The first flake of snow our hot little city has seen in twenty years drifted down from the heavens above and landed right atop my wife’s casket. Typical. She loved the snow. She never outright said it, but I could tell she always missed her white Christmases from when she was a child. This would have been nice for her to see. This would have made her happy; which isn’t to say she was unhappy. Quite the contrary. We had carved out a nice little life for ourselves here and everything was running smooth as silk until...this. I can’t help but feel like I am being punished for something. That I am the butt of some horrible practical joke played by some yucksters in the clouds.
I’m seated in the front row and turn around to catch a glimpse of the crowd, see if anyone else notices this snow. But, really, who isn’t going to notice snow? Doesn’t take me long to feel stupid and turn back around, hiding my face in the palms of my hands.
Marianne, my newly deceased wife, was well loved by pretty much everyone who met her. The evidence of that lies in the sea of people behind me, all bundled up in the warmest clothes they could dig out from their winter-sparse wardrobes, wanting to see her off into the great unknown. I don’t recognize a lot of them and the ones I do, I have a feeling I won’t be seeing much of them ever again now that she is gone. Which is fine. I like to keep to myself, anyway.
I can hear the chatter of a hundred voices begin to rise and I know the funeral is over. I guess I blocked out the end. I raise my face from my palm just in time to see the casket being lowered into the ground. I have no idea what to do so I just sit. I try and pick out random conversations from the gallery but with not much luck. I guess that is probably for the best. I’m sure I wouldn’t like what some of them have to say.
My row is empty, which isn’t surprising. The one other person in it was my sister-in-law Elise Reynolds. She was seated at the far end when I arrived and instead of sitting next to her, I sat at the opposite end. I couldn’t bear to talk with anyone so I took the coward’s way out and avoided her.
“Hey,” a woman’s voice surprises me from behind. I turn and look, caught off-guard. It’s Elise.
“Hey,” I say, with as much of a smile I can muster, which, ya know, isn’t much.
We stare at each other for what seems like forever. She finally purses her lips together in an odd, concerned little smirk. “You going to be okay?”
I remain silent for a few moments more, unable to answer the question. Am I going to be okay? I hadn’t given it much thought until this very moment. I want to say no. No, I will probably not be okay. I don’t, though. My only response is to finally push the anger aside and start crying.
I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Archie Lemons. Seriously. Please don’t laugh; I’m well aware of how stupid it sounds. To make things even worse, my actual name really is just Archie. Not even Archibald. I guess my dad really liked All in the Family.
Oh well, it’s my name and I’m stuck with it so I learn to cope. Sometimes I’ll imagine my dad trying to convince my mom what to name me and it makes me smile. Sometimes even made up memories are enough to get you through some tough times. I sure do miss them. I could use someone to lean on right now.
I was born and raised in Bakersfield, California and still reside here. A lot of people put it down but it’s a pretty decent place to live and raise a family, if you’re lucky enough. Sure, there are some bad sides to it, like the hillbilly north side, the gangsta’s-paradise east side and the ghetto south side, but my area is nice. The city itself is located about an hour and a half from Los Angeles and is the hometown of rock supergroup Korn. You remember Korn? Yeah...me either.
My mom died when I was only seven months old. A car accident just a few blocks from our house. My dad never told me this, but I found out years later that she was out on a quick, late-night diaper run for me when some stupid drunk in a wanna-be A-Team van smashed into the side of her Chrysler. Apparently, for him, stop signs are mere suggestions. Guess which one was able to walk away from the accident, though? Shocking right?
Anyway, the drunk I knew about; the fact that my shitty pants were the driving force behind the whole incident I didn’t learn of until I overheard some people talking about it. It’s a weird feeling to suddenly discover you were the cause of someone’s death, no matter how indirectly, especially when that person is the person who loves you the most. And me, having the serious problems that I do and being the asshole that I am, often wonder what ever became of my shitty pants that fateful night. I obviously never got those diapers.
So, needless to say, my dad raised me and it wasn’t until after he died that it finally clicked with me just how hard it probably was for him. At three years of age, I was diagnosed with autism, which is a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s normal construction of social and communicational skills. Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but I’ll save you the lecture. Let’s just say, whatever the other kids were doing at my age, I was doing the opposite. If they were talking and playing on the playground, I was completely non-verbal and stacking various objects all over the house. If other kids played different games, watched different cartoons and had friends, I obsessed over the same thing, over and over, probably driving my father insane, never would sit still to watch anything, and stayed to myself, usually in whatever room my dad was not in, causing him to constantly be on the move and never get any rest.
