I pulled up my pants, took a sip of beer, and snuffed out my cigarette before walking onto the little back porch of my trailer in a t-shirt and bare feet. There, parked in a Chevy Cavalier on the cracked cement pad, was my daughter making out with some buzzed cut kid, an empty plastic shot bottle of Fireball on the dash.
What the fuck is this? I thought. I moved my hand to my mouth to take another drag and touched my rough lips before realizing I’d finished my last stick. I puckered my lips and sucked in the untainted air, which left me feeling unsatisfied and which is probably the reason I acted how I did.
I walked carefully to avoid cutting myself on any broken glass bottles. The sun was just coming up, and I was tired, but not too tired.
The kid saw me and looked terrified. That’s how it was supposed to work. I don’t know how I would’ve explained it to him if he wasn’t terrified: “Hey, look. This is how it’s supposed to go…” I would have to say, knowing the whole time that if he didn’t know already, he would never know.
He jumped off of her, as much as you can jump off of someone in the front seat of a Cavalier. She still had her clothes on. I’m glad for that. I’m glad for a lot of things. That’s what I’ve learned after 42 years. You can be grateful or you can be ungrateful, whether you got a lot or a little. I got a little, and I’m grateful for the little I got cuz I’ve seen ungrateful people with a lot, and they ain’t no happier than I am.
I used my new wedding ring to knock on the glass.
The boy was digging around her for his shirt. He’d taken it off. I might’ve, too, if I still looked like he did with the six pack and the delts and whatnot, but I didn’t like the way he was making her squirm out of his way. It seemed undignified. It seemed like he cared more about his shirt than he did about her, and that struck a nerve.
Later that day, after every sign of him had left the trailer, I tried to tell Jenny about it in the back bedroom with another lit cigarette and a can of beer. She said I was justified. I doubt I was.
You see, I get upset sometimes. I don’t even know what I’m upset about. I think I know. Like in this case here. This kid’s trying to bone my daughter, so I get hold of him. But it’s like that kid was just an accident… just a roll of the dice… and I don’t have ahold of him so much as I have ahold of something slippery and fine and tapering away to nothing, and I never can quite get ahold of it in the morning after getting head from my new wife in the back of an air-conditioned trailer.
Nothing calms me down at all, except a drink and a cigarette and a good fuck, but just right in the middle of it, you know, right when you’re lost in it. Ideally, you’ve just finished a cigarette and thrown back a shot of tequila, and your eyes are closed and your hips and her hips are rolling like a little boat out on the ocean and they’re moving together because they’re both being controlled by waves bigger than both of you, and just in that moment, you’ve got it all figured out because you realize there ain’t nothing to figure out.
So I get hold of this kid and I spin him around and throw him up against his Chevy, and he still doesn’t have his shirt on, so it feels like an episode of cops, and because of this, I start acting like a cop, which I hate, and I wish I hadn’t, but it is what it is, so there I go with that self-righteous condescending talk, and I’ve got one of his arms pretzeled up behind him, and I’m reaching for the other one, so my belly is pressing into the middle of this kid’s back because he ain’t too tall, which allows me to man-handle him despite his well-defined delts and whatnot, and the kid’s sweat is soaking through my t-shirt, and I’m thinking to myself that this kid got all sweaty trying to bone my daughter, and that thought made everything go black.
And when it was all over I looked over and saw my daughter. She was standing nearby in the hazy morning, and she was leaning all the way forward on the balls of her feet, and her hands were all balled up and thrust straight down at her sides, and I realized she was the one that had been beating on my back with her fists—that I felt and didn’t feel at the same time—and I looked at her, and I thought she could stand to calm down, too, but she’s 16 years old, and what is there for a 16 year-old girl to calm down with?
If anyone needed a drag or a shot or a good fuck, it would be my daughter.
She gets up before I do, and she’s at school all day, and she’s doing homework all night. She works harder than I do, and I pour concrete. I’d rather pour concrete than have my daughter’s life, and how is she rewarded? By having everyone up in her business telling her, don’t do this, don’t do that… And what do they tell me? Don’t nobody tell me shit.
