I (barely) had the chance to defend myself physically but there was no way I could do so by talking. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but Gould shot me that look that said I would only harm myself more by talking.
I took my chances.
“He attacked me!” I protested, trying to get up to my feet. I shot Chase a look and wasn’t surprised to find him shrugging and looking totally innocent. I then looked to Toby.
“Tell him what happened,” I said frantically.
“Uhhhh,” Toby said through glazed eyes and at that moment we realized that getting in a fight wasn’t our biggest problem. Toby was caught red-handed with a joint in his hands. I admired the balls (or blunted stupidity) on the kid because instead of sticking up for me he puffed on the joint at supersonic speed before Gould snatched it out of his mouth.
“You boys are coming with me.”
I had been at my new high school for two years now but time hadn’t eased anything. I had been happy at my old school in Manhattan, happy with my life before my pa decided to up and go. Leave me and my brother Michael behind with nothing but our crazy mother. OK, maybe not happy as a “pig in the shit” type happy but I was certainly happier. Here, in Brooklyn, I never found my place. I coasted through life fucking around, barely going to classes, doing a lot of drugs fifteen-year olds should never do, doing a lot of girls fifteen-year olds should never do. Ha.
At my new school I came in as the brooding, mysterious fuck-up and I remained that way in the eyes of everyone, Principal Gould especially. This wasn’t my first fight either. The first day of school some drooling asshole found out I had come from the Upper West Side and said I was a tightassed prepster. How the hell he got tightassed prepster from my uniform of cargo pants, Misfits tee shirt and boots was beyond me, but it pissed me off enough to lay the smack down on him. Unfortunately, the drooling asshole was also bigger than me and that fight ended with my face in the dirt. Still, my reputation as being a scrapper was sealed.
Gould ushered us into his office, the dungeon of doom as we liked to call it, and gave us a threatening lecture that made his cheeks puff out and turn all red. He said he was going to call our parents…actually he shot one look at me and decided that Toby was the bigger issue here.
It was a smart move. My mom would have been drunk on her ass and he would have gotten an earful from her. As much of a mess as my mother was, you didn’t fuck with her children. Only she could fuck with her children.
So Toby’s mother heard all about how her son broke the law by smoking pot at school. Of course Principal Gut had to bring me into it anyway he could and made it sound like I was the bad influence on Toby. Phhfff. Toby was bad before I even showed up.
I’m not sure how much Toby’s mom, who was a whippet-shaped dream muncher, really cared about the fact that I got in a fight and it must have gotten through to Gould, because when he was done with her, hanging up the phone in a sweaty huff, he looked at us both with frustration.
“You’re both suspended for the rest of the week,” he growled. “Go home.”
Woo hoo! All right! No school!
That’s what most kids would say. I mean, with suspension you had the lecture and grief and disappointment from your parents, but after that you didn’t have to go to school, and your classmates would talk about you for months like you’re a real bad ass.
Notice I said most kids. That wasn’t the case for me.
I actually liked school. No, wait, I take it back. I actually liked being at school. Classes and teachers could kiss my perky ass, but school wasn’t home. And any place that wasn’t home was a place I wanted to be. My mother worked nights and she was home during the day. It was bad enough having to see her for a couple of hours after class where, if I was lucky, she’d throw a cheap frozen meal in the microwave for me and Michael. If I wasn’t lucky, Michael would be out with his friends, my mom would be in rage mode, and I’d have a belt mark on my neck for looking at her wrong.
I exchanged a grim look with Toby, who no doubt would be grounded during his suspension and thus no band practice nor access to weed. This was going to suck.
In the months to come, I’d look back at that moment and want to pull my hair out. I wanted to yell at myself, tell myself to not go home. Go anywhere else. I wanted to hold onto that feeling that things couldn’t get any worse when they very well could. I wanted that ignorance back.
But there was no turning back.
I went home. I was hungry and bored and even though I hung out at my favorite record store for a few hours, killing time, my house was calling me.
I knew it was a mistake the minute I walked in. Our place was small as all hell, with sad, peeling blue walls that looked silly against the relatively fancy furniture that we salvaged after dad left. The apartment normally had this moldy smell about it, like death clung to the walls, but that evening it was another smell. It was the stench of melted plastic and it stung my nostrils something bad.
I quietly placed my backpack on the floor and shut the front door behind me. Living in an apartment was hard when you had a mom who liked to scream and yell and cry and puke a lot. The neighbours, even the drug dealers, must have hated us. I had this weird feeling that this was going to be another epic disturbance and I hoped the other tenants weren’t home.
The next thing I found weird, aside from the gross stench, was the silence. Usually the TV was blaring, or you could hear the sound of my mom pouring herself a drink, or she was yammering en Français to far-off distant relatives who didn’t want anything to do with her nonsense.
