People call me weird. I'd prefer they call me Paul, but I know they're right. I have watched almost everyone outside my home be normal for as long as I've been allowed to be outside my home.
I have spent my whole life in Boody, IL. I attend Eisenhower High School in Decatur, as Boody has no schools. There are four other high school aged kids and six elementary school aged kids that ride the bus with me into Decatur. I don't sit by anyone. I mind my business and enjoy the sunshine while we are shipped in. Not that anyone has ever tried to sit with me, but I am pleased to get some undisturbed time to myself in the morning and afternoon. The rest of my day and evening are filled with demands and chaos in darkness and artificial light.
For as long as I can remember, we have had long dark drapes on every window in my home . They are never drawn nor are the windows opened. I have never smelled the rain nor felt a breeze nor felt sun on my skin in the communal rooms of my home. I have however managed to keep control of my own window: my portal to the outside world. When I was small my mother would punish me with spankings when she found the nails removed from the window in my room. I would promptly un-nail my window every single time she nailed it shut after I finally figured out how to remove a nail. I think she realized I would probably break the window to have air and stopped nailing it shut when I was 11. My room is my haven. She can't put dusty, mildew reeking drapes on my window. I could take as many swats as she could give, I love light and air. So, she finally gave up and I found freedom; when I am allowed to be in my room. I spend the majority of my waking hours at home cleaning, studying, doing homework, doing the laundry, yard work, and occasionally helping cook with my mom. She smiles sometimes while we are cooking. Cooking is a time that she seems to enjoy and loses track of the moods in her head.
I don't think she has any idea about the spiraling moods in her head. Somedays, good ones, she will float about going from the need to count the silver to checking all the windows to make sure they're sealed. She may even put clothes on those days. She may sob and cry out that our entire family hates us and that she "fucked up my life and yours by having children, oh god what has she done blah blah blah," then pass out on the couch with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of some absolutely noxious alcohol in the other. Some days the moods are a bit more intense. She won't let me go to school and instead make me sit in our den reading the bible out loud while she sobs and begs god and Jesus to save us as we are going to be killed by the devil, or soldiers, or an asteroid… she really has a lot of end of days theories. I hate those moods. I also hate the bible. It is a scary book with nonlinear plots that are usually devoid of any moral points. I don't think I should have to plead for salvation or to live. I just want to live outside that room, in some sunshine, for the moments I do have.
I have a working theory about when my mom lost it. I think she was always a little odd, but when I was seven she had to go to the hospital because she started bleeding. I was too young to put the pieces together then, but as i was carrying a bouquet of flowers there was a card attached from my uncle's family in Chicago, it read, "We are so sorry for your loss. Love, Charlie Diane and Timothy". I couldn't understand what loss they were sorry about. She and I were fine and my dad had been dead for months at that point. That note always stuck with me. Especially when I realized nothing was going to be the same. My old, and still slightly odd, mother never returned from that trip to the hospital. The person in my mother's body sometimes resembled my old mother. The way she smiled when I played piano was like when she used to put a record on and danced with my father. They would grin and giggle and the whole world would be at peace. I am surprised she didn't lose it when my father died. Maybe she did and I don't remember. I was a little withdrawn then, anyway. I would sit under the oak tree in my back yard and try my hardest to be with him again, even when he smelled of beer and cigars I wanted so badly to remember that smell. For a minute there, I lost my young self. My aunties and grandmother came over a few times a week and then after my mother had the hospital incident they came over every day. Auntie Jane would make me soup and a grilled cheese or ham sandwich with chips and Auntie Abbey would tend to mother. Sometimes she would bring a magazine. Sometimes I would hear them both sobbing in my mother's bedroom. The last time my aunties came over in that period of our lives, mother was having rather dramatic episode. She had thought there was a bad omen on my life. She had woken me up in the early morning and took me into the den. She had me lay on the table and started praying. She made me stay there while she got things from the kitchen. Eggs, flour, a rolling pin, melted butter, and some sort of baking soda. She smeared it all over me and used the rolling pin to make sure i was saturated in her concoction. My aunties came to the door, as they had every day since the hospital, and my mother tried to get them to leave. Instead they pushed their way past her and found me. Auntie Jane took me to shower and change while Auntie Abbey argued with mother. Mother must've won because they stopped coming over as often, and eventually the occurrence of a visit was once in a great while.
