It All Started on the Beach
You got knocked up
On a beach
To escape your home
That was me
Then came me
Then you built me up
You knocked me down
You kept on imploding
Inploding all over those
Who came after me
Like a collapsing star
You took in all light
You sucked in all strength
To a point of oblivion
Feeding on angst
Of vast swirling vortices
Of light and strength
Into pinpoint nothingness
I thought Jorge was asleep, but guess not. Feel like telling him but I don't. I saw them go already. He knows. Jorge sleeps like a log, but not when he's taking a nap. He says he had a bad dream.
Tell him, Aunt Donna is here.
He won't tell me his dream, but I keep on bugging him. He says Mom was little in it. Mom was next to the carrots on his plate. He almost ate her in his dream.
Tell him, Where'd you get THAT from?? What the HECK??
I'm looking and I'm looking at him. Jorge was never scared before. Now he is.
Dad took Mom to the shrink, I tell him.
Isolation Tank Exercising While the Walls of Life Close In
I’m lifting weights in the garage, got the barbell loaded up and I’m bench-pressing. I got my favorite mix-tape in the cassette player, my little ghetto blaster up there on the beat-up workbench, my favorite band blaring out of it as loud as I can get away with out here; gotta drown out the yelling; the Chameleons; and it's even my favorite song of theirs playing on the whole killer tape I made: “Second Skin.”
Uh, oh. Here comes Dad. Not just in here but he's coming over to ME. He’s come THIS WAY. Now he's standing here. Now he's fumbling around, turning off my music. Aw, shit. There it goes. Really?? Why are YOU here?? Why NOW??
Aw, crap. Look at it, he's bracing himself up for something. What could it be? He's got something, the idiot.
I get out from under the bar and I sit up on the bench press right at the leg curl extension, and I look up at him, I guess, sort of; he’s standing right here, so what ELSE am I gonna do?--What is it?--he wants something--look at him fidgeting around--okay, here we go, can you just get to it already??
Hey, uh—he starts out—now that you’re all done with high school, did you ever think about, maybe, going to college?
A shrug of the shoulders and he’s gone. Back in the house with him. Get the hell outta here. What the hell was THAT about?? Hear Mom yelling. Turn this back on, drown her ass out again. It’s Sunday or he'd be at work. Did SHE put him up to that? Why should she SHE care? Since when does HE care? College?? What the--??
It takes me a little bit to get back into my lifting. It's like I just got derailed or whatever. I'm still sitting up on the weight bench. There's a part of me, it just wants to barge in there and ask 'em, What the hell was THAT about??
Yeah. No kidding. The more and more I sit here, the more it hits me: Shit, Dad. You never said shit to me. All these years. Nothing. Not a damn thing. NOW you think you’re gonna start? NOW?? For five whole seconds? Are you that stupid??
Huh. Geez. Son of a bitch.
College?? What's THAT?? How the hell should I know?? What--you want me to sit in a room with 35 other people and not be able to talk all day long for even MORE years? Are you f--king CRAZY? I’ve done my time. I'm DONE with that shit. I don't know what the hell's wrong with me. You guys made me. Now you think you're gonna fix it?? And in a couple of seconds??
Oh, great. That's just great.
I lean back, slip under the bar, mutter "F--k them," and go back to my bench pressing. The song playing on there now is “Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In).” Also by the Chameleons. There’s a chorus line, it goes,
“And now the baby needs to grow,
But the mother is crazy.”
This part of the tape I kinda lose myself in. I get into a zone and just lift. This tape kicks ass. I made it perfect. It’s my best mix I ever made to work out to. Got the bar off the rack, down against my chest, strain, flex, push, up and exhale, and again, and again, and again.
Next up'll be “Isolation” by Joy Division on that sucker.--God, with the yelling; I can hear her in there. Over my music, I can hear her--Shut up. Shut the hell up already.--"Isolation." Awesome song. That one with the chorus that goes:
“Surrendered to self-preservation,
From others who care for themselves.”
When it gets there, I never hear “others.” I always hear “mothers.” In my universe, in the place where I live and hide, where there's the real me under covers, it's mothers. It's always mothers. It's all that matters is what it means there.
My final set, rack the bar, sit up, and listen.
