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Lying to Dad

(A Blog)
A story by Christopher Bernard Spanking I live in one of those developments near Stockton maybe youve been reading about lately. It was hit hard by the housing bust. It has little scraggly trees, winding streets with speed bumps every three feet (to keep the terrorists from escaping, I suppose), lawns like cheap AstroTurf, and paint so new it squeaks when you rub it. Someday, if it gets lucky, it might even look like a real suburb, now it just looks like a Best Western version of the Village in The Prisoner. My best friend Jimmy Ong had to move because the bank foreclosed on his house last year. His dad was manager of towels and rugs at Mervyns, and his mom was a part-time sales associate at the local Chrysler dealership. They both lost their jobs within, like, a month of each other, and Jimmy said COBRA was eating all their unemployment. Last I heard they were living in their SUV somewhere in the valley. I pass their house almost every day on my bike. Two months

ago somebody nearly burned their garage down. It was the seventh house nearby to foreclose this whole part of town (though we hate to think ourselves as part of town thats where crack heads and hookers and homeless hang, and veiled Arab women all in black and Arab men with big, baby eyes) the whole neighborhood is starting to feel creepy, like a place everybody just wants to leave but nobody knows how. Property values were once a staple of dinner conversation. Now theyre verboten, leaving a dry hole in our cheerleading years of upward mobility. My parents have been looking determinedly in the other direction, but theyre getting squeamish. I suspect were underwater, though that would be one of those things not to be discussed in dads company. Dad has a nice job with the state, designing food stamps or something, but even thats looking iffy with the red-assed baboons squabbling in their cages in Sacramento no disrespect intended to any red-assed baboons who may be reading this, of course. My moms a school teacher, kindergarten to third grade, at Good Shepherd Elementary, the only Christian school nearby. I just missed having her, and, stupidly at the time, cursed my luck: I thought I was missing my very first ace in the hole. My little brother did have her, for second grade. As it happened, he was her ace in the hole. Mom began measuring out homework depending on how hard my brother sweated in the evenings and sweet Jesus help him if he didnt sweat. Teachers pet? How about teachers baseball bat: would you really want to have to eat dinner with your arithmetic teacher (and penmanship teacher and reading teacher, etc., etc., etc.) every single night? Our house is on a corner lot, and we have the privilege of hearing coked-up, drunken college students squealing around the turn in the middle of weekend nights as they toss another handful of debts (credit cards: the new beer money!) onto the pile theyll never be able

to pay back. I have an 11 oclock curfew one of the minor curses of having parents who are not yet divorced so I lie in bed envying them, but give me two more years and Ill be squealing with the best of them, even if I have to do it from community college, which looks more and more likely. My sister is a senior, two years ahead of me, and usually has her nose in her iPhone giving pornographic details about her latest date when it isnt in the air parading between her all pink and fluff bedroom and the bathroom, and my brother is in sixth grade with his nose stuck in his Gameboy when he isnt giving the world a deer-inthe-headlights stare as though hed never seen it before and Im beginning to believe he never has. Im the only normal character in my family - and look at me! Its enough to make you disgusted with suburban sprawl, free markets, and the American way of life. What were we thinking? There are several set laws in our household. One, dad is always right. Two, when dad is wrong, see the previous law. Three, no kid deserves any respect whatsoever under any conditions at any time: we are to do what were told without question or complaint as long as we live under that roof. I can be a little slow on the uptake, but I finally figured it out: the meaning of freedom in America is that everyone is a dictator under his own roof. Every so often I am offered confirmation of all of the above in case Im feeling skeptical about this. Spanking is supposed to have gone the way of the thumbscrew, the rack and the Iron Maiden: inefficient, old-fashioned methods of scaring people to death to keep them in line. They even say the neighbors will call the cops if they hear a sound of spanking coming from next door. That now the worst punishment endured in the family domain is ill-tempered shouting and shrinks and social

workers are busy designing laws to stop that violation of some obnoxious kids blossoming self-esteem. Spanking now is more often associated with sex games than with the familys nuclear threat. Just look it up on Google. Which just goes to show that still nobody knows what the heck is going on, internet or no internet. (The internet just makes it easier to spread the lies but thats for another post.) Because, if that is all true, then I must have been hallucinating at the time. Dad was shouting in rhythm. I was unclear through my sobbing exactly what he was saying, but it sounded like ROAR! ROAR! ROAR-ER! ROAR! RO-ROAR! RO-ROAR! The rhythm was the beating of his belt against my butt. I was lucid enough to notice that. My jeans were stripped to my ankles, my head was upside down, my face pressed against dads chinos, legs hanging limp, johnson shrunk to the size of a snail, bare butt laid across his lap like a freakin altar cloth. After long consideration of the issue, I have come up with this translation of what he was shouting: Dont you ever lie to me again! The belt was doubled over so it snapped whenever it hit my butt. This was intentional, as explained to me later by my mother. I was not only supposed to feel maximum pain, the extra noise was supposed to scare the bejesus out of me as well. And there were reasons for this: the beating had important goals. One, to punish me for lying, one of the most serious offenses in my family, supposedly (superseded only by gang rape and serial murder, I believe), and, two, to deter me from lying again. The latter aim was debatable by now, seeing that this was, like, the sixth or seventh time I was being beaten for lying. But not even I considered that at the time. I was just cursing the day I was ever born. Uh-oh, time for algebra. Later.

Oh the beauty of the laptop. The study hall monitor is only too happy to assume were all studying American history websites rather than frigging our underpants over porn. Well. Where was I? Oh yeah, the spankings my father gave me. For lying, among other things. Youd think theyd have gotten me out of the habit. And they did of picking dads wallet and moms purse, of breaking my little brothers Gameboy (I was doing him a favor he was becoming a social cretin), of stealing my older sisters lingerie (dont ask it was Halloween), of getting Fs in history because I was too bored to do the homework. It worked for that. Ill never take a buck from the dresser, I can do history with my eyes closed, I even gave my bro a Gameboy game for Christmas, or ever steal my sisters bra again, I promise. But it never did get me to give up lying. Lying is just too much fun right? People love lies television, tabloids, political blogs, advertising, avatars, the government, their own golden whoppers. They give you some control over the situation, that glow in a girls eyes, that look of respect in a guys face the truth is a trap, once you admit it, theres no getting out of it. So: will I be lying here? Maybe. Maybe not. I dont expect a lot of visitors only one regular one: me. And whats the point of lying to myself? That strikes me as very dumb though common. Even normal. Adaptive coloring. What would a gecko do if it displayed itself with complete honesty to every creature that crossed its path? Get itself et all the sooner, thats what. You learn to hide even from yourself. Heck, if even you believe it, maybe the animal pawing the dirt outside your tent will too. I make no promises. Maybe you can trust me maybe you cant. Ask me no questions. A few days after my last beating, I was passing the laundry bin

