Hands

It doesn’t seem real, and maybe that’s the years of numbing, but it will never feel natural to have cut communication with my parents. I still see my mother’s hands writing a grocery list, organized by the different departments of the store. Blue ink creating little 3-D boxes in the margins while she thought and planned hearty meals of boneless fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chicken gumbo, zucchini simmered in butter, baked mac & cheese with shredded cheese on top, green beans, corn on the cob, smothered steak, spaghetti and meatballs, homemade pizza, tacos, enchiladas, tostadas.. She taught me how to cook and how to draw those simple boxes. By the time I was 10 or so, I could batter chicken, chop veggies, make cornbread, peel, mash, and season potatoes, etc.
I was working with my father by age 14. He does paint and body work on semi-trucks and shuttle buses. It’s lucrative, but taxing work; peeling stickers off a semi trailer with a blow-torch and your fingernails leaves its mark. This was called “de-IDing” and was mostly what I did, aside from cleaning airport shuttles and sanding huge trailers and buses to prep them for painting. This work, while it paid well, was not for me. I liked my hands and hated the way the hot stickers and chemicals would suck dry my fingertips, leaving them hard and cracked, like my father’s, by the end of the day.
I was always my mother’s child. Though my father called me his “#1 lookalike,” I never wanted to be like him. We shared a love of martial arts and adrenaline-inducing activities like dirt bikes, jet skis, and cars, but that’s the highest level we could relate on. I remember imagining that he thought the way he spoke. Hearing his voice talk through what he was doing in a kind of impatient infantile speech, with exclamations where they didn’t belong, was enough to make me want to distance myself from his mindset. He told me that $100 was nothing, that he “peed that much every morning,” further explaining that the money was spent on a fast-food breakfast and supplies such as a putty-like substance used to fill in dents called “bondo,” paint thinner, sandpaper, and various other chemicals for the day’s work.
We left the house at 7 AM at the latest in order to beat traffic. The lots where he worked were always by an airport or hotels with cheap weekly rates in some god-forsaken part of town that you would have no other reason to visit. He obtained most of his accounts by going into the businesses and talking with a manger. Since he owned his own company, he could usually offer them a better deal than what they were getting from a corporation. If nothing else, my father was charismatic, for which my mother shamed him. “You can’t go in to a gas station without trying to make the clerk like you,” she once said. Like a pastor at a mega-church, this charisma was self-serving. He needed people to validate him and don’t most of us?
For a while, my older brother, Robert, who was finishing up high school, would handle a couple of the shuttle bus accounts. I much preferred working with him. He would let me listen to secular music, as long as I kept the secret. We listened to Bush, Audioslave, Limp Bizkit (wince), Linkin Park, and the like. 94.5 The Buzz was the “alternative” station in Houston, TX. Sometimes we wouldn’t get home until well after midnight, scarfing down Taco Bell on the way. Robert was my mother’s first-born and it seemed like he was always torn between the example he was supposed to set and the inborn desires he had to listen to “ungodly” music, have sex with his girlfriend, or joke with his friends about masturbation, as if guilt wasn’t conditioned into us for these natural urges.

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