Thanks for your patience again in waiting for the next chapter of Things Are Different. I want to give a special thanks to Chuck and Mike for proofreading this chapter. I plan on going back and correcting some of the error that occurred in previous chapters at some point. As always all the usual copyright blah, blah, blah applies and if you want to say anything to me, you can contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things Are Different - Chapter 9
When I got inside I shook the water from my hair like a dog and pulled off my wet jacket.
"How was your evening?" my grandmother asked. I was in such an endorphin daze from my time with Scott that I had not noticed her sitting on the sofa watching T.V.
It took me a minute to process the question and answer. "Good," I said. There was a desire to say more, but I didn't dare. In fact I wanted to shout it from the tree tops. Scott kissed me!
"Well that sounds better than just fine," she said.
"Yeah," I said. Normally I would just disappear into my room, but everything was different tonight. I plopped down on the sofa not far from her and noticed that she was watching a soccer game. Team sports has never been something I cared to participate in or even watch, but soccer had more appeal than most. It was not just because of the player's lean muscled physiques and silky uniforms either. Soccer seemed more civilized than the brutishness of football or the spectacle of basketball.
The athletic forms cavorting across the screen brought to mind Scott's lithe swimmer's body close to mine in the shower. My cock stirred and my lips tingled in memory of our kisses. I absently ran my fingers across my lips and smiled as I remembered being jealous of Vanessa getting to feel his lips.
"A quarter for your thoughts?" my grandma was watching me and I put my hand down.
"A quarter? Not a penny?" I asked, trying to distract her from the intent of her question. It was not that I didn't want to tell her, I did. I wanted to lean back with a goofy grin on my face and relate (almost) every detail of my evening.
"A penny did not buy much of a thought even when I was your age."
I let myself grin at that. "I didn't know you like soccer," I changed the subject.
"Only when the local team plays," she answered.
I watched the action on the screen and realized the Starbucks I was in with Scott was right across the street from the soccer field. If things were different, that could have been a first date for us, sort of. My chest filled with a pleasant pressure when I thought about how Scott made me feel when I was with him. The pressure wanted to push the words out of my mouth, but did I dare?
"Grandma," I ventured, "is it okay if Scott comes over tomorrow?" I chickened out at the last second. She was watching me so I pretended to be concentrating on the game.
"Of course, he is welcome anytime," she finally answered, "he's a wonderful young man."
Thank god, that was easy. What do I do next?
"Grandma?" I asked again meekly.
"What is it sweetheart?" Her attention was focused on me. My attention was focused on my hands as I twiddled my thumbs. "Is there something the matter?"
"Uh . . . no . . . I'm . . . kind of tired. I'm going to head to bed," I chickened out again.
"Are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah, just tired."
"Let me know if you need anything."
Chicken, chicken, chicken. Stupid, chicken, stupid. Stupid Chicken Little, is the sky falling? Not right now, but you never know.
I was exhausted, but I knew that sleep would be a long time coming, if it ever came at all. We should have made plans to call each other. Instead my phone lay on my pillow next to my head as I alternately stared at it, the ceiling and the shadowy garden outside. I wanted to call him, just to hear his voice, but would that seem too needy? Was I too needy? Maybe he will call me?
Sleep over took me at sometime, because my eyes popped open to a diffuse gray light. The steady rain that had drenched me last night gave way to a gentle mist. I didn't remember any dreams and I felt rested. Not only did I feel rested, something that I had not realized was unfamiliar, I felt good. It wasn't just good, but sappy, song in my heart good.
Good day sunshine,
Good day sunshine,
Good day sunshine.
I need to laugh, and when the sun is out
I've got something I can laugh about,
I feel good, in a special way.
I'm in love and it's a sunny day.
(John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
A glance at my phone revealed a waiting text message.
"See you at 10."
