Everybody's talking, but the room is quiet.
The lights above glow with the warmth and luster of a dozen plump candles. Soft, yet radiant enough for me to see the nebulae in my father's eyes, even from so far away. There were neither props nor backgrounds, save for the children in costumes and the little STOP sign choking in my nervous grip. I had no choice. The show had begun.
My class sat in squealing tin chairs as we took turns prancing up to the mic to say our lines, just how we remembered them. The boy in the full-body milk carton had the most lines, the proud prick. But it was after his fifth when I was the next up. I squeezed hard and tried not to trip as I stood and made my way to my five seconds of fame. Mouth before mic, I held up the sign: STOP. The world seized spinning and the air was shot dead.
All eyes on me.
The words trickled from my lips...
"Wait, wait, don't forget me. I'm just as important as they are, you see."
The words that would define the rest of my shy, lonely life, for more and ever.
The playfield was vast at recess. But it was Chan(my Cambodian friend) who took me to the edges of it, where we claimed forts in the forest. Sections of the woods would be all ours, and we'd mark our territory with the jelly of crushed berries that we picked from the trees. We had a rock perfect for sitting, in our main base, only accessible by crossing a log bridge that had pricker bushes below. Deeper in, down a steep incline, we had a tree reserved specifically for pissing.
And it was weeks after playing in our one fort-- after teachers banning us from the woods multiple times, after getting cuts where Chan would then rub leaves over the wound until the pain went away, after games where we could see how many curse words I could say in a minute that's when we knew we needed to find clubs. Strip clubs.
And we did.
Being the leader of the outcasts, I had set out word for my buddies to find new territory (and girls that would be our strippers).
When they brought me into our new found grounds, my friend Tyler pointed, "Look. We can sit there, while girls take their clothes off there. It's perfect." Then Dan proceeded to fake dance like the ladies would, saying, "Look at my boobies!" and we all laughed.
Merely minutes later, we actually went out to search for strippers, when Dan threatened to ask a girl who reminded me of a crush from the last school I'd been in. I told them don't, so they didn't, but...
...In class, I often found myself daydreaming of that one girl shedding all her clothes in the new club, even pulling off her socks for her bare toes to crunch the forest's dead leaves. Finger gesturing for me to come to her, where she'd then give me a lap dance and kiss me with her tongue.
She was the first girl I ever imagined naked, and I don't even remember her name.
[Age: 7 & 17]
And I blasted my foot off the pavement. Didn't even look back at my best friend who had started twenty yards behind, and shoeless.
Oh I flew down the concrete hill, conscious of the broken glass I was protected from; but what about Frankie?
I was five seconds from 'go' and had one-third of the slope covered when the wind began to whip my face; because I was giving it all I had in me; but what about Frankie?
Halfway down and there he was by my side, and blistering even further. So I laughed because I was doing this for fun...but what about Frankie?
It didn't really matter that he won because we had something to remember. We had a story to bring up when we met again years later. Nothing changed, except maybe we had bigger noses.
It was our second visit in a long time, coming from the basketball court, when we decided to have another race like the hood ol' days.
His sister counted: "Ready...Set...Go!"
I remember running, but I don't remember racing.
I remember escaping everyone behind us (my mother, my sister, the rest who I considered family), and above all, the past.
I remember me and my best friend side by side, darting through the dark, into the night and the unknown of life.
I remember never stopping, even when our shoes came to a halt on the asphalt;
...but what about Frankie?
And for just..
When our feet hit the floor, we did it again.
Up the staircase. Garbage bag in both hands. Arms lifted.
It felt like discovering a new planet.
It felt like discovering love is real.
Magic is real.
Twin girls died in a burning house. My sister was babysitting them.
My sister, and their sister, Alicia, survived. The girls, Not-Alicia and Not-Alicia (one of whom was prescribed sleeping pills), had been put to bed in their separate rooms upstairs, on opposite ends of the house. The cat knocked over a candle. By the time my sister smelled the smoke and went to investigate the dryer, flames had covered the walls and ceiling around her. The only option in her mind, at the time, was to escape through the front door that was luckily right beside her.
My sister pounded on the door of our aunt's house across the street.
Firefighters came and doused the fire, but never the memory.
They discovered the bodies of the twins in the same bed, lying on top of each other.
Was one trying to wake the other?
Were they frightened and holding one another?
The house is still damaged to this day. So is Alicia's heart.
Only a few years after the incident, Alicia's mother began to babysit my younger sister and I. I had met the twins once. And I remember thinking they would have grown to be much nicer than Alicia. She was a brat. I hated her.
Though she was the first person who made me really think of death. It was when we were fooling around once. My sister and I threw a blanket over her head, and she screamed, but we laughed.
"It's not funny!" she screeched, pulling at the blanket. "I can't breathe!"
I stopped and grumpily asked why she was freaking out.
"I could have died!"
"No you couldn't."
"Yes I can." She told us, "I'll suffocate and die, then my soul will float to heaven."
Me and my sister looked at each other, the universe gaining weight on our brains. Alicia was also the first person who made me really think of heaven.
"The blanket has holes in it." I mentioned.
"That doesn't matter, you can still suffocate."
I threw the blanket over myself, "Oh, I'm gonna die! Help! Somebody help!" I shook my sister's arm. Alicia screamed, but we laughed.
"It's not funny, guys!"
Now I wonder...Why was she so afraid of death when she had two beautiful sisters waiting for her in heaven?
And why was I so not?
My father, me, and my sister had just been in a car crash.
We sat on the curb, conveniently right at the corner of the hospital.
My mom said she'd be there in five minutes.