Here it comes. Joy Division.
“Mother, I tried, please believe me,
I’m doing the best that I can,
I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through,
I’m ashamed of the person I am.”
Like you care. Like either of you give two shits.
Uncle Keith, he's my favorite everything. I tell Mom, When I grow up, I’m gonna be just like him. She says, Don't even think about it. Then she tells Dad, Does he have to keep coming over here? He SMELLS.
Dad says, No, he doesn't. C'mon now.
Mom says, Burt, he wreaks. Can't you smell the B.O.?
Dad says, Aww, c'mon.
I don't know B.O. I know it's a smell thing. But I don't know what it is. But who cares?
Uncle Keith does EVERYthing like how I want to do it when I'm a grown up. He drives a sports car with the top all the way down. It can go up or down. Down is way more fun, so thats how he always keeps it. It's a MG. It’s red. It’s dark maroon red, and when he takes me for rides, I sit right next to him, and he has yellowy-brown hair that's long, and the wind makes it go like super-fast waves in the air like a cape behind him, and all over I feel the wind on me, on my face, on my hair, on my mouth, it's the only time I ever felt wind like that, and it's in my hair, and I lift my hand up and down and let the wind keep it up there like it's a sailboat, I don't have to lift it now, it's just the wind blowing that's keeping my hand up, this is amazingness. This is amazingness of life again. This is it.
Sports cars don't have a backseat. Only two people can ride in it. Me and him. Uncle Keith says it's a bachelor car. That's what I'm gonna be when I grow up. We always go to the liquor store. He always gets me something when we're here. They have drinks here you can’t get at a big store. They have red soda and green soda and blue soda, and tons and tons of others, and all kinds of candy you can't find any place else. Liquor stores are way better than big stores. This is the BEST place ever!
Uncle Keith says I can pick out a couple things. I already picked out three. My Big Red soda and these Bottle Caps and these round things that say NECCO. He says "couple" means two. I say to him, I thought it was the same for when you say "few." I thought couple meant more than one, but when you don't know exactly, so you just say couple or you just say few. I made him smile and he gets it, that's what I like about Uncle Keith, he always gets it. He says again when he calls me Buddy, couple means two, and I can tell in his voice that he knows it, he knows for sure it's two, so I just learned a new word that I didn't have right. Now I know. He's my greatest teacher. But he lets me get all three still.
Okay, just this time, he says. And he smiles like he's my brother. That's how it feels like. Like he's my older brother I never had.
I put my few, not my couple, up on the table so the man can do the money on them. The store man says what a nice uncle I have to get me all this stuff. Uncle Keith says, Heyyyy, as long it doesn’t go over a couple of bucks.
But then the DING happens when the guy does his buttons and I can see, it goes over. That's more than a couple. The store man looks at Uncle Keith, and that's a grown-up look, but Uncle Keith says, Heyyyy, man, it's only money. Then he's my brother looking at me and it's funny. It's funny 'cause he was way off on the money, it was more than just two bucks.
Then we go back to his MG car and I get in with him, then there's the VrrRROOOOM and it's more and more wind in my face, I love it, it's all over my hair again till I can’t control how it goes and it's fun, everything's fun, fun is everywhere right here now, and it gets funner everytime Uncle Keith grabs the stickball thing sticking up, he pushes it forward, then he goes back, then he does it this way and up, then he goes back down with it, and everytime there's another vrooom when he pushes it, everytime we go faster, everytime we get more wind again, till I have to close my eyes, it gets too good in here with all this wind.
When we get back home, Uncle Keith says if Dad got 'er done.
I say, Dad, Dad, what a great ride we had. Me and Uncle Keith. We had a GREAT ride.
Dad says, Ha, looks like everybody went riding today.
Then they do a great big laugh together. And I'm just like them. I can do grown-up stuff too.
I love it when Uncle Keith comes over, and if he sticks around, he and Dad talk about grown-up stuff in the front yard. Uncle Keith is Dad’s little brother. He looks the same as Dad, but his hair is not as brown and it's long, and his nose isn't big like Dad's.
He says, Heyyyyy, man!
He says, Farrrrrr out!
He says, Riiiight on!
