking yourself in your room and putting on comedy after comedy.

For practicing smiles in the mirror so you can try to make them look real. For going out in the rain, running in it, arriving at an open field and standing in the center as the rain turns to drizzle and it seems like it’s all coming from the multitudinous stars in the sky.

For exercising restraint where you never used to, sitting on the bathroom floor and dislocating your shoulder so you can feel the sweet release of pain, long after your cutting days, and this one seems better because it leaves no marks.

For going back to your hometown and sitting on the old swingset, chains rusty, creaking in the breeze, and there’s a way to dismount so that you’re standing in place when you get off, and you’ve done it now, 20 years after the first time. For remembering old bike tricks: look ma no hands, butt steering, I believe I can fly, etc.

For undoing years of reptilian brain training and cutting your ties with your bio parents, and to dislocate and dislocate and locate the source of the pain but to have no means of stopping it, at least none in sight.

For waiting at the bus stop with no route in mind, sitting on the bench and talking to dozens of people over the hours, imbibing stories, eating anecdotes, consuming the lives of those who came before.

For painting again, flecks of new gamboge on your chin and canvas, becoming something, though what that something is you don’t know. For telling yourself it’s the last time you’ll dislocate and then doing it again, feeling like you’re a stranger to yourself. For collecting the bodies of animals who have died on the road and to feel their blood on your hands, sticky as you try to wipe it away.

For defying childhood orders and staring directly into the sun, watching it fall from the sky until the pain is gone and you can see the giant spots in your eyes, they won’t go away, at least not for a while. For setting your shoulder for the umpteenth time, lying in bed and the sweat running down your forehead, passing the corners of your eyes till you’re not sure if they’re tears.

For calling your bio dad and only listening when he says hello, only breathing, and when he disconnects you listen to the dial tone for two minutes before hanging up. For taking the things from your old life and collecting them into a pile, and to light this pile on fire, catching the way the black smoke spirals and whirls, the way the flames dance and twist and lick the cold of the night.

button

Spirals

I sat on the stairs while my father pinned my mother’s wrists to the bed to stop her from slapping him. He had a store-bought card for some anniversary that he “had had all along,” but she wasn’t buying it. I remember there was a dartboard he got because he smoked a certain number of cigarettes. In the aquarium downstairs there was a fish called the ghost fish. It had a single fin under its body that undulated and propelled it where it needed to go. It spent most of its time hiding in the hollowed-out half coconut my dad sunk. Underneath the tank there was a flashlight Drew left so I could look at the snails whenever I wanted to, not just when they accidentally got sucked up whenever Dad cleaned the tank. The snails were tiny and numerous, dotting the glass under the aquarium’s rock bedding like chickenpox. We never bought them; they must have hitched a ride somewhere, somehow. Each of them so tiny, but they had these shells that fractaled into multicolored singularities, and the light of the flashlight glinted off where the spirals ended so you could never be sure just how far they went.

On the TV there was a story about Steve Fossett sailing away in a balloon, and I remember considering how unfair it was that these snails were born as snails, unable to float over drifting cumulonimbus, to see the way the clouds absorb the sun and turn it into something it’s not. There was an empty twenty-four pack of MGD in the kitchen, empties either crushed to wafers or waiting for me to kick them. My father spaced them out: one for each hour, if an hour was ten minutes.

One of the things to do was play N64 with Drew, to turn up the volume till the yelling went away. Drew wagered it’d take till 26. I said at least 32. The background music of Doom 64 at 36 was enough to erase the fight. I asked Drew what I won and he insisted it was just a friendly wager. Nothing at stake.

The numbers I was supposed to dial if Mom really started screaming were 9-1-1, but if I wanted information it’d be 4-1-1. So would I call 411 to find out if aliens are real? It doesn’t work like that, Drew said. What if I wanted to learn Spanish? 411? Nope, again, that’s not how it works. So I’d call them whenever Dad leaves and we don’t know where he’s gone to, when he’s coming back? But Drew didn’t answer that one.

The thing was that Dad wouldn’t leave without his shoes, so Drew would stuff them in the fridge, next to the government cheese. The government cheese was pale and flaky but the shoes were not. The shoes were holy and worn.

Dad swayed in the light coming through the window, where there were tiny planets of dust orbiting some force we could not see. Dad was smoking for a tent. The month before he was smoking for a cooler. Month before that it was for a collector’s mug. Nowadays he’s smoking for a polyp, but these were simpler times.

