Human Bay

The first book I remember my father giving me was an oversized, hardback edition of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild with an impressionistic malamute painting on the cover. The book meant a lot to him, often claiming the title of his favorite whenever the question appeared in conversation, and he credited it for saving his life when he ran away from home one winter night as a child after a fight with his parents, seeking refuge at his grandfather’s house who lived a few miles away only to find their home was empty, so my father dug a burrow into the snow banks that surrounded the driveway and curled into a ball to keep warm (a survival technique he had learned from Mr. London), staying in his burrowed hole for hours until his grandfather returned from a dinner party. With that in mind, the particular edition of The Call of the Wild my father gave me may have meant even more to him than the book itself—it was originally a gift from the same grandfather my father ran to, and the inscription he wrote to my father on the first endpaper sat above the inscription my father wrote to me. I can’t remember what either inscription said, only that the grandfather’s was short and written with a fine tipped pen in exaggerated cursive, whereas my father’s was written with a fat bold marker. At that age, my father often told me stories about his grandfather, a man I never met who had apparently dressed sharply, carried himself deliberately, and traveled to Japan frequently on business trips for a now defunct toy company. My father loved and respected him in such a way that I almost envied the two of them when I was a child—I wished I had a partner like that. It wasn’t until later that I learned (or at least fully comprehended) that this same grandfather was actually my father’s step-grandfather, having married his grandmother when my father was seven (the same year he ran away from
home), a fact that casts my father’s love for the man in a stranger light, as it seems to me the defining characteristic of grandparents is a gentle relationship and a deep love unique to common bloodlines, while also casting the step-grandfather’s brief, unmemorable inscription to my father on the front endpaper of The Call of the Wild in a starker, less-strange light.

The second book I remember my father giving me was The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I was in seventh grade (though I have a late birthday, so whichever age you think of me at this time, think it one year younger), and my father came home one day with the pocket-sized edition of the book, the title in a serif font on a cover completely white save for seven rainbow- colored stripes positioned across the upper left corner, an edition I’m not sure is in print anymore as the publisher seems to have returned to the original, first-edition cover featuring a red horse. He got it for me because he knew I loved reading and because he claimed to have read it at my age—The Catcher in the Rye was the second perineal contender for his favorite book that won out whenever The Call of the Wild was not within his mind’s grasp, and I believe one of the only two books my father had ever seriously read in that he met what they offered. I brought the book to school the next day for our scheduled private reading time—before The Catcher in the Rye came along, I read children’s fantasy books about elves and magic in my private time, the titles of which I remember but am too embarrassed or prideful to admit as they hold no cultural currency and thus cannot carry the weight of allusion appropriate in a fictional story about my dead father and how the aftershocks of his death rippled through the life of my brother, but books that were still important enough to me that I feel indebted to include them here in an aside, for I can remember certain scenes from those books more vividly than more literary works I read later on in life, which surely is more a function of how the brain works at that age than the books

themselves, a function which may go some way in explaining why my father held his step- grandfather in such high esteem (and which may also explain why I found myself oddly interested in the film adaption of one such fantasy book that was eventually released many years later)—and devoured it. It’s no coincidence that this was also the period of my life where I was blossoming into puberty (blossoming being an odd word to describe a young boy’s entrance into puberty and a hypersexual word to apply to oneself, yet one that feels right all the same), meaning the most distinct scene I remember from that first reading, and the one I returned to most often during my private time, was when the protagonist Holden Caulfield hired a prostitute who wore a green dress—they only action the pair took was one of conversation, but the build- up and anticipation never failed to give me feelings that confused and excited me. Once, after rereading that scene, our seventh grade English teacher, who was fond of unconventional learning exercises, made every student lie on the floor while she walked around the room asking us to imagine poetic imagery with our eyes closed. This was also the day she wore a flowing and folded floor-length dress, and as she walked above us, I instead imagined myself opening my eyes to see what may have been beneath, a thought that also gave rise to feelings that confused and excited me, strange sensations that presaged ones still unknown to me, anticipations that mirrored those found between Holden Caulfield and the prostitute. In the end, nothing truly happened in either instance (just as Holden Caulfield never slept with the woman, I never opened my eyes), yet both instances felt visceral and meaningful to me, perhaps because, lacking a terminus, they could extend forever in a potential state.

