My alarm clock went off 20 minutes ago and I’ve hit snooze three times now. I roll over onto my stomach and close my eyes, pulling the covers over my head. The longer I sleep, the more energy I will have for painting I assure myself. I’m fully aware that I’m full of bullshit though.
The bedroom door swings open, I can hear. I wait to see who it is disturbing me- too exhausted to look out.
“Zac, you need to get out of bed. It’s 8:30 and you need to shower and be on the road by 9,” Dad says sternly. He speaks as if he wasn’t a lazy 17-year-old once too.
“I don’t need to shower. I’ll go without showering,” I mumble. I can feel him just standing there staring at me so I repeat myself, “I don’t need to, Dad. Really.”
“If you need to convince yourself of that then that’s a sign you do need to. You’ll feel better once you’re up in the water. C’mon.” He waits patiently.
Accepting defeat, I throw the covers off of me and pull myself out of bed. I look at him with my best annoyed expression and walk past him into the bathroom. This is going to be a long day.
I’ve got a can of root beer in my cup holder and Jimi Hendrix CD in my stereo. I feel refreshed after my shower and life doesn’t feel like it could get much better than this. Then I remember I’m going to paint Grandma’s garage.
I pull into her driveway at 10:30. I had to stop for the bathroom along the way so it put me a little bit more behind schedule. I really regret stopping though. There was a creepy trucker in the bathroom with me and I swear he was watching me pee. Grandma comes out onto the porch and waves to me as I pull in. I put my car in park, pull off my sunglasses, and go out and give her a hug. She smells like lemons and cats.
“I’m so glad to see you Zac. You seem so old now driving all the way down here on your own.”
“I’ve had my license for a year now, Gram.”
“I know but still. What happened to my little animal anyway?”
“He grew up.”
“Too quickly…” She mutters and opens the door for me. I walk inside and inspect the house. It looks the same as always. The orange striped cat without a name (we usually just call it kitty) comes over me and rubs against my legs. I have never liked cats very much so I reach down and pet him once to be nice, then step away quickly. Grandma hurries me into the kitchen to get me a cold drink and show me what I’ll be painting.
I’ve been painting for four hours and thankfully am almost finished. I would estimate I probably have another hour or so of painting left to do. I’ll tell you this though- Sea Spray Green is suddenly my least favorite color. I roll the sleeves of my t-shirt up. Ellie always told me I wear that style to look cool and masculine, but the truth is its just less hot on my shoulders. Besides, I don’t mind acquiring bronzed shoulders. It has nothing to do with insecurities like Ellie claimed though- nothing to do with it.
I look around the acreage behind Grandma’s house. As kids we spent a lot of time here. Whenever we came home from touring, exhausted and beat, Mom would drive us to Grandma’s for a couple nights. She would cook delicious home cooked meals and give us jars to catch fireflies in. Even Isaac, who was my age at the time, ran in the yard with us catching fireflies. At Grandma’s house we’re all kids again because that’s how we remember it. It’s a place you can embrace your child-like side.
I look over at the slab of wood hanging from the road in the big maple tree behind the deck. I remember her sitting on the swing while I ran around and around spinning her in circles. She used to think she was going to throw up. When I didn’t stop, she would finally jump off, catch her balance, and shove me to the ground. I remember the first time Ellie came to Grandma’s house with us was the second year I knew her. We were 12.
Ellie sat in her first two-piece bathing suit on the trunk of Grandpa’s never-used car in the garage. We were getting ready to go to the lake down the road to go swimming. The sun was scorching and my bare feet against the concrete garage floor felt nice. On the very top shelf in the garage was the one thing Ellie wanted me to get. It couldn’t have been harder to get either.
“Ellie, why don’t we just forget it? We’ve already got two noodles to swim with. We don’t need a raft.”
“What is our favorite thing to do in the water, Zac?”
“I know, but-”
“No! What is our favorite thing to do?”
I looked at her annoyed and leaned against the walls of the garage. “Try to stand on the raft and see how long we can without falling,” I humored her.
“Right. And how are we going to do that without a raft?” She cupped her hand over her ear and leaned towards me.
“Alright, alright!” I gave up. I think that is the moment I realized that women rule this earth and there is no arguing with them. I balanced my knees carefully on the trash can next to the shelves and slowly stood up on it.
