Things I Remember

My earliest memory is set in a living room I don’t otherwise recognize outside of old photographs. I sat in a cardboard box, and my dad pulled it around on the carpet like a car or a spaceship or like the little brown box it was.

I remember my dad’s drunk friend showing up every Christmas as Santa Claus, complete with a giant bag full of stuff. He would always pose for photos and pull out a couple gifts before staggering outside. I believed in Santa far longer than I should have.

I remember being infuriated with my stepdad and storming off to my room. I remember shouting “Shut Up” at the door, accidentally teaching my baby brother those same words. I remember frantically trying to get him to forget them.

I remember my stepdad flinging a briefcase down a hallway and catching my mother in the square of her back.

I remember my stepdad hosting a charity drive for poor children for Christmas and how I became Santa Claus for those kids. I wonder if they believed in Santa longer than they should have, too.

I remember my dad taking me on a shopping spree at Toys R Us. I remember how he let me break the spending cap. I remember how he smelled of sweat when he came home from work and hugged me tight, and how much I loved it.

I remember how he swore at me as I begged him to get up from my best friend’s lawn where he had drunkenly passed out in the middle of the day, and how he still swore at me as the ambulance loaded him in.

I remember the drunk, angry voicemail he left me weeks ago.

I remember finding out he adopted me despite knowing I was the product of an affair, and how he did his best to push his demons aside to try to be a father to me while his relationships crumbled.

I remember finding out I was adopted, on Valentine’s Day, days after losing my virginity, days after being broken up with.

I remember the way my grandmother (adopted) paused while getting milk out of the fridge when I told her my mom said my dad wasn’t my dad. I remember her confirming it. I remember every second of the bike ride to the mall to the only friends I had.

I remember telling them, “Well, I’m a bastard,” and my friends saying, “Well, yeah,” before realizing what I was saying.

I remember wanting to kill myself for the first time. I was in elementary school.

I remember the first drink I ever had. I was twelve years old, staying at my stepdad’s place to visit my little brother and little sister. I snuck up to the kitchen, to the OFF LIMITS liquids. I picked the bottle I liked most, a beautiful blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin. I remember filling a paper cup with it and trying to drink it like water and feeling like I was dying as it went down my throat. I remember gagging and coughing into the sink and drinking water straight from the faucet. I remember not being able to drink gin again for a decade.

I remember writing my biological father a letter when I was 16. I remember the letter he wrote back, though I lost it, and I should care, but I don’t, but I really do? I remember my mother coming up to my date and me at my brother’s birthday party. “He wants to meet you, but only after a paternity test. But he doesn’t want to pay for the test. I don’t know what to tell you, Jered, but if he’s not your father, I don’t know who the fuck is.” I remember my date taking my hand at that, and I remember falling in love for the first time.

I remember. I remember being bullied for liking comic books, and I remember how bitter I was when comic book movies became regular box office record breakers because now it was popular to like nerdy things. I remember 7th grade and breaking the arm of a kid who picked on me. I felt nothing.

I remember frantically running down the stairs as my (adopted, though I didn’t know it at the time and though it has never changed much in the grand scheme of things, I’m doubly irritated that he leaves angry drunk voicemails for me now) dad tried to escape my abusive stepmother. I remember how I didn’t see either of them for years, and how they put each other in prison, and how they moved to Belize, and how she died and I felt nothing because she was horrible to my grandparents, and because she once tried to gouge my dad’s eye out with a key. I remember how she broke his nose with a lamp while he slept. But she was his soulmate. I get it even while it makes no sense.

I remember moving to Los Angeles with no place to live, no job, no friends but the two men I left with, and hardly any money. I remember thinking I had the world in the palm of my hand. I remember my grandmother.

I remember my grandmother.

I remember how she always blamed an addiction or a circumstance and never a person. I remember when you knew she was frustrated to the point of tears, because she swore, and nothing hurt me more than hearing her swear. I remember her being the embodiment of Christianity, spoiling Christianity for me because I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone else who had an unshakeable, pure, unconditionally loving nature the way that she did. I remember saying at the church, at her memorial service, that she was the Christian Jesus wanted people to be and that no one else present could come close.