I had no way of knowing the famous reputation The Catcher in the Rye had back then, and I doubt my father was plugged in to the literary scene when he gave it to me, so I, like him, had no

problem calling it my favorite book, and I reread it several times between seventh grade and college, even going so far as to tell the manager at my first bookstore job that the book was kind of my thing in that I reread it once a year or so to reconnect with Holden Caulfield, to which my manager nodded politely and said it was interesting (this manager suddenly quit a few months later in order to ride his motorcycle to California in order to win back the heart of a woman he loved, so if he did think of me as juvenile, I’m not sure what standard I was cast against). It wasn’t until I started using the internet in an unhealthy way that I learned The Catcher in the Rye was an embarrassing favorite book to have, if not merely pedestrian. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, was not as heroic as I thought, and it might have been a bad thing that I identified closely with his line of thinking—I was meant hold an ironic distance between us, not recognition. This criticism would have been enough alone for me to stash the paperback in the back of my closet along with old Pokémon cards and Black Sabbath posters, but it all sat beside a more damning assessment, namely that the book was cloyingly sweet, sentimental, and not serious literature compared to the avant-garde coming out of Europe and Latin America—it was a novel that belonged with To Kill a Mockingbird on school reading lists, not on the shelves of people who wanted to be taken seriously. I never picked up The Catcher in the Rye again after this discover, and soon replaced its place in conversations with the collected stories of Franz Kafka, which became the card I flashed whenever I felt the need to tell people the book I reread every year or so.

I found that copy of The Catcher in the Rye recently, the one with a completely white cover save for seven rainbow-colored stripes, and in many ways that discovery was the origination of this story. I was down in my mother’s basement, formerly my parent’s basement, rummaging

through boxes I had left behind throughout the years of moving from one apartment to another before making my final departure out west. The boxes were relegated to a small room that contained a sump pump and fuse panel, with the rest of the basement having been converted to a failed weed growing operation my brother tried to start after receiving a dubious medical license, the only remnants of which were the high wattage fluorescent light fixtures that hung from the ceiling, reflective white paper taped over the walls, and a few dead plants. It was the second time I had been home in the last six weeks. The first was planned around the celebration of life my mother held for my father in our backyard (the term celebration of life struck me as both wordy and overly suburban, so when I described the event to coworkers and friends I would alternately call it a wake or funeral, terms inaccurate in more ways than one, but terms I felt captured the seriousness and melancholy I thought death should bring, or, more truthfully, words that sounded more romantic than celebration of life and better suited the tortured portrait I wanted to present to the world after my father died, which was a task not entirely dishonorable, as there was plenty of me that felt tortured), whereas the second visit was impromptu and entirely at my mother’s request. My brother had gone off the rails a few days earlier and left a trail of wreckage behind him, and as a result, my mother asked me to come home again and help get her arms around the situation, essentially requesting I fill a role that was still unclear. I’d arrived that morning by plane then taxi was now waiting for my mother to finish showering before we could go find my brother. The Catcher in the Rye was at the bottom of a tub of books I had previously decided no longer deserved a place on my shelf. I flipped through the pages, slightly disappointed that this book left my arsenal long before I made it habit to mark pages up with marginalia, and very disappointed that my father hadn’t inscribed this book at all before giving it to me twenty years
prior, let alone with an inscription that could become a palimpsest of meaning in light of his death (I missed my father, and one of the reckonings I was facing, slow to the uptake as I was, was how death shut down the kitchen so to speak, meaning all I had of him at the moment he died was all that ever would be, a finality that I had somehow avoided contention with in the months leading up to his death, so instances like the one I found myself in while rummaging through old tubs of books in my mother’s basement where I flipped between the endpaper and title page repeatedly looking for an inscription that did not exist were more pathetic than I could have ever predicted and stirred a Janus-faced grief inside me, one side of which contained the feelings I had toward my father and the other side of which contained the feelings I had toward myself since I was feeling those feelings about my father).

