My first word was “fuck.”
Now granted, what I was trying to say was undoubtedly truck, what came out at the time was definitely “fuck.” At least that’s what my parents tell me. Why I bring this up now, why this comes back to me — a memory that’s not really my memory at all, just someone else’s memory that involves me and was told to me — is hard to say. It could be because I’m struggling for words now, sitting at the same table where I once said my first word, and my parents are sitting here too and none of us are saying anything. There’s only the clanking and scraping of silverware against plates, the slow chewing of food. This silence at dinner isn’t unusual exactly, at least not for my family, only now it strikes me as mildly uncomfortable. Because here I am, a grown man eating with his parents, and it seems nothing has changed since the moments before I said my first word all those years ago. Except maybe there was hope then. Also, I’m older.
Growing up in a family of introverts was always an easy thing, it was never necessary to talk if you didn’t want to talk. I have three siblings — I realize I’ve never written about them here, probably because they never played into this story, and they won’t be playing a part now as far as the story goes, but maybe it’s important to bring them up if only to give you a better sense of things. I have an older sister, a younger brother, and a younger sister — I’ll leave their names out of this. My younger sister still goes to school, in San Luis Obispo, my brother works at an architecture firm in Seattle, and my older sister still lives at home though right now I don’t know where she is. I haven’t seen much of her since I wound up back here.
What I’m trying to say is, growing up, it wasn’t just me and my parents. But we were silent, all of us. We kept to ourselves. And this allowed for my thoughts to grow in any direction they wanted, and solidify there. Reality was no hindrance. I gave things names that weren’t their real names. I gave things meanings that weren’t their real meanings. I had my own internal language, my own internal set of rules I didn’t realize was internal. Nobody could tell me otherwise because I never spoke to anyone about any of this.
Then there were the voices, not heard, more felt as a cool draft in the back of my head. There were reoccurring nightmares of black-haired demons shapeshifting into black-haired cats. There were all the Bible stories from Sunday School compiling, taking on too literal of a history in my mind. And then there was the belief that all birds were angels, guardian angels to be more specific, that every person was assigned one, and that mine was a particular Blue Jay — though I just called him Blue — who often visited our backyard.
Blue would screech, not sing, in the cluster of trees by the fence. It sounded more like someone screaming. Trying to watch TV, my dad would inevitably get fed up and storm outside to throw rocks at the trees until Blue shut up, or disappeared (my dad even amassed a collection of rocks outside the door for this purpose). On other days, Blue would fly straight into the living room window — we’d always know by the hollow THUMP and rattle of windowpane you could hear from anywhere in the house. And sure enough, there he’d be, lying motionless on the back patio only to shake himself up, un-ruffle his blue and white feathers, give us a quick look with crazed eyes before taking off in whatever direction he saw fit. Sometimes right back into the window.
This was my guardian angel. I told no one this. Probably because I was ashamed of my guardian angel.
Blue stopped showing up around the time I went into high school. By college, I didn’t so much think he was dead, I’d simply forgotten he’d ever existed. Still, all of this remained — the voices and demons and Bible stories and the bird — though buried, hardening within me like cement and expanding. All it needed was a little nick, a slight crack in the skull to escape into the conscious mind.
So after the inevitable first crack came and I was forced to drop out of college, move back in with my parents to seal the crack back up, imagine my surprise when I hear that familiar THUMP against the living room window. I’m home alone at the time, it’s early winter, and who’s out there but little Blue, now gray, lying on the patio and struggling for breath. I recognize him immediately. A smudge of blood on the window where he hit. I crouch over him, watch his feet twitch, his little eyes open wide and eyeing me from their side as if to say, it’s your turn now, it’s your turn to take care of me. And I say, of course, little Blue, I’ll take care of you.
Then he dies.
I’m pretty drunk at the time, so I don’t feel much, drinking being a strict part of my regimen to seal the crack. I just hover over him, and stagger back. His feathers quiver but it’s only the wind. Only later, long after burying him in the stretch of dirt behind the basketball hoop, do I feel something. A brief moment of sober clarity before falling asleep. For the first time, I realize, I’m truly alone.
“Fuck,” I say to myself now, years later, here again, recovering from the second crack.
