Chapter 3: Death is a small price to pay for respect.
“Look, son, you can stay with Elisabeth in Edgewater if this seems rushed and unnatural,” Dad says, his eyes scanning each mirror. He shifts to the right lane. “We just thought we’d stay in The City for New Years, at the Marriot that—”
“I can just stay home, Dad,” I sigh. Man, this is some bullshit. Two ghosts in the car and Dad’s yapping about nonsense. I just want to stay in my room and play video games. Why do I need to do this bullshit? They don’t even get along with their relatives. Why should I?
“I really don’t need to go anywhere. Honestly, Dad, I practically take care of myself as it is. I mean, as long as you and Mom are okay with it—there’s no reason for me not to stay home… I mean, c’mon Aunt Elisabeth’s house. That’s worse than being alone.”
Dad slams on the breaks, turning his head. His eyes penetrate my soul. A vein pulsates on his forehead. “Emery! Have some respect. You know she helped us when you were going through your phases. C’mon Em’, have some couth. You can’t just insult people like that. Without her you wouldn’t be the person you are.”
“Helped? Zombifying drugs and eleven different therapists aren’t something I’d call help,” I say nonchalantly. I’m surprised I can remain so calm.
“Enough with the attitude! And, another thing! Stop with the cannibal nonsense!” Dad shouts, driving with his hands at 10 and 2. He gives me a stern glance before fixing his eyes on the road. “Don’t give me that look—Yes, I find it funny, in case you were wondering, but Court doesn’t have that kind of humor.”
“Sorry.” I stare into the mirror focusing on the dog. It’s just sitting there…like a dog. I can barely make Aiven out, but he has a look that—
“We can’t leave you alone, Emery. Number one, it’s against the law. Number two, your mom won’t let it happen,” Dad says pulling off to the side. What the hell? Why are we parking at the cemetery?—Oh, shit. I fuckin’ knew it… Here we go, more unsolicited advice.
“Look, Em’, I know it’s not the best thing in the world, but it’s not a huge problem either—”
“Well it’s your choice, Dad. You’re the man of the house. There’s no reason why we can’t come to a reasonable agreement, as men!” I squeeze my fists. “Two meat-eating, flesh-chomping, barbarians who take no orders!” My calmness melts into excitement.
Dad laughs. “Exactly what I’d expect you to say. This isn’t up for debate, Em’. You need to stop thinking gender is power. The sooner you do that the sooner you might get yourself some front butt.” He grins at his own joke.
I lean against the door, rubbing my forehead, trying not to laugh. “Really dad? Front… butt? I’m thirteen. I know what sex is.” I snicker. “I came from a vagina—I know what it is.”
“Is that so? Well, son, let me tell you a joke.”
“Go for it, old man.”
Dad tilts his head at me. His face is dead serious. I laugh. “Ready?” he asks.
“Pussy.” His angled glance confuses me.
“Wait, what’s the joke?”
I shrug. “I don’t get it.”
“And you never will!” He roars, slapping his knee. “GET IT! YOU DON’T GET IT! HA-PUSSY! IT’S SOMETHING YOU DON’T GET!”
O.K.—that was… wow… “Look, I’m a chauvinist at heart, Dad,” I respond, ignoring his joke. That shit wasn’t funny. I’ll lose my virginity someday—he’ll see. And, she’ll be fine too.
I wonder if this is amusing to the dog. It’s still just sitting there. What would Dad do if I just turned around and conversated with something he can’t see.
“So, you hate women, huh?” Dad says, parking the car.
“Wait, what? Hate women?” I ask abruptly. “No, I don’t hate women.”
“Then you don’t know what chauvinism is.” He smiles. “Look words up before you try to use them. This land of the free is a bit more critical of our ignorance than it is for the Anglos. I know I raised you better than that,” Dad says, chuckling. He turns the engine off. “On a serious note, I wanted to talk to you about something. This is the only place I can do it, to emphasize my point. I felt that this would be the most convenient time.”
“Fair enough,” I respond. It’s not like I’m going to be late for school or anything important. I follow him out of the car and into the cemetery. Snow crunches under our feet.
We reach Aiven’s grave. Dad takes a deep breath. “Courtney and I have been having our problems lately.” Really? No shit. I live in the same house!
“Gasp. I had no idea, Dad.” Bet he really believes that too.
