Checking In

I just braved the first snow of the season in a V6 Astro van, so I am feeling accomplished! Not everyone on the road was making it home okay; there were several clusters of police lights and off-road vehicles decorating M-21. Maybe this means that my mother’s family will be unable to make it for dinner. Seeing as how I don’t feel like looking decent or speaking kindly, the possibility of a Thanksgiving raincheck sounds wonderful. I’m just so tired, and sleep hasn’t been easy or plentiful.

Last weekend our Lebowsky center was sold out to 650 people for Battle of the Bands. Brad had come up from Detroit to visit and Roy’s band was in the lineup, so, I was excited. Unfortunately no one had a drop of talent that I could hear and one band in wetsuits played plastic instruments as a joke. It might have been funny, hadn’t we waited the 20 minutes for setup and takedown.

I made a new friend, who squeezed past our row of knees to sit down and shout “ROY SUCKS” in the midst of a cheering crowd.

“Not everyone likes Roy,” he informed me, pointing at himself.

Brad paid for drinks, which was really considerate. Someone gave me their number and I threw it away in a state of drunkenness, wondering, “Why the fuck is there a napkin in my pocket?”

We took new boy Josh back to his home, where I had a lesson in the masculine knitting that is chainmaille. We talked about Dracula and metal. After spending some time with him, I could tell that his ability to be loud and cocky was a condition. He’s kind of stuck on obnoxious, hyper and occasionally twitching. Eventually the two of us were able to talk in fragments, sounds and horselaughs until we could barely breathe, and everyone else just shook their heads.

Brad brought Em, a black guy who let me call him Blacky. I asked him if he had a sawed off 9 and he said no. I asked if he had a hollow heat seeker and he said no. I asked him if he had a loaded tech… you get the idea. It was his first time in the country, and we all stared at him because he looked so funny, here. He died laughing whenever I tried using slang.

Someone called the police while we were playing PSII, which was interesting. It’s a low rent apartment and the officer had us rounded up in the kitchen, treating us like hoodlums that… a percentage of the guests very well might have been. After all, a number of the people I had talked to that night had said something about probation, and there were plenty of drugs, everywhere.

I kind of stepped in and spoke politely, which caused a drastic change in the officer’s tone. After he gave a strike and took off, I said I was going to bail and head home, where there weren’t restrictions on my noise level.
Josh grabbed my sleeve, looked at me through drunk eyes, and said, “Don’t leave me.” So… moments later, we were all watching Dawn of the Dead on my mattress.

I think Brad tried to hold my hand, so I had to do a funny readjust/scoot thing to get our arms untangled. It was a fun weekend.

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Why.

I have indifferent memories of summer camp. The experiences were so strange to me, because it never seemed like I could hear or understand what anyone was saying. It was never an event I looked forward to; it just kind of happened to me and I had to survive so I could get home. I’d have a bag in my lap, my mom would tell me to get on a bus and that would be that.

Somehow I managed to get through a weekend without ever checking in, anywhere. Counselors showed us to our little cabins, where we made Indian hats. I remember everyone’s eyes on mine, as they copied the designs I was coloring on it. Then…I don’t know what happened, but I never had an activity sheet. Rather than admit I was kind of lost, I just started walking around.

I walked in on whatever activity group I came upon, whether it was basket weaving or a bunch of silly songs, and sat down. One group walked out to a shooting range and I got to fire a gun at balloons (bet I hadn’t been signed up for THAT one). Another ensemble ended up in a field where we paired off and took turns creeping up on each other, yards away, by removing our shoes and walking toe-heel, which I found interesting. The entire time, I marveled at how easy it was to stroll right by the people in charge if you didn’t act lost. When a certain siren rang, I went and got a lunch tray… I went swimming a lot (I bet, more than was allowed), and went back to the cabin when it got dark out.

One of the only times I ever talked to anyone was because I was trying to fall asleep. Having gotten the top bunk, my group left the door open all night (I think all of the kids were visiting each other’s cabins) and a million mosquitoes had collected on the ceiling, just above my head. I asked the girl staying with us if she would help me kill some of them, and I remember her looking very upset… I still went to sleep staring at mosquitoes, and got bit an awful lot.

For the last day, the counselors were supposed to award each camper with a unique certificate that specified some kind of strength or characteristic. My name was called and I accepted a paper that said “Most Paranoid”. It hurt my feelings to be made fun of, and I folded it into quarters and threw it away before my mom could see it.

Another camp was 4-H related, on the campus of Michigan State University. I followed numbers on my wrist and appropriate signs to where I was supposed to be, that time. I think I toured a news station and took some kind of music class. As it got dark, a lot of the people seemed to get together and go somewhere outside, but I didn’t know anyone. Instead, I would be exhausted and elated to have managed the day, and found my way back to the room where I climbed up onto the ledge and looked down on all the people and lights. My clearest memory is being in the dark, against the window.

