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Sixteen years later ...
It wasn't the first time, and probably not the last that I'd sit in the back of a police car. Ironically, I wore my "Been there. Done that." t-shirt, but the evening was different from usual–I'd been handcuffed. The cold metal painfully dug into my wrists, and I was not in a comfortable position to be sitting in. As we approached my house, I expected to stop. Instead, the driver accelerated and drove right past.
"Hey, Joe! Where we goin'? My house is back there!" I yelled through the partition that divided us. It angered me when he didn't respond, except to say, "Hush it up, boy!"
I asked a few more times and nothing. Being I wasn't as drunk as usual, I accepted the fact that he was ignoring me and I chose to be silent from that point on. My eyes followed the nighttime darkened landscapes of our nothingness town go by. Passing by trees, houses, more trees, and more houses, we arrived downtown. The sobering drive only reminded me of how much I hated my town and everything in it. I couldn't wait to get out of there as soon as I graduated–or turned eighteen–whichever happened first. I was set to graduate a year early, but I messed that up. Didn't feel like homework, or even showing up to class, was important.
The police cruiser pulled into a parking spot in front of the police station.
Joe took in a deep breath and blew it out as he opened my door. Looking toward the station, he crinkled his forehead.
"Move it, boy," he demanded.
"Okay–okay, chill." I stumbled a bit upon exiting the car, not so much from my drinking, but I can be the clumsy type sometimes.
Joe, who was usually pretty cool, took me inside. He removed all of my personal belongings from my pockets, the cuffs from my wrists, and then shoved me into a holding cell. Reaching down, I rubbed the red marks on my skin while Joe shot me a sly grin. This was most definitely new and interesting. I think he wanted to scare me by using a new tactic, or at least make me nervous, but I was far from it. I found it quite entertaining, and it was nothing at all like the drunk tanks from movies.
Making my "one call" home, relief washed over me as my mother answered the phone. She was on her way, sans dad.
I leaned my back up against the bars to the adjoining cell, refusing to sit anywhere. I didn't want to touch anything. It didn't look sanitary.
Unaware of time's passage, I heard Joe's voice echoing down the hall.
"You need to teach that boy a lesson ... I know he has his issues, but you need to stop babying him. I think he's mighty capable of understanding that what he's been doing is unacceptable."
"Thank you for your concern," a woman's voice replied. My mother. I could hear her footsteps slow as they approached my cell. Mom lost her fake smile when she saw I was locked up next door to a very large, very tattooed, very passed out biker. She gasped. "Officer Joe! How could you lock Damian near ... someone ... someone like that!" She pointed in the direction of the biker, and turned her head away in disgust.
Officer Joe shook his head, and he explained, "The biker was passing through town, he passed out at the local bar, and won't be waking up any time soon." Mom didn't look pleased, even after the explanation. Joe slowly unlocked my cell to release me.
At the front desk I was given back my wallet, and Joe made a big deal out of taking the brand new pack of cigarettes and my lucky lighter. He tossed them in the trash. The lighter made a clank in the bottom of the empty metal can, and then he glared at me.
Mom and I left without another word.
At home, I went up the stairs directly to my room, skipping every other step.
Due to the thin walls, and the fact that I left my door open, I could hear my parents talking. My mother hadn't mentioned the trip downtown to my father, thankfully, but I needed to remember to keep my mouth shut. I didn't want to hear his incessant nagging about my behavior; it was such a drag.
"You know I love my mother and all, but she creeps me out sometimes. Lately she looks at me like she knows something I don't. This morning, she had that very same look when she was talking about how I'll be sixteen soon. She made a big deal out of it. It's not like I am a chick and need a big flamboyant party to say, 'Hey, look at me, I'm a big girl now'. Yeah, so whatever, right? Well, no. She wants me to celebrate with my friends on a different date than my actual birthday. That's fine, but she said on my birthday she wants to spend the entire day with me. Just me–and get this–she'll let me skip school. That part is cool, but I don't know about the part where I spend all day with her. It's not like we're best friends, and what the hell are we gonna talk about? This is gonna be a nightmare." I finally drew in a deep breath as Jon, my best friend since I can remember, stared at me. Or maybe he was staring through me, judging by his blank expression, it was probably the latter. "Dude, did you hear anything I just said?" I rubbed a hand on the back of my neck while contemplating a cigarette.
"Yes. I heard it, heard it all. It's only one day with your mom. I like your mom. And that's the most I've ever heard you talk at once. This must really be stressing you out." He spoke so nonchalantly about it.
"Do you like her enough to spend time alone with her?" I challenged. "Like, a whole day with her, and only her?" I chose to ignore his comment about stress.