and saw a dirty white rag lying on the linoleum floor and stooped to toss it back in the bin. It was a pair of my dads dirty underwear. I held it up to the light: it looked pitiful, shapeless, like a deflated balloon. I carried it carefully by the waistband outside to the garage. There I dropped it on the cement floor, and I torched it with a lighter I carry for sneaking cigarettes and weed. My dads sweat made it worse than asbestos, it took an hour to burn. It stank, especially the rubber waistband. Afterwards I rubbed the ashes into the cement with my Nikes. Thats enough for my first post. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: housing bust, stockton, modern american families, spanking, spanking sex, spanking children, lying Honestly No comments. See what I mean? OK, thats cool. It gives me more leeway. Nobodys looking over my shoulder. Yet. Ever feel how much easier it is to tell the honest truth to a complete stranger than to your best friend? Thats what this feels like. Nobody out here even knows my real name. I can say anything I want. I can lie like the truth, I can tell the truth as smooth as a lie, and nobody will ever know the difference. Theres something I didnt tell you last time. My dad has a definite problem with lying. But theres a bigger problem. This doesnt mean I am always supposed to tell the truth. Not quite. You tell my dad the wrong truth at the wrong time, and he looks at you with a dead-eye look, blank with contempt, that then turns, like an owls head turning at midnight, into a look of demonic malice so poisonous it turns my blood blue with cold. It is friggin scary. So I sit there frozen like a mouse and wait till the shadow of his gaze passes

over me and the silence is taken up by the calm murmur of his soliloquizing again, or his gaze reverts to mom, who smiles, panicky, motor-mouth, and peace-at-any-price, and he makes some snarky comment and laughs uproariously at his own joke. So this is the deal: dont you ever lie to him, but you better be very, very careful what truth you put out there. And, whenever you can, just keep your tight, little, puckered, a-hole mouth shut. It took me a while to figure that one out. Keeping your mouth shut until the right truth, the acceptable, appropriate truth, is ready to spring off my tongue like a gold medalist on a swan dive. That was tough. Cause, Ill admit, I like to talk I hate shutting up (you may have already figured this out) and once you start talking, who knows whats going to pop out? (How truthful have these posts been so far? Well, Watson, I would say 93.2%, roughly. They contain no blatant, bold-faced, outand-out deceptions, but they do have several exaggerations; for example, our legislators and governator in Sacramento are not literally red-assed baboons.) Uhh, here comes the school bus. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: truth or consequences, truth and consequences, dysfunctional california, red-assed baboons I Go Batty Okay, nobodys reading this yet. Or, if they are, they may be chalking their comments on the walls of the stalls, but theyre not letting yours truly know anything about it. That makes more for us, Watson. On other blogs, threads can go on for miles, so maybe not having to read through long lists of bug-eyed opinions delivered in

tones of crushing certainty is a plus to say nothing of being tempted to defend my silly thoughts against homicidal lunatics convinced I am describing them in slanderous detail even though I have never set foot in Walkerstown, Indiana, or sex-starved stay-at-homes eager to chitchat with others of same condition half a world away in darkest California or goody-goodies who adore Christian schools or worship red-assed baboons well, maybe its some sort of blessing. Better be ignored than pulled into a game you cant win, right? Still, it would be nice to have a taste of a thumbs up, or who-do-you-think-you-are? or a screwball non sequitur, someday. Otherwise, Im just talking to myself which mom keeps telling me is a sign of early-onset alzheimers. Great. Did I tell you yet about my great Batman caper? No? Well then, get comfortable. I was eleven at the time, and I got a pack of Batman DVDs for Christmas from my Uncle Blaine, who lives in Soho in New York. My parents werent sure I should accept them, since they came from my weird, failed-actor-and-probably-gay uncle who actually prefers New York to California, but hey people, they were Batman movies! So, despite their suspicions (which made them examine questions they had never suspected before, like: Just what is the relationship between Batman and Robin anyway? Why is Robin always in that cave like a housewife? Why the heck isnt that boy in school?), they let me have them. They were the coolest movies I had ever seen in my young and extravagantly glamorous life: I steeped myself silly in them for the next few weeks as the Masked Duo brooded and battered their way through Gotham City in their coolest of all costumes and hottest of all cars. I was a TV and DVD addict from way back, but this hit me where I lived. You might think Id identify with Robin more ageappropriate, maybe. No way. I saw myself all dark weirdness and

tortured soul behind that strange grayish bluish mask, the hooded eyes, even those pointed ears that, after all, should by all rights look either incredibly dorky or monumentally gay, but dont, they give him a downright sinister air like a redeeming satan the evil he is fighting is as much inside him as outside. And here is where I identified with him: nobody but Batman knows the price he pays for his victories. I stalked broodingly around our tract-house wannabe McMansion with scowling eyes I trained in the mirror to look like Michael Keatons when hes trying to get Kim Basinger to go to bed with him, then switching to the hawk-like scowl they have when hes preparing to neutralize the Joker. Those are dark movies, man, but the darkness chimed with something in me: maybe the sun-drenched, vacuum-packed development, with its street lights that were so blinding I never saw a star till my first camping trip with Jimmy Ong, too hot in the summer and too wet in the winter, peaceful as the dead when not quietly collapsing under unpayable mortgages, made me yearn for an extreme, dramatic, scary, violently noble and unapologetic night. And the cape. The cape and the hood and the mask man, how I wanted a cape and mask like that something to wear to show who I really was not the dorky fifth grader with the big ears and the gap-teeth, a tow-headed Alfred E. Newman without the good looks, but a dark, mysterious hero who saved people from the forces of evil without their realizing what theyd been saved from, and never understood or really appreciated for the good hed done his harsh and unforgiving land. A hero almost despite himself. Kind of my opposite, in fact but this, as Mr. Ledermann, my English teacher, would say, with a leer, is a mere detail. I decided to get a cape. Problem: they did not sell Batman capes at our local mall, and the things capes brought up in Google

or Yahoo or whatever search engine, those empires of scam, would shame the lowliest superhero out of his skivvies: they were ponchos or shawls or wraps, or prissy Little Red Riding Hood outfits, or whatever nothing Michael Keaton, or George Clooney, or even Christian Bale, would let themselves be caught dead in. I clicked myself off line with a blood-curdling oath (whispered so I wouldnt shock the mater and the paters tender ears). Then one day in April my older sister was throwing out a bunch of old clothes (from six months ago she had just discovered fashion, and nothing was more despicable now than last seasons look). One of her tossables was a dark blue skirt she had worn once, to the big home football game and dance in November, and you just dont wear dark blue anything in spring anyway so out it went. I happened to see it peeping out with a bunch of other practically unworn things three blouses, a sweater, and a pair of Eskimo boots of the big plastic trash can, before mom found out and nearly had a tantrum over Sheilas extravagance: parents just dont understand the importance of these things they actually think you can save last years fashions and wear them again in five years. I saw this big ball of dark blue cloth sticking out of the trashcan, and a cape started dancing before my eyes. I snatched it, snuck it up to my room, borrowed moms shears from her sewing basket, spread the skirt over my bed. It was huge I knew my sis had a big butt, but this put the hu in humongous. It was as big as a tent. I could practically have hidden under it. It would make a magical, marvelous, magnificent cape. No mask, but nothings perfect. Of course there was the obvious problem: this thing had touched my sisters body. Cooties were still part of the mythology of my eleven-year-old mind, but I figured that, once I cut the skirt, it would no longer be a girls, and if it wasnt a girls, there would be no more danger of cooties: and cooties didnt exist anyway. So I took the

