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.
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.