an homage of defeat, a reflection of disgust...
We walked carefully up the front porch steps so as not to wake the still, sleeping neighbors. Not that it mattered since the radio in our parents’ car more than likely woke them up as we sped past their houses. The walls encircling our KB home cul-de-sac didn't help, trapping the music coming from the car, echoing back and forth between walls of neighboring houses. We laughed at the thought as the mist sets in around us, fusing with the cigarette smoke. The thickness of it pressured us inside our home. The night grew into the morning as our time was spent reuniting with old friends and there were only a few hours left until we needed to be at the airport. Pancakes were the solution. There could be no better way to pass the time than with some food. And yet, joyous moments never last long with her. Naturally this sweet moment between us turns bitter through drunken exchanges of words and we turn against each other as always. Who knew a discrepancy on what movie we would watch would turn violent.
“Forget it just shut up!” I don't know who said it first. I leave the kitchen in order to find some clean air. As I walk through the living room I kick the tv plug from its socket out of spite. I leave upstairs to my old room which was used as storage after moving away and is being turned into a study.
It was dusty in the room. No one had cleaned the place in weeks, there hadn't been a soul around to do it. Our parents had left on vacation earlier that month. It was their twenty fifth anniversary and they had decided to visit Rome. We had left in a hurry and forgotten to finish cleaning once we came back. Some boxes were stacked crookedly in one corner opposite a bent broom which covered a small pile of debris, lying lazily next to a dust pan whose handle had broken off. Light from the small window stretched down on to a spot under the battered sofa chair between them, revealing a picture of Dad and I that had been misplaced. A door slams and I hear footsteps climbing up the stairwell. Each step cautiously grows louder, deeper, then suddenly, it stops. There is a succession of light knocks followed by the door creaking into a more open state and then my mind begins to wonder, what is she doing still wearing those heels?
“Brother?” She speaks softly, cautiously, almost in a whisper, she must not know I'm here.
“Yo! over here.” she turns around to the back corner where she sees me behind old furniture.
“Are you smoking?” How could she ask me that? In our parents’ house of all places?
“No” I said.
“You want to? “she said.
I hesitate for a second.
“Yeah I'm down” I hand her my lighter and open a window. I can see in her eyes that something is wrong. She sits down opposite me on a leather recliner. I move my stool over to her until her perfume becomes overwhelmingly sweet. She is still and quiet for a second like a marble statue. Light reflecting off her engagement ring bounces into her eyes triggering a response.
“The TV went out I’m getting bored.”
“Well hang out with me then”
It's nice spending time with her, many moments between us remain lost in a cloud of disagreement. The fights between us outnumbered our bonding moments but still, those moments have gloriously managed to shine through allowing us to dismiss our miseries.
“Whatcha doin up here?”
“Just looking through old stuff.”
Her eye catches a bandana she used to wear hanging on a worn vanity, the bandana from her gangbanging days, she throws it a dirty look I haven’t seen in ages. She had quit being part of that scene after an accident which she still refuses to talk about. A part of me didn’t believe she actually went through those excursions but I wasn't there so how could I be sure?
I blame myself as my absence was always present. I never bothered to be involved in her life. Everyday my bedroom door would swing wide open and she would come into my room wondering what I was up to because she wanted to play. I would be so angry at her for not knocking, for being too loud, or I would make up any excuse and yell at her and tell her to go away. Eventually she stopped coming in. Inevitably, whenever I would see her, where I used to see her eyes big and full of wonder, there would be disdain, discomfort and disgust. It was a long time before we made eye contact again. I like to think that after I became a teenager I needed to rebel and do what everyone else was doing; to lock myself in my room or go hang out my own friends. Not once did I think about my sister. Oh well. It’s best not to think about it.
Behind the bandana and through pieces of mirror which still stick on the cork back of the vanity she sees Milo’s old dog collar on the dresser just next to her.
“Oh look, I thought I lost this. God he was a great dog, it was sad when he left.”
“You should have taken better care of him...”
I like to give her a hard time, but the cancer that took her dog away would give her more grief than I could ever imagine. There’s nothing she could have done and yet she still blames herself for not being with him longer after the diagnosis. She had always been somewhat reckless and irresponsible. Blinded by her bandana she felt her dog was as tough as she was. At least she loved that dog. I may have been the one to feed it and take it out but she would always be playing with him regardless of the shoes he’s chewed and torn or the rugs he’s soiled and ruined. I couldn't care any less, Kudos to her, always the caring one. I was with her when she had to bury it and can still feel her screams pierce my ears.