Uncle Keith makes records. Mom says he's a bum. He doesn't want to work. He just wants to figure the easy way out. Uncle Keith cleans carpets of people’s houses. He also has a van. His van I LOVE riding in. He puts stickers on his van that are magnets that he takes on and off. It depends if he's at work doing carpets. The magnet stickers say the name of his company for doing carpets, and every magnet sticker has a different number. Mom says he's trying to trick people, he makes people believe he's got a bunch of vans, but really it's just him and his one van he has. But I just think that's smart.
When he doesn't come over, sometimes he's making records. Uncle Keith wants to do a hit song on the radio. I gave him all my song ideas. I wrote them all down and made a list. I stayed up all night and did it and he liked two of my ideas. He liked my song called “Boogie-itis.” And he liked my song called "The Brightest Star in the Universe." I told him, the "Boogie-itis" one is just perfect, because they already have a song on the radio called “Boogie Fever.” So they might as well have one called “Boogie-itis" then, because "itis" also means sick, just like "fever," plus they both have the word "Boogie" in front of it.
He said, Riiiight on, Buddy.
He said he liked where I was going.
Uncle Keith and Dad talk about when they were kids. They do that out by the gutter. When they were kids, their dad would take them fishing. That means Grampa, my Grampa that is dead. So that's what they can talk about a lot is places they used to go for fishing, and all the fun they used to have. One time when Uncle Keith came, they were talking grown-up stuff out by the gutter, and there was a mud puddle of water in the gutter from Dad washing the car before, and me and Dad and Uncle Keith were standing, and Uncle Keith got down low when he sees the puddle all of a sudden, and he makes a fishing pole sign with his hands, and looks up to Dad, and flicks his hand and he goes, Zzzzzzzzzzz! That's the fishing sound, like he was casting his pole out there. Like he was gonna catch a fish right there in that little mud puddle. Dad got it, so he laughed. I also got that he was pretending, so I laughed. I can do just like them. I know what they're saying.
I just want to go fishing with Dad and Uncle Keith. You don’t have to be a grown up. You just have to know how to cast. That's what I remind them. They say that they will.
I say, Farrrr out!
But Uncle Keith and Dad just go back to talking grown-up stuff. No more fishing. Just boring. But I watch them and I stay right here, because it's Uncle Keith.
When I grow up, I want to be just like him.
Sometimes if I tell him, he gets it and he likes it. He goes, Riiiiiiight on.
Surfacing Signs of Success Must Be Smothered and Stamped Out Speedily
I like Mrs. Butke's Spanish class, and I am surprised. It's my only class I've liked in high school so far. I like this learning-a-new-language stuff. It’s kind of cool, I don’t know. It’s like a secret code or whatever, and only you and a few others can decode it. But only if they also know that secret code. Screw everybody else who doesn't know it. This is kind of cool.
There’s a girl in my Spanish class. She’s a 10th grader. She has dark brown everything. I love dark brown. She said I have a nice butt. Can’t believe a sophomore girl would say that. I’m sitting here at the dining room table doing my Spanish homework for tomorrow. Maybe I'll raise my hand tomorrow. I might. I could. That’s how come I’m actually doing it. I actually LIKE doing it—it's WEIRD. And I’m THINKING about liking it, too. Like, I'm thinking about liking it even more maybe, I don’t know. Practicing my pronunciation. I can’t do the two r’s right yet. The "doble-ere." I can’t do it. I can do it once in awhile, but not always. My tongue screws up. My tongue muscles won't go that way yet. But I can do the one r that sounds like a d. Then there’s the b sound that sounds like a v, but only a little bit like a v. And there's the j that’s silent. And the h, I don't know what the heck it does, really.
I kind of like this. I don't know.
Mom wants to know, what am I doing?
Tell her it’s my homework, it’s for Spanish I.
She says, Aw, c’mon.
She says, why do I want to learn that BEANER language for?
Feel my mind just go off the tracks. I’m a train that just went off a bridge and off the tracks and the thing I thought I had in my brain, it died. It’s nothing.
Why’m I staring at this?
I could be out playing basketball.