scissors and cut the skirt, very carefully, in a straight line from hem to waist. Voila: my cape. I made a tie from a piece of black yarn (borrowed from mom again) and stapled it to the cape: not exactly elegant but practical. I turned back and forth in front of the mirror, looking at how it made my shoulders look square and made my chest look bigger. It was a little short and looked more like Zorros cape than Batmans (miniskirts grrr!), but I could live with that if I had to. Zorro, Batman, Superman dorky, polite, insignificant guys during the day, glamorous, unrecognizable superheroes at night. I did my Michael Keaton imitation, and curled my thumbs and index fingers into eye holes and held my cheeks with my hands upside down to make a mask. I was Batman. I tried different looks of power, yearning, disdain, anger, triumph, grief, gazing at myself from different angles, before my hands finally cramped up. I spent the next hour or so sweeping through the rooms upstairs (everyone was out), running full tilt from one end of the house to the other, feeling the air rush through the cape and the cape flapping against my back, as I sang (in a manner of speaking) the Batman theme. I heard mom coming back from shopping and ran back to my room. After a couple of moments there was a piercing cry of Sheila! she had just seen the trash, and I hid the cape in my drawer, under the jeans. I wanted to wear the cape all day, under my regular clothes, so, if needed, I could strip down and appear, a hero, at a moment of crisis, say, on the playground. I knew this was unlikely ever to happen, but the fantasy wouldnt do any harm. And wearing the cape under my clothes was no weirder than wearing costumes for Halloween. I discovered something after thinking about what it felt like to

wear the cape that afternoon, running up and down the house: it had given me a feeling of secret power. I had never felt that before heck, Id never felt any feeling of power before. And I really liked it. I mean: I really liked it. Of course, I would never have to actually test that power in the real world (whatever that is). It was a fantasy, like my invisible friend Gordo when I was a little kid. It was a feeling. Thats all. But what a feeling. (When youve got a feeling like that, who needs reality?) After breakfast a few days later I put the cape on under my shirt, and a sweater (to hide the bulkiness), checked in the mirror to make sure none of it stuck out of my collar, and, looking just a little overfed, went to school. I got a few funny looks, that said, Theres something different about Adam today, but I dont know what it is. I spent all day feeling like I had this huge, unseen muscle under my shirt, and tried to smile mysteriously, and not look too smug, and watched for any occasion say, Bobby Kelly bullying somebody in the lower grades, or a bad fight between the fifth and sixth grade boys where I might be tempted to strip off and show my cape in a display of Righteous Power. I copy and pasted the looks of grateful awe on the faces of Gothamites in the Batman movies onto the bored, snarky faces of my classmates at recess. Little do they know, I thought to myself. After school I went home, feeling very pleased with myself. I took off my sweater but decided to keep on the cape despite the gentle balloon it made under my shirt even I could see that in the mirror, but I was on a roll. I did my homework for once with relish: it was like every problem I solved, every chapter I read, was a villainy uncovered, a crime thwarted. My bedroom was my Batcave. If I thought hard, I could even turn my bike into a Batmobile. As for Robin hey, I had

invisible friends when I was little. Puff some little guy in spandex and a mask out of thin air? Piece of cake. I pondered and brooded like Michael Keaton and sometimes rubbed my finger inside my collar to feel the cape under my shirt. I didnt think twice when mom called us for dinner (dad was working late, so it was just the home team eating), and I followed the aroma of warmed over meatloaf to the kitchen. We were half way done, my sister and brother had gotten their days off their chests and mom had drilled us on whether we had finished our homework, when I felt mom stiffen and stare at me from the end of the table. What is that string around your neck? Her voice was hard and thick. Nothing, I said, with incredible stupidity, in my most innocent voice. What could I have been thinking? And yet I can remember distinctly what I was thinking: thats no string, thats a thread dangling from my frayed shirt collar, forgetting that my shirt was, like, light blue and the yarn was black, and that fatness underneath my shirt youre been trying throughout dinner to ignore is just your normal juvenile obesity finally raising its ugly head in our family. Mom leaned over the table, grabbed the string and yanked. The string didnt break at first. Instead, it pulled the cape or rather, my sisters old skirt up through my collar, then she pulled it up over my head, yelling: What is this? What is this? I tried to duck my head but just got tangled in the string as it gagged my throat, and tensed up waiting for a swat, with gasps and giggling coming from either side from my suddenly speechless and very attentive sister and brother. I did not have the heart to say, Its my Batman cape, as it became immediately clear to me that my mother thought she had

given birth to a cross-dressing fruit secretly wearing his sisters clothes as underwear. She went a little loony. First she jumped around the kitchen, dragging my head up and down as I was still attached to the cape, and flailing the cape/skirt around my head, yelling, This is nothing, is it? This is nothing, is it? Nothing, is it? Nothing, is it? Nothing, is it? Then, getting tired of her own tune, she changed it, just a little. Ill teach you to lie to me! It was as though she had suddenly switched direction what she had decided to be mad about, that is. Ive often wondered about that. Maybe she was thinking to get her mind off her real fear: better a liar than a queer? (Our family was not hobbled by any excess of San Francisco values. Those belonged exclusively in that loonytown and capital of weird a hundred miles to the west.) Suddenly I felt my mother grab hold of my face from behind, and with her other hand she shoved a big square bar of Ivory soap into my mouth. As I struggled with her cold wet hands against my face, the thought flashed through my mind: Ive heard of having your mouth washed out with soap for lying, but really?! The soap didnt fit so I bit hard down on it. I gagged and writhed and wailed or tried to, it being very difficult to wail or make any sound at all, I discovered, while your mouth is being held shut. I flailed and moaned and jumped around my chair, trying to push moms hands from my face, but I was too little and my mother has always been surprisingly strong. Soap bubbles spurt out my nose and foam sprayed from my mouth, one of my moms arms held me tight against her body while the other swatted at my efforts to free myself. The cape was crushed between us. After what felt like half an hour of panic drowning in soap bubbles, but was probably just a minute or so, mom released my face and let me gag out the soap onto my plate. I gagged and coughed and

spat out great white, foul-tasting gobs. Go to your room! she yelled as I sat gagging and sobbing. And take that thing off! She yanked the cape and the string snapped. The cape slid off me, and I ran, sobbing, out of the kitchen to the bathroom where I cleaned my mouth of the rest of the soap and washed my face, then caught sight of my wet, purple, shining face. How stupid I must have looked with that stupid cape sticking half out of my shirt! Ashamed and scared and shook up my mother had never erupted like this I skittered like a mouse to my room, shut the door and curled up on my bed and sobbed till I finally fell asleep. I saw the cape one more time: rolled up and sticking out of the outside trashcan looking almost exactly like my sisters skirt. But I had been cured of my thing for Batman I couldnt even watch the DVDs anymore, the whole idea of superheroes filled me with disgust and embarrassment, so I stuck them into a plastic bag and walked them out to the recyle bin in the garage. I dont know if she ever told dad. For a while afterwards, he gave me strange hard looks over dinner. But then, he did that at other times too, wondering, I guess, where on earth I had come from and what he was going to do with me. Maybe she kept it to herself. But I doubt it. It would have been the first time. I have overheard more than one conversation between them in which my name was taken in vain. Man. I wonder what made me remember all that. Oh yeah, moms alzheimers warning. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: batman, batman obsessions, superhero obsessions, michael keaton, capes, washing mouth out with soap, early onset alzheimers, imaginary friends