I stuck The Catcher in the Rye in my backpack along with an extra change of clothes. Once my mother finished in the bathroom, I began packing her car. We knew my brother was up north, likely at our property but not guaranteed. He had left home two days prior after an absolute blowout fight that resulted in a personal protection order filed against him by a cousin, a phone call to our maternal grandmother where he called her daughter was a faggot, threats to storm an uncle’s office building, insults against our mother’s dog, and other things that were equal parts worrying, funny, and empty. To say it was beyond the pale would be an understatement, but the longer his behavior continued, the more my indignation transformed into concern and the more my concern transformed into apathy. As I loaded my mother’s car with her luggage and the dog stroller, I heard his texts continue to roll in over the cars Bluetooth system connected to her phone—you are so pathetic it makes me laugh, the robot voice told her, before adding that dad should have left her ten years ago—and I couldn’t even muster a sigh. My mother, too, hardly

seemed to notice, instead concentrating on folding the wheels inward on the dog stroller after I’d given up. In the corner of the garage, I noticed garbage bags filled with my brothers clothes (a detail I can’t help but add—for as long as I’ve known him, my brother always spelt clothes as cloths, a small but crucial mistake, one that has always made me wonder why he hadn’t self- corrected by now, as he was certainly his own version of a sharp dresser, spending a lot of the money he earned from selling drugs in streetwear boutiques found in the wealthier Detroit suburbs, or why no one in his circle had corrected him—perhaps they, like me, felt it wasn’t their place to potentially belittle him, or perhaps he had no one allied enough to do so, no one that estimated his intelligence above a spelling error) along with an unhinged closet door covered in fist-sized holes, and I questioned how much context of the fight I was missing.

I never found the northern region of the state particularly beautiful, at least not compared to how the earth looked out west, given that Michigan was relatively flat and every stretch of forest was soon interrupted by some field, barn, or trout farm, all man-made, similar to how the forests soon revealed themselves to contain rows of parallel trees planted by conservation corps, how every patch of land parceled off and sold revealed itself to be no more than a reclaimed gravel pit, which was exactly the property my father bought shortly before he died, and where I had the slow realization earlier that month that it wasn’t the height of trees that told their age, but their width, as I had walked as far back into the woods as I could reasonably hope to go without getting lost and upon looking back I still saw the entire shell of the house my father had been building through the thin lines of poplar trees, still saw my mother and brother debating where the best place to spread his ashes might be when the house was built, and still saw the few day laborers carrying the expensive storm windows across the property, those windows being the last

