I’m born, a quiet, creepy, big-eyed baby and I get the hang of the toilet pretty fast and I don’t really talk much at all until I’m four, then I start running my mouth and I never stop.
My sister and brother spend a lot of time playing with me. They repeatly spin a .45 on the record player, which I find hilarious – “Go You Chicken Fat Go!”
And we literally have Pong – eat it, neighbors. And more complicated games, like Fifty-Two Pickup, Chutes and Ladders, and You Can’t Touch The Floor. My brother teaches me to make card houses, and we watch the jerks on the Brady Bunch do it way better. You know those are glued together – you know it.
The folks get divorced when I’m four and I think I’m watching Andy Griffith when I first hear my mom and sister talking about it. I’m eating Cheerios out of the box – Dad never let me do that.
Other than that, I don’t notice that Dad is gone so much as the fact that the babysitters have arrived.
Suddenly I have babysitters, one who tries to get me to eat shredded wheat with powdered sugar on it, and also one who has a daughter my age and a replica of a McDonalds in her basement. The babysitter good comes with the babysitter bad.
I hit kindergarten with gargantuan frog eyes and a hilarious frog voice, and a metabolism that allows me to consume practically any amount of food and still appear to be starving. Some folks think I have a tapeworm – maybe I do. A rough gig.
Death shows up and says hello. Helps himself to a grandfather, and then a neighborhood friend on a bicycle on the Fourth of July. I skip both of the funerals, and blink at my ceiling about it in the dark, and start freaking out about scary movies. Mork and Mindy show up, make me feel better.
We get a new stepdad. I’m sure he means well, but we don’t seem to like each other. We bond for ten years and learn to like each other less.
Then a friend dramatically kills himself – I go batshit crazy and some say never come back. I learn to embrace my own strangeness and talk out of my butt. High school gets easier. Girls show up.
Then I meet Mike McDermott at a dishwashing job in Worthington. He says, “Say pal how’d you like to be a cool campus rocker? Cause I could sure use a ride home.”
Then he bites me on the neck or something, because pretty soon that’s what I am, rocking around campus looking fourteen years old. I learn how to talk to cops and shoot pool.
An age of debauchery begins, culminating at the Street Scene Restaurant, where I sit around for several years cracking up with my brother and Shawn and Greeno, and eventually get a little bit comfortable, financially and otherwise.
Pretty soon I run screaming into the West Virginia forest, and I come out ten days later a raving crazy man, talking about spiritual visions and stagnation and fear. People start giving each other funny looks when I walk out of the room. I develop a booming, super villain laugh.
Then I meet Marilyn over breakfast in a German Village restaurant, and there is a sound like two universes colliding, and all Hell breaks loose. Our lives are blasted asunder by the metaphysical shock waves and we escape in a single truck, leaving a path of destruction behind us for a thousand miles.
And several people plot to murder us for real, and an army of people sip their drinks and roll their eyes, and a small group watches quietly, their lips curled into secret smiles.
Yes, and Ellen sizzles from the explosion like a living scream, our twisted fusion, our evolution, she springs forth from the nexus of our colliding worlds, seizing them by the edges in a pair of pink fists.
I demand to BE, she tells us. Okeedokee, we agree, and then we’re parents. We excel at it sometimes and screw it up sometimes and other times we pretty much phone it in – it’s like we spin a wheel every day.
Time kicks our asses at a variety of metaphysical card games. We learn what our parents did right and what they did wrong, and we struggle to understand them both. I start to get a grasp on household plumbing while the people on television seem to be getting younger but they aren’t. They aren’t.
Then Bethany and Chrissy arrive, one of them carrying a clipboard and one of them carrying a large wrench. Both of them ready for lunch. They say, things are going to be a little different around here, and they’re right.
Social workers peck around during a twenty-month adoption, while battle lines form across two families – to whom do these girls belong?
Us, we tell the world with our fingers in the air, and a judge slams his gavel and we’re right. The circle clicks shut, and like a cluster of cells bonding together into a single organism, we are one, a goofy, wise-cracking religion of five.
Marliyn and I do it our way, and it’s a hard way. We nearly get divorced and then we hammer it back together – twice. We learn to take it all apart and rearrange it when we have to, coming up with so many different shapes and variations that nothing seems impossible anymore.
Traveling acrobats? Sure, we could probably be traveling acrobats. I’ll bet there’s a website for that.
We follow Sinatra – up and down and over and out. We find ourselves flat on our faces. We get back into races. We just don’t look or sound as cool, that’s all.
We’ve reached the edge of forty, and the girls are growing and will soon be on their own, and we’ve realized that right in front of us is the other half of our lives.
We look back at the crooked road behind us and it’s still not as long as what lies ahead, and it was the only path to this spot, this place right here, where we congregate together in our goofy, half-crazy religion of five.
We came to this place through madness and naivity, blind luck and arrogance, burning spite and swallowed shame. We came to this place despite our mistakes, this place we would die to defend.
You don’t need a god to be grateful, and you don’t need a church to be reverent. It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve got my girls and it’s barbecue weather – this godless heathen is going outside to pray.