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[ what you've become ]
The thing about it is, there´s only so much you can cry. It´s not that your tears have dried up, cause the well is never-ending and they´re kind of always in the back of your throat anyway. It´s that there´s only so many times that the same thing can provoke them. Kinda like sensory overload: after a certain point, you just don´t feel it anymore.
So when you see little kids that are overly curious to see your beached whale of a Momma, you don´t feel that twinge of anger and humiliation like you used to. When you get so angry at Arnie that you can´t see straight anymore and you can feel that vein in your forehead throbbing to a pulse that´s much too quick, you don´t feel the bitter bile of guilt rise up in your throat like you used to. When you see other kids your age dating and falling in love and getting married, you don´t feel that bottomless pit of despair threatening to close in on your throat like you used to. You just move on, unaffected and pretending like you´re still whole.
When you were young, back before you knew what reality´ meant, you used to dream of living with your family forever. You used to sit on your Daddy´s knee, and when you were older at his feet, and listen to him tell stories and think that this was the best it could ever be. You wanted to live there with your Dad, and the most beautiful woman in the world to ever be your Momma, and if your sisters and brothers had to stay, well that was okay too. Because this was what you knew, and this is what you liked, and there wasn´t any way it could possibly get better. You had no idea how right you´d turn out to be.
And then you walked into your basement one day and it all ended. There he was, hanging from the rafters, that face of his puffed up like a sponge full of water, those eyes bulging in purple sockets. And you screamed, and you cried, and you crumpled into a ball of despair until you couldn´t breath anymore and didn´t even want to.
Then you picked yourself up, because someone had to maintain, someone had to be okay. Someone had to take care of Arnie, and you were the man of the house now, so that meant it was you. Someone had to work, and if that meant there was no time to do anything but the necessities, well that was just too bad. Someone had to be the rock, and your sisters couldn´t do it, and your Momma was falling apart, and even though you were just a teenager you knew that rock had to be you.
You watched as the people you used to call friends left this little nothing town of Endora for 'the bigger and the better.´ Off to college, off to get married, off to find themselves. You wondered for a while if you´d ever get the chance to find yourself but you soon realized that whoever this person was that you were here was the only one that counted, so there really wasn´t a point in finding that other guy. This was all you knew, and this was all you were, and this was the only way it could be.
It made you angry, and it wasn´t fair. You´d sit in your room sometimes, when it was quiet and everyone was asleep, and you´d cry those quiet tears that you´d never let anyone see. You´d feel the anger race through your body and your fists would clench, but it never gave any relief because the person you wanted to hit was dead. It didn´t matter that your father was dead and you can´t be mad at a dead person, because that´s not true. You can be angry with someone who´s dead, and sometimes that´s even easier because they never have the opportunity to take that anger away.
You wanted out. Out of this house. Out of this life. Out of your job. Out of your responsibilities. Out of your skin.
You wanted Arnie to not be so stupid even though you knew it wasn´t his fault and he didn´t even have any kind of comprehension that what he was was anything less than what he should have been. You wanted Ellen to grow the fuck up, even though she was just a little kid and you knew it wasn´t fair to wish for her to have to give that up. You wanted your Momma to wake up, to stop eating, to go back to being that beautiful smiling promqueen she always had been. You wanted Amy to understand that you were doing the best fucking job you could even though you knew she actually did understand that because she was in the same place you were anyway.
So you went to work everyday in the grocery store that nobody ever went to anymore, and you stocked the shelves that emptied only because food doesn´t last forever. You made deliveries to people´s houses because they were too lazy to go to the store themselves. You don´t mind the deliveries though, because at least that meant you got to be out there on your own without anyone watching every move you make. You got to hop in that beat up old ugly as sin truck of yours and not have to smile so hard it hurt anymore.
Because that´s really the worst part of it, having to act like everything is fine. Having to be that rock that you feel you´re supposed to be even in front of those you don´t need to be the rock in front of. Because you can´t take the looks, and the hands on the shoulder. Because you can´t listen to one more god damned person tell you how sorry they are. Because you can´t take the questions. Because you can´t say out loud that this isn´t what you want to be. Because somehow that makes it harder.
The house you make deliveries to the most is Mrs. Carver´s, and after a while she starts telling you to call her Betty. You don´t feel comfortable calling her Betty, but she starts inviting you inside and feeding you the food you just brought her, smiling and batting her eyes and rubbing your leg with her bare feet. She starts asking you questions that make you blush and want to leave but that also make you want to stay. Just to see. Just to find out if this thing she´s doing is really what she means, is really something she´ll follow through on.
