In writing class, the prompt was to make a list of all the people you love.
This is gonna be easy, I thought. And long. I love so many people!
I put Dave first on the list. And then, the boys – Kirin, Desmond and Bro, in age order.
Perhaps I should bump Kirin up to the top. We’ve known each other the longest. I put an asterisk next to him with an arrow.
But in fairness, my husband has been through the most. Surely, he deserves a little something special for all these years of devoted service. I was gonna say abuse,’ but I suppose it hasn’t been that bad.
I draw a smiley face next to his name with a heart and an exclamation point. Plus an arrow, only going in the opposite direction from Kirin’s.
It’d be nice if I had a yellow highlighter, but I can never find one when I need it. The kids use them for school, they don’t replace the caps properly, and the ink dries up. I end up throwing a few away every time I open the drawer where we keep the pens.
If they ask, which I can’t imagine they will, I’ll just be honest and say the list goes from shortest to tallest. Which, so far, is the truth when you think about it. But they don’t think like I do so they probably won’t notice.
I remember when Charlie’s brother, Ned, robbed a bunch of Starter jackets from Caldor. It was Christmastime, and the stores on Bruckner Boulevard were mobbed. I’m not sure how he and Timmy wound up over there. Somebody must have driven them. It’s not like they had the car anymore.
I still can’t believe they got away with it. Eleven or twelve coats between the two of them. I wish I could have seen what that looked like. Just a couple of holiday shoppers trying clothes on in front of the mirror, zipping up layer over layer. Drifting toward the side exit near the Radio Shack and disappearing across the parking lot in the snow, wearing almost a thousand dollars worth of merchandise.
I remember how excited the boys were when they got back to the house. Ned draped two towels over the window in the front room and laid everything out on Mabel’s bed. We stood there for several minutes, marveling at this sudden windfall.
“Mare, you’re in charge of watching these coats,” he said. “Make sure nobody steals them.”
Within no time, people from the neighborhood began showing up to get in on the action. Everybody wanted one of those jackets. They arrived on foot and in borrowed vehicles. One guy rode over on a little girl’s bicycle, the kind with the wicker basket attached to the handlebars.
“It’s practically brand new,” he said. “Kylie don’t use it no more. She’s with her mother now, since January.”
Some folks actually had money, but most presented items to trade and invitations for future questionable opportunities. They rolled balding tires into the yard, carried boxes of purloined goods up the broken steps and into the kitchen.
“Check out these beautiful shower curtains, Ned. There’s at least two dozen here. All unopened, still in the package. Just take a look at the detail. They got all kinds of beads and shit along the bottom, very fancy. You could go down the subway and sell these for whatever.”
Jewelry, cartons of oranges and mangoes, cigarettes, cases of beer and bottles of homemade wine covered the table where Charlie’s mom sat, peeling and slicing vegetables.
Throughout the afternoon and well into the evening, they kept coming. If not to purchase, then simply to congratulate Ned and celebrate his accomplishment. It was nice to see him do so well for himself. It’s not like it happened all that often.
Charlie couldn’t see it that way. He was jealous of his brother’s good fortune and grew increasingly annoyed that he wasn’t the center of attention. He skulked around the perimeter of everyone’s good time like a big, stray dog you might cross the street to avoid. Clenching and unclenching his fists gave him something meaningful to do with his hands.
When he disappeared for a while, never a good sign, it was a clear indication that somewhere along the way, he’d found a bag of dope to bring some fairness back into his life. Mabel sent me looking for him when she realized he was missing.
“Will you find my son, honey?” she asked. Her voice was weary, as always. “He can’t be far.”
She was right. He sat brooding on top of a pile of garbage in the alleyway between the houses.
“Where you been, Charlie?”
I waved my hand slowly in front of his face and was careful not to touch him. It took a little while for my words to journey from his ears and burrow through the drug to reach his brain.
“You in there?” I proceeded with a degree of caution. “You need to get yourself a jacket before there’s none left.”
“I don’t want their fuckin’ stolen shit,” he mumbled. “And neither do you. Understand?”
“Just come inside.”
“Let me see if I can get this straight,” Charlie challenged from the doorway, gripping a coffee cup filled with freshly mashed potatoes in one hand and a spoon in the other. “You just walked out the fuckin’ door wearing seven coats. And nobody stopped you.”
“That’s right,” Ned agreed. “Nobody stopped me.”
“Not one fuckin’ motherfucker said nothin’ to you.”
“Nope. Wait. I mean, yup.” By now, Ned was quite drunk.
“So you want me and Mom and whoever else is here to believe they just let you have all them coats. You’re shittin’ me, right?”
“C’mon, man. It’s Christmas. Why would I shit you?”
“Why? Because you’re full of shit, Ned. You’ve always been full of shit since before I can’t even remember. Fuck, I could kill you right now if I wanted.”
You just knew that coffee cup wasn’t gonna make it out alive. He hurled it across the room with such force, it shattered against the wall over the couch where Ned and several other young men were sitting, flicking little bits of ceramic and potato everywhere.
