Hide and Seek
Father stayed locked in his room for what felt like years. Elena and Grandfather left for Michigan the next day without telling me goodbye. I didn’t speak to Mother about it. We didn’t speak at all actually. She woke after I was off to school, and stayed out of my hair. She wouldn’t come home until I was asleep. Sometimes I could hear Father or Mother crying through closed doors. Mother would slip Father meals through a crack in his office door, but his face was never shown. Some nights I slept in Rudder’s basement, I’d have to sneak through his window after dark. What fascinated me most through all this was that the town noticed nothing. We were still untouchable, and purely American. Though it was as if I no longer had a family, I had Rudder, Emmylou and Orla. And Eric. Sometimes.
His family was in a ruthless search for him. I’d seen them shaking people in desperation, sweat, and tears. They wanted him gone, but not him. They only wanted the part of him who was bisexual to be gone. They told him to leave and never come back. So as always, he did as his family said. He never saw them again. I started texting him more, he started telling me more stories about his life in the home. It started sounding like more of a home than his old one. And even worse, more of a home than mine. When I was exhausted I would sit in front of father’s door, lean back on the white plaster and listen to his turmoil. I was wrecking him, but I didn’t care.
Days later Father emerged from his office. He squinted from the light, standing for the first time in years. His clothes were wrinkled and stained, his hair was matted and sticky. His bones had collapsed and his eyes had sunk into his skull. Mother hugged him in the silence, and I stood watching. He walked toward me, afraid. Father put his hands on my shoulders and hugged me, tears glossing his eyes. And then I hit the floor. Mother screamed hysterically and hit dad on the shoulder. I lay on the floor and didn’t move. Mom was screaming but soon the sound was drowned by my ears singing. Dad stood over me clenching and unclenching his fist. And then he cried more and collapsed onto me and begging for forgiveness. But I couldn’t hear. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I couldn’t hear or if I didn’t want to. I pushed him onto the floor and staggered up. Mother was on the floor next to him trying to get him to speak to her. He was shaking. So was Mom. And the room itself. And then I realized it wasn’t Dad or Mom or the room but me. I was shaking so hard the bruise on my forehead leaked into my feet. I slammed the front door and ran into the rain. It was only drizzling but the water blended in with my tears. I fell into the puddled grass. It rained harder, so I cried harder. I sprawled into the earth and screamed back at the rain.
People will sacrifice anything for their kids. Shape them like clay, cradle them in a bulletproof wing. Change the core of their political and religious beliefs, commit themselves to social exile, destroy their family’s reputation. The next morning Father made a statement to the local news. “At this point in American Society, times are changing. If we turn our backs we will be left behind. Now is the time for Orlin to try and remember we are all God’s children. We cannot change the Marriage Equality bill, but we can try and understand it.” And the town set fire. Our house was spray painted with f*ggot lover. Orla and Emmylou were forbidden to talk to me. When I walked through school it was like there was a bubble around me so no one could come near. One time I came home, and it was dead silent. I dropped my bag and made my way upstairs cautiously. I remember hearing a faucet dripping. I put my hand against the wall and made my way down the hallway. I felt something cold on my foot. I looked down to see my shoes soaked through. The floor was covered in cold water. I followed the sound to the bathroom, the water rippling around my feet. I opened the door, and more poured out. And then I saw mother. She was lying in the bathtub, fully clothed. The water was running cold, spilling onto the floor. She scraped her hair back with her palm and looked at me. Her lips were blue, and whatever makeup she was wearing beforehand was wiped down the side of her face.
“How was your day.” She asked, smiling a little.
“I don’t know… how was your’s?”
With that, her face melted into anger. She lifted one shriveled finger. “Get out”, she whispered. When I didn’t move, she grabbed a bar of soap and threw it at me. “I SAID GET OUT.”
It hit the wall next to my head and shaved into strips. I walked out and slammed the door behind me, slipping in the water.
Sometimes I would come into the kitchen and Mother would be crying on the floor. I’d ask her what was wrong.
“It’s broken.” She showed me the shattered china cup through desperate breaths. The china was her grandmother’s. She’d smash it on the floor and start shrieking. She began pulling the rest of the delicate china out of the cabinet and shattering them in a pile. Her hands were bloody and her face streaked with tears.