Crap! It was already nine o'clock. I sent a brief message before jumping in the shower. Once the hot water hit me I had to tell myself; calm down, you have an hour. When I have I ever taken an hour to get myself ready and going in the morning? The shower was easy, but I had never really paid attention to my hair before. Now I combed and brushed my hair a dozen different ways until I got fed up with it and ran my fingers through it the way I always do and I let it fall where it willed. Besides, I reasoned, Scott had already seen me like some drowned road kill at the side of a highway ditch and he kissed me anyway.
Even taking the extra, unnecessary time with my hair I still had almost fifteen minutes before he was suppose to show up. I tripped when I got to the top of the stairs, stunned to see the back of a purple head sitting with my grandmother in the kitchen.
"There he is now," my grandmother announced as I recovered my footing.
Scott turned with a smile that brought a wonderful queasiness to me. I hoped I was acting nonchalant as I traversed the distance to the kitchen island. Was I smiling like an idiot? Scott was certainly smiling.
"Morning," I mumbled and did my half wave from the waist. Did Scott know I wanted to wrap my arms around him? I hope so.
"Sorry I got here a little early," Scott apologized. He had the most devilish grin I have ever seen on anybody.
"I went to check on you, but you were in the bathroom and I figured you would be up soon," Grandma said.
"I overslept, I guess," I said.
"Scott was telling me about the project you are working on for your history class," I was a little worried when she said that, because I had told her we had a class project without giving her any of the details. "I wish you had told me more about it earlier, it sounds extremely important and challenging."
I breathed a mental sigh of relief when I heard that. What was I worried about to begin with? Oh yeah, the unknown. I felt guilty because I still did not know enough about this woman to really trust her. When would that time come, if ever?
"Your grandmother had a great idea," Scott said, "she thinks we should do it as a multimedia presentation like with slides and video clips." He was obviously excited by the idea.
"I don't know how to do any of that stuff. Do you?" I looked at Scott. Damn those eyes and smile. He always looks like he is on the verge of embarking on some sort of mischievous adventure. There is no doubt that I would follow him into it too.
"Uh . . . no, not really," he shook his head.
"What about your friend Dani? She seems very savvy about that sort of thing," my grandma suggested.
"Yeah! We can ask her to help. You think she will?" Scott was almost bouncing in his chair. I didn't know how I felt about asking her, but this is me following him into possible mischief.
"Sure, we can ask her when we see her on Monday," I said, "I don't want to try to explain the whole thing over the phone."
"I suppose," Scott deflated a little.
"What are your plans for the day?" Grandma asked.
"Well, we were just going to work on homework together," I said leaving out a lot of other activities I was looking forward to in private.
"I was thinking, I don't know about Scott, but I thought we could go out for breakfast and visit the Saturday Market," Grandma said. My stomach growled loudly in response.
"I guess that's Jay's answer," Scott said with a laugh. I looked down, a little embarrassed.
"The Saturday Market?" I asked.
"Oh, it's great! It's art, craft, live music and food in Old Town and on the riverfront," Scott explained excitedly.
"In the rain?" I asked.
"Oh, sweetheart, it is Portland, get used to it." she answered, "besides it is clearing."
She was right. It was noticeably lighter outside now, even though Mount Hood was still completely obscured behind light gray clouds.
"Hey! We can pretend we are tourists and get Voodoo Donuts!" Scott was excited.
"Do I want to know what that is?" I asked.
"Trust me, you will love it." he said.
"Okay, I will trust you."
The line for Voodoo Donuts wrapped around the block, so we decided we did not want to pretend we were tourists that badly. Besides, my stomach would not stop making noise. Instead Grandma took us to a small hole-in-the-wall diner a little bit further away from the crowds. She said it would fill even me up and it would not be crowded. It was the type of place I was familiar with and inhabited the usually less than desirable neighborhoods that I found myself in most of the time. I noticed something about Portland: There would be a gleaming tower of expensive condos not a block from a pay by the week hotel and people pushing shopping carts rooting through the garbage cans as people sipped lattes a few feet away. We passed a very nice restaurant a block from the diner, there was a fancy looking club across the street and a porn store on the same block. I also couldn't miss the rainbow flags adorning one of the buildings we walked by. Even as closeted as I was I knew the meaning of a rainbow flag.
