My sister––whom my parents once had picked up in the middle of the night and taken to camp where she could lose weight––backs out of the driveway.
Then there’s an empty driveway.
It’s a three-hour drive to get where we’re going, to get to our cousin, Lucy, who will graduate today from whatever it is someone must graduate to become a paid police dispatcher. The boredom comes quick; It already has me strapped down in my seat with this odd gravity known only to babies and frustrated toddlers. I yawn. And yawn. And my sister says I shouldn’t put my feet on the dash as we pass a German Shepard doing his business against a tree.
It’s all good though.
And funny: our cousin, Lucy, becoming a professional snitch.
I say snitch but really she’ll be a snitch twice removed; she’ll be the one taking the true snitch’s call, telling the true snitch to stay calm, to breath, to describe the burglar or window smasher in detail, as in how tall, and wearing what, and with that colored skin are they headed in what direction down Lemont Avenue.
What’s also funny is the week prior I sent my cousin a text saying it was admirable work she’d be doing and requested that she please give me the five-minute head start the next time those pig cops wanted to come down on me. Lucy never responded.
And it must not be that funny a story because my sister doesn’t laugh when I tell her. She’s a math teacher at a school where kids go after strike three and thinks education and opportunity and dental care all have something to do with how solid you turn out––like she’s stoked for Lucy. Like a 401K is the opposite of chaos or something. Like having a snitch twice removed around on holidays is no, no problem at all–except that it is because I’m such a massive fuck head on holidays and I know my sister knows this. I think it even makes her a little happy.
I laugh and do that knuckle thing against my window.
We haven’t been in a car together in years and I worry my sister thinks I’m back on my bullshit: the lying, the drugs.
“I’m joking,” I say, trying to salvage.
“It’s not funny,” my sister puts in. “It’s not.”
I push the thumbtack in my pocket into my thigh and admire how much better the houses are on this side of town. No bedsheets for window blinds. No Playschool kitchenettes abandoned to the hornets and horseflies. No. Only shiny orange dining rooms. And sprinklers in retrograde. And wonderfully unlocked things.
“Feet off the dash,” my sister says again.
I drop my feet.
“It’s always a treat when players meet,” I say, closing my eyes.
“You’re so weird,” my sister says in the kind of way that’s a compliment.
Then I either fall asleep or say, “I love you too.”
One of those two things, I just can’t tell what came first.
Off the highway is the BMX track. Out there the kids smoke dirt and exhale their futures.
I see a backflip with a tail whip: a magnificently judged piece of dirt biking, proud and balanced. The sun gets in my eyes because it’s the kind of day with no clouds. But it doesn’t bother me. I squint and look far out beyond the bike track, to the derby track; and beyond the derby track, the cranes; and beyond the cranes, the sugar factory; and beyond all that is the hills.
I look over because my sister has started to cry.
I worry again that she thinks I’m back on drugs and I consider telling her the pin prick in my pocket is all I really need now, and she need not worry about me, my past, my future.
We go from the smooth road to something less finished.
We’re both kinda babies, I think.
When we were young and I was around a bunch of my friends, I banished my sister to the deep end because she was fat like a whale and her bathing suit always looked like it hated her. “We sentence you to the deep end,” I said, even though there was no we, only me. A little later I told my parents she had a guy at the mall jailbreak her cellphone and that she was talking to this freaky dude she’d met in a chatroom: Y0ur_KreepyuncleED. And that was rough. Mom, especially, could be rough on stuff like that. Dad was less rough, he owned junk shop and always had to go to the courthouse. And when he wasn’t at the junk shop or the courthouse, he was working on his trains or outfitting the perfect Go Bag for when the Russians or Chinese, or the Russians working in tandem with the Chinese decided to finally drop an EMP over the whole United States.
“It could happen,” he’d say. “It could.”
Our dad knew about Surface-to-Air missiles.
Our mother knew what we told her.
