Tales from the Midwest

We are layer upon layer wrapped around mystique. Daughter, Student, Painter, Mystery. Son, Brother, Pot-Enthusiast, Mystery. Wife, Mother, Manic-Depressive, Mystery. Guess which one of these pieces is closest to the truth.
Me? I was just sitting at a bus stop. The Midwest heat was taking what little energy I had left and sucking it out of every pore in my body. I was leaving the gym. I'd won a free year membership through some contest at work and decided this was a great chance to do a million machine-assisted crunches so I wouldn't be embarrassed in my swimsuit when the pools opened next week. There was a kid sitting down the bench from me with music radiating out of his ear buds. I could only imagine how loud it was in his head. I couldn't get all the words, but the few I picked out were 'bitches and hoes' and something about 'bling'. He was wearing huge shorts and a white t-shirt that was almost a dress, but he had the long, lithe fingers of an artist. Somehow I doubted those potentially creative hands were being put to good use. He just didn't seem like a 'paint-splattered' kind of guy.
The bus arrived and hissed its way to a stop. The guy strutted his way onto the bus ahead of me, in a somewhat chicken-like fashion. I sat down behind a tittering Jewish mother and a lanky teenaged boy who seemed very intimidated by the small woman. She was tiny, but far from meek. She was berating him about making 'rash decisions' and 'did he want to send his mother to the grave early? oi veh.' The boy sunk steadily lower and lower down into his seat. I settled in and watched the scenery while I contemplated the word 'rash'. I was pretty sure it had started out as the word 'brash' as in 'brash decisions' but 'rash' made sense as well. Was the B added on or was it lost somewhere along the way? Did anyone else notice this type of thing? Probably not.
The 'scenery' wasn't much. Tan house, tan duplex, brown house, white house, another tan house but a slightly altered tan from the one before. Really green lawn, lawn with brown patches, lawn with flowers, impeccably manicured lawn. Other people got on the bus along the way, but no one particularly memorable. Little boy with his thin mother, teenage girl with shopping bags, old lady with a funny smell, middle-aged man with trouble counting his fare, old man with a funny smell but a different funny smell than the old woman. The bus finally came to my stop and I walked up past the Jewish mother who was pinching her son around the ribs and talking about brisket, and through both clouds of funny old person smell. After tripping over the teenage girls various shopping bags that had spilled into the aisle, I tipped my head to the surly bus driver and stepped off.
I threw by bag and purse over the fence and hopped down after them. Our gate was definitely ancient and stuck like the worst kind of 'gum on shoe' incident. It would creak and howl at me, and honestly I just didn't want to deal with its shit today. As soon as my sneakers touched soft grass, there was an equally soft creature jumping at my legs. It was Georgie begging for his after school attention and hoping for the treat I usually gave him to get him off my back so I could get dinner started. Georgie was a yipping, snapping little schnauzer with ruddy red and gray fur. I wasn't usually a very big fan of schnauzers, or any little kinds of dogs for that matter, but Georgie and I had struck up a sort of unlikely companionship. My mom had bought him on a whim and, after spoiling him for about a week and a half, got tired of him and proceeded to ignore him completely. The little schnauzer and I could bond in the neglect.
The front door was locked so I went around the garage to the side. I let myself in through the laundry room. It was so dim inside the house that I stubbed my tow on the washer and then tripped over Georgie, who had scurried in after me, still yipping for his afternoon treat. Finally I did the smart thing and just stood still until my eyes adjusted. I grabbed a doggie treat from the shelf above the drier and traipsed into the kitchen. Georgie followed closely at my heels so I tossed the little biscuit at him and he leaped and snatched it mid-air. There was a note on the counter from my mom; the gist of it was that she was out on a date tonight...blah blah blah...some important lawyer...blah blah blah...you know I love you...here's some money for food...blah blah blah...you're the best thing in my life...end. I sighed and dialed up some Thai take out. Then I spread my homework out on the breakfast bar while I waited for my dinner to arrive. Georgie devoured his treat in the corner of the living room behind my mom's easy chair. The silence was really getting to me and the 'crunch,nip,crunch,crunch' just served to emphasize the emptiness of the house. I slipped Bright Eyes into the cd player above the stove and let someone else's life story fill my head.
I made it through the first two and a half problems of my statistics homework before I gave up and moved on to history. I was supposed to write an essay about a controversial issue. Any one I wanted; I just had to support my opinion, and then negate it so I would understand the opposite perspective or whatever. It was a rather vague assignment and not exactly intellectually stimulating. The hardest part was trying to choose a topic that would elicit the most anger and discussion in class so we wouldn't have to do anything for the entire period. I couldn't write about gas prices and alternative fuels because I didn't have a car yet, although I was currently scouring the newspaper every day hoping for one in my price range. Abortion and Gay Marriage seemed too overdone, so I finally settled on Medicinal Marijuana. My grandpa lived in Maine where it was legal and I figured I could ask him some questions about it.
I wrote up the general outline for my paper before my dinner arrived with a pleasant ring-a-ling of the doorbell. I paid the tiny man on the stoop and carted my spoils inside. There was Pad Thai and Green Thai Curry, both with Tofu, and lots and lots of Jasmine rice to top it all off. I filled the coffee maker and set it to heat.sift.delicious! while I served up a plateful of steaming spice. Mr. Coffee gurgled to a stop just as I found my pair of chopsticks buried at the bottom of the bag. I poured myself a big mug and left it black, even though I normally drink my coffee with copious amounts of sugar. In this case nothing tastes better with hot, spicy food than a cup of strong black coffee. I switched off Bright Eyes, but as I did a line caught my ear.
"We might die form medication but we sure killed all the pain, but what was normal in the evening by the morning seems insane."
It sounded just like my mother. She and I knew very well what would happen tonight. She'd eat dinner at some fancy restaurant, followed by some other boring, clich├ęd date activity in which you act all cutesy like you really give a shit about getting to know the other person. Then the truth of it all would come out as she invited him inside and allowed him to stay the night. I'll be temporarily awakened in my room across the house because she will giggle too loud and close the door too hard. Finally in the morning she will wake up and wonder what the HELL she had been doing and rush to my room to cry and apologize for being a horrible mother. Unfortunately all she will find is a note from me on the coffee maker telling her that I left for school early so I could get some breakfast with Jordan, but that I had made the coffee and all she had to do was press start. Then of course my mom would sit in my room while the coffee was brewing and reminisce on what I was like as a child, when I still relied on my dear mommy. By the time Mr. Big Time Lawyer woke up she will have popped a couple of anti-depressants and be all "Sunshine,Good-Morning,How Do You Do!", the perfect picture to wake up to after a romantic date and a long night of well, yeah. She knows she'll date fancy schmancy lawyer for another few weeks or even a few months until he pisses her off or hurts her. Then it's back to being a bad mother and reminiscing about my childhood, taking too many sick days and refilling her medications long before their due date. You know, same old same old.

