“This can’t be happening.” Thinking at the climax of a nightmare always helps distinguish one’s dream from reality.
“Thank God.” One can think out of believing the nightmare to be all too real.
“I was dreaming.” Gary wakes from the finale of his dream-state shaking the image of the biting Gila monster off his left hand until the monster finally vanished from his mind. “I…I was the one fighting a Gila monster?” Gary shifted from thinking to now whispering his thoughts. “Who would do such a stupid thing?”
Those first questions after a terrible dream. They tie us back to our beds, to where nothing bad has happened to us, to where we have done nothing wrong. Our waking lives in the safety of our beds are the happiest of experiences. It is for Gary. He expands his eyelids so happy to see his white bedroom door directly across from his bed. So nice too are the sun rays casting bright square prisms from the bedroom windows onto the white door. It is morning, another indication the Gila monster and its painful bite were never real.
Gary moves over to the right side of his bed gazes at the stack of textbooks and notebooks he has left on his brown dresser drawer. These he has put off reading. Gary rolls over to his left side to look down on the dirty shirts, ruffled pants, and worn underwear he has tossed onto his carpet. All this Gary too has postponed taking care of. Other ignored tasks include dusting the screen on his high-definition television set or dusting the blades of his ceiling fan. Gary has much to do in here, but never does anything in his room except close the door behind him and sleep.
Gary has his excuses for not getting anything done. Life for Gary has gone from bad to worse these past several months. It all started to get bad when his two ‘best’ and only buddies Tyler and Cody had since abandoned him. Gary, Tyler, and Cody would go out cruising around in Gary’s Ford Aspire that he had owned for eight months. The three of them would listen to hip-hop, try their hardest at chasing girls, engage in underage drinking, and Tyler and Cody would bring their weed. As for Gary: “No, no! I will not hit that weed.”
“What’s the matter, Gary?” Tyler, always seated in the passenger seat. “You’re taking a toke!”
“No!” Gary would reiterate. He would be fearful to admit to his buddies that smoking pot was ‘against his religion’. Tyler looked back at Cody after pressuring Gary trying to get Cody to up the heat on Gary.
“Let him go.” Cody would say. “It means more for us.”
That began the pattern for Cody and Tyler to like Gary less and less. There also came the issue with Gary not ever having his car fixed.
“What’s wrong with your engine?” Cody asked one night when noticing a thumping sound coming from the front end of Gary’s car.
“It’s his bearings.” Tyler answered for Gary.
Gary didn’t know this, but it was his car and he had to argue.
“No it ain’t. It’s my pistons.”
“It’s your fucking bearings. Now shut up.”
Gary felt since it was his car, he should know what ever was wrong with it. Gary resented how Tyler, always the alpha male of the three, would tell him where and when to turn, where to park his car, where and how he should drive. In protest, Gary continued to bicker with Tyler who always had Cody backing him up.
“Gary,” Cody asked him after losing another fight with Tyler.
“have you been laid yet?”
“Why does it matter? Why do you guys care?” Tyler, though a prick to Gary, never really cared to ask Gary this question. He just sat there smoking a blunt enjoying the way Gary was becoming all worked up.
Since those days have ended, and Tyler and Cody had grown sick of Gary’s petty arguing and babyish defensiveness and the piston in Gary’s motor shot out the side of his Aspire ruining his car, Gary has had no social life and lays in his bed with his door closed. This is how he spends his days every day after school and every weekend day.
Gary is now eighteen. Soon he will graduate from high school and for all he knows, he is one of the few remaining students in his class to still be a virgin. This fact of himself shames him. It makes him paranoid to leave his bed and leave his mother’s house and walk the halls at Wilson High School. Until Gary meets the girl who takes away his virginity and with it his feelings of inadequacy, Gary will not so much as read one textbook or pick up one article of his dirty laundry.
A knocking comes to Gary’s bedroom door. Gary was just falling back to sleep. It was a hard knocking followed by a feminine voice with a demanding tone.
