I sit looking out the window. The scenery here is still new enough that the view is interesting. There are woods across the dirt road in front of the house. The large front yard between the house and the road is full of weeds, so many and so well established that I wonder if there ever really was a lawn there.
I canít see our neighborsí houses. There is one on each side of us, one I saw earlier as we drove past it and one I havenít, but this isnít a city where people live on top of one another. Not being able to see our neighbors doesnít feel a bit strange, even though Iíve never lived in the country before.
And this certainly is the country weíve moved to, Dad and me. We canít see our neighbors, and they canít see us. Thatís one of the reasons Dad rented this place. It certainly wasnít because of how nice it is.
I feel my anger coming back. It doesnít do me any good to get angry. Dad isnít affected by it. If he sees it, he just walks away. Heís gotten good at ignoring things heís not focused on, and more and more, Iím not one of those things. Heís got his own issues; mine are just an inconvenience for him and easily avoided.
My jacket is hanging on a peg just inside the front door, and I grab it on my way out. I find itís warm enough that I donít need the jacket and so I simply drop it on the porch. The driveway is a rutted dirt road. I guess at one time it had gravel on it, but thereís little left of that now. The drive is two bumpy indented rows of dirt with patchy weeds between them, and it runs from the road back to a small barn behind the house. Dad hasnít put the car in there yet, instead leaving it out beside the house.
The car is sitting where Dad left it. I walk over to it, open the door and slip behind the steering wheel. Iíll be driving in another year. Sooner, really. Maybe now that weíre out in the country and there are almost no cars on our road, Iíll be able to talk Dad into letting me practice driving instead of waiting till Iím 16. Iíve heard country boys do that. Iíd like to. Iím big for my age and would have no problem at all operating the carís controls. Iíve been watching Dad drive for years. I know I can do it. Iím going to ask him to let me drive in our driveway at least. I just have to wait till heís in the mood to say yes. I donít know when thatíll be.
I climb back out, slam the door, and walk around to the other side of the car. Thereís a narrow section of what should be lawn but isnít, and then pasture, or farm field, or whatever. Thereís nothing recognizable growing there and no sign, at least to me, of what might have been there in the past. I stare at the weeds and low bushes and slightly rolling lumpy land spreading out in front of me. Then I turn and look at the woods across the road. They look more interesting. There are all kinds of trees, trees Iíll try to identify when I decide to explore. I learned about trees native to the Midwest in the eighth grade. Iíll probably recognize some of them. I can see from where I stand thereís some undergrowth, too, and it looks thick in places.
I canít see far into the woods. Itís early summer, and everythingís green and thick. Iím seeing life springing into being. I wonder if there are any animals in thereósmall rodents, birds, who knows whatóbut I donít see anything or hear anything, either. But then, Iím way back by my house, and the woods are across the road. Maybe thereíll be all sorts of birds and animals to discover once I get into the trees. Somehow, though, I donít think there will be. This house and yard look old and used up; itís hard to imagine the woods being full of life.
Getting into those trees, going exploring, is something I imagine Iíll do, eventually, when Iím more in the mood for it. Realistically, I know the woods will look appealing to me, and Iíll want to check them out. But not now. No, not now. I turn around and look away. Boys are supposed to get excited, facing adventures like that. But I donít really feel like a boy anymore, and I have little interest in exploring woods I donít know anything about. Seeing them waiting for me, thinking about them, thinking about how I should feel, seeing them there complacently awaiting my visit, just makes me angrier.
I look to see if there is anything of interest around me. The barn is in the back, south of the house, looking rickety and as worn out as everything else here. Open land lies behind it. A fenced farm field thatís long gone fallow stretches away from the other side of the house. The house itselfóold, needing paint, with a sagging front porch and two empty ornamental flower pots sitting on the front stepsósuggests a metaphor for everything I can see: for the dilapidated house and the neglected front yard that looks to me like maybe it never was a real lawn.
My father isnít the only one afflicted with moods. I donít bother picking up my jacket, just go back into the house, my anger unabated, and climb the stairs to my room. I still have boxes to unpack. But then, Iíve just spent my first night here. The walls are bare. I donít want to hang my posters on them. I donít want to be here.
My bed is just a bare mattress. I didnít even dig out my sheets last night. I slept in my clothes. Iíll have to find the sheets and blankets and other bedding today in the many boxes stacked in disarray around the house. When you move from a large house to a small one, you realize how much stuff you had that you didnít even notice, didnít think about. Now you have to wonder what youíll do with it all. Leave it in the boxes, for all I care. I lie down on the mattress just as it is.