One more weird set of memories must be from a day camp. Long walks in the woods to bring back water for the fire, and strange nature lessons in a pavilion. We set up a tent… we put stones around a fire pit. Went home at the end of the day, so I could get up early and do it all over again.

I was always half at attention, and half in a daydream. Lost in the woods, lost in my mind, I guess.

Okay. “Indifferent” was a poor word.

I fucking hated every day of that shit.

Draft before bed.

I have a fantastic amount of caffeine at my side and enough surrounding media to delight.

Pumpkin Beast (a name given to Mandi for being an oversexed redhead) and Gay Dan (awarded to him for being a homo) have been taking low blows to each other.

G.D: That dumb bitch is so dumb. She needs to grow up.

P.B: I will give you two thumbs up for your choice of words in that sentence. Makes you sound about as intelligent as, well, maybe an ardvark. I have grown up.

G.D: It just doesn’t take a few run-ins with the law, a weekend in jail and a four-wheeler to put things into perspective. Whatever happened to college, Mandi? Whatever happened to the Army, Mandi? Of course, you found a circle of guys and were too busy trying to screw them into liking you.

P.B: If hanging out with a circle of guys is being a whore then God Autumn must be a whore, too.

Autumn May: I like being called God Autumn.

P.B: I don’t talk about you in my posts, anymore; why do you even fathom typing my name? You are Dan the fucking flaming fag. I have heard about your little dress-up bullshit. You look like shit with your makeup on; some guys look hot wearing eyeliner but you aren’t one of them. A slap on the wrist by going to jail for a weekend, which was like church camp, or to be humiliated and fucked in the ass by four dudes.

And I’m pretty close with my family. I personally don’t have any secrets to hide from mine, do you?

G.D: If your name is mentioned in my journal it’s for the comical value. Plain and simple.

P.B: So help me god, if you mention my name in any of your posts again…

Autumn May: Refresh page! Notify me of replies! Howdy, doody!

Night Shifts for a Recovering Grandma

Nov 7th/10 p.m.

I’m uncomfortable for Dad, as he lumbers back and forth between football games and the hospital building. Downstairs, there’s a dark cubby behind the front desk that’s supposed to be a “business center” with an old computer I’ve been using to check my e-mail. There have been plenty of off looks from well-dressed people as I scoot across the lobby in ankle socks. Three lesbians joked in the elevator, about tying me up and stealing my BBQ chicken wings because they smelled “so good”, but it was obvious they were leading me on.

Once I had stolen all of the coffee and sugar from the maids’ cart and consumed it, Dad decided he wanted to go for a bus ride. Not exactly a circuit, the driver announced, “last stop” and left us standing in downtown Cleveland. Lying, I said I’d miscounted my bills and didn’t have enough cash to take a shuttle back – that we would just have to walk in the beauteous dark.

I had a blast, looking down from overpasses, running around temples and up cathedral stairs, but Dad was being a very poor trooper. He continued to hit things with his fist and curse about “niggers” right in front of black panhandlers.

“Really? I thought I was fisting niggers and cursing things.” He says his legs have never hurt so bad in his life, and that I can’t get it through my head that he is old.

“The beer should have numbed this. It doesn’t work, anymore. I don’t think I even like beer. I’m switching to wine.”
“Great, you’re going from boozer to wino, now.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I don’t know. One wears bibs and the others are hobos?”
“Autumn, it doesn’t matter. You don’t understand alcoholism. Alcoholism doesn’t care who you are. You can be a lawyer, you can be a lottery ticket millionaire, you can be a gas station attendant, you can be the redhead who never grew up.”

Suggesting I be allowed to walk by myself to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tomorrow, he informed me, “Joe Cocker got so bad, he started falling out of his limo and right into ditches and shit! He went on stage once, and while he was singing, puked right over onto the audience. You can pay the 20 bucks to get in, but you won’t read that.”

I wonder how things are at the house.

Last week I caught glimpse of a progress report on the kitchen table, saying Christopher refuses to interact with his “peers” and I thought, “Well, Geeze. He should have graduated by now and he’s still a freshman – what peers does he have?!”

I’m trying to button Christopher’s baby jumper, and I’ve never done buttons, before. I can’t figure it out. Mom is yelling, something is bandaged, and there’s a bowl of hot water. Yelling gets louder, it gets harder to try the buttons, and the water is on me.

I’m running from room to room, because I’m being chased. I see my dad in the kitchen and I run behind his chair. He just sits there. She’s standing up, yelling. He isn’t saying anything to help me. I never try doing that, again. I walked over to her.

The last time I’d confessed anything, I had warned my best friend that my mother was coming home, angry. She’d no doubt reported the incident to her parents, who advised her to keep a distance from the “bad situation”. Our friendship went downhill from the dysfunction – I was too destructive to keep it together, and she preferred God and Grades. Losing someone reinforced more years of secrecy, to a point of ridiculousness.

“I’m sorry for pulling you out of class, but I’m afraid this is serious. Christopher walks my halls like a dead person. Why does your brother look like the saddest boy in the world?”