“Gary, wake up and get ready for church!” the voice belonged to Monica, Gary’s mother. Three seconds of waiting and then the knob on the door is turned and the door is forced open.
An awful muskiness born of body odor and dust assaults Monica’s nose when she enters her son’s room. Though there is sunlight coming through the back windows, the shutters are pulled down giving the room a lifeless shading. Monica almost wanted to run out and shut the door behind her, but she wasn’t about to let Gary have that excuse.
Monica sees Gary rolled up hiding under his blankets. He could be asleep or pretending, trying to ignore her. She does not care that her black leather booties are making sounds across Gary’s carpeting as she walks quickly to his bed. She pushes against Gary’s left arm under his blanket making him roll over onto his back. He still does not come out of his cocoon-like charade.
“It’s nine-thirty. Get out of bed!”
“Mmmmmmmm. Mmmmmmmm.” Gary holds his blanket up over himself. Monica grasps the top hem of Gary’s blanket and tries to pull it off him, but Gary tugs onto it so his mom cannot pull the blanket off. Monica leans back, brings her hands to her side. She sighs while thinking of what to do next. She was all made up and ready for church. Her bright blonde hair she had brushed in a layered style. She wore a white textured sweater coat and black faux suede leggings over her leather booties to make her look as attractive and young as she wanted to feel.
Monica leaves. Gary hears his mother leave. He lifts his head up from under his blanket and checks with squinting eyes to see if she is really gone. He sees that his door is left open, senses there is trouble ahead. He pulls his head back down under his blanket and says a prayer: “Please, please God and Jesus, can I stay home from church? Just this one Sunday? I’m not happy. I’m not happy. If I go to church, I won’t enjoy it and I don’t think you’d like that.” Gary likes to have a real close relationship with God. God could hear what Gary is saying under the privacy of his blankets. Gary speaking softly from his heart and God listening to him, that was real friendship with the Lord Gary believed.
‘Now hopefully, ’Gary thought while shutting his eyes and tightening himself up like a ball. ‘the Lord God will grant me my request.’ A sound like policing footsteps drew closer and closer to Gary’s bed. Not the clamping sound of his mother’s booties, but the spurring sound of very large feet. Gary grew real scared and tightened up even more.
One of those two big feet kicks hard at Gary’s mattress. Two hefty, tanned hands yank the blankets off Gary who has released his grip allowing the blankets to come off easily. Gary’s pale, shirtless body is exposed in only a pair of loose fitting jeans.
“Get the fuck out of bed!” Gabe yelled to his little brother. His blue eyes refulgent with rage at Gary’s puerility. Gary leaned up from his pillow, blinked his own cobalt blue eyes. Tears were welling up in them.
“You’re still this much of a baby?” Gabe motioned a smack near the spiky top of Gary’s hair making him draw back with both arms up in defense.
“Come on! Or I’ll really hit you.” Gabe may not be more striking in the eyes than younger Gary, but his nose was straighter ending in a small snub over his thin-lipped, medium-length mouth. Gabe had a manly, solid jawline balancing with the fine trimmed cut of his golden blonde hair giving him that neo-Adonis face.
Monica entered the room again, but not quite to intervene.
“You made me have to get your brother to get you out of bed this time. Did he hit you? You look like you’ve been crying.”
“He, he threatened to.”
Gabe laughs with a shake of his head, departs from Gary’s bed.
“Gabe didn’t hit you.” Monica asserted. “Now tell me Gary: why are you spending so much time in your room sleeping?”
“It’s— “Gary was holding back the truth about his hang-up with wanting to get laid. “—it’s because I’m depressed.”
Gabe looked Gary directly in the eye and smirked.
“What? About still being a virgin?”
“Gabe,” Monica interrupted with a light slap to his chest. ” Remember, I am here.”
“You should be depressed because you’re not graduating.”
“What?” Gary moved to a kneeling position on his bed.” I am graduating this June.”
