Anything We Want
Tommy had met my mother before, and Ally, and he was good with them. He knew about their relationship before he met them, and I think he was nervous about meeting lesbians, but they’re simply not the kind of people that you stay nervous about. Well, maybe if you’re a craftsman who has crossed them, there would be cause for nervousness, but a young innocent like Tommy only received hugs and squeezes and compliments.
The first time they met, Tommy spent a spring afternoon showing us all ‘his’ woods, and later showed us around downtown. Tommy’s humor is subtler than mine, but just as cutting, and he led us on for fifteen minutes while he took us to Lesbian Leap, which he called a steep spot over the river. He was absolutely deadpan all the way there, and when we arrived, the broken sign read Les on the top line, and Lea underneath, but the faded sign painted on the old structure there Lespan’s Lead, which was a company not there anymore, and Tommy claimed dyslexia as my mother and Ally beat him about the head.
Tommy was more interested in my comment about my father’s job.
“Really? He found a job? Does that mean you’re moving?”
I said, “My father worked once, and he didn’t hate it. Not that much.”
“What’s the job?” Tommy asked. “Does it mean you’re moving?”
I said, “It’s like mechanical, Tom. Very technical. I doubt you’d understand.”
“I understand technical,” Tom insisted. “You didn’t tell me if you’re moving yet.”
“Not yet,” I said. “The job is all involved with machinery, water, heat and chemicals.” I looked Tommy’s stare down. “It’s probably dangerous.”
“Wow!” was Tom’s thoughtful reply, and I think a hunger pang hit him when I had one. That bag of chips disappeared, and the Cheez Whiz jar was shiny clean after our little frenzy.
My father showed up then, and smiled when he saw Tommy, who he really liked. He looked at me and said, “We’re all set. They’ll be here Wednesday.”
I knew he meant my mother and Ally, and before I commented, I saw that Tommy knew, too.
“So, Tommy,” Dad said. “Has Paul told you all about our adventure up north?”
I gave Tom a very dirty look, which he received nobly. “Um, no sir,” he said faithfully.
My father’s glance at me was suspicious, but there was a long list of reasons for that. He looked at Tommy and said, “We’re buying a Laundromat!”
Tommy shot me a murderous look, then smiled meekly at my father. “My! A Laundromat! Just imagine: all that machinery, all that water, all that heat, and the chemicals! Oh, Lord, do be careful, Mr. Dunn.” He shot me a glance, “You too, meester Paul!”
Tom smirked at me, then turned and asked my dad, “Is it true that you ran over our next best Olympic hope? It was really tire against head?”
It was my father’s turn to glare at me, and he said threateningly, “Paul!”
I stood and stretched my arms, yawning. I looked at Tom and said, “You don’t want to hear it twice. Let’s get the crayons out and draw, so I’ll have something to show when my mother comes.”
After that day, I wondered where honesty ended and other things began. I am a grade-a, first class bullshitter, but my intent isn’t to deceive. No, I just try to disorient, to discombobulate, and to generally confuse people, but only on a humorous level. My problem, if it is a problem, is that I do it for my own entertainment, and don’t really care if anyone else thinks I’m funny, because I do.
I’m no Robin Williams, but I learned at an early age that it’s surprise that people find funny, so I say things out of the blue to surprise them. I laugh, guaranteed. If they do, that’s a bonus, and when people get a little bit used to me, they do laugh when I make funny.
Tom would get me back, that much I knew for sure. My dad might or might not, but he probably wouldn’t bother, because I was at least hugging the truth with what I told Tom.
It was back to school the next day, and nothing bad happened. The workload was reasonably light, like it usually was after a vacation week. Teachers have to get back in the groove too, so I was practically homework free on Monday and Tuesday, but I had some on Wednesday when my mother was coming, so I crammed what I could into a study hall.
Three people got off the bus where I did, and I was one of them. Tommy did too, of course, and also Shea Luellen, who was an unfriendly little guy. His family kept to themselves in a kind of beautifully overgrown log cabin up the hill behind our house. Shea was the oldest of the three Luellen kids, but still young-looking to be in high school, and the smallest kid there. Well, Shea is taller than Jeffrey Patenero, but Jeffrey is a friendly kid with dwarfism, who is liked, and even admired for his spirit, by everyone. Jeffrey has two brothers in school, Eliot and Jeremy, who are ironically two of the tallest kids there.
