I’m crying because I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because I’m crying. I wish I could cry myself to sleep.
I haven’t been sleeping well since graduation. I usually fall asleep around six o’clock in the morning, and I wake up around eight o’clock in the evening. This is no way for a person to live.
So and so are going through much worse. Don’t worry, I completely understand. Who has time for me? I need a simple answer.
I’m afraid of sleeping pills. I had to quit some things recently. I am trying to put some things behind me and back together again. I have been clean and sober since graduation. Sometimes, we pick funny times to break bad habits. I used to abuse the powders that firemen use to put out fires. Hot showers, exotic teas, and over-the-counter aids don’t work. I am wide awake.
I talked to my dad today. He woke me up early. We went for a walk in the park. We don’t spend much time together. These occasions are rare. When they happen, they must mean something? What’s the worst thing I can say?
My dad is sixty-three years old. We’re both wearing our puffy jackets. We’re shy with each other. It’s very cold. We probably shouldn’t be outside. It’s that cold. We know this, but where’s the time?
Tell me. Go find me the time. But there’s no time. Not really. Hairlines recede. Bones become brittle. Faces grow pale.
And, my dad says, “You know that your problems are my problems, too, right?”
And, I say, “But, that’s not fair—that’s not fair to you, dad. You don’t deserve my problems. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
And, then, again: “You didn’t do anything wrong.” I am repeating myself. This is how things get done around here. How former athletes break into your home, the way children dance.
But my dad says that’s just what happens when you become a parent. Your child’s problems become your problems, too. This is obvious information. My dad says I don’t have a choice.
It is a bad idea when people have lots of kids. A lot of kids, a lot of problems. That’s too many problems to inherit.
My dad says, “I love you.” My dad says, “You didn’t do anything wrong––you did not.” My dad says, “Please, trust me, please.”
It’s the end of the year and I have nothing going on. A job. I have nothing to show off. A beautiful girlfriend. I have nothing to be proud of. A fancy new sports car. Sunglasses on, brand new hairstyle, worry free––absolutely no worries in the world.
It took six years to complete college. Inside my head, a married couple with kids negotiates a vicious trial separation. Last weekend, six hundred milligrams of aspirin scattered on the kitchen counter laughed back at me. I chickened out. It’s really none of my business.
And, my dad says, “Remember all your little league games? Right there?” He is pointing to the field in front of us. The field where I played Little League Baseball. These are called pathetic memories.
“Yes, I remember,” I say, “but I wish I didn’t.”
“You remember,” he says. “You remember those salad slices? Down the street? At Smiley’s? After your little league games? The fruit punch?”
“Yes, I remember,” I say, “I loved their fruit punch. I loved those salad slices…. I still do,” I add, on the verge of tears, almost.
A dream I managed to catch––the only one since May, the only one I can remember––sticks to me like a bad idea. In the dream, my childhood bedroom was down in the basement. I was sharing the room with my older brother. We never shared a room. Not in real life.
My older brother lives in Los Angeles. On the phone, he complains about traffic. In person, I largely complain about lack of sleep. Stuck in traffic, my brother is going insane––slowly, torturously. Agitated and disturbed, I toss and turn.
This is dedicated to all the siblings going crazy. The rest is for me. That’s only fair.
In the dream, the pipes must’ve burst. A hurricane had been unleashed. Water flooded our bedroom. We splashed around in it. Things were simpler. I was enjoying myself. We were small.
I am small now. This is the edge of the world. This is that edge. The park.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I tell my father the dream doesn’t matter. It’s just a stupid dream. I like it when rain hits you so hard it hurts. I tell my father I like it when rain hits you so hard it hurts. I tell him I’m so lonely it hurts. Tell him I’m worried I’ll never be able to love myself. Tell him I’m worried. Maybe I should go away somewhere? I really don’t know what to do with myself. But he says that’s not necessary. “That’s not necessary,” he says. I say I’ve always wished we were from California. “I’m sorry,” I say, “but it’s true.” Things are different over there, in California. Anywhere but here––you know that, dad!
My life: hard, difficult. That’s what I’m trying to say, basically.
Tell him I’m so tired. Tell him I don’t think I can walk anymore.
But, he yells back, “Come on! This way! Follow me!”
I already know where we’re going. I grew up down the street. My father is ignoring me. My father is a captain. These are drills. This is practice. Stuck in my ways, my father is having his. I can use my legs some more. Help me help you help us.
My father says, “You gotta get up in the mornings. If you don’t get up, who are you? You’re nothing. You gotta show up. You gotta love yourself. You gotta start having fun. You gotta stop thinking about it. You gotta get it outta your head.”
“But I get up in the mornings, I do. I show up. I love myself. I have fun. I don’t think about it anymore. It’s out of my head.”
Later, at night, I watched The Exorcist on our flat-screen TV. The scariest scene is the carotid angiography scene. Our flat-screen TV is big and new.
Dad sits down and watches with me. We drink gin and tonics. We rediscover marijuana. We’re explorers. As of this moment, I’m not clean and sober anymore. It was a hard day. I’m just with my dad. Give me a break.
We hear the new neighbors next door. We make up stories about them. We laugh. He gets scared. He goes to bed.
But, before he goes upstairs, before he goes to bed, I stop him. I say, “Dad, please forgive me.” I don’t want to take yes for an answer.
“But…. I’m not mad at you,” he responds, buzzed, confused.
This is my father. This is December. This next year could be the year a young man grows.
I say goodnight. He leaves me alone. It begins snowing hard.
Recently, I got rid of all the bad phone numbers I had. All my friends’ numbers. I kept my family. I was mad at my friends. They didn’t care enough. They weren’t there anymore.
I remember, in third grade, a little girl named Yessenia suffered a heart attack in front of us. The whole classroom. She flopped like a big fish on the dirty carpet. I remember, in fourth grade, a new girl named Denise. She wouldn’t stop talking about her deceased father. Her father was a veteran, but he was shot on the street, in America. It was gang-related. She wouldn’t stop.
I remember the end of grade school.
On the edge of my bed, my father disclosed that he was possibly bisexual. It was a sit-down. Some would say this was inappropriate, but I just call it the truth. After my father’s first boyfriend, my mother left. She was on fire. I saw her on the weekends. I see her on the weekends. That works best for her. She’s really busy. Her schedule is crazy. Her cell phone reception is bad. After all these years.
In the middle of every night, real people making real mistakes in the real world come knocking on our doors, begging forgiveness, and we turn them away. They want to be exonerated, but we terminate them with extreme prejudice. They are crawling. What a shame. We should be ashamed of ourselves. They are not filthy clowns. They are filthy memories, behavioral patterns, events. A million fun-sized psychological profiles. We turn them away, even in December. When it’s this cold. I’m inside, indoors, and I’m still freezing. They really would do anything to be vindicated. Why don’t you like me?
And, sure, I can’t sleep at night, but I will sleep tonight, successfully.
For my dad. For me. For all our sakes.