The diner had a wrap around counter with a couple of booths and a few tables. It was run, I learned shortly, by an older Greek couple that had owned it for some forty years and still had difficult to understand accents. The wife greeted my grandmother by name and brought us coffee without even asking.
"Who are these handsome men?" she asked.
"This is my grandson, Jay, and his friend Scott," my grandmother replied.
"Such handsome young men, make all the girls happy." she said. We both blushed at that.
"You must come here a lot for her to know you by name," Scott said.
"My husband and I used to meet here all the time for breakfast or lunch. He worked not far from here and I would catch the streetcar to meet him. All of his coworkers went to the fancier places and had drinks with lunch, but we liked it here so much better. Nobody would recognize you and try to impress you because of what they thought you could do for them. Here we were just coffee and pancakes," she said.
I didn't know what to say.
"Wow, that must have been nice," Scott said.
"Yes it was," she said.
I tried to imagine if I could have a relationship like that and glanced at Scott out of the corner of my eye. I think he caught me looking and turned toward me with a smile. Wow, I loved that smile. The corners of my mouth turned up too. We would have started giggling if we did not have to come up with what we wanted to eat at that exact moment.
The breakfasts of eggs, hash-browns, pork steak for me and hamburger steak for Scott, with an additional side of pancakes for me were simple, plentiful and satisfying.
As we ate, the sky continued to clear and the temperature rose so that as we walked the handful of blocks to the market we all shed our jackets.
I was feeling even better with a full stomach. A happy soundtrack played in my head:
I'm walking on sunshine , wooah
I'm walking on sunshine, woooah
I'm walking on sunshine, woooah
and don't it feel good!!
Hey , alright now
and don't it feel good!!
hey yeh ,oh yeh
and don't it feel good!!
walking on sunshine
walking on sunshine
I feel the love,I feel the love, I feel the love that's really real
I feel the love, I feel the love, I feel the love that's really real
(Katrina & The Waves)
Even if we weren't able to express ourselves the way I know Scott wanted, I reveled in just hanging out with him. We were able to joke with each other and occasionally bump shoulders in a fun fashion. That brief physical contact always sent a sense of warmth emanating from that transient touch. I wondered if those brief brushes meant as much to Scott?
The market was a madhouse of vendors in canvas booths, street musicians, tourists, homeless and everything in between. It was a little like a corner of the 1960's that had never heard that the Beatles broke up and Janis Joplin died. There were more people and noise than I care for, but it was a joy to be doing something outside without any agenda.
At one booth my grandmother bought Marionberry jam and we sampled a dozen different jam varieties including jalapeno. It didn't taste the way I thought it would and it was definitely not a favorite of mine. Both of them joked about the face I made when I tried it, telling me it should be my favorite because I was from Texas. I reminded them that I only lived in Texas recently and that I was most certainly not from Texas.
I am not a good shopper. That is mostly because I never had the money for it and the fact that I really don't like crowds. It was clear that Scott loved shopping. He was constantly pulling us into one booth or another to peruse the colorful wares. I never saw so many handmade scarves, hats, wallets (made from duct tape no less), belts and doggy raincoats in my life.
"Scott! Scott!" someone shouted as we crossed the street to Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the rest of the market. When Scott turned around he was engulfed by a large bearded man. It shouldn't have, but a little jealousy rose in me.
"Uncle Bob," Scott hugged the man back, "where's Uncle Rob?"
"Right here," another large man, similarly bearded, but wearing a heavy canvas kilt with combat boots pried between Scott and Uncle Bob to join the hug. I could just stand there watching. You would never see a guy in a skirt in Texas, but it was more than common in Hawaii.
