by Melissa Ann Chadburn
My family and I grew up in Akron, Ohio. My father worked for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. An important thing to tell you that I know now that I didn’t know then was that working with rubber has a strange affect on the consumption of alcohol. There’s a chemical at the plants that made many men sick when they came home at night and tried to tie one on. For this reason a lot of the men at the plant were sober. Except for my father. I guess it’s extremely difficult to be a decent human being in all aspects of your life. I heard one guy say it was like if the wind was full of sand and it keeps hitting you in the face and he just kept on going out with a fresh clean shaven face with some aftershave braving the sandy winds. I’m not sure exactly what he was doing for work at the time but I remember that there was a lot of fuss around food. The only thing that broke up the day was meal breaks. Whenever I went to visit him I’d hear the guys talk, “There’s doughnuts in the break room.” “Hey’d you bring a lunch?” or “Wanna grab a bite?” “What’d you pack for lunch?” then later in the day around five o’clock I’d hear them say “I wonder what it’s gonna be for dinner tonight.” “Wanna go grab something after work?” or “I hope I’m not stuck with leftovers again.”
We lived in a very patriotic part of town, lots of flags and a post office nearby. There was one foreigner in town and she worked at the post office. If you ever went to the post office you would hear her say to the customer in front of you, “Thank you very much and when you have a chance you can go to this number and tell how was my customer service and thank you very much.” Then she would quickly look up at the air before her at no one in particular and call out, “How we are doing there?” And she said the same things all day they did not mean anything at all. Nobody missed a chance to decorate their front lawn. Johnnie down the road even had a green outfit for his scarecrow for St. Paddy’s Day.
I guess I should tell you about me and my brothers. I started with two.
One was a city hunter. He knew instinctively that for whatever reason when wrapped in our separate parachute bag we’d be warmer if nude. That sort of thing. He was physiologically blessed in some ways. Towering with taut black muscles, like Eros. Sometimes just to scare and distract people he would strip down to his shorts before a fight. It worked. One night we almost got jumped by five drunk white frat boys in the park and as he disrobed and hopped around like a rabid ape they scattered away like marbles on the sloped pavement. Unfortunately sometimes the other part of his physiological make-up would interrupt our mighty missions and lead us down foreign dark alleys for meek fearful drug dealers. Back then in the park Jack Daniels still did the trick. He would steal a bottle, slipping the cool sleek caramel bottle up his too long tunneled Carhart jacket sleeve. We’d gulp it down. Me sometimes feeling the liquid burning it’s way back up . He’d ask “Are you Asian tonight?”
My mom’s Asiatic genes sometimes gave me an allergic reaction, turning my cheeks bright red, making my heart race at a single drop.
“Nah.” I’d say lying. He’d just laugh. He knew when I was lying. His survival instincts they smelled lies yet expertly crafted his own.
Sleeping was always a struggle for me. I think it started with the International Foods Suisse Mocha café my mom fed me before bed. “Drink it. It’ll keep you short but kills the hunger.” I played with the little particles of light that appeared in the moments between bright and dark. The zillions of tiny dots that danced in the air. I smushed them together in my mind forming images of animals and spiders, sometimes tiny elephants like the “E” on my alphabet poster. They walked in a Noah’s Ark procession up and down my mother’s arm. I stared wide eyed- trying to prevent myself from swatting them. I used them to keep myself awake, even then terrified of a loss of control.
The other brother is an enigma in his eccentricities and has provided fodder for many a regret and humor. My family is riddled with love, addiction, unhealthy levels of swooning boundarylessness and a heightened sense of pride. Pride in their beauty, their culture, their professional success, although a complete disregard for material things. The way this misshapen balance of events occurs is a very strict traditionally conservative pot smoking father and a very fun loving secret-keeping hippified pot smoking mother. My father was a scientist. He came from very little and grew into having very much. He was the first African American Omega man of the year. He was a genius. He was driven. He was tough. He loved more than anything pussy, pot, and a gin and tonic. His first wife supported him through college and bore four of his children. He was a chauvinist. He finally landed a job at Firestone and left her. He has a great deal of pride in his race and his sons and wanted to arm them with the tools to fend off suffering. He named his first son William, after himself. He is narcissistic and needs to live forever. His sons took after him and suffered greatly from addiction. He moved on to marry again, he married an easy going Asian woman that had a career but also liked to give love and head and make dinners and left the butter out the way he liked it so it was always soft and spreadable. She was there for his big break. They got a nice house in a really patriotic neighborhood and decorated it with Elephant printed Batik fabrics. They raised two and a half kids that turned out beautiful and loving and sometimes smart but always coordinated like them. It took some decades for his kids from his first marriage to forgive him. To be able to accept that he only gained this capacity to show up for his family in his second marriage. Although he showed up he showed up with many demands and a little too much pride. His son William that he was once so proud of carrying around his name and making him immortal had smoken so much crack that he had become mentally delayed. He had long since gone by the name Billy.
This brother is the brother I wanted to speak of. He has since gotten sober and found a joy and love for god. In fact he loves him so much he gleefully participates in his church choir and sings Jesus rap. Now every holiday he gets up at the table with a huge toothy grin and begins to rap. His distinct daddy’s features, flaccid and drooling he smiles and sometimes even beat boxes so hard you try to guard your own plate from the remnants of his flying corn and when he’s done he claps so hard and laughs so full, trying desperately to fill the silence because only then will he feel that sense of longing that all expectant children have after a joke they already told. He wants those words and we know he wants them and it kills us to say them. At the head of the table the dad William looks down at the table maybe rubs his forehead or grabs some bread and if he’s in an even more sour mood he might even get up and say “That’s enough son that’s enough.” But those aren’t the words he wants. So he’ll just stand there arms dangling at his side. An ape with a dream. Till finally I say it, “Again Billy. Again.” And the light goes on.
After studying law Melissa Chadburn obtained an MFA from Antioch University. She is a lover and a fighter, a union rep, a social arsonist, a writer, a lesbian, of color, smart, edgy and fun. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in Guernica, Splinter Generation, Little Episodes, PANK Magazine,Battered Suitcase and elsewhere. She is of African, Asian, Hispanic, Filipina, and Irish descent, and was raised by Dutch/Indonesian and British foster parents. Her mixed background has made her aware of racial and cultural differences and similarities which influence her writing. She loves pit bulls and cheese. Reach her at fictiongrrrl(at)gmail.com or follow her on twitter or get ripped open at http://betteranever.blogspot.com/. xoxo She loves you very very much.
Illustration by Margarita Korol.