The people on the TV were arguing over whether Steve would be found this time, as he was lost. I thought of how he could be lost to himself but not us, and vice versa.

Dad found the shoes next to the government cheese, and there were a few people crying. One of those people was Drew, and we had an unspoken pact that if he cried, I cried.

Mom tried to stop Dad in the driveway, but he was practiced. He left her kicking up gravel behind him, sparks trailing down the street from where he scraped car after parked car. When he was gone and the gravel dust was all that was left, Drew took me inside to watch the snails and Mom cooked us up some pizza puffs, a cigarette dangling from her bottom lip. On the TV, the people were still talking about Steve Fossett. They still didn’t know if and when he’d turn up again.

button

Big Old Bald-Headed Momma’s Circus

Big Old Bald-Headed Momma’s Circus was what it’d be called. Lula could change the name when she came of age, but then Lula could keep it the same too, was BOB-HM’s line of thinking. BOB-HM was first M, then BOM when her thyroid died and she put on pounds. A thyroid was a thingy in your throat, sweet pea. The cancer made her BOB-HM, and the acronyms would stop there.

Here:

They cut open the teddy bears not fit for the circus and excised some samples and BOB-HM dyed the stuffing orange and glued it to her head because that’s what the ringmaster’s supposed to do. Lula had a tutu, and that was fine, and blankets were stitched together: comforter, baby, quilt, then carpet, bath mat, shower curtain, old long johns, socks, every fabric they could find for the Big Top.

When BOB-HM’s Henry/Lula’s Dad left he left the ladders, and the scaffolding, and the funny thing that could change the lightbulbs that were so high up. Lula thought Henry/Dad might need these things, but BOB-HM propped the tent up with them anyway. BOB-HM could be so mean sometimes.

For the floor they tore off shingles and threw them to the trampoline that was meant for the monkeys. The monkeys would be trained squirrels, sweet pea. Beside their house was a grand esplanade and beside the esplanade was sea that went way out, to all lands known and unknown. That’s where their customers would come from, in great big ships, so numerous they could be stars in negative space. The ships would be oared to shore and all the men would have stovepipe hats and moustaches and the women would have dresses that glowed even in the night. They’d be led by horse and buggy to the Big Top, real fancy. The horses would be shelter dogs and the buggies would be radio flyers, sweet pea. The mayor would come and everything.

When BOB-HM coughed up blood she had to climb a ladder to the Big Top to wipe her mouth because they stitched their towels into the tent. BOB-HM would turn the blood into water that fountained from the flower on her shoulder and Lula would laugh till snot came out. Lula would have to climb a ladder for that, too.

When the nights stretched their legs and the willows dropped their fronds onto the esplanade, Lula would collect them in great big piles and BOB-HM would wheel over in her clown car (not a wheelchair, sweet pea). The fronds became confetti, streamers, tickets. Anything but fronds.

BOB-HM perfected an animal whisperer whistle, because that’s what the ringmaster’s supposed to do. I wish you could’ve seen it. Bunnies crashing in like waves on the esplanade. Squirrels as numerous as ants. An avalanche of doves, finches, geese. Bears ambling out of the woods on their hind legs, waving both paws the whole walk over. It was quite the whistle.

BOB-HM had to rest so much because that’s what cancer made you do, so Lula held rehearsals. The birds thought they were better than the squirrels. The squirrels demanded more nuts. The bears wanted to eat all the bunnies. Lula set them all straight. The bears learned to dance. The squirrels perfected a juggling routine. The birds sang gloriously.

The night of the show, Lula gave a ringmaster’s whistle. Real loud and clear. She listened to its echoes carry through the woods, out to sea, the willow fronds billowing all the time. BOB-HM would’ve been proud.

Monkeys came–real ones, and elephants, and tigers, and ships gathered on the shore like grains of sand. The moustachioed men escorted their glowing dates, filing out in the thousands to see the show, under the bright red-and-white Big Top, the finest equines to lead them by gilded carriage, past the rows of elephants harmonizing with their trunks, the monkeys atop them waving and smiling big, toothy monkey smiles, past the bears tossing real confetti from the tops of trees, the birds dragging a triumphant banner–the triumphant banner, slicing the bright blue sky with it, the words in big bold letters that everyone everywhere could read:

“Welcome to Big Old Bald-Headed Momma’s Circus!”