I remember the phone call when I found out she’d had a hard attack, and the last 30 seconds I ever got to speak to her, and how the last thing I told her was a lie: that my books were best-sellers, that I was flush with money, that I was going to be just fine, because I remember, too, that even on her death bed she was more concerned with the well-being of others.

God, I miss her so much.

I remember my grandfather and how he hated driving, and how he was a low-key road-rager. I remember how every time I was about to step out of the front door, he told me to be one of the good guys, and I’ve tried. I remember that my grandmother and I had it out a lot, but it was when my grandfather got mad at me and expressed his disappointment that I felt I had failed the most.

I remember when I was moving to Los Angeles and my grandmother was fretting because my plan was quarter-boiled that my grandfather told me he was proud of me because his children never took advantage of their natural talents and I was trying, at least.

I remember my sophomoric graduation speech. I remember winning Prom King, and I remember desperately clinging to that because I’ve never felt I deserved it, and because it felt for years like proof that people thought I was worth something after years of thinking I wasn’t worth anything.

I remember being broke in Los Angeles. A Canadian lighting tech groupie bought me two-for-one tacos from Jack in the Box so I could eat. I remember taking a British woman to the beach, and vomiting because I was hungover, and burying that vomit in the dirt because I was a 21 year old moron. I don’t think she saw me. She might read this, though.

I remember being broke in Los Angeles and how $25 was two weeks worth of food. Two-for-one cans of pork and beans. I remember my surrogate Colombian family who rented me a room occasionally knocking on the door for homemade food, because they were some of the best people I have ever met.

I remember falling in love in Los Angeles. I remember the first time she told me she loved me, when I was standing between her legs while she sat on a pool table in a bar, just before I left to pick up my friend and bring him out with us. I remember how embarrassed she was at letting it slip, and how she refused to take it back. I remember the weight of her head on my chest as she told me she saw us together for a long time. I remember our terrible break-up. I remember how she told me I wasn’t the guy she thought I was.

I haven’t been in a genuine relationship since, though I remember missing out on some genuinely amazing women.

I remember falling in love. One. Two. Three. Four. Five times, and having so much goddamn love besides.

I remember wanting to kill myself at 22. I remember writing my first book instead, and how I emailed my outline to my Advanced Placement Language and Composition teacher and how he said he thought it might make one solid book, and how it turned into a complex, sprawling half-a-million-words trilogy.

I remember having a fling with a woman in Denver that I thought could be it. I remember finding out it wasn’t. I remember writing my fourth book, one I had never planned on writing, one that I didn’t enjoy, and I remember publishing it, and I remember people seeming to love it while I hated it. I remember not feeling like I got closure at all.

I remember fucking up. A lot.

I remember crying. A lot.

I remember wanting to end it.

I haven’t.

I remember the first time someone asked me for an autograph. I remember the first time someone asked me for writing advice. I remember the first time someone asked me how to get through the day.

I remember the first time she told me she loved me. And the first time she did. And then when she did. And her. Her, also.

I remember realizing that none of them probably did, and that maybe I’ve never been loved.

But I’ve been read. And heard. And experienced, for better or for worse.

I remember every plane ride. To different states, to different countries. I remember every bed, air mattress, futon, couch, and floor I’ve slept on. I remember basically being homeless for two years.

I remember drinking a bottle of 99 Bananas and a bottle of Jack Daniels (right up until I don’t) and sobbing into my knees and passing out on a floor when I found out my grandfather had passed.

I can’t quite shake that one. I called a woman a bitch who didn’t deserve it. I’ve done a lot of terrible things.

I remember looking at myself in the mirror. Tired. Drunk. On drugs. Filled with hope. I remember writing poetry for people. I remember writing poetry for myself. I remember making love. I remember fucking.

I remember going to Red Lodge, Montana and going through thousands of photos in my deceased grandparents’ house and realizing with fullness that they adopted, essentially, a fourth child to raise to adulthood after having their own separate life raising three kids. I remember feeling like I was an outsider, then, undeserving of a family who never planned on but always accepted me. I’ve remembered damn near everything.

Damn near every awful, shameful, accomplished,hopeful, well-intentioned, mistaken, loving, intimate, selfish, charitable, cruel thing that I’ve done. I’ve remembered. I remember.

My mind and my memory never shut

The

Fuck

Up.

“Be one of the good guys.” Bompa, the world is a hard place. I’m just trying to be the best guy I can.