Getting Old How much truth was in that last post? Oh, about 99.44%, Watson. I just turned sixteen last month. I often get introspective, as my mother calls it, on my birthday: part of being the sensitive one in the family, I suppose. (And another reason to worry about my sexual orientation. Not that I do. But its fun sometimes to keep the folks guessing.) It was on my birthday, while thinking back on the last few years boy, twelve feels like a long time ago that I got the idea to start this blog. It might be interesting to look back on in years to come, like keeping a diary, though more cool. And they say nothing on the internet ever dies. Plus its more private than Facebook. (Facebook dont get me started. Its such a fake you link to all these people who claim theyre your friends, and link to them and their friends, and they all visit your wall and put all kinds of corny junk up on it and send you weird links and videos of themselves getting drunk at parties or their cats sleeping for hours, but when you meet them eyeball to eyeball, they act like they never saw you before in their lives. Ever thought you didnt have any friends? Facebook proves it. But I digress.) Anyway, my blog. A blog is like an electronic message in a bottle. Ever since I was a little kid, Ive had this romantic idea about sending a message in a bottle out on the ocean and seeing if anybody answered. I still like the idea, I might do it yet. A blog post is kind of like that: you toss a message out into cyberspace and see if anybody replies. (A-hoy-y-y! An-y-bo-dy out there lis-ten-ning? . . .) I thought about another thing on my sixteenth birthday: it was time to start making serious plans for the future. I mean, now I can drive (legally, once I get my license Id been driving since I was fourteen, in Jimmy Ongs dads car on the weekends before they had

to move, but its different when youre legal), and I can see the end of high school coming, so Ive got to start planning for college, and that means I have to think about a major, and that means I have to think about what I want to be when I grow up and about success and money and how to get them, like what corporate ladder I want to climb to CEOdom, except I despise corporations for thinking we should admire them because they make a lot of money by addicting us to products that give us cancer and destroy the environment and screwing their employees, or maybe go into government and change the world into a replica of my own face, except the government is what has gotten us into the trouble were in by lying to us about just about everything from the Iraq war to inflation (they say theres been no inflation, so why has the price of lunch, like, doubled over the last two years?) to unemployment (10 percent? Sheesh, Watson, in Stockton everybody knows its close to 25 and climbing), or maybe Ill drop out of school and start a rock band and conquer the world on the end of my guitar, except I dont know how to play an instrument, or maybe Ill invent the Next Big Thing and put a fire in Googles pants, except Im a hopeless klutz with computers, or maybe Ill just get some easy civil service gig and wait for my pension to come rolling in, like my dad (a bad idea there wont be any civil service jobs or pensions or much of anything else after the next economic collapse), and that brings up the question of whether Ill get married and have kids, its getting to be one scary world out there, what if the deficit explodes and inflation really goes crazy and we turn into Argentina, like my dad says, and I dont even know what that means but it sounds scary enough, and what about global warning, what if it isnt a fake the way my parents claim it is, what if all the ice in Geenland melts and the sea rises and the water dries up and the valley turns into just a big extension of the Mojave, and what about immigration and were all taken over by hordes of Mexicans coming

over the border, and what if Iran does get the bomb, does that mean Ahmad-whats-his-face will come after us, and even if I can afford kids, how can I bring them up in a crazy world like this and it starts to pile up on you. Not that I havent thought about some of this stuff before, but it was all vague and abstract and so far away it didnt seem real. When I went to bed that night, I felt old. Youre not a little kid anymore, Adam, I thought to myself. Youve got to face it. Youve got to face reality. Youve got to take responsibility. Youve got to do something with your life and learn to live in this entirely fucked up world. Take responsibility: thats what they (the parents) have been telling me for years but theyre right. There, I said it. I hate to admit anything they say is right. But they are about that. But there is a little problem. They never say how exactly I am supposed to take responsibility, and whenever I do that is, do something I, alone, thought of and did, on my own power, with my own stuff, I get hammered. Even when I raise the issue, even when I raise one of those things that, frankly, scare the be-freakin-jesus out of me. Unless that is the point, maybe? But what kind of point is that? Unless by taking responsibility they mean obeying them so well I can guess their commands ahead of time. And not ask embarrassing questions. There is only way to take responsibility, as I see it, and that is you need two things: knowledge and power. Okay: Im going to school and going to college, and I like studying well, sometimes, it depends on the subject but thats another thing my stupid classmates dont get. So the knowledge part will take care of itself, as long as I keep my eyes peeled and my head on straight. Maybe the scary crap will yield to knowledge, somewhere, sometime. It looks to me like it may have been too much knowledge that got us here. But will being

stupid get us out of it? This power thing, as far as I can see, wont be any easier. It doesnt come automatically. Youve got to work at it partly, partly youve got to fight, partly youve got to get lucky, but however you get it, its hella slippery. But you have got to have it. I cant exactly take power, at least right now my parents, my teachers, the cops, the adults in general, have all the power in my life thats why I want to grow up, I want to be an adult, I dont get it about so many of my friends in school, who seem to want to stay kids forever, dont they realize theyre being screwed? Sure, some of them have their parents wrapped around their itty-bitties, but dont they see thats nothing compared to the power the adults have over them? Look at TV: ever think whos hypnotizing you into buying mountains of junk you dont need and dont even really want? Look at the world. You think its safe out there? You think they really do have your best interests at heart? Youve got no real power as a kid. Even eighteen year olds theyre just screwed over more easily by the real adults. And then of course there are these hierarchies of power between adults dad has more power than mom, the principal has more power than teachers, and so on. I can hardly make a revolution, as they do in some countries, though I sometimes daydream about it. I sometimes even dream about the jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting the power. Weird, I know. I saw 9/11 on TV when I was in third grade, but I was too young to be scared I just thought it was like a movie with amazing special effects. Even when they sent us home and mom sat staring at the TV as the World Trade Center kept falling, over and over, with a scared look on her face, I couldnt help thinking, if it keeps falling over and over, it cant be that bad: it was kind of numbing. Dad came home later that day and just got mad at the TV: Goddam Muslims!