I have never had a friend over. Not that anyone wants to come over. What would we do if someone decided to come over and my mother was gone (that was the only way a new person would make it past the threshed of the front entry way)? We have a TV with bunny ears but my mother hates it. And I hate the room that it's in. The air is stagnant and hot no matter what the season. My mother hates the sound of fans so we don't have one. She isn't keen on any moving air, really. Even the dryer is too much for her. I couldn't even host a guest in the only room in the house with fresh air. I have a few hardy boys books on my shelf in my bedroom. I also have six old teddy bears, three model planes, an empty fishbowl and fourteen army figurines on my shelf. My walls are barren. I have bed for sitting or laying, but I doubt that's much appeal when every other boy in my class has a game system and television in their home. I would rather not have any friends than have them over. It has been my experience that you cannot maintain a relationship with someone without ever visiting their home or having them to yours.
I have never seen the inside of a department store. Honestly, I don't know where my clothes came from until my Auntie Jane stole me away and took me to the thrift shop in Decatur to buy new pants last year. I had three pairs: one grease-stained from fixing the lawnmower; another pair were not meant to be petal-pushers but high watered past my ankles; and my favorite ones are khakis. The khakis are permanently stained and no long khaki colored. My Auntie Jane happened to be friends with my teacher. They ran into one another at a social event and my teacher mentioned the state of my clothes. Everyone knows we are poor, but the teacher was worried since I had no friends and I look like I look that my clothes were further hindering my ability to make friends. I am unkempt and not necessarily by choice. My auntie came over and argued with my mother for an hour before she grabbed me by the arm and tore me out of my bedroom and into her car. When we arrived at the thrift store she picked out a few pairs of pants, a couple button up shirts and a half dozen t-shirts. She found three pairs of shoes for me. A pair of boots for bad weather, tennis shoes for school sports and a pair of faded chuck taylors. I kept my other ill-fitting clothes to work in. I keep my new thrift shop clothes for school, I keep them laundered and fresh.
I spend my free time at school with my nose in a book in our lovely sunlit library. This year I got a period off. I have made a dent in the classics section of the library. I get through a novel every week or so, I save my homework for home, mother won't argue with me about chores or god knows what if i am studying or doing my homework, unless it is an especially chaotic day in her head. Rarely do I bring a book home. I have had to lie to the librarians about "losing" a few books because my mother burnt them when she found them on my bedside or in my backpack. She always claims it is best for me, but I know it is best for her to stay away from things that may break down the constructs in her head. If i understand that she is different she would never talk her self out of believing I didn't have it out for her, to destroy her. So, I pretend i know nothing about how the rest of the world operates and play along in her moods so I can get by unscathed.
I know how many days there are until my liberation day, or my 18th birthday. 176 today. I keep a calendar in my locker at school. Mother will never ever see it. She hasn't left the house, other than to go to church or the liquor store since 2002. She has managed to write notes for school, take phone meetings (she has to plug in the telephone she keeps in a box to make a phone call), and politely decline any invitation to leave the house. She drags me with her once in a while to the liquor store if her back is sore and she doesn't want to carry her beer and whiskey. The guy at the register knows her by name.
"Nancy, good to see you tonight. You look great. When are you going to let me take you out?"
To which my mother replies, "Oh Daniel, you know I can't do that, I'm married."
This puzzled me and I'm sure a quizzical look came across my face.
I see him wink at her and she smiles, coyly.
That is the extent of quasi-average, still very awkward and filled with lies, interaction I have seen my mother have. When she does take a phone call she puts on a fake smile and makes herself sound normal. No bizzare-o talk, no delusional accusations against the other line. I wonder what it will be like when I have phone interactions with my mother. If she will put on the fake tone and pretend that she has an ounce of normal in her. I can dream.
I haven't figured out what I am going to do when I graduate high school next year and am 18. I would feel awful if in an episode of drunken stupor she caught the house on fire with her cigarette burning while she passes out, a cigarette that I wasn't there to put out. I can't imagine her surviving any sort of carbon monoxide poisoning since all the window are fastened shut and we have never had a detector in our home. On the other hand, I could live amongst people who believe in physics and read Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy. People who would probably never confine me to a dungeon in my own home. I have 176 days until I turn 18. That is 15 days after I graduate high school.