"It's been too long, what have you been doing you little scamp?" Uncle Bob asked. I couldn't help but notice the lilt to his voice and the gingerly way he carried himself.
"You know, just school and stuff," Scott answered.
"When are you playing next?" this time Uncle Rob spoke up and he, definitely did not sound like Uncle Bob.
"Nothing on the calendar right now," he replied, "but Vanessa and I are still practicing.
"You have to come by the shop and jam sometime," Rob said.
"And who do we have here?" his Uncle Bob caught sight of me as I shuffled my feet. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be invisible or make certain that they knew I was there with Scott.
"Oh, sorry. Uncle Bob and Uncle Rob, this is my friend Jay and his grandmother Sue," Scott introduced us.
"Hi," I half waved.
"Pleased to meet you," my grandmother held out her hand and Bob took it lightly while Rob gave a firm but gentle shake.
"Grandmother! I could have sworn she was a cheerleader from your high school. Is this the star quarterback too?" Bob was obviously full of shit, but funny.
"Well I see charm runs in Scott's family," my grandma said.
"Flattery will get you just about anywhere with me, unfortunately the surely one is the blood relation, but I like to think I had a positive influence on him," Bob said, "and it is obvious this fine young specimen takes after you." It kind of felt like Bob was undressing me, until Rob punched him in the arm.
"Behave," Rob admonished him. Scott was almost laughing.
"We don't want to keep you, just make sure you come by the shop sometime soon," Rob said. "Come on Bob, let's leave them, we have things to do."
"Okay," Bob said reluctantly, "but you promise to come by and see us soon . . . and bring your handsome . . .friend . . . and his lovely grandmother." Bob pulled Scott into a hug and before I knew it I was also wrapped in what was, without a doubt, a 'bear hug.'
"See ya," Scott said. As they walked away I was sure I saw Bob nod at me and give Scott a wink, eliciting another punch in the arm from Rob.
"Your uncles are certainly charmers," Grandma said, "what shop are they talking about?"
"They own a small music shop on Belmont. It's a lot of fun, musicians are always dropping in and have impromptu jam sessions." Scott said, "I met Michael Jackson's lead guitarist from back in eighties there."
We continued to browse through the various booths and stop to listen to the different musicians. I thought some were too good to be standing on the sidewalk playing for pennies.
When my grandmother excused herself to find a restroom Scott pulled me into a booth draped with colorful scarves, posters of unicorns and various metaphysical totems arrayed on tables and hanging from the booth supports.
Within moments of entering the space the lady behind the counter approached us. She was short, round and seemed dressed in nothing but layers of multicolored veils from head to foot, just like her shop.
"I can tell you are not here by coincidence," she said as she took up station in front of us.
"Excuse me?" I was a little taken aback by her manner.
"I have a sense for these things. You both have the most amazing auras," she grabbed a hand from each of us and drew us close, "your auras are intertwined. You grew up together."
"We've only known each other a few weeks," I corrected her.
"Then you are lovers," we both blushed, "but it is a love that transcends time. I could do a reading and you could know about your past lives together."
"Sorry, but we really don't have the time," I said trying not to let my voice reveal my thoughts, for Scott's benefit. A gypsy style scam artist, was my suspicion. I had seen enough of her type crowding the fringes of society where I grew up. They are always ready to sell a little fantasy.
"You think we knew each other before?" Scot asked.
Crap, I thought, don't fall for this.
"Two auras don't become this entangled in just a few weeks, or even a few lifetimes."
"My grandma will back soon," I reminded Scott.
"Oh, we should get her something. What does she like?" he was visibly excited.
"I don't know," I confessed.
"Come on let's look. Look at these amulets and necklaces. Is there something she would like here?" He was pointing at an array of animal and symbol totems made of silver, turquoise and other stones.