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The Hallway

This was supposed to be a poem. Turns out I’m no poet but a rambler, a gambler hanging on to the hope that I can slap words together into a thought which may become an idea which might become a feeling which hopefully becomes a memory. Just a bunch of letters running a current through it. IT’S ALIVE, I want to shout at a crumpled page on a flat surface, hoping I can get you to see what I echo.

I want to write about rooms, and how they’re different spaces, with a varying number of walls and breaks for windows and doorways leading to different places. But they’re all functionally the same: storage quarters for your yesterdays and tomorrows and (if you’re lucky) jam-packed with the presents of the present, evidence of the life you’re living.

At the back of my mind, there’s a hallway. Always carpeted, though the color shifts from a deep maroon to the golden orange of a desert. The Sahara, maybe, and mostly on days I wake up without a hangover. Maroon the rest of the time, though, the shade of a passionate melancholy. The rest is white. White doors set in white walls lined up on either side, and probably with a white ceiling, but I seem to only look up when there’s sky involved, so I can’t be certain.

Your door was different, as happens sometimes when the heart gets touched and the mind goes AWOL. Dark frames and purple lipstick stains. Was it purple, the first time I met you? Black? I remember the first notes that powered out of your throat and the smile you lent me and the look you gave me and the memory twists a bit through the pages of the past, but the feeling remains the same. And black. Black always suited you, though you looked good in other colors, in any colors, you always looked good, but you like black, so black it was and goodness, how it never looked so bright.

Your fucking door in my fucking hallway in the back of my damned mind. I want to be bitter at that discolored room of memories. I want to rail against it, tear the door down and declare it condemned. But even now, as always, as ever, I simply hurt and remember.

I remember that in this room there were monuments sculpted carefully from marble. Memories in stone, the way one would capture a screenshot, or a painting, or a Venus de Milo. I never noticed the cracks near the base. Didn’t realize until much later that it was probably my chisel that put them there. It seemed fine, until they collapsed and were ground down into a powder as fine as the sand of the beach we drank wine at. That beach, with the slowly coursing water, the wild before us: open space and towering mountains. The wind blowing your hair into your face and the sand into our cups so that each deep draw of wizened grapes came with an extra helping of the earth that birthed us.

I remember the way you would look away when someone complimented you and the smile you couldn’t keep from your lips at the same time you told me to stop. I remember our first kiss and our last. I remember the way your eyebrows would rise and your jaw would drop whenever you heard a particularly shocking or offensive joke or story and how it quickly slipped through to your stomach for a hearty laugh.

I remember you. I do.

Do you have a hallway? Are there rooms? Is there a room for me? Musty and abandoned, slick with oil and caution signs? Are there lights in there? Even a candle? Hell, a firefly?

I remember the way you used to look at me. I remember the shyness that rolled off someone not so very shy at all.

And even if I remember a very different kind of attraction, I remember too the sugary words you set at my table that I never would have used for myself. I remember your kindness and your generosity. I remember the ears you used to listen and the arms that wiped the weight off my shoulders, the confidence you lent down as a ladder when I was in a pit. The way you knew to give me pause and space because you could sense a bad day in me.

I remember you kissed me first, that second go-around. I remember being an absolute fucking wreck of a human being and being the straw that broke your back.

But in this bare room with the phantoms of past years and the barest traces of your glance, your touch, your voice… in this room with faded and battered photos of your art and influence, there’s a single bust remaining: a head tilted back with a soft laugh silently gurgling forth.

“You’re in love with love. You’re not in love with me.”

I am, and I wasn’t. Maybe I could have been, I could have been, but far beyond anything else, you were my best friend and it was that that I valued so deeply. I told you things I couldn’t tell anyone else. I cried to you and you let me, and you cried in return. Time would stop between us while hours flew by elsewhere while we talked about nothing and everything. You were my friend, and I miss that so very much, but never more than when I see you and your eyes can’t even find mine anymore and our lives have grown fathoms apart. I feel things in oceans, and I’ve yet to find the surface for a breath of whatever air will make me stop hurting for driving you away.

I miss your friendship. I miss you.

This hallway and its rooms are bullshit, but the door on yours in particular has a faulty hinge and never seems to close all the way.

More’s the pity. I wish you well from Hell.