Isaac stands in the kitchen thumbing through the mail Dad threw on the counter awhile ago. He frowns and slides an envelope into his sweatshirt pocket.
“What’s that?” I say quickly. It was definitely a sneaky thing to do.
“Don’t worry about it,” He says, a notorious Isaac response. He tosses me an envelope and I look at it, scanning the front of it. It’s from the US Army.
“Never know when you might want to start a new career, you know since you abandoned your old career and everything.”
I glare at him. What is THAT supposed to mean?
“Maybe I would be interested. It’s not exactly my choice to sit around the house here in Tulsa, sulking all the time.”
“That’s funny, because I remember you saying a year ago the band needed to put on hold.” He refuses to look at me.
“Doesn’t mean I meant a year, and doesn’t mean I thought we should do nothing. I just said I didn’t want to tour anymore Isaac, geez. What’s in your pocket?”
“I told you, don’t worry about it.”
“Shut up Ike,” is all I can think to say. I open the letter from the Army and scan it, tucking it into my pocket just to spite Isaac. Honestly, I have no interest in the propaganda America uses to get young, innocent boys to go overseas.
I wander over to the front foyer to get my coat. I’m going to go for a walk. It’s too nice of a day not to. It’s one of those perfect June days. It’s not to hot because the breeze is blowing exactly perfectly. I pull out a jean jacket and run up the stairs to grab my Walkman. I could swear I left it on my desk. I search under my piles of paper and throw my covers onto the ground, trying to find my Walkman. Finally, I spot it on top of my hamper and check the CD inside of it. Everclear. Good enough. I’m suddenly excited about the walk I’m about to take. I suddenly feel refreshed to know I’m going to leaving the house and just enjoying it outside. I jog down the stairs and go out through the door to the garage.
Taylor’s leans over Dad’s chest of tools in the garage, inspecting a nail carefully.
“Since when are you a handy man?” I ask him, walking over to him.
He turns to me, a cigarette hanging loosely from his mouth. He removes it and taps it against the tool chest.
“Since I broke the shelf in Mackie’s room.” He nods at a pile of snapped wood on the ground.
I chuckle, “How did that happen?”
“I swung from it in the midst of trying to demonstrate a basketball move for Mackie and it just…snapped. Does this nail look the right size for this wood?” He holds up a new, perfect looking piece of wood.
I run my finger along the side and nod. “Should be.”
He sticks the cigarette back in his mouth and holds two pieces of wood together, concentrating on lining the nail up right.
He mumbles something through the cigarette perched in his lips about hammering it for him. I know exactly what he was telling me to do.
“Huh? What are you saying?” Taking full advantage of the situation, I take the cigarette out of his mouth and drop it onto the ground, stepping on it. Mom would kill him if she caught him anyway. What a nasty habit…
“Your life is officially 7 minutes shorter now having smoked that, you know.” I tell him, dramatically smashing it on the ground.
“What was that for? I said hammer the nail for me, hurry, while I hold the pieces together.”
I grab the hammer and hold it over the nail, slamming it down and watching it piece the wood. Taylor moves his hands and takes the hammer from me, continuing to hit the nail a couple times. He sets the hammer down and exams the nailed together slabs of wood, pulling on them a bit. I glance at my watch and wonder how long it will be before he gives up on this little project and gets in his car heading for Walmart.
“Wanna do me a favor?” He asks, eyeing me hopefully.
“Get me a drink from the kitchen? I’m thirsty and it’s hot as hell out here.”
“Taylor, it’s like 75 degrees.” I roll my eyes. He is always hot.
“Yeah, it’s hot as hell.”
I make my way back towards inside the house. “What do you want?”
“Coke or something.” I nod and open the door to inside, but hear him yell after me, “Or a beer works too!”
Hah. I don’t support underage drinking, but nice try. It always surprises my friends that I’ve grown up in the public eye for years, and yet I’m a non-smoking, non-drinking virgin. They say it’s “crazy” but I think that’s just a nicer word meaning “pathetic”. Mom uses the adjective “admirable” which is pathetic in itself.
I walk into the kitchen to find Jessie and Ike standing together in the kitchen. They’re talking softly, and when they see me coming Isaac stuffs the letter from earlier back in his pocket and clears his throat.
Usually I’d call them on whispering and keeping secrets, but I’m not on the mood to argue with them. I swing open the fridge and pull a coke can out. I give them one knowing look before heading back out to the garage to give Taylor his soda.
“Catch,” I warn him and toss the can towards him just as he was turning around. He catches it just in time.
“That almost hit my car,” he says, popping the top, waiting for the fizzing to stop, and drinking a long, cool sip. “And I asked for a beer.”
