You think you know a person…
After the Benny Beat Down, I slunk home under the cover of nothing to find my house in utter disarray. My mom was screaming from behind the safety of her tears at my sister Clare, who was crying on the living room sofa and hugging the pillow like a teen-aged mother. My father was pacing the rug off the floor, exclaiming how a man works hard for nothing (which in fact makes perfect sense and is right on the money) to absolutely no one at all. Many of my father’s exclamations, which in the long run turn out to be 95% true if not 100% wise, fall on deaf ears. The human mind’s ability to reject the truth is at its strongest when the source of truth is flowing from the mouth of a friend.
For myself, I was fucking hungry. I marched languidly into the kitchen as all conversation came to a halt, and I took advantage of the silence to pick out a slice of cold pizza and eat the fucking thing. I turned to return the stares I was being given, paused in the middle of chewing, held out my right hand and said that my knuckles really hurt. “Well…of COURSE they do,” said my dad, and then stopped short of saying more, a confused look on his face.
“Why did you DO that, Pendel?!” wailed my mother. “How could you hit that boy like that? How could you embarrass me this way? How could my son be such an ANIMAL? You’re just a rabid animal, Pendel!” Blah blah blah. Clare stared at me blankly. I looked my mom square in the eye and said to her that the miserable little prick got what was coming to him, and that maybe now he’ll think twice before saying shit about how Clare likes to fuck her flunky brother. HEY NOW. Those sure were the magic words, and my, how they shut my dear mummy’s mouth. My dad leveled a finger at me. “We know all about what that punk said, Pendel, but you don’t just go pummeling people in the middle of the church parking lot! For Christ’s SAKE, Pendel! What were you THINKING!?” I said I was thinking about kicking some ass and taking some goddamned names, and then I excused myself to my bedroom. I then promptly turned back and stuck my head out and yelled for Clare. “What?” I hollered for her to bring me some ice, and to come alone.
A few minutes later she was there with cubes wrapped up in an old dishtowel. It had a fish on it as well as many random stains. I took it from her hands and thanked her. “You shouldn’t have done it.” she said. I shrugged and said so fucking what. It’s done. Whether or not I should have is moot now. She sighed. “You’re just begging for more quality time with Uncle Ben, you know.” So be it. She turned to leave, but looked back at the last second and said, “He’s coming.”
And immediately, my father was in the doorway. He looked at me blankly. With barely a glance to Clare, he said, “Leave us.” Formal. Humorous. Dreadful. My dad makes me like him sometimes, and at the strangest moments.
Clare left and my dad sat down on the edge of my bed while I iced my knuckles at my desk. “Does it hurt a lot?” he asked. Well, sure. “Good. It should. I don’t want you to forget what it feels like to hit another man.” I said nothing, because I couldn’t read into his words. His face was enigmatic. “Pendel, what you did today…son, you just picked the wrong time and place to make your stand. It’s one of your main problems.” That kind of took the breath out of me. It had the indisputable ring of truth. It made me angry and so sad. Everyone’s always telling me what my problems are, they’re always right, and the list keeps growing; an impossible punch list and I have no skills. I stared at my hand. I had nowhere else to look. The skin was pulled tight and was shiny, it looked like the skin of an irreparably fat person, a person who had taken on too much weight and was helpless to turn the tide and throw it off. Because he is a weak person. A person with very little self control or respect. Maybe it is in fact me; maybe I am simply fat inside…my soul needs a diet.
My dad then turned the rare trick of reaching out and placing his hand on my shoulder. “You made the wrong choice today, but I don’t know. I’m just as confused as you, I guess…but I’m proud of you, though, I think. I’m not sure.”
WTF. I was floored. PROUD?!? That certainly WAS NOT a turn I expected this lecture to take. “Pendel, that fool said something very toxic, I know. Your mother is embarrassed to her core, but I’m not.” Why not? “Hell Pendel, I don’t know. I DO know, however, that there’s some hope for you. There’s a brother down in there somewhere. That’s more than I believed yesterday, I can tell you that.”
So hey, I can only take so much love, and truly, I DID NOT earn all the mush that was oozing forth. I told him I did it more for me than for Clare, and he says, “Maybe, maybe not. I’m holding on to what I think, though.” Neat.
He stood up and said he would go because he knows how little I care for love-ins. True, but the whole display had left my head to spin. But then on his way out, he says, “There’s going to be trouble from this. I know the Henderson’s. They’re combative pricks. I’ll help you, but there’s gonna be trouble, Pendel.” I said hey, whatever. He then drops another bomb: “I’m going to make sure you graduate this summer, Pendel.” I said yeah, yeah. “Then I think you should probably move out, son. If it’s not college, then you just need to be out. You’re killing your mom, and I just don’t think you’re interested in learning any more from me. So when the summer’s done…” I said nothing. I had nothing to say. Was this the best or worst news possible? “I’ll help you find a place. I’ll help you get settled. You need to look for a job, son.”
And so he left my room.
It was by far one of the strangest conversations I had had in years. Once again, a person in my life has done and said the very last thing I would have expected. And once again it has left me feeling completely bereft of worldly comprehension.