Monday, May 19, 2008

Returning to Mountain Town

Mountain Town View
Originally uploaded by BlackenedBoy

Originally uploaded by BlackenedBoy

Originally uploaded by BlackenedBoy

Sometimes things do get better. For all of the issues surrounding my father’s depression, my mother’s neurotic controlling, and the type of relationship that the three of us now have with each other, my time home thus far has not been the unmitigated disaster that I thought and that all logical markers seemed to indicate it would be.

I arrived here on Wednesday, May 13th, to a surprisingly tranquil reception. When things are bad they’re bad, but when things are good they’re good, and in my family the two extremes seem to intermingle uncomfortably near one another.

My mother teased me about various things as we drove the hour and a half home to Mountain Town, and upon reaching our destination I dragged my assorted totes and duffle bags down the stairs to my room (I sleep, gratefully during the summer months, in our cool basement).

Later that day, Pie, my four-year-old sister, came home from her daycare and at catching sight of me immediately dropped the ball she’d been playing with, screamed “BB!” in her adorable pre-schooler’s accent, and ran over to give me a gigantic hug.

She and I have always been uncommonly close, perhaps because of the great age difference between us; I was fifteen years old when she was born, and from her earliest infancy have acted as partial caregiver and supportive companion, as both playmate and protector. Sometimes I feel more like a third parent than a brother, and the bond I share with her carries with it a distinct whiff of authority that her interactions with my other two brothers do not possess.

I call her “Pie,” here, but in a real sense that is not a pseudonym but her name. I won’t divulge her actual name, of course, but “Pie” is what we address her by. Nobody is entirely sure how this happened, although the general consensus is that it started with me.

As best as I can work it out, I was calling her “honey-pie” during her babyhood and this somehow transformed into “Pie.”

“Hello, Pie,” my brothers will say as they jump down the staircase and see her playing in the foyer.

And we don’t just call her “Pie” in the regular sense of that word. For some reason, which I could not in the most distant way hope to identify, we always pronounce her peculiar moniker with a Southern accent, so that it comes out “Pah” instead of “Pie.” Saying “Pie” as it is written, with no ornamentation and a hard “i” at the end, would seem utterly strange to us.

She really is wonderful. Just the other night I was watching television with my father, mother, and her, and a cell phone commercial about overly-frugal parents came on the set. The focus of the ad was a father, who, faced with truly upsetting events, can only manage to muster anger over his children’s mobile phone bills and completely disregards the much more relevant catastrophes playing out in front of his face.

In one instance, a teenage boy is shown ramming his car through the closed garage door. His father, hearing the crash, comes outside and demands, “Have you seen this cell phone bill? Eleven calls in one day?”

My sister gestured toward the plaster-covered teen, and, with a full-cheeked smile, exclaimed, “Hey, look, just like BB!”

My parents, all too familiar with my history of minor car accidents (none of which, thankfully, has included plowing into a closed garage) immediately burst out laughing, and I marveled at her ability to associate the television spot with the two fairly inconsequential (if exceptionally stupid) fender-benders I’ve had.

She’s always been smart, though. I’ll have to restrain myself, because if given free rein I could go on for pages and pages about the things she’s done, and in this post I’d like to cover other subjects.

I will share one fairly-recent story, however. Several months ago, I was home from school for some reason and was trying to get her to eat lunch. Like many a four-year-old before her and many who will come after, she showed great recalcitrance when this request had been laid upon her.

I finally managed to secure from my youngest sibling a commitment to have an entire bowl of noodles, and that being done proceeded to quickly make some Ramen in the microwave and set it down before her.

She promptly and happily shoved her hand into the bowl and started piling its contents into her mouth using only her fingers.

“Pie, Pie,” I remanded her. “Use your fork; that’s what it’s there for.”

She looked up at me with a face of placid boredom, moving me to take my own utensil in hand and say, “See, look at me. Look at how I eat. I eat with my fork. I’m a big kid.”

She put her arm down on the table, looked me directly in the eye, and leaned forward over the placemats the way a mafia henchman might do while trying to intimidate a particularly intractable associate.

