Sunday, June 29, 2008

At 32 Part 2


I’m sitting inside the church with my head down, sweating on a cold winter day. My face is red, my eyes damp, my suit ill-fitting. My mother’s wail fills the room. Her cries echo off Jesus; he seems sad, too. I don’t think Mom will ever recover from this, and I fear that I’ll recover far too soon. I’m more numb than sad as I sit on the pew with my family, which is now one less. The room smells clean, like a freshly-scrubbed kitchen table, the scents of wood, leather and lemon filling my nose. Sad Jesus watches over us, and he seems to be saying, "Well, folks, you’re safe in my house, but once you walk out that door you’re on your own. Sorry."

It’s early January, and this is the last place I want to be. I haven’t been inside a church in years. I’m a lapsed Catholic. My little brother, William, is at the microphone talking about Dave, telling a funny anecdote. Dave didn’t hate William; he saved all his hatred for me. I have a few funny stories I could tell about Dave, but no one wants to hear my Dave Stories on this day. It sure was funny that time Dave tried to stab me on Halloween because I had to audacity to give candy to a group of black kids. How about that time I came home from work and he was smoking crack cocaine at the kitchen table, mere hours before his girlfriend gave birth? Boy, that was hysterical! And all of those times he stole my car? Fucking hilarious. Who can forget the time Dave lied and told me that William was stuck in Camden just so he could get a ride to the nearest drug corner? It sure was fun having Dave put me in harm’s way over and over again, wonderfully thoughtful of him. Oh, I’ve got stories all right. Stories about a brother that I loved, but didn’t like. Stories of a brother who drank and smoked and snorted to ease the pain in his heart.

Goddam it, Dave, why were you such an asshole? Why couldn’t you just have been nice to me? Why couldn’t we be the kind of brothers who get along? Why did you have to torture me for thirty years? You started it. You hated me first. I wanted to like you, but you made it impossible.

My brother is gone now. Dave died in prison. Hung himself. The guards had been beating him, and they broke his spirit. He started to hear voices. Thought everyone was out to get him (and maybe they were). He lost it. He lost his sanity and his hope. They put him on Suicide Watch, then they stopped watching him and he committed suicide. He wrote to me just last month, and didn’t sound like a guy who was planning to kill himself. Dave had found religion, and seemed to be looking forward to the future. He told me he was sorry for all that he’d done to me. I wrote back to him. I told him that all was forgiven, that we’re brothers and that’s all that matters. Blood. I don’t know if he got the chance to read my letter before he died. We never got the chance to shake hands and start over, and it’s just not fair.

William finishes his speech and everyone claps. It was a good speech, a better speech than I could have given. I feel like I should get up there and say a few words about my dead brother. But what can I say about a brother whom I despised for most of my life? That Dave and I were best pals, that we really liked each other, that he was a swell guy? I try to think of something nice to say about Dave. I scour my brain. I need a funny story to tell the crowd. Something to lighten the mood; something to distract my mother from her crying for at least a few minutes. Then it comes to me. I think of a great story to tell, a funny story that makes Dave look good, makes him sound charming and kind. The perfect story. But the moment has passed. The service has moved on to the next thing. No more stories. I guess it’s for the best. If I’d have gone up there and told a heartwarming story about Dave, everyone would’ve been thinking, "But I thought Ervin and Dave hated each other." We did hate each other. But we were brothers.

Of course, the real reason I hated my brother had nothing to do with anything he’d actually done. It had nothing to do with him stealing my car, stealing my money, chasing me around with knife, smoking crack in the kitchen, calling me names, hurting my feelings, hurting our mother’s heart. What truly made me hate my brother was his ability to make me feel small and weak, feel helpless and afraid. Dave made me realize at an early age that I had more than a bit of coward in me, and for that I hated him.