Charlie’s other brother, Rob, made us leave.
“Get the fuck out, you fuckin’ animal.” That’s what he said.
I remember the whole ride home on the bus and train from the Bronx into Queens, I kept thinking about how much I would have loved to have one of those starter jackets. The only other warm coat I had was the green one they gave Charlie when he was locked up through the winter. It read CIFM in bold faced script across the shoulders.
“What does it mean?” I asked when we first met.
“You’ll find out.” He thought it was funny, how little I knew.
Charlie told me I couldn’t wear it unless I covered the letters with electric tape. I was so stupid back then. I thought it was like a varsity jacket, except for jail.
I buy apples for the deers that live in the woods behind our house. I usually get the little ones. They come in plastic bags of ten and twelve at the supermarket. I’m not sure how much they cost. Five dollars, maybe six.
That’s the kind of life I live now. I just get fruit without checking the price. Add a sack to the top of my grocery cart when I’m shopping. I have enough money. If and when I’m making a list, I might jot down ‘apples.’ I use parentheses and write ‘some for us’ and ‘some for my friends,’ with a smiley face in the margin. We all like different varieties.
I don’t mind admitting that I come from a place of such hunger where, often times, I paid for my wine in quarters.
I love when our dogs follow me out to the backyard. They chase each other and watch me toss apples over the fence.
He limps behind several other young bucks, all with new, velvety horns. That’s how I can see that they’re boys. One of his front legs is lame. He tries to hold it tightly to his chest, but it dangles without purpose as he stumbles along on his three remaining spindles. Nancy next door let me know he was there. She sent a text message as soon as she saw them this morning.
“Oh, no,” I say, as I watch from the window.
My children are eating their breakfast. Pop tarts and yogurt, the kind that comes with its own granola.
“What’s the matter?” Rory asks.
“It’s a deer. His leg looks so broken.”
“Wait. Broken? Mom, we have to call someone. Animal Control.”
He begins searching my phone, as if I have that number on speed dial. As if he’d know what to do when they answered the call. As if they’d come immediately with the ability to make things better.
“It’s not that easy,” I tell him. “He doesn’t want our help.”
So you’re not gonna do anything?”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You probably need to stop with the apples,” Rory adds.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
I stand there for several minutes, until the slow moving group disappears beyond Jennifer’s shed.
None of this is my fault. I say these words inside my head, to comfort myself.
He ran up from behind and threw a hug around her legs as she heated a pot of water for tea. I think that’s how it happened.
Kirin arrives for his visit with gauze, ointment and medical tape to hold the dressing in place, detailed instructions.
“Grandma says you’ll have to change my bandage.”
They send him with scissors. I do not have any, but I resent this gesture. Because I should have lots of things and don’t.
“Does it hurt?”
“You want cereal?”
It is Saturday. He watches cartoons while I try to concentrate on getting it together so we can go do something.
I really don’t remember what was so important that we couldn’t just leave. Everything was crucial back then. Making lists and arranging piles of stuff, folding and tearing up pieces of paper. Moving the bed from one side of the room to the other. Counting pills and losing count, having to start all over from somewhere in the middle.
We ride the bus to Toys-R-Us. We buy an action figure there and two big bottles of wine at the liquor store. He is hungry. We pass three fast food places until we get to the pizzeria that sells beer. There’s a black and white movie playing on a small TV on top of the fridge where they keep the sodas. Kirin only pays attention to the commercials because they are in color. When he’s done eating, we go back home.
It takes me all day to even look at the wound, a deep and throbbing third degree burn that spreads across the width of the child’s upper arm. My guilt catches in my throat as I pull the bloody cotton from his skin. I am confused by what I see. The whole area looks like uncooked meat.
Kirin holds his breath. His eyes are squeezed shut, and when he opens them, he asks, “You know what you’re doing, right?”
I cannot help but feel relieved that I was not to blame for what happened.
But aren’t I? After all, a little boy should be with his mother.
I was the one who wanted the second dog, a sibling for the first. At least, that’s the angle with which I approached my husband – the importance of family.
“She looks so lonely,” I said to Dave.
“But she’s not,” he replied.
And as much as they love her, the kids weren’t all that anxious to add even more doody to the piles of doody they’re already picking up. Sure, it’s a funny word, but let’s be honest. Doody is sobering.
“Mom, things are fine just the way they are.” Desmond was particularly insistent. “What’s gonna happen when we leave for college? Two dogs will be more than you can handle.”
“Son, college is like five years away.”
“The time goes fast, though. I’ll be gone before you know it.”
I read somewhere that animals cannot embrace new information until the specifics are physically introduced into their lives. They’re not equipped to appreciate changes to their environment before said environment is actually changed.
For example, I told Zerega that Jesco was coming.
“Soon, you will have a baby brother. And he will be your favorite friend.”
As I spoke, she listened intently for key words, like “cookie” and “supper.”