“Well,” she said, without a hint of levity. “I’m a little kid.”

I gaped over at her and didn’t even say anything in protest as she calmly turned back to her soup and resumed eating with her hands. She didn’t have to add anything further. She knew the argument was won.

“Wow,” I said, more to myself than to her because she was no longer listening. “Wow, you’ve got me there.”

And I didn’t challenge it.

My next sibling, Thomas, is a seventh-grader who recently turned thirteen. He’s only now officially a teenager but has had the irritability, aggression, and moodiness of that age group down for years. When he celebrated his birthday one week ago, I marveled that my youngest brother had reached adolescence.

“He can’t be thirteen,” I said to friends of mine in our dorm building. “I was thirteen like two days ago.”

“Yeah,” one of them responded, taking a playful jab at my youthful appearance. “But now you turned fourteen.”

“Very funny,” I replied dryly, knowing that I’d set myself up for the joke.

Thomas is blonde and somewhat stout, standing only 5’3” tall (for comparison, I was 5’8” at the age of fourteen, only one year older than he is now). Of course, he could be in for a growth spurt, and great height at an early age is not always an indicator of great height later on; I was 5’8” at fourteen and have grown exactly two inches since then to reach a towering stature of 5’10”.

Recently Thomas, with whom I fought horribly as a boy, has taken an inexplicable fondness toward me. I think that in some weird way he looks up to me, strange given how divergent our interests are and how much more like Powell he is than like me.

I think that perhaps his attitude is influenced by the fact that, unlike Powell, I treat him with respect and attempt to show fairness in all situations.

This does not stop him from exploding at me on occasion and screaming angrily when put to simple questions or asked to perform basic tasks like turning the television off or throwing his trash away.

Powell will respond to this by slapping him in the face, whereas I just tell him that he’s being rude and then later refuse to do him any favors when he asks me to.

Occasionally he’ll get angry and shove me, something I’m reluctant to respond to given his age. Powell, of course, has no such compunctions. What does concern me is the fact that Thomas will very easily outweigh me within several years, at the latest by his sixteenth birthday. He’s already 110lbs to my 135, and while I’ve essentially stopped growing (I’ve been the same height and weight since I was sixteen, something that’s undoubtedly contributed to people’s perception of me as being dramatically younger than I actually am) he has many years left in which to bulk up.

Hopefully he’ll learn some self-restraint by the time he’s big enough to pummel me.

The day has long passed, however, since I was able to match Powell’s physical strength. My eighteen-year-old brother is 6’3” inches tall and weighs over two hundred pounds, eclipsing even our father’s height (he is six feet tall but heavier than Powell). Powell passed me around the time that I was fifteen, and he hasn’t stopped growing since. Recently, though, he’s shown signs of slowing down. Still, it’s not like I’m going to catch up to him.

He’s a Senior in high school who contracted senioritis in sixth grade, and ever since entering his last year before graduation the condition has become acute. He missed school today, as he has countless time before.

He sauntered downstairs at around eleven o’clock in the morning, and it didn’t even occur to me that he was just getting out of bed. He’s made a habit during the closing weeks of his Senior Year of ducking out of class early several times a week, and I assumed that his presence in our basement was just the result of another unnecessary leave.

I didn’t figure out until the afternoon that he’d just decided not to go to school today. It’s really fine, though.

He is a Senior, and the attitude here in Southern State as the sweltering heat of this region’s summers approaches (2008’s uncommonly cool May notwithstanding) is one of nonchalance and leniency. Like the boiling air that wafts lazily and undisturbed through the sky, everyone here is just going along, waiting for inevitable onset of a blazing summer. It’s hard to get anything done.

I do worry that his frequent absences will result in the school failing him, but he assures me that, while they would be within their legal rights to hold him back a year for missing so much class, it would never actually happen.

“They pass all the rednecks who can barely even read,” he said uncaringly. “They push you through.”

His cavalier and joking attitude has predictably enraged my parents, who regularly predict that he won’t do anything with his life if he doesn’t “grow up” and get his act together.