“I just can't believe it” I remember her saying that day as she dropped the shovel to the ground defeated.
“Why!?” she bellows, tears rolling down her face.
She kicks a pile of dirt into the air, created a dust cloud which swallows us completely.
“It’s just not fair! It wasn’t time yet!” she continues to scream and kick when a rock escapes from the cloud of dust leaving a small impression on the passenger door of the used pickup truck she bought with god knows what money.
The dust settles and her mind clears, the dent doesn’t look so small anymore.
She can feel the dirt and grime start to dry underneath her fingernails. The tears mixed with sweat which had muddled her face begins to dry and she can feel herself cracking. The image of a monster appears in the passenger window. An homage of defeat, a reflection of the disgust she has for herself. She cannot recognize herself as she becomes lost looking through the tangles in her hair. A gull flies by taking her gaze to a place far behind her where she sees a small sail shrink into the horizon.
She continues to dig frantically. The setting sun brings haste, stretching a shadow over them, drawing darkness unto them. Deeper and deeper she digs and the deeper into earth she travels the farther she goes into the recesses of her mind trying to find exactly what went wrong.
The shovel strikes a rock sending a shock through her wrist, creeping up her arm and piercing her spine. Her arm has never felt right since the accident.
I’ll never forget that day. She puts the collar in her pocket and opens the drawer of the vanity wondering what else is hiding.
“What the fuck is this?”
She pulls out a stack of my old papers our mother must have stashed away.
“Let me see those!”
As I sift through the stack I remember a time when my sister and I actually got along most of the time. A time when my dad had asked me to help him with an assignment for his work. He needed to some sort of outline. He explained to me the details of how he wanted it and each word excited me even more. I was absolutely ecstatic, we had just gotten our first computer and my parents aren’t very tech savvy so the requests for me to help them felt like a privilege. It was the middle of fifth grade, I was a little scared about going into middle school but it was exciting kind of scared because I knew my life was about to change I felt myself growing and becoming an adult as I take on new responsibilities, like a fucking seed bursting out of the ground.
I log on and begin. “You’ve got mail!” there’s no time for distractions I need to finish this assignment. Double clicking on Microsoft word I begin my work. Grid after grid, I design and redesign the model that my dad wants to make. These lines are too thick. The font is all wrong. How wide should I make the margins? No that’s too much. I should make the lines red and black in order to contrast them so the reader doesn’t get lost when they overlap. Yes, that’s it. Now just to make the lines a little thinner now to bold the text in order to stand out more against the grid of lines. It’s coming together pretty nice; my dad is going to be so proud.
I hear mom cooking, it smells delicious. The calamity of pots clanging each other followed by the shushing from my dad as him and my sister watch TV only means it’s going to be a good night. Here and there my little sister pops up from behind that desk.
“Do you want to play?”
“In a little bit, I’m busy helping dad right now”
She scampers away then comes back.
“Do you want to play now?”
“Not yet I haven’t finished, come back later”
“How about now are you done? Do you want to play?”
“Almost done, why don’t you get the game set up”
She scurries out the door and down the staircase, her laugh softly echoes off the walls as I hear the thud of her footsteps through the wall behind me.
As I’m wrapping up hear mom yelling to say the food is ready.
I’m printing out the last of the copies and my dad comes upstairs.
“Look I finished!”
I hand him the papers for review.
“This is not what I asked for “he said.
I am puzzled at this point.
“You did this all wrong!”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at all the paper you’ve wasted!!”
“but? I did what you said.”
“I have to leave I don’t have time to fix this!!!” he shouts.
“Tell me! I can fix it!” I answer back
“FORGET IT! You can’t do anything right.”
He grabs his jacket, turns and rushes down the stairs.
I don’t remember what I ate for dinner as much as how the hard the rain pounded against my bedroom window that night.
“What happened?” I kept asking myself.
I felt a pain that day, it was sharp and pierced me entirely. I could feel it twist as I turned to see what I had done. I couldn’t believe it was real. I was breaking. A piece of me was left behind buried in that paperwork.
I never knew words can have such an effect on people. So paralyzingly painful even when heard in memory.
“Well? What the fuck is it?” my sister asks again.
“It’s nothing. Just old homework. Let’s go back downstairs.” I tell her.
“Aha! Look!, The cable was just disconnected. We'll have the TV back on in no time!”
“Good I’m behind on my show, we still have an hour before we need to leave for the airport.”
“Ok then I’m going to finish sweeping. Oh! By the way, look what I found.”
I show her the picture I’ve been holding.
“Oh nice! Take that with you Dad’s been looking for that.”