was his most memorable contribution to the family discussion, as I recall. Not that there was much of a discussion: it wasnt considered age-appropriate for us kids, I guess. Or maybe, now that I think about it, they really didnt know what to say. Hate, kill, fear is easily said. It was like that stupid question making the rounds for weeks: Why do they hate us? Why not? Were no angels. A better question might have been: Whats taken them so long? Mom sent money to the Red Cross for the bereaved families, but she did it behind dads back. It was at that point I hit me that what had happened was real really real. I still didnt feel scared, just thoughtful, and the power of terrorists who could cause so much damage to the most powerful country in the world, so, well, easily that impressed me. It worried me but it excited me. Those guys were evil but they were also bad. I felt sorry for the people who died: the pictures tacked up on the trees all over New York, asking if anybody had seen so-and-so since disappearing that day, made me feel very sorry for them and the people who lost them. I probably remember that more than the falling towers. Everyone after 9/11 was supposed to hate the terrorists, which really meant Arabs and Muslims and so on. But I kind of admired them, secretly. (I would never have admitted it at the time, of course: I wasnt that dumb.) They were fighting the Big Guys. They were the underdogs. All they had was ceramic box cutters and very clever brains and lots of patience, and they were fighting the biggest nuclear power, with the biggest army and the biggest navy and the biggest air force and the biggest technology, and who knew what else, the world has ever seen. It was like the Americans against the British in the revolution. And we happened to be the British. Of course I want America to win the war on terror, eventually. When we invaded Iraq I was in fifth grade, a blazing,

wild-eyed patriot like everybody else I remember the first night of shock and awe, when they had cameras in Baghdad showing where the bombs were falling (what was that all about? Did Saddam politely invite the reporters in, and the Pentagon happily supply them with GPS for the targets, so they could good camera angles, at a safe distance, of whole neighborhoods being blown sky high?), and my dad jumping up and down on the sofa, more excited than for the Superbowl, yelling, Bomb the fuckers! Bomb the fuckers! Kill those motherfuckin Muslim assholes! till mom told him it was OK to yell, but he shouldnt curse in front of the children, and he gave her a look that said, Ill fuckin bomb you if you dont watch out but only cursed under his breath for the next week of bombing, so long as he could yell. For a while I even liked Bush. We all liked Bush. My dad had put a flag out on the lawn the week after 9/11, now he put flags all over the house. We looked like a circus tent. He took most of them down later, when they discovered there were no WMD in all of Iraq. We still got rid of that bastard, dad said, meaning Saddam Hussein. He organized 9/11 he did it to get back at Bush. He still believes that, I think. So I guess killing all those people in Iraq and letting their country collapse in carnage and civil war, which even I noticed despite my tender years, must have been worth it in the end. It was around that time I began to feel really sorry for the people in Baghdad and Iraq and even Afghanistan hey, what had they done? What if a gang of American assholes (weve got our fair share) decided to kill a bunch of people in Hungary or somewhere, and the Hungarians found some way to rain oceans of terror on Stockton, California even though the killers had come from, say, Maine? And even if our noble governor had ordered the attack on the Huns? It was then I thought: power. Thats what its all about. What

you can get away with because youre bigger and tougher than anybody else. Except little people with brains and guts and gall, who dont give up no matter what. Whove got the power against the power. Whos got the real power then? Well, Ive learned my lesson. Now I dont believe anything they tell me they just want to keep the rest of us under their thumbs. Scared and obedient. (Youve seen that obey face thats been pasted up on walls all over the world? Right, Watson. Signs of the times.) Maybe thats another reason why I feel old. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: age sixteen, growing up, growing old, facebook, fakebook, 9/11, taking power, real adults, fake adults, obey To Tweet or Not to Tweet The hottest question these days is, like always, about tech. Do you tweet? Now, of course, there are obvious benefits to tweeting, like when youre taking a test. Or trying to find out what your best friend is up to on his first heavy date. Then there are the liabilities like feeling like you have to stay connected even when youd rather be left alone. Like being tweeted by your best friend when on your first heavy date. In school this term, its considered very uncool not to tweet this is a problem if you have decided, after extensive risk-benefit analysis, that tweeting is more of a pain in the butt than it is worth texting is fine, I live to text (when Im not secretly blogging), or I would if I had any friends to receive my immortal typos but gimme some room. Of course, if you just wait a year or so, the question will go away, to be replaced by another issue of equal or worse stupidity, this being the age of stupidity by which I mean both the historical age and the age in the life cycle of us humans (!!) can you be a teen without being a complete idiot? (I dont exempt myself, friend.)

But a year is an eternity when youre 16, and in the meantime you dont want to be ostracized as a dork you want people to at least pretend to like you. So you tweet, though reluctantly, and hope you have more than three followers. (Caddy Smithfield claims she has more than 500, but then she would.) I keep it to three times a day: Lunch: overcooked burger, cold fries, warm slaw, no ice for the coke I feel like Ive died and gone to England. Shocking lesson in sexual reproduction: Mr. Brabsons fly is open in bio class. Just finished my homework and want to watch something uplifting, but all Ive got is Eraserhead and Happiness. Any suggestions? (Nobody replied, so I watched Eraserhead and had nightmares about Philadelphia all night.) Im still waiting for the first Twitter scandal. Theres already been a Twitter breakup: Sandy Grady, in sixth grade, was seen walking down the corridor outside gym blubbering because Kevin Powers, in seventh, had just tweeted he was giving her her walking papers. Talk about tacky. Its like writing it in graffiti on the parking lot wall. Though it served her right, if you ask me. She tweeted when she lost her virginity to him over Thanksgiving weekend which is even tackier. Texting a girlfriend would have been bad enough (hey meghan i just lost it to kvn pwrs woo hoo!). Not that she could have kept it a secret for long anyway. Gotta love the new media. Theres only one way to protect your privacy anymore. Never tell a computer anything. The Internet is not your imaginary friend, friend. It is an octopus with a million mouths and, like, an infinite hunger. The mother of all vampires. Now Ive lost your trust completely, right, Watson? But I thought you had figured me out by now: I am masking my ID just so everything else I say can be true. Clever, right? I thought youd think so. Dad has reached the point of emailing. He even knows about

MySpace and Facebook (Sheila has a Facebook page, Amos does MySpace) another reason I dont do either. I think Twitter baffles him: when my sister told him about it, his reaction was, Why does anyone bother? Nobodys that interesting. He just doesnt get having your own personal posse tracking your every movement, burp, and sorry excuse for a thought. Its toilet fame. Dad once asked me, with his usual smirking glare, Youre not on this Twitter thing, are you? I wasnt sure what he was up to was he trying to catch me at something, like some family indiscretion (a crime only slightly less bad than lying), or did he maybe want me to teach him? Anyway, since I couldnt guess his motive, and asking him a direct question is always a dangerous idea, I decided it was safer to bend the truth a little. Nah, I lied, promptly. Thats for girls. He smirked. I was going to add a joke Tweetsre for Tweetie-pies but why push my luck? (Yeah, I know: Egypt, Twitter blowout and Facebook revolution, etc., etc., etc. Just wait . . . it wont end good. Twee-Party, anyone?) And to think it all began with the blog, an island in cyberspace with its own cargo cult post it, and they will respond. I know they will. I know they will. I know they will. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: twitter, tweeting, against tweeting, myspace versus facebook, myspace verses facebook, myspace virus facebook, cargo cults Showing Skull OK, thou grinning, smirking, sneerifying jackasses you asked for it! No more Mr. Nice Guy! Ive just about had it with the winds of silence howling through cyberspace. Ive been way too gentlemanly with you people, Ive been nice, friendly, thoughtful,