All I can do now is survive and try to make something of my life. I understand Dave’s drug addiction. I’ve felt the pull myself while snorting lines of cocaine in Pizza Tent’s bathroom, while getting my heart broken and wanting nothing else but a big fat line of white powder. I will make something of my life; I will be the one in our family to succeed. I went through my drug phase and survived, but I must always be vigilant and avoid temptation in the future. I need to be someone my mother can be proud of. Dave’s gone and I’m still here. I used to have three brothers, now I have two. I never used to think about death, now I’m on the clock.

Tick, tick, tick.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

At 32 Part 1


Today I received a letter from Dave. He wrote me from his cell at East Jersey Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. He’s not in jail for robbing a candy store or a liquor store, not in for stealing a car or assaulting somebody, not in for buying or selling drugs. This time, Dave’s behind bars mainly for nonpayment of child support. I’m not even sure Dave knows how many kids he’s fathered. With his spotty criminal record, every mistake he makes is magnified. I’m surprised by the letter, as Dave has never written me previously. He’s sent a postcard or two, and a Christmas card once, but never a letter. His reading and writing skills are at an elementary school level, but he has shown improvement lately. When he was younger, all his time behind bars was spent rolling cigarettes and lifting weights, but on his recent trips to jail he’s been educating himself, reading books, mostly the Bible, and practicing his grammar.

He writes: "To my brother Ervin.

"How are you doing good I hope. Are you still smoking cigarettes bad habit I guess you know that much I never thought you would smoke I guess being subjected to them your entire life it was enevitble that you would smoke.

"I want to let you know that I apologize for any problems I caused you from my drinking and drug problem in the past. Because you know thats not the person that I really am Just was self medicating all the pain in my heart.

"Man I made so many mistakes in the walk of life is full of snares and traps I just seem to step in all of them what line was I in when they were passing out the brains.

"In any event I hope you and the family have a great Christmas sorry I cant be there you should be geting a bible study course in the mail thats from me Look it over once you have the time.

"I met some great people in the church Christian people and they mail me my Bible Study here. And they prey for me and my family and they are willing to except anyone who believes in God and Jesus died on the cross for us and your life will be so full with happyness and thats what God does looks out for all his children. I guess you herd enough of the God stuff but it is a shame we didn’t grow up in the church its good for all family and they seem to have important knowledge and wisdom that helps one have a better life.

"Tell everyone I said hi and have a great Christmas Don’t worry everything will work out.

"p.s. Tell mom I forgot if any one wants to send me a book or magazine they can by source of sale only that means from the book store or they can subscribe me a magazine or book.

"Im not aloud to have any hard back books and nothing with pictures of guns. So if any has an idea to send me something to read they can.

"Thanks for being a good brother talk to you later ervin.

"Later your brother


I’m not quite sure why, but I’m crying a little. Just a salty drop or two rolling down my cheek and onto my lips. I want to hate him. I’ve vowed to hate him forever. But I can’t. He’s my brother and I miss him. Maybe he’s really changed. Maybe he has found God and is a new man. He seems to honestly want to be a better person. I’ll have to go see him in the new year. Give him hug. Tell him I love him. Do I love him? I hope so.

I swallow a Percocet, which I’m taking for mouth pain after some recent extensive dental work. Avoiding the dentist for fifteen years did no favors to my teeth. My mouth doesn’t really hurt anymore, but the pills make me feel nice. I like feeling nice. Nothing wrong with that, right?

I fold the letter and slide it back into the envelope. I hope Dave and I will get a chance at a new beginning. I decide to write him back and let him know that all is forgiven. We’re brothers, after all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

At 17


I’ve been dating an older woman named Karen for several weeks. She’s twenty-two, five years older than I am. A real live, adult, sexual woman. I’m still a virgin, and she’s far from a virgin. Karen has had sex with a few of the guys at Pizza Tent, which I must try not to think about, lest I go crazy. She dated one of the assistant managers for a short time, a jerk named Bill who told me last week that Karen’s pussy wasn’t that good. "Dude, the pussy is average at best, nothing special," he said, with a cocky shrug. I told Bill that I wouldn’t know the difference between good pussy and bad pussy. I’d be happy with any pussy, as long as my penis found its way inside. Bill laughed and said, "You’ve got a lot to learn, kid." It hurts to know that my boss has fucked my girlfriend, because I haven’t even fucked my girlfriend. I haven’t had sex with anything except my left hand, a bottle of shampoo, a photo of Molly Ringwald, and a grapefruit.