purchase my father made when he was still in the right frame of mind (his cause of death was a fast moving brain tumor, which altered his mental faculties in addition to everything else) and cost somewhere in the realm of five figures. That said, up north Michigan did have a certain charm I couldn’t deny, especially when the sky was overcast and rainy, as was the weather that accompanied me and my mother while we drove to find my brother. The green of the fields popped out like technicolor, and the gentle rolling hills struck a melancholy note in the landscape that made me feel like I was elsewhere, which was one of the best feelings a place could provide. My mother and I didn’t speak on the drive (mother unfortunately carries less literary water than father, and, at least in English, is a word that carries a neurotic and hypersexual connotation not unlike blossoming, but a word that best matched our relationship at that time—when my father first got sick, she was still very much my mom, and perhaps more my mom than ever before, but since he died our relationship took a frosty and Victorian turn, no doubt due to stress of the preceding six months and all the stressors my father left behind, not least of which was debt remaining on the unfinished house, meaning our relationship became one of thinly veiled remarks, disapproval, and resentment, speaking with one another only as much as charade deemed necessary or when emergency struck, such as it had with my brother suffering what could now clearly be called an episode—our relationship became one of mother and son, in other words), our silence punctuated by the occasional direction from her GPS instructing her to veer right or another text from my brother calling her a loser who did nothing but pay bills and sit on the floor to watch TV and eat crackers—an insult with a specificity that betrayed their intimacy to a degree to which I doubt he was cognizant, which also made it an insult I found tender, as it occurred to me I had no idea what position she sat it to watch TV (was it really on the floor?),
what she ate, or even how those bills were getting paid—I had assumed my father left enough money behind to take care of things, but the more that assumption was challenged, the flimsier it became, for as each day after his death that passed without mention of an inheritance, even a token one, it didn’t take a peek inside the books to gather his debts outweighed his assets, or that the race between the two figures was so close that I’d have to stick to the bleachers and fight my own way out (this fighting analogy pleased me and made me feel scrappy, despite knowing any man with more than one property to his family name, even one as unfinished as it stood, was anything but scrappy, but I needed something in consolation for the lack of any coin purse left to me, as it was increasingly clear that such a coin purse was needed to separate yourself from the dregs, at least out west in 21st century America where life could be prohibitively expensive, at least for someone liked me who lacked ingenuity and resourcefulness, and in whom the lack of such a coin purse produced feelings of fear, jealousy, and resentment so deep rooted within my heart and soul that they fermented into a kind of acid that corroded any contemplative optimism I may have gained in wake of my father’s death, a fact I was ashamed to admit, as ultimately these misanthropic feelings boiled down to simply wanting more money, a base desire in which I cast my entire life as a foil, meaning I made decisions when I was younger that purposefully took me far away from where I grew up and purposefully granted me the life as an aspiring artist, though it appeared at the end of it all I was just as rotten and greedy as the rest of us, which was an assessment I could live with if only I had the money to go along with it, though perhaps this is all just part of my grieving process). I looked over at my mother as her cars robot voice read off my brother’s texts, tearing my eyes away from the melancholy greens and grays of Michigan’s
landscapes. She kept her eyes on the road, her mouth a straight line of grim determination. I tried reading The Catcher in the Rye, but it made me carsick.

I should mention that the three of us also went up north the last time I was home. We left the day following my father’s funeral, his celebration of life. That first time we went, my brother was the driver. He had been microdosing mushrooms ever since our father got sick, every few hours taking a capsule or two of ground mushroom powder, each containing enough psilocybin to make him high but not enough to make him dysfunctional, though that was debatable, as he turned uniquely singular when he was high in that he talked nonstop and barreled straight ahead into increasingly delusional and isolated territory. For example, the entire drive, he talked about everything he planned to do in the future, such as building and operating a storage facility, buying and renting houses with his fiancé so all their living expenses were paid by renters, managing a hardware store, inventing a new kind of technology that would clean the ocean floor, becoming an artist that painted all day, living among the traditional fisherman in Southeast Asia, breeding dogs, becoming the mayor of different towns, fathering children, mountain biking every morning—the list was exhausting and interminable, yet impossible to ignore as I looked out the window at the fields, barns, and two-intersection towns bathing in the late-summer sun (the rain was still two weeks away) that tinted the greens, reds, and browns with a yellow heat that made me think of Sunday evenings, for my mother shut down completely after taking a Xanax pill or two, transforming into a faded palimpsest of herself in the passenger seat that occupied the disputed territory between lucidity and sleep, leaving myself as the only receptacle available for my brother’s ramblings, a position I was too polite or stubborn to refuse, despite a genuine anger
stoking within me the longer he spoke, especially as his topics of discussion shifted from his own ambitions to property values, as if he had memorized the bank ledgers of all the small business owners of our hometown. He talked about how much people made off their investments, how much their portfolios appreciated, what they folded profits into—all sums with figures so large it made me feel frustrated and inadequate, like I had been doing something wrong and so had my father for not making as much as he did, though that frustration and inadequacy ultimately pointed at my brother, for I found it disgusting that he should rattle on about money in general, let alone during a time I felt should be reserved for reflections on love and mortality. However, each time my frustration neared its apex, I’d be reminded that I was dealing with someone high on mushrooms and who had spent the better part of his early twenties unemployed between alternating bouts of jail and probation, and someone who had spent a significant period in his late twenties driving our father to and from chemotherapy treatments, helping him out of chairs and holding a urine bottle close to penis before wiping tip, stretching compression socks over his swollen feet, and absorbing all sorts of verbal abuse that my father was always known for, but abuse that took a barbarous and impersonal turn as the tumor inside his head pushed against the folds of his brain and as my father spent another day contending not only with his impending death (a phrase easy enough to write, but one that hardly plumbs the depths of the crisis my father faced—the only times I can come close to proclaiming I understood what he felt are those I spend in bed staring at the ceiling wondering how much time I hope is left versus how much time is actual and how frequently toxins can break through the blood-brain barrier, questions that can blacken my skies to the point I question if their answers are worth the trouble of being born at all, though perhaps those questions are also just part of my grieving process), but with the
short rest of his life being spent as an invalid in sharp decline, two facts which made my father considerably angry and, I’d imagine, hard on a caretaker. Reminded of this, I let my brother continue on as my mother lightly drooled and her dog snored.

