People will sacrifice anything for their kids. Shape them like clay, cradle them in a bulletproof wing. Give them kaleidoscope glasses to paint the world perfect. A face only a mother could love. That’s what they would say about me. And it was true. I had acne by the time I was eleven, balding by twenty-four and bald by thirty. But somehow every morning my mother would wake me up with Good morning handsome. My father loved differently. He was constantly busied with being mayor of our county. He always made time for us on Holidays and showed affection through extravagant gifts. He was the king, this town his castle. My sister Anne was a handful too, with her plummeting grades and meltdowns on the rise. She was the kid your mom would warn you about. My parents didn’t talk about her much, the one crack in their American dream reputation. We’d go to baseball games, fundraisers and church as a family. But around when I was fourteen that number turned from four to three. We were the Three Walker Musketeers, representing the royal family of Orlin County, Missouri. Soon people forgot she was ever a part of us, she stopped coming home at night. Eventually we’d only see her on holidays, and sometimes at church. Every Sunday Mother would wake me early with my clean church suit at the foot of my bed. We would leave the house with hair slicked, lips glossed and faces shaved. Here in Orlin county we were the best at our Sunday best. Then we’d ride off in our hatchback Audi royal carriage, shining smiles to the tinted windows. King Keith Walker, queen Betsy Walker, and me, prince Aaron on our way to mass. If we’re talking truth, I never believed in God. Because if he really existed, why would he give me this godforsaken family.
Sometimes I would think about how all we are is recycled shadows. Our energy cannot be destroyed or created. We are a part of everything, and everything is a part of us. It was times when like this when Mother’s hair crackled with volts of energy and Father’s yells would roll through town like a tidal wave, I would wish. I would wish I could become a shadow once more. That morning as I delivered the morning paper, I read the headline. Supreme Court Rules Same-sex Marriage Legal. My first reaction was fear. Fear of watching this perfect morning melt with my parents’ mood. I placed the paper next to Mother’s plate and sat next to her obediently. On queue, she gasped, calling Father into the room. They stare at the headline together, my father’s arms wrapped around Mother’s shoulders. The silence in that room was louder than the pounding in my head. Father spoke first.
“This is… unconstitutional.”
My mother broke her silence too. “Oh my…” The pain in her voice could wilt a flower. Clutching Father’s hand, she searched his face for answers. “They can’t do it in our church- get married? Right?” He put her face in his hands.
“I don’t know darling. But if somehow, God forbid, they do, we will find a new church. Don’t worry.” He kissed her. “I will take it upon myself to make sure every gay leaves Orlin County. They have no place here.” I sat still. Maybe if I didn’t move they wouldn’t see me. Maybe if I didn’t move I could’ve melted back into a shadow.
Dust is a living being. It grows, reproduces and eats furniture alive. Immortal and unkillable, it resides in plain view. No matter how hard you try to rid of it, it keeps coming back for more. This was the only way I could think to describe my parents.
Sometimes when I was very young Anne would sew my clothes. Once when Mother and Father weren’t home she tried to teach me how. Two minutes in I had pricked my finger and was shrieking on the carpet. She cleaned the wound, wiped my tears and sat me on her lap. “I know it hurts, Love. But crying and wiping the blood on Mommy’s carpet won’t help you learn to sew.” That was one month Father was elected Mayor.
I had mentioned bringing Anne to the next election multiple times, but each time I was shut down. She made her decision about this family or She is dead to us were the popular responses from Father. Mother was less opposed. She would purse her lips and gaze at her naive baby boy. Honey, you’ll understand someday. A month after the election there was to be a meteor shower. It was going to be our celebration of the win. During the first election the four of us celebrated. This time it would be three.
In the years before Dad was Mayor, Anne and I would reserve Fridays for each other. Hand in hand, we’d paint the town. I remember chasing raccoons or small deer into the woods. We’d fill a rusted soup can with pennies and rattle it as we shrieked after them. When I was younger Anne told me little dwarfs lived in the woods and would come out at night. We’d create houses out of twigs and rocks for them. Eventually, I realized she was messing with me and was passive aggressive for weeks. I remember catching beetles in my hands and getting nipped. When I’d cry and show her the marks she’d tell me I had been marked by a magic beetle that would give me superpowers. It took ten bites for me to realize I wasn’t Spiderman. But my favorite thing she took me to was always the tracks. If you walked through the woods for about ten minutes it would open up into dirt and concrete, where she said you could see each end of the solar system. Two railroad tracks ran across the ground, rusted. The air was always colder there, where the trees recoiled from the soil. Every thirty minutes a glowing train would whistle by and then be gone, and the darkness would return. If you sat on the concrete and looked up you could see the sky stretching to the blurred ends of your peripheral. I remember lying there one night with Anne.
“Why are all these stars named so fancy.”, I said into the universe. “Why isn’t there a star named Bob or Todd?”
Anne laughed, her head scraping the concrete. “Okay.” She pointed to a warm star directly above our heads. “From that star to the left is named Aaron, to the right Anne.” I smiled in the darkness. “My half of the universe, and yours.”
“What about the one you used to mark the middle?” I asked. Her breath filled the silence.
“That’s up to you.” She said. After a minute of thinking, I decided that star was the center of the universe.