So come one, come all, and enjoy the magic that life has to offer here, under the Big Top, at the show to end all shows. You won’t want to miss this one.

button

Too Easy

Toenail

When you get back inside with the toenail in your hand the blood will leave a picture of Jesus in the carpet. You’ll tell your mother the nail came off after a botched kickflip. You don’t skate. She’ll bring a bag of peas and take pictures of the stain for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. You will think yourself a holy child. The peas will stick to your nail bed. Blood will pool at the bottom of the bag and melt frost off a couple peas.

Bird

Sharo will find the bird first, in the street. He’ll ask if you want to lose a fingernail this time and you’ll assure him you do not. Tiny spectators will gather. They’ll pantomime the bird’s movements for those without a good view: Lloyd will bug out his eyes, connect his left ear and shoulder, open and close his mouth robotically. Obe will twitch his left arm, flap his right. There will be a bucket of water. The kind you’d spin to illustrate centrifugal force. Sharo will say: Your head or the bird’s. Pick, faggot. You will pick the bird’s. Lloyd will pantomime your cries.

Nail Nail

You will lose a fingernail, but not by Sharo’s hand. It’ll be wedged in the back door on the way inside to wash a carrot from the garden. Your father’s hand on your shoulder will be warm and the ice water will be not warm. The pain will erase the word “cold” from your brain. The nail you lose will be the nail of your middle finger, so you will get away with flicking people off for several weeks. Inside you’ll nail the nail to a secret corner of bedroom wall and call it your nail nail. You’ll consider starting a collection.

Congestive/Digestive

The hospital room’s Pokémon rerun will be too loud, so you’ll hear “digestive heart failure” and imagine your father’s heart slowly descending to his stomach by way of peristalsis. You will have just learned the word in science class and will remember it by turning it into a name: Perry Stalsis. You’ll ask your dad if he wants to play Who’s that Pokémon, but he’ll already be asleep. It’ll be Pikachu. Too easy.

Flooded Meadow

The storm will knock out the power for three days. During this time you will subsist on Mickey D’s and sugarfoods. Meadow Lane will be under several feet of water. You’ll have just seen Waterworld and will pull back your hairline; scowl at things. You will strip down to your undies in broad daylight and swim down your street. You’ll imagine barnacles on car tires, tiny submerged cities. Only once will you open your eyes underwater. You will immediately regret this decision. Your eyes will burn till the power comes back on two days later.

Boxing Match

All the block’s tiny humans will congregate for the main event. The combatants will be four and five. The gloves will go up to their elbows. You’ll say: I don’t think this is a good idea. Sharo will say: nothing, because he’s just spit in your face. It will have somehow gotten in your nose. When no one laughs, Sharo will say: Just kidding. So there will be spit in your nose and blood in Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s dad will come out with no shirt on. He will say: Give me the pucking gloves. The kids will say: Ha ha ha. His exposed stomach will say: I’m hairy.

Spider-Man’s Eyeballs

Spider-Man’s eyeballs will be made of bubblegum. His severed head will be on a stick and will be made of ice cream. Everyone will have a father except for Cal. Cal will have no father and no money for ice cream. No one will know where Cal’s father is, not even Cal. The ice cream man will hit a pothole. He will get out and swear and hit his head hard on the truck’s undercarriage when he’s done checking the tire. Cal will say: Are you okay? Ice Cream Man will say: Fuck off. Everyone except Cal will get ice cream. Sharo will say: Niggers don’t get ice cream. You will split Spider-Man’s head and give Cal the sticked half. You will surgically remove one eyeball and give it to Cal.

How It Ends

Years will go by. Your father will die and be buried. Sharo will die and be buried. You will attend both funerals. Your father’s face will be ashen, and you will see that he’s become a gray alien. This will be fitting because your father would always talk about gray aliens and Area 51, codename Dreamland. You will tell your father’s ashen body that it is going to Dreamland. You will remember that fake alien autopsy video, imagine what your father’s innards look like, and get sick in his casket. He’d always remind you it’s “get sick,” not “throw up.” Sharo’s mother will clutch you to her like a child would a teddy. She will insist you and Sharo were best friends and you’ll agree. There will be kabobs after. The kabobs will be good and the flight home will be long. When you get home you will kiss your wife passionately and watch a Pokémon rerun with your son. You will both guess Pikachu when the time comes. You will both be correct. Too easy.