My parents look up from their plates, mid-chew.
“What was that?” my dad asks.
I feign a cough, shake my head, and that’s the end of that. We all go back to eating.
I’m working hard to seal this second crack up for good, and not just seal it up, but reinforce it with everything I’ve got so it never comes re-cracked, undone — whatever — again. This time I avoid booze, I avoid weed, I run like my life depends on it. And I’m afraid it does. I’m desperate for that hit of high, when the body feels like lead but the mind flies. Without it I sink, keep sinking. These “family” dinners are also part of the regimen, a suggestion from my parents to reintegrate a level of normality and routine back into my life.
And at night when I’m alone, I check the cracks, see what’s still there, what’s still getting through—
The bird was just a bird. Annie was just Annie. The man was just myself. Good. And Brian— well, who was he? My heart sinks. I turn off the light and my heart sinks deeper. Let it sink, I tell myself. I’ll seal my heart up too.
In the morning I run harder, sweat harder, read the papers over breakfast, and reaffirm this as reality. The rise and fall of Trump in the polls, the inevitability of another Clinton in the White House, etc.
I let the *scar tissue* crawl over the split, the tear in my mind, again and again, the *scar tissue* webs itself over—
But just then there’s a little rip, a tear in the
scar tissue that I wish you saw
sarcastic mister know it all
close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, cause
with the birds I’ll share—
I need to be more careful with my word choices, my thought choices, because there are still things out there, outside of myself, that can reach the things inside myself, and by connecting what’s inside to what’s outside, it doesn’t matter how much
*AHEM* — reinforcement I’ve put up, what’s inside will always be inside and could at any time come spilling out. At any time.
So I avoid radios, I avoid thinking about radios, I avoid anywhere where radios play, which, it goes without saying, could be anywhere. Naturally this gets in the way of my return to society. I can’t leave the house in fear I’ll overhear a certain song, a certain voice, and all this work will have been for naught. My parents want me to get a job. I’m all for it, I tell them. Unfortunately the only jobs I’m qualified for are in retail or restaurants, places where the radio always plays. I try to explain this to them, my parents, and they’re kind enough to nod, to say they understand, but when suggesting that I should try it anyway and see how it goes, I see they don’t understand at all. It doesn’t matter though, they stick to their hands-off approach and their suggestions remain just that, suggestions.
After one particular visit to the grocery store — a poor decision on my part — I tell myself I can never set foot in a grocery store again. While I ‘d been checking out, a song by that band came down from the overhead speakers—
with the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’
with the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’
—and I felt myself waking from some dream, dark smoke pushing, rising, pulsating against the scar *stuff* of my mind, and standing there I knew that if I didn’t leave now all would be lost. I left the groceries with the cashier, and walked out without saying a word.
I cradled myself in the car, humming the song, trying to turn the tune into a different tune. I was unsuccessful.
It’s weeks before I leave my house again. And when I do, it’s to stand in the backyard. Listen to the birds — just birds. Back inside. I form a bubble in my room. I hope that maybe, when this red hot summer is over — though surely summer must be over? — I can safely make the trips outside, when the radios have finally had enough of
I don’t leave my room. I don’t go on my phone. Though Brian and I would text at first, sometimes he’d even call, our correspondence slows the way most distanced correspondences do. He’s on his way to becoming an old friend, and from there — a forgotten acquaintance. I’ve deleted Tinder, though I’m still charged $9.99 a month for the Plus upgrade because I failed to unsubscribe before deleting the app. I don’t care. I won’t touch it. I’m afraid of getting too close to it again, that somehow it’d draw me back in and I’d stumble across someone’s eyes and said someone’s eyes would wake me from this little cave I’ve created beneath the crack.
Anything to stay safe. To stay sane.
Anything to keep the *crack* closed.
Once again, my mom has to deliver my food, and leave it at the door.
Every now and again I’ll hear a THUMP.
A THUMP THUMP from the living room window but I don’t get up. I can’t let any light through the crack. Not until I’m sure it’s closed for good. For good. Cause with the birds I’ll share—
—this lonely view. Little Blue.
Anyway. This is my state. This is where I’m at when Brian decides to come back.
join man next week for journal #40 (in which Brian comes back)