“Gabe’s right. You have been procrastinating with your homework and with your chores. Look at all this dirty laundry you have on the floor. You haven’t bothered at all to find a job and…. what about college?” Gary looked down into space and thought about how he has given no though to finding a college to enroll in for next fall. Monica pointed her finger at Gary repeatedly as she gave him this ultimatum:
“Gary, after church you and I are going to sit in my office and I am going to pick out a school for you to attend next fall and I will enroll you.”
“Mom!” Gary couldn’t believe what he just heard. He felt as if he was a rodent in the mouth of a snake. A chill ran through his body and in his mind a sense of dread that was going to stay with him for life.
“I have to do this.” Monica belabored to the poor, speechless Gary. “You had your time to pick a college, but you did nothing and wasted it. Now take your shower and get ready.” Monica turned around and left the dark, musty room. Gabe did the same. Gary fell back onto his back and shut his eyes and bit his teeth hard holding back his loudest scream. Gabe stopped looking at Gary lying on his bed. Gary could tell Gabe was watching him do the wrong thing so Gary pushed his blankets off with his legs before finally getting up out of bed.
Gary has to scavenge among the dirty clothes he has left on his carpet for things to wear. He finds a knit of green camouflaged underwear that doesn’t smell rank, a pair of stainless socks, his favorite white Eminem shirt having the rap star holding his hand up in the horns gesture over his head, and a pair of light brown cargo pants. After gathering this passable clothing, Gary collects his roll-on deodorant, hair gel, flattened tube of toothpaste, and his squashed toothbrush and walks with slouching steps down the hall to the bathroom.
He is just ready to enter the bathroom when an elbow jabs him in his right upper arm making Gary give a loud ‘Ow!’ and drop all his clothes and cosmetics onto the hallway carpet.
“Nice going, dumb shit!” Gabe barbed while walking ahead of Gary into the bathroom with his own dress shirt, slacks, and bottle of cologne.
“But Mom said I was supposed to take a shower now.”
“You’re supposed to wait for me always. I’m the oldest.” Gabe closes the bathroom door and turns the doorknob until it locks.
Flustered, Gary kicks at his clothes and toiletries lying before him. He is careful not to kick his Eminem shirt. Picks the shirt up off of the carpet and throws it on himself. Putting on this shirt relaxes Gary and gives him an inexplicable connection to Eminem and perhaps to his peers. He is happy Gabe does not see him wearing this shirt. ‘That looks so lame.’ Gary can almost hear Gabe.
Gary staggers through the hall to the living room, sits on the arm of the terra cotta couch. He crosses his arms, pouts with a scowl and glares his eyes into space.
“What are you doing?” Monica asks Gary exiting the door in the hall to her private office that is directly across from the bathroom.
“Gabe pushed me out of the way and is taking his shower.”
“Are these your things on the floor?”
“Pick them all up and clean yourself—ohhhhh!” Monica’s smart phone, always in her hand, rings. She answers and rushes back to her private office. She does point at Gary and mouths to him this command: Stay there! as she is leaving the living room. Gary resumes his pouting posture and space glaring, but soon focuses his line of sight on the front door. It was open and a long shaft of light stretched in through the screen door almost calling to Gary to look at the opened front door differently. Gary started to realize these rays of sunlight were inviting him to get up off the couch and walk or run, to just go out the front door.
Though he had no motivation for anything these days, Gary answered the call of the sun beams. He stood up from the arm of the couch hearing in himself an instinct to run out the front door immediately. He started running with just a little hesitation. He had to grab his tennis shoes first. He had left them near the step by the door. So first he picked the shoes up with one hand then with the other hand pushed his way out the screen door. His mother did not hear him. She was too busy. Gabe did not hear him. He was busy taking a shower. Neither of them could stop Gary. He was free to run away from both of them and their bull shit ways.
Gary slipped his feet into his shoes and started running across the front lawn of his mother’s house. There was now born in him an exhilaration because he had taken so great a risk against such oppressing circumstances. He was now free and could thank himself for feeling this way. Though he was running as fast as he could and breathing hard, Gary felt serene inside.
Monica finished her conference call, but when she stepped back into the hall, found no sight of her youngest.