button

How It’ll Happen

Whoever claims that childhood is a happy time, has never been a child

This is how it’ll happen. You’ll catch me peeking over some Penguin on public transit, gathering coins for the homeless who want to fly south for the winter too, and you’ll get off at the next stop. I’ll see your whispering prints erase themselves in the snow as soon as they come.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be in my inbox, considering that ‘90s email catchphrase and implanting forgiveness into requests from the prince of Nigeria, pills for impotence. It’ll be said and you’ll never read it.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll dab mashed potatoes from your chin like you used to do from mine and hold up your bird elbow so you can touch my face. The bones that threaten your face’s skin will frighten me and you’ll put on a program. Program, not show.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be rewinding old VHS tapes and catch the time Dad alluded to eating you out later as you watched me scutter down metal slide. It’ll be partially taped over and I’ll stay tuned for a brief word from our sponsors.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll break into the shack the neighbors kept the feral dogs in and wash up. Gather a little rabies foam and scrub it over the places where the light peeks through. I’ll see you through the cracks, but you won’t see me.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll show up with the Halloween costumes that never were and we’ll trick or treat together, decades removed. I’ll change costume after each house and you’ll egg the bastards who slashed our tires that one summer when Dad double-parked.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be on the toilet swiping through my feed as they pull the tubes out. You’ll have glorious visions then, beautiful visions, and I’ll wonder why my internet’s so slow.

This is how it’ll happen. You’ll give me my answer right before you slip away and it’ll be a clean sweep. Presto change-o. I’ll see you through the foggy bubble world of tears and admire the pattern of the curtain the nurses have propped open because your skin could use the sun. Could’ve used.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll sit down and guzzle some rooibos, use my teeth as leaf filter and write you as I remember. You’ll hate it and maybe even me, but it’ll be there where you aren’t.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll bend down to earth with the little boy you never met and whisper things he can understand. He’ll wonder why he can’t go home and play and I’ll go to the ground. He’ll join me, his tinyfingers tracing whispering prints that erase themselves in the dirt as soon as they come.

button

THE WORD NERD

So here’s a kid–eleven and going on precocious, glasses on his nose so thick coke bottles wouldn’t even do them justice, a dusty old Dostoyevsky in his hands as he sits in a comfy library chair and downloads the text to his brain.

But let’s get you acquainted. For starters, kid can read. Routinely fells the sort of dense history book you’d need a machete to hack through before lunch. Does shit like assign himself book reviews (which he then critiques and grades as if he were a teacher). Actually has his local librarian on speed dial.

But in time, like any copiously fed addiction, kid’s word tolerance reached a breaking point. It wasn’t enough that he devoured books as he was apt to do to food (which being an overweight and nerdy little boy, you can just imagine the crowds of schoolmates clamoring to be his friends). No, he needed to craft them, too. Had to feel the Zen-like focus that accompanied moments of writerly Flow, experience the bitter frustration of The Block, too.

And so he set his Dostoyevsky down beside his composition book, the puny thing’s TV-static-looking cover trying its damndest to fight against the pull of old Fyodor’s work. And on any other day it would lose the battle. But this day was different. This day, our kid was determined.

Kid was very clearly of the Dump Shit Out First, Sift Through the Rubble Later variety, or at least his ridiculously-quickly-filled comp book attested to that fact. Could almost see smoke billowing out from his carpaloid hand, feel the heat coming off of the page and his brain both as he let the Hand Cramp to End All Hand Cramps subside.

The days (and notebooks) that followed passed in an absolute flurry, our little dude making dutiful pilgrimage to his library Mecca each and every day and engaging in what was quickly revealing itself to be the often masochistic practice of making shit up in story form.

Still took crap from those in his class whose IQ values were comparable with their shoe sizes. Heard them riff on the usual, easy subjects: his weight, the fact that he couldn’t deftly kick balls that needed to be kicked or throw balls that needed to be thrown. But he let it all slide off now that he had his stories. His words.

Librarian set him up with a desk all his own, even took to bringing over a brand-spanking-new OED and pocket thesaurus. Things were going well.

Very well, that is, until the little shits caught on to what our dude was doing during his free time away from the clutches of a well-rounded public school education.