“Careful, that’s dangerous.” She said. I rolled my eyes. One second she was complaining because I wouldn’t get the raft and then she’s telling me to be careful. I would like to see her climb up there and get down the raft.
I could see it and reach for it with my hand. I adjusted my feet on the garbage can and tried to grab it, but the second I had it between my fingers I could feel the lid on the plastic can slide from under me. The next thing I knew I was lying on the ground of the garage with blood dripping from my shins.
Ellie jumped down from the car and kneeled in front of me. “Oh my god. Are you okay?” She touched my shoulder tentatively and watched me peel myself up from the ground.
“Yeah Ellie, I’m fine. I just fell four feet from the ground on my face and my blood is smudged along the floor but I’m fine. Really.” I walked out of the garage into the sunlight and inspected my wounds.
She followed me and put her hand on my back but I didn’t want to see her at the moment. No hurt man wants to be pitied by a girl. It is wimpy. I walked away from her and went up and sat on the kitchen porch on my own. She looked at me, debated what to do, and then retreated back into the garage.
A couple minutes later Ellie walked out of the garage holding the raft in her hands. She tossed it onto my lap and stood there looking at me.
“Oh right, its so easy right Ellie? Yeah well you were just lucky. It’s not an easy thing to get down.” A girl had shown me up. A girl in a bikini bathing suit nonetheless had done better than me.
She held her cut palms up to me. Little traces of blood ran along her skin.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“You’re right,” She said, “It’s not an easy thing to get down.” She sat down next to me and laid her cheek against my side. Slowly we rocked together on the swinging bench looking out at the passing cars. I could hear my siblings inside Grandma’s house making noise but with my best friend by my side they didn’t seem to bother me as much as usual. We rocked there for a few minutes and I could feel myself falling asleep. I paid no concern to my semi-bloody legs and she didn’t seem to care about her severed hands.
Finally I mustered the energy to finally suggest we go to the lake after everything. “Ready to take that raft to the lake?” I asked her, looking down at her resting on my shoulder.
She shrugged and looked out at the road. “Maybe we ought to just…sit here?” I couldn’t argue with that. >
I shake her memory of my mind and pick up my paintbrush. I should take advantage of this time alone to think about the present and the future- not dwell on the past.
I step through the front door to my home at eight that night. Had Grandma not cooked her amazing fried chicken I probably would be jealous when I spotted the empty pizza boxes on the kitchen counter. Taylor stands at the kitchen sink covering his hands in soap. He scrubs them wrathfully and rinses them underneath the water. Moments after rinsing them he covers his hands in another layer of soap, scrubbing his hands together hard for a solid minute, then rinsing them again. As he reaches for the soap again I make my presence known- clearing my throat.
He whips around and looks at me nervously. “Hey” he says, applying a little bit of soap to his hands and casually rinsing them. He dries his hands on a paper towel and tosses it into the garbage, reaching around his shoulder and patting himself on the back when it falls perfectly in the trashcan.
“Whatcha doing?” I ask him, careful not to make him feel like I’m trying to get information out of him. He opens the fridge and takes out a mini-Gatorade bottle.
“Just getting a drink. Did Grandma give you money?”
I grin and take a pair of fifties out of my back pocket and toss them down on the table.
“100? I knew she would.” Taylor says excitedly, “Mom’s never gonna let you keep it you know.”
“Mom doesn’t have to know…”
He laughs and takes a swig of his Gatorade. “I won’t tell her as long as you spend part of it on taking me to Schlotzky’s Deli tomorrow. I cannot tell you how much I am craving it.” Oh he is so obvious. This is Taylor’s sad attempt at trying to get me out of the house.
“Yeah, yeah…” I mutter, “Well see about that.”
He puts the drink back and goes upstairs yelling back to me, “Yeah well I’m serious! I’ll tell Mom.”
Mom strolls into the kitchen and raises her eyes at me, “How curious that makes me…”
I point to the money on the counter. “He’s threatening to tell you that Grandma gave me money. But you know what? I’m going to spoil his fun and tell you myself. She gave me 100.”
Mom surveys the amount of money to make sure I’m telling the truth and then gets an envelope from a drawer. She places the fifties in the envelope. Damn…whoever said being honest was the best way to be?
“This will be mailed back to Grandma. I will give you 100 dollars of my money to spend.”