My toads are all around me. All over me is amazingness. They love me. I am their friend! They are hopping all around on the dirt part. I am on the cement part in the middle. They make a circle all around me. We are playing. They love to play in the hose with me. It’s my greatest day that they would come. Toads are playing, toads are playing with me! So happy, they want me to keep on going! I also want this. I want it to never end! It could go forever and just be heaven with me and toads and the hose. I make a waterfall for them. Toads are all my friends. I love them all around me. They hop and go hop and hop. They want me more, and they also want water, and they like me, we are friends.
I gave them names from last time. One has pink cheeks, so that’s why he is Pinky. I love him, he’s my friend. The hose goes up, then down like this, then it goes splash on the dirt.
Toads don’t bite, they are our friends. They are not scared. They like us. They like me. Everyone is happy. Everybody's hopping, even me with mud going on my legs, hopping in a circle I am in. The water goes BLAP BLAP BLAP and it’s heaven with all my toads, till I made a mud puddle right there again. BLAP BLAP BLAP, there’s a mud puddle for you guys, BLAP BLAP BLAP, and one for you, and one for you, I keep going and going and going for all my toadfriends that I love.
--Oh, Oh, my foot did not do ground, it just did a soft. It just did squish.
I did it. I did it. I did it! It’s Pinky! Oh, no. Oh, no! His guts are out of him. His tongue is sticking. He’s not doing his tongue back in. Oh no! His eyes mean he is dead!
Drop the hose and run and run.
Mommy! Mommy! I did something bad! I did a bad thing!
In the house with mud all over.
Mommy! I did something bad! Mommy!
Mommy says, What happened? and she’s scared.
What happened? Honey, what HAPPENED?!?
I killed Pinky!! I stepped on him! I killed him!! I’m in trouble with God, Mommy!
Mommy gives hugs for I don’t know. I killed my friend, I don’t know why she does it. God made him and I killed him.
Mommy smiles, It’s okay. God knows it was a accident.
Mommy is happy now. Not scared. She tells about toads and God. Toads are good. God loves them. But he loves people even more. God will forgive me. It’s just a toad. They can’t know anything. Not like people.
I didn’t know before about toads how they are different.
Mommy says God’s not mad at me. I’m still good. It was just a accident and a dumb silly toad, that’s all.
I don’t know why it makes me not cry, except for toads are different.
She says, Go out and play some more, but remember, those’re just toads, you silly.
Okay. Okay. I will. Just a couple more cries and it's over. Think I'm okay.
Pinky’s friends are here all over. Mommy’s right. They don’t know. They don’t even know I did this.
Thank you, God. I am sorry. Sorry I killed your Pinky. Your Pinky that you made. Pinky was my friend and I am sad at what I did. But thank you God for making him. Thank you for not hating me, even when Pinky’s guts are out and I did it. Promise I will be more careful. When I walk with all you toads, I promise. I have to go bury Pinky now. I love you. I am sorry that I’m so big.
I did it. I did it! It WORKED!!
It’s been weeks but I never forgot, not for one second. I was just giving it lots of time. I made MOSQUITOES! Daddy's big, giant coffee-table book was right!
I filled up Daddy’s cement mixer barrel back here, back behind the garage. I filled it up with the hose.
My first-ever EXPERIMENT.
I just left it all alone back here. I didn't even have to CHECK on it. The water was just sitting here. Nobody comes back here but me.
Look at 'em. They’re HERE. Wriggly-wiggle things like worms in the water. Like worms that're mad. Look at how they swim. They twitch back and forth all over, all over in the water. I did it. I made mosquitos. I PROVED it!
Look at THOSE ones. They don’t move. They just have a shell, but they still have a tail. But BANG if I do this on the side, BANG if I do it again--they still move when I do that. Those are pupas. They are older. Not the larvaes. They are younger. Larvaes wiggle way, way more. Pupas are almost grown-ups. After that, I know, they come out of the water and fly. The kids ones are the larvaes.
I got here just in time. Most of them are larvaes still. They all hold their breath underwater, but they gotta come up to breathe air through their buppies, that’s when they gotta come up sometimes. They stick their buppy tube into the air when they get all the way up on the surface. Then they just float. That's the pokey thing that’s their breathing tube. It’s like my snorkel when I go swimming at Grampa’s.