considerate even. But I forgot: nobody likes a gentleman in cyberspace well, nobody pays any attention to them and eyeballs and flame matches and snark and vituperation and sarcastic insults and verbal foul play are what its all about, they are the measure of your presence, the only measurable measures out there, theyre the metrics of power, the tattoo of success. So OK: from now on, its hardball Ill paste your eyeballs to this web page, buddy, and make you pant for more. Time to rip off the mask and show the bloody skull. AARRGH-HHH! Comments welcome, below. Keyboard: nice guy, not nice guy, flaming, counting eyeballs, snark, skull, web of deceit The Queen of Persia Did I scare ya? Dont answer that. A new and very hot girl was introduced to our class a couple weeks ago and Miss Schmidt sat her right next to me. Why me? So near yet so far. (Well, we are seated in alphabetical order, so I guess I should just blame my mother for marrying a man whose last name is Simpson.) Her name is Nidal Moussavi, shes Iranian, she has this black, long, thick hair and black angry eyes and white skin the color of ivory dipped in milk, and black eyebrows that look like, I dont know, incredibly sexy caterpillars, and these, like, pink etched lips and a nose so perfect it makes her profile look like it belongs in a museum, and she dresses like a rich girl, and has an attitude a mile and a half long, I wonder what shes doing in a public school, unless she and her parents were thrown out of Iran, or they escaped and couldnt bring their money with them, they left with their rich clothes on their backs and nothing else, and they escaped to Iraq where an American army patrol found them and hid them and put them in

refugee program and brought them to the US of A, and now theyre starting from scratch in their new home in America where theyve been told all things are possible, and they believe it, like the babes that they are. Maybe theyre pumping her dad at Livermore, after all theyre trying to make atomic bombs in Iran and maybe they think he knows something, they make bombs at Livermore just across the valley a bit (uh oh, will the Department of Homeland Security turn up knocking on my door next? I think I just let out a national secret, were at war and the terrorists are the only ones in the universe reading my blog, but, like, everybody in this part of the country knows about Livermore, people are just happy to have jobs, they dont really care what the jobs are for actually doing). Thank God Nidal only sits next to me in homeroom. I dont have to concentrate there. At first I kept trying to catch her eye, make a joke before class started, asked her why she wasnt wearing a scarf, made some smart-ass reference to Ahmad-whats-his-face, but they all fell flat, of course. Once she looked at me as though I had come from another planet, then her eyes unfocused like she was looking at the wall behind my head, and that was the last eye contact we ever had. My look must have blinded her with ecstatic bliss, she just couldnt take it, man. I have one consolation: she doesnt talk to any of the other guys in class either, but she lost no time in collecting her own harem in the lunchroom (maybe shes gay? A gorgeous, gay Muslim from Iran what a find). It was amazing: she staked out her turf within hours Trudy Ganz, Mia Yu, Emily Klein, and Sarah Albertson were awed by the fact the exotic queen bee would talk to them at all, theyre the ones who usually squash the rest of the girls under their perfectly nail-polished thumbs, but it was no time before they all started giggling and plotting and eating each others lunches, it was a scream.

This does not exactly make it any easier for me to sit next to this goddess made of ice water and perfect skin for twenty minutes every morning, trying not to stare at her designer profile and being treated as if I were an unfortunate but unavoidable smell for my reward. See, Im getting sappy already. Ever felt like somebody keeps dangling your favorite candy in front of your nose and then yanks it back whenever you try to reach out for it? Like the old 80s song: You cant touch this! (And you want it - doncha, doncha, doncha!) Having to sit next to that girl was pure sadism a little Abu-Ghraib before starting my otherwise scintillatingly boring day. Of course, I daydream about Nidal on the bus to school, like, every morning, with long imaginary conversations, replaying how she looked the day before, what I saw her do, what I heard her say, wondering if the way she shifted her foot under her desk in my direction maybe means she has a little thing for me, maybe she is, oh so subtly, just between the two of us dont want everybody to know sending me a signal, etc. totally pathetic. My head is coming unglued. Nidal, Nidal, Nidal! Yech. Its hopeless, of course even I know that. But the gonads and the hypothalamus and the testosterone dont want to hear any of that, they want what they want when they want it, and they dont much care if they have to kill me in the process. So I have applied to have my desk changed in homeroom. (That will be tough, as were assigned seats in alphabetical order, so, in theory, I would have to legally change my last name to something that comes before M, preferably before C, to get far enough away, but this might cause problems at home (Dad: Whaddayamean ya wanna change yer last name! Ya friggin outta yer mind! Sheila: I always knew you hated us! Mom: But of course you can change your last name, dear, even

though Ill wilt with humiliation every time youre mentioned by our friends)). But how do I tell Miss Schmidt I want to move my desk because I have the hots for Nidal and she wont give me the time of day? That the alternative is to put me and Nidal in room with a bed in it and lock the door? You think shed show me any mercy? Shed just get my butt suspended for sexual harassment. I didnt give a reason, but I did ask Tommy Harris if he would trade seats with me he gave me a bug-eyed look as if to say, you mean you want to move away from the Persian Bomb? There goes my rep as a straight male, I thought, theyll think Im a queer in training, jealous of a bona fide love terrorista, a pair of real tits and a vacuum vagina. Or worse, that Im a wimp who cant take a blast of pure estrogen projected directly into my face, daily. Well, let em ridicule, let em sneer. I cant take this anymore. And having her a couple rows away will save my nerves if not my cred. Miss Schmidt gave me and Tommy dubious looks. Maybe I should have said my uncle was tortured to death on a special ops mission in Tehran, and I find it unbearably upsetting to have to sit next to someone who reminds me of my beloved uncles awful end everyday? She has an our troops ribbon hanging from her rearview mirror in her Honda. Hm. Ill save that for a last desperate measure. No point lying more than is absolutely necessary. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: hot babe, hot iranian babe, hot muslim babe, queen of Persia, hopeless passion Lessons in Tolerance No, she hasnt talked to me yet. In case you were wondering. Today she was wearing a plaid jumper with black stockings. What does she think this is, parochial school? She making fun of us infidels? She planning a jihad?