The three of us stayed at a lakeside motel in the nearby town when we arrived with a plan to visit the property first thing the next morning. My brother and I stayed in one room, my mother and her dog in the other. We were the only guests, and while I unpacked our car, my brother stood too close to the owner and talked to him, later telling me that the owner was a young guy who had recently moved up to the area from Chicago with his Russian wife and spent close over a million dollars on the motel, hoping to turn it into a profitable business before using the profits to buy another motel and so on, information my brother was able to extract in a shockingly small amount of time unless he had asked the owner those questions directly or if those topics of discussion came naturally to people other than someone like myself who expected things to work out on their own, but information that meant nothing to me nonetheless, so I ignored my brother and walked to the small beach in front of the lakeside motel (part of the reason my brother’s incessant money talk bothered me at the time and still bothered me when I was alone with my mother two weeks later was because it reminded me of something I’d seen in the brief interval I was home in Los Angeles—stopped at a red light I saw a cop talking to a mother on a city bench with a garbage bag full of clothes and her head between her hands, hiding what I can only assume were tears or the faces answer to dry heaving, her children to the side of her, one with a cartoon backpack who was too young to understand what was happening, the other older and sullen who was old enough to understand what was happening, but too young to understand the consequences, too young to realize how high the chips were stacked against them

(though perhaps it is a function of survival that we never realize how high the chips are stacks against us), a scene that was a daily occurrence in that city and every other in 21st century America, a scene I had encountered innumerable times before, but a scene that hadn’t left my mind for reasons I didn’t understand, and each time the image resurfaced, as it did numerous times as my brother talked about how much money people made from schemes and circumstance, the only conclusion I could draw was our world existed in a state of unending contradiction, that even death cannot offer a reprieve from all things tertiary, that even death cannot afford us the chance to dwell on love, purpose, meaning, remembrance—all things that supposedly made life worth living, that life is not always meant for the living and there isn’t one among us who can determine where the cleaver and fortune fall, a lesson the woman on the bench likely learned far before I did).

It was close to nine at night, but the sun was still shining as I made my way to the shore. The motel had set up chairs and tiki torches, and my mother and brother joined me shortly afterward, carrying a cooler of beer. We were the only ones out on our tiny beach, and across the lake you could see the occasional set of headlines driving down the shoreline along with the backyard lights and bonfires of everyone who lived there. There were only two chairs, I took one and my mother took the other, leaving my brother to stand alone, though he didn’t seem to mind or even look for another place to sit. He stood there, standing and talking, crushing beers at an alarming rate. The mood between the three of us had soured considerably since that morning, though it wasn’t exactly high to begin with, as there was an undeniable tension in the air at my father’s celebration of life the day before that was borne of petty and legitimate grievances we formed each other leading to the event (disagreements over planning and logistics that were