Truth be told, though, I think that Powell has it more together than any of us; he’s an eighteen-year-old boy (the use of that word hardly seems appropriate for him anymore, but, like me, he’s not quite a man) who loves to have fun and has the wisdom, however masked by idiocy it may be, to see that indulging himself now and living life to the fullest during his youth will not condemn him to a string of failures in the future. It is true that he’s partied a bit too hard, that he’s had beer and liquor a bit too much, and that the consequences of late nights out have twice landed him in a courtroom for underage possession of alcohol. It’s also true that he’s in a wild stage and that, to an extent, this kind of raucous behavior is normal and even healthy.

My parents, like, I suspect, most parents, are wholly oblivious to this logic, as if forgetting the debaucheries of their own earlier years. My father, who grew up in the 1970’s and reached adulthood in the ‘80’s, led a far more sordid existence than either Powell or I, but never fails to be dismayed that neither of us works a fulltime job or has a career mapped out.

Powell had thought to attend Important Area Community College for a year or two and then transfer to Major University (funds have been tighter around here since the recession began), but is now considering doing some peace work in Africa and Central America for two years and then enrolling.

I, for one, think that this is a fantastic idea, and for once my father agrees with me. Powell would help other people and find himself, all of which would help him to mature. Seeing true poverty and hardship, particularly for someone who has been reared in relative comfort, is bound to be a revolutionary and changing experience.

I think that Powell is spot on. I really wish that I had been so brave at eighteen. It’s been strange to watch him grow up, odd to see him emerge as such a confident and self-assured young man at a time when I, two years older, am still an insecure mess.

He and I have always had a zany and slightly unacceptable sense of humor, one that in our childhood manifested itself in numberless “wouldn’t it be funny if”s.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if that woman on crutches broke her arms and then she had to hold her crutches with her mouth?”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if Dad farted in the middle of a party?”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if?”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if?”

We used to work ourselves into tears over the ludicrous scenarios we’d come up with, and no one else, our parents included, understood or even considered appropriate much of what we found hysterically funny.

We began speaking around the time I was twelve in a dialect whose origins has been lost to history, a distinct accent now known simply as “the Voice.” The Voice consists of many modified intonations on vowels, and the transition of standard consonants into different ones. S often becomes SH, Rs are dropped except in certain circumstances, many vowels have a Y sound added onto the beginning (for example, “fyun” instead of merely “fun”), and the whole thing is done in an absurd, bemused tone.

It’s very hard to describe and absolutely ridiculous to hear.

Thomas, in a development that I find quite funny, can do it perfectly, as can my birth-mother Anne. Now, this phenomenon negates a theory I had had that the ability to speak in the Voice is somehow genetic, seeing as Anne and Thomas are entirely unrelated; my father, following the birth of Powell and I, divorced Anne and married our mother Marie several years later, after which my brother Thomas and sister Pie were born.

It must be something, though, because no one (and I mean no one) who isn’t blood related to us has ever been able to successfully produce it. Powell’s best friend, Blonde Boy, tries all the time, but he never quite manages to get the inflection perfectly, and his tone is always a bit off, as is everyone else’s.

We don’t really do it much anymore now that we’re older, and Powell despises when I speak in it in front of other people, but when the two of us are alone he becomes fluent once again.

I love him.

The other night he was heading for the bathroom and asked me, “BB, would you recommend any books for good dumping material?”

“I don’t know, Powell,” I said perplexedly. Then, it dawned on me: “Oh, mine!”

At the age of fifteen, I’d started a fantasy novel about four cousins who go on a magical adventure one summer together. I got about thirty pages in before I stopped writing, and over the years I’d been kneading myself to get back to it, remembering what a great story it had been. Over Thanksgiving Break of this school year, during a week at my grandmother’s house in Native State, I edited what I had, and then during Christmas vacation I began adding to the plot.

The book currently stands at slightly over sixty pages long, and the majority of it is held in a manila folder containing a hard copy of the story. Because you can never be too careful, I send the entire novel to two different e-mail accounts and save it to my hard and flash drives every time I write.

I also print it out at every ten pages.

So, as Powell prepared to enter my bathroom, I gleefully handed him the book that I’d been asking him to read for ages.