Soon it gets boring, just lying there looking at the bare walls in this depressing room, this depressing house. I get up and walk downstairs.
My father is in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee. Between sips, he stares at nothing. I move so that the nothing heís staring at will have me in it.
He blinks and sets the coffee cup on the table. ďYou get unpacked yet?Ē he asks.
So we talk about that. Iím getting used to this, talking about stuff that doesnít need to be talked about. Before, we were very close, much closer than most dads and sons. I know most guys my age are in contests of wills, at the very least, with their dads. Thatís how it is with most of my friends. It hadnít been with me, though. Now, Dadís withdrawn to the extent he frequently doesnít hear what I say to him, or he simply ignores it. I got irritated with him pretty quickly when he started being that way, but it didnít make any difference. Heís gone from being the person I talked to about everything, almost everything, the person who gave me advice and support and was there for me when I needed him, to someone who is wrapped up in himself, and seems oblivious to anything but his own issues.
Talking to him is useless. I have tried, but whatever I say is simply something else that he ignores. Sometimes, when I get really angry and shout at him that he isnít listening, he simply gets up in the middle of my rant and walks away.
I miss what Iíve hadómy dad the way heíd always been, and my mom and sister for that matter. But you do what you have to do. I have to get over it. I have to adjust to how different everything is now. I have to find a way to be happy with things as they are, not as they used to be or how I wish they could be. So far, I havenít really made that adjustment. Iím working on it.
But I am learning how things work now. I donít ask him a second time what he doesnít answer the first.
I go back upstairs. I look at the boxes I need to unpack and at my bed. I lie down again. Then I get up, open some of the boxes and find my pillow. I throw it on my bed and lie down again. I think about how the week has gone.
ďGet a move on, Troy,Ē my father said, but his voice was soft, as it had been lately. Heíd never been stern, not harsh or demanding like some dads. But now his voice had no energy in it at all. It was as if he was a tire that had lost a good bit of its air. It wasnít just his voice. He didnít even bother to comb his hair anymore, most of the time, and sometimes he even wore the same clothes two or three days in a row.
Iíd been putting all the stuff in my room in the boxes weíd bought. It was a big job, and Iíd stopped to rest. I looked up at him from my chair and asked, ďWeíll have internet access there, wonít we?Ē My voice was hard. Iíd been angry for weeks now and was wondering if I always would be. I was angry at the world as well as him, but he was the one I was talking to.
ďThe internet. Weíll see.Ē It was an answer, but I didnít think heíd even listened to the question. He looked around, seeing what Iíd done. ďWhatever you donít pack, weíll just leave. So be sure you have everything you want. The cleaners will get rid of whateverís left.Ē He turned in the doorway, then looked back. ďWeíll skip lunch, get something on the road. We need to be out by eleven this morning. Thatís when I promised to turn over the keys to the renters.Ē
I knew this, of course. Heíd already told me. But his mind wasnít working right any more. Hadnít been for a while. He seemed to me to be working on a different level now. Like he was here with me physically but mentally somewhere different altogether.
I got up and disconnected all the wires from my computer and printer and packed them and the hardware in the boxes. I stopped to look around, but was anxious to get to other stuff that I had to do. Iíd have to check the house from top to bottom after I finished here. I couldnít count on Dad to do it.
Eventually I was done in my room. I left some of the posters on the wall and some of the stuff Iíd been storing in my closet since I was much younger. When Iíd been packing Iíd pulled it all down and found an old Candyland game and a Monopoly set that was missing about half the money and who-knew-which deeds. There was a Slinky that was stretched out just enough not to work and some decks of cards that werenít a complete 52 any longer. Iíd set the stuff I didnít want back in the closet; it looked sort of forlorn, like the stuff was lonely. That shelf had always been full before.
I went up into the attic. Weíd cleaned it out a week ago, collecting what we wanted, so I didnít spend much time there. I realized I just wanted to see it again. Iíd spent time there as a little boy. I was leaving my youth behind, and this was part of it. There wasnít a box in which to pack my feelings.
I found some stuff in the basement that I decided to pack, stuff weíd already decided to leave but that I felt differently about now. I knew I was getting nostalgic, but I didnít care. My anger was getting hotter. I needed to keep tamping it down. Getting mad affected me more than it did Dad and always left me feeling empty and jittery after I blew up. I hated being angry. Iíd always been such a happy kid. That was gone, too.
Things had been bad even before Mom started drinking and then eventually left. But she did, and then Dad got all quiet. Then, later, he told me we were moving. He wouldnít even tell me why, just that we were leaving; that he couldnít live here any longer.