Nobody knew a lot about the Luellen family. They built their place around the same time my dad bought our house, and their house was kind of impressive. It was on a crag a few hundred feet above the river, and the front of it was mostly giant panes of glass, with a lot of decks. It was more-or-less an Alpine style place, but not quite like our own house up in Stockton.
Our house sprawled around the landscape, and there was no one view of it that gave you any idea at all how big it actually was. The Luellen’s place was big at first glance, kind of like an expression of wealth.
When we got off the bus, both Tommy and I said goodbye to Shea, and his response was a glance in our direction and a little wave. That was typical, though, so we gave it no thought, and when I saw a big Audi Q7 in our driveway, I let out a whoop and ran to it. My mother said Ally bought a new car, and that it was an Audi.
I was peering in through the side window, Tommy right behind me. “Wow,” he said. “I never saw one before!”
“Me either,” I said, and I tried the driver’s door, which was unlocked. I climbed in and sat in the beige leather seat, the fat steering wheel in my hand, and said, “Wow! I could get used to this.”
Tom got in the passenger side, and echoed my reaction. I don’t think I ever sat in a more comfortable car seat. I was grinning, because this wasn’t some ‘take me to church’ car. Nossir! This was the vehicle to drive straight to Hell when you wanted to give the Devil his due, and maybe free a bunch of souls while you’re there, because they’d be clamoring for a ride. Probably too late for most of them, but who knows, if their only sin was voluntarily driving a Taurus.
The car had obviously been there for quite some time, because it was cold and my teeth started to chatter even as I admired it, so I got out my side and gave the door a good slam, just to hear how it sounded. When I did that with Dad’s Jeep, something often fell off. Not this time, though. It was like slamming a bank vault closed.
When Tom and I turned to my door, Ally was there on the stoop with her hands on her cheeks. “Oh, my,” she said. “Oh, my!”
She took a step toward me, and I ran to her, and we fell into this great big hug. She was patting my head with one hand while she stroked my back with the other, and I just held on. “Look at you,” she said. “It looks like you’ve grown a foot just since Christmas.”
I looked down and said, “Nope. Still just two feet. It’s not like I’m not trying, and I did grow something else, but my pants only have one zipper.”
Ally’s laugh can be a real lion’s roar, and she let one out, and almost squeezed me to death in the process. “Oh dear,” she cried. “I believe your brain has been chilled enough, so let’s go in.”
I could feel the change between her and me when she looked at Tom, and she said, “Hello there, Thomas. You come in, too. I’ve been baking, and I have just the thing to change your pants size.”
“Where’s my mother?” I asked as soon as the door closed, then it dawned on me that Dad’s car wasn’t out there. “Where’s Dad?”
Ally gave me a look. “Your mother is here. Look around. Your father went to get some things for up north. He’ll be back.” She turned to Tommy and asked, “Do you like cheese? Because I made apple pie with about triple the amount of cheddar the recipe called for.”
I left them, and found my mother upstairs, just coming from a shower. She grinned and said, “Hi, handsome! Give me a minute, I’ll be right down.”
Not a chance for that minute. I got my hug from her first, and then I went to my room and put a sweater on before going back downstairs.
Tommy was at the kitchen table, holding off Ally, who had a fork piled high with pie aimed at his mouth. “No more!” he begged, and when Ally saw me she came my way. She held the fork out, and I ate it, It was wonderful. “More,” I said.
Ally pulled me toward Tom and said, cruelly if you ask me, “Your fat friend ate it all. All except for that one bite.”
Ally made me laugh. The thought of a fat Tommy Timek was funny right on the surface, because he wanted to gain weight and never could I just laughed. “Yeah, you’ll get Tom fat, but not me?” I looked down at myself and added, “I probably grew the second dick from eating all the wrong things. I’m kinda skinny, too, and Tom gets all the pie.” I looked at her, “Doesn’t seem fair.”
Ally smiled indulgently and said, “Silly boy. Do you honestly think I’d put that much effort into one pie?”
