3 Former Lives
Last night was a long night.
Baron had tossed and turned, unable to sleep. From nine in the evening to about four in the morning, he had thought and thought about his parents’ whereabouts. He’d hoped they were back in Pennsylvania, missing him, regretting their decision of leaving him at the home, maybe as punishment for something he did, or maybe for some brief time away, like summer camp, though he was almost sure that couldn’t be the case. Why? was the question, and it seemed the only question, a question that would become his unsolvable mystery because there was no answer, to his knowledge. Did he break a rule he was never supposed to break? Were they mad at him for something he didn’t do, but was supposed to do? Did they just get sick and tired of having him around the house? Stuck without an answer, he stared at the ceiling, eventually transitioning to thoughts of the universe and its mysteries. Like the moon; how was it so still, up there in the sky. Would it come crashing down into the Earth one day and destroy everything that he knew? He had learned of gravity and orbits, and knew that the moon moved around the Earth, and the Earth around the Sun, but how could scientists be sure that the planets, and even the sun would stay in their places, even with gravity? Because the moon didn’t stay in place, according to Baron, when it followed him during past evening drives with his parents.
Presently, he rested his head against the van’s cold window. The warm air was such a relief; an icy wind whipped his exposed face once he stepped out the door, the stinging effect accompanied by a chill in his bones that not even his layers of heavy coat, cotton cap, or boots could completely block. His toes were numb and his skin was dry; that was until the van’s heater turned on and a few minutes passed. Apparently, his parents had left behind a large duffle bag of his clothes when they abandoned him but forgot to include his heavy socks. Anyways, New York City’s traffic was slow, especially in the mid-morning hours. He was on his way to the clinic, probably to see Dr. Nasser, along with his chaperone, May, and a couple of toddlers who were scheduled for checkups and vaccine shots. Mr. Patrice, the home’s transport driver, would be the one to get them there. He was an upbeat middle-aged man in a light blue collared shirt, and he had a scruffy goatee and wore a brown cap. And he kept calling Baron and his housemates “little fella”. The drive was mostly friendly banter between May and a flirty Mr. Patrice.
Baron watched the slow passing cars, a lot of them yellow taxicabs, some vans, white and black marked with company slogans, and a large bus or two that moseyed through the group, like an elephant moving among buffalos or antelopes, generally any animal that was smaller; but then there was this one semi-truck that looked to rival the city buses in size. These small observations were something of a distraction. Baron was jealous of Mr. Patrice’s conversation with May. She was probably twenty, and she was pretty, with long brown hair, big dark eyes, and a cute button nose. And she was really nice, the nicest caretaker he had met so far.
He’s too old for her anyway, he thought, at one point.
Earlier, Mrs. Chou had told Baron he would attend the local school once his academic record was released; it was back in Philadelphia. Philly…that was where Kenny, Imani, Don and Bryan were, his friends since the third grade. Did they miss him? Kenny was kind of tall and lanky, wore glasses and was the class clown who knew all the funny jokes. He got along with everyone, even the adults. Sometimes, during a lesson, when the teacher had his back to the class, he would find a reason, any reason, to talk to the person next to him, and that person was usually sucked into Kenny’s constant need for attention. They could only whisper back and forth for so long before the teacher noticed their conversation, and when that happened, the person who chose to talk with Kenny would be the one to get caught. It wasn’t due to him being the favorite but rather Kenny knew when to shut his mouth, as if he could predict the teacher’s next move.
Twins Imani and Bryan had all the latest video games and gadgets. They were both about the height of Baron, had short sandy locks, and had small gaps in their front teeth. The way to tell them apart was easy; Imani had chubbier cheeks. Their plans to fool people like twins usually do, including switching places or trading names, almost never worked because of Imani’s cherubic feature, though that had never stopped them from trying time and time again. Before he truly knew them, though, Baron was threatened by their popularity. Yet, it was he who initiated the friendship when he offered them his store-bought cupcakes during one lunch period. The twins showed interest, and from there, they hit it off.
And finally, there was Don, short for Donavon, who seemed the most mature of the group, having gone through three girlfriends, which his peers thought was “cool”, and he was also the most athletic kid in class. Baron once thought Don’s relationships were luck; like cupid took his arrows and shot the three girls while he was in sight. His opinion changed when he saw how Don befriended the gorgeous Gracie, his latest “babe”, or from what Baron could remember, his most recent ex. It turned out he just gave her lots of compliments and got as close as he could whenever the opportunity arose. And it helped that most girls thought he was “cute”.
Nearly a full school week had passed since Baron had been to class. Had his teachers noticed? He rarely missed a school day, his parents made sure of that. What about homework, and the Earth Science project that was due this coming week, for which he was given a whole month plus the holiday break to complete? His diorama of the tundra biome sat in the corner of his real bedroom, ready for submission. The written report that accompanied the project was nearly finished (about ninety percent done), and that, he was supposed to do on his own. Did Martha have that birthday party she bragged about where her mother would bring tons of cupcakes, goodie bags, and a piñata to class? Did she bring the party clown that does magic tricks, too? Martha’s peers treated her like royalty when this news spread throughout school, on account she would choose a select bunch to attend the “after-party” at Chuck E. Cheese’s on the weekend following her in-class celebration. Baron was not invited. He acted indifferent towards her decision because she was a “spoiled baby-brat”, though on the inside (where Martha couldn’t see), he really wanted to go. And what about Don? Was he still suspended for trying to kiss Geneva? Bryan dared him and he couldn’t back down. Not only was he suspended, but his actions had strained the group’s friendship, the reason being that Imani was crushing on Geneva, a secret he had told Baron. His twin, Bryan didn’t know, nor did Don or Kenny—well, not until the incident, anyway. Also, was it too late to hand in the permission slip and the thirteen dollars for the aquarium trip that was a few weeks away? What about fifth-grade prom? And graduation? Although months away, would he be there for either event?