I think I’m supposed to tell her she doesn’t have to- that it is okay. But they won’t give me free access to my bank account until my 18th birthday. I have two more months of being broke!
“Alright,” I tell her cheerfully.
She steps closer to me and examines my face. “You should have used the sunscreen I sent with you. Your cheeks are all red.”
I shrug and touch them. Like a 17 year old boy is going to care about a little bit of sunburn.
“Did Grandma feed you?” She questions.
“Does Taylor sing on the toilet?”
She grins at me. Taylor is notorious for singing on the toilets. Whether it be show tunes or country songs- he will sit there singing to himself thinking the rest of us can’t hear him.
“Go upstairs and get changed. You smell sweaty.”
“I knew I looked sweaty but do I really smell sweaty Mom?”
“Oh you do.”
I smile at her and head for the stairs. I walk up slowly, exhausted from my day in the heat. I walk into the bathroom looking forward to seeing my sunburned cheeks in the mirror. It’s always fun to press your finger against your reddened cheeks and watch the crimson tint return to the fingerprint.
Taylor is in the bathroom though to my surprise. He is scrubbing his hands again in the sink, concentrating carefully.
“I think you got them all.”
He jumps and looks up at me. “Jesus Christ Zac. What all?”
“All the germs. Clean enough?”
“I was using pastels. There are pastels underneath my finger nails.”
I look him over suspiciously. “Well maybe if you actually kept your nails short that wouldn’t be a problem for you now would it? A new lesson everyday Taylor.”
He rolls his eyes at me and rinses his hands off. “Do you need the bathroom or are you just harassing me for the hell of it?”
“Totally just harassing you for the hell of it.” I give him a cheeky smile and look at my sunburn in the mirror. Wow, it’s worse than I thought. “Actually, I gotta pee. So can you leave?”
He flicks his wet hands in my direction and then finishes drying them on the bath towel. “Bathroom is all yours,” he says before sauntering out and down the hall. I watch him walk into his room, pick up his journal, and close the door secretively.
You know it’s a good thing I’m not a hardcore liberal. Otherwise I would boycott this “Made in Taiwan” journal and cease my writings to you out of compassion for the underprivileged in this world. Then again, perhaps I would be doing you a favor.
Filth, dirt, grime. The dirt never goes away. I feel dirty in the morning, I feel dirty in the afternoon, and I feel dirty right now- 30 seconds after cleansing my hands thoroughly. It’s not really OCD. Trust me, I asked the genius Ph.D herself. It’s simply an emotion of mine that translates to me feeling physically dirty she said. Whatever it is, I just want to feel clean again. Was I ever really clean though?
I miss the band. I miss the feeling of making music. I miss the thought of knowing thousands of people are hearing us play on the radio. I miss the sensation of the speakers amplifiers next to you in a live concert. Dad says we can’t blame Zac for bailing. He says that Zac went through a crisis that he needed time to heal from. Well Zac wasn’t the only person who knew Ellie. Ellie was part of all of our lives and Isaac and I didn’t just throw in the towel. For the most part I’m not angry with Zac. I understand his reasoning. But sometimes I cannot help but wonder if he’s being selfish by refusing to make music anymore. He always says to give him time and he’ll feel motivated again. But it seems very unlikely when he won’t so much as pick up a guitar these days.
I know I’m getting better. I can feel that I’m getting better everyday believe it or not. I feel happier despite the persistent intensity of my memories. Zac doesn’t necessarily seem to be getting better. He seems to be sinking further and further into a depression. He just doesn’t want to do anything these days. He’s not only given up on the band. He’s given up on life in general.
Then there’s Isaac. Who the hell knows what’s going on with Isaac but it’s so irritable. He’s so morbid to be around sometimes I swear. I’m not saying that hanging around with me is like spending a day with Barney and Friends. I’m anything but positive most of the time. But Isaac is our big brother. He’s supposed to be holding us together. Suddenly he just snaps on us. He spends more and more time alone staring off into space.
Between the three of us, we’re in crumbles. We’ve all faded into these sad, pathetic human beings who have no drive to fix our lives. I may do stupid stuff like stay out late drinking and smoking, but at least I don’t mope around all the time like my brothers do. I at least try to have fun. Or maybe I just try to erase it all.