Shes already got one, and she won it. The jihad of the heart (yech!). I surrender! Allah is great! I actually bought a Koran the other day, though Im hiding it from the family, of course theyd be the first to turn me into the Department of Homeland Security. (At last weve got a reason to get rid of that kid! I always thought there was terror in those genes. He was a weird looking infant.) I dont think Ill actually read it how can you read a book that starts with a hugely long chapter called The Cow? Even though the whole book is arranged in a way that is just spot-on brilliant from the longest chapter to the shortest chapter. Now, isnt that just too intelligent for words? And anyway, somehow I dont think my walking around school with the Koran tucked under my arm, with me paging through the Koran thoughtfully while roll call is being taken, taking notes, sighing at the beauty and wisdom of this holiest of books, would have any effect on Nidal whatsoever anyway shed probably think I was more likely to desecrate her holy book by just looking at it than it was likely to save me even if I managed to memorize the whole thing by heart. OK, OK, Watson, I hear you! But you cant tell me nobody ever converted to Islam just because he had the hots for some Muslim girl. Miss Schmidt actually called me in after school and gave me lecture on tolerance. She thinks I want to move from my desk because Im prejudiced against Iranians. Duh! Iranians have suffered more than anyone from their intolerant government, she droned in her unbearable lisp. And Muslims have been unfairly judged since 9/11. She gave me a stern, goggle-eyed look. Its up to us, in school, to set a standard of fairness. We have to show our friends who are refugees from abroad that they can be Americans too. She paused, in all the dignity of her despised

profession. And that must start in this classroom. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. My first impulse, fortunately suppressed, was to cry out, But I love Iranians! No. How was I going to tell her it wasnt because I hated them that I wanted to move my desk? I gave her my most opaque, innocent, dont-know-why-youcould-possibly-be-telling-me-all-this look and nodded with as deeply earnest a frown as I could squeeze onto my face. I completely agree with you, Miss Schmidt, I feel totally sorry for the Iranians, I said, or something like that. Theyre going through a terrible time over there, I dont envy them one bit. We should make the Iranians who come here feel at home as much as we possibly can. Suddenly I perked up as though my dim brain had just now been bathed in light. Oh! You mean like Nidal Moussavi! Miss Schmidt was not having it, and squirreled her mouth in extreme skepticism. Yes! she lisped. I smiled stupidly. I feel so sorry for her. Shes so far from home. And who knows when she can go back? Life must be really hard for her. And her family. That last bit was inspired, if I do say so myself. Miss Schmidts face lost a fraction of its tightness. Im sure theyre good people. They just need a little help, like we all do sometimes. They just need to feel welcome. I paused, and then let my bomb fall. Is there anything you think I can do specially to help? Well . . . Miss Schmidt looked flustered. (Victory! I crowed inside; she thought I had made absolutely no connection between my request and her speech, and she didnt know what to make of it: either I was an idiot or a saint. Itll give her a brain seizure if it lasts another minute.) No, not you exactly, I mean necessarily, Im just thinking you can help set an example . . . for everyone else in class . . . Yes, Miss Schmidt, I said, obediently. Then I twisted the

blade a little: By doing what? . . . by . . . by, well, being kind . . . considerate . . . to our new arrival. Yes, Miss Schmidt. Oh, how I wanted to add: Do you have anything particular in mind? But I just continued to stare at her, brain-dead and saintly. She looked completely embarrassed. Miss Schmidt was blushing. She smiled weakly, yet the frown contorting her forehead showed she was not yet completely convinced, but didnt know how to deal with my staring, blatant, shameless hypocrisy. As long as we understand each other. Oh yes, Miss Schmidt, we understand each other - all the world needs is love, love, love is all it needs! Her smile froze on her purple face. You can go home, now, Adam. Thank you, Miss Schmidt. You can count on me. That last might just have been a little too much. But I left too fast to find out. The next day I got Tommy Harris to ask Miss Schmidt about switching desks and I told him to lay on the lets help the poor Iranians pitch real thick. Whatever he said, it worked, and with a sigh of relief, I moved to Tommys desk the next day. Tommy really didnt have to give me a sneery I-dont-believe-youre-letting-me do this smirk as we exchanged seats, but I did get a bonus: I now have a better view of Nidals to-die-for profile without having to stretch my neck unnaturally in three different directions. My very own personal waterboard has been retired. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: hot babe, hot Iranian babe, hot muslim babe, koran, queen of persia

Zit Season Theyre getting worse. It must be spring. They always get worse in the spring, the sebaceous glands (are you reading this, Mr. Brabson? See, I have learned something from biology class) start to work overtime, black heads appear either side of my nose, especially in the gutters next to my nostrils, they look like poppy seeds, and I hate poppy seeds, whenever I see poppy seeds they remind me of black heads, and whenever I see black heads, they remind me of poppy seeds, and its only a matter of time before one of them breaks out in a red boil with a white head at the top where the pus shows through, then another pops up, then another, until I have three or four, and even five once, on my nose, on my chin, on my forehead, even on my ear once, and I cant even look in the mirror without disgusting myself. I feel like a leper, like I have AIDS. And theres nothing I can do about it. Ive tried Retin-A and Clearasil, and they only hide it for five minutes or make it worse. I have this oily skin, and it shines like the moon half an hour after I wash it. My mother keeps telling me its only a phase, but Ive seen Ted McMaster hes 25, his face looks like a bee swarm ate it and then spat it out, and he still gets zits when will his phase be over? So I lie at night staring into the dark, wondering whether I should kill myself before I look like him. Of course Nidal wont talk to me, I look infectious. Who knows, maybe I am it would be my luck to have the only infectious case of acne in the world. The only other person in school who has it worse than I do is Mary Jane Daniels, in eighth grade, another blond, who would otherwise be a babe, but not with a dozen red boils on her face, half of them about to break at any moment. She often looks like shes about to cry all over the place, and I know its because she just got a look at her own reflection. War is hell? The man didnt go far enough. Life is hell, Watson. You heard it here first.

What possible good can an invasion of scarlet zits do for anybody? Weed out the really uglies so they wont reproduce? But its the zits that made them ugly in the first place! If Nature didnt like oily skin, why didnt she select it out millions of years ago? (Weve just been learning very carefully, Mr. Brabson doesnt want to offend the families, like my parents, who are convinced Darwin was just another communist liberal who wants to take away their rights to bear arms about the so-called possible theories of evolution from the ancient Greeks to Stephen Jay Gould, with pit-stops at other theories of creation, from the Rig Veda to Genesis: wouldnt it be poetic justice if some of the fanatics kids converted to, say, Hinduism? Their creationism is so much cooler than my parents. I can see it now: those liberal terrorists turned my Jennifer into a towelhead! Well, if Nature wants to select out zit faces, shes sure taking her time about it. Who knows? Maybe some girls get off on zit faces the same ones who like tattoos and pierced noses. Hey, I think your new boil, the one starting to drip down your chin, looks cute! No. I dont think so. Unless pitys the driver. Poor Adam! Nobody else likes him because of his zits he needs someone to love him. And, of course, shell be the homeliest, dorkiest, fattest, ugliest girl in school theyre the only ones who feel sorry for someone who looks worse than they do. Yech. One thing I know. It wont be Nidal. Comments welcome, below. Keywords: zits, pimples, boils, black heads, white heads, evolution, creationism, darwin Nu-cular Its been a few days since my last post. A lot can happen in a

few days. The world can change in a few days. Hella, man, it doesnt need a few days to change the world. Dads left. He announced it over dinner just before Sheila, who always eats too fast, was finishing her mashed. I dont remember the exact words he used, wrack my brains like I have trying. All I remember is the sound of his voice, even drier and heavier than usual, then I felt my stomach turn into rancid butter. Everything stopped Im not exaggerating. Sheila with a forkful of mashed half raised to her mouth, which was hanging open like a fly trap, Amos about to put his glass of milk back on the table after chug-a-lugging it, his tongue sticking out, ready to wipe the white moustache off, Mom patting her mouth with her napkin as if she were still wearing lipstick, me doing whatever. He did something really weird: he raised his eyebrows and sniffed. Hes never done anything like that in his whole life well, in my whole life. My dad, who hates snotty people almost as much as he hates communists, making like a high class maitre d in an old movie who has just been asked to seat a family of hillbillies. I stared at him his face looked like a mask, quiet and hard and, well too good for this riffraff. I thought, Who is he? Where did he come from? Ive never seen this man before in my life. Sheilas forkful of mashed returned slowly to her plate. Her mouth closed. Her lips were shaking. Youre leaving? she asked, as if she hadnt heard. He looked at her out of his mask. The mask seemed to harden a little. Yes, it said I think. At least I think it said yes. But maybe it didnt say anything. Sheila kept staring at him, as if not wanting to believe and yet believing much too easily.