But there was nothing.
It was fucking creepy.
I crept down the hallway, wishing I’d worn my Vans to school instead of the combat boots. Wherever my mom was, she knew I was coming.
I looked in the kitchen. Empty.
I peeked in her room. Empty.
I peeked in Michael’s room. Empty
I stopped outside my door. It was closed. I always closed it but I knew she was in there. The god awful smell of burning plastic filtered out from under the doorframe.
Along with a tuft of smoke.
Holy fucking shit.
I put my hand on the knob and before I could hesitate any longer, I whipped the door open.
My mother was on her hands and knees in the middle of my room. I had a terrible sense of deja-vu, like I’d seen this before. My mother wasn’t very original with her drunken terrorizing.
But that’s not what caused my heart to fill with ice. That’s not what made my skin crawl with disgust and righteous, bubbling over anger.
All of my records were sprawled out on the floor in front of her. My precious vinyl collection that I had worked for so long to acquire, paid for with the paltry change I scrounged up over the years. The music my mother said was the work of the devil.
She hadn’t said that lightly. It turns out she very much believed it for my mother was lighting my records on fire. Let me repeat that. She was lighting my fucking record collection on fire. Half of them were reduced to a nauseating pile of melted black vinyl, producing a stench that made my eyes water. Maybe I was crying too, I don’t know. Call me a pussy for shedding a tear but those records meant absolutely everything to me and she was destroying it.
“I’ll cast you out!” she screamed with a wicked smile, holding a lighter in one hand and Pink Floyd’s The Wall in another. She was destroying it and loving it.
I don’t know how long I stood there in stupor as the smoke began to flood the room. She had left the window open but it wasn’t helping. The carpet around the melted records began to flicker a little from budding flames. My room was about to turn into an inferno if I didn’t do something.
It was a tough call. I wanted to save my records, what was left of them. I wanted to prevent my room from going up in flames. And I wanted to go over there and hit her so bad. And fuck you if you think that’s wrong. I was so angry at her and this horrible thing she’d become. Angry that I came from her and angry that she made my dad leave and angry that she always loved Michael, but not me.
I didn’t hit her, even though it would have been karma for beating me up all these years. I gathered my wits at the last minute and ran out of the room and to the kitchen. The rage was blinding me, taking over but I had to think. THINK! I needed to get water to the fire and fast.
I pulled out a bucket from under the sink and flipped on the rusted tap. The water wasn’t coming out fast enough. Fucking plumbing in the building had always sucked.
I heard her coming behind me.
Please don’t come any closer, I thought to myself, closing my eyes and gripping the bucket even harder. I was afraid what would happen if she did.
I turned and looked. She was walking unsteadily toward me, her clothes stained with ash and grease. She pointed at me, fixing her dark eyes on mine. Oh how I wished I didn’t look so much like her.
“Mom, go away!” I cried out, my voice cracking shamefully. I looked back to the bucket. Half-full. Just a few more seconds.
“You’re not my son,” she said in this low, utterly deranged voice. “You’re not my son.”
Fuck, this again? If I had a nickel for every time she told me I wasn’t her son, I’d be able to re-buy my record collection.
I caught a whoosh of sound from around the corner and beyond my mother’s sad form, there was a hint of light on the walls. The fire was growing. The bucket would have to do for now.
I lifted it out of the sink, the water spilling to the sides.
“I wasn’t me when I had you.”
That one was new.
I turned around and looked at her, the water sloshing in my hands and dripping to my feet.
“Mom, please I have to put out the fire.”
I took a few steps forward hoping to walk past her. But she came toward me, putting her body in between myself and the fire. I tried not to look at her eyes, tried not to see the madness and shame in them, but I was doing exactly that.
“I wasn’t me when I had you. I wasn’t me! You’re not my son!” she bellowed, her rotten, booze-filled breath blowing hotly in my face.
“Get out of my way mom, please,” I begged, my voice wavering. We didn’t have time for her lunatic rantings. She wasn’t herself? What did that even mean?
“I wasn’t me when I had you!” she screamed.
“Mom, move!” I screamed back. I took the bucket of water and shoved it against her.
A little too hard.
And that was all it took. I was so angry, so out of my mind, that I shoved my mother a little too hard.
Water spilled on to the floor.
She lost her balance.
The ground was slick.
She fell backward.
She reached for me in slow motion.
I didn’t drop the bucket.
I stepped back. Away from my mom’s reaching hand.
She fell to the floor, almost hitting it at once.
But she had stumbled a little too close to the edge of the counter.
Her head hit the corner of it first. The sound of something being split, like a cracked watermelon, filled my ears.
Blood clung to the counter’s sharp edge.
My mother landed on the floor with a thunk.
There was more blood mixing with the water, creating a pale red soup.
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