Jenny will say things like, “This isn’t even what you’re angry about. You’re dragging up some shit from the past.”
And that’s true. The past is always with me. How can it not be? I’ve tried to remember what it is exactly that I’m angry about, but I don’t remember shit no more, and even if I could, I doubt I’d be able to pin it down, exactly, the thing that bothers me so much all the time. Sometimes it’s just a minor irritant, like some chemical that’s got in your eye that you should probably flush out, but you don’t cuz you can take it.
It’s like there’s this happy kid, and he’s running around playing under some big old trees that reach across and touch each other from each side of a shady street and no one can hear no 18 wheelers blasting down the freeway, and this kid is having a good time and is free to do whatever he wants and doesn’t stop at any particular time and isn’t confined to any particular place.
It’s like no one has told him a damn thing about anything, so he’s got fuck all to think about, and he’s got a little friend, a little boy or girl, it don’t matter, we all know that now, and they’re best friends, and they hold hands. And they go skipping and dancing around their neighborhood, where there’s no goddamned pedophiles and even if there were and the two of them got picked up and thrown in the back of a van, they’d be looking at each other and laughing, not knowing the danger they were in because nobody ever showed them no cardboard cutout depicting grave danger.
Hell, they wouldn’t even know enough to stay out of a hole six feet long and six feet deep. They’d just hop right in it, holding hands and laughing and smiling, and I hate the little bastards. I hate people who have someone right by their side all the time, through thick and thin. You’re born alone, and you die alone, and any love in-between is just some fairy tale bullshit that’s not even real.
So what do I do? I ruin the only chance my daughter has of throwing off the weight of the world. She ain’t too pretty. I think she’s pretty, of course, like fathers do, but I have mind enough to know that not many would want her.
I walk over to her, then, and she’s so pissed off she can hardly contain herself. Her bottom lip is shot out like a plate some waitress shoves in your face at IHOP, and the food on it looks good, but the waitress and the smell of the place make you want to just tilt your hat down over your eyes and pass out right there in that booth.
And I ask her. I say, “Whatchoo gonna do?” I never wanted to tell her nothing. Let her figure shit out for herself. That would get her ready for whatever was gonna come. She wasn’t gonna have me there all the time by her side, telling her what was right and wrong, helping her sort out the good ideas from the bad.
She said, “I’m gonna kill you.”
I said, “You talking late or soon, cuz if it’s late, that gives me a little time to make things right.”
She said, late.
I said, “Okay then, pay attention.” And I walked over to where the boy lay on the ground, and slid my hand real gentle under his head and I took ahold of it like I was holding Samantha’s head when she was a baby. I named her Samantha after a girl I had a crush on on a TV show when I was growing up, always planning to call her Sam, but the longer I held her in my arms after she was born, the more she felt like a full-on Samantha who had nothing to do with Television or with anything in the world besides me and her.
And then I reached my arm under that boy’s hamstrings, and with one knee on the ground, I propped him up against my other knee. Then I got a little momentum going and rocked up into a stand and carried him on inside the trailer.
I laid him out on the couch and Jenny said, “What you got there?” but I didn’t answer. I went to the master suite bathroom and got everything I needed. Samantha and Jenny were standing over the boy when I got back. Samantha was sniffling, and Jenny was running her fingers through Samantha’s hair, calling her “hon.”
The biggest cut was over the boy’s right eye. I looked at my wedding ring, and a piece of flesh was mashed against the sharp edge. I knelt down, poured some hydrogen peroxide onto a cloth I cupped in my hand, then wiped the gash clean. Blood crept out of it. The curtain was pulled shut over the window above the couch. I ripped off a piece of tape, twisted it in the middle and affixed it to his face in the middle of the cut.
“You ready to try?” Jenny asked.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and it was Samantha. “Let me do it,” she said. I got up off of my knees and gave her the bottle, the rag, and the tape for the butterfly stitches. She taped up his eye on the left and right side of her dad’s initial piece. The sun had burned through the haze by now and the orange curtains over the window above the couch cast an orange glow on everything in the trailer.