How was that fair? To me, I mean. Yeah, things were bad, and theyíd never be the same, but I was doing well in school. I had lots of friends. I played on the JV football team and was hoping to move up to the varsity squad this coming year, and I wrestled on that team, too. My whole life was here. But Dad said we were moving; he wouldnít even talk about it.
At least, heíd waited till the school year was over. Not that that was much of a concession. He didnít find a renter until a week before school ended.
I got really mad when I realized we really were leaving and there was nothing I could do about it, that nothing I said made any difference at all. It was unfair and wrong, and I confronted him. Even though I was 15, I was as big as my dad. I yelled at him, told him everything that was wrong and stupid about leaving. He didnít even fight back. He listened to me for a while, then said, ďSorry, son. I canít stay here any longer. Weíre going as soon as schoolís out.Ē
And thatís what we did. I tried being moody and then surly and abrasive, and it was as though I was talking to the wall. He was not on my wavelength any longer, and it hurt. I moped about for a week and then started saying goodbye to my friends. It really sank in what I was leaving behind was when I said goodbye to Chase.
Chase was a special friend. When I told him I was leaving, his eyes got really wide. He slumped down onto his bed and dropped his head. I hadnít seen him looking so defeated in a long time. OK, Iíll admit it. I had tears in my eyes, too.
We got in the car a little after 11, after he shook hands with the young couple who were renting from him, and drove away from the only house Iíd ever lived in, from Kinnessa, the only city Iíd ever known, from all the friends Iíd ever had, and from the school where I was known and liked and that was a big part of my life.
I was very quiet on that drive. I knew it would do no good to pout. It would make me feel rotten, and not affect Dad at all. But I wasnít going to talk to him, either. Not that that made any difference. He might not have bothered to answer, even if I had.
We drove all day, staying on country roads, avoiding the Interstate. We crossed from Missouri into Kansas about an hour after weíd had dinner at a Dennyís. Iíd had a tuna melt and fries and didnít even finish it. Usually I could eat two of them. It got dark, and we kept going. At about ten that night, he stopped at a motel and got us a room with two beds. I took the one closest to the bathroom. He didnít say a word, just used the bathroom, undressed down to his boxers and got in bed. He turned off the light on his side table, rolled over onto his side away from me, and went to sleep.
I took a shower, put on a clean pair of boxers, then pulled out the book I was reading, Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury. Even with the sour mood I was in and feeling very much that Iíd lost my center of gravity, the book did what books generally did for meótook me out of myself and my situation. You wouldnít think a comic satire would get to you when you were in my state, but it did. I could identify with how the protagonist, Stuart, probably felt: disillusioned, tired, unmotivated to continue on but compelled to do so. Reading about Stuart had an effect on me. When I finally turned off the light, I was feeling a little better.
Morning came too early because Iíd read too late. Dad always had been a morning person, and I definitely wasnít. But he woke me up taking his shower and leaving the bathroom door open. He dried off in our room, whistling, and he canít whistle well at all. He was doing it just to be sure I was awake. I thought of pulling the pillows over my head, but what would a confrontation get me? So I threw the covers off and used the bathroom. He was all packed back up and ready to go before I was even dressed. Again, not a word was spoken. He was comfortable with that, and I was getting that way, even if it did seem demented to me.
We drove on, and about eight stopped for breakfast at a roadside cafť just outside the last small town weíd passed through. I had no idea where we were, other than we were in Kansas. While we were sitting in our booth, waiting for our food to be cooked, I asked, ďWhere are we going?Ē
He lifted his eyes to mine and said, ďI donít know. Iím driving away from something, not towards anything.Ē
ďSo how will you know when to stop?Ē I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice. I thought he was acting like a four- year-old.
He didnít answer right away. I waited, then sighed loudly and turned to look at him. He grimaced, then said, ďI donít know, really. Look, Troy, I know youíre upset, and you have a right to be. But I just couldnít stay there. Too many memories, too many people wanting to talk, the phone ringing too much, the police. I had to get away. I had to be able to think, to come to terms with things the best I could. It isnít fair to you. I know that. But I canít pass you off to a relative, either; that would be just the same for you as this is, having to leave home. I couldnít ask one of your friendsí families to keep you; I donít know how long itíll be before, before...Ē He stopped and swallowed. ďSo youíve got to come with me till I get to a point I can cope again.Ē
I was watching him when he said that, and I could see the tension in him, the sadness that looked like despair, and I could hear the desperation in his voice. I knew he was hurting. I was, too. But I wasnít giving up. It seemed to me that he already had.
But nagging him wouldnít do any good, or at least, I didnít think it would. Maybe later, when he seemed back together again.