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The Student Art & Literary Site of Community College of Allegheny County

The Phoenix

The Student Art & Literary Site of Community College of Allegheny County

The Phoenix

The Student Art & Literary Site of Community College of Allegheny County

The Phoenix

The Ones Who Live There

Justen Kimball

It’s a strange thing, growing up in one of the richest places on earth, during one of the most prosperous times in human history – only to feel like there’s something to complain about.

We live in that house on the block. It’s the one I grew up in. What’s left of the grass on our lawn resembles a small desert with a filthy dog bowl for its oasis. Our weeds tower over everything like diseased palm trees. Meanwhile, the rose bushes have withered down to nothing but skeletons with thorns. A Galactic Blue Volkswagen Jetta is rusting away, propped up by two decaying fire-hydrant red jack stands. Large chunks of broken concrete are strewn about, carefully placed to achieve the optimal lack of curb appeal. The garage door stays closed. Inside are all the piled up “projects” that have yet to be undertaken. Pretty sure the fire department wouldn’t see it that way.

It wasn’t always that bad, right?

When I was fifteen, I had a horrible case of strep throat. My tonsils had more pustules on them than my face did, which was saying something. With my mouth open wide, they’d be easy to see, assuming you weren’t distracted by my cavities. No, I hadn’t just eaten Oreo cookies. I was swallowing razor blades for two weeks straight. At one point, the only way I could finish a meal was by taking some of my mother’s Vicodin, which she graciously, yet reluctantly, gave to me. I saw on TV a few weeks later that you’re supposed to get antibiotics for such an infection to avoid possible damage to your heart. I remember looking to my father to match his eyes, hoping to see that he was as surprised as I was. He was asleep, as usual. The soft glow of the TV danced around him, slumped back in his armchair. I go rinse out his empty Bud Light cans. Five cents apiece.

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Our sprinkler system stopped working sometime around then.

I’m sitting on the couch about a year later: a beige sectional donated by our neighbor from across the street. We announce its acquisition like a thrifty badge of honor. She was just going to throw it out, can you believe it? This is where I hear the news about my older brother. He had found his small little moment in the spotlight as a child doing background acting gigs that my mom had signed him up for. It made good money – not that he ever saw any of it. The night before he found himself in a different kind of spotlight, though. That of a police helicopter at 1 A.M. after he had plowed our father’s silver Dodge Ram pickup into the house of a police officer, whose wife and infant daughter just barely avoided being pulverized – DUI. His license was suspended for ten years, and it was the second car he had totaled. I find some solace in knowing that the object of my father’s rage and disappointment is someone other than me.

Now he wasn’t going to be able to fix the garage door.

Another year has passed. I’m sunk into my grandmother’s outdoor wicker couch in her indoor patio room. She’s raving on about my parents’ near-divorce, and how it’s all my mom’s fault. I’m zoning out. There’s a fly in her hair. It’s caught in the abyss of that gray-yellow cotton poof atop her head. It struggles hopelessly to escape, at least for a while. It’s either gotten tired or accepted its fate – I can’t tell the difference. Why does my grandma know that my parents were swingers?

My other grandma plans on buying me a used car. My dad said he can fix it up. A nice Galactic Blue Volkswagen Jetta.

It’s years later. My brother just received a phone call from my sister while we’re attending a concert together. Somehow, he can decipher what she’s saying over the wall of sound emanating from the chaotic performance in front of us. I know that expression, even if I’m only glimpsing it in the brief bursts of orange flames around me. He leans into me, not allowing his gaze to move from the spectacle.

“Mom’s divorcing dad!” He shouts in monotone.

“Goddamn it,” is all I can reply.

We stay for one more song, side by side, letting the doldrum of sounds wash over us. I cannot remember the drive home, just that we go directly to our neighbor’s house across the street like our sister told us to. I stand peering through the window of her kitchen. Out from concert and into another.

Was it always that bad?

I see now. We live in that house on the block. It’s the one I grew up in.

It’s lit up so brightly, you’d think it had been targeted by a UFO and would rise from the earth at any second. Harsh blue and red tones fly across its front. The police officers call my father to come out of our house, guns drawn. Apparently, he threatened to shoot himself with a loaded gun in front of my mother – even asked her to pull the trigger. Our dear neighbor watches on helplessly. I struggle to relate to her sense of shock.

Later that night my brother goes back to his girlfriend’s house, my sister is with her fiancé, and my mother with her mother. As I lay there in that empty house, I felt no more alone than I had the many years prior. Finally, I know who I am. And God help me if I can’t change that.

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