I beat my alarm by two minutes, this day beginning for me like they all do. Up at six to be at school by eight, I clear my eyes, feel them focus on the popcorn ceiling of my bedroom, probably toxic and long since destroyed by Cat Madigan and I, on one of our infamous afternoons when we’d reveled in the act of scratching our names into the ceiling with the end of a cymbal stand, along with random phrases, band names, and cursewords.
My room sits in the back of the house in which they’d hoped to realize their middle class dream for us – a large, sprawling, tract home with its own little details and quirks, one off from the corner, across the street from Dovie and Floyd and next door to Mrs. Wilson, on a curvy, tree-lined avenue in safe, suburban SoCal, white bread America, the home of Karen Carpenter – Downey, California. It wasn’t originally meant to be a bedroom, I don’t think, more like an office or a bonus room by the look of it. It’s got these kitschy, 1970’s built-ins and that – cabinets along one wall, cork board above one corner, above the other a book case, split by a window that looks out on the backyard. Another wall just a sliding glass door. A separate entrance, or exit, depending on how you wanna look at it. And that lets out to a screened in porch, patio, whatever. The heavy green carpet and beaten up drapes I can do without, but it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I have to leave when I want without Harry ever knowing about it.
It was my Mother’s other daughter’s before mine and unremarkable in her care – she’d left behind a lone, ugly brass day bed when she got married, below just two one sheets, Peter Frampton and The Eagles. Three if you count the one my Mother had tacked to the door, John Travolta posing Saturday Night and pursed lips. Poignant, isn’t it? The room is mine now, though, and much more interesting, quite frankly – my aesthetic decidedly Ferris. Bueller, not wheel, to be clear. The film’s been quite the influence, I have to say. I’d seen it with Harry on one of our weekly movie outings. I’d just turned thirteen and Harry freaked the fuck out on our way home and I kind of did, too. He because he thought it would make me start cutting school all the time, me because I’d seen in the character something I felt in myself. Travolta’s still on the door, though.
I started my collaging just on the bulletin board, no real plan in mind, honestly, first just the new Calvin Klein ads. It wasn’t long, though, before the bounds of cork proved woefully inadequate for my vision, I had no other choice but to let my paper amoeba crawl slowly outside, adding in clips from glossies and Rolling Stone – Madonna, Cindy Crawford, Theatre Company show posters, random newspaper clips. And Linda, of course. The Fairy Godmother. Covers, namely. Vogue, primarily. Perfection, definitely. It’s weird, the things I find myself fascinated with, now that I’m thinking about it. My finishing touch the U.S. flag Harry used to hang from the front of our house on the Fourth of July and Veterans Day, doing the same across my sliding glass entrance, or exit, depending on how you wanna look at it, though now hanging proudly upside down. He just about lost his mind the first time he saw it like that. I told him that we’d talked about it in US History last semester, that it’s supposed to signal dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property and that activists have often used this meaning as a visual protest and that I was now doing the same. He really didn’t have much to say after that. He really must wonder how he could have fucked things up so badly that a daughter of HIS could do such a disrespectful thing, which just makes me laugh, quite honestly.
I just can’t stand plain, bare, white walls. I don’t know what it is, but the blankness all over the place makes me fucking crazy. Always has, really. So I just kept going. The entire space is just one big collage now. Pretty embarrassed to say this, but I will, anyway, I guess. But I can see where it began. In my old bedroom next door. Pinups of Ricky Schroder, Rob and Chad Lowe, all the boys in Bop Magazine and Super Teen. Which is fucking hilarious because it’s not like I ever really thought of them that way. I mean, I did. But I didn’t. I’m still not sure what it was. Or is. Something girlish about them all, maybe.
I’ve taken to stealing remnants of my mother away from Harry, little by little I’ve made quite the stash for myself. Photos, mainly. Hidden in the crawlspace under the floor of my closet. To keep them safe. He left me no choice after he took that mug to Goodwill. And this isn’t the first time he’s pulled shit like this on me, either. He gave Marty’s other daughter all of her needlepoint and didn’t even talk to me about it. Didn’t even tell me. I only found out when I opened the closet where he kept them and found it empty. I’ve been forgotten in the death of my own mother.
All of her books line my shelves, though. And all of the books she got for me, too. He knows fucking better than to mess with our books. Weird to think of her reading some of them. Like this paperback she had, it’s thick and it must be a thousand pages or something, cover’s ripped off, it’s an anthology of Victorian porn. That one was wild to read as a kid. Who would have fucking thought? It just speaks to this. Inner life she might have had. And breeds questions I don’t know that I’ll ever find the answers to. Those are the books of her that I always found myself gravitating to. Then there’s this other one, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). Some of the stories in it are just fucking awful. I mean, I read those when I was, like, ten or something. Kind of explains a lot, now that I’m thinking about it. I trashed that one a while ago, though.