Are you a virgin, Gilbert,´ she asks you, smiling and batting her eyes like Ginger Rogers and all those other movie star actresses that your Momma is always watching. You don´t want to answer, because it´s too embarrassing to say that yes you are. Because that´s too close to having to admit that you just don´t have time to find someone that won´t get in the way of all the shit you have to put up with at home. You can´t ask some girl to stick around long enough to woo her into your bed for the first taste of what you´ve dreamed about since you first realized your dick was for something more than taking a piss.
You´ve seen The Graduate, and you start thinking to yourself that while Betty Carver is no Anne Bancroft, she´s as close as you´ll ever get. When she backs you up into the counter you swallow the fear in your throat and battle with the part of yourself telling you this is wrong, that this isn´t how it goes. You tell your feet to not walk towards that door, and you tell your hands to not push her away, because this is as close as you´ve ever been and it may be as close as you´ll ever get. When she kisses you and makes that little sigh into your mouth you feel a little piece of that stone cold wall you´ve resurrected threaten to chip away and you fight it.
You don´t cry though, and you didn´t have to try very hard to not, because you´ve learned to not cry by then. You´ve learned that things can only hurt if you let them, and after the same thing happens again and again and again, you can either let it bruise your heart more or you can close it off. So you find yourself mentally switching off the part of you that feels things deeply, and pretty soon you don´t even have to tell yourself to do it anymore. It´s not long before you see yourself from the outside when something happens and you wonder when exactly it was that that stopped hurting, and you can´t even remember.
You remember vaguely a time when crying felt good. When crying seemed to take all the poison in you and pour it out through your tears, and that it left you feeling lighter and just a little bit better. That it was just enough of a release of pressure for you to pick yourself back up and go for it again. That ended though, because it wound up being that you could never cry enough, and that somehow the pain and the pressure only increased. Like the poison you cried out in tears just seeped right back into your skin, and brought only more with it.
So Betty kisses you, and you feel your dick grow hard against her hip, and you feel her sigh and rub against it. Her small and agile fingers are the first ones beside yours that have touched it in years, and you find yourself gasping and arching into her touch and groaning in a way you never have before, and coming embarrassingly quickly. You feel the urge to apologize but as soon as you open your mouth to she´s kissing you again and muttering shhh, it´s okay, Ken won´t be home for hours.´
She makes you come again, and that´s the first time you´ve come twice in one day in years because when you have a house full of women and a brother you have to watch every second of every day there´s really only time for one, and sometimes only once a week. You feel ashamed that she´s done this for you, twice no less, and you´ve done nothing for her, but then she´s telling you that you have to get back to the store and that she´ll see you later. You find your legs are weak as you make your way to your truck and you realize that coming, it seems, affords you the same relief that crying used to back before when you rarely had the need to cry.
Like everything else in your life, it becomes a pattern. It´s something to rely on. Every other day Betty Carver is calling in a delivery, and you find your dick growing hard whenever the phone rings because it´s Pavlovian association and you know she´ll be calling today. It bothers you at first that she just tells her kids to go outside when you come in but soon you find that you don´t care about that either. This has become the one thing in your life that makes you feel good, and it´s the only time you get to forget that you have responsibilities and a brother that can´t even bathe himself.
She teaches you how to use your tongue and your fingers. She´s patient when you come too fast and laughs when you try to apologize. She lets you fuck her against the wall because you saw that in a movie once and even though it´s not comfortable for either of you, she kisses you when she comes and she moans out your name in a way that sounds like she´s telling you she loves you. You think maybe she does a little bit and you think maybe you do too, because she´s the only one that´s ever made you feel like this and she´s the only one that´s ever made you forget how much you hate yourself these days.
Except that changes too, and somehow she winds up being yet another burden on your already sagging shoulders. You get tired of having to watch her with her husband in public places and having to ignore those come fuck me´ looks that she gives you over her husband´s shoulder. You get tired of the fact that it´s always on her terms, and it´s always up to her when she calls, and there´s never a time when it can be spontaneous and fun and last for longer than an hour. You get tired of the fact that you can´t hold her hand and buy her ice cream with your own money.
You tell her things aren´t working, and even though you wish things were different they just weren´t, and she starts crying. That hollow ache in your heart thrums to life like it does when you know any one who´s not as dead inside as you are would be crying. You can´t let her sit there on the bed like that, curled up in a ball, eyes red, big crocodile tears streaming down her face as she cries. You´ve seen enough of the women in your life cry like that, so it´s second nature to you when you draw her into your arms and say shhh, it´s okay, it´ll get better, I didn´t mean it.´ Every time you try to do it she does this, and every time you know she does it on purpose, but every time you find yourself unable to walk away from it.