I smiled back. “I seriously don’t know what your limits are, Ally, but if there’s more pie, I’m right here.”
She nodded, turned around, and handed me a pie of my own, and I knew right then that I was free from ‘healthy’ eating for as long as my father was gone.
I don’t know how they do it, my mother and Ally. Mom is built small and thin. Ally is taller, and has a generous bosom, yet she’s all muscle. When my mother chooses a European vacation, it’s in a pampering city. When Ally chooses, it’s an Alp, and they hike up it.
Mom uses transit to get around in Boston. Ally walks, or she runs, or she bikes, or who knows? Maybe she leaps tall buildings in a single bound. She’s the editor, owner, and publisher of the Healthy Woman magazine, and all the crap enterprises that go with it. Maybe she thinks healthy women come from dead men, because she was surely trying to inflict diabetes onto Tom and me before we were old enough to drive.
My mother came into the kitchen just then, and we were lacking a proper welcome, so I stood and hugged her. Believe me, I loved that, because those mom hugs were the one big missing thing after the divorce.
Daily no more, and as close as I was with my father, I missed my mother something fierce, sometimes so much it hurt.
We hugged, and she gave me the little nose rub that she had done since she realized how much I loved snow. An Eskimo thing, supposedly, but between her and me, and not something we talked about.
When I was little, I could spread my legs and jump up, and kind of hang off her shoulders and hips, or my father’s. No more because I’d break her back, but I still loved knowing I was her little boy.
I don’t know. I think I’m current with my father, still like ten years old with my mother.
Well, I think, and I know, and it’s the truth. My father is Dad, and my mother is still Mommy in an unspoken way, and I don’t believe that will change soon. My parents both speak the truth to me, but I hear my father one way, and my mother another way entirely. Dad is my rock, my anchor, and his truth is that the world spins because it does. To him, it’s the acts of men that change things, not the winds of time.
I don’t think my mother disagrees with that, but she tends to believe that answers are found inside your own head, or on the rushing water, or perhaps in the rain, or hidden in the darkest forest.
She’s beautiful though, my mother. An innocent, and how many of those live past thirty? Mom has certainties, not fantasies.
I had pie right then, and cold milk, and I indulged myself until I couldn’t eat any more, and that equaled half a pie, not a whole one like Tommy. He was watching me, too, but I was helpless to eat even another bite, so I just shrugged and sat back, aware that I’d learned the meaning of the word replete.
I often think I should be fat, but I’m not. Everyone around me cooks, and they cook well, so I eat and enjoy eating. My mother is kind of a gourmet cook, but not a weird one. She’ll toss fifteen things into a frying pan and come up with boeuf a-la this or poulet a-la that, and it is always wonderful. My dad can cook too, but he does simpler things. Still, he never messes up, and I like his cooking.
Ally is capable of putting a decent meal together, but her specialty is baking, and her supreme specialty is breads. Her cakes and pies, her cookies, they’re all exceptional, but hot rye bread just from the oven isn’t even normal, and it’s so delicious I can’t think of a simile to describe it. Well, yum, but that’s pretty lame.
While I was eating, Ally made a pot of coffee, so we all sat at the table and talked.
It was a happy hour. I was with my good friend, my favorite mother, and Ally. It was cold outside and the wind was making noise, but our kitchen right then was bright and warm. It smelled wonderful too, and our conversation came easily.
When my dad came back, he joined us, and I was always amazed by how easy his demeanor could be with Mom and Ally. In a way, they had shattered his comfortable life when they got together, but he was either bright enough or enlightened enough to realize that they weren’t being malicious; they were just in love.
I wasn’t exactly tickled that my parents broke up, but they both had the sense and grace to keep me involved. I knew what was going on right after my mother told my father, and I was thirteen at the time. I mean, is there a worse age to learn that your mother is queer, has been, and that she’s stepping out with some other woman she met in town?
They kept my head screwed on, and I think doing that made my dad realize a lot of things. His anger got checked early-on by him trying to make me look at the situation in a positive light.
I did. I do. I try to.
