I now wonder if I was being too harsh on a simple book.
I gave it some time, and grabbed Volume One this afternoon. That might be a new record of mine for breaking promises. I promised to never look at those books again, for less than a week.
This was a new start. I shouldn’t have to think about what happened so many years ago, or so many years in the future? Heck, I shouldn’t even have to think about how I’m weird, beyond the skin and scars all over my body. Life is easier when you can deny that you are an immortal, time-travelling space demon. Life is easier when you can forget.
But as much as I want to say that I’m pretty normal and that fate isn’t real, I can say that these last few days have been weird. Weird enough to lead up to now, and me getting started on Chapter One.
It all started with a run up to the highest hill in town. I tend to do that a lot, but those runs are always the best on cool autumn afternoons, such as six days ago. Although I still had to get back home, I wiped the sweat off my brow and appreciated half the job well done. And on such a gorgeous autumn day!
In fact, I took a couple of minutes to appreciate the town of Riverview from that high point. The golden sunset and fiery-colored trees colored the town in a warm palette that even I could appreciate. I was never much of a painter. I outsourced the illustrations for my comic book side-projects to someone better at that. But I knew which colors worked, and those worked for that town.
It took me a while to feel my phone vibrating, even close to me in the waistband of my pants. By the time I got it out, the call had gone to voicemail. The number? Unrecognized, though I knew the area code pointed to Middlesex. I tend not to answer those sorts of calls, but curiosity got the better of me that afternoon.
It says leagues when I can recognize his voice as it was when he was young, because all I knew dad was him as an old man. An undying old man who fathered his first child late in life. His voice didn’t escape the aging process either. It had a scratchy quality from age, but even then, it was easy to tell that he once had the buttery smooth voice of a radio announcer. And that is what the voicemail sounded like.
Joanna, I know it’s been a while, but you’re the only one who’s vain enough to still be public. Your writing hasn’t changed a bit! I just need 30 grand, and only five of it will go towards booze and condoms, I promise. The rest is for bail…they nabbed me on some bogus drug charges. I think you know the drill by now. I’ll see who will kick my ass later when I inevitably don’t pay you back for it. Anyways, nice to speak to you again, Jellybean!
Plus his bank credentials. I guess he felt confident in his guess that I indeed was myself.
That bastard. I wanted you out of my life first. You shit on the path I had to walk on too, and I made you well-aware of that. Everyone else, awful or not, heeded every request to leave me alone. Right now, that’s still true.
So I have been putting that off.
It might be too harsh to say “I want my dad to rot in jail,” though. I have complicated feelings in general, and left alone, I sometimes think things like that. But I think that thinking is my biggest problem.
I don’t talk about my issues to others for a good reason. Five years ago, or far into the future, I stared into a time portal with its main operator holding on to my shoulder. It was her best attempt to be supportive. Perhaps it was also her best attempt at that when she said the only people who will care about Joanna Waverly back in the past are those who will destroy you. And you’ve caused us enough grief already. So no talking. But she said it with such severity that, yes, I had to listen that time.
I don’t know where she is, or where she put her time portal. Far away from me, I bet. But I listened, even to this day. I don’t talk about everything that bothers me.
Does it explain the pain I always feel? No doubt that it does.
Nothing can scare me into breaking that, at least not without a lot of force. She made the consequences sound scary, even with such a vague enemy to use as leverage. So here I have been for five years, scared into silence. No one knows my name at birth or even my favorite ice cream flavor, let alone the dark secrets (and wonders!) of living in the 23rd century and beyond. Facing living for eternity with a bunch of actual sour demons.
But I always had the family, right? I wish.
It goes back to one day back then, when I was in my 20’s for the first time. We had a greenhouse off to the side, where Annette grew her garlic and Sarah grew her heirloom plums. The latter spent the most time in there, caring for her plants or enjoying tea under the shade of her fruit trees. I walked in there one afternoon to one of Sarah’s many tea sessions. In spite of it being in the dirt of her garden, she still wore a skirt and the blue silk bow she always tied around her hair. She also brought Lydia, her mother, along for a cup of sweet spearmint tea.