“Mother please stop.” I held her trembling wounded hands. She searched my eyes for anything she recognized. When she didn’t find it she wailed painfully, and threw the whole cabinet to the floor. Glass shattered and my feet went numb. She then lay down in the broken pile and cried. No one cleaned up the mess. The broken cabinet stayed on the floor for God knows how long. She kept whispering to herself.
“It’s not my fault.”
Father was assaulted in an alleyway that night, and came home bloodstained and broken. He smiled when he saw me, melting on the couch.
“How do you feel?” His teeth were red.
“Disgusting.” I kept my distance.
“I did it for you, son.” He said. That disgusted me even more than what he used to think of homosexuality.
“I know.” My voice was dry, my throat was sandpaper. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Was that not good enough for you?” I watched him with half-closed eyes. “Supporting your fucking rights? What else do you want from me, Aaron.” I spit at his feet. His eyes were flaming. With his last breath of strength, he lifted himself up to threaten me. He was bruised. He was weak. He was broken.
“You are a disappointment, Father. Do you want to know why?” I cut him open with my words. “Because you only support my rights because they are my rights. You couldn’t support equality until it hurt you. Until you had a minor inconvenience it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to you that Avery and Marissa were being stripped of their dignity, their home. You, Father, are a fucking asshole.” And then I watched him crumble. His eyes teared and he held himself as he slowly fell to the earth. It was over. I shattered not only the last thread of hope, our last scared cartilage, but his identity. As my parents cried in their own caves I walked upstairs. I collected my phone and a charger, and walked into the night air. I looked back one last time into my dimming home. And I was done. Finished. I wiped it all from my childhood. I sent one text that night, and it was to Eric. I’m coming.
I walked in the dark until I found the railroad tracks where Anne died. I stood in the dry darkness, watching the trees dance in the silent breeze. And I began walking. I wasn’t sure where. I walked along the tracks in silence for hours. Every time a train passed I hid behind the trunk of a tree. I could not risk dying now. Hours turned into years. At least it felt like it. The sun rose and fell once. A whole day went by of walking along the tracks in silence. And soon I came upon concrete. A station. It was real. I had no ticket, so I sat in the leaves of the underbrush and waited. Within an hour a train pulled into the station. I stood, grabbing onto the metal bars and pulled myself up desperately. I lay on the cold metal, panting in the dark. Soon the train began to chug forward. I held my breath as it began to throw itself forward. I held the bars until my knuckles turned white, my hair violently whipping the air. I began to pull myself into a stand, the trees and stars around me blurring into an image I just couldn’t catch. I was flying. I screamed into the wind. I wasn’t sure if it was in excitement or fear, maybe both. I didn’t care. I was flying without ever leaving the ground. I hugged the bars for hours until the sun drove over the horizon. I was still shrieking. My eyes dripped in the wind, but the only thing that came out was a laugh. I sat down and closed my eyes. I was blind with the speed, so I painted my favorite rivers in my mind. I imagined what the trees looked like here, because I was only here for less than a blink. Eventually, we slowed into vision and I let out a breath I didn’t know was in me. My hair was stuck to my wet face, so I wiped my eyes clean. I stood and watched where we were. I don’t know. I repeated the cycle, but when we pulled into what looked like a large town I decided I was ready to get off. I wandered into the slightly crowded square. What is this place? It had small streets and big people. I had no idea anyone could be so tall. I tapped one man on the shoulder who had a black beard and black eyes.
“Excuse me, sir, what state are we in?” He laughed, his skin crinkling around his eyes.
“We’re in Indiana, son. Why you askin?” He turned around to face me and beamed genuinely.
“I was just wondering. I’ve been on a road trip to New York City, and I wasn’t so sure how far along I was.” He nodded.
“You need a ride, kiddo? I got a truck with a seat if you need. I’ll be heading up to Columbus City tomorrow mornin’ for delivery work, so I can get you as far as there.” I smiled back.
“That would be really great actually. What are you delivering?” I asked pushing my hair back. He laughed.
“A whole lot of fruit. Pears, Peaches, Apples, you name it. Everything and the kitchen sink. If you hungry they give me a barrel of my own with each paycheck.” He put one hand on my shoulder. “Follow me, boy. We gotta get away from this crowd.” He began to push away through the crowd. I followed the man, still hesitant. I felt his hand wrap around my wrist and I was pulled into a bar. The bar top was sticky and laced with water stains. He ordered himself a beer and me a soda. He sat me down on a stool and lit up a flavored cigarette. Coughing into his fist he looked back down at me.