Very appropriately, I replied with something like, “It’s probably because of our parents. My father is an alcoholic who lives in the trailer beside our house, and my mother is physically and verbally abusive.”

I remember looking up at the clock, seeing black hands. Shit pin-pushed onto bulletin boards and grain patterns in a wooden desk. “You don’t hear me say that, every day. I was so close to never having to be here.”

“I knew something was off when you dropped my class. And I found it miraculous that you spoke like more of an adult than half the people I work with. But you seemed so put together, I let you go,” said the advanced English teacher/guidance counselor. “You need to know that your brother is not making it.”

Sometimes when I relive those things, I just want to die. I see an adorable little boy in family videos and think about the things he went through to become Evil Chris, and eventually, Paranoid/Schizophrenic Chris, and you never get over that. Clear memories of being overwhelmed with trying to see your way to the bathroom because you hit a wrong note and got the piano cover slammed down on your hands… passing Chris on the way, seeing him slapped upside the head because he got so many letters right in his name and then made a mistake

I hear him cry out. I yell, and my objection is overruled with commands to get back on the piano. I kill myself over and over again for never being able to play that back and see me pull my brother away from the table.

Even once you have an understanding that what’s happening is wrong, you’re in agreement with things like “this happens because you fuck up” and “ once this blows over you get anything you want” and “if you say anything, you’re homeless and your family is embarrassingly through”.

You get shoved against the wall and the wind is knocked out of you. You’re shocked because you can’t breathe, you think, “oh my god this is it, you nasty bitch, you finally did it” and you’re tugging at her pant legs, grabbing your chest, trying to signal to her that you can’t breathe and you’re losing life.

She turns back to the dishes and says, “Oh, get up.”

And then you’re excited because you’re going to die and you get to prove you were right. When your air comes back, You Were Wrong.

Pictures on the wall are down because I remember the mornings before the photo shoots. Clothes are being thrown at me, and I don’t want to put anything on. I’m being told that everything looks terrible – that this is my fault. Family videos are placed in the back of the cabinet, because presents gracing the ceiling came at a high price. Mornings before school, a brush is yanked through my hair and I keep getting asked what I do to make it ugly. No one’s hair is as bad as mine. If she were me, she’d be ashamed. Etc.

A sick person who loves you is ready to take your bullet in a heartbeat but doesn’t hesitate to attack you. It’s like having four parents, or two house pets that have been bred with a wild animal. I got pretty good at knowing which one was in the house and how to handle that, but Christopher couldn’t process any reason… I eventually called protective services.

Instead of addressing things, I tried to act like we could carry on and forget about Before Stuff. He started having episodes a few years after she stopped hitting us. One night, he ran to jump on the top bunk and miscalculated – slammed his head against the light on the ceiling, fell down to the ground… ran out and grabbed a giant knife… ran into my mother’s bedroom and collapsed with it tucked under him. I screamed for my parents to wake up, and they found him rocking back and forth in their closet, chanting over and over, “You hit me with a hammer, you hit me with a hammer.”

Dad turned on Chris’ light to find that he had spent the evening writing things on the walls… something that would continue to grow into a collection of rhymes as he began collecting weapons and seeing eyes in the shower.

“They surround the perimeter of our property,” he cautioned me. “They never come into it, but they get as close as they can. Maybe they don’t because you’re here. They’d love to get in.”

The day I wiped down Chris’ walls with an acidic solution (another attempt to get rid of something by hiding it) his best friend drove him into a tree. When I was allowed to see him, they were cutting into his skin in order to remove a bracelet. He yelled from the pain and cried out for the person he wanted… It was “Mommy”. She ran over, grabbed his hand, and never left his side. She demanded the best care, slept in his room, stood over the nurses to make sure they were up to par, and was sitting there every time he woke up without his memory. They have been inseparable for a year, now. He stopped getting angry… stopped breaking furniture. He resolves disputes by hugging his mom.

Even though his dark side is gone, there are still nights I walk outside and Christopher’s ghosts will scare me back in.

Dad and I have been talking about how nice it is, to be away. Now that Chris doesn’t wish her dead, they talk a lot and she hands him drug money. Druggies come over, piss my hermit dad off, then ask me for a ride home. It obviously needs to change, but a lot of things need to change… and until I fix my own problems, I’m not going to point any fingers.

“I had a dream that a girl was introducing me to another girl. She had a weird nose and I yelled, ‘Hey Vern!’ and she didn’t laugh,” said my dad, just now.

***

Midnight.

Called for a shuttle. Checked into airport online. Push the button for hot water if you want oatmeal. Dial local, dial out. Transfer packet, released by wheelchair, 30 minute ride. Computers and carry on. These are things I’ve been learning very fast. Hours before all these times and errands I wrote down, and he’s getting sick in the bathroom.

That sounds like a lot of puke.

I’m so exhausted. Sometimes I wonder if my DNA doesn’t even wrap around, you know? It probably hangs down like fly strips.

The door routinely clicks like someone’s trying their card for our room. Like they would love to get in.