TITLE: 9 Rounds - Ch1
By TJ Nickel
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Based On, A True Anxiety
The Report Card
THE sun was gloriously exalted that day, high in the sky above on a beautifully warm afternoon, but I never noticed it. I noticed the sweat rolling from my hairline onto my forehead and into my eyes. I remember sensations, but no perceptions; perceptions I seem immune to in both recollection and the moment. The sensation would have been the same had it been ten below and clouds muted the sunshine on that day. No matter the climate, I would have been sweating profusely, and my coke bottle glasses would have been steamed from my eyes seemingly breathing. My insides were boiling over.
Those glasses were monstrosities, extending at least an inch beyond my eight-year old head and weighing more than my tiny nose could bear. The sweat helped them slide and always required that awkward motion to lift the weights back onto my nose’s bridge. They could burn letters into wooden benches, or burn ants, depending on my mood and the sunshine. I wore them as little as possible and had broken several pairs of them this year already.
When you’re already a dork and fairly poor, and it’s you and eight other siblings, and mom points out to the eight that they have to go without because she had to buy yet another pair of glasses for Blind-boy, life is tough.
When it was your fault and glory that the other school-aged siblings had to be removed from public school and put into private school so that there wasn’t an unfairness shown, but your unfairly received gifts are known to be the reason, life is tough.
And when you’re now standing at the front door and about to join the family line-up for everyone to have their report cards read by mom and dad who are paying big bucks for your educations, and you being the Boy-wonder of attention, have received your very first A-, it feels like an F. It may as well be an F. Actually, it’d be better if it was an F.
That’s a lesson I wouldn’t learn for many years.
I made it into the house and took my place in line. I remember the sensation that day, so different from all the quarter-ends past. No pride trying to be disguised as humility, no awkwardness about to be covered by praise; instead, a real fear of belonging to the pathetic. The room was dark, although it was early afternoon. The curtains were so heavy and dark it could have been midnight.
Why were the curtains always pulled?
Why was this room such a mess? Why, in my moment of misery, did I finally perceive of this mess? I know now it was because they were no longer things, but a part of me. These items had transformed into sensations. Maybe all things are sensations, and our perceiving of them as things, as its, as items, is a transmogrification of reality. But now, as a miserable mess myself, the mess became of me, and me of it.
And them, too - my siblings. I took my place between them, right in the middle of them, the fifth of nine. The six of us in our Catholic uniforms, report cards concealed in manila envelopes, and the three too young for school with their quarterly crafts prepared, looked like a pitiful imitation of the Van Trapp family. Dad’s whistle was his anger, and mom’s song never made it out of the abbey. I was now one of them; tainted enough to be part of the painting instead of the artist. I became the bridge on the nose of the family face, book-ended by two female ears.
This day, this one day of the quarter, was the day I was supposed to be safe. It was the day all the abuse paid off. That life was over now, and I never saw it end. It ended the second I fell asleep three months ago on the day of this ritual. I expected it back here today, and every three months forever. I suppose I thought nobody would ever leave the home, or get out of school, and I’d always have this day every quarter. Yet, here, at eight, it had already vanished, and I never got to say goodbye. I never knew on that last time, that it would be a last time.
Dad and mom didn’t know what I knew standing there; that’d they’d beat me tonight. Instead, they started as they always did, at the bookends, coming together in the middle towards their sacred gift. Dad planned to rub my head and shake my hand, messing my hair even more and knocking my glasses off my nose. Mom planned to have me kiss her.
Dad started with Mary, the oldest, and mom with Kate, the youngest. I absorbed this mess. At least sixteen cups lay throughout the room, many with drinks stained into the glass, yet still liquid. Dad’s weight caused a shake with each shift, and I watched the wobble through the glass. Six plates, three of them from dinner two nights ago, and disgusting forks with the gravy from the dinner caked to their prongs. Nine different stacks of magazines, each at least eighteen inches high lay in random places. Over one hundred pictures in frames were inserted into every imaginable space throughout the room; seven of me. Blankets covering the couches, and covering stacks of what were overflowing boxes stacked two feet above the backs to each of the two couches in the room. Dad’s chair, stained, imprinted, faded, his socks from the last two days tucked into the sides of the cushion. The mess came from the walls and made its way towards us there in the line. The line was the only place where feet could touch carpet. How did I make it to this place in line without falling? How had I walked throughout this house for eight years without noticing the mess? Stacks of VHS tapes, stacks of books, TV Guides for every week in the years 1982 and 1983.
To my left, the three youngest were happy and smiling at the gold star mom gave them for their crafts. She was standing in front of Matt, just to my left. To my right, Daniel’s hair a bit messed, and Solomon smiling. Dad was right in front of Diane, just to my right. As Diane held up her envelope to dad, mom returned Matt his with a scowl that turned his silly grin into a bigger grin.
My head dropped as my hands raised my judgment towards her. Dad noticed my action and paused, waiting for mom to unveil the secret. They must have exchanged a look. My left ear jerked down, turning my head to face Diane sideways. I saw him return her envelope to her unopened. Diane’s eyes changed from glee to hatred, and she crumbled the envelope in her hands. Mom dragged me through the room, in front of the youngest four. Even with my head turned, ear pinched, and glasses hanging suspended around my chin, I made it through the room without stepping on anything or knocking anything over. Things must not exist as anything other than sensations, because there is no way without a miracle occurring on every step I took, that I wouldn’t have stepped on something in this mess. Dad followed. His belt came loose. Mom released my ear. I was turned away from them all now. From behind, I heard the leather belt snap its warning.
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