I still have a lot of the books she used to read to me, the most important ones, at least. Richard Scarry’s Greatest Storybook Ever, The Little Engine That Could, The Giving Tree. Sandman Stories is my favorite. That’s more about the way the pages feel beneath my fingers, though. That distinct book smell it has, unique to only it. I don’t take it out all that often anymore. I can’t take the chance, I don’t want that smell ever to fade. I’ve added quite a few of my own, now, too. Mostly paperbacks I get for school, Catcher and Shakespeare, books I steal from the Walden’s at Stonewood Mall. I’ve got them all on towering, makeshift bookcases that I built out of plywood and brick. One shelf is even a skateboard, flat with the wheels down. I can’t help but revel in my literary deathtrap, earthquake country and that.
I’m kind of a builder. Like. I’ll just be laying here or sitting at my desk doing my homework or reading or something, and it’ll just sorta come to me, kind of hit me. Some way of improving the space. I expanded my stereo system for my last project, added two speakers. Just a couple of old ones someone had left in the alley behind the Country Butcher Shop around the corner. I’ve got double the sound now, I could give a shit where I got ‘em from, cause, goddamn, they sound good. Harry hates it, of course. Not the building things part, the loud music part. There’s a built-in desk, too. The perfect spot for the Brother AX-24 electric typewriter he got me for Christmas a couple of years back. It’s the only thoughtful gift he’s ever really given me, now that I’m thinking about it. He usually gets me the most random, junky shit, I swear. I papered it over with stickers as soon as I got it, pretty much. Score on the fact that Harry doesn’t really seem to give a shit what I do, so long as I keep my grades up, a style of parenting which works to my advantage on numerous levels, truth be told.
I stumble out of my bed, dial up the thermostat. A couple of clicks, then a brief groan as the heater ignites. I catch a glance of that photo of the three of us, the only one I have up, in the vestibule at St. Francis at her other daughter’s wedding. I call her my mother’s other daughter because Harry isn’t her father and she’s definitely not my sister. Her name’s Allison. It’s just so weird and hard to understand, you know, to go from that happiness, the promise shining bright behind the stained glass windows in church that day. To go from that to nothing at all.
The house is kind of a dump now, their middle class dreams extinguished by metastasizing everything in more than one of her organs, by the end. Just him and me these past nine years, the house fucking shows it. He let it and him and his heart and everything else go to shit—so enjoy our spacious living room, the wall of three beautiful picture windows, through which the most beautiful afternoon sunlight shines on the years old dog pee stains that dot the old, flat, brown carpet, glossed over now with layers and layers of dog disinfecting spray foam, long since dried over and probably toxic. Wallpaper peels off the once lively dining room walls while termites chow down on the window trim. Or, please. Just down the back steps, out the kitchen door, and you can view the expansive and yellowed, shit littered, back yard, Marty’s roses long stem roses long since died and gone, replaced with the corpses of pets who, I suspect now, probably gave up because it was just too fucking depressing, having to be live here in this house with us.
There are cool things about this place, too, though. There has to be. Otherwise, it’s just too, too, too much. There’s the most beautiful, big tree in the front yard and a grip of fruit in the back – orange, avocado, and plum; the hardwood floor I know is below the toxic, brown carpet; the rough cut stone fireplace, 1950’s style or something, I don’t know for sure. But all the stones are different – different textures, different shades of earth, sealed together, stacked to support the dark, red wood of the mantle. They used the same kind of stone trim on the outside of the house, too. Or maybe they’re more like rocks, I don’t know. The wood on the den wall, paneled in perfect, ridged squares, gone this way and that, intersecting at edges. Harry’s toolboxes, out in the garage. Fucking old school. By how much I’m not sure, exactly. 1950s, maybe. His and my grandfather’s names engraved on their respective silver plates, fastened to the front – made of heavy oak, maybe? The wood of both finished cherry and beaten down a bit by each of their places in a series of machine shops. Slim, green, velvet-lined drawers, I’ve always been fascinated with them. A frequent offense of mine as a child was playing with Harry’s tools without his permission. The magic I’d make if I had this house to myself. I tend to daydream about that a lot. I’ve got it all mapped out in one of my sketchbooks. The backyard from what it is now to this fucking lush, beautiful, green garden, a little art studio, shack sort of thing between the orange and avocado tree in the back, cedar walkways and a pond with some fish, probably. A music studio above the garage, workshop below. The room I have now would be my office and I’d take Harry’s room. I’d rip up the carpet, of course. I don’t know. Is it wrong to wish a parent ill will to make your house back into the home you always wished it could be? Because it was that once. Before she got sick and fucking died.
I meander from my bedroom down the hallway. He’s already gone, thank fuck. He gets up at some ungodly hour, like four or something, out of the house every morning by six. He used to own his own shop, now he works out at this place in Compton by the casino. He seems to like it all right. As long as he isn’t here. I fucking hate if he’s here when I get out of bed in the morning. It used to just be him teasing me right off the bat, teenage boy sort of stuff he knows fucking annoys me. It’s more than that, now. And so fucking intense. In a way it wasn’t before. Something more. Like. I’m really not overstating or being dramatic when I say just his presence, just the sight of him makes me want to hit him over the head with a baseball bat.
I’m so glad I’ll be at the Vaughn’s tonight. He should be asleep by the time I get home.