Can’t believe I did it. I made mosquitos. They came from out of nowhere. Just by leaving it filled up.
I watch and watch them forever because I made this. I bend down and pick up little, tiny rocks. They squiggle away from my rocks when I drop them. There’s A GAZILLION of them now!
Run inside and tell Mommy. She will see. She'll see what a smart thing I did.
But Mommy says if am I crazy, what do I think I am doing, I can't do that. She says wait for Daddy to get home, he can dump it out.
No. Mommy. Here’s what it is. There’s amazingness of life that’s important.
Mommy just says they bite.
Mosquitoes bite. I already know. That’s not what I was seeing. I was seeing if they would come and they did. There’s amazingness of life. Amazingness of life.
I thought Mommy would like it. She says Daddy will dump it, don't worry.
Grownups don’t even care and that’s all. That’s how come I’m sad right now. They don’t even care about life in nature. They never like good stuff that's fun.
The Baby Bird is Innocent
I have a torn up brain right now. Sometimes she's right. Sometimes she's crazy. Dad took her to see the shrink. Mom says the guy's an ass, what does he know?, he doesn't understand anything, she is never going back there.
The Scott kid down the street, him and his dad found a baby bird. They are helping it. Me and Jorge were looking at it. Mom found out.
Don't you DARE go near that thing! That thing could have ALL KINDS OF DISEASES! Birds have DIS-EASE! That kid's dad is an ass. What an ass he is. Don't you two DARE go down there anymore, you hear her?!
Dad's an ass for ever CONSIDERING that man to be a doctor. What was Dad thinking? Seriously. She means seriously.
Dad says he's innocent. He says he's innocent, man. Mom still keeps on going. Dad says he's innocence drifting. He's just innocence drifting, man.
Mom says what did he just say?
Dad says, What?
Burt, what did you just say?
He just looks around.
Innocence DRIFTING?? Only an ASS would say that, you know that?
Dad's eyes just sit there. My eyes just sit there. Jorge's eyes, too.
Then she does the snort laugh, then again. And again and again. It means it's okay. Now she keeps on going, now she keeps on saying it. Dad goes and stands and smiles with her because he likes it, we all do, we like it when she's like this. You gotta soak it up, before it goes away.
Way to go, Dad. Now's a good time.
We ask if we can go see the bird.
Uh-uh. No way! Not a chance, you guys! Don't you guys get it? They're gonna get SICK down there, touching that thing! Let THEM get sick. Not you guys.
Dad goes out the door.
We promise we'll wash our hands. We won't even touch it. We won't even look at it.
No way. Uh-uh.
The baby bird is innocent. He didn't DO anything!
You don have to do anything to get a disease. Don't you guys KNOW that??
We say what disease??
Oh, come on. Come on, you two, let's go eat. What've you guys had for lunch? Are you guys hungry?
Now I'm all torn of a different thing. Does she even care about lunch, is it about us kids, or is it just about the bird still? Is she just trying to trick us?
Even then, we were hungry, we just go have lunch now. Hurry, while she's nice still.
Spring is different here in Indiana. It took forever. There was still snow on the ground every time I looked. Finally it’s all gone. I didn’t even see it melt.
Even the people are different. They talk different. They say their A's weird. It has a twang when they do it. They don't say "glasses." They say, "glayisses." The first day it snowed, the LuAnne lady across the street came over. She knocked on the door. Bonnie and Curt were gone. Dad was gone. Mom was upstairs. I got the door. She had a weird look on her face.
She said, Look!
It was snowing. First time I ever saw it. She wanted to be first. First one to tell me, because she found out I was from California.
If it sticks, you and your brother can make a snow mayin.
I didn’t know what kind of face to give her. My friend Steve said she was mean. So I just stood there. She just kept looking goofy at me. Till finally I closed the door. That’s when I was excited. Then it was okay to show my being happy, because the LuAnne lady wasn’t watching me for my face now.
