--STUCK IN THE CENTER OF NOTHING
…Happy Friday. Here’s wishing you a fabulous weekend.
…I wrote this yesterday:
It was another trip to the dumping grounds. Just me and Mom this time. We drove in the battered wood-paneled station wagon which would backfire every few minutes. Neither of us spoke. The night before there had been a dust up between my parents that spilled over involving my older brother Darrel, who ended up getting his jaw broken. Now there was a doctor’s bill to pay.
Mother smoked as I studied her silhouette reflected in the passenger window. I wondered what she was thinking. I wondered if she loved my father, if she loved me, if Darrel was really the favorite as I suspected. I wished I could talk to her like a friend or even a son, but ours was a family of few words.
For school clothes money, we picked fruit right along with the migrant workers who—as the seasons began and ended--appeared and disappeared from the fields like the fruit itself. But it was October now. The Folgers Coffee can that held our spare cash was empty but for a scrim of dust and a pack of spent matches.
Desperate people comb the dumping grounds, and we were beyond that. Darrel and I had already been there six times since the end of August. The site was illegal by any definition, but the county never looked and richer people than us dumped their trash there. It sat in a vast gully surrounded by boulder sentries and swaying evergreens. It reminded me of a battlefield; Gettysburg following the aftermath. The stench in the air was like Gettysburg, too.
We carried our gunnies and worked our way down the slope, trying not to slide and topple. I offered my hand to Mother, but each time I did she batted it away and so cruel thoughts entered my head, images of her tumbling down the craggy slope, landing broken and helpless in the garbage along with everyone else’s unlovable junk.
We sorted through trash for a couple of hours, Mother combing her own heap a few yards away, and me trolling a mound I knew to be fairly fresh. Over the top of an upended sofa I watched her dip and search, the ends of her tangled hair brushing against whatever rubbish was strewn below. Wearing a jacket two sizes too big for her, she looked like a haggard wraith confused by earth’s sudden autumn chill.
In my hunt I discovered a toaster, a Mason jar filled to the rim with pennies, some dirty magazines which I flipped through but left, one electric drill in mint condition, a tray of assorted silverware and an unopened box of shotgun shells. The last thing I found was a college sweatshirt with a faded Harvard logo. I put it on over my flannel shirt and zipped my coat all the way to my chin. I wondered if the owner of the sweatshirt had really went to Harvard, and if so, what classes that person had attended, what grades they’d gotten, had they met a lot of pretty coeds at frat parties. I figured they must be smart to have gone to a college like that, and now they were probably somebody’s doctor or dentist or lawyer.
When we were through, we scrabbled back up the slope and this time I didn’t offer Mother my hand even though she had a rough go and kept slipping. Again came pictures of her falling, being banged and beaten on the way down, maybe a scream or two ringing out along the way. I let the images continue until they no longer quenched the spark inside of me.
We drove home in the same smoky silence we’d come. Charlie Pride was on the radio, jaunty as ever, singing about how crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on the wall. I felt like kicking in the console or grabbing the steering wheel and driving us off the road, but instead I reset my thoughts on the owner of the Harvard sweatshirt.
At home, Dad was passed out drunk in the living room of our trailer, a bottle of Mogen David squeezed between his thighs like an enormous glass erection. Darrel came out of his room resembling a war victim with his face all bandaged and a plum-colored smear lining his upper eyelid. He didn’t ask what treasures we’d brought home. Instead he had his own garbage draped over a shoulder. I started to ask where he was going, but I knew he was running away for the umpteenth time and would be back a day or so later.
Mother had dropped me off and I hadn’t asked where she was going either, figuring it was to get smokes or re-up their alcohol supply. As Darrel walked out the creaking screen door, I thought I heard our station wagon backfire in the distance, but it could just as easily have been gunfire.
I took off my jacket and stood in front of my comatose father. I puffed up my chest hoping the letters that spelled Harvard would somehow stretch bigger. I told my dad I was home from college, that I’d got all A’s and had met a girl named Mary Jane who was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. I kept at it for ten minutes or more, until I ran dry of make-believes and lies, and when I was done it was the longest conversation the two of us had ever had.
I snuck out of bed that night, not that my parents would have heard me or cared. I loaded a gunny up with clothes and sundries and that Mason jar of pennies. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but I knew it had to be someplace else. I took a flashlight with me.