That all mattered until the event that occurred this afternoon. I thought my day was going to be pretty average. I woke up and got dressed and tiptoed past my mother's room. I snuck a glance at her and saw that she was still passed out. I was not surprised as she had drank an entire bottle of some disgusting alcohol the night before. I made myself some toast and hurriedly got out to greet the bus.
My school day was average. I didn't lend my opinions in class unless asked. I spent an hour in the library reading This Side of Paradise and ate lunch in the cafeteria, alone. I enjoyed my bus ride in the sun and took my time walking home. When I walked in, I knew something was amiss. The smell of mildew hit my face as it always does. It was eerily quiet though, and there was no mess in the kitchen.
"Mother?" I yelled.
"Mother, I am home now, where are you?"
The silence was consuming. I looked in our den. I looked in the basement. She wasn't in the living room or kitchen. I didn't want to look in her room. I took several deep breaths and turned down the hall.
"Mother, I am coming towards your room, I pray that you're decent." That would definitely stir the mood if she was awake, the mere mention that she could perhaps not be decent. But, silence ensued.
I knew what was going on. I slid against the wall to the floor and put my head in my hands. What was I going to do? Mother had no money. I would become a ward of the state and live in an orphanage: none of my relatives would take me in, I was a financial burden. Was I prepared to see my mother's corpse? I really didn't have a choice. Maybe I will sleep on it. Maybe she is just sleeping the booze off.
I worked myself up to going into mother's room and chickened out several times. I finally peeked in the doorway and saw what I had assumed I would see: mother in the same position she was in this morning. My stomach churned. I ran to the bathroom and puked. I wasn't as sad as I thought I should be. I was sick and numb. The fear of my future was paralyzing. I passed out on the cool, comforting tile floor until the next morning.
My head ached and the stale taste of puke filled my mouth. My house was still and lifeless. I brushed my teeth and took some tylenol from the medicine cabinet. I knew I had to face a much longer day today. I felt torn, should I go to school, a safe place, and face this later or should I call my aunties now?
I found myself in my bedroom with the windows open and the cool late autumn air filling the room. My stomach was angry. I stared at my sterile wall with hope that any answer to the seemingly endless questions swarming my mind would come. Instead I started to feel saddened by my bleak future without a mother. I remembered when she took me to her childhood home when I was five. There was a swing in the yard and I laughed as she pushed my higher and higher. I remember feeling invincible in that moment. My heart ached for that mother. The mother who, when I had chicken pox brought me soup and let me put my head in her lap and nap off my fever. The mother who would take me by the hands and cut me in when her and my father danced. I mourned the loss of that kind, slightly warmer-mother many years ago, and now I have lost the shell of mother-past who consistently made my life hell. I had to keep the bad memories alive to get through this.
My mother's untimely death had screwed me. I knew that my aunties wouldn't take care of me like they did my mother when father passed. I knew I was all alone. NO grilled cheese and trips to the park. I would probably end up homeless or in an orphanage for the the remainder of my youth, which was ending shortly anyhow.
I took account of some of our possessions, thinking about what I could sell to get my feet on the ground. I didn't know how to contact anyone at social security to change the check into my name alone. I didn't know how much money we had in the bank. Did we have a bank? I needed help.
I found the telephone and plugged it into the wall. It was now 8:36 am. I don't know where to start on the telephone, but I did know one thing, it hit me: sunshine will finally touch the walls of my house. This glorious moment I realized I had control! I went into the living room and tore the drapes off the rods. The windows were slightly opaque with years of dust and neglect. There were only two nails in each window. I went to my room and retrieved my trusty hammer. Freedom. I never realized that the walls in the living room were the most beautiful dirty eggshell color. The crisp fall smell of decaying leaves mingled with the air in my house for the first time in my life. Dust particles rained all around me like a shaken snow globe. I took the drapes down in every room, except mother's, of course. My house was more alive than it had ever been even with mother's corpse rotting in her bed.
I felt no guilt in basking in this sensuous experience. The awesome splendor of sunshine and fresh air that most experience often in their homes was finally mine: normalcy in this sense was mine as well. I sat on the old orange couch and daydreamed what my life would've been like if the drapes were drawn and the windows opened my whole life. I got lost in my imagination, seeing my young self smiling and playing leisurely with toys and classmates in the living room. My fantasies are pleasant until my mother comes to mind. My dead, rotting mother; who is lifeless in her bed 20 feet away. I need to take care of the business of her corpse.