Then later when I went door to door, trying to sell raffle tickets for Pleasant Lake school where I started, I knocked on some old people’s house. It was two doors up and across the street from Aunt Bonnie's. The man answered the door and ge was really, super old. He invited me in before I could think of something. I didn’t wanna be mean. There was a woman there now. They moved like air was fighting against them. They wouldn’t let me go. They said for me to sit in a chair. They kept asking me questions I couldn't understand. They were sitting in the opposite chairs. It was in their living room. Every time I said something back, they said, What? Then they wanted to know what I was doing by pointing at me, not by talking now. They kind of just made sounds after that. I tried to tell them a different way. Then they said, What? Till I made something up why I had to go. I got out of there FAST. I quit trying to sell them that day. Who cares about raffle tickets?Aunt Bonnie said those were the Strocks. They were here since some early number year. Nobody warned me.
The bugs are different here, too, but in a good way. Everything is different. Even the weeds are different. There’s big, tall milkweeds in Bonnie’s backyard that I only read about in books before. I remember because monarch butterflies eat those. Then I found some. Monarch caterpillars. Right on there. Just like the book said. There’s none of that in California. And giant orb weaver spiders, big and black and gold all over, bigger than I thought those would be, and their webs are perfect in design, way more perfect than California spiders. The house behind Bonnie and Curt’s has a long, long backyard. It’s the size of a football field. The backyards don’t have fences. You can just go in people’s backyards, nobody even cares. Unless you leave footprints if it's snowing. Once it was spring finally, I found these bugs on these gold-colored flowers. They’re called goldenrod flowers. I looked them up in Dad’s encyclopedias. The bugs on them are called ambush bugs. They’re like tiny praying mantises in the front, but their thorax and their abdomen is shaped like a tiny tank. I spent so much time watching them. The ambush bugs capture their prey like praying mantises, with their arms. But instead of chewing the other bug up, they poke it with their stinger on their mouth. It’s called a proboscis.
The bugs are neat, but the people are weird here.
But most especially, the worms here are incredible. They don’t have worms like this in California. These are called nightcrawlers. They crawl around at night, too. After it rains. They’re EVERYWHERE, and bigger and fatter than any California worms. But the biggest, most surprising thing is, they’re also smart. They can hear you coming. When you’re trying to catch them, they duck back in the ground, right before get there. We go out at night, me and Jorge, after it’s done raining. With Uncle Curt’s flashlight and Dad's flashlight and some buckets with some dirt in it. They’re every, every, everywhere. But you gotta be quick, and you gotta be sneaky. If they hear you, they’ll take off back in their hole. And then, even if you grab it, it’ll just break in half, unless you give up doing tug of war with it. They have tiny bristles that let them grip their holes so you can't pull them out. It’s why we walk on tiptoes. Then we can grab them before they go back in their hole.
Dad and Curt are taking us fishing. Indiana has LOTS of lakes. We can't wait for tomorrow. We always catch stuff. All the fish look different here.
Friday night is for catching our worms, then tomorrow we go. The fish LOVE these. First we start in Bonnie’s backyard, then we go all around. First at the house behind us, then over at Steve Wahl’s. He’s my friend nextdoor. He goes with us sometimes. But he can’t go tomorrow.
I go wherever I see worms, shining around my flashlight on the wet ground in the dark. My bucket makes a tubby sound, back and forth. I hear Jorge. His bucket also sounds tubby. These buckets have metal handles when you walk.
I see Jorge’s flashlight now. He went that way. I am getting worm after worm over here. Here's a GREAT spot. It's a TON of them!
There's a noise and I look up. I’m at that one lady’s house, the one nextdoor to Steve’s. Steve said, Never go there. She's mean. I lost track of where I was.
She is sticking her head out. She has brown hair that’s in curlers. She is in a white night dress. She wants to know. What am I doing. It’s in the dark, I should run.
She said, What’re you doing?!
Sounded like a witch said it.
I don’t know what to say. My brain won’t tell my legs to go. These’re for tomorrow, I don’t wanna drop my nightcrawlers.
My unshaky voice left me. All I have is my shaky voice. She is gonna kill me, but I tell her I’m looking for worms. We are going fishing tomorrow.
Oh, okay, she just said. And then that was it. She just closes her window.
Just like that.
That’s when it hit me. It’s like magic. The people here. You can get out of any kind of trouble, just tell them you’re going fishing if it's spring, or if it's winter, tell them it’s your first time you ever saw snow.
For the longest time, I thought "rapport" was "repoire," until I finally looked it up.