So, I told my mom that my sister had three boyfriends who wanted sex from her.
So, she knew that.
And because of that, she grounded my sister, disallowing her from the spring dance she’d planned on attending with her friend and scene partner from Mr. Mohsen’s theatre class, Tony. My sister pleaded. She said Tony gave her a ride home just that day and she could’ve sucked his dick then, if she’d wanted, but she didn’t. “Great,” said Mom. “Really nice.” Then, of course, Tony showed up with a flower in a plastic container because his parents had already spent the money. And our mom went onto the lawn and told Tony that he seemed nice but had to leave because my sister was having an emotional issue, a common symptom of one her many personality disorders. And inside: my sister slammed her head against the fridge confirming my mother’s diagnosis. My sister jammed her hand in the silverware drawer and shook it around until blood started. “Ima…ima a crazy bitch, huh” she sobbed. “Kooky-crazy-kooky-crazy-kooky-kooky-koo–Please! Mom! Please!” Our mother crossed her arms. Because of my dumb lie. My stupid fib.
And because mothers sometimes do that to their daughters, they put them on the front lines and then pretend they aren’t ready for war.
But that’s how it goes.
That’s how it went.
I’ve been unkind to my sister and it makes me shake a little to think about all that.
Now I ask my sister, “Why are you crying?”
“I have a story about one of my students,” says my sister.
She adjusts in her seat and her body shakes the way a child’s shakes when they really need to tell you about what happened in their dream.
She really needs to tell me.
“Let’s hear it,” I say.
My sister swallows and then begins to tell me a story about a boy named Shu who was bad at the math she tried to teach him but a nice kid with many other talents. She tells me Shu liked drumming on tables. He liked all drumming. “Couldn’t stop,” she says. “He, like, could not focus on anything he didn’t care about.” Shu, she explains, had trouble in most of his classes the previous year, but that all the teachers liked him very much because he was always prompt with the bell and never interrupted class beyond his strange, clicking orations. “Bird calls,” my sister calls them. She continues, explaining the deal that’s cut between the teachers and Shu: that if he can just raise of all his grades to passing, they’ll allow him to play his drums in front of everybody on the last day of school.
And then he got down to the business of getting down to business: Economics, Communications, Western Civ, my sister’s geometry class. For all the classes he was failing, he began attending an afterschool study hall and working one-on-one with a tutor that the district provided for the handful of college-bound students at my sister’s school. It helped. And, while hard to read, Shu’s homework began getting turned in complete, his spelling wrong but his answers half right. His GPA began to improve. And he began giving my sister a high-five every morning after passing through the metal detectors. “We couldn’t believe it,” says my sister. “If I could explain to you how much fun he had playing these drums in the hallway…I mean, come on. Everyone was throwing papers in the air…I had this Nerf-thingy I was shooting at him…it was like watching a rock show.”
“Yeah,” I say, looking out at sawtooth grass growing all tall, all wild.
“That’s awesome,” I say, again pressing the head of the thumbtack through my cotton underwear, feeling its sharp prick against my tender skin. Like a mosquito filling up for the night, I go a little harder than I need to. My leg and groin begin to shimmer with the feathered pleasure of a little-too-much blood lost. I worry for a moment about staining. I look down for a bloom of copper rising up from beneath the denim. No. Nothing. It’s all still below. It’s all right where it should be.
“We were proud,” my sister continues, “but that’s not the story.”
His senior year, Shu came back to school with a girlfriend. A girl he met at a mall, or the lobby of a movie theater, or online–somewhere. My sister can’t remember but remembers it’s one of those places not worth remembering. The girl was a sophomore, but my sister wasn’t her teacher. And beyond that the only thing that was known about the girl, Miah, is that she liked playing with her hair and texting boldly, hands high, hovering above the desk as though she was waiting for her Potatoes Grand Mére. Very quickly it became clear how protective Shu felt over her. Protecting her: he swung at a police officer in the Burger King parking lot for grabbing Miah’s backpack. Protecting her: he challenged a boy to a knife fight for calling Miah an easy piece of ass. Protecting her: he threatened his youngest brother with deportation if he walked in on Miah using the bathroom one more damn time. So, when Miah was issued detention for texting during an English exam, it only made sense for Shu to threaten to kill Vice Principal Joy with his bare hands.
