When we showed up at her house (where she lives with her mother and grandparents) Brad yelled up through a vent in their kitchen for her to come down. I just kept staring up at the ancient metal, clogged with massive clumps of animal fur and dirt. If you peered hard enough you could see through to the second floor.
There was some uncomfortable conversation with strangers that Brad insists shouldn't be strangers to me, anymore. The grandfather sits in his wheelchair, a victim of being bedridden in a hospital so long that he'll never walk, again. His days are spent playing an offline gambling game. He'll take you into his room and show you how clever he is, having put a heavy magnet onto the key that pulls the slot machine's lever. He doesn't even have to be there, to gamble. He can go and do other things, whatever those are, and come back to see how much he has won or lost.
They gave us their old kitchen table, one of the last things we replaced after moving in together. The grandmother said that it had provided many years of service because it was "good, solid wood". It was beautiful to her, chunky iron base and all. When Brad went to adjust the height he turned it over and found old pieces of pizza boxes wedged here and there to level it out and several monster-sized spiders came crawling out from the valleys. What stood out most of all was the cream-colored underside – it was commercial sawdust. It wasn't even real wood.
No matter how many times I went to wipe off the table, it left a grey layer on my sponge. I was secretly so elated, the day we rolled it upside the dumpster.
So I was looking around, trying to avoid conversation with the grandfather, but he was gesturing to some kind of bottled acid on the stove. His new kitchen table, a formerly-decent buy at a garage sale, had most of its smooth finish taken off….
Why in the fuck did you do that?
"Oh, yeah! That's interesting" I think I said. I kept looking down at Gigi, begging her not to lick up any of the various crumbs on the curling tile floor. An eternity later, we were out the door.
During the first few minutes of the car ride it was immediately clear that one of us had neglected to put on deodorant. and I just sighed… because it was so stereotypical. Such a fitting prelude. Normally I don't look at her and see the record-setting buck teeth or decide if her skin is just dirty or tanned, but the big picture can get overwhelming.
Our weekend started around the television, watching her play a video game intended for five year olds. She's twelve. After so long of watching the plot to a Disney movie play out she moved onto the Sims game to play with her pet dog. They went for a long walk together and she made little dipshit comments the entire time.
Like how she has really sensitive ears like a dog. Like how she used to walk the mongrel residing at her grandparents', before it got old, crippled, blind and generally in need of being put down. And how she couldn't go swimming while she was down here.
No shit. There was a tornado warning for our county and rain continues to pummel outside. I'm pretty sure the pool's closed.
"That's not why I can't go swimming, " she insisted, forcing unwanted information onto us. As though the sight of my feminine products strewn about the bathroom, used and strawberry-side-up, wasn't a big enough tip-off.
When we couldn't take it anymore we suggested the Wii or Xbox. She played Zelda up until they gave her a horse to ride and then refused to save any more data because she wouldn't be able to ride it, anymore. She'd do that sequence over and over and over and over again. She called the animal by its name and would talk about it, showing whichever one of us walked through the room something like, "Let me show you where Horseface's stall is."
Stable. Whatever the fuck a horse stays in. Jesus Christ, I don't care.
Strangely enough, when she isn't saying moronic things she's reacting in a very bitchy way.
"Hey! Do you like root beer floats?"
"No. Not really. Why?"
Oh, um, random question.
I get up to help her with a computer game and she explains, "Well it's okay, I was just going to play Wii" when she knows goddamn well that I just paused the occupied television for her.
"Hey! If you could get anything from McDonalds, what would you get?"
"What I always get." *pause*
When sleeping or just lying down, she sucks on some of her fingers and clings to a blanket that looks like it was dragged through a sewer. Whenever I make my way to the bathroom I look down at her suitcase beside the couch – small, cheap plastic parts with an image of Cinderella on it. Possibly as old as the first movie release, and she is well aware of how lame it is; I remember her holding it backwards, when we first came down the stairs at her house. Cartoon-less version.
Jesus Christ, you need a real luggage bag. You need dental insurance. You need money.
She jumped onto the computer and loaded toontown.com. Again, a five-year-old thing. Lots of boingy spring sounds and bold, bright colors after several painful minutes of having to load Internet Explorer and allowing scripts that I knew would haunt me.
Eventually I realized that we were sort of hiding from her, hiding from the doom. The reality. Her mother can't or won't get a better job and lives off the grandparents, signing every kids' birthday card with "sorry I can't put any money in this year." Brad was supposed to be the last one – there was already a pretty big gap between him and his older sister. But with every new man Brad's mom meets, there's a fresh baby to neglect.
The mother continually visits some guy who went to prison for illegal computer trading and charges of child pornography. She brings her daughter along on the visits (several hours from home and requiring most of the mother's drugstore-clerk paycheck) and they wait together, hoping his release will come soon. Carl this and Carl that, this little girl talks about the man like he's a father figure and you just want to grab her and tell her the truth.
I've never seen him but Brad's little cousin Nick said once, "His hair is thin and colored like rust. It really looked like rust." Yup. Loser hair.
"Who wants to talk to Carl? He's on the phone" her mom announced last Christmas, at the family party. Like they'd all line up in the kitchen, waiting for their turn to chit-chat to some strange, redneck fuck.
"So, Carl. Was the kiddie porn on the computers you were trading, or…" No one really knows the details. The mother probably doesn't even know half – what little shard she understood in court, she keeps to herself.
"Oh, he was set up."
Yeah. I hate it when my enemies sneak underage sexual acts onto my hard drive and then send agents to break down my door.
I asked Brad's little sister if she'd like some music. She requested Corbin Bleu, Aly & Aj and the Jonas Brothers. I found whatever shitty thing she wanted because she's lucky to get one album a year and had already picked out High School Musical 1. I now gag upon exposure to the Disney mania network and/or its featured artists/actors.
I sat through the Princess Diaries. Sequel.
Crowns, jewels, children dancing, animal fur and dirt.
The next day, she finally decides to play further into Zelda and seems to have given up on the toon town thing. She becomes a wolf and starts to kill dragons, instead. A definite step up but the last of my feminine napkins have been used and it's time for her to go.
I wonder if there's really any hope.