“Gary, are you back in your room?” She checked his room to see if he had snuck in there to go back to sleep, but Gary was not in his bed. Through the wall of the room, Monica could hear Gabe finishing his shower. She began to reason on Gary: If he is not in the shower, if he is not in the front room…. No! He ran out the front door?
“That goddamned little shit!” Monica blasphemed so loud Gabe even heard her.
“What did he do, mom?” Gabe shouted an echoed scream from within the shower.
“Gabe, get dressed and meet me in my car. We’re not going to service today.”
“What? Why not?
“Your little shit brother just ran away.”
“He did? And I have to help you look for him?”
“Yes, you have to.” Monica retrieves her purse from her office that contains her car keys and storms out through the screen door to her burgundy Chrysler 200 parked outside. She gives Gabe five minutes before honking her horn for him to hurry twice.
Griswold is the odd name of Gary’s home street. Running to the left of Griswold, Gary figured his mother would assume he would run to the right. Staying to the left direction on Griswold, Gary took his home street to Hennepin, a horizontal street topped by a tunnel of trees and the abode of picturesque houses. Gary passes the houses on Hennepin with his gaze as steady as the view of a camera on a track. He tracks past a house that was once a barn now painted beige with a black roof. The beige barn has a black eagle symbol over its top story windows and a tall American flag on its front lawn. Gary thinks that the people who live in this barn house to be good people taking pride in the condition of where they live.
Gary is running by another older house painted yellow with strange gables that are narrowly arched. Its chimney is long and red while its upstairs balcony and front porch are both gated by black fencing. A thirty-year old man his head shaved exits the house, walks out to his car, and notices Gary running.
“Hey man, where’s the fire at?” the man inquires of Gary.
“That’s not jogging, boy.”
Gary leaves Hennepin and enters Rosemary Street. Rosemary appears as if an enclave of horticulturists lived down here. The first house Gary sees has its baja red bricks built into an arched gate surrounding a garden of Lenten roses, apple blossoms, and lady bug poppies. Across the street, a black spired fence built around a gray stoned mansion of a home guards a small conservatory of purple wisteria vines growing with clematis and star jasmines all spiraling up the stones of the mansion.
Next door to the stone mansion with the spired fence, a Cape Cod style house painted white with green shutters sits with a light gray awning in front. A white haired man in his sixties wearing a red Red Wings shirt and light blue jeans stands on the front steps of the awning talking to a middle-aged, chubby man wearing a dark blue baseball cap, a blue Detroit Lions shirt, and gray sweatpants. Gary could overhear their conversation as he runs up toward them.
“If they got rid of Stafford, they’d be a whole new team.” the middle-aged, chubby man ranted.” Matt’s a nice guy, a nice-looking family man, but a hesitant quarterback.”
“Yeah. Exactly.” the white haired man seconded before spotting Gary. “Young man, you trying out for wide receiver? Hope not, you run too funny.”
The two men looked at Gary’s style of running and laughed. Gary responded by sneering his upper lip, increased the speed of running and took off down Rosemary to where its flower gardens ended at a street with its street sign missing. He was tired now and stopped in the middle of the street to catch his breath. A car was driving down the street. Gary stepped to the side to move out of the way of the oncoming car. Gary looked at the driver of the car and could see a bright smile. Gary studied the face of the driver, noticed the driver to be a young man close to his age. He was shaking his head at Gary. The driver past Gary offering Gary a clearer look at who he was. Gary could not believe it. The driver was Cody.
Monica hit the curb as she backed her out. She rolled past the Stop sign on Griswold and Pardo street looking in the opposite direction for Gary.
“Mom, mom!” Gabe cried out to Monica.” Slow your roll. Calm down before you wreck your car.”
Then, at the next intersection on Pardo and Brandt she cut off a male driver who rolled his window down and screamed at Monica:
“You’re one crazy, stupid bitch who can’t drive.”
“You can kiss my crazy bitch ass!” Monica responded driving around the irate male driver.