And of course, the school had no choice.
Hands were tied.
“You threaten to kill someone you’re gone,” says my sister. “Gone.”
Black birds drop from the underpass as we drive beneath the bridge.
“For sure,” I say, feeling my tack with my finger.
A sign reads: thirty-nine miles to Kuna.
My sister scoots up in the driver’s seat. “Like if he’d never bumped into this girl his life was actually headed in the right direction, like if would have just kept walking, or not messaged her, or got to the movie theater three minutes later, or earlier, or his grandpa would have moved to Iowa instead of Idaho after the war–well this kid might have actually been something.”
“Luck is crazy that way,” I say.
“Luck!” she says. “Exactly, like I just wish he could’ve started over but with better luck.”
Shu was escorted from the premises, full suspension, and a forbiddance from attending any school affiliated and/or sanctioned events. Which would’ve been fine with Shu. He could’ve gotten a job at the gas station, the pumpkin patch, or stacking lumber at the Home Depot. But no. Miah was still as in school. Miah was there and Shu wasn’t. And that was a problem for Shu, who my sister would see him waiting for Miah every day at bus stop down the street from campus. Shu was always waiting for Miah. Always. Sometimes he’d even sprint the football field, running in circles across the wet grass until the resource officer had to get out and chase him off.
And it was like for a while.
For a time.
Shu getting close but never coming in.
And yes, it could’ve stayed like that.
But Miah got one of her ceramic bowls in the school art show.
And felt proud.
And Shu promised on God he’d find a way to be there, going as far as writing an apology letter to Vice Principal Joy and asking if could attend the event as Miah’s guest.
Vice Principal Joy elected to give the letter to the school resource officer instead.
“Bitch,” I say.
“Totally,” says my sister. “Totally.”
But it was no matter.
Shu had set his mind on something.
And the night of the art show he arrived with a friend’s ID card, wearing sunglass and a baseball cap, a hoodie pulled over the top of everything like the way an extraterrestrial might dress to walk among humans for the very first time. Learning them. Studying their ways.
He was holding the mug that Miah made when the SRO grabbed him.
And, the way my sister tells it, things got rowdy for moment.
Trashcans flipped on end.
Shu saying he’d come back with the boys.
End all the motherfuckers.
“But,” says my sister, crying again, her breathes coming out all short and snorty.
Shu didn’t come back.
It didn’t go like that.
Shu instead rolled over to a friend-of-a-friend’s house, needing to chill on something.
Problem was, no beers left. Bad luck.
No smoke. More bad luck.
Only a guy in a black shirt, some guy someone knew a little bit but not too well, who showed up in a black car and hooked Shu up with something to get that sad look off his face. It was something everyone said was fire, was dope, but most of the other boys there were scared to take; some shit Shu hadn’t done before. But he was down.
He snorted one line of smack and fell back into the sofa.
“They thought—” My sister clears her throat as we pull in. “They thought he was sleeping.”
“God,” I say, pressing hard enough that my eyelids flutter.
My leg throbs the way I normally like it.
But it’s not right.
It sucks now.
Like my technique was off.
“I don’t know,” says my sister. “I just want you to have good life.”
That takes me back for a moment.
“I do,” I say, opening the car door. “And getting better all the time.”
The lot is totally full.
Families gossiping quietly about where they’ll sit and how loud they’ll cheer.
Everything smells like wet cement, like oil, like corn syrup.
“We’re almost late,” says my sister.
But we’re not.
Me and my sister.
We’re here, on time, ready to cheer on that little half-snitch cousin of ours.