After eating I really lost all my motivation for doing homework, so I just wondered to my room and fell onto my bed with a good book. I was still reading when the doorbell rang again. I rose slowly and stiffly and marched across the house to answer the door. Instead of a little Thai man loaded up with curry and rice, Jordan stood with a book bag, which I presumed was full with video games and junk food. He had a huge grin on his face.

"I hope you're hungry."

"Well, I actually just had some Thai, but I mean...if you had some chips and salsa or some ice cream I suppose that's acceptable." I grinned.

"Well actually, I meant that you were about to eat some humble pie because you are NOT beating me this time. I've been practicing my sharp turns for Road Rash and memorizing the battlegrounds in Perfect Dark. Today is MY day."

I tried to squint at him and look intimidating, but ended up laughing instead. Jordan closed the door behind him and we traveled to the living room to hook up the Nintendo 64. Halo players everywhere would be snorting and snickering at us, but what could we say, after Nintendo 64 we just lost interest. The new games just...weren't the same. We didn't care so much about graphics, and we had no problem being a little old school once in a while. Besides, it's not like we were playing Pong or something. However I was known to play Centipede from time to time in the dive bar my brother owned. Every once in a while the mood struck me to play some Sonic on Sega Genesis; there was definitely no new Halo or Guitar Hero or whatever new crap for me. I was a bit of a gaming nerd and I was totally okay with that. I'd made peace with this slightly embarrassing side of myself. The only real down side is that guys get kind of pissed when a girl kicks their ass at a video game, not Jordan though. Jordan never got angry, losing just fueled his incentive to win the next time by practicing or trying new techniques. He also didn't act like a jerk when he finally did win, which is a pretty rare find. I couldn't imagine a more suitable best friend for me.

