"You send a letter with photographs,
And I'll tuck them under my dreams,
And if we wake up old beyond our years,
Not quite as brave as we seem,
It's just the pain that never disappears.
Tell me where is boy blue..."
--From "Boy Blue" by Cyndi Lauper
I'm flying, swirling through puffs of translucent pillows and beams of ardent light. The wind whistles past my ears, gently whispering words I cannot completely hear. They are with me, smiling like Cheshire Cats. This is my "Wonderland." No worries. No fears.
"Momma, I'm flying."
Like a bolt of reality lightning, my bedroom light flicks on. My peace, my dream world, shatters in an instant. I'm ripped from my serenity like a child from its mother's womb, forced to face my reality, wondering what horrors lie ahead.
"Hey, bud, time to get up. It's 7," my father shouts. "Get up! It's 7!" He sounds like he is speaking from the end of a long tunnel. He leaves my room, and I hear him go to the bathroom one door down from my room, to continue his morning ritual. My father is quite noted for repeating himself. Even in my groggy haze I know that in a few seconds he'll come back and tell me the same thing again, almost as if he's forgotten he said it only a few moments ago. Right on cue the door opens, and he yells, "Hey, it's 7, bud, time to get up! It's 7!" He is also noted for stating the obvious; I have a large digital clock brightly shining the time in my face.
I hate mornings.
I roll over and close my eyes in an attempt to go back there.
It didn't work.
I know I prayed it wouldn't, but now I wish I had just let it happen.
The lights flick on yet again.
"Get up! Come on, bud, it's 7. Get up!"
See? Mind you, this has all happened within 60 seconds.
Oh yeah, "bud," as he calls me, is some term of endearment, I suppose. I have always found it nauseating. "Buddy," as defined by Webster's dictionary, means "friend." That would not describe my relationship with my father, then or now, considering that he talked to the dog more than me. The same dictionary defines "bud" as "something that is still underdeveloped." Curious.
My eyes feel as heavy as bags of sand. I didn't think I was going to wake up at all today. I was scared I had done it. I feel like I am looking at my room through a telescope. I'm here, but I still feel like I am not. I have to get out of bed before he comes back. Dealing with him this morning is like listening to someone drag a metal shovel down a blacktop driveway.
That was the first time. There were more that followed. I remember them all. The idea of it seems so foreign to me now. I can't fathom being in that place again, though sometimes the thoughts creep into my mind for brief, fleeting moments. It isn't the same as it was then, though. Then, it was sheer desperation. It was that feeling that there was no way out.
Holding myself up against the wall outside the bathroom, I wait for what feels like decades. My father finishes bathing himself in cheap cologne and combing, for the 50th time, his three strands of hair. He walks out of the bathroom and walks by me as though I were a ghost.
I almost was.
I finally get into the bathroom. "Ew! Yuck," I say as I walk in. Clarity stabs into my head like the teeth of a piranha. A faint smell like roadkill and rotten eggs, barely masked by the drugstore cologne, lingers in the air. The smell almost makes me vomit. This is what's left of his hour-and-a-half-long dumping session. That is the second step after his first cup of coffee in the morning. The newspaper and the toilet seat, his home away from home. The whole ritual never changes and barely alters, ever.
As I stand above the toilet and watch the stream of cloudy melted butter swirl into the clear water, my mind wanders through scenarios of drudgery. I have to think of a way to stay home. I can't bear it today, especially not today.
As I wash my hands, I look into the mirror. My eyes feel heavy. My eyelids look like sandbags, filled to the breaking point. My pallid, lucid face looks like the ghost I feel I am.
What have I done?
My mom is in the kitchen making my lunch for school. She looks up as I walk in. My blue eyes meet their twins, and she quickly masks her slight concern at my appearance with her motherly smile, saying, "Good morning, Mikey." But I see it.
There were only a few people I allowed access to my introverted world. My mother got access, but not to everything. If she had known what really was going on in my head, it would have destroyed her. I realize now that she would do anything for her children. Then, I couldn't even be honest with myself, let alone her. I was crying for help, but the cry wasn't loud enough that time. Not nearly as loud as it should have been. Not nearly as loud as it was later.
I sit down at the kitchen table, ready to eat my traditional morning breakfast: cereal, buttered toast, and orange juice. Across from me, with her perfect blonde pigtails, is my little sister, Susanne. She proceeds to stick her tongue out at me. I reciprocate and move the cereal box in front of her face so that I don't have to see her for the rest of my meal. Of course, this starts the first argument of the morning, because she wants to look at the other side of the cereal box.
"You're a barf bag!" she says.
"Oh, well, you've got dog breath!" I respond.
My sister tosses an orange at me, which lands dead center in my cereal bowl, splashing milk all over my face and clothes. I sit shocked for a moment while Susanne breaks into hysterics.
This is my way out.
"Mom!" I exclaim. "Susanne threw an orange at me, and it got milk all over me!"
My mom turns around to witness the great tragedy.
I know she thought it was funny. You couldn't help but laugh a little. I also knew I could use this as my golden ticket. I knew how hard it was for her to say no to me, especially when I was upset. In those days it really didn't take much for me to get out of school; any tiny excuse I could find, I would use. There were days when I just couldn't bear to go. That day, there were more than the usual reasons. I think she knew, maybe -- not the whole truth but her accepted truth. She at least realized how much I didn't like to go, but I don't know whether she knew the true reason why, or, if she did, whether she wanted to admit it to herself.
"I can't go to school!" I say. "I'm soaked, and it smells!"
This has to work! Please let this work!
"All right, Mikey, you can go to your room," she says, lovingly, yet there is an underlying hint of growing concern in her voice.
"Fag." "Homo." "Queer." Every day. Every day. That's what I heard as I walked through the halls. That's what I heard when I couldn't catch a ball. Sometimes that's all I felt I ever heard. I didn't even know what those words meant. They were just horrid little gnats that gnawed at my skin, pecking away my flesh, stripping me to the bone.
I slip into my bed. As my bare feet slide down the sheets, I pierce the cold pockets, and my legs quickly dart back up to the fetal position. I pull all the comfort of the blankets around me like a cocoon. And I close my eyes.
"Momma, I'm flying..."