The rest of us were silent, caught in the headlights, and the truck just kept on coming. But why? Sheila almost wailed it out. Dad raised his eyebrows and sniffed again. Ive found somebody else I want to be with. Ive never felt so frozen in my life. You couldnt have paid me to look at moms face. Amos looked solemn and silly, the way he always does when he tries to look serious and has no idea whats going on. I started hearing some stupid U2 song in my head, and not even one I liked. Then Sheila asked the question the rest of us were thinking. Dont you love us anymore? Of course, dad said, in the most insincere voice I have ever heard from him I thought, over the rock-n-roll I couldnt get out of my head: yeah, I dont know him at all I love you very much. Im just not going to live here anymore. I heard a sound of crashing. Mom had pushed her plate and glass and sent them flying over the floor as she stood up. Dad hardly seemed to notice, but his face returned to its usual petulant scowl at last something I recognized, though now I wasnt so sure if this hadnt been the mask all along, and the other was his real face and he barked out in an angry voice, slightly strangled it was almost reassuringly familiar, though at any other time it would have scared us silly: Get to your rooms! Amos ran out. Sheila left more slowly, starting to blubber. I have no idea how I looked: I was more baffled than upset by the look of this stranger sitting at our dining room table that I had mistaken all this time for my father: who was this snotty, superior, look-down-hisnose fake who had just put a hole in my guts out with some words? I caught sight of mom as I left on the march: she was standing in a frozen half turn at the end of the table, with an expression on her

face like a crushed plastic bottle and wetness shining over her face. He was as good as his word. Again reassuringly familiar, sort of. He moved out the next day at least, bodily, with a couple suitcases of clothes and personal stuff (laptop, go board, porn DVDs, shotgun, so on). It was one cold good-bye. He told us kids hed be in touch and didnt look at mom, who looked like she had caved in. She had this blank stare and did her mom things on automatic getting us out of bed, feeding us breakfast, cleaning the cat box (we have three cats dad didnt want any of them either). There were no hugs or kisses not that we have ever been very demonstrative, but there was no attempt even at a normal good-bye. Nobody cried, even Sheila, whose tears usually spill at the drop of a kitten. I had never realized how much he hated us. I just thought he hated me. We stared like dumb animals as he got into his car (the Acura, of course the Camry had always been for mom and Sheila) and drove off without even a wave. I cant say I even - at that moment hated him. Even now. Maybe I will some day. I just dont get it. Fathers just dont leave their families for no reason at all do they? And whats the reason he gave he found someone else? Where, in a cabbage patch? The city dump? Freakin Wal-Mart? Like he picked something up off the road and said to himself, This is cool, I think Ill burn down my house so I can have this. What if I had done something like that? He would have killed me. It was after the dust settled from his car and we limped back into the house that all hell broke loose. For a while Mom screamed hysterically when she wasnt spooky quiet. Sheila holed up in her room bawling her eyes out. Amos walked around with an embarrassed grin on his little old mans face. I turned on really loud music and lay on top of the bed, staring at the ceiling. Was it something I did? Did I misbehave once too often and

he decided he just couldnt stand being around me anymore? Was it that last lie I told? Like the white lie I told so I didnt have to tell him something that might upset him? I feel I dont know how I feel. Kind of hollowed out. I havent cried, I havent wanted to cry. Maybe Im in shock. I cant really believe it, it feels unreal. It feels weird - like something inside me has been cut out, like an operation. Amputation. Moms reactions scare me. If dad came back, I think she might kill him. Its eerie not to hear him in the house. Even with the usual house noises, clanking in the kitchen, footsteps to and from the bathroom, doors banging, the stuff people cant stop doing no matter how awful they feel, it feels silent, creepy. I keep listening for something that isnt there. Watson? Is this the first really bad thing to happen to me? Has anything really awful ever really happened to me before? Is this what it feels like? When youre dead but not dead? And feel like youre turning into dirt? Comments welcome, below. The Great Escape Now Sheilas run away. She snuck out sometime overnight. Mom is too overwhelmed to know what to do. She called the police and went through Sheilas things to see if she could find the phone number of a best friend or something. But nobody uses paper for that stuff anymore. Of course she took her cellphone and little pink laptop with her, so mom couldnt find anything there either. She even asked Amos and me, as if Sheila has ever told either of us anything about her life since she turned thirteen and discovered the exotic, ineffable, monumental, how-dare-you-even-look-at-mewithout-kissing-the-ground-I-walk-on status of being female and teen. Then mom got a brain wave and looked up Sheilas Facebook

page. But Sheila never let her become a friend - Mom! I need to have some privacy! (Privacy? Internet?) I still remember the huge fight they had last summer, and now Mom cant even find Sheilas page: Youd be surprised how many Sheila Simpsons there are on Facebook. Mom called her school a really desperate act. The cops were not very helpful: Sheila just turned 18 in January, so the cops said shes an adult, she can go whenever and wherever she wants to. If Sheilas an adult, Im George Clooney. Adulthood is like marriage: people should have to pass a test. Most adults I know wouldnt pass either one. Its grim at home the silence, without Sheilas chattering and scenes and Dads snorts and sarcastic commentary, like a steady, grumbling bass, is deadly it makes me feel like letting out a rebel yell just to let myself know Im still alive. Mom locks herself in the master bedroom when she feels a crying jag coming on, to hide it from Amos and me. I do what I can to help but whatever is there for me to do? I cant cook or clean house, I just stand in the kitchen and look sympathetic. Anyway, mom was never very good at delegating shes gotta do everything herself, then blames the rest of us for not helping. After the first shock I dont feel much of anything. Whats weird about the silence is it feels inside me too: I feel like a cave inside. But a cave without any echoes. The house feels like its made of glass: the slightest wrong move and it might fall down on us. Thats how it feels. Of course it wont fall down on us. Thats crazy talk. Amos cant stop grinning. At least he isnt making his stupid jokes like he always does. Unless hes saving them up for the big time waiting till we relax, then bombs away! Sometimes Id like to wipe the grin off his face.

I cant lie to dad anymore, because theres no dad to lie to. I cant lie to mom, not now. Lying to Amos is too easy hell believe anything. And lying to teachers is just business as usual. It doesnt help anything anyway. You may as well tell the truth, Watson. If you can.

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