Published in Twisted Ink Webzine ~ Spring 2010
He has my father’s temper and my mother’s silence, and we know each other even though we have only seen one another eight times in the last four years. An indefinable link, which I always try to define, holds us together until the alien strangeness of seeing someone old in your life, but new because of distance, wears off. We know each other despite five years of age difference and the three state borders between us. The constant communication that everyone says is so important to maintain when your family is long distance does not exist.
When we do talk, it happens at random Moments while he rides the bus in Seattle or I walk to school in Dillon. I call at seven a.m. to pester him only to realize that it is six in Washington and I hang up before he answers. But he calls me back because…because of that link I guess. I am too cynical to think that it has so much to do with blood ties as some make it out to be. It is more than that. It is what we have shared over the years. It is what we do not revisit in those Moments of speech after long periods of silence. It is what we do not say as much as what we say.
We talk about whether I am going to a Masters program, Doctorate program, mental institution, or all three. About how I need to keep my loans under 25 for my Bachelors, unlike him, or I am an idiot. About hoping another old lady doesn’t die on the dressing room floor of the store he manages because they make you replace carpet and fill out paperwork and it’s generally a mess. About how he would love to mug old ladies and get the money he is forced to pay into social security back. About his love of molding substances into things, and my passion for the words that I mold onto paper. About the time when we were in Hay Fork and we camoed up and ran the hills above our single wide like Rambo and Chuck Norris. About how Mom had to use lye soap to scrub the face paint cemented on with dirt and sweat baked into skin by the California sun.
We do not talk about when times were tough in Northern California. How Mom drove two hours from Big Bar to the Redding grocery store to by the food we could not grow with pennies and nickels. We did not have dimes or quarters. How during that time we lived in a haunted log cabin with no chinking so the snow blew in during the winters. The haunt was a man who had overdosed in my room years before and was subsequently consumed by his cats. He turned off our propane lights when he wanted to sleep, changed the battery powered radio’s station when he didn’t approve of our choices, and played tea party with my teddy bears when I was bored of chasing my brother like a starving mosquito. We talk about Joe Wolf, my friendly haunt.
We do not talk about the man who smashed my father’s face in with steel spiked logger boots. Because he could. Because he was in a bad mood. Because he sold drugs to the local cops and had no fear of bars and penalties. We do not talk about that or the months after when Dad’s face looked like an overdone make-up job on a horror film and the hospital bills kept rolling in.
Instead, it is swept under the edges of our memories, there but not willingly remembered. It is odd because those were the best times between Mom and Dad, not the best for, but the best between. They relied upon one another maybe because they had started to grow apart already, but the chasm was still small instead of the gulf it is now. We do not talk about how hard it has been to watch that chasm grow into the gulf that spans their marriage. How two people can love each other so desperately at the beginning and grow rigidly apart over the years. How we are both cynical about love and marriage because of their twisted example of sticking it out and following the rules even though they die a little inside every day. We do not talk about that.
We talk abut how we used to fight, verbally and physically. About the fact that I was never daunted by his size as compared to mine. About the time he let my pet lizard loose and Mom had to save him from me and the baseball bat I wielded with firm hands and fiery blue eyes. About my underhanded fighting tactics, about throwing his glasses whenever I started losing and he would become blind as a pup. About how I know he always held back so that he would not hurt his little sister. About the Thanksgiving evening we had a wrestling match in snowy yard outside, and I threw him over my back by his ponytail. We stopped wrestling after that. About the fact that we have always loved each other but distance has made us appreciate each other and love and appreciation don’t always go hand in hand as we have witnessed from our parents.
We don’t talk about how Dad’s horse, out on free range, found himself in the path of a tired semi driver with a loaded trailer and lights blaring around the corner. How Mom heard the impact even though the road was a mile and a half above us. Not about the screams that Jim made after being dragged along the pavement by that semi for so long that his legs were ground down, or maybe the better phrasing would be ground up, to where the fetlock should have been but it wasn’t anymore. Instead, there was just pulverized bone stumps soaked in blood that steamed in the cold and flapping pieces of flesh that looked like bell-bottoms gone horribly, horribly wrong. How Dad was gone and the cop who showed up half an hour later had to shoot Jim from inside of the squad car because the crazed sorrel charged anything that moved. How it took seven shots to put him to the ground, seven shots to kill the adrenaline-fueled body that should have by all rights died on the initial impact with the semi. The driver had to pay Dad $130. We don’t talk about that.
We talked a few days ago as I got on my bike to ride to school, or tried to as the train it shimmied through Dillon and I cussed its horn as it blew incessantly. He asked about Ireland and how it was going. We talk about that a lot lately, about the future, about how spectacular it would be to get out of North America, out of the United States, out of Montana, out of Dillon. We talked about how Dad competes with Mom for our attention, making sure he calls us before she does when they reach town, and how it is sad but somewhat funny as well. The little things are not worth avoiding.
We do not talk about the fact that Dad has double mortgaged our home – I did say OUR home right – for a business that was in the red before he bought it. How the last two years running I made more than my mother and father did. How their tax returns had a five-digit number with a negative in front of it. How, after two years of working for them in the land that calls my heart every second, I am not going back. How after two summers of listening to parents bicker and fight over nonsensical things I abandoned the wilderness for town. How it is a first for me, a girl used to sweating and cussing and smoking and drinking with the crusty guides of the mountains while fixing elk-ravaged fences, or riding rank three-year-old colts on trails where a good place for a wreck only has a 150-foot drop instead of a 300-foot drop. About how hard it was to take those two summers of watching the train wreck of their marriage explode repeatedly, about how it was harder to watch after being away from it all and realizing how twisted normal can be. How I washed my hands of it as best as I could, packed my things at the end of last summer, and drove back to Dillon, where things are relatively sane. How I felt, and still feel, even worse for leaving Mom there. We do not talk about that because he knows without asking.
We talk about the irony of Mom buying a bumper sticker for me that reads, “I am not an Alcoholic, I am a Drunk, Alcoholics go to meetings.” Because I went to meetings after I was busted freshman year, drunk in the dorms, and they made an example out of me that included community service and AA classes. About how he plans to inform my unknowing parents of my resulting MIP during some family gathering such as Thanksgiving over dinner or Christmas during the ripping of paper. About how when we were little and went to town with Mom in Hay Fork or Big Bar, she would buy us ice cream cones and he would eat his so fast that he inevitably had a brain freeze while I would patiently eat mine in a slow and steady way that irritated him.
We do not talk about the dark memories and the shadowed times. We remember them; we just do not hold them dear. Instead we laugh over the good times, the stupid times, and look ahead to what we can see, not what we have seen.
© Kaitlin Ens