I am 4. I have taken a black pen, and used it to write up and down my arms. My mom walks in, sees what I have done. She starts to yell, then just sighs, knowing this is another one of those weird things her weird kid does. She won’t understand it. I know why I did it, but I don’t have the words. When dad is at work on one of the tractors his arms get covered in grease. He is strong, and purposeful, and when I look like him, so am I.
My dad and his brother Ronnie are riding in a car with other teenagers. There has been drinking, and teenage invulnerability is high. A test of nerves ends with the car flipping end over end into a ditch. When the longest moment of my dad’s life comes to an end, he surveys the damage to see his brother pinned, unresponsive. His eyeglasses lost, dad frees himself, and with his limited vision, is forced to find the nearest farm, using instinct and fear induced adrenaline to guide him. It took Ronnie 7 months to die. I hear this story after I’ve found a rusty bike in a dilapidated oil shed on our farm. I ask if I can fix the bike up. “Better ask your Grandma” my dad says, never looking me in the eyes. I do, and grandma’s face crumples in on itself. She waddles away without answering. This was Ronnie’s bike.
When I was a kid, we used to make a weekly trip to the nearest town. The bulk of each visit to town was occupied by my dad having to bullshit various creditors for more time, just so we could get the essentials (food, keeping the utilities turned on, inexpensive, ill-fitting clothing). Dad starts a side business, to make the money that dry-land farming is not providing. For a while, the money goes a little further, and we are able to be a little freer. On one visit, dad gets a haircut from a stylist, rather than trying to do it on his own. My mom and us 4 kids wait outside, and we all turn to look as dad comes walking down the street. The stylist has brought him out of the ’50s, and somewhere into the 80’s, with some layering and a little mousse. He would deny it, but he feels happy. There is a bounce to his walk I’ve never seen. His head is a little higher, and he’s looking people in the eye as he makes his way to the pick up truck. My mom smiles, blushing slightly. The muscles in her neck relax ever so slightly. She is allowing the smallest sliver of hope in. They both are.