50 Stories, Week 4: 1969, A Photograph

It is 1981, I am eleven years old and holding a photograph. It is about four by four inches square, glossy, with 1969 written along the white rim. I found it in a box of photos I’d never seen before, in a storage area of the garage I’d never combed through before. I’m doing research for a school project, to write our own autobiographies. While I think the assignment is dumb, I’m wondering how I can make my childhood sound more interesting than it is. 

In the photo, a string of Christmas cards lines the wall behind a young boy sitting on the back of a couch. He’s wearing a patterned two-piece pajama set, happily holding a Jungle Book board game. Next to him is an adolescent girl in her blue nightgown and matching robe, a barrette keeping her hair back, smiling demurely with her hands neatly folded on her lap. In front of her on the couch is a little girl of four or so, grinning widely and holding a Winnie the Pooh board game. And next to her is a teenaged boy with a sleepy smile in a green and blue plaid bathrobe. I recognize the last three children as my older sisters and brother. But I do not know the first child, which is why I am standing in front of my mother with the photograph. 

“Who is this boy, mom?”

“What boy?” she replies.

My mother is not looking at me, she is standing at the stove, stirring an enormous pot of sauce. It’s Wednesday, spaghetti night at my house, and the smell of fried peppers and onions hangs like a fog in the kitchen. When she finally looks down at the picture I am holding, I see a look on her face that first confuses and then scares me. My mother turns back to the stove and begins adding meatballs to the sauce. 

“That was Steven. He was your brother. He died.”

Then she adds, “Set the table, dinner is almost ready.”

After I silently put the plates and silverware on the table, I go back downstairs to the closet where I spend a lot of my free time. It is underneath the stairs of our split-entry house and goes back about eight feet from the door. Inside, there is a mixture of Dad’s old National Guard uniforms and Mom’s special occasion dresses hanging in plastic wrap, not likely to be worn again. Along the wall are a few more storage boxes. I look at these differently now, wondering what mysteries could be inside. I crawl beyond them, to a secret refuge where I spend my free time reading books and licking Tang off my finger, after dipping it in the jar I have stashed there. 

I turn on my flashlight to look at the picture again, this time more closely, investigating. 

That little boy is my brother. Was my brother. And my family had a life with him before they had a life with me. 

Turns out my childhood is interesting. I just didn’t know it yet.

SMKJ XMas (1)

Triggers, or annoying things people do that drive me crazy

I’ve been keeping a running list of things people do that annoy me to no end. I want to write a larger piece about this, but in the meantime, here’s the fodder…

  • People who believe the rules don’t apply to them. See: Asshole on the plane who refuses to put his phone into Airplane mode because “it doesn’t really matter.” Actually, d-bag, there are multiple reasons for asking people to turn their phones to airplane mode, if you’d bothered to find out. But no, those rules don’t apply to you. Let’s hope everyone doesn’t feel the same way one day and bring a plane down, just by being a jackass. I mean, would it kill you – to disconnect from your phone for like 20 minutes, and then you can get wifi and catch up on all the funny videos you missed that your friends posted on Facebook or you can, oh, I don’t know, be disconnected!
  • Women who don’t check the toilet seat after you pee. Listen ladies, I get it – maybe there was something on the seat when you got in, so then you had to squat, which only made matters worse. But clean it up! You’re going to wash your hands after anyway (aren’t you?) so what’s the harm in paying it forward? Also, why are y’all squatting in the first place? You know the likelihood of you catching something from a toilet seat is crazy low – and if you’re that paranoid, just put some TP down first. That’s what I do – only because I don’t want to sit on a wet seat! Again, clean the damned seat. Please.
  • People who think that their bodies smell best when bathed, fully, in cologne or perfume. You are wrong. Whomever told you that you smelled nice was lying. They actually couldn’t stand close to you any longer than to tell you that you smelled nice and walked away. You have a cloud of scent around you – imagine Pig-Pen from the Peanuts. This is you. Just because its cologne doesn’t make people any more likely to want to stand next to you. Opposite effect. Not to mention people who actually have bananas allergies to all the crazy chemicals that go into those body sprays (although, help me, I do miss finding a spray bottle of Jean Nate in my stocking at Christmas.)

That’s all for now but there are more brewing, I can feel it!