Samantha wasn’t sure if she could use the hydrogen peroxide on the boy’s cut lip, so I took the bottle from her, tossed back three or four swallows to let her know what killed you and what didn’t and handed it back to her. She nodded, and instead of using the cloth this time, she held the boy’s lips together with her forefinger and thumb and very slowly and gently poured the contents of the bottle over his shut lips, hydrogen peroxide bubbling over the cuts and flowing down the side of his face, disappearing into the rough plaid couch.
After she got him all cleaned up and bandaged and butterflied, I reached down and undid his button and fly and pulled his jeans and drawers down and told my Samantha to go on and do what she was set on doing that morning when I found her.
She cocked her head to the side and reached up and in the same way that she had pressed the boy’s lips together she grabbed a piece of hair that she twirled around her finger.
“When I get back,” I said, “if you still want to kill me, you know where to find my piece. Just catch me ‘fore I get inside, so we don’t make a mess of the trailer.”
With one hand, she ran her fingers through her hair, scratching her scalp as she went along, and with the other, she pointed at the limp member. I shook it for her till it hardened.
“You know what to do?” I asked.
But she looked at me like I’d just taken the escalator down from a spaceship made out of lollipops.
I reached into the kid’s bunched up jeans pocket and fished around till I found the plastic. I tossed the square package on the boy’s bare belly near the short and curlies. “Well, if you need a little something to take the edge off,” I said. “It’s right there.”
I thought about taking Jenny back to the bedroom to take more of our own edges off, but I was hungry and didn’t want to be frying eggs while my daughter got laid, so I told Jenny to throw on some shoes, and I did the same before we walked out to the car to grab a bite. But before I could get the car door unlocked, here came Samantha.
“Hey,” she said.
I turned around. “Everything going okay?” I asked.
“I’ll do what I want,” she said.
“Yes, I know. That’s what we decided. You do what you wanted to do.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want to no more.”
“It’s your choice. Suit yourself.”
“That’s right. It’s my choice.”
I moved my fingers to my lips, again finding no cigarette from which to draw tainted air.
She went on: “I don’t need you telling me what is or isn’t my choice—It’s my choice… what my choices are.”
I turned that one over in my mind. She said it was her choice what her choices were, and I knew that was wrong. There’s plenty of things a man or woman, especially a child, especially a woman-child, has no choice over, and you don’t just get to decide what you have a choice over and what you don’t.
You can’t just decide that you have a choice over love or happiness or loneliness, or even life itself. You don’t have no choice in the matter of death, and you can’t choose to have a choice in matters about which you have no choice.
And even if it were so, who would ever choose not to have a choice? Who would ever give that up, if they had the choice to give it up at all?
Samantha looked like she was reconsidering, too, like she was doubting what she had said…but she stopped her reconsideration and doubled down on this choice of choice business.
“I choose… what I choose,” she said. “Not you, not nobody else.”
So, I started trying to figure out how she might be right, because I love her, and I trust her, and sometimes I think she might save me when I’m in the mood to think I need saving, and then it was the opposite of when things go black. Everything flashed up in color before my eyes, and all of the possibilities of the world opened and closed before me in order, out of order, and all at once, overlapping like the pieces of magazines we’d cut out and glued to poster board in grade school, and one moment I was king of a great kingdom… I choose, she said… and the next I was stroking that boy’s cock and my own like two men on a railroad handcar… I choose when… and the next I was deep in the earth in a tunnel mining for the remains of aliens… I choose how… and the next I was floating in space with satellites and ships falling within my gravitational pull… I choose where… and then flowers blossomed into vaginal lips with lubricated assholes at their centers… I choose who… and then we were all resuscitating each other and my breath was in Samantha’s lungs and her breath was in Jenny’s and Jenny’s was in the boy’s and the boy’s was in mine… I choose who…back and forth, round and round, and I believed her, though she was wrong… I choose who… and I told Jenny to get in the car… I choose who… to leave Samantha be to choose to choose.