Record 10: Eagle Rock, California, Thursday, July 5th, 2010. Day.
The first time I came home, the lights were still on. The living room was desolate and cold, and that’s how I remembered it during the days when my father smoked and told me that sometimes cigarettes aren’t bad for you. “Do you have friends at school?” He’d ask me. I did, and I loved them since we kissed all the time on the monkey bars and on the swings that would break if you swung too high. I still have a bruise on my tailbone. It’s orange now. Orange is my favorite color.
My bedroom looked the same, except the lights were off. “Why?” I asked my father. “Empty beds and chairs don’t need light.” He told me. I flipped the light switch on the wall that was coated in a permanent spilled-beer-adhesive. Upon feeling the switch, my father laughed and turned away. “Don’t be upset that I’ve used your room,” he demanded in his signature baritone. “I promise not to get upset again.” I whispered, more to myself than to him. “I like it when it’s lit.” And I wasn’t lying. My room was, again, my own. I love my room because it’s okay to be sad when the door is locked and no one can get in.
The bathroom was grey now. It used to be white. “It’s just grout.” My dad informed me, and I told him it sure was a lot of grout. “That’s why it’s not white anymore.” He added, and I turned on the light. It flickered and went out, leaving the grey grey sink, shower, porcelain and walls lit by the 7am nervous sun. For a moment we were both quiet. My dad rubbed his beard because my dad always rubs his beard when things go grey. Grey is my least favorite color.
In the kitchen, the lights were off but I could still tell it was remodeled. My father said it was contemporary since the counter and island were made of slick black marble. The fridge was stainless steel and inside the beer was very cold so my father never got too thirsty. The drawers were filled with plastic chopsticks that my father used to eat every meal. “What about cereal?” I asked him and he smacked the back of my head and said not to tease him since he knew that I knew he was lactose intolerant. “Don’t they make special kinds of milk for people like you?” He sighed and told me to respect the newly remodeled kitchen. “Don’t ask questions that you know will make me go into an episode.” And I didn’t want that. When he goes into an episode, he gets pale because sunlight makes him think of the desert where he used to love an old woman who wore dentures and cuddled him in silk blankets and kissed him without her teeth. He hugged her, and they held hands on the bridge over the lake. “Are you afraid of wilting?” He’d ask her, and she’d grin a gummy grin and make him a new blanket with her bare bare rugged hands that looked like wrinkled leather. “That’s what I miss most.” He’d tell me about her leather-skin hands. “Her touch. During the episodes.” Her touch is the reason his eyes are still open. I think he has ugly eyes.
He glared at me like he knew I was thinking about his eyes, so I apologized and he looked at me in a crooked way that meant I was being unusual again. “I know it’s hard.” He told me. “But we have to really make a go of this thing, pal. You and I. On our own.” And I didn’t mind. I was actually looking forward to watching TV with my father and fast-forwarding through the commercials. It would be nice, probably, for us to be together with no one else around, like a mom who would probably want to keep all of the house lights on. Spending alone time with my father is something that I would do now, and probably forever. Or at least until I’m eighteen and have to leave home and be grown and neutral-faced and in a dark apartment where no one can see me. And then I thought about seeing and about telling my father that maybe we should keep some more lights on around the house, but he kept reminding me in a sigh-way that he didn’t have a job and so he couldn’t afford to pay for special luxuries like electricity; at least not as much as he’d like. So we only kept some lights on and I was okay with that because I had to be.
“You think you’re feeling any better?” He asked and I said I didn’t feel all that different from before. And that was true. I still felt collapsed and jumbled on the inside of my stomach. It’s just that now I have to be okay, even if I’m not. I have to be a smiling guy when I want to be plain-faced and pretend-lost. I have to be someone who believes that magic exists and I have to be bright and I have to be strong and sometimes I have to avoid saying things to other people because they probably don’t want to hear bad things anyway.
My father left the kitchen and told me to follow him, so I did. We walked into the living room and he pulled a thin, white cardboard box from under the coffee table and handed it to me. I asked him what was inside. “Just open it.” And inside the white cardboard box was an orange cotton sweater. I held it at wingspan. “For when it gets cold.” He told me, and I put it on.
Orange is my favorite color.