I first try to ring my favored auntie, Jane. No one answered. I know the company she works for and I guess I could make it into Decatur to talk to her if I needed to. I dread ringing auntie Abbey but I know I have to. It rings twice and she answers.
"Auntie Abbey, its me, Paul."
"Paul? Where are you? Are you okay?"
"I'm okay, I-I-I guess," I pause. I hadn't said this aloud yet and I struggle to find the appropriate words.
"What is it dear? You know, you have never phoned me before, I am concerned," Auntie Abbey affirmed.
"Well, I umm, you see yesterday, umm…"
"Out with it dear! What is the matter?"
"My mother is dead." I stated, matter-of-factly.
"Praise Jesus, son! Phone the police, I will be over as quickly as I can." Auntie Abbey hung up.
I telephoned the police and told them my mother had died in her sleep and they assured me everything would be okay and they would be right there. Little did they know everything was better than it had been in many years. I felt like I could breathe for the first time without the crushing weight of fear on my lungs.
I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a sandwich: cheese and bread always made me feel better. I realized I hadn't eaten since lunch at school yesterday, no wonder I felt like my stomach was in a knot. Well, that and my mother was dead and bloated in the next room.
Auntie Abbey and the police arrived shortly after. I gave them a moment by moment recollection of the last 16 hours of my life. The police said my mother died peacefully, but I am not sure she was ever peaceful. They took her body in a bag, and I didn't watch. The police whispered to my auntie that she should do something with my mother's bed and she nodded and shook their hands.
Auntie Abbey held me like I was seven again, praying to Jesus that he would watch over me now that mother was gone. I pardoned myself after a while to "take a nap." I never fell asleep, but I took out my notebook and doodled and enjoyed the quiet aloneness and the opportunity to sit in day light, not doing a thing. Not worrying about what crazy demands were going to be placed on me. I didn't feel tense with fear that tonight I would be slapped and forbade to step out of the house for fresh air. I sat in my room and felt free. As afternoon turned to evening, Auntie Jane came over and they talked and made stew in the kitchen as I stared out the window in the dining room. They both seemed sad and relieved, much like myself. They told stories about mother and their childhood recalling fond moments and not so fond moments they shared. They talked about my parent's wedding and how their mother almost croaked when my father slipped his tongue into mother's mouth at the altar. We sat in the dining room and had dinner together, something foreign to me. Although mother enjoyed cooking, I never actually saw her eat anything, nor did she join me when I ate. Both the aunties would look at me every once in a while offering my puppy eyes. I had no idea what I looked like, but I must've looked sad. Maybe I was a little sad.
After they cleared the table, the aunties told me to join them in the living room. They needed to talk to me. I knew what they needed to talk about, and I was not looking forward to it.
They each sat on with side of me and gently place one hand on each of my shoulders. I haven't had so much physical contact with people in ages. A hand shake here and there, and a gentle hug from my guidance counselor, and of course a hug from my aunties when I saw them.
"Auntie Jane and I were talking and we of course we are concerned with what is going to happen to you." Auntie Abbey had a serious look on her face. Gone was the care-free tone of recalling memories passed.
"We would like you to finish high school, dear," Auntie Jane said.
"I would like that, too, Auntie Jane," I replied.
"Abbey and I were discussing it and we think you should move in with me in Decatur. You'd have to change high schools, but I live close enough to a high school that you can walk to it. We would also like to sell this old place and put the money aside for you to start your life when you do graduate." Auntie Jane continued. "I can use half of the money from your mother and father's social security to take care of you and will put the other half in your bank account."
"Okay." I respond.
"We can work out your mother's funeral arrangements in the morning. I will sleep on the couch until you're ready to come to my place in Decatur." Auntie Jane empathetically stated.
"We can work out your mother's funeral arrangements in the morning. I will sleep on the couch until you're ready to come to my place in Decatur." Auntie Jane empathetically stated.
"Are you sure you're okay with this, Paul?" Auntie Abbey asked.
"Yes, I'm sure. I have no other choice, really. I am just relieved you will have me." I started crying. They had no idea I wasn't crying out of sadness, but out of relief, and the hope of a fulfilling future ahead, something I hadn't experienced before.