“Don’t get us killed out of road rage.” Gabe tried to reason. He was embarrassed and gravely concerned. He wanted to tell his mother to stop and let him drive, but he knew she would not let him do that. Monica gunned it down Brandt that lead out to Pointer Street, the closest main road and she drove on Pointer for four miles riding the tails of a few slower drivers. She ignored the screaming protests of Gabe too. Monica had her mission and her destination; four miles from her neighborhood to an upscale subdivision she had dropped Gary at long before.
Monica slams on her brakes in front of a large pale blue house with a big door resembling the door to a vault. She tells Gabe to walk with her to the vault-like door. Gabe walks up calmly while Monica is storming her steps and when she knocks she does not knock but pounds on the big black door. Gabe asks Monica where they are and Monica ignores him.
Tyler opens the front door. He is dressed in a black shirt and shorts, has just woken up. Surprised with his sore eyes to see Mrs. Morgan, he wipes his eyes and greets her.
“Hello, Mrs. Morgan.”
“Where are you hiding Gary?”
Tyler blinked his eyes and crossed his eyebrows. He has not seen Gary in over four months.
“Sorry, but I have not seen Gary.”
“Let me in.”
“Gary ain’t here.”
“Mom,” Gabe felt he should mediate.” I think he’s telling the truth.”
“Are you lying to me?”
Monica studied Tyler’s eyes and face for a blink, a twitch, for any sign of dishonesty. She didn’t find any so she turned around to her car pulling at Gabe’s sleeve as a signal to follow her. Gabe smiled at Tyler and apologized for his mother’s behavior. Tyler just nodded at Gabe and closed the door, but did think about this news of Gary, once someone he hung with, now having run away from home. He felt concern for Gary now, a strange new feeling for a kid he never really liked.
This weird encounter with Cody had left Gary with a chill. He started running again down the nameless street, away from the spot where Cody had made him feel like the biggest fool. Gary ran by a house with yellow tiles and a red planked fence built around its back yard. A tall, older black man stood in the small front yard having just finished setting up his oscillating sprinkler. He looked away from his sprinkler at Gary.
“What are you running for?”
“You’re not jogging. You’re running from someone.”
“’Your mother’. She only wants what’s best for you.”
“No she don’t. She only wants to take my whole life away from me.”
“Keep running then. You’ll learn your lesson.” Man shakes his head, adjusts his sprinkler. All this time, Gary had forgotten about the condition of his tennis shoes. His pitifully worn Converse tennis shoes. With holes in the soles that were letting in pebbles from the pavement that were irritating Gary’s feet. He decided to stop his running after the pebbles were really cutting into his heels. But as he bent over to remove his Converses and empty them of the pebbles, Gary came under the pressure of having to cross Daly Road, the heavily trafficked main road that was directly before him. He had to now worry about waiting for when the traffic would clear much less if his shoes felt all right.
The cars on Daly were moving so fast their drivers were mindless of any pedestrians. A built up 5.0 Mustang roared down Daly its driver making the exhaust make a blusteringly loud noise that made Gary cover his ears. Then finally, there was a clearing in the traffic and Gary could cross. He walked this time and uttered: “Thank you, God.” while making his trek across the four lanes of Daly Road look cool.
Gary reached the other side of Daly and remembered he was entering a bad neighborhood, one that Tyler, Cody, Gabe, and even his mother before had told him was dangerous.
“Never cross Daly Road alone.” advised Gabe.
“Never fucking go past Daly Road.” Tyler once told Gary. But here Gary was now walking along the curb near the aluminum fence of a white duplex house. In the backyard, a young couple were seated at the back steps smoking cigarettes. Gary started to run again fearing his mother might drive up on Daly and see him.
“Supposed to run out of here, not in.” the boyfriend in the couple shouted at Gary.
“Better run faster than that.” the girlfriend called to Gary as she and her boyfriend began chuckling. Gary became scared as the young couple had wanted him to. Gary did start to run faster to the closest street he could find named Venoy and went left on it running by more duplex houses with aluminum fencing covered with dead vines, some of the houses painted white others painted a dull yellow. It did not matter what the houses looked like because the houses here were not worth fixing. There were broken windows covered by sheets of wood, front doors that were missing and not replaced, and there were a few dead cars left in the streets. Gary knew his mother would not look for him here, but he thought how dumb it was of him to run into this area.
