February 21, 2009

each night before i go to bed, i imagine my house burning down.

After I found the e-mail, I made myself a tuna fish sandwich, peeled an orange and swiped the last Yoo-hoo from the fridge. My entire sixth grade year, I had a tuna fish sandwich, an orange, and a Yoo-hoo for a snack every single day. I took everything upstairs to my room and sat on top of my still unmade bed. It was 4:22 in the afternoon. I drank the Yoo-hoo first, then ate the orange, then finished off the sandwich. Then I cried.
I hadn’t thought of my mother as a human being with actual feelings for a long time. That was the most emotional part about the e-mail. I had been looking in a desk drawer in my parents’ study for a stapler, the one office tool I could never seem to keep my hands on. In the drawer had been a manila envelope half buried under a mess of crayon boxes, pencil shavings, loose rubber bands and erasers, courtesy, no doubt, of my six-year-old twin brothers.
There was nothing to attract me to the folder except sheer nosiness. I’ve often been accused of being too curious, of sticking my nose where noses aren’t generally welcome, and I’ve yet to offer a valid defense.
I opened the folder. Inside was what looked to be a single sheet of standard 8½-by-11 printer paper.
It turned out to be anything but standard.
On the paper was printed an e-mail. The sender: my mother. The recipient: her best girlfriend, a lady named Diane Sinclair who used to pick me up from kindergarten and affectionately dubbed me “Charlie.”
I’m going to drive off the overpass on my way to work tomorrow. I’m sick of this life.
It was always a challenge living with my mother. The oldest memory I can recall is that of me, as a small child, perhaps four or five years old, shrinking back into a corner, arms crossed protectively over my face, my mother hovering over me, hand raised high in the air. Since that time, our relationship has been tumultuous, to state it mildly.
Part of it must have been how well I got along with my dad. Look up the definition of “daddy’s girl” in the dictionary and you’ll find my picture. I don’t know if my father and I shared the same interests because I innately enjoyed the same types of activities as he did or because he spent so much time cultivating a love for them in me. The most obvious and important hobby we shared was playing the guitar. He started playing in his teenage years, which he spent as a typical ‘60s flower child, long-haired, perpetually high, absurdly musically talented. Somewhere along the line my dad became more serious about starting a family and having a career, so he packed away his pipe, traded his frizzy ponytail for a short, smart cut and began working in the insurance industry.
He got trapped. That’s the only way I can figure he ended up with my strict, stiff, overbearing mother.
He doesn’t love me anymore. If he ever did in the first place.
My mother met my father when she became a secretary at his insurance office. Much to her continuing embarrassment, the first time her new boss, my handsome, debonair father, thoroughly enjoying his new role as corporate drone, laid eyes on her, she had a stomach-turning outbreak of herpes simplex 1 covering her entire upper lip.
I always thought that my dad should have taken this as an ill omen, but instead my parents began dating. It had to have been a case of the old expression “opposites attract.” Their upbringings were wildly different. While my father had been a free-spirited nomad of sorts, my mother had been extremely sheltered and finely groomed to be an upstanding young member of society. Something that could be relevant: in those days, my mother was insanely beautiful.
An attractive man and an attractive woman can’t stay chaste for long, even in the case of my prudish mother, so after a very short time and a questionable level of fun, my parents found themselves grappling with a life-altering dilemma: to keep or not keep what would, in nine months, turn out to be me, their first of four children together.
Because I have never discussed this particular circumstance with my parents (what I know about it comes from my dad’s sister, Aunt Rosie), I’m left to decipher reasons for this decision myself. At the time, neither parent was particularly religious, nor did they, as far as I know, have any other opposition to abortion in and of itself. And at this point, I’m certain they were not in love. So what made them decide to not only keep the baby my mother was carrying, but also resort to a shotgun wedding?
My kids despise me. I’m not even sure if I like them. I’m a horrible mother.
I had read the e-mail through once before folding it up, sticking it in the back pocket of my Levi’s and retreating to the kitchen. The house was empty.
After eating the sandwich, my room smelled like tuna. This, I understood, was partly why my mother did not allow me or my siblings to eat in our rooms, but I didn’t care. I should have been deterred by the infamous (and disgusting) ant infiltration of 1988 that occurred in my sister Nicole’s room, a result of stashed-under-the-bed Ding-Dong wrappers, but I wasn’t. Eating alone in my bedroom was infinitely more pleasant than spending five minutes downstairs witnessing the awkward interactions between my mother and father.
He has no sex drive anymore. Hasn’t for years…
When my tears were reduced to mere sniffles, I took the e-mail from my pocket and read it again, then again, then once more. The woman describing unhappiness so potent that it made her want to end her life seemed so relatable, so pathetic. Yet this was the same person who frowned when I would get home from school, tell me, “You could at least brush your hair once in a while, for God’s sake,” then order me to scrub the floor in the master bathroom before I could have my snack. Though I didn’t particularly like her, she was still my mother. What would I do if she really did drive off the overpass? How could I forgive myself for not caring that she was so miserable?
I don’t want Christy to be like me when she grows up.
I heard the door open and the tinkle of my mothers’ house keys. Her keys have a distinctive sound that reminds me as much of my childhood as my baby blanket or
Mr. Tickles, the stuffed teddy bear given to me by my now-deceased grandfather on my second birthday.
She came up the stairs, then into my room. I could have hidden the e-mail, but instead I sat stark on my bed, eyes ready to overflow, and held it out to her, imploring her of something I couldn’t name.
Her face changed. Rather than asking me where I’d found the e-mail or launching into a harangue about minding my own business, she crumbled onto my bed and hid her face in my comforter. Her shoulders heaved. At first I thought she was crying, but after a minute, her hands turned into clenched fists and she began beating my bed with, it seemed, everything she had.
I’m sick of this life.

The gangliness of his limbs on anyone else might look ridiculous. On him, they seem to fit. His height is overshadowed by fiery hair that has a reputation for having a mind of its own. He looks like he’s never seen the sun in his life; if he ever did, it’s possible that his skin could burst into flames. The almost transparent blue of his eyes are bordered by equally transparent eyelashes.

Whenever he’s sitting down, he crosses one leg daintily over the other, an effeminate gesture that never ceases to embarrass me when he does it in public. He seems to disregard his lack of height when dressing so that the end result resembles a teenage would-be gangster — too-long denim shorts grazing the tops of his high black socks leading down to blindingly white tennis shoes, now two years old and frequently worn, but still as spotless as the day he brought them home from Costco. His laughter always sounded surprised, like he forgot his body could produce such a joyous expression.
In the summer, we would go boating on the lake. The boardshorts he wore were always a size too small, highlighting a small roll circling his midsection that otherwise wouldn’t be present. He had dark hair that, as a child, I would describe to friends as black, to which he would defensively assert, “It’s dark brown.”

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