It’s a complicated thing. I love both my parents, and I waver all the time as to who I’d rather live with, and I go back and forth sometimes. My father is a wonderful man, and he has a great sense for business, but he can be a space shot when it comes to me. I know he loves me, and I adore him, but we sometimes go at it, and I get mad and go stay with my mother.
Well, if Dad is a space shot, then my mother is the flight attendant. She’s a wonderful, warm, loving person, but if she decides a weekend in Tanzania sounds kind of charming, then that’s where we spend our weekend, and I don’t get to say boo. My own plans mean nothing at times like that. Yet, she’ll tell me to never forget the road home, because she’ll be there at the end of it.
I like her lack of logic, too, but I like my father’s real logic as well.
Tom and I left to ‘poke around’ which is the local term for getting away from your parents. We took the familiar trail down to the river, which seemed to be made of black water in winter, and blue water the rest of the year. I don’t have a color preference, but I do like having that river right there.
I guess I like all water, but rivers are more alive than lakes, and even more than oceans. Oceans and lakes sit there, all full of water. Rivers always, every second of every day, have water going by that has never before been seen where you’re standing, and it won’t come back. It’s one of nature’s best tricks.
Tom sat, and I sat beside him, and we watched the water flow by. We didn’t talk, because there was no need to. We were full of pie, warm from coffee, and content to sit silently for a little while.
It was a short while, because it was one very cold rock, and daylight was retreating rapidly, as it does in the hills. We went back across the road and said goodbye, then split for our own homes.
Ally and my mother were in the kitchen. My mother was stooped in front of the open refrigerator, exclaiming over the fact that there was no garlic. I tapped her shoulder, and when she turned to look at me, I reached in and retrieved a very large jar of chopped garlic.
She made a face because it wasn’t fresh, but when she turned the lid off and sniffed, it seemed to pass. She said, “Thank you, Paul,” as she stood.
I bowed a little, and took my coat off. “There’s a bottle of potatoes in there, too, and a jar toast for the morning.”
Ally snickered, and my mother cried, “Bottled toast? I bet your father loves it. Is it already buttered?”
I changed the subject. “What you making?”
Mom fluttered her hands and said, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe something Italian. I know you love Italian food.”
She had that part right. I got her a box of vermicelli when she asked where the pasta was, then went to my room to do my homework. I didn’t really have a lot, and was finished a half-hour later when my father stuck his head in and said, “Dinner’s ready.”
I didn’t have to hear that twice. I had the pie earlier, but the good smells from downstairs made me hungry again. I washed up quickly and hurried downstairs to the dining room, where I took my usual place at the table.
Ally had been busy. There was a basket of warm Italian bread that she’d just made, and we passed that around, followed by a butter dish. Then Ally brought in bowls of salad for each of us, and we started eating. Mom was in a minute later with a big bowl of vermicelli, which was cooked in oil and garlic, then she served chicken Tuscan style, which she called pollo toscano
It was good, too. Everyone except me had wine, and Dad gave a pretty good accounting of what he was doing up north, and explained the odd circumstances of how we met Elenora and Dana Morasutti.
My mother was caught up in the story, alternately gasping and laughing, and Ally kept looking at me. “What?” I finally asked her.
“Oh nothing,” she said. “It sounds like this Dana is quite an interesting friend for you.”
I thought about that, then smiled. “You could say that. He’s this kid so poor he steals sometimes, and he’s probably gonna make millions skiing if he stays out of trouble.”
“He’s really that good?” she asked.
I snickered. “Better. You know, maybe it’s because I know him, but I don’t think a single other person near his age can ski like him. That’s just me talking, and I don’t know a million other skiers, but I never saw anything like it. I know I got way, way better just from skiing with him.”
I could see Ally thinking, and she said, “You know, Paul, maybe Healthy Woman could for once do a story about a guy. It’s certainly compelling.”
I smiled, excited. “You mean it? I think Dana would do it.” I rethought that, and said, “He might, I mean. Tell Dad to ask him.”
My father looked up and asked, “Tell Dad what?”
Ally started talking to him, and my phone rang so I went into the living room to answer it.
It was Tommy, and he had awful news.
“I don’t know if you heard, but Jamie Jenks got killed today.”