So many questions and no answers.
Baron was angry. Even if he’d done something to upset his mother and father, they shouldn’t have left him without saying anything. What could a nine-year-old have done to make his parents not want him anymore? Well, maybe they never cared for him in the first place and his entire life was a lie. He couldn’t help but wonder.
This past holiday season, less than two weeks ago, the house he once knew was decorated in multicolored lights and tinsel, both inside and outside, and the lawn out front was claimed by plastic reindeer that were attached to a wooden sleigh, along with a jolly Santa holding his red sack of gifts. Snowflake cutouts, paper flakes Baron had cut out with his mother, were taped to the window panes and angel dolls dangled from the frame for all the neighbors to see. Though modest compared to the house down the street, the house with the inflated snow-globe in which fake snow blew around in a blizzard haze, and the sleigh that was actually nailed atop the roof to simulate Santa’s landing, Baron’s house was a cheerful display. Every year, a few select neighbors worked to outdo one another with decorations, a tradition the Tillery’s did not take part in.
A few days before Christmas, at the start of winter vacation, Baron accompanied his father to the mall, where they would shop for a holiday tree. People in heavy coats moved left and right in clans, some of three, some of seven, and some groups included children while others didn’t, and there were couples, also, both old and young, with clear shopping agendas while others just browsed. Then there was the lone shopper, a rare sight, but not too rare. He usually had an item in hand, and was looking for the check-out, or he was waiting, either for shopping assistance or for his significant other. And if the lone shopper was a woman, she was also looking for shopping assistance or was browsing for a certain gift. All these people and their reasons for being at this department store, the combinations were exponential.
Baron and his father walked the store, at first, just because, before searching for their holiday tree. They talked about the usual things: school, home, friends, things of which the boy was concerned. They also talked about the thing Baron wanted most for Christmas, which was a mountain bike. His father said that he wasn’t sure if he would be able to afford it, but it was a definite front, and Baron could see right through it; it was a runaround tradition between them, and even his mother. They said the same thing last year, and the year before that, and so on.
Fifteen minutes later, after lapping the department store, Baron’s father needed the restroom. They passed the men’s changing rooms, where there was a line for the adjacent men’s bathroom. Baron waited just until his father’s spot on the line entered the bathroom, out of sight, at which point he absconded; he was on a mission, a holiday mission. He retraced his steps back to several aisles and browsed through the shelves for the things that caught his eye; his memory served him well. He went to the female section where all the lingerie and scents were; a nice saleswoman with large bosoms (Baron tried not to stare) who smelled like a model, would helped him browse for the right gifts, for both his mother and father. This part took about a half an hour. Then he visited the check-out lane, which was ridiculously long. After he completed his mission, which lasted about an hour, he walked the store in search of his father. He tucked his purchases into his pockets. A half an hour later of searching, and he had found his father, disgruntled, for he had been scouring the large, two-floored department store for him the entire time. He’d never seen his father so unhinged, not in all his life. It was pretty scary. After an emotional scolding, they continued to quietly browse, that was, until they found a synthetic tree whose huge box bolstered a product “Over Eight Feet Tall!”.
Christmas morning was calm; the television showed the parade and the radio was tuned in to the Yule Log. Songs of a “White Christmas” and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer emanated through the house. Baron sat before the tree and opened several gifts while his parents watched. The first was a winter coat. His old puffer jacket with a detachable hood was fine but his mother insisted, claiming he would grow out of it by next year. He couldn’t care less though because it was just a stupid coat. Where was the bike? The next present was a brand-new basketball, still cased in its box, a gift from Rodney, his best friend who lived across the street, at the end of the block. He was in the seventh grade. Had Rodney pondered the whereabouts of Baron, his best friend, these past few days? Did anyone? Anyways, when they swapped presents the week before, he gifted Rodney with a new game cartridge for his Gameboy Color.
Baron also received clothes and some cash. The final gift, his father retrieved from the basement; a brand-new mountain bike. Of course, Baron loved it. Unbeknownst to his parents, during the mall trip for their tree, during his holiday mission, he secretly bought his mother a pair of fashion earrings and a small bottle of perfume body spray, and for his father, a silver, metal watch. He spent forty-seven dollars total. Did they not like their presents? Were they only pretending to be grateful?
His obsession for the truth, and lack of it, fed his insecurities, thus keeping those tethered parasites fat and healthy. They weighed him down constantly, incessantly. His once unbothered imagination turned into a dark place, one of negativity and self-loathing, and of a developing hate, particularly for his parents. Of course, he would gladly embrace them should they ever return but the resentment had already become part of the amalgamation of bad emotions that included anger, sadness, dread and frustration. Being so young and naïve seemed to make his situation worse for two reasons. The first was his lack of understanding—the lack of understanding his parent’s motives, which could have been a number of things, though he assumed he was the cause. The second reason was his persistent hope. He really believed his parents would return some day.