But, like I said, I didn’t realize how difficult it must have been for him to raise me. I often got violent when I was little and would lash out for no reason. Just something inside told me to do it so I did it. Frustration was also a huge factor, whereas everyone else can communicate their wants and feelings, I could not. I had nothing. I had no voice until I was seven. Try not talking for one day and see how it goes. Then add to that the inability to convey anything, even pain, whether it be through hand motions, nodding or anything. I was a six-month old trapped in a kid’s body, pretty much, and back in the early 80′s, nobody knew how to deal with me. Hell, they still don’t, which is why I stick to myself. Sure, I’ve gotten a little better with some things, but deep down, I’m still the same old Archie. I just talk now and don’t stack things.
Anyway, my dad died of a heart attack almost two years ago and it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me up until that point, seeing as I was too young to comprehend my mother’s passing. I was devastated. I still am. It’s a hell of a thing to lose a parent. I know everyone goes through it sooner or later, but I was hoping for a few more years. He was young. Sixty-three. Dropped dead while Marianne and I were eating lunch and he was piddling around at his house. But, that is a story for another day. Let’s just say he was a great guy and was my biggest fan. He was also the go-to guy for all things pop culture. You know what I mean?
I’m sure we all have that one friend who we call upon when some ridiculous trivia is tripping us up. They’re the guy you call for the answer. They’re the guy you see to settle the bet. That was my dad and he knew it all. Vital information such as ALF’s real name, his girlfriend and best friend and his home planet. Life changing information such as Joe Friday’s badge number, the R2 unit that blew up on Uncle Owen and the guaranteed-to-get-you-laid knowledge of Manimal’s real name!
It’s funny, but with him gone, I’ve tried to take over the business. I want to be the go-to guy. Only one small problem, whereas he had tons of friends, I have like two, and I don’t even really like them. So, the phone calls are pretty few and far between. Oh well. All the information is there, tucked away in my brain. Without the skills needed for normal social interaction, there is plenty of space left over for Simpsons’ facts!
Moving along. Let’s see. Career wise, I was a bit of a late bloomer. By that, I mean, I couldn’t decide what I wanted. My goal growing up was to be a writer for the newspaper. Working the beat and breaking the tough stories, making a difference in the world through hard work and the all-mighty written word.
Two problems arose, both putting a rapid halt to my dreams. One, me and hard work. I don’t know, but I’m really not a fan. Two, the actual writing of the articles. See, I thought since I was so bad at actually talking to people that writing should come easily to me. I figured the awards would come piling in along with the money and fame.
You see, as you’ll soon find out, I can barely tell a story, let alone write one. What I thought was a masterpiece was, according to an editor at the paper, the biggest pile of incoherent, runny, wet, warm, steaming dog shit he had ever read. He said he’s read shit by Stephanie Meyer that was better than this. He then asked if this was a joke. I laughed because he just pretty much admitted to reading Twilight and then said yes. It sure was a joke. Then I told him to go fuck himself and well, so much for the Pulitzer.
So, with my Peter Parker / Clark Kent / Fletch / Kolchak dream successfully quashed, I moved on to another television show I liked: The mustachioed dream-machine Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.
I’m pretty sure you can tell where this story is headed now.
To say Marianne was less than thrilled about my new career dream would be an understatement. I thoughtfully listened to her concerns then did what I wanted to, anyway. That’s how I roll.
I signed up for some online college courses that were required to get your license and passed two years’ worth of classes in six months, which was easy for me. Schoolwork was a cinch; it was the actual school that was a nightmare. I was taunted and teased up through sophomore year of high school when my dad finally had had enough and placed me in classes where I was pretty much left alone. A lot easier for me. Kids can be so heartless. I never did anything to anyone but still was picked on because I am a little different. During my lunches the kids would hurl food at me from across the park area where everyone ate. There I was, off in the corner, minding my own business, when I would hear Cleve Van Sant or Darrel Rollins yell Retard! from across the grass. I would pretend not to hear, but they could tell I was faking. Then came the food. I swear they would buy extra food just to throw at me.
Cleve Van Sant and Darrel Rollins. There are two names I will never forget. Them and their cronies. Their laughter used to keep me up at night. My only saving grace there was a girl named Karen Neumann. She was always nice and made me feel like a real person and not some freak. I lost contact with her when I left, though.