“There was none,” I say, not wanting to get into a fight with him either over something as stupid as a beer.
“Damn, the whole can of beer thing just goes with the whole hard at work in the garage theme.”
I smirk at him and can’t help but laughing. Taylor tries so hard to be manly. In January he surrounds a big screen TV with all his friends and a bowl of pretzels, excitedly watching the Super Bowl. I don’t think Taylor could tell you the difference between a linebacker and a quarterback though. He’s got a picture of his supposed dream car, the Porsche 9-11, plastered on his bedroom wall but I always wonder why he just doesn’t buy the damn thing if he likes it so much instead of driving around his 2 year old Toyota 4-Runner. The truth is, Taylor knows nothing about cars. He just pretends to. Some men, like me, like to embrace their manliness. I enjoy dirt biking, guns, and food- like most men. Taylor, on the other hand, has no manliness to embrace.
It was about a year ago that Taylor really became a partier. I don’t think that was to become more a man though. Sure, I think that’s why he had sex that night at the camp ground for Alex’s summer fest. But I think he started going to parties every weekend because he was trying to become numb. Alcohol helped him lose his insecurities and forget his worries- whatever they were. It’s not something we talk about. Marijuana just made him downright happy. I couldn’t tell you what other drugs my brother got involved in, and still could be involved in for all I know. I’m well aware there are more serious drugs like cocaine and ecstasy at some of the parties he goes to. Whether or not Taylor is a participant, I don’t know. And I think I’d rather not know. I love Taylor because he is genuine. Despite his anger and his failure to talk about his feelings, he is genuine. Knowing he did hardcore drugs and was delusional every night because of E was something I just did not need to nor want to know about my brother. What I don’t know won’t hurt me.
Taylor slams another nail into the wood and blows on it, as if there’s sawdust to rid. Of course, there isn’t, but it makes him feel like he’s working harder to do so. He’s humming to himself and pulls his sunglasses down over his eyes, looking outside of the garage at the sun.
“Wow, it’s nice out!” He says, stepping out into the sun. He puts his arms out at his sides and spins in circles a few times in the light.
Here’s the ironic thing. What makes me most sad about my brother is when I see him as nothing more than Taylor Hanson, the kid I grew up with. It hurts me when he’s just himself without any side order of hostility or any coating of numbness. Seeing Taylor, as just Taylor and nothing else, is hard because it reminds me of the old days when our biggest concern was how many inches we should chop off our hair. It was always a competition, starting around the time MMMBOP came out. Who could cut their hair the shortest each time we went to the hairdresser? Taylor, the quietest but most daring of the three of us, usually won. Life was so simple.
Taylor pauses and looks at me, “Wanna go for a bike ride?”
Suddenly, a bike ride with Tay doesn’t sound too bad.
The air in my tires was low so I’m riding Mom’s bike, and I can’t help but to be a little bit embarrassed of its purple color. But no one is going to see us, no one important anyway.
What’s interesting about my neighborhood is that the people are content. Sure, you have your angry Oklahoma hicks on our street, with hard suntans from working outside in the day and scowls permanently rested on their faces. Sometimes you can hear them shooting at beer cans in their back yards. But most of the people are happy.
Taylor and I ride by two boys who can’t be much older than 12 in their front yard playing baseball. Their house must be the size of half of our downstairs, but they’re outside running around the grass laughing and cheering for themselves.
The next house we drive by is empty this morning, probably because it’s a Sunday afternoon and a lot of the people on our street spend their entire afternoon at church like we used to when I was younger. Usually an older woman is outside sitting on a folding chair in her driveway doing crossword puzzles in the afternoon. She always has her small dog tied to the bottom of the chair and a tall glass of water next to her. Isaac swears it’s vodka but we have no proof. Taylor usually argues with him she couldn’t afford boos if she saved up for a year. She always sits out there grinning as people who drive by, swinging her legs happily as she works on her puzzle.
Here Taylor and I are rolling in money and at such a young age are fulfilled because we’ve lived our dream. And we’re not as happy as these people are. We sit at home in our 8-bedroom house sulking because we’re confused by the girls in our lives and have no good snacks in the kitchen cabinets. I don’t know how much Isaac and Taylor think about it, but I think about appreciation a lot lately. Am I really appreciating what I have in my life?
I can see I’ve interrupted his own reverie. We’d been riding around our neighborhood for about half an hour now and hardly talked. “Hm?”
“You know, it’s true. You don’t appreciate what you’ve got until its gone.”
He slows down his bike a bit, no longer peddling but just gliding along side me now. “Are you talking about Ellie?” He asks.
I don’t know what to say. Am I talking about Ellie? Am I always talking about Ellie but not realizing that every thought of mine revolves around her?
