Can you feel it now?
I’m catapulting through the sky, wizzam, flash, other words that indicate speed and power and brilliance. I’m thundering, I’m barreling, I’m swallowing the entirety of the universe and the world is murmuring but let it murmur, LET IT MURMUR I SAY. I’m in the upstairs loft of my childhood home, lightsaber fighting with Dad, the ultimate showdown, the master versus the apprentice, the king versus the traitorous prince. We crash and ebb and flow and struggle, lightsabers finally meeting at a cross while we each attempt to overpower the other. “Agh!” Dad says, astonished at my strength.
“Aghhhhhhhh” I say, continuing to struggle. The agony! The strength with which I must use here is unnatural, inhuman, even, but I won’t let up and I won’t relinquish. Mom is spectating from across the room, hopefully not too scared (but come on, how could she not be, I am about to beat Dad at his own game).
Eventually she calls to us, grinning but motherly, “Okay, I think it’s time for bed now, you two will have to continue this tomorrow night.”
We are hardly father in son, we are so much more, we are … conspirators. Yes, conspirators, conspirators who will rebel against this tyranny of curfew! From the corner of my eyes I can see that Dad’s hand is still clutching his lightsaber firmly. He has not yet acquiesced and thus I cannot acquiesce. Our eyes meet for a second, and, briefly, the Sith and the Jedi are willing to act in cooperation. A beat of silence, then:
“FIVE MORE MINUTES!” Dad bellows, jumping backwards onto the couch to gain tactical advantage while Mom rolls her eyes good naturedly and continues to watch, smiling.
THIS is the purpose of my existence, my existence as the chosen one! To experience life like THIS to suck it in and to hold it in and to leave it never the same! This opportunity to triumph makes itself apparent in everything, in soft sloshes through carpet and in midnight sucker raids (we call them suckers, Mom and Dad and I so don’t even try to call them lollipops or whatever around here) and in the brightness of the morning sun creeping through my bedside window, the daily signal that it is time to rally the troops.
I shout heroically as I fall haphazardly out of my surprisingly tall, (frighteningly tall, maybe, for others, but not so much for me, ha ha!) bed, alerting Mom and Dad and the entire breakfast coalition that this is the morning for pancakes, pancakes that are shaped like Mickey Mouse and perfectly browned, pancakes that pop like a racetrack gun letting me and the troops know that yes! it is time to get up and throw myself into the world yet again. Allow me to repeat, for emphasis, that these pancakes ARE SHAPED LIKE MICKEY MOUSE!
“Take that, normal pancakes. I’ll be damned if I ever eat another one of you!”
Uncle Tre taught me that word, damn, and had given me a dollar to say it to my parents. They had pretended to be offended but had of course laughed and let me know that, yes, that word is fun to say, and, yes, Uncle Tre and Grandpa say it but, no, I should not say it. Well, fine then, my vocabulary doesn’t need damn or hell or even shit because I know plenty of words and I know the solar system and I know all about ancient Egypt because Mom took me to the library and helped me get all sorts of books about it. So fine I will speak as Mom and Dad direct me unless money is again put on the line here, in which case all bets are off because I am really quite the rebel anyway. I’m a debutante and a dilettante and so to respect the rules of taste is basically a courtesy on my part. The rules do not apply here, ha ha, no no. The rules do not apply to me.
Can you feel it now?
One second I’m catapulting through the sky, wizzam, flash, other words that indicate speed and power and brilliance, and now I’m sixteen and I run outside when Louis says that Mom is crying and I see her out front, when the Sunday sky is hungover and gorgeous, uncertain of whether to be blue or orange or grey. It’s too beautiful, it’s terrifying, and something is not right. I can taste it in the air. It’s cloyingly sweet and the grass is greener than it ever should be, and the birds are ravaging me with their chirping. Everything has conspired to set this, the worst day, against all of the awful beauty the world can muster. All of the wonder and the awe mocks and gloats and laughs at me because now everything is destroyed
And now I guess I am grown up and it does not feel like what I thought it would.
Can you feel it now?
