“It was Monday—Tuesday, I was wearing my white blouse and Gene—Gene worked so I did the cooking—was coming back from work—she was a nurse—and I had the most splendid roast prepared—and she told me she had a hot date. She went to go get dressed—the door rang—I answered—there’s Bernard, and sure enough they go out, but that night Gene told me that Bernard asked her if it was okay if he asked me on a date—I thought she was kidding—but sure enough Bernard called me up and we went out on a Friday night—I was in my best blue dress—then all day Saturday, all day Sunday, and I had to work Monday—I was a clerk—two weeks later we were engaged—I got sick—went to the hospital—my mom had to come visit her daughter in the hospital and meet this Bernard—she did, and sure enough her sick daughter was getting married—and…” The story ends in the most tragic manner—it feels like when someone with Alzheimer’s drops a sentence in the middle and never recalled that they were even trying to communicate; though this lady is relatively very healthy and sharp, it’s a morbid reminder of age, and hers is above eighty. My dad is looking at me, and I know that he’s going to try and broadcast the importance of my witnessing such a recollection to the entire group.
“Wow, that’s amazing. Ya know, I think the one good thing—”
“Here it goes; I don’t listen to these,” I nudge the elderly man, Carl, the Brooklyn-Jew-turned-Carolina-mountain-Jew, to my right and wink to lightheartedly jest that I might be deaf to such overt lessons with much truth behind it. I fucking love Carl. He’s obnoxious and hilarious; I don’t sense a mean bone in his body, but you hear some bitter wit about him.
“—the one good thing about his generation is that they’ve learned to appreciate these little things.” I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean or what he’s thinking, given that my generation is the most distracted, caught-up, valueless generation in the history of the world; thank you, internet. I have no friends that listen to their elders. It’s actually profound.
The gods wait to delight in us.
“Ees rain’, fuck!” Julio’s wearing a hat that he’s never worn before, and it warrants the owner to call me and tell me to go check the garden for someone picking vegetables who shouldn’t be, but it’s just humble Julio. He’s only in the garden because Marshall, the magnum opus of the liberalist mindset, has abandoned his role without giving the proper notice, an action completely in line with his free-love mindset, or maybe I’m bitter because I know I’m not getting my drugs anymore. He was an escapist, and he knew that this was a negative trait, and he still does it. What a shithead. I’ve been burned by amoral, self-centered liberalists too many times in my life to leave them any trust.
Captitalism has destroyed the nuclear family. I was down by the lake helping wrinkly conservatives get their hips off the paddle boats and into their walkers when it dawned on me that I’ll never experience the equal warmth of freshly baked loaves, or the anticipation thereof when my mother would yell from the back porch at me while I was in the barn lighting army men on fire or running from the rooster who was a bit of a fuck— “the bread’s out of the oven!”. Or the smell of the mint tea that we brewed from the leaves that grew in the pasture across the road, and the adventure that came from my tactic of seeking the plants that were closest to the grazers, and inevitably running away from the spotted moos or merrs or hoarse mohuuhs who would sort of gallop after me in annoyance, a bundle of their favorite green in my hands and barefoot other than the dung stuck between my toes, and I would never worry about snakes or spiders but I was keen to every prickly grass patch within hundreds of yards of me and nimble about adjusting my footwork to avoid them, or, a jolt of electricity rising through my foot, quickly adjusting my weight off of a miscalculated heel that would later require the schoolyard-surgery of pinching my callouses until thorns dropped out; if things got worse, I’d go to mom, who was a mercenary with a pair of tweezers—this was reserved for the outstanding circumstances, though, because I knew that was going to hurt. And these were my troubles for the day. That and trying to conveniently overlap my time at the neighbor’s pool with his granddaughter, the cutest girl in my second grade class.
Maybe that one time that I was calculating my friends’ versions of A-Rod’s for names, a mnemonic device I still use to remember new names, me being J-Dor, a friend S-Wes, and she was P-Nus, which I never let her live down and sat in the front of the bus after she told the bus driver, Blake, who normally called me ‘King John’ but not in this case. Meeting his disappointed eyes reflecting in the mirror that crept back to the back, seeing him pick up his radio and call out on the PA— “John, can you come up here and take a seat by me for this ride?” And the ooo’s of the other kids, the long shameful walk to the front of the bus; as each kid’s stop was approaching, they would move to an on-deck seat of the bus that was right across from my new discipline seat. I normally wouldn’t interact with them because of a de facto seating arrangement, but now they all shamed me with their close presence. I’m sorry, Blake. I’ll never call her P-Nus again. But the freedom when it was finally my stop, and Blake gave me one last stern glance as if to remind me that it doesn’t have to be this way. Then I was free, the countryside and Calvin and Hobbes and my Pokemon cards and my mom telling me to bring the compost down to the barn.
Holding a broken bucket as far away from my body as I could because there were juices collecting at its cracked base that would leak out with every slight swing, and the odor was horrendous. Rotten eggs multiplied by cabbage stalks and banana peels and the exponential effects of time. And I would get down there, on the other side of the barn, and use one finger to lift the bottom of the bucket, or sometimes set the bucket on the side of the compost box and push it over, and the odor would hit me, and I would run away to gather myself before picking up the empty, overturned bucket left inside the box.
The raspberry bushes were right there by the compost. I could eat and eat and eat all day, sitting in the few feet of shade between the bushes and the barn; this shade was offered by the overhang of the roof that I would climb up the rafters to get to. My homeschooled friend Tom and I would time each other climbing up there. We became quite masterful at it, climbing about twenty feet in less than eight seconds at our primes. We jumped off the roof once. It was scary, and the thrill didn’t stick.
Getting hit by T-Bus, eyes to the recently red and green sky; it’s pixels or radio signals up there, contrasting reds and greens like cones all too-da-loo now. The sound of an audience gasping in unison. Laying there not one blink of my eyes, and then I’m up, walking in the wrong direction. A teammate runs to me from the huddle because I’m too disoriented to appease the screaming coaches and get off the field. I turn three quarters to my left, a pair of hands on top of the thick plastic padding on my shoulders or maybe my helmet. There’s the sideline and now I’m here walking off the field, there’s coach, there’s my father, who was an assistant coach not twenty seconds ago but is now a concerned parent, trying to usher me in and probably calculating the fastest way to the hospital. And as soon as I perceived all this as it was happening, I was better. My stomach was flat; I could count to ten while remembering my birthday. We can stay and watch until the end of the game before we head to the hospital. A couple plays go by and I’m experiencing about ten frames a second, or so it feels. Probably time to get my brain checked. We leave; injured players are celebrated in middle school if they went down dramatically in combat.
Sleeping on a floor after a long night of drinking, no phone service to fall back on, me and the streets of Berlin, and I was just trying to find my way away. Matt the Australian nomad and I had had some goddamn shenanigans, let me tell you. We got lost in an insane rain storm in the middle of the afternoon. A rain jacket that my former boss had given me for the trip saved every possession I had.
B-Guy threatened to tell his mom that my older brother was speeding on the way home from our baseball game, and, so eloquently put, my brother replied, “if you tell anyone about this, I’ll slit your throat and throw you in that cornfield.” I enjoyed it, and my parents even thought it was a good move for self-preservation, but B-Guy’s mom was livid. She sheltered him because he wasn’t supposed to survive infancy, premature as he was, and he was always a fragile little fella. He’s twenty-one now, I think, having been held back a year for developmental reasons, and I bet he’s about a hundred and thirty pounds, still going to church every Sunday and living at home. He’ll be his father’s newest electrician soon if he isn’t already.
-John von Dorf