“Where’d you say you was heading to?” He inhaled through the tobacco shakily, breathing out through his nose.
“I’m hitching my way to the Big Apple. I didn’t catch your name?” He slapped his forehead with the side of his hand, ashes snowing onto his lap.
“Oh dear. My name’s Joseph, but you should call me Mr. Fitz. Makes me feel high and mighty.” His laughter turned into a painful coughing fit, but it was worth it. “Only joking. Call me Joe, son.”
“Nice to meet you, Joe. I’m Aaron.”
“The pleasure’s mine, kid. So tell me, where you be staying tonight? I know some good spots to sleep if you ain’t got a place. I’ve been sleeping in my truck, if you want you could even sleep with the fruits.” He dripped the ashes onto the counter, taking a swig of his beer”
“Actually, sleeping in your truck sounds great.” I grinned. I hadn’t opened my soda yet, so I decided to leave it closed for now. I slipped it into my sweater pocket as Joe took his last swig of beer, smacking the glass down onto the counter.
“Let’s roll.” He ruffled my hair and sauntered away from the bar.
The day rolled by slowly, and eventually, Joe brought me to his truck in an empty parking lot. He opened the door to the storage space in the back of the truck. It was packed with crates of fruit, but the middle was only one box high. Joe gave me some scratchy blankets for the night, and I clambered into the darkness. The doors slammed shut and darkness enveloped me. I shivered on the unearthed fruit, desperately trying to get comfortable.
That night I dreamed about Anne. She was floating in the cosmos. Sorry. She was the cosmos. She was outlined in stars with whole galaxies in her eyes. She was stardust and suns and the most beautiful I’d ever seen her. And then the stars faded away, and she was no longer there. She was dispersing into tiny shards of stars. And as the darkness overtook my vision I began to cry again. I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t sad. Or angry or even happy. I wasn’t even crying, it was all a dream. I didn’t know you could cry in your dreams. I woke up shaking. The truck was on the move, and the uneven road rattled me violently. I staggered up, holding onto some of the crates. The light flooded in from the splotched windshield. I pulled forward until I could hold the shotgun seat from behind. Joe looked over from the driver’s seat.
“Look who’s up. I got you some breakfast for the road, you’re welcome.” He smiled. I leaned over the seat and pulled up a plastic bag.
“Thanks.” I unwrapped a water bottle, crumbling muffin, and pack of cigarettes.
“I got you a little treat too. I always says once a man can breathe he can take a puff. It’s good for a man’s mind.” He paused. “Here.” He tossed a lighter into the back of the truck. I caught it and looked at the cheap pack of cigarettes. I flipped open the paper box and pulled out a cigarette.
“What are you waiting for boy? I don’t see no smoke.” I thought about dad collapsed in the smoky bathroom.
“Nothing. I’ll try it I guess.” I put one in my mouth and flicked the lighter against the edge. It flamed for a second and then began to smoke. I took one breath and immediately broke into a cough.
“That’s more like it.” Joe grinned. I put out the cigarette and tossed the pack into the front seat.
“Not for me, thanks for the breakfast though.” I sat on the crates for hours, watching the sky through faded blinks.
“Okay boy, this is as far as I can get you. It’s time to hop off.” I sat up, dazed. The sun was down, and the skyscrapers lit up the sky. There were no stars to be seen. The doors to the truck cranked open.
“Come on out.” I stood up, and wobbled into the night air. “It was nice to meet you, Aaron.”
“You too.” I beamed even though I knew he couldn’t see me in this lighting. And then he drove off into the darkness. I held my arms in the cold and began walking toward the glowing buildings. I shivered, and my legs gave way.
“Don’t move. I have a weapon. Do as I say and no one gets hurt.” A low voice muttered behind me. I held my breath. “Give me your wallet and phone.” I reached into my pocket and felt my phone. I had no wallet. But I did have a soda can. My breath was shaky. “Wallet and phone.” The voice was angrier. I held the now warm can and lifted my hand carefully. Swinging around, and launched it into the person’s face. I heard a yell, and then my hand was wet. I ran. I just ran toward the lights of the city, crying. I began to collapse on myself, and my knees broke. I sat in the cold dark air and rolled into a ball. I wiped the blood from my attacker on the grass and sank into the earth.