It starts off as one cry, then one night, and then just one year of your life spent feeling sorry for yourself.

You pathetic son of a bitch, get out of the bed. Remove the sheets, stand up, remain upright. There you go: one step closer to tapping into the human part of your primordial brain. As guilty and needful as you are, you are a Man. And that's better than a less cellular organism; that's better than a more primitive animal, because you're Man. You have reason. You have opposable thumbs. How lucky to be you.

Get up. Good, now go do something. Anything.

You can pick up the phone to make contact with the wicked world again. You can comb your hair and iron your pants and finally go out to find the sucker who will hire you. You could backpack across the country, or Europe, or Indonesia, or Ethiopia for all it matters. You could become President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, whatever. Meet a nice girl, buy a ring that's half your savings, and then have an expensive, over-the-top wedding. Or alternatively, you could practice wildly questionable behavior in having explicit and dangerous trysts everywhere you go, traveling the world from dalliance to dalliance - it's all up to you.

You could even hold the receiver of the telephone, hold it tight, and dial an old, nearly forgotten, but gravely familiar number to a house that you haven't lived in for years.

If a woman answers, it means they haven't moved yet, not in the eight years it's been since they've fostered you as their son. Remember that she was kind, and definitely remember that you were not. Have that in your voice when you speak to her, with a tentative, sweaty, and fearful question lingering in the back of your smarmy and cowardly little simper.

"Ida? It's Bernard."

"Oh my gosh, Bernie. Is it really you?" I just affirmed that, didn't I? You think like a jackass. Ida, your last foster mother, is still speaking, so listen. "Rick! I think it's Bernie - he's alive! I think he's okay - you are okay, aren't you? Or are you calling because you're in trouble? Where are you?! If you're in trouble, then we'll come and get you and-"

"Ida!" She still sounds flaky as a biscuit, this one, is what echoes in that ungracious little fucked up head of yours. You're still obviously going to have to work on that. "Yes, I'm fine. I don't need you to come get me; I'm not in the area. I know I haven't called, but - yes, yes, I'm alive. I'm speaking to you so I'm living and alive." Smooth, asshole.

"Bernie." It's that mothering tone of voice again that hugs you in a grip and you hate that. "How has your life gone, son? Are you happy? How are you?" Ida's side of the conversation is getting needling, but it would help if you finally answered her questions.

"I'm fine, really. I've been meaning-" You have not been meaning to call, you pathological liar, you. You've never wanted to call, have changed residences just so you would not have to call. This is a desperate state you're in, and you must now con like you have never conned before, Clearwater. But, you know this.

"Actually, I will be coming into the area. Passing through - for business." Lie, lie, one syllable at a time. "Yup, that's right. Within the next week and a half, abouts. I was thinking I'd stop by, if I wouldn't be intruding or anything. No?" Of course she'd never say no to you, you smarmy- "Great! I'll call with a more definite time later on. I've gotta run now though, Ida. Talk to you soon."

She's holding onto you here and you know it. Ida's voice rolls into your ear through the land line, and it's as hypnotic as a gypsy's because of the way she was smothering and loud and protective like the closest thing to a mother you had ever known, all within that last year and a half spent in Child Protective Services.

That was before you left her, before you left everything. "Bye, Ida. Tell Rick I said hello - and goodbye. Right. Bye!"

Hang up the receiver in your dingy little kitchen lined with peeling yellow wallpaper. Dirty dishes in the sink, food stains on the counters, chipped corners on the tile. Take a thorough look around you, Bernie Clearwater. You must be so proud.

The con begins on a Sunday, outside Bethel Baptist Church, in the mud and the slush after the first snow. You're in a Massachusetts parking lot, smoking a blunt with a friend behind the building where they take the chorus robes out to the van to be dry-cleaned and the Sunday School boys sneak wine out the back door.

The last name's not real, doesn't even sound real. Somewhere in Virginia, a poetic social worker conducted your happy ending in her brain and concluded it with a sophomoric, saccharine surname like that. Your real name by blood, by the bastard who never knew you but made sure you were a bastard too, is unknown, as he was never really in the picture except for one 4x6 snapshot from when you were four. So congratulations, Clearwater, for all your life strangers have thought you were native to lands of vast mountainous regions, crystalline running streams, and rolling green hills dotted with teepees or wooden long houses. For the record, you were born in Jersey.

Sometime before teething, your mother hauled you and herself off to the South on the dire mission for life, love, and happiness - strictly her own, mind you - and you were strung along in the decade afterwards like a kite string some little kid neglected to hold on to.

But your mother was the very kite itself, you see. High in the clouds, high with psychedelic substances, all blue skies and sunny picnics in her mind, even sitting in the middle of dirt and grime and your waste two days old because her sunny picture couldn't pop long enough for her to mop up the floors. Or buy food. Or clean you at all. Or hold you all too terribly much.

On the big waves of injected sunshine though, she had a liking for swinging you. For brief moments you would be set up very high, then swooped low and around in an arc all around your mother, her big toothy grin just tickling you to death inside your gurgling baby brain.

You loved her, then, like you loved the old pair of soft red socks that were tied together indefinitely by their stripped tubes, almost like a hairball with the frays of red thread shedding behind you in a trail. Not a blanket, not a rattle, you hugged those socks to your face and mouth more than you got to hold a bottle. Then, more like a tail, more like a lost happy ending trailing after you, they shadowed your baby steps, falling apart as they went. Like baseball socks, they belonged to an old boyfriend of your mother's, another one of the nameless faces that for a short time leaned over yours on the hard wooden floor as you were swathed in blankets, said soft things and made disjointed baby noises in your ear.

The socks you lost only in the last couple of years, actually. Somewhere in the shuffling and the moving and eviction notices, and only one blinking night spent in jail for squatting, they were dropped in a bin along with many messes of the world that people make.

Because they and the life that was lived alongside those socks had obviously become a short mess, one of a definite beginning and a definite end, and with very little gray area in between for it to be a very large mess, or a very long story.