"All of these carry special properties to help you in life's passage," She said. I tried to stay negative and think about how all she really wanted to do is lighten our wallets, but Scott's excitement was contagious. He would point out a particular piece and she would explain its mystical properties.
"This one is the two hummingbirds. Did you know that they mate for life?" she said holding up a pendant with two stylized hummingbirds circling around each other, almost like the yin and yang.
"That one is really pretty, isn't it?" Scott asked me. I nodded in agreement, but my attention kept being drawn to a simple bear made out of a shiny stone, almost like metal. It looked like a cookie cutout of a bear with an arrow leading from its mouth down into its body.
"That is the heartline bear made out of hematite. It is a very powerful protector and the bear is one of 'first helpers'." she explained seeing my interest. I pretended that I really wasn't that taken with the item.
"I don't really see my grandma wearing any of this jewelry," I said. It was true I had not seen her wear any jewelry, but I had not really paid that much attention to that sort of thing. That realization made me feel guilty about how much she had done for me and I don't think I ever even said thank you once to her. I was determined to buy her a nice gift.
"For your grandmother, huh? I think I have just the thing," she took down a large scarf hanging from one of the canopy supports. It was purple, but not just purple, it had the deep jewel tone of amethyst. A multicolored maze pattern was highlighted with gold stitching. I had to admit it was beautiful.
"Oh god, that is gorgeous," Scott cooed, which, dammit, was about the cutest thing I had seen him do. I wished I could unabashedly express enthusiasm, or any emotion, the way he did.
"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple . . .*" she quoted.
"With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me, *" Scott intoned.
"And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves . . .*" I stared a little perplexed at Scott.
"What?" he asked, "I remember some of the stuff I read too."
"I . . . I . . . I . . ." I stuttered. I felt a little embarrassed that I should feel surprised at his ability to quote a verse from the poem. Why shouldn't Scott know the poem too? After all, he is in advanced placement English with me.
"You are so cute when you stutter," pulling me close he whispered in my ear, "I could kiss you right now." I blushed.
"I want it to be a surprise, so you will have to carry it," I told Scott after paying for the scarf. It felt really good to be able to do something for her. What could I do for Scott?
As we were leaving the woman grabbed my arm and said into my ear, "Your aura is bright, don't think you can hide who you are forever." I didn't know what to do, but stumbled after Scott.
"There you are," my grandma said, "Who's hungry?" We had been browsing the stalls for hours without realizing it and I had to admit I was hungry and starting to wear out too.
"I am," Scott said.
Checking out the food vendors I found a cart selling German bratwurst with cheese and sauerkraut. I made the innocent comment that I loved sausage eliciting a sly smile and sidelong glance from Scott. Clueless I said "What?" before blushing and smiling. My grandma must have thought we were idiots when we started laughing. It was stupid and juvenile, but it was fun to share a secret moment like that with Scott.
After devouring my sausage I watched Scott finish the gyro he was eating, realizing that we had not had a chance to steal one kiss all day. I couldn't wait to get him to the privacy of my room.
Glancing at Grandma as she put away a sizable burrito, I tried to imagine giving her the scarf. What would her reaction be like? Would she like it? I wish I knew.
Our food finished and after Scott returned from a quick run to the restroom, we wandered back through the market, past the old guy dressed as Elvis singing Bob Dylan tunes and the rather sizable, and good band of banjo, accordion, fiddle and washtub bass drawing a crowd where Scott left some money in the open banjo case.
"We banjo players have to help each other out," he told me.
Happily near exhaustion we headed back home. I was wishing there was a way I could have sat in the backseat with Scott without it seeming weird to my grandmother. There was still a chance for some private time together, I hoped.
Driving up to the house a strange car was parked out front.
"Who could that be?" Grandma wondered out loud.
After we parked and the driver emerged, I knew exactly who it was. In a very uncharacteristic fashion I ran up to the short man in the cowboy hat and wrapped my arms around him.