about my brother’s listlessness, my own aloofness, and my mother’s narcissism) though the real decline began some months earlier after my father died in the living room on a thin mattress on loan from hospice, for the familial camaraderie and tears that had bonded us throughout his sickness dissipated in an instant—just like that, there was nothing else to talk about, leaving us to sit around awkwardly and retread weakened brews of sentiments we’d already had the courage to express, giving me a feeling not dissimilar to the one you have after a drunken reunion with an old friend in that I cringed at the things I had said and sincerity I displayed when I called my brother my best friend and my mother my rock, wondering if it was a rare showing of personal truth that made me open my mouth and arms when we would get together at the end of a long day after my father was put to bed with a drug cocktail, or rather if it was an abundance of excitement, the same propulsion behind a bad joke in a crowded room. The souring between us was palpable enough that my mother surely felt it, too, and I felt embarrassed on her behalf since she had organized the trip in hopes of what I could only assume was a normal, albeit elegiac, family vacation, whereas her time thus far had actually been spent high on benzos, with one son on psychedelics talking loudly and the other son silent, moody, and sulking. As the sun eased behind the trees, my brother pointed to the small inlet that joined our small lake to the much larger Lake Michigan in the distance. A long time ago, the two lakes were separated, but someone eventually made the decision to join them, so great teams of men dug an inlet connecting the two, thus turning what was once a lake into a human bay, though I assume my brother meant a man-made bay. It was indeed a bay by definition, though in name and function it was a lake—the rough waters of Lake Michigan didn’t pass through the inlet, meaning the surface of the water was smooth like a tabletop, and although boaters could easily use the inlet as
entry into Lake Michigan if they wanted, most preferred to stay within the confines of the bay and bounced between its shores. This was the first time I’d heard my brother say something at length that wasn’t related to delusions or money, and it shocked me how much it sounded like a parrot of our father, who had always carried a litany of historical facts on hand that he learned from Facebook. My brother and my father had been up here many times together in the years I’ve been away out west, and the story of the human bay was likely my father’s, even if my brother wasn’t able to replicate the dates or details. This moved me. I wanted to hug my brother and start the day over, I wanted to call him my best friend again. Before I could, my mother asked him some inane follow up question to what he said about the inlet, something about the equipment they used, and in response my brother yelled that it was the stupidest question he ever heard, called both her and myself faggots and dumbasses, kicked over the cooler, and stormed back into the motel (a series of actions reminding me of the last time I was up north with my family, back before my father got sick, and we went to Lake Michigan to watch the sunset, my mother with her dog and my brother with a growler of beer, the two of them took the bench in my foreground while my father and I hung back because he had a headache and because I hated being around drunk people when I wasn’t drunk myself, and as we watched my brother stand in front of the sunset with his shirt off and the dark brown glass growler bottle held to his lips before he dropped to the sand and rolled around on his belly with my mother’s dog, to which my father uttered under his breath that his son was such a disappointment, something he said with his eyes far off in the distance, the words not directed at me or anyone else). After cleaning up and sitting in silence beside my mother for a few minutes, I went to our shared room and found my brother asleep on his bed, a country song that made him cry a lot over the last six months
playing from his phone speakers, and when I went to turn it off I saw his background photo was one of my father, a picture my brother must have took after one of the chemotherapy treatments they went to together, my father was sitting before a massive sandwich and smiling, showing a peace sign with his one hand while his other hand sat like dead weight on the tabletop on account of the tumor in his brain that rendered the nerves useless.

We planted a tree at the property the next morning. We were surprised to see the contractors there with the expensive storm windows, as apparently there had been a disagreement between the builders, financiers, and my father in the year leading up to his death (stressors that may not have caused the tumor, but certainly didn’t harm it), though my mother was pleased they were working. While my brother dug the hole, I ventured into the forest of young trees surrounding the house that I mentioned earlier in this story. The tree we bought came on recommendation from a local nursery run by a soft spoken man who seemed to have a keen sense of irony, as when my brother and mother got into a loud argument regarding what trees to buy (my brother wanted two of everything, my mother wanted a more conservative haul, though they both planned to put the purchase on my father’s credit card, which I believe my mother hadn’t cancelled yet), the two of them hoisting insults across the careful rows of blossoming native species the man had arranged, he looked at me and asked if I still lived at home or if I had moved out. In the end, we bought a black oak, as it was supposedly durable and was likely to withstand drought conditions, which was beneficial as there was no running water at the property, and even if there was, none of us had planned to be up there again in the foreseeable future, though of course those plans had changed when my brother had his breakdown weeks later, which, writing this now, does not look as impromptu as I first assumed. My brother used

