who I am not
You don’t know me.
Just for example, you think I’m upstairs in my room doing my homework. Wrong. I’m not in my room. I’m not doing my homework. And even if I were up in my room I wouldn’t be doing my homework, so you’d still be wrong. And it’s really not my room. It’s your room because it’s in your house. I just happen to live there right now. And it’s really not my homework, because my math teacher, Mrs. Moonface, assigned it and she’s going to check it, so it’s her homework.
Her name’s not Mrs. Moonface, by the way. It’s really Mrs. Garlic Breath. No it’s not. It’s really Mrs. Gabriel, but I just call her Mrs. Garlic Breath, except for the times when I call her Mrs. Moonface.
Confused? Deal with it.
You don’t know me at all. You don’t know the first thing about me. You don’t know where I’m writing this from. You don’t know what I look like. You have no power over me.
What do you think I look like? Skinny? Freckles? Wirerimmed glasses over brown eyes? No, I don’t think so. Better look again. Deeper. It’s like a kaleidoscope, isn’t it? One minute I’m short, the next minute tall, one minute I’m geeky, one minute studly, my shape constantly changes, and the only thing that stays constant is my brown eyes. Watching you.
That’s right, I’m watching you right now sitting on the couch next to the man who is not my father, pretending to read a book that is not a book, waiting for him to pet you like a dog or stroke you like a cat. Let’s be real, the man who is not my father isn’t a very nice man. Not just because he is not my father but because he hits me when you’re not around, and he says if I tell you about it he’ll really take care of me.
Those are his words. “I’ll really take care of you, John. Don’t rat on me or you’ll regret it.” Nice guy.
But I am telling you now. Can’t you hear me? He’s petting the top of your head like he would pet a dog, with his right hand, which just happens to be the hand he hits me with. When he hits me he doesn’t curl his fingers up into a fist because that would leave a mark. He slaps me with the flat of his hand. WHAP. And now I’m watching him stroke your cheek with those same fingers. He holds me tight with his left hand when he hits me so that I can’t run away. And now he’s holding you tenderly with his left hand. And I’m telling you this as I watch through the window, but your eyes are closed and you couldn’t care less, because he’s stroking you the way he would stroke a cat and I bet you’re purring.
You don’t know me at all.
You think I’m a good student. Hah!
You think I have friends. Hah!
You think I’m happy with this life. Hah, hah!
Okay, now you’re putting down the book that is not a book. It’s a Reader’s Digest condensation of literature, which is like drinking orange juice made from concentrate. It has no pulp. The key vitamins have been processed out. You’re pressing your head against his shoulder. I can see your toes move inside your pink socks on the coffee table. What’s with this toe movement? Is it passion or athlete’s foot? There is some kind of serious itch there.
And now the man who is not my father puts down his book, which is a real book, because he’s not a stupid or shallow man, just cruel and self-centered. He kisses you long and full on the lips, and then on the side of your neck. And you glance upstairs, nervously, because you think I’m up in my room doing my homework. You don’t know that I’m floating twenty feet above our backyard, watching this display of misplaced affection.
No, I am not levitating. I do not have secret wings that allow me to fly. I am not a vampire. I am not hanging by my heels from the roof or clinging to a drainpipe.
So where am I?
You don’t know me at all.
I’ll give you this one. I’m in the apple tree, which is not an apple tree. The man who is not my father calls it an apple tree, but it has never produced a single thing resembling an apple. Nor has it produced a pear, so it is not a pear tree. Nor has it produced a pair of apples. Nor has it produced a pineapple, so it is clearly not a pineapple tree. The only thing I have ever seen it produce is thin gray leaves, so I will call it a gray-leaf tree.
That’s where I am. Sitting in the gray-leaf tree. There’s a full moon out tonight, so if I were a werewolf or a vampire I would be hungry or thirsty for flesh or blood. But I’m full with the gluey spaghetti and golf ball meatballs from dinner. The only effect the moon has on me is to make me think of Mrs. Moonface and my five pages of algebra homework that is really her homework, except that for some reason I’m the one who got stuck with it.
Mrs. Moonface assigns us so much homework because she is miserable and lonely. I wrote a poem to her. It’s not a very good poem, but I don’t really care. The first stanza goes like this:
Mrs. Moonface, get a life,
Get a nose ring, fly a kite,
Find a boyfriend, learn to ski,
Just stop taking it out on me.
The man who is not my father is switching off the lamp. Now our house is dark except for the light in my room, which is really not a room, where I am not doing homework.
Except that I am actually up there doing homework after all! Did you really think that I was up in the branches of an apple tree? Not necessary. You don’t have to see things to know that they are happening. Anyway, I don’t like climbing trees. It’s a cold fall night. The wind is howling around our house like a live animal.
I finish the last algebra problem. Put down my pencil.
Downstairs I can hear the springs of the couch creaking. The man who is not my father is repeating your name, with passion in his voice. But it’s not really your name, even though it belongs to you. It’s really the name of his pretty first wife, Mona, who died in a car accident five years before he met you and decided to move into your house, and take on the duties of disciplining your son.
And now he is repeating your name and thinking of Mona.
And you are listening to him and thinking of my father.
And I am not in this house at all. I am in the middle of a hurricane. Thunder is cymbal-crashing above and beneath me. Lightning makes my hair stand up. Winds are spinning me like a top. Do you really think I will come down to breakfast tomorrow and call the man who is not my father sir? Do you think I will go to school tomorrow and hand in my homework to Mrs. Moonface? I won’t even be in this hemisphere tomorrow. This storm could set me down anywhere.
You don’t know where I’ll end up.
The good news is that you may have created my past and screwed up my present but you have no control over my future.
You don’t know me at all.