Fourth

I am 4th of 13, born 2 days after the 4th of May, which is my grandmother’s birthday. She still tells me the story of how she walked around all day, up and down stairs with my mother, trying to induce labor so we could share a birthday. In order of age, oldest to youngest, there is Robert, Rose, Brandon, myself, Taylor, Garret, Avery, Amory, Emory, Creed, Cade, Asher, and Channing. Robert and Rose have different fathers, whom none of us have ever met or even know their names. We grew up together, all except Brandon, who is from my father’s previous marriage and grew up with his mother’s family. My parents were ashamed of and did her best to hide their past, as a result, Brandon and I only spent time together 3 times until I was 20 and he tracked me down. He came to visit once when I was 8, which I have little memory of and again when I was 11. I was obsessed with movies by this point, loved sharing them, and he hadn’t been allowed to see many, so that accounted for most of our time together. Upon his departure, I cried on the bathroom floor; I knew he understood me better than anyone.
The last time I saw him was brief and he disappeared for almost a decade after. I was 13 and helping my favorite aunt move into her brother’s house when I got a call saying he would only be there for a day; he must’ve been in town for a child support hearing. I decided I would stay, help my aunt, and head home when we were done. It took longer than expected to reach a stopping point, by the time I got home it was after midnight. I was sharing a room with Robert at this point, and upon entering, I saw Brandon asleep in my bed, his huge cross tattoo visible from the doorway. Robert’s bed was a mattress that was shoved under the bed during the day. I remember looking at my brothers and realizing how vastly different they were before going downstairs to pass out on the couch. In the early hours of the next day, Brandon woke me up only to hug me goodbye on his way to the airport with our father. Years later, I wasn’t sure if the farewell was a dream or a memory.
We were raised with strict rules. I can still remember the first day of kindergarten, sitting on the floor of the classroom with the other students as we recited with the teacher. “God’s word is truth, eternal, cannot be changed, is law,” blah, blah, blah, repeated over 14 years. Aside from being in church every Sunday, we were either in Christian school or home-schooled; my parents feared that public school would corrupt us, failing to realize that private school is where some of the kids end up after getting kicked out of public school.
We moved into a two-story house from the early 1900s when I was 6 years old or so. This is the place where Avery, the twins, Creed, and Cade would be born. These were the 3 acres we would get lost in, the railroad tracks we would climb to, the magnolia trees I would scale to bury my face in the white blossoms, the roses that sat on either corner of the house, and the honeysuckles we would taste. The rosemary bush growing through the white picket fence in the background of a photo of your wild eyes, Amory. The wide gully which started at the street and disappeared into the woods that Taylor and I would drive into and out of accidentally as Garret jumped off the back of the go-kart, having zero faith in our ability to survive the 5 foot drop. I gunned the gas pedal and we shot out of the other side, adrenaline pumping. When rainstorms would flood the ditch by the street, we would ride inner tubes down the ditch in the 3 ft of rushing water.
These blades of grass, the smell of the honeysuckle vines at the edge of the woods as I rode my dirt-bike past, close as I could. They toy and visit with my mind, as if I could almost touch them, an inch away from time travel, if only I could smell them again. I would trade 100 or even 1000 of my tomorrows for one day in the past with you, my cluster. One moon to tell you the story that words fail.
The first few years we spent there were a blur. At one point, my G-Ma came to live with us, at another, it was my best friend and his mother. This arrangement was obviously not ideal for the adults, but I was ecstatic to have my best friend around. We would rent movies with his mom, Sun, and screen them on Robert’s TV. Jaws 1-4, The Cure, and The Matrix were among some of our choices.
Chance made the best hiking buddy. We would regularly make our way through the woods to the steep hill that led to the train tracks. We usually each had a machete in hand, snacks in a backpack along with cans of spray paint we snuck out of the garage.
One hot Texas day we reached the top of the hill, it must’ve been 40 ft high, only to find the headless corpse of a small tan dog laying against the tracks as if the wheels had decapitated the pup. We searched nearby for the missing piece to no avail. Once we noticed people walking towards us in the distance, we hurried down the railroad tracks. The machete in my hand felt condemning. We made it to the familiar place where the bridge over Bear Lake, off the San Jacinto river, starts and provides an easy way down to the water, huge rocks piled up on either side.
We made our initials in the neon spray on the underside of the bridge. Most times we were alone on our expeditions, the kids were too young to keep up. Occasionally we would encounter a homeless man fishing or communing with trees, speculating that he lived on the small island in the middle of the lake.

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