I didn't, I couldn't say anything. The man pulled out of my embrace and held me at arms distance.
"Jaybird, I don't think I've ever seen you looking so good," he said, "it's good to see you."
"It's good to see you too," I was smiling.
"Jay," Grandma interrupted, "could you please introduce us?"
"Oh, right. Sorry. Grandma, this is Mr. Chang," I said, "Mr. Chang, this is my grandma Sue Westwood and . . . my friend Scott." I faltered over what to call Scott.
"Pleased to meet you sir," Scott held out his hand to shake.
I could see they were both a little taken aback my Mr. Chang. He is as Chinese looking as any resident of Beijing, but with a cowboy hat, big silver belt buckle and boots along with a Texas accent stronger than any Sunday bible thumping preacher.
"Please to meet you Mr. Chang," Grandma gripped his hand, "how do you know Jay?"
"Him and his mom been living in my motel for a while. Well, his mom wasn't too good at lookin' after him so I tried to keep an eye on him," he said. I stood looking down as I kicked a stray stone around the edge of the road. I couldn't explain why I was so excited to see him, especially since it stirred the specter of my mom.
"What brings you here?" I could tell Grandma was a little a suspicious. Why did he travel to Portland? Was it just to see me?
"Well, I got some stuff here for Jay," he started to explain, "and, to be honest, I wanted to make sure he was being taken good care of. I'd love to be able to go inside with you folk."
"Oh, of course," Grandma became the gracious host, "let's all get inside before it starts raining again." Clouds were starting to gather and brush the treetops.
Mr. Chang let out a whistle when he walked through the foyer.
"Well, I guess I don't have to worry 'bout you being taken good care of Jaybird," he commented.
"You will have to excuse me Mr. Chang, but it does seem odd for you to come all this way when you could have just shipped whatever Jay left behind," Grandmas suspicions were bubbling forth. I think Scott was feeling a little uneasy about the situation too and hovered just behind me in a protective manner.
Mr. Chang was the nicest person I had ever known in my life and I knew whatever reason he had to come to Portland, it was not to cause anyone harm.
We all sat around the dining table. Scott took a position next to me, our shoulders almost touching. I could tell he still felt a little uneasy about the situation. I couldn't think of a subtle way to tell him it was alright, don't worry.
"Well, it just didn't seem right to just put this stuff, some of it very personal, in a box and have it show up on your doorstep without any sorta explanation," he explained, placing a box on the table. It was the size of a large shoe box, the type that work boots come in. It had 'Brahma' printed on the side. "Besides, me and the wife took a special liking to Jaybird here, even volunteered to be foster parents if need be."
"That's very kind of you," Grandma was starting to soften her hard gaze, "he is special, though I don't think he knows it." My ears got hot.
"Um, so what did you bring?" Scott asked. I didn't realize a closed box could peak his curiosity so much.
"It's mostly personal and legal papers and the like," he lifted the lid, taking a smaller square box out of it, "I'll wait to give you this until you go through that." He slid the bigger box towards me across the table.
I can't say if I was scared, excited or just nervous. What sort of things did I leave behind? I only took what I knew was mine, which meant little more than the clothes on my back. Scott's presence so close made me feel a little more at ease. He leaned in peering into the box with me. I felt his hand on my thigh, giving it a surreptitious squeeze. I glanced into his eyes before looking to my grandmother. She gave me a reassuring nod.
The box was light and mostly empty. The top pages were just social services documents about my mom's benefits, like food-stamps and some old bills. They were things I was vaguely aware of, but I didn't think were really important. The next item took my breath away and made Scott ask; "What?"
It was a CD case. The cover was a photo of a man's face in profile. He had a dark neatly trimmed beard and a bright green eye staring intently off to the right. My fingers trembled when I picked it up and caressed the hard edges of the plastic.
"It's my Dad," I croaked
"He was a musician?" Scott asked.