"Sure. She isn't my mom, so it would be cool ... and besides, your mom puts up with all of your crap. She should get an award of some sort for having to deal with you." His vision dropped to my knee- I'd been bouncing it up and down. Something I did often and I couldn't stop, either. I'd been doing it as far back as I could remember. I was usually unaware that it was happening though, but when it became obvious to me, I'd stop it. Pressing my hand to my thigh, I held it down.
He was right; I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and it wasn't always good or legal. Cutting school, drinking, smoking, and sneaking around after curfew were not admirable things to do.
"Hey now, I've been on the right path this week." I thought back on my trip to jail a few nights ago. Something I wasn't proud of, so I didn't feel the need to mention it to Jon. I always kept things like that hidden from people. That was my thing, being mostly a loner.
"D, it's only Tuesday. I bet you can't make it another day."
The bell rang and he hurried to his next class. I lingered in the hall and realized what Jon said was right. I couldn't make it another day. Passing on class, I ducked out of the side door of the building from the very same school my mother and father used to attend. I walked around town for the day, where I knew it was safe and no one would catch me. When school was just about over, I headed home.
Home, only three blocks from the school, was safe. Mom was going out to lunch with some friends, and dad was off interviewing for a band he manages; they needed a new guitarist.
The people my parents purchased their antique convertible from hooked dad up with a contact in the music industry. Dad took a big risk by quitting his office job. It was the wildest thing I'd ever seen him do. I'm gonna guess it was a midlife crisis decision, albeit a crazy one. Luckily, it paid off; things were going well for the band.
Walking through a row of houses, each placed neatly next to one another, my stomach twisted as I got closer to home. While my house might have been safe, four houses before mine belonged to my grandparents. Needing to get past them, I walked as fast as I could, but my fastest wasn't good enough.
"Shit," I muttered and froze.
My grandmother came up behind me and smacked me on the back of my head. "You know I have to tell your parents about this, right? I don't understand why you can't follow rules. If the school day wasn't almost over, I would march your butt right back over there. You go straight home, and I will be phoning your father." She gave me a shove toward my house and walked away, mumbling to herself.
I walked slowly the rest of the way home, kicking a rock along the sidewalk and reaching my hand out, letting the neighbor's bushes scrape against my palm. I approached my house and started up the driveway. Looking up from my feet, I was startled to see a figure on my porch.
"Damian, it's a little early to be home from school, isn't it?" "Uncle" Ramey–who isn't really my uncle, just a good family friend–was at my front door, unlocking it to go inside. That man would show up at the strangest times.
"Grandma would agree." I sighed.
"I wouldn't have said anything to your parents, but it's a moot point now that Joanne knows."
"Thanks anyway." I brushed past him to get inside. Heading upstairs, I skipped every other step going to my room, as usual. Deciding on a nap, I plopped down on my futon (the most uncomfortable bed ever), but I insisted on having it because it looked cool. My parents argued me on that, but I kept up my plea for the stupid bed, and I got it. I never once complained, though; there's nothing worse than a chorus of "I told you so".
I was napping soundly when my father came in. "Damian, wake up!" I didn't move. Slowly, I opened my eyelids half way to acknowledge his presence. He glared down over me, clenching his jaw.
"You know damn well what." I could tell from past experience his gears were going, and then his eyes went cold. I had a feeling he wanted to lay into me, but my mother walked in.
"Tyler, go easy on him." Mom gazed at him lovingly. He relaxed, gave her a look of some sort that I couldn't begin to understand, and then he backed off. I could never get that. Dad's always been the disciplinarian and mom was the peace keeper of the family. But no matter how much he tried to discipline me or "teach me a lesson," mom would always show up to diffuse the situation. And strangely enough, he'd always adhere to her requests.
"I wasn't feeling good, and came home to nap." I lied. It's easier that way.
"My mother said you looked fine, but I guess you don't look so good now." My mom came over to feel my face. "You feel cool. No matter; next time, please go to the nurse and do this the proper way. It would save us all some grief." She leaned over to kiss the top of my head, and I flinched- she was in my personal space. My father frowned at me from my doorway.
They walked out into the hallway, and I could hear them 'discussing' my behavior. Dad wasn't pleased that mom went easy on me all the time, but then she made some sorted comment about how the day is coming soon. Whatever that meant, I didn't know, and I didn't care. I just wanted to get back to my dream; it was a beach dream. Girls in bikinis. Nice.
Later that evening, I was sent to my grandparents' house to help my grandmother move stuff from the attic to the shed. I think it was her own personal way of punishing me, since my mother didn't allow it at our house. My grandmother's house (and I called it that because my grandfather would never have decorated it in the cornflower blue country theme that my grandmother had) it was old and out of date, but neat and tidy. Everything had its place.