Karen is short and skinny, with small tits and badly-dyed blonde hair. Her face isn’t anything special, kind of horsey, in fact, but she has a nice smile, all of her teeth are intact, and her personal hygiene is commendable. She always smells well-scrubbed. Also, she’s mentioned that she really wants to fuck me, which certainly bumped her up a few notches. She’s a sweet girl who won my heart one Saturday night by bringing me a milkshake while I was pissed off and sweaty, doing dishes by myself at work well after midnight. The store was a disaster of dirty dishes, sticky floors, and overflowing trash cans. She handed me a chocolate milkshake and said, "I thought you could use this." I wiped sweat from my eyes and said, "More than you know." I was filthy and smelled like onions and grease, but she didn’t mind. She came on to me. Flirted. Let me know she was available. Wooed me with great pickup lines such as: "I’m on the pill," and "My parents are really old and their hearing is bad, so it’s like they’re not even home at all, even when they are. I could moan for hours and they wouldn’t hear a thing. I could moan for you, Ervin, if you wanted me to."

Karen is not my dream girl or anything, but she is open to the idea of touching my penis, so I’ve decided to be her boyfriend. It’s more than just the possibility of sex, though. I like the attention. For the first time in my life, a girl has fallen madly in love with me. I don’t love Karen. Not yet. Maybe I will, maybe not. But she loves me. Karen has said that she’d do anything for me. It’s just nice to be wanted by someone. I’ve told her that I love her, and I will continue to do so, because she likes to hear it, because she’d feel stupid if I didn’t return the sentiment, because I want her to sleep with me, because I don’t even know what love is.

Tonight, I’m with Karen in her living room. We’re groping each other beneath a blanket. Her parents are in bed, sound asleep, their television blaring. Karen is wearing short shorts and a pink half-shirt, no bra. My fingers are under her shirt, twisting her somewhat hairy nipples (I never knew that girl nipples could be hairy). She moans, bites my shoulder, pulls my hair. She sucks on my tongue as if it’s her favorite flavor of lollipop.

I’m ready to burst.

I think This is it. I’m finally going to get some action.

"Ervin," she says, "promise me you won’t do drugs anymore. I can’t be with a guy who does cocaine. I just can’t. So promise me."

"I promise," I say, with sincerity. "That part of my life is over." I haven’t done any drugs since my nightmare Junior Prom, and I don’t even miss it. The urge is gone. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be this guy. The guy who has a girlfriend. The guy who’s about to get laid, thank you very much.

She pulls her shorts down and shoves her tongue deep inside my mouth. "Let’s fuck, Ervin," Karen says. "I want us to sleep together."

"Yeah, let’s do that," I say. "I think sex would be, um, awesome. It would, you know, strengthen our love and stuff."

"Are you ready for it?" she asks.

"Oh, yeah!"

I am suddenly very scared. Scared of the pussy. I tremble. My hands won’t stay still. My stomach offers pain and odd noises. My hard cock shows signs of weakness. The pussy is in front of me, calling out to me, and I am afraid of it.

"Fuck me," she says, pulling me to her. "Feel how wet I am."

I slide several fingers inside her, with ease. "That’s pretty wet," I say.

"Fuck me right now."

And I would totally fuck her if my penis was the least bit hard. But it’s not. It’s gone soft, like a deflated balloon, and I want to cry.

She goes down on me, trying to bring me back to life, without success.

"I’m sorry, Karen."

I feel betrayed by the lower half of my body.

Karen says, "It’s okay. We can just lay here. I know you’re nervous. Let’s just cuddle. I love you no matter what."

She holds me close. Her shorts are still down and her bare sex mocks me. There it is, close enough to touch. Its sweet aroma wafting through the room. Its wetness on my fingers. The pussy is teasing me. I close my damp eyes.

