Triptychs – Chapter 10
It was the second ‘thump’ that woke me up. I sleep kind of light; I have to.
My eyes snapped open in the dark room; I lay there, dead-still, my heartbeat hammering up and up out of nowhere, an adrenaline rush out of a sound sleep.
I listened, hard.
I slid out of bed, quick and quiet; I felt for the sweatpants I keep by the foot of the bed, and I pulled them on, looking at the glowing face of my clock.
The dangerous part of the night; late enough for the bars to be closed, too early to be sure he’d passed out, yet.
I kneeled down, and picked up the bat –
Yeah. Since the truck tires got slashed, I’ve slept with a baseball bat by the side of the bed, in easy reach; an aluminum baseball bat, with a freshly taped-up handle, that fits in my hands real well . . . and it’s a comfort, it really is; but I still sleep light, and noises wake me up.
I kept the lights off, and I opened the bedroom door as quiet as I could, and I moved out into the hall; and then I stopped, and just listened.
It was coming from the side of the house, and my heartbeat just went up, and up, even more, when I heard it.
I moved carefully down the dark hallway, the apartment looking so different like this, with all the lights off – I’ve always hated the way the place looks in the dark, I’ve always associated it with danger, with disaster, with trying to sneak by my dad, when he was in one of his fucked-up, aggressive moods . . .
I’d been expecting trouble, since I got home. And found my mom, red-eyed; she’d been crying, which meant my dad had called, probably drunk, and I hadn’t been there, I’d been off enjoying my fantasy-life dinner at Cole and Jeremy’s . . . and how could I do that; you know? Indulge myself like that, think that my life could be anything like Cole’s and Jeremy’s - ?
This was my life. This was reality.
Yeah . . . the slashed tires were the worst that’d happened, so far . . . but there’d been a couple of other things. Episodes.
Like the time we’d found dog shit smeared all over the front door. Well, at least I hoped it was dog shit . . .
That time’d had its own compensations, though. I’d laughed for five solid minutes, imagining what he looked like, when he got through doing it. And imagined what he smelled like. I could so easily see, in my head, his expression when the realization hit, the drunken, ‘d’oh’ look of disgust at the shit all over his hands . . . I mean, it’s just fucking hilarious, I KNOW that’s how it happened, I KNOW it.
Thump . . . thump.
Nothing more, for a long stretch of seconds; and I started moving again, the kitchen linoleum cold under my bare feet. The weather’d turned, the way it can do in the Bay Area; the fog had blown back in with a vengeance, on a cold ocean breeze. I could feel the draft from the gap under the kitchen door, on my bare ankles.
I paused at the door, my hand on the knob, as I listened . . . and I tightened my grip on the bat.
Yeah; the bat was a comfort.
My dad hadn’t really hit me very much, very often, when I was growing up . . . I guess he knew he couldn’t get away with it. And, anyway, it was his mouth that really hurt me, the shit that he said, and the blind, towering rages he went into, and the horrible things he said, then –
Yeah, he didn’t hit me very often – until that last time, two years ago when I was sixteen. That time, he’d beat me up really well, pretty thoroughly, actually, before he threw me out of the house. And there wasn’t much I could do about it; I was, like, about a hundred thirty pounds – I still am, actually – and he was way over two hundred, he was almost literally twice my size.
Well, I thought; feeling the bat handle in my right hand. That’s not going to happen again, is it?
It’s amazing how much force you can apply, to a given target, if you have a chance to really swing a baseball bat. I’d practiced, on some tree branches in our back yard.
I took a deep breath, and eased the door open –
Silence; except for the wind in the trees blowing pretty hard, now, making a whooshing sound, rising and falling. Then –
I stepped out on the landing, and looked down.
Nobody there; in the glow from the lit-up fog overhead, just the usual, bare utility alley. I peered, hard, at what little I could see of the back yard; nothing there, either, just waving bushes and branches . . .
Thump – thump!
I almost jumped; it was right below me, right under my feet, and as I looked down, I saw a moving, rectangular shadow –
Oh, fuck me.
It was the gate; it was just the fucking gate to the little alleyway, blowing in the wind. I felt myself sag, relaxing, leaning against the railing. It was just the fucking wind.
Just another false alarm; again. One of many.
And all of a sudden I felt the cold wind on my bare upper body, and I was shaking my head at myself, as I started to go down the steps to the alley, to latch the gate –
And I stopped.
It was Saturday night – or Sunday morning, now, more accurately.
Trash and recycling pickup was Monday; and the utility alley was bare. No bins.
And the gate was unlatched.
I stood there for maybe a full minute, maybe two; feeling that feeling in the pit of my stomach. Feeling my heart rate pound up, and up, and up – again. Again.
Down the last few steps, then, to the alleyway; both hands on the baseball bat . . .
Not that that my dad was all that likely to leap out of the darkness and jump me; no, I was more likely to find him passed out on the little front lawn, or pissing against a tree, drunk, swaying.
Still. He could be violent. Especially if I caught him at something, caught him pulling some kind of shit; he could be violent. My body remembered it.
And he wasn’t going to beat me up again. No. No way.
I pushed open the gate with my foot, pretty much already guessing what I’d find . . .
I was right.
All four bins – ours and our upstairs neighbors’ – all four bins, in the little front yard; on their sides, empty.
The trash, and the recycling; strewn around the yard. The trash was originally in plastic garbage bags; it looked like he’d slashed them all open, and scattered the contents around, pretty thoroughly. I was impressed, actually; that he’d been able to do such a thorough job, without making enough noise to wake me up, or wake the neighbors. Maybe he’d made a special effort to stay halfway-sober, tonight; just for the occasion. That was a thought. A scary one.
And as I stood there, looking at the insane mess, the cold wind biting into my bare skin, my stomach knotted up so much that it hurt, it came to me, again; yeah, this was my life. This was my reality. And there was no getting away from it, that I could see.