Because you want to be a good person, you really do. You want to be your Momma´s brave soldier, and your sister´s hero. You want to be your brother´s big bad protector; the man that would never let anyone ever hurt sweet and innocent Arnie. You want to be the guy Ellen comes to when some little snot nosed brat says something about her dress being torn, and you want to be able to make her stop crying by stroking her hair and making her giggle. You want to be a good person, and even though you feel like being a good person is an even bigger act than being happy, you do it anyway.
And it all gets to you sometimes, it gets to a boiling point and it´s all you can do to not get in your truck and just drive. Drive down the driveway, and down the road, and to the next town and then the next and the next and the next. To pretend that Endora never existed, and you never had a Momma that forgot she used to be pretty and a Pop that used to still breathe. Forget that you have two sisters at home and a brother that likes to climb the water tower. To pretend that you were one of those miracles in life that appeared out of nothing and nowhere and belonged to nothing.
But you don´t, because you can run and you can hide, but it´ll always be there in the middle of your gut and in the back of your mind that you left Amy to take care of it all. You can´t do that to her because this is killing you but it´s killing her too. It´s kind of sick to you that your own sister is the closest you´ll probably have to a wife, but that´s what it really works out to. You bring the bacon home and she cooks it and you clean the dishes off the table and she washes them. You cut the grass and she cleans the house and sometimes you both sit on the porch with your arm around her as you smile and talk about the few things in life that you still find even vaguely amusing.
So you stay, and you wonder how it is that she still feels things. You wonder why she can still cry when Momma won´t listen to her and how she can still smile and mean it. You think it´s amazing that she still seems to be whole somehow, despite all this. Eventually you realize that´s because of you. Because she still has you there to hold it together, to bear the brunt. She´s got you to bitch to when it gets to be too much and you to hold her when she needs to collapse. And it makes you smile.
It makes you smile that you can be there for her, and that she needs you. It makes you angry too though, because you wonder if she realizes that maybe you need that too. That maybe you need to collapse sometimes too because Arnie climbed the water tower again and you´re afraid that he´s getting too old and too quick for you to keep track of him anymore. That maybe sometimes you´d like to just sit there and listen to someone, anyone, tell you it´s going to be okay and it´s going to work out.
You know in the back of your mind that she does know that, that she´s tried to get you to open up to her on more than one occasion. You know she gets upset and tells you that it´s not right that you´ve become so cold and hard to yourself. Told you that sometimes you need to worry about yourself and say fuck it to everything else. That she worries about you, and it´s not really fair because she has so much to worry about anyway, and you hate it that you give her more on top of that. You know that, but you still feel bitter because bitter is much easier for you to handle these days.
Then the dishwasher breaks and you already spent that money fixing the brake line in her car, or Arnie gets a cut lip because you turned your back for five minutes and he fell flat faced in the middle of the road trying to catch a grasshopper, and there´s no time for you to explain that you can´t let yourself feel anymore. That you´re afraid if you open up just a little bit everything that you´ve worked so hard to stockpile up is going to come crumbling down and it´ll never ever fit back quite the way it used to. That you´re full to the brim and if you let it go you´re afraid you´ll blow away in the wind when you explode into dust.
So you smile and laugh even though you´ve forgotten how to laugh, even though any time you do it now it feels like bile rising in your throat. It comes from a place that´s hard and rough and it hurts when you feel it rattle through your chest, and you almost forget there was a time when it felt good to laugh. The smile on your face feels like a mask and it makes your cheekbones ache but you do it anyway because it makes her smile, and it makes you feel a little better to see her like that.
There are times though when you remember who you used to be. Times when you´re laying next to Betty after you´ve both come and she smiles at you and the smile on your face isn´t actually a mask this time. Times when Ellen giggles at some stupid insipid thing and you can´t help that rise in your heart because that really is a beautiful sound. Times when Amy actually manages to get a date and she´s nervous even though she´s absolutely gorgeous and you tease her about scaring the guy off with her nerves. Times when Arnie splashes in the bath and gets you covered from head to toe with dirty soapy water and laughs that innocent five-year-old´s laugh and says Gilbert´s all wet, Gilbert´s all wet!´ so many times that you just can´t be angry at him anymore.
So it winds up being worth it because even though the good is so much less than the bad, it matters more, it´s worth more. You think to yourself that if you can just get past this summer, if you can just get past this year, something good will come. You think to yourself that you´ve tried your best, and that your family´s come out all right despite its set backs, and that even though you´re not happy, at least they are. You think that´s got to count for something, and that one day Karma-- or whatever-- will smile your way.
Because God owes you that much.
He owes you that much at the very least.
Except you´re not even sure if He exists anymore.