“We have enough for one more,” said Sarah, with her usual kind smile. I declined, and instead hung out by her oldest tree. It started out fun. Lydia and I had a good laugh about Mayor Dracut’s flub at her speech at a community event earlier that week. And although I declined a cup of my own, the tea smelled excellent.
But I wish I was just there for small-talk.
“Can I just be honest about some things?” I asked them. Either of them, really.
“Like we ask for something else from you guys,” Lydia said, with a slight chuckle.
“We thought you’d be like-” Sarah stopped herself with that one, but it caught my attention anyways. I tried to continue with the conversation, though, as if I didn’t notice.
“So…it is that. Lately I’ve been feeling like you guys think I’m trying to sabotage things around here. And you’re not passed out yet.” If memory recalls, Annette was passed out drunk in the dining room, and we elected to ignore her.
It got Sarah and Lydia to talk quietly to each other, as I tried to respect their privacy. Some insects had gotten into Sarah’s trees, and I listened to them instead. They buzzed a little, and considering that it was summer, a group of cicadas took to screaming their song outside.
Was it something offensive I was ignoring? Of course. But Sarah tried her best to present it with some grace and tact when she looked up at me.
“You and I both know that your dad has…issues,” she said. “And he’s my son! I try to love him, but he was also one of the worst people I dealt with. And the thing is, Lydia and I don’t want you to be like him. You can do so much better than that.”
“Fair enough,” I said.
“And I’d rather not have a copy of that two-timing bitch Willow,” Lydia muttered. Willow being the first name of my mother. She had her issues too, but fewer of them and ones I didn’t mind much. Also, at that point, it hadn’t been that long since her untimely death.
I just pouted a bit at them. “Well, I hope I can be better.”
“I think you will be,” Lydia said, as she poured herself another cup.
I left them alone. Although the door to the kitchen from the greenhouse was glass, I hoped they wouldn’t see me crying on the other side. As it turned out, I expected the most support from those two. Like I would expect love and support from a drunk and a difficult cynic. Or my dad.
It came at a bad time too.
I wandered into my bedroom, and praised some higher being that it was empty. Someone else liked to call it his too. The lingering smell of his favorite hair products made me cry even more. I can’t say I felt conflicted about him, but more about how to deal with him. For someone who I was sure I hated on most levels, what path was there? I mulled over extreme and tame solutions, and none seemed to fit. I could kill him. I could suck it up. I hated both options and all the others I had at the time.
But related to him, and related to the awful truth bomb Lydia and Sarah dropped on me, I fell into a dark depression. The week before? I gained a painful scar on my belly after forcing two bottles of paracetamol down. I expected something worse, but the doctor said that my liver was fine. That it was a bloody miracle that I escaped with it looking like my skin was cracked porcelain.
Our issues ran far and deep, and that is why my chest and face are cracked up now too. And I can’t hide those as well. I can’t talk, especially not about those. No one would believe that I am an immortal mongrel, who survived gunshots with just broken skin.
But I thought about it that night, letting all my scars breathe. Before that, I kept rearranging my Eight Cicadas volumes, as fitting the doorstoppers into the shelf is difficult. I just have so many other books to cram in there too.
I even left the first volume on the coffee table. I acted timid around it, curling up into a ball before thinking of touching it again. The whole thing contains a lot of horrors I wish I didn’t have to think about…ones I wish I could talk about, though. Ones I could release like pressurized steam. To whom? The family won’t listen. They seemed to always think of me as being a little too close to my dad, as in, being anything like him at all. And if they’d hang up on my dad, who says they’d give me more pity?
I’m afraid of everyone.
But the reason I’m reading this book right now is because I can’t fear myself nearly as much.