We fall asleep together, both of us wearing shirts and pants pushed down to our ankles. I dream about the sex I couldn’t have, dream that I’m strong and hard and fuck like a champion. I awake a few hours later with a gigantic (average-size but incredibly firm!) boner. I wake Karen, shake her, shout, "Get up! It’s urgent!" I am fully ready and Karen feels it and says, "Put it in. Now! Before it gets soft again," which doesn’t instill me with great confidence. She’s on the pill and that’s good enough for me, diseases be damned, because I’m seventeen and indestructible. I slide inside her and give her a sweet, hot, romantic, passionate, clumsy minute. I am no longer a virgin. I’ve done it. I’m seventeen and I’ve had sex.

What a relief.

She grabs a T-shirt and wipes between her legs. "I usually hate the mess of sex, but I don’t mind your mess. Your mess makes me smile."

"That’s sweet of you to say, gross but sweet."

Karen holds me close, pets me, kisses my forehead. "I’m glad we got your first time out of the way. I’m sure you’ll do better next time. We can practice all you want."

I say, "I don’t know what you’re talking about. I thought I was awesome." We both laugh. She tells me she loves me, and I lie and tell her I love her, too.

I hear my brother’s voice in my head. Karen is not Dave’s type. She’s much too tiny for a man of distinct taste like Dave. "I’m like ‘em big," he would often say. Dave may be gone for now, but he is never forgotten. I imagine that when he returns from his time in the carnival, he will be even more wise, if that is possible. And he will probably be missing a few more teeth. I envy my brother. Traveling across this great country, not a care in the world, spreading his demon seed to all the carny groupies across this great nation, rolling tight cigarettes and watching the rickety rides spin. I wish I could tell him that I just got laid. He’d appreciate that. Dave would congratulate me and then ask to smell my fingers.

Monday, June 2, 2008

At 12, Part 3


I lost a friend today. He didn’t die. He just doesn’t exist anymore, not in my little universe, anyway. Yesterday, Todd and I were like brothers; today, we are no longer friends. We will never again see each other. Never do anything together. We won’t ride the elevator with light bulbs shoved down our pants pretending we have massive erections while old ladies turn purple and shout "You two perverts are going to burn in hell!" as we laugh and laugh. Won’t argue over which of us Nicole likes better. Won’t smoke cigarettes Todd swiped from his father. Won’t battle it out playing Tank on his Atari 2600. And I won’t have to beg him not to show off his penis. My best friend has been taken from me. Stolen in the night. He did something stupid and went away. Todd did something that changed everything. Changed our future. Changed our past. Because now we have no future. Because now my memories of him are tainted.

An unfortunate incident occurred, and because of that incident, Todd will no longer be living at Chapel Manor. Because I’m a kid, my mother did not want to tell me what happened. Soon enough, though, she relented. It took her a long time to speak of the incident, and she was embarrassed to do so. She wouldn’t give the exact details, wouldn’t say certain words, but I was able to put the unbelievable pieces of the story together. Now, having just been given the truth, I sit in stunned silence on the living room couch. I want it to be a joke. Want it so badly to all be a silly prank. But Mom is not the joking kind. Her words are true as the summer sun.

Todd forced Franklin to give him a blow job.

Todd, my best friend, made Franklin, a young retarded boy, give him head. Just thinking of it brings the stinging vomit up my throat. Brings the heat to my cheeks. Brings the hot ache to my belly. Makes me gag. It happened in the woods, near the area that Todd set on fire. Franklin told on Todd right away, and the police came and took Todd away. He was taken away before I even woke up this morning. Franklin’s gone too, off to live with relatives somewhere far away. Both of them now gone for good, as if a magician had simply made them disappear and then died suddenly before having the chance to bring them back.