I took down tons of boxes and Rubbermaid containers from the attic. I dragged them through the house and out the backdoor to the shed. At the shed, grandma instructed me on the where and how to put everything. Arriving at the second to last of the boxes, I lifted it by the rim of the lid. It popped open, and the contents spilled all over the ground.
"Shit Grandma, I'm sorry. I'll get it." I put a hand out to stop her from bending over.
"Yes, you will get it ... all of it, and watch your language while you're at it."
"Sorry. ..." I held up pages from off the ground. Pages yellowed with age. "Hey, what are these?"
"Those are drawings my brother once drew. I'd forgotten about them. Your mother had an interest in them when she was younger. She was about your age, I think ... put that last box in the shed, then take that mess home and see if your mom has any use for it." She waved her hand in the air, indicating the papers all over the ground. I doubted mom would need any of that crap. It made no sense at all. There were pages and pages of sketches. All crazy looking things. Whatever. I went inside to say goodbye to grandpa.
"I know it's not until tomorrow, but here's a little something from us." My grandfather had joined me and grandma, and handed me an envelope. Even though they didn't think I was being raised the right way, they still loved me, and I loved them right back.
I opened the card, expecting the usual twenty-dollar bill to be in there. Instead, what I found was a check- a check for two hundred fifty dollars. Speechless didn't begin to describe my reaction. My mouth hung open.
"I don't think he likes it, Walter," Grandma said, while Grandpa just smiled.
"Now Joanne, give the boy time to speak."
"I just don't know what to say, wow! Thanks!" I really didn't know what to say, I wasn't expecting that.
"You only turn sixteen once," Grandpa said with a gleam in his eye. I reached toward him for a hug, and my grandmother was close enough that I wrapped an arm around her, too. We had a nice group hug going. I couldn't stay this way for long, and I knew they would understand. When I pulled away I could see the look of shock on their faces. I hardly ever hugged anyone, but I wanted them to know how much I appreciated the gift ... no matter how uncomfortable it made me.
"I love you guys." I noticed my grandmother had watery eyes. "I need to get going before Dad has a fit. I've been here too long, and he's gonna think I'm up to no good."
"Which you usually are, but if he has anything to say about it, tell him to call me," Grandma said. I nodded, put the card in the waistband of the back of my jeans, and grabbed the Rubbermaid box to bring home.
I walked in through the front door. I could see dad was going to start in on me by the glare he shot in my direction. His lips parted, but I cut him off before he could say anything.
"Hey, sorry it took so long. Grandma had me cleaning house over there." I made a big deal over the Rubbermaid box. I placed it on the floor in front of him by dropping it loudly and then scooting it toward him with my foot. "They gave me my birthday gift early." I pulled it from my waistband and slid the card out of the envelope. I took care to stand the card on the table in the hallway for display, and then placed the check in the envelope, and handed it to my father. "Can you put this in my bank account for me?"
He nodded, peeked at the check, and raised his eyebrows. "Nice." He tucked it back in the envelope, and placed it on the table. "So what's this?" He nudged the box with his foot.
"Some stuff Grandma said Mom was interested in a long time ago. If Mom has no need for it we can throw it away, but she wants her Rubbermaid back regardless."
Dad laughed. "Of course she does." He squatted down, lifted the lid and gasped. He gently touched a sketch pad sitting on top. He opened it, and slowly paged through. He paused on a drawing of a pregnant woman. Pointing to the silhouetted baby in the pregnant woman's stomach, he quietly said, "This is you."
"Grandma said this stuff was up in her attic for a long, long time." I shook my head and walked away. Dad must be losing his mind.
My birthday arrived. Mom and dad were talking at the kitchen table, which is small and round. I despised it. Anything that forced me into close quarters, I hated. I tried to ignore them and eat my cereal.
That morning I woke up feeling kind of funny, like maybe I didn't sleep well enough, even though I went to bed and got up at normal times. Mom and dad's voices were loud and annoying. My hearing was super sensitive- almost like a hangover from too much beer, but not exactly. I didn't feel that kind of bad, and I know that kind of bad.
Uncle Ramey had stopped by for morning coffee, and he joined in on the annoying conversation with my parents.
"How are things going today?" Ramey asked Mom. I lifted my head from my bowl to see them all staring at me.
"What, can't a kid eat in peace around here? Jeez." I sounded rude. I didn't mean it, but they didn't react so I let it be. Then Ramey started in.
"Touchy, touchy. You get up on the wrong side of the bed, little boy?" Ramey teased. He reached over and mussed my hair. I just glared at him. He glared back in a strange, intense kind of way. His head tilted, his eyes looked like they were pulsing, and I felt a heaviness in the back of my eyeballs. My lack of sleep was obviously getting to me.
Excerpted from "The Organizer"
Copyright © 2015 Natalie Kroll.
Excerpted by permission of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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