Led daring raids into his literary stronghold and shot volleys of whispered insults whenever the librarian wasn’t in earshot. Played keep away with his books of reference and shot spitballs into his hair at precisely the moment he’d seem to be on a roll.

But for all their efforts at sabotage, they only strengthened our kid’s resolve. Even helped him with a problem his writing had suffered with: a lack of active characters. Now that the Douche Brigade had begun their attacks, dude had no problem dreaming up characters who fought their oppressors with a vengeance. Good luck translating that into real life action, though.

The tormenting went on (and intensified, as prepubescent struggles tend to do), until our budding literary star couldn’t get diddly done for all the interference he had to put up with. But he took it all with the sort of (im)patience that comes with putting up with a lot of crap for a long time.

He put up with it, that is, until they stole his comp books.

There grew in our bookish hero a bubbling rage the likes of which our shoe-size-IQed tormentors clearly didn’t see coming. A rage that’d normally be ineffectual in the hands of Dude, but now came out in the sort of outburst that’d make old Fyodor proud.

Channeled every strong character he’d previously conjured, let the Brigade have it and socked the Ringleader (the one who’d stolen his books, naturally) right in the mouth.

The books hit the floor, as did the collective jaws of the assembled crew. There passed a moment where the Ringleader massaged his jaw and his ego both, sizing up our dude in the process. Waiting. Watching. But something in the kid’s crazy, determined eyes scared him off. Cloaked behind the vague threat of a future retaliatory attack, the Ringleader made his leave with the rest of the Brigade.

And so our chubby little bookworm gathered his stack of comp books and laid them next to his Dostoyevsky, the stacked TV static covers now looming over that dusty old volume even if they were a little dog-eared and worse for wear.

Sat down at his desk and gathered his writing instruments as the magnitude of what he’d done finally caught up with him.

Was about to get started again when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye–or rather, someone. The librarian gave him a quick, conspiratorial wink–blink and you’d miss it–and then let him get back to work.

button

ME AND MY COMPUTER

NOTE: I wrote the following when I was nine years old. I’ve transcribed it here, errors and all, from my barely legible writing. Enjoy!

 

 

I’m an unusual computer. Sometimes I work, sometimes I don’t. I’m always trying my best, but I’m a newcomer, so I mess up occasionally. I feel so sorry for Nick O., because he has to deal with me day after day, because I don’t know the basics of being a good-enough computer. I wish I could do better.

Hey!, don’t shut me down! I’ll do better, I promise! It’s hard to load websites. No! Hi. I’m back on. I just got shutdown for the fourth time today. I wish he would at least give me a chance! Every time I try to do something, I screw up, and the next thing I know, he shuts me down! I wish I could tell him I try as hard as I can.

Why can’t I work? I try and try and try, and just can’t do it. It’s as simple as that. I just give up. It’s Tuesday, and I heard Nick O. saying that he was going to throw me away tomorrow. How am I going to be a better computer in 24 hours? I know I can do it if I try.

Here’s Wednesday, the most extremely important day of my life, the day I could become an adult computer. I either become a better computer today, or never. I am so nervous, that I’d be sweating if I could. I’m too young to be disconnected! Wish me luck!

Mission: Computer, It’s still Wednesday, I don’t know why he’s taking so long, but that’s of course very good for me.

Let’s start on my modem. Just a few minor loading problems. Fixable. Okay, a little wire switching here and there, a little upgrading, and a little deleting of files, and I’ll be ready. Hmmm, this is harder than I thought. OW! It hurts when I clip a wire, but I have to do it. Oh no! Nick’s coming. I have to be quiet. Whhew! That was close! He walked past me and went outside.

“I’m going to bring you to the dump you dumb computer!

Come on, I have to fix my internet connection, but it’s way too slow. I’ve got to figure a way out of this!

“I can’t wait until 1:00, when I’ll take you to the dump!”

Wait! What did he say? 1:00? It’s 12:43 in the afternoon. I only have 17 minutes!

Internet connection is now fixed! Alright! Now it’s the free space. No wonder I’m so slow, all the free space is taken up throughout the Harddrive. 25%. 50%. 75%. 100%. Good! All the space is free! Now for errors. Error number one, not responding. Get into programs, general, there we go, a little wire clipping, done! Alright! That’s two down:

“Ten minutes, and you’re gone! My parents are going to leave at 1:00, and then I’ll throw this hunk of junk away!”