Well, I’m passed that now. I’m a big boy. I have much heavier things to keep me up now.
Anyway, with the college courses out of the way, it was time to get my field hours going. I took on non-paying work for a local defense attorney and began digging up information on various people, following them, snapping quick pictures, stuff like that. And, the shocking thing about it was that I was good. Really good. I could see things that others couldn’t. My concentration was so good and I was so obsessive, I found things most people overlooked. So much for that so called disability.
With my hours completed, the third and final hurdle was the test. The dreaded P.I. test where seventy percent of all those who take it fail. Where they ask some random questions no one can be fully prepared for, such as: What does the P stand for in HIPAA? Nobody knows that. It’s absurd. But, it’s also the only question I got wrong.
So anyway, there I was, a real life private eye, owner of Lemons Investigations, with a gun and everything. I’ll admit, the only action my gun has gotten is when I pose with it in front of the bathroom mirror. Hopefully that’s all I’ll ever need it for.
I took on several cases over the course of that first year, mainly because I was the cheapest in town due to my, well, inexperience. While on the job, however, I did manage to befriend a few people on the police force, which is no easy feat. Most of them hate private eyes. But, I am good and I am fair, so sometimes they ask for my help and sometimes I ask for theirs. It’s a small group but they’re still good to have around in case of emergencies. It made my wife happy to see me using teamwork to get the job done. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call these people my actual friends, they were, at the least, business associates, and as long as I was actually associating with them, Marianne was pleased. I know she always wanted me to make some friends but, really, that didn’t interest me very much. I’m a loner, Dotty. A rebel.
Actually, that is a lie. Without Marianne around now I don’t know what I am going to do. She was my rock, as cliché as that is. Without her around...I...don’t know. I feel like I’ll float adrift in a vast ocean of fear, frustration and loneliness before giving into the struggle and sinking.
I know I need to keep focused, keep pushing ahead. Work keeps me sharp, keeps my brain firing on all cylinders. Only problem is, business seems to be desert-dry right now. I just finished up a few more adultery cases and one case of embezzlement, but my one and only current case seems to have hit a dead end. Not only have I not been paid so far, I can’t even get ahold of my client. Add to that the last couple days since the incident and I can pretty much assume that case is dead. So, tell me, what reason do I even have to get out of bed anymore?
I’m crying now, and it is literally the first time since I came home and found her; that dark crimson splatter painting the nursery wall above the red, southbound brush stroke where she slid down, dead before she even reached the carpet, along with my family, my future, and my unborn daughter.
I feel the pressure of something gripping me and it takes me a moment to realize Elise is holding on to me as we both sob. Time passes, maybe a minute, maybe an hour, but I finally let go. We’re left standing there on the fringe of a laid out tarp edging up to the hole my wife’s casket now occupies. The snow is falling harder.
I look down at the casket and as if sensing I wanted to be alone, Elise takes a few steps back.
My wife. In a hole. It’s a lot to take in. She was a beautiful woman with long hair as dark as black coffee under a moonless sky. She had that kind of smile that could make any situation better, any fear not as scary. I was lucky to have found her and I was even luckier to have her fall in love with me.
I have no choice but to load the guilt I feel for her and my daughter onto my back, already overloaded with the guilt I have for my father. And mother. It will weigh me down forever, but I have no other option but to try. Try to keep moving forward.
I lean forward and speak softly to her. I tell her I am sorry. I tell her I know I wasn’t the perfect husband but I did try my best. I promise her that I will amount to something and I will make her proud of me. I promise to try and make the world a little better place and try to bring closure to the families of other people who had loved ones stolen from them.
As I stand there, rigid and cold, I silently hope that she knows she was worth more than the few items that were stolen along with her life. I hope she knows she was my world and I will love her long after the last breath leaves my lungs.
And then I ask her to watch over me, because now that she is gone, I am going to need a lot of help.
So, I will attempt to tell you my story. Sometimes I may get sidetracked and sometimes I may not make any sense. And even more likely, there may be times when you just want to punch me in the face. But, bear with me, because this is the first day of my new life and I haven’t even found my footing.
Also, in case you were wondering, ALF’s real name is Gordon Shumway. His girlfriend is Rhonda and his best friend is Skip, and they, of course, come from the planet Melmac. Joe Friday’s badge number is 714 and the exploding R2 unit was R5-D4, despite being an R2 unit.
Oh, and Manimal’s name is Professor Jonathan Chase. I knew that would be bugging you for a long time.