One second I’m catapulting through the sky, wizzam, flash, other words that indicate speed and power and brilliance, and the next second I am here. I am standing in the kitchen, staring at some vinyl lettering on the wall, some Italian word that is probably (hopefully) about cooking. I am staring really intensely, but emptily, so emptily that Mom quits cutting bell peppers to ask if everything is all right only I don’t really hear her because I’m in too deep so I just react kind of startled like “Sorry, what?”
And then she repeats the question and I can feel that answer, that answer that I don’t want to be the answer aching somewhere in the back of my head but mostly I feel nothing and if I feel nothing then really nothing can be too wrong, right? So yes, everything is all right, yes? Yes.
And then her eyes stare like she’s seen this before and I hope that she’s not found me out because if she does then this is real and if this is real then there it all goes. Except for where has she seen this before? Because I have done a good job of keeping up and of smiling during family time and of having friends over and of laughing when those friends are over and of laughing when those friends are not over and of wrestling with Louis and of allowing Lacey to paint my nails and of sitting through myriad Monopoly games engaged and excitable. I have done all I can to hide this emptiness. I have flickered my eyes as to not allow them to be invaded and I have worked on my smile in the mirror (come on now, more teeth, less upward curve, strive for some kind of dimpling, dimples are genuine, this smile is genuine, you are not practicing smiling into a mirror you are smiling and you happen to be by a mirror).
Where on Earth has she seen this before? I have tried to act like I can’t see it all, the mundanity, the loneliness, the corruption. I have tried to act like I am not corrupted yet, but I am, I can feel it radiating from my bones. And here I am, standing in the kitchen. Mom is cutting peppers and Louis is torturing the trumpet two rooms over and Dad is driving home and I am alone. I am an island within an ocean and the waves salt my vision and sting my eyes and as I try to focus, try to speak and connect and feel, I get sloshed in the face and I am waterlogged and back to where I was, way beneath my face and my skull and my soul, thinking and thinking and thinking and feeling nothing.
Can you feel it now?
I promise I’ve been trying.
One second I’m catapulting through the sky, wizzam, flash, other words that indicate speed and power and brilliance. The next I am nothing. I’ve crashed and I’ve burned and I’ve come unglued at times when it would have really been very convenient to stay glued. I’ve been there and back and I’ve seen people come and I’ve seen people go and I’ve faked sickness to escape seeing friends and I’ve justified it because you know it is sort of a sickness I guess even though I’m not being wholly honest and also it’s nobody’s business and now the troops know more than I want them to because what kind of son am I to worry them with these stupid existential crises that I completely realize are completely stupid and now I’m in the kitchen only it’s late and it’s just Dad and I and all you can hear is the sound of our too-loud dryer down the hall.
“I think you’re a lot more like me than I ever realized,” he says, the words thick in his throat. “And it really is a gift, because other people don’t always think like we do and other people can’t always feel like we do and you are so much better than I ever was, you can use that gift to do so much. But with our personality comes an immense capacity to feel pain and because of that you’re going to feel numb sometimes and you’re going to feel lonely sometimes and I’m so sorry because I gave that to you.”
I’ve collapsed into him and he’s holding me now just like he used to, just like he always has.
“Son, I feel alone too sometimes, but you never are.”
We are the same, Dad and I. Dad, my lightsaber combatant, my computer building companion, the man who used to pull me behind a bike from one of those colorful three wheeled things that was big in the nineties but not so much anymore. Me, the loser of our legendary Pokémon battles and Dad, the champion. We are conspirators. We think alike and we feel alike and we, the two of us, will fight that loneliness and bitterness and will show the world that it is ours for the taking, our inheritance, that we can conquer it and better it and stop it from being so much like this. We are superpowered and we are invincible and we can break this.
Can you feel it now?
I’m catapulting through the sky, wizzam, flash, other words that indicate speed and power and brilliance. I am sometimes okay and sometimes not okay. The feeling is an unfeeling that emptily gnaws at my synapses and gnashes in quiet, turning everything insignificant and temporary and meaningless. Sometimes I am scared and sometimes I am apathetic and some days I have to stay home so that people don’t see me for what I really am.
But I am never alone.