Did he say ten minutes? Oh no! Error number two, won’t run AOL. Initializing Data, Uninstall AOL. 2%. 5%. Full power! I’m going fast now! 75%. 100%. Now to reinstall it, but do some minor changes.

AOL, programs, reinstall, 75%. 100%! screename. There we go. Password, got it! AOL, settings, general, speed. No wonder! The speed’s on 0. There. 100. I’ll check my clock. Good. It’s only 12:52. Eight more long minutes of working.

Error number three, glitches in sound when I play a movie clip. That will be taken care of.

“Six minutes! I wish I could throw him away now!”

Okay. Six minutes. I only have a couple more errors. Three to be exact. Now for the glitches in sound. Where’s my sound card? Oh, here it is. The chip was put in the wrong way. There we go! One error down, two to go:

I’m cut down to three minutes. Next error, video card makes all video clips load slowly. The cord wasn’t plugged in! Two errors down, one to go, oh no! I have one minute left! I can do this!

Final error. Nothing is upgraded. Full power! 100%! AOL’s upgraded! 100%! Documents are upgraded. 100%! Downloads are upgraded! 10 seconds left! Oh no! Microsoft Word won’t upgrade. Wait. Here we go. 25%. 30%. 50%. 75%. 99%! 1 second left! I can do this! 100%! Time’s up! I did it!

“Time’s up! I’ll play around with this computer one more time before I trash it.”

Hey! It’s going into AOL! I can play movie clips! The sound works! Best of all, no errors! I guess I’ll keep you after all.

I did it! I actually became a better computer in 3 days.

button

EBB AND FLOW

The creek beside old Bay Colony was dead and so was the man laying in its dry bed, our little tire swing making the tree branch it was attached to creak as the tire swung lazily and cast little curved shadows over the man’s face, this way and that. This way and that.

Joey got there first and poked the man’s chest with his walking stick, making it rise and fall in a way the man’s lungs could no longer do.

As I looked at the man, all I could think was that all that talk of dead people looking so peaceful or else like they’re sleeping and all that is a bunch of bullshit. He wasn’t there. There was no one home. His open eyes might as well have been marbles plugged into a mannequin’s head.

Joey started laughing at him, like his death was some knee slapper that Joey came up with himself. Everybody else laughed with him in nervous titters that echoed across the banks of that muddy creek. I’ll say everybody even though I didn’t laugh too, because once I saw that body it was like I wasn’t inside myself anymore. I was no more present than the man was, and he wasn’t home. His marbles for eyes said as much.

“Touch his face.”

Joey glared at Danny with that look he reserved for keeping people in line. He brandished his walking stick.

“Don’t be a pussy. Touch his face.”

I guess the last thing Danny wanted to be thought of as was a pussy, because he did just exactly what Joey told him to do, with his bare hands even. And right when he was going to stand back up, Joey kicked him in the ass, made him fall over on top of the body.

There were titters and belly laughs from the everybody that didn’t include me. The mannequin’s marble eyes were passive.

Joey turned around then as Danny scampered to his feet. He saw I wasn’t laughing.

“Whatsamatter? You bitching out?”

I guess the urge to laugh was just a little late for me, because I did it just then, alone, right in Joey’s face. I don’t know why. He jabbed me hard in the stomach with his walking stick, tip first. I fell to my knees, couldn’t breathe any more than the marble-eyed mannequin could.

Joey rose with the chorus of laughter. He fished around in his pockets for something. Finally found what he was looking for.

He jammed a firecracker into each of the body’s nostrils and pulled out the lighter he stole from his mom, the one she used to light her spoons with.

Trick.

Sparks, but nothing else.

Trick.

A momentary flame, but the wind blew it out.

Trick.

Joey was on the ground and I was on top of him. I don’t know how. My fist came up and I watched it come back down again, collapse Joey’s nose and retract. The everybody that didn’t include me made noise again, but it wasn’t laughter this time. It was quiet and surprised, and it ebbed and flowed in the air all around us. It sounded like this:

“Oh.”

The oh made me get back to my feet and off of Joey. The oh made Joey’s nose start to run with a dark red stream. The oh made Joey run back home and kept the everyone that didn’t include me frozen where they stood. The oh made me remove the firecrackers from the man’s nostrils. The oh made me sit and guard his body until the sirens arrived.

I never saw Joey again. I guess the oh made that happen, too.

The creek came alive after that day, and it’s never died again since.

button