I sat down quickly in my disbelief. Jamie Jenks was a senior at school, and well known and liked because he was so active in things. He played soccer, wrote about special activities for the school paper, played sax in the jazz combo, tutored kids in English, and seemed to be involved it every single thing that required organization.
I was stunned, and didn’t really want the answer, but I asked, “How?”
Tom’s voice was low and sad. “It’s gruesome. He went to where his dad was working, and they were talking when some truck’s brakes let go.” Tom sniffed, “He died right in front of his father, Paul.”
I felt the floodgates about to open, and managed, “Thanks for calling, Tom. I gotta go.”
I put my phone in my lap and just stared at nothing. I only knew Jamie casually, but I admired him. My father knew his father, though. Mr. Jenks had done the major restoration of the house I was sitting in. That happened before we bought the place, but Dad talked to him frequently when he had questions, and had hired him several times for subsequent alterations.
The Jenks were a very old-line Vermont family, and their original ancestor in this country had fought with Ethan Allen to secure Vermont as a state within its rightful borders.
I felt sad and lost there in the room by myself, but I also felt powerless to seek solace in the other room, where cheerful conversation was still going on. I think the time alone did me good. I cried, pictured Jamie in my mind, and cried some more. Not so much for Jamie, but because he was close to my age, and gone just like that. I heard about kids around the world being killed all the time, and even kids around me, but Jamie’s death hit too close to home, because I actually knew him. I wouldn’t have to look at the news on television to learn the face
I cried not only for Jamie, but also my own mortality, which suddenly felt dear and uncertain.
There was a sudden silence in the other room, and my mother’s voice came from the door. “Paulie? What? What’s wrong?”
I looked through my tears, and she was just starting to kneel in front of me, and Dad and Ally were behind her.
“A kid from school got ... got killed today.”
There was a collective gasp, and they all asked me conflicting questions, so I started crying again. Who? What happened? When? Do we know them? I heard the questions, but it took me awhile, and a slug of sherry that Ally offered, for me to wire down enough to tell them.
They were all horrified, of course, but Dad took it especially badly because he knew Mr. Jenks, and had met Jamie. He went to sit in a corner chair to deal with his own emotions.
That left my mother and Ally to fuss over me, and I guess there was some comfort in that, but I really just wanted to be alone, and I finally said so.
“Okay, dear,” my mother said, stroking my cheek. “It’s probably best if you just go up to bed.” She leaned in close and kissed my forehead. “If you have a bad dream or anything … oh, just wake us up.”
I went and got a hug from Dad, and he was picking up the phone before I turned around, no doubt to call the Jenks home.
Mom took my hand, and we went up the stairs together. I was happy for her company, and when we got to my door I tugged her in with me. I sat on my bed and untied my shoes, then kicked them off.
Mom asked, “Want me to go now?”
I shook my head. “Stay.”
She sat beside me and put her arm around my back. “I know it’s awful, Paulie. It always is. It’s unfortunate for everyone, but it happens, and sudden death is one of life’s huge uncertainties.” She stroked my shoulder and said gently, “People die, Paul. You will lose friends to accidents, illness, many reasons, and you’ll always feel bad.”
She pushed me back gently until I was on my back, and I put my feet up so they wouldn’t hang off in space, then she leaned back on her elbow beside me. “I’m sorry about your friend, but it will be alright in time.” She stroked my cheek and said, “You’re doing the right thing, sweetheart. Stay by yourself awhile, then go to the funeral and share your feelings. It’s incredibly sad, but we do get past these things.”
I looked at her, wanting to disbelieve, but I knew she was right. I turned away from her and said, “I think I want to be alone now.”
She kissed my cheek, stroked my shoulder, and whispered, “Of course you do. I love you, Paul.”
I meant to say the same thing, but choked on the words, and she left me there.
I sat up, took my clothes off, and got under the covers.
Alone was good, as I contemplated the sometime suddenness of death, and the special cruelty involved when a boy died in front of his own father.
I didn’t last long, and sleep took over soon enough. I don’t recall having bad dreams, but I was still sad when I woke up. I was off on my timing. The water in my shower was cooling off before I remembered to take the soap to myself, and I guess I was just generally messed up.