"I guess," I said, "he killed himself when I was nine. I never saw this CD before." It wasn't easy to talk about, but it felt good to talk about him too. I almost felt I had to talk about him and words tumbled out me in an uncharacteristic torrent.
"He wasn't around much and sometimes . . . he would be just as messed up as my mom, but a lot of what I remember was really good. We would do things together; play, sing, just hang out," it was really hard to talk about coherently. "He didn't talk about himself," I looked up and shrugged, guessing where I inherited the very trait I was so often accused, "I came home from school one day, we were living in a real house at the time and I saw his truck. He drove this real old blue and white pick-up. I was excited because he was home and I hadn't seen him in months. Anyway, when I got inside, Mom was passed out on the couch, her works scattered on the floor. I ran through the house calling for him. I couldn't find him. There was a big tree in the backyard, we had nailed pieces of wood to the trunk so I could use it as a ladder to the lowest branches, which were well over the reach of even my dad. I had the idea I would climb the tree and scan the neighborhood for him . . . and there he was . . . hanging from a branch."
I had to stop at this point. There was an arm around my shoulder and my grandma reached across the table to place her hand over mine as I grasped the CD case.
"You don't have to say anything more," Scott reassured me in my ear. Mr. Chang sat quietly staring at his hands.
"Yeah... yeah, I do," I told him. My life was made up of so many things unsaid and I was getting so I couldn't do it anymore. "I was nine. I didn't know what death looked like. I ran into the kitchen to get a knife and climbed the tree to cut the rope. I sawed at it for I don't know how long crying 'I'll help you Dad!' I must have grabbed the dullest knife in the world. When the rope finally broke he fell with a thud to the ground. I must have lost my balance and fell too. The next thing I remember is waking up in my bed. We moved to Hawaii a few weeks later. I guess there was a little insurance money. Whatever money there was didn't last long. I don't even remember a funeral" I sighed a breath of relief. I wanted to cry, but I don't think there were any tears left for him or they were residing with some of the stones that had suddenly returned to my gut.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you then," Grandma said.
"It was only later I thought he might have been a musician of some sort. He had all these CD's and I listened to them obsessively when he wasn't there. They all disappeared before we moved."
I looked at the list of songs on the back. I didn't recognize any of them.
I pried the case open and just slowly shook my head. Of course, it was empty. Thanks Mom, I thought to myself and handed the empty case to Scott. The next thing out of the box was his death certificate. He was twenty-nine when he died.
Following that was a handful of photos of when I was just a baby. It took me a minute to realize the woman in the pictures was my mom. Her face was full and her toothy smile produced deep dimples. In my mind she is always gaunt and her mouth is held in a straight line. There was one photo that was torn, but the remains of an ear and a masculine hand can be seen holding me with my mother. I passed these to Scott and he passed them to my grandma. She wiped her eyes as she looked at them.
"This is the way I remember your mother, smiling," She said, "though to be honest she was probably screaming as much as she laughed. She was always one extreme or the other. Maybe that is why she went the way she did, looking for a way balance it all out."
I think I would rather have had the rage and laughter as opposed to the nothing I had instead. I couldn't even bring myself to look at the pictures again as she lay them on the table.
"You were such a pretty baby . . . that has grown up to be a handsome young man," she continued, "I hate myself for not being there in the beginning." She wiped tears from her eyes.
"That is no way to talk," Mr. Chang interjected before I could compose a response, "You are here when he needs you the most, right now."
I silently thanked Mr. Chang. If I had tried to say anything I know it would have come out wrong.
"There is no way I can make up for the last sixteen years," she said.
"You don't have to," I managed to quietly squeak out before I went back to the box, avoiding everyone's eyes.
I pulled another piece of paper from the box, glancing at it I did not think it was a big deal. It was my birth certificate. Then I started reading it; mother's name -- Karen Westwood, father's name -- nothing. It was a blank space. My world narrowed to that little void on that ivory colored piece of paper.