“Ellie has been gone for 8 months now Zac, c’mon. You realized how good you had it the day we all said goodbye to her. I know she was a good friend to you, but we’ve been over this. This isn’t a new revelation.”
“Tay,” I think to myself that I don’t think it’s just about Ellie, “Tay I don’t think I’m just talking about Ellie. I think I’m talking about everything. I’m talking about everything we have in our lives…mom, dad, everyone, our success, our talent, our friends, I’m thinking about it all.”
“I guess we have it pretty good,” He says thoughtfully, “But I mean…everyone has their baggage. We all have crap going on inside ourselves that isn’t always apparent on the outside. That’s why we’re sad when it doesn’t seem like we should be. We have a bunch of crap weighing us down I guess.”
“Is it justified though Tay? Some people have more crap than we do, and they’re happy.”
“Maybe we’re just spoiled,” he shrugs, riding in a circle and then catching up me again, “Always used to getting exactly what we wanted. We wanted to dance; Mom signed us up for lessons. We wanted instruments, dad found them for us. We wanted a record deal and we got it. We wanted to quit making music? We gave up.”
I know what he wanted to say was that I gave up. Zachary Hanson, you gave up.
Taylor sighs loudly and starts riding in circles in the middle of the road again, “C’mon, lets go back home.”
I hand Tay a water bottle from the fridge and take one out for myself, unscrewing the cap and downing the water quickly, closing my eyes. When I open them, Taylor is gone and all I can see are the backs of his sneakers heading up the stairs to his bedroom I presume.
I wander into the living room where Mackenzie is on the floor working on some Lego creation. Avery is watching Nickelodeon and Isaac is in his usual spot in the living room- the recliner, engrossed in some sheet music.
“Hey,” I greet him, standing behind his chair and looking at the papers over his shoulder. I notice it’s some Elton John music and I resist the urge to make some smartass comment about the man.
“Hey,” Isaac mutters, glancing up at me for no longer than half a second before going back to studying the music.
My good mood this morning was lucky. Catching Taylor in a good mood on the same day as me was even luckier. I suppose I can’t ask for Isaac to be cheerful too.
The phone rings and Avery looks up to see if I’m going to get it. I meander towards the phone in the kitchen and pick it up from the cradle on its second ring.
“Hey Zac, just who I was looking for.”
It’s Morgan, the only girl outside of my family I have in my life at this point. She and I are just friends, and while I toy with the idea of going on a date with her sometimes, for the most part I don’t feel like putting the effort in most of the time.
“What’s up Morgan?”
“Nothing much, I just had a question for you.”
“Shoot,” I say, downing the rest of my water bottle and tossing it towards the garbage can on the other side of the kitchen. It bounces off the side and hits the floor. Since the cord doesn’t stretch long enough for me to pick it up, I make a mental reminder to throw it out when I get off the phone.
“You read The Things They Carried last year for English didn’t you?”
“Well, it was one of the books I was supposed to read but I just asked prodigy Taylor for some help on the essay and didn’t really read much of it.” It’s true, there’s no denying it.
“Nothing, I just needed some help for some questions for school but if you didn’t read it, and I can’t even answer them after reading it, then I suppose you won’t be of much help.”
“Sorry, Morgan, I’d try, but I think I’d just be a waste of your time.”
“It’s alright. I’ll try someone else.”
“Thanks anyway, talk to you later Zac.”
And then, just then, is the moment I go momentarily insane. “Wait, Morgan.”
“Want to come over tonight?”
“What for? Does your mom need me to babysit?”
I sound like a really shitty friend, I know. Someone who I consider a friend cannot even understand why I’m asking her to come over to my house. But I don’t think I’ve invited someone over in…months.
“Uh, no…just to you know, hang out. You and me.” I didn’t want her to get the impression this was going to be a family event. After spending 5 hours with them in the car yesterday, I don’t think I could handle more family time.
“Sure, why not?”
“Why not? Well you could be busy or your parents could-”
“It’s an expression, Zac.”
“I know,” I tell her quickly, feeling pretty stupid. “Come on over around 7 okay? I gotta go.”
“Alright, see you then.”
I mutter a goodbye into the phone and hang up quickly. I look around the room and suddenly feel more pathetic than usual. “I gotta go”? Where do I have to go to? My life has neither routine nor order to it. My entire day is free time, besides sporadic schoolwork of course and the few times I use the bathroom throughout the day.
I glance over at my water bottle and contemplate whether or not I have the energy in me to walk over and put it in the garbage. I hear Taylor heading back out the garage to probably finish his woodworking and that almost inspires me to muster my own energy to throw out the bottle, but instead I retreat back into the living room and collapse on the couch next to Avery.