I don’t know why Todd did it, but I will never have the chance to ask him, because I no longer have a best friend. I’m pissed off at Todd for what he did, fucking enraged, but I also miss him like crazy. Already, I mourn his loss. At least now I understand why he was always trying to show me his penis. Why he always wanted us to drop our pants and compare wieners. Why he wanted to teach me his dazzling masturbation techniques. But he never put the moves on me. Was never forceful. I’d say, "No, Todd, I do not want to see how big your penis is," and then we’d move on, play video games or basketball. His penis fetish was never that big of a deal. Until it was. Today.

Mom is visibly uncomfortable when she asks, "Ervin, are you gay?"

"What?" I say, my face growing hot. "Mom!"

I vehemently assure my mother that I am not gay, unless you’re counting my taste in music, which is, in fact, very gay (and includes groups like The Carpenters, The Brady Kids, The Partridge Family, Culture Club, and Wham!). Mom tells me that gay is disgusting. That gay is wrong. Gay doesn’t seem that disgusting to me. I personally have no interest in kissing other boys, but who am I to tell everyone else who they should kiss? The only gayness that I’ve seen in my life has been on television, on late-night cable. Most of the dirty movies I watch when everyone else is asleep feature at least one or two lesbian scenes; for example: the adult Cinderella—when two beautiful sisters decided to lez-out together, the erection I get lets me know that gay is good. In fact, girls kissing other girls seems to do something in my pants akin to a miracle; a small miracle, in my case. Men kissing each other does nothing for me, but who am I to say it's wrong?

"You’re not a gay like Todd?" she asks. Mom definitely has a way with words. "Did he make you that way, too?" She’s acting as if a sudden outbreak of gay has spread throughout the apartment building.

"No, I’m not a gay. But I don’t think Todd is gay, either. And I don’t think you can make someone gay. I kinda think if you’re gay, you just are."

Mom scrunches her face and shakes her head. "Well, I think he’s gay."

"I’m pretty sure he just did it as some sort of punishment for Franklin, like, to hurt him or something, instead of just hitting him like usual. I don’t think he meant for it to, so gay," I say. "I think Todd was alone with Franklin, and Franklin was dripping snot and laughing and pulling his pants down, so Todd just got really mad and decided to punish him. But then things got out of hand. That’s what I think."

"Well, I know he was your friend and everything, but Todd is sick. What if he had done this to someone else? What if it was your little brother instead of Franklin?"

"It wouldn’t have been. Todd would never hurt anyone in our family. He just really had it in for Franklin."

Mom shrugs and says, "Whatever, Ervin. You think what you want. I have to go to work now. Keep an eye on your little brother, and don’t ever be gay."

My mother and I never have conversations that last more than a few minutes. She’s always moving around very quickly while speaking, and I know when the conversation is supposed to be over because suddenly I’ll be by myself. Mom always has numerous jobs, is always working, always heading out somewhere to earn money so her children can eat.

"Sure, Mom," I say, staring at the floor. I feel hollow. Feel the loss in my bones, the emptiness, like someone has just sucked out all of my marrow.

"You look so sad, Ervin."

"I just miss Todd. He was my best friend. It’s not fair. This totally sucks. I wish I could’ve at least said goodby to him, and told him what a jerk he is for doing what he did, for messing everything up." I begin to cry. I don’t want to cry. Todd doesn’t deserve my tears. Still, they flow.

She smiles. "Well, you’ll find a new friend, don’t you think?"

I would have answered her question, but she’s already out the door before I get the chance. Mom’s like Batman. You blink and she’s gone.

I have a few friends in the building, but none will be able to replace Todd. I have to accept that I’ve lost my best friend because of a blow job. I should feel sorry for Franklin, I really should. He’s young and retarded and doesn’t know anything. I should feel sorry for Franklin, but I don’t. I hate him, and I blame him for Todd’s sudden departure. Of course it’s not Franklin’s fault, but fuck him and his snotty fucking face for even existing in the first place. And I hate myself for not being there, for not stopping Todd from doing what he did. Todd needed me to keep the Devil inside him, like I’ve always done. But the Devil came while I slept. Came and took my friend away.