“I know it’s hard for you to see that things have been difficult for everyone in the house. But, everything is temporary, Emery.” Get to the point.
“I think it depends on the situation.”
“Let me finish. I’d like to think there are only two real problems in life…” Yea, and I bet dying’s one of them. I’ve seen the Charlie Brown Christmas specials too. “…and only one of them doesn’t involve living. You understand me?” He puts his hand on Aiven’s tombstone. “This is a real problem. Everything that led your brother here was just a situation. Do you understand?”
How could I not understand this shit? I nod. “Yes, sir.” What does this have to do with anything? What do I have to do with this shit?
I examine the cemetery to see if the dog followed us. The snow-covered ground and patches over the tombstones are peaceful and undisturbed. I doubt it’d leave footprints, but at least I’d have something tangible, if it did.
“I say that because I’m certain it won’t be the first or last death you’ll experience in your life. Despite all of your cannibalism talk, cynical rantings, and off-putting jokes, it’s easy to see you’re afraid, Em’.”
I wouldn’t be so scared if I could actually talk to you, you idiot! I’m afraid because I can only have an honest dialogue in my own head! You flip out over everything, then act like you’re my friend. The nerve of this asshole. You immediately judge me when I say or do something you don’t agree with, then wonder why I don’t tell you shit.
After a few moments, I sigh. “If that’s all true then why do you and mom fight over trivialities like coffee?” I finally ask. “I’m not suffering as much as you think I am. I think I have it better than you guys do, most days. I’ve accepted Aiven’s death. I just wish we could have better exchanges.”
“Really, Emery, better exchanges? Don’t be a whiner, Son. You complain about everything.” He sighs. “I don’t have an answer for that one. Life, people, nothing is perfect. You might not think you’re hurting, but I’m a parent. I know when something’s on the mind of a child I raised.”
I just told you what it was, and you did what you always do. “There’s always something on my mind,” I respond. “It’s part of being a living, breathing creature. I know my thoughts are independent of my actions. I’m not entirely worried by the things that go bump in my brain. I’m more worried about the freedom I have to share those thoughts and feelings,” I respond coldly. “Besides, old man, I don’t believe in suicide. You and Mom can have all your problems. My life could be going down the drain; I’ll just figure out a way to take care of myself. I know what it feels like to be completely alone, or have you forgotten leaving me behind on holidays and family gatherings? All I want is a fair relationship.”
Dad stares at Aiven’s tombstone shamefully. He only sees an endless, empty distance. He might as well be staring out into space. Dad smiles, “Point taken. Your mother was concerned… thinks you’ve been acting distant lately. I thought I’d do something. There’s no manual for parenting, so I’ll admit there were a lot of things we could have handled differently.”
Rather than saying it, why don’t you just do it. This is why we don’t talk about shit. There’s always an empty promise of something better that never gets delivered. It’s that same bullshit that put a dickhe—dictator—in the white—never mind. God, I hope I’m not like my parents.
“Well, if you know better, Dad, why don’t you let me stay home during the holidays?”
“I’m an old fool,” He says adjusting his coat and walking back to the cemetery’s entrance.
Fucking cop out. I’m this…; I’m that…; The Bible says…; my parents used to…; the neighbors might…; people might… I’ve heard every bullshit excuse imaginable. They keep coming like spammy emails.
Dad’s steps sink in the snow. “Courtney and I are a team. We might fight and argue, but we agree on important issues, like: where to live, how to raise our children, our religion—”
“—or a lack of,” I interrupt. “Maybe all three of us can be a team?”
“AND!” he says over me, “The school we chose for you. How you spend your holiday is something important to us.”
Dad pulls his key out from his coat pocket and taps the unlock button twice. The car bleeps. Lights flash. He places his hand on the door handle. An engine revs in the distance.
My eyes focus on a red blur up the hill.
I dash, but my feet don’t move.
The red blur looks like a stop motion animation, cutting and pasting itself through the street, screeching as Dad turns his head.
My body barely shuffles under the pressure of my adrenaline. I slap my hands to my face and shield my eyes.
I clasp my eyes. My legs buckle and I hit the pavement. Light penetrates my fingers, illuminating my eyelids. My heart’s wild thuds are eclipsed by feet tapping gracefully on the snow.
Someone—something is standing over me.
“Emery?” a soothing, regal voice asks.
I look up.
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