Jordan was the only person I knew who would listen to my inane ramblings about nothing. I actually shared my thoughts with him about the evolution of the words 'rash' and 'brash' and he seemed genuinely interested. He was the only one brave enough to follow me on crazy, spur of the moment adventures like that one time I decided to explore this old abandoned barn and ended up falling through a weak spot in the floor. I've always felt bad about that because I wasn't hurt at all, but instead I landed on top of Jordan, who insisted on NOT traveling into the mouse infested loft, and broke his arm. He's always been a good sport about it, but every once in a while he guilt trips me about it in a joking way, like:

"Hey Elliot, um...maybe since, you know, you broke my arm with your ass, you should not eat that second cookie, and instead...give it to me."

Then he would grin incredulously and I would lean in real close and stuff the entire cookie in my mouth. Usually this would lead to a wrestling match in which he tickled me until I couldn't breathe or speak except to surrender. Then I'd promise go get him another cookie from the kitchen. I would always complain that it hadn't been a fair fight, seeing as he was about 6'3" and I was about 5'1", and I'd only just gained that extra inch this year, but he would reply by flexing his biceps and saying:

"Can't buy these pythons in a pet store!"

It was all pretty hilarious and ridiculous. I just never really had as much fun with anyone else. We were inseparable and he slept over on a pretty regular basis. We'd stay up late eating too much junk food and talking shit on the people in our class who didn't even know we existed. Then we'd get all deep in conversation about the meanings of life and why the hell humanity was the way it is. My mom had been pretty hesitant about letting a boy stay over, but her strange brand of 'I'm a bad mother' guilt led her to give in. I knew I shouldn't use it against her, but sometimes I just wanted some freedom and that was the only way to get it. My mom was an awfully strange combination of overprotective and neglectful. Jordan was the only person in the world who really knew about what went on with my mom, and he was certainly the only person I allowed over to my house. So this is what we did; this is how I made it through my life day by day with my best friend by my side.

So I ended up spending a long evening with Jordan instead of accomplishing my homework. This was pretty unlike me, but everyone has to be an underachiever once in a while, otherwise we'd all go mad. Maybe we would just all become insatiable nerds, which might be worse. Jordan and I decided to hit the sack around 11:30 so we would be up to getting up early and having breakfast before school. Neither of us had classes before 10:00 or so because of our reduced senior schedules. We arm-wrestled for the bed and, of course, Jordan won. I really don't know why I even agreed to it because I always lost at arm wrestling, and I really should have picked something safer that I had a chance at winning, like...rock paper scissors. Oh well, it just meant I was stuck on the futon, which wasn't altogether uncomfortable; it just wasn't nearly as comfortable as my big queen-sized bed.

"I was walking in a seemingly never ending field of tall green grass. It was really nice until I realized that the grass was absolutely covered in little green spiders. The spiders started crawling up my arms and legs and it tickled a bit. I wasn't scared at first, but I started to panic when I realized how many little spiders there were and how they could completely drown out a little somebody like me. I tried running, but the field, obviously, was endless. Somehow I ran frantically into a giant furry...Georgie? He was huge, like...Clifford the big red dog kind of huge. He looked at me and grinned his little lopsided grin...that obviously wasn't very little anymore, but was still terribly lopsided. He sneezed, drenching me with gross smelly dog spit and snot. However, the spiders were gone, sneezed away. Georgie grinned again and barked. It was so powerful and deafening that it knocked me over and knocked the wind out of me..."

My legs twitched and my head jerked into the bar of the futon as I woke up to a real-life, normal-sized Georgie struggling to climb into bed with me. I smiled.

"You know, a second ago you were about twenty feet tall and wouldn't have had this problem."

Georgie whined and jumped again onto the edge of the futon, only to get caught mid-belly and slide off again. He looked at me beseechingly, so I grabbed him and dragged him up onto the futon. He curled up in a little ball along the backside of my legs; he then promptly snorted snot all over my blanket, and made himself completely at home. Within about five minutes we were both soundly asleep again.