small shovel to dig the hole, jamming it into the early before plunging onto the blade with two feet, a series of movements he completed with a smooth physicality that was fascinating and admirable—I could never do such a thing, especially not with grace, as I even struggled to haul the twenty gallon jug of water from the car to sapling, stumbling and tripping and sweating so that when my mother stood back to take a picture, I looked miserable and disheveled, the stereotypical bookish shut-in next to my brother, who stood proud with his chest out and shirt off, wrapping his burly arms over my shoulder as our mother told us to smile and alternated between telling us that we planted the tree for my father and that the tree was my father, saying look at what your boys did, Peter, something that fit the other types of things she had been saying lately, such as what she said whenever she saw a red cardinal, an animal she took to be a visitation from my father, which was odd not only because I had never seen her express such a homespun spirituality before, but because I didn’t recall my father having any connection at all to cardinals, so I was left to wonder how she came to the conclusion that red cardinals were a manifestation of my father, for I didn’t have the courage to ask her such questions when she ran to the window whenever one appeared and shouted with the enthusiasm of a child hi Peter, I see you Peter—instead, I would only observe her in silence with a certain sadness, much as I did in the backseat of the car as we drove away from the property after planting the tree, my mother waving goodbye to the thing while the contractors carried the expensive storm windows and doors they meant to install. I kept largely to myself the entire drive down south to the Detroit airport, where I made it just in time for my late night flight to Los Angeles, not knowing then that I’d be back only a few weeks later.
The reason my mother and I were driving up north was because my brother told her he had broken all of the expensive storm windows and ripped out all the copper wiring of the house my father was building. If true, it would have set my mother back more money than she could think about. My brother told her he did it because he wanted to ruin her financially and destroy her life just like she had destroyed his, though I was still unsure exactly what she had done to destroy his life. When I asked my mother what the reasoning could have been, she demurred and said all they had was a fight like the countless others they’d had over the years, which made me question the garbage bags of cloths and broken closet door I’d seen in the garage, but, like the countless other times, I kept silent.

Our entire drive up north was baked in an anxious anticipation, and even the melancholic greens of the fields in rain and my copy of The Catcher in the Rye couldn’t distract me long enough from the pit in my stomach was forming, a ball of worry that grew with every mile marker we passed until it was pressing up against each of my nerve endings, my thoughts consumed about what we do when we saw the shattered glass and frayed wires, if we would call the police, if things would get physical, if anything worse would happen, if I would find any words. This sense of impending doom reached it’s climax when we pulled up to the gravel driveway to the property, knowing we’d have to drive slow on a long dirt road before the house came into view and we could see the destruction. For some reason, I felt like crying. My mother already was.

As we turned the corner and my brother’s truck came into view with the house behind it, I remembered my father’s favorite part of The Catcher in the Rye. After I read it for the first

time, he asked me what I thought, and, as young as I was, I told him I liked the part with the prostitute and how the protagonist Holden Caulfield called everything phony. He looked at me confused, or maybe a bit disappointed, and asked me if I remembered the part in the garage where Holden Caulfield broke all the windows after his brother died. I didn’t remember, I said, and my father said that part was his favorite, bringing an end to our conversation that felt novelistic when it occurred to me again in a memory, a conversation perhaps too unbelievable even for a piece of fiction, but then again my life was full of novelistic occurrences that I abstained from putting into my fiction, such as my paternal grandfather dying when my father was my brother’s age, a death that knocked my father off the rails so far he purportedly was doing cocaine at the funeral. The trouble is how to take all these novelistic coincidences and distill them into a piece of fiction like this one. It takes a certain level of pattern recognition, I think, as well as a touch of boldness to assert that the patterns in your life have a valid symmetry.

In any case, though my brother’s truck was there, my brother was nowhere to be seen. All of the windows were still intact, and a brief walkthrough of the house confirmed the wires were also safe. I wasn’t sure if breaking all the windows and tearing all the wires would have been more disturbing than lying about doing so. My mother called him, but his phone was off. There was a small patch of wildflowers on an unsold lot nearby where he might have been. While she set off to find him, I went to check on the tree we planted two weeks prior. It was still there, though a bit wilted. Next to it was a fresh looking hole of equal size, as if my brother intended to plant another.