I lived with my Grandma for my entire childhood. Perhaps she used to be kind or fun, but responsibility had made her a harsh woman. She was the type of woman who beat your ass raw in the parking lot just in case you were thinking of acting up once you got into the store. There were no birthday parties or heart to heart chats. They werent her thing. She had already done that.
It's not that my mother didn't love me. She did. She just wasn't cut out for child rearing. My father may as well have been a framed photo; that's all I ever saw of him. I'm okay with it now, but when I was a kid I used to pretend that they had died. In fact, one of my favorite childhood past times was creating ways that my parents could have kicked the bucket. Once they were lost at sea after the cruise ship they worked on capsized (my father was the captain, my mother was the lead in the on board extravaganza show). Once they died in a pickle factory explosion. I was there too but my father threw his body on top of me to keep me safe from the searing brine. They fell victim to Ted Bundy. They knew government secrets but wouldn't tell. They wouldn't trade me to the mafia to settle a debt. I'd go around school telling these horrific stories to any kid that would give me an Oreo or a freshly sharpened pencil. After a while, word got out that I was no Cabbage Patch Kid and that when my mother started a new chapter of her life, she neglected to write me in to it. Not even as a foot note.
I had a couple of very lonely years. It did not help my social situation that my grandmother was the proprietor of the town's funeral home. No one ever wanted to come to my house to play and I always smelled of embalming fluid. While other girls tried on lipsticks and went to the mall, I stood solemn in an ill fitting black business suit murmuring, "I'm so sorry for your loss" like it was my mantra. I was around the bereaved so often that happy people began to look deformed.
It was during this austere era of my existence, however, that I made two very important and whimsically intersecting discoveries. First, I found the key to my grandmothers liquor cabinet. It was in the old turkey roaster that I took to make a bed for some stray kittens I found. Also, and even more fortunately, I met Rob Husk.
It was a few weeks before Christmas and the whole town was aglow with other peoples happiness. I had just failed my English exam at school and I was on the way home to tell my grandmother that there was a good chance that I would be staying in 11th grade a little longer than expected. The passing trucks had turned the mornings pristine snowfall into piles of sandy, gravel ridden vomit along the sides of the street. People were smiling and ringing bells for the Salvation Army, all filled by the joy in their lives that always seems to be brought into the forefronts of their minds so close to Christmas. I, on the other hand, was filled with rage and disgust. Every happy family, every group of friends, each couple with their hands in each others pockets to beat the cold, was like a searing dagger of a reminder that I was alone in the world. Worse than alone. I was a burden. My head and legs seemed like anvils, weighed down by the day. I was dreading telling my Grandmother about my grades. I knew that however hard she came down on me, I still had to prep the viewing room for tomorrows service and bitch at the crooked florist on Mason Street before I could grab a nice bottle of Indifference and make the world fade away.
As I turned the corner, I saw him. He was wearing faded jeans and a brown leather jacket with a wool scarf. Our eyes met for a moment before I realized that no man this beautiful could or would ever find me the least bit interesting. I hurried past him before I heard it. He started singing. His voice rang out clearly with a melody from before his time. He didnt seem to care that people just dont sing their way down the street. I was instantly filled with rage. My life, every minute of it, was so terribly miserable that I spend an hour looking at a bottle of formaldehyde contemplating how much of it Id have to drink to kill me and THIS asshole is singing? It was too much to bear.
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" I shouted at him. "CANT YOU SEE THAT PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO BE MISERABLE HERE?"
I was being ruder to him than I had been to any person in my life but I didn't care. He turned around and I wished I could melt through the crack in the sidewalk. A knot tightened in the pit of my stomach as he walked up to me. My eyes turned down to the ground as my heart beat faster with each of his footsteps. He was going to tell me off and I was going to do what I always do when those mean girls at school start in on me. I was going to study my shoes and mumble for him to leave me alone then find some place to cry. I learned quickly to expect the unexpected from Rob. Instead of returning the ugliness I showed to him, He placed two fingers under my chin and lifted my face to his. He spoke softly and kindly.
"We both know that I'm not that bad of a singer", he began with a hint of a smile. Misery is a greedy consumer. You dont look miserable. You look frustrated."
I looked at him, totally disoriented. "Is there a difference?" I asked, trying not to give in to the tears that were looming behind my eyes.
"All the difference in the world. Frustration is what you feel when you havent found your way to happiness yet. Misery entails abandoning the possibility that youll ever be happy. And you've got too much fight in you to be miserable.:
This beautiful man, his dark golden hair falling in his green-grey eyes, was still holding my chin gently. I could smell the leather of his jacket and some other foreign but intoxicating scent. I was immediately absorbed by him. It should have dawned on me to apologize to him, but I didn't. Instead I asked his name, took his hand, and led him back to the funeral home. We climbed the fire escape up to my room and he sat on my bed. I told Grandma that I wasnt feeling well and would be in my room for the rest of the night. I knew that she wouldnt be up to check on me. I was more of an employee than a relative to her. On my way back upstairs, I swiped the bottle of vodka that Grandma kept in the freezer as well as some grapes and packs of peanut butter crackers.
As I swung the door open to my room, I was almost shocked to see Rob still sitting there on my bed, looking at the picture album I made of all the animals I have taken in over the years. He was immaculately handsome. My eyes hurt if I looked at him too long. I sat on the bed with him, holding his hands then later lying in his arms. I told him the truth about my past and all the crushing variables that keep the corners of my mouth turned down at such an early age. I told him that I wanted to go out west and see the Grand Canyon. He told me that his parents really had died when he was 16 and that he had pretty much been on his own since then. He worked days as a laborer at a plastic plant and spent his nights writing songs and performing them at local venues. He told me how he dreamed of going to Fiji even though he wasnt exactly sure where Fiji was. He told me how he wanted to spend a year in Africa caring for orphans with tuberculosis and malaria and AIDS. He told me the worst thing he'd ever done and the best things he'd ever dream to be. We stayed up until dawn. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. We cried long overdue tears. We explored each others minds and bodies and were lost from the world and time and responsibility and consequences. Just as the sky turned a pinkish gray, I walked him down the fire escape and across the three blocks to his car. I kissed him powerfully, still drunk on the vodka and catharsis and he drove off.