“BB,” he said seriously. “I can’t possibly read all of this in one shitting.”

“Well, here,” I replied, handing him the first six pages. “Read that.”

He told me he liked it, which made me feel great seeing as a great deal of the storyline is based on his, mine, and my cousins’ exploits.

My parents have been surprisingly well-behaved, all things considered. They never stay idle for long, of course, and my father has managed to pick several fights with me, but it really isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

His most recent spiel concerned the fact that I’d let Powell, who as I mentioned before is eighteen, drive in our car using his learner’s permit.

My brother and I had come in from the hot tub when our father called out to me, “BB, let me ask you something.”

I turned, knowing by his tone that he was ready to start.

“What made you think that it was okay to let Powell drive?”

“Um,” I said, assuming that he was merely trying to say that Powell shouldn’t be able to drive because he’d been irresponsible in the past. “Well, because he’s eighteen and he has a learner’s permit and it’s legal.”

“It’s legal?” my father asked rhetorically. Yes, he was going to go even further than I’d thought.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s legal.”

“How old are you, BB?” he asked, as if he didn’t know.

“Twenty,” I answered contemptuously.

“Well, you have to be twenty-one,” he said with all the self-righteous acid of someone who thinks they’re right.

“Not if you’re his sibling,” I said, already annoyed.

He then proceeded to tell me that because I hadn’t known this “law,” I would have to reread the Southern State Driver’s Manual before I was permitted to drive.

Powell wanted me to watch “Across the Universe” with him, so I went downstairs, but I was so angry that I didn’t even want to put the movie in.

“Look up that law,” I finally said in agitation. “Find it on there.”

Powell got on the Internet and opened the online driver’s manual, which said explicitly that permit-holders could only drive with someone aged twenty-one or older unless the person was, among other things, a sibling, in which case he or she could be eighteen. I marked that section with a red highlighter, walked upstairs, and, shoving the paper into my father’s face, said, “This is the law.”

He read it quietly and said nothing to me the rest of the night.

We had it out again this morning, but by afternoon were speaking normally once more. They periodically ask me to go live with my grandmother and I give them the same answer: No. I’m not leaving what few friends I have and spending my summer in a strange town to accommodate their childishness.

Much of our current conflict revolves around my getting a job. Because I’ve been home five days and have yet to secure employment, I am somehow being an irresponsible lay-about, this in spite of the fact that I’ve gone out literally every weekday since coming back from school and searched for work. I would have been out yesterday as well, but here in Mountain Town very little is open on Sundays and the hunt would have been even more fruitless than it normally is.

The recession has been felt hard here, and that, combined with an economy that is usually dead anyway, has resulted in a climate where attaining any type of position is virtually impossible. I am determined to work, though, even if it means going one town over; I’d go crazy if I didn’t.

Today I ventured to Large-Bank-That-I-Haven’t-Quite-Thought-Of-A-Pseudonym-For-Yet, and to my surprise was informed by a very friendly teller that the establishment was hiring help for the summer.

I am filling out their online application tonight and hope to be in touch very soon.

Oh, and just for the record, I did not go to Racehorse State to see Annoyingly Perfect’s graduation; Anne couldn’t pick me up, and I couldn’t find anyone willing to ride me up to Decaying State, even for money, so I chose not to attend. I’m actually really glad I didn’t take the trip, as Anne rode with Uncle Nose-Hair to avoid the price of gas, and Nose-Hair is notorious for his inconsiderate treatment of others, even adults. Nose-Hair is a good and kind man but is very cheap and not above embarrassing or disrespecting a full-grown woman (in this case, Anne) in the same way that some sad, pathetic people think is acceptable to do with a child.

Anne had hoped to go see her sister, Smugly Superior, in Country Music State, but Nose-Hair decided that he didn’t have the time to spare, and, this morning, woke my birth-mother at five-thirty to tell her it was time to leave.

I like to keep her family at a distance.

So, that’s about it. I have some things that I plan to do this summer, and I’ll be sure to post the list as soon as I can. Enjoy the journals once I get them up! They might be a little late this week.

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