context.

20 April 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m usually in a bad mood by the time I think of coming here to write a little bullshit for your entertainment. Sometimes, I just want to say ‘fuck you’, turn around on my right heel, smile contempt, and walk away. But that pleasure only lasts a few seconds, and I can rarely justify the sheer work it takes to try to undo something that I never really meant to begin with. But I’m not allowed to have mood swings, because I’m a guy and we’re all straightforward, logical creatures. Every one of us, insanity be damned. But this is no request.

I had a point, and it’s gone now. I dulled it over, which means I didn’t go where I should have with that.

In nine days, I will have completed my first year of college, six years late and not a day too soon. Unfortunately, the majority of these two semesters have been plagued by whatever else my mind thought was necessary and important, and these things do not often mingle with homework and studying. But I’m making up for that shit now, with some dedication and forgetting, some letting go and a few more sleepless nights to get me back on track. The laziness was worthwhile to the extent of notching this belt again. I’m well-fed, stable, and taken care of, and I can’t stand it anymore – I let this abundance turn me into a washboard of emotion and insecurity and need, and I’m probably delusional by now. Luckily, the sun is putting in some overtime to help me clear things up.

It’s just occurred to me that people read this sometimes (no shit, sherlock, it’s the internet), and that I rarely provide context for anything, despite claiming – in real life – that context is everything, that it determines how things stand, that it is the scale by which virtually all things should be measured, because there are no universal laws here, no categorical imperatives that work flawlessly. We can poke holes in philosophy all night long ( the sun will be back in a few hours) and never get anywhere unless we have context. So I’m going to tell a short story about context.

There was this girl, Jennifer, that moved into my house and took over my room without my permission. Actually, I wasn’t there when she moved in, but my red bunk bed was, and my football-shaped toybox was still there, and I felt that those two items screamed SEAN loud enough for her to hear over the Tales From the Crypt episodes we’d watch later on her little black and white TV. But by that time, I didn’t care that she was in my room. I was more concerned with getting on the bus in the morning so her dad wouldn’t beat the shit out of me all day. He seemed to enjoy that.

Her dad moved in too, but he took over the dining room. There was a blue Ibanez electric guitar on a stand, and he had two drumsets. I remember a mixer, though I didn’t know what it was at the time, and he had a computer! Windows 3.1, and he once let me play Doom for about three minutes. Other than that, I wasn’t allowed in the dining room, and had to walk all the way around the double-wide mobile home, over the linoleum floors I scrubbed every day when I was home, because god forbid he have dirty floors, and shame upon the day I was free of bruises.

See this, here? I’m providing the circumstances, the context, for the story, so you can understand it better.

It didn’t click in my head til years later that my favorite memories from those few months in my own home (an intermission, nothing more) had to do with zombies and monsters and talking skeletons more than anything else. My brother and I would lay out our mass of hot wheels cars and do battle, setting the corvettes up on the edge of the bed and the vipers and the lamborghinis on the ground, the trucks in an infantry line at the base of the door and we’d listen to that purple people eater song over and over and over again. Then the big man in the diaper would come in to the room, pull at the waist of my pants and pour bleach into my underwear. I was dirty, he said, and this is how you clean yourself. Years later, when I came back from the hospitals and foster care, my brother yelled at me for not wanting to play hot wheels anymore. In his eyes, I’d ‘changed,’ and even to this day, there was no coming back from that.

Anyway, I was reading a book by Chuck Dickens, (I don’t remember which one, and to say that it was a big book doesn’t really narrow it down), and in one of his twenty five line sentences, I came across a word I didn’t know. The word itself wasn’t important. That I was trying to read Dickens when I was in third grade was a bit of an enigma, but that, too, doesn’t matter. The word I didn’t know was important. I didn’t have a dictionary.

(this is the part of the story when you learn why I told you all that shit before)

Well, okay. that was a lie. I did have a dictionary. The problem was that it was on the bookshelf in the living room. Given the circular nature of this particular mobile home, and the fact that I was on the opposite end of it from the living room, this was a big fucking problem. You see, the diaper man was eating hot dogs and ketchup in the kitchen with my brother and his daughter (I wasn’t permitted to eat with them, you see). The kitchen was right outside my bedroom door (that is, the bedroom I shared with my brother, since the high school girl needed her own room for god knows what). Now, I couldn’t go through the kitchen because that led into the dining room, and the old bearded motherfucker would surely have thrown his beer glass at my head had I tried to walk through there. On the other hand, if I walked the other way, I would walk over the smooth and clean linoleum that I’d spent some untold number of hours in my jammers scrubbing the day before, and because I was pretty well convinced that I was the dirty plague he said I was, I wasn’t about to do that. So I was stuck in the room with the book and the hot wheels and the word I didn’t know.

What does an eight year old do with a word he doesn’t know? He might cry because he can’t figure it out, or he might throw the book across the room a few times, seemingly out of sheer frustration, but probably just to get attention.

A few minutes later, Jennifer came in, cautiously, because if her dad knew she was talking to me, he probably would have thrown her out the window or driven over her legs with a semi-truck, like in that road trip story he told me once. The guy and the motorcycle. the lights went out, and it got dark. I always wondered why the guy was lying in the middle of the road, and why he let a semi run over his legs, but that’s another story, and according to the big baby, printed in a magazine somewhere.

I told her my problem, that this idiot writer of books wrote a word that I didn’t know, and that I was mad. Skipping over the word was out of the question. It was a wall, and I had to knock it down. She picked up the book, and I showed her what the word was. She just looked at it. Surely, some old high schooler would know the word! how could this happen, two idiots in this leftover room too close to the shed outside and prone to its shadow too soon in the day? She read the page – not the sentence, which was likely an anvil in and of itself, but the whole page – and skipped over the word I didn’t know, and kept reading. She went over it with me three or four times without that word, and she said that if I look at the words (you know, the ones I did know) around it, that I might be able to guess what it means.

It probably worked, her and I sitting there in the room with one bed, and to this day I don’t remember ever sleeping in that house for those months I lived there, let alone that room, and suddenly I had this tool to look at the page with, to look at the world with, to figure out what something means even if I’ve never seen it before. She called it something like ‘reading around the word,’ but high schoolers are usually dumb like that, and much later I started calling it ‘context’ because, well, I didn’t know what else to call it.

I never finished that Dickens book, which isn’t really novel because I’ve never finished any of Chuck’s books, except for the short one with the mouse and the christmas tree. David Copperfield is on my bookshelf these days (which is in my bedroom, by the way, so no one can say I’ve never learned anything the easy way), and I want to say that that was the book, because I knew the kid saw ghosts and I wanted to say that I did too, and even if I didn’t, I talked to them because they were far better company than the bearded diaper man who played with his guns more than his guitars, with those stupid turquoise plates with the splotch of magenta paint on the bottom, which matched the ketchup stain on the top, dried and crusted, just for me, because I had to wash them when they finished sucking down their hot dogs and talking about llamas at the picnic table in the kitchen.

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