The summer Corky wore pooka shells and Amelia’s belly grew fat with fetus, little Tommy, from down the street, stole his parents’ car, drove out to Lake Afton, and, in his last human gesture, made his entire life into a subject of query by leaving his blood on the beach.
There was a note. All it said was I needed a nap.
Don’t we all is what my dad said.
It was also the summer my dad decided he’d be a gardener. Mom got her hands dirty too: peppers, tomatoes, and green onions. Everything tended to with love bears fruit they told me. Then Corky started smoking meth. After a month, the garden fell into disrepair. Mom started painting past what was left of her nails, into the flesh, and the salsa dad had planned to make fresh still came from jars.
I spent a lot of time alone, staring at walls, plugging my ears to the violence of it all—my feelings were too much for me to touch.
The first I learned about it was from my dad. I must’ve been eight. We had one car at the time, an old beater with dents shovel-pounded into the brown. We sat there in the parking lot of the Half-Price Store one night, waiting for mom to get off from work. He small-talked me a bit, but mostly listened to AM radio. Then he started bitching about how it was taking so long. He shoved cigarette after cigarette into his mouth. Somebody on the radio said something nice about Bill Clinton and dad said, “That son of a bitch is evil.” He turned the volume down. Then he told me how badly he wanted death. Hungered for it. How he couldn’t handle being a father. “Just keep the car on and not open the garage. It’s that easy. Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine. Won’t feel a thing.” He had tears in his eyes.
Amelia had her kid in July, had a crib in her room, changing table. She was seventeen. Corky would steal her clothes and wear them to the gay bar. He was fifteen, looked older, had sideburns and charisma and liked drugs just enough to suck the occasional dick when he was short on payment.
Nobody ever really talked to Tommy. He kept to himself. We all thought he was weird. After he killed himself, we acted like he was our best friend. We told stories about him that were wild and made-up. That he robbed a bank one time. Lost his virginity at ten. That he had at least eight boxes of Playboys under his bed. That by the time he was in middle school, he’d made tens-of-thousands of dollars selling drugs to the neighborhood elite. We did this because we were too scared of the truth of his life. We were unable to fathom his tumorous thoughts. We didn’t even know what ailed him, hadn’t developed the vocabulary for it yet. As the weeks went on, everybody seemed to pin it down as just a bad choice and quickly forgot he was ever there at all.
My dad started working more overtime. He would rather work seventy hours a week than have anything to do with being a father. He left most of that responsibility to my mom. When he was home, he’d almost exclusively sleep, and be extremely irritable to anybody who blocked his view of the TV, even if his eyes were closed.
Outside smelled like chlorine and heat. Subdivisions popped up all around us, choking the woods and ponds from view, our memories left in sawdust, trees chopped and bulldozed to make way for new concrete foundations, poured out to build up homes. The homes themselves soon filled with people we despised. I spent a lot of time away from my people, wandering the neighborhood, trying to find the courage to leave my life, get away from it all, find a good street or a better home to graffiti my blood against. It was the first time in my life I understood my dad. Understood Tommy. Understood I wished things were different and never would be again.
Another kid suicided on sleeping pills in August. I knew because his sister had big tits and my brother liked them.
People called him Mouse, but Corky called him Delany, because that’s what his name was, and he knew, by that point, what it felt like to be made to feel meaningless through subtraction—to feel nothing and everything, at the same time—only it was too late to be proper, Mouse was dead.
We still don’t understand each other, Corky and I, don’t even acknowledge that we are both broken, and by the same things. I feel more connected to the dead strangers in my life than the living. Maybe it’s because I want to uncover the mystery that haunts me, the thing that leaves me hollow and reckless with my body, my brain, my soul, and that’s also exactly why I keep it buried: the fear I’ll actually find it. The fear that I’ll suddenly understand that I’m alive and will someday have to face that fact.
What I was really doing was working up to the final act. That summer I couldn’t tell you, I just know I got to a point where I was constantly thinking about my father’s credo: won’t feel a thing. I started cutting my legs and burning my arms to come to some sort of understanding with myself. To give synthesis to what I felt inside. The understanding being this seemed like a good short-term solution.