The police sprinkled salt over the gas around the glass on the pavement, glimmering like it had been the night sky we crashed into. And they called for an officer who knew spanish, to speak to the other driver.
I held my hand out in front of me. "Daddy?" "What is it, Vin?" "Look. Why am I shaking?" "You're scared." "No I'm not."
Five minutes went by. The driver only had a permit and was borrowing his brother's car without his permission.
"Dad?" "Yeah." "My hand is still shaking." He chuckled, "you're scared, Vinnie." "But I'm not scared." "Your body is scared. You're in shock." No I'm not.
Thirty minutes later, the woman who birthed me showed up. Didn't hug us or kiss us. Said she was worried, loud enough for the police to hear. And after walking to the hospital and getting checked out, after taking photos of my purple knees that I don't remember hitting, after suing and collecting money, she took it all from us.
The money paid for bruises, but it could never pay for a good mother.
[Age: 8 or 9]
"Yeah, the police? I shot a man. 'Cause the motha fucka owed me like, five dollas!"
My uncle hung up the phone. Little had little me known he had fake dialed.
But I was young, laughing, thinking prank calling the cops was the most brilliant thing in the world, and wondering why I'd never thought of it before.
So I did it. Two days later...
"911, what's your emergency?"
"A guy was shot."
"A man was shot?"
"Yes. He's bleeding all over the place."
"Where did he get shot?"
"At the gas station."
"What gas station?"
"...The one in town."
"What one? Can you take a look and find out?"
"No, just...the one right in town."
"Where in town, son. We need to know exactly where it is so we can get this guy some help. You said a man was shot."
"Yeah, but I don't know what gas station."
"We can't help this man if you can't find out where it is."
I ran upstairs and into my mother's room. I laid on the floor and crawled under her bed legs first, so I could see when the police came in to get me. It was after two slow minutes of heavy thought and sudden tears when I crawled back out. I had to be brave enough to fake it better so that they wouldn't come to the house and take my father away...whyever the hell I got that idea.
I ran downstairs.
"911, what's your emergency?"
"Okay I'll tell you. I know the gas station."
"What is it?"
"It's the one with the wolf on the sign."
"That doesn't help. We need the name of the gas station. What's the street it's on?"
"I don't know!" here I am in tears again.
"We can't help this guy who's been shot if we don't know where to go, son."
I was sitting on my brother's bed, watching him play Sega Genesis when my father called me downstairs. When I saw the cop I thought my father was being arrested. I grabbed his arm as the officer spoke to me, asking if I'd called 911, and squeezing his hand as I replied no, a guy wasn't shot at a gas station. And so, after yap that sounded like an annoying fly's buzzing, my father and I were free to live in our casual, unstriped clothes.
In the end, you always learn something from your mistakes, and I realised what I had done wrong.
...I should have called from a payphone.
My elementary school had a psychiatrist.
I visited her often.
I imagined it was because I was a bad kid and they thought I was traumatically disturbed from domestic troubles; they'd have been right to believe so.
Though, when I was called in, I wouldn't say a thing. She'd ask me questions. I'd be silent. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Answer her questions? It didn't seem like what I was supposed to do. She would ask and ask. I stayed quiet. She'd begin to be silent with me.
Then she would start asking, "What's wrong?"
Nothing was wrong. Why was she asking what's wrong?
"Come on, what's the matter."
"You have to tell me. What's wrong."
My silence rebirthed. It was no longer a stubborn, indifferent silence. But a hard-thinking, sad silence. My parts were suddenly breaking. I started to cry. I don't know why.
"What's the matter?"
"You have to tell me what's wrong."
Cry Cry Cry.
She'd pull me into her shoulder, a child's face drenched into her sleeve.
I visited her often.
I was quiet every session. I cried every other session. On her shoulder. Or her arm. Every question was an icepick chipping at my skin that never broke. That woman didn't teach me to let the bad out; that bitch taught me to let the bad hurt. But last night, the last flake of paint from off my surface was finally peeled.
My skin is back, and I am new again.
"Come on, we're going to meet your father."
She had no idea. And neither did my sister and I.
Or maybe, deep in our chests, we did. Why else would we have packed bags of clothes?
Mother's hands on the wheel. Would she have gripped harder if she knew?
Us two kids in the back, watching the light pour into the van at that perfect time of day where the whole world slips into a pretty gold dress. Shadows play like hands grabbing at the hems. My thoughts grabbing at 'why's.
We pull off the road to a small area with one coffee table and a familiar pickup truck waiting for us. We hop out. There's our daddy. He talks with our mom, who we will soon come to rather know as the woman who birthed us. Their quiet discussion turns into a silent argument, right next to us.
Only minutes later do we hear the question we've been seemingly subconsciously waiting for our whole lives.
"Do you guys want to come live with me?"
"Yes!" "Yeah!" without hesitation.
Though it wasn't a desperate, get-me-out-of-here answer.
Our words were the sound of the trains of our lives jumping off the tracks, changing the course of our stories, for better, forever. We wanted this. And we got it.
We put our bags in the back of the truck and piled in.
Yes, the woman who birthed us said, No.
And she grabbed my bag. No.
You're staying with me. No.
Yes, Mom. I want to do this. I want to go.
Put his bag back.
Put my bag back, Mom. I want to go.
I looked into her eyes, but I can tell you, she wasn't looking into mine.
She was looking into the eyes of her landlord.
She was staring into the eyes of her deceased parents.
The eyes of her friends.
Her brother and sister.
Her own eyes.
She had no one.
And I can tell you,
there wasn't one drop of sorrow in those fucking eyes.