MOM AND DAD
I’ve got an idea!” dad said. “Let’s go to the moon.”
“Huh—?” I looked up from my comic.
“I mean it. What do you kids think? Do you want to go to the moon?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, not believing him any more than I had all the other times he’d dangled promises in front of my nose. In the last thirteen years, or at least as much of them as I could remember, he’d promised me the stars, the sky, and a trip to Disneyland. The only time I saw the stars was on TV, the sky was brown, and I still hadn’t ridden the Matterhorn bobsleds and probably never would, at least not until I paid for the trip myself. So when he asked me if I’d like to go to the moon, it sounded like just another one of those things that adults say for no other reason than to use up air.
Is it just me, or is there something about grownups? What happens when you turn twenty-one? Does the brain shrivel up automatically or do you have to have an operation where your judgment lobes are removed? Adults can’t stay in the same room with a kid without having to talk. Adults think they have to relate to me. But I don’t want to be related to. I want to be left alone.
Dad shows up twice a year. We get him two weeks at a time. “We” includes me, my weird older brother and my stinky younger brother. Sometimes the older brother is stinky and the younger one is weird. I think they’ve got some kind of a deal where they have to take turns. I hate being the middle kid.
Weird builds worlds. He never shows anybody what he builds, but he spends hours a day at his terminal. He rents processor time from UCLA, and pays for it by fumigating code for the evolutionarily challenged. He’s in the scholarship pipeline, so he’s deep into the net. As big brothers go, he’s not the worst, but he never pulled a bully off me either, so what good is he? Mom and him had a big fight just before my birthday, about his money for college, and his job, and stuff like that. Nothing was resolved, except that things were more sullen than usual, which is hard to do, because sullen is normal in our house. The two of them avoided each other like they had been magnetized in the same direction. It was fascinating to watch. I think they call it a gavotte. That’s a kind of a dance where everybody moves slowly and carefully and keeps out of everybody else’s way. They didn’t even talk to each other at my birthday dinner.
That’s when Mom announced that Dad would be coming early for us this year and we’d be spending a month with him instead of two weeks. She said it while cutting the cake, like it was supposed to be an extra present for me. She said it was what Dad wanted and she wasn’t going to argue about it, it would be good for us to spend a little more time with our father. But I figured she just wanted us out. She looked tireder than usual, and she kept saying she wanted out of the war zone. Like she was blaming us. But we didn’t ask to be born. Especially Stinky.
Stinky doesn’t do much of anything except whine and wet his bed. Dad thinks Mom is ruining him. I think he’s already ruined. I once told him he was an accident—the accident that split up Mom and Dad—and that was another multi-megaton war. Now I know why they call it the nuclear family. Mom spent half the day trying to calm Stinky down, and the other half on the phone with Dad, and I got all the fallout from everybody.
I spent the next three months trying to stay out of the house as much as possible. I would grab some recordings and my headphones and get on my bike early in the morning and see how far I could ride before it got too hot. Weird says I’m stupid for going up topside in the sun, the tubes are air-conditioned, UV-safe, and have more trees, but he doesn’t understand. It’s quieter up topside. People don’t bother you. Sometimes, I try to see how far up the mountain I can get. All I want is a place where I can just sit and listen to my music without anybody interrupting. But when I try to listen at home, all of Mom’s sentences begin with, “Charles, if you’re not doing anything right now—” And when I tell her I am doing something, she says, “No, you’re not. You’re just listening to your music.” Hello? Is anybody home?
We live in Bunker City, which is supposed to be part of El Paso, but it’s really just an old tube-city built in a hurry to house refugees from the west, and then prettied up a lot when they didn’t go home afterward. So now it’s another suburb, sort of.
What it is, is a place where a bunch of tube-houses have been buried up to their armpits in sand. When the wind blows, the sky disappears and we get to spend a week at a time staring at the curved walls of our pipe-rooms. Sometimes the lights flicker and go yellow. Twice we’ve had outages and had to sit in the dark waiting for the wind farms to come back online. I don’t know why a sandstorm should put a wind farm out of commission, except it does. Anyway, sitting alone in the dark with no one to talk to except Weird and Stinky is not my idea of a good time. It doesn’t take too long before we’re all really hating each other. Weird says that during the sandstorms is when most murders happen. I can understand that.
Anyway, Dad shows up every June and the first couple days are always spent driving somewhere. Usually Colorado or Arizona, although once we went to Mexico for two days. That was like a downtown tube-city with hot sauce. I got to practice my Spanish in a restaurant. I understood two words of the waiter’s reply.
Dad works so hard trying to be a pal that it’s embarrassing. He tells us how much he loves us, how much he misses us, how he wishes we could spend more time together, and we all do the obligatory performances of, “we love you too, Daddy,” but it’s like acting for a stranger. Who is this guy anyway? Weird just grunts and Stinky just whines and it’s up to me to carry on the conversation. And that’s about as much fun as kissing your brother. Either one.
Eventually, after two or three days of Dad’s earnest attempts to be Dad, Stinky usually does something ghastly, like peeing in the back seat or throwing up into the cooler, and Dad loses his temper, and then everything is back to normal. Nobody talks. Dad turns up the stereo and we listen to Beethoven or Wagner or Tchaikovsky and that’s actually not so bad. It’s better than trying to talk to each other. Sometimes Dad tells us stories about the music, but not very often.
Dad works for a music consortium, so he knows lot of gossip about composers and what they were thinking of when they wrote this piece or that. Sometimes he really lights up when he talks about his music and I remember we used to have fun times together when he tried to teach me about conducting—but something happened, I don’t know what, and it was like part of the fire went out. Now Dad still listens to music, but he doesn’t talk about it so much anymore.
So there we were, in Dad’s rented minivan heading west toward someplace in Arizona and suddenly he says, “I’ve got an idea. Let’s go to the moon. What do you think, Chigger?” What was I supposed to say? I said what I felt. So of course, Dad got angry at me. And then Weird and Stinky did too.
But if he didn’t want to hear it, then why did he ask?
And why didn’t he ask when it was important? It was my family too. Nobody asked me if I wanted it split up. They just did it.
Copyright © 2000 by David Gerrold