A trio of boys, two white and one black, walk together up Venoy on the same way of the street as Gary. He panics and crosses Venoy as he hears murmuring from the three boys, Gary can’t make out the murmuring, could swear it is coming from one of the white boys. He is saying:
“Yaw must be from other side of four lanes.” If so, Gary believes the three boys are not running at him. He hears no running footsteps coming his way, ceases his running and walks contently down Venoy. He is cool now, feels he is no bitch, but proven.
Beyond Daly in spring is at peace thinks Gary in the late morning sun. He is walking through a wasteland left desolate by generations of tenants and can trust he will not be found out or intimidated.
KOW! Of all things, a gunshot as loud as an explosive is fired. Gary ducks and freezes. He looks around and sees a dead 70s Monte Carlo to the side of the road and runs toward it. Crawls under it. That gunshot scared the shit out of Gary. He sees a woman standing by her truck watching him. Sees that she was not as disturbed as him by the gunshot and pulls him out from under the Monte Carlo. Scrapes dirt off his Eminem shirt.
Looking up from the Monte Carlo, Gary sees something at the end of Venoy Street that he had not noticed. There was a distant dead end. One made of a high fencing and a sheet of plywood at its lower half with tagging on it. Gary had to walk to the dead end. It was calling him to walk to it.
Gary did walk while looking at nothing else but the dead end the whole time. As he approached the dead end he studied its features more; there were vines spreading out over the top of the fencing and hanging off over the sheet of plywood below. On the sheet of wood was a stylized KEEP OUT over a cartoonish skull and bones. Gary pondered if a gang ran here once. Tried to keep others from going beyond the dead end. Because Gary knew those vines hinted to foliage from a place beyond the dead end.
Gary thought God wanted him to walk to the dead end. A dark blue pickup truck parked to the left of the dead end suddenly has its alarm and tail lights go off making Gary stop. He sees the truck’s alarm and lights to be a new sign from God telling to not approach the dead end. But Gary decides he will be stubborn, be his own person and continue to walk to the dead end even if God does not will it. The alarm in the pickup truck and its headlights are soon shut off.
“This is where I am meant to run to.” Gary told himself in a whimsical wisdom of his own. He next practiced once then executed running up and jumping to the top of the plywood sheet. He wanted to stand on the plywood in order to climb the fence all the way to the vines and over the vines. Gary was able to balance his worn out Converses on the top edge of the wood while clutching holes in the fence. He continued to grasp holes with his fingers then with the tips of his shoes one hole at a time. He was especially careful with keeping his eyes straight up and not looking back down as he climbed the fence. It did hurt his fingers and he was having difficulty with his shoes gripping the holes. By the time Gary made it to the top, one shoe slipped off.
“Fuck!” but Gary continued by crunching his toes together. Made it up to the concentration of vines and beheld with wide eyes a great and traversing public park beyond the dead end. A park consisting of all these hundred or more year old tall trees, three or four baseball diamonds, a number of pavilions sheltering picnic tables, and blacktop paved paths that maneuvered all throughout the park. To Gary, this park was a heaven of civic engineering, an oasis for exercise, leisure, reflection. He eagerly climbed with his one shoe and sore fingers over the vines and the top of the fence only to find the climb down to be scary, a twenty feet drop at least.
What would be the quickest, bravest way? Gary knew it to be to just skip on down the fence. To walk his way down the fence and let the momentum of his drop propel his skips and this he did, descending down the fencing in a number of quick and clumsy leaps until he made one last high leap from the fencing onto the grassy ground. He landed on the grass below him landing on his hands and knees feeling just a little pain in his knees, but feeling plenty of accomplishment in himself. More accomplishment and more confidence. He stood up, slipped off his other worn shoe and just walked barefoot into this park that appeared to be for him alone.