"What is it sweetheart?" my grandma asked.
"What does this mean?" agitated, I handed the paper to her.
"Oh, dear. I was afraid of this." she said.
"Afraid of what?" I demanded.
"Jay," she said as nicely as possible, "you and I share the same last name."
"Yeah?" I was refusing to let it sink in.
"Karen was my daughter," I just stared at her until she continued with a sigh, "at the very least your mother wasn't married when you were born."
"So, you're saying I don't have a father?" I was starting to raise my voice.
"Everybody has a father Jaybird," Mr. Chang tried to calm my growing anger.
"Damn right!" I growled, grabbing the CD, "this man right here!" I waved the CD case about.
"And he very well maybe," Grandma said, "even if he is not your biological father, he is who you look to as your father. That's what is important."
"Damn right!" I growled gain between clenched teeth.
"Calm down Jay," Scott whispered in my ear as he massaged the back of my neck. I closed my eyes and let the feel of his hand on my skin soothe me, not thinking about how it might look to the others.
I opened my eyes. The box in front of me was empty. My past consisted of a few scraps of paper and plastic and if not the lies of my mother, at least the emptiness of her omissions.
Mr. Chang looked like he was trying to hide the smaller box behind his hat.
"What's in that box?" I finally asked.
"Um," he looked decidedly uncomfortable, ". . . your mother's ashes."
"How did you get those?" I could see my grandmother was angry when she jumped in with that question. I think I was just in shock. A whole human being reduced to a box just big enough to hold a can of cola.
"It wasn't easy," he said, "but I just couldn't let something as important as this just show up on your doorstep like a newspaper."
We all just stared at him and the box.
"It took a little bribery and I know what I did wasn't exactly legal, but by god, it was the right thing to do!" he pushed the small box to the center of the table.
"She may have had her troubles, but she is still a human being . . . and your mother," he nodded at me, "and your daughter," he nodded at Grandma, "she deserves respect."
"I can't say I approve of what you did, but I think I am glad you did it." Grandma finally said.
I reached for the box, drawing it towards me. Everything about my mother had been reduced to this little box and a few stained and torn photographs. Was there nothing more?
There was her passed out in a tent on a beach telling me we were camping month after month. There was us huddled in the back of a car under a pile of blankets that smelled like gasoline and urine because there was no gas to run the engine for heat. She refused to go to a shelter and she wouldn't let me go either. There were countless midnight moves and me sleeping on a floor or couch while she got what she needed in another room. There we were standing at a busy intersection with a cardboard sign that said 'God Bless'. I tried to hide, hoping no one from school would see me, but she wanted me out where the motorists could see me. You got more that way.
There was an ivory colored piece paper with a blank spot that should have a name in it.
"Jay?" a distant voice called to me, but it was too far away to answer.
I don't know when, but I had risen from the table and I was standing in the middle of the room facing Mount Hood. I opened the lid of the box. It was like the ash of a camp fire, though maybe a little lighter in color. I shook the box a little. There was no odd bit of debris that could be anything remotely a person; no bit of bone nor a metal filling. Did someone sift out any precious metals and melt them down the way I heard the Nazis did in the concentration camps? It was just a fine powdery ash.
Are you in there Mom? What was wrong with you? Why were you so broken?
My questions and the lack of any answer only brought a red burning anger: Why did you have to make me broken too?! How dare you take my father away from me! How dare you . . . be you!
"Jay," the voice called again, sounding like an echo in the fog.
Then I did something I knew was the worst possible thing to do even as I did it.
"How dare you," I whispered to the box before bringing my arm back and hurling it towards the rain obscured mountain with all my strength. Even as it left my hand I cried in shocked disbelief at myself, "NO!" and dropped to my knees on the carpet. I did not see the cloud spread and start to settle; a Detroit gray snow. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."
*Warning by Jenny Joseph