This is a text + audio chapter from my book, Brad Lee and the BIG 2K. A new episode goes live every Friday, so be sure to drop by at least once a week!
(BLB2K Episode 06 – Don’t Blow It)
I felt another tingle on the back of my neck as my vision refocused back into reality. Could it be possible that Mom learned her lesson and decided to spare Piz from the same nickname torture she put me through? To me, their relationship almost seemed too normal, as I squinted and studied Mom’s movements, while she laughed nervously and guided my brother’s hand as he lit each candle. Their eyes and smiles lit up with the golden warm glow of firelight, and somehow the whole thing seemed so fake and rehearsed, it reminded me of a cheesy motivational poster.
“No! Let me do one more! Mmmooommm!”
I watched my little brother pout as Mom snatched away what remained of a candle that was splattering little beads of wax everywhere. She blew out the flame while pulling two tissues from a box on the kitchen table, and then she started wiping and scrubbing at my brother’s fingers, using her patented spit-and-napkin routine. He was busy wriggling around and making faces. That’s when I knew it was the perfect time to annoy him just a little bit more.
I stepped forward, reached out, and tousled his hair. Seeing that he was outnumbered, he slapped my hands away, broke out of Mom’s clutches, and scurried to his usual seat at the other side of the table.
Mom regained her composure and smiled. She was done with him, and ready for the main event.
“My beeg boy!” she exclaimed. Her accent always gets thicker when she’s excited about something.
She clasped her hands together and held them up beneath her chin, as she grinned and repeatedly glanced over to my father, who by this time, was walking back from the cupboard with a long carving knife in his hand.
“Here you go, man. Cut your cake.”
He handed the knife to me handle-first, while locking his eyes directly onto mine, which made me feel incredibly uneasy and sent a shiver down my spine. The only time he called me “man” was when he was really drunk, and trying hard to bond with me on a guy-to-guy level that was purely of his own imagination.
This time was different, though. He wasn’t drunk, that I could see. Something just seemed off about him today. There was a kind of smugness on his face, as if he knew a hilarious joke, but wasn’t sharing it with us. Like he was high on something, and figured nobody could tell. Maybe he finally decided to upgrade from beer, and switched to another form of recreational substance abuse? Come to think of it, Mom is acting funny too. Maybe they’re both high as kites. Actually, that would explain a lot. I’ve often imagined what life would be like if my parents decided to just go ahead and cruise through the rest of their marriage on auto-pilot, with a little help from a doctor who isn’t shy about prescribing something strong enough to chill them both out.
My friend James Fletcher told me that everything changed at his house after his dad started using some new meds to fix his OCD situation, and then he said it was even better when his mom started using some other drug to stop her from having panic attacks. Jim is a couple of years younger than me and lives in my neighborhood, and I’ve seen his parents a bunch of times over the years, but I never would have even suspected that they were all so fucked up, if Jim didn’t tell me so many crazy stories about their personal problems. Apparently they had some pretty epic fights behind closed doors. I shouldn’t be surprised about that, though, because I remember how one day I kept ragging on Jim by calling him “Jimmy,” and we ended up getting into a fight. Then his sister showed up, and said she was going to tell on us. We stopped fighting and started calling her a fart-knocker until she started to cry, and after that, me and Jim became pretty good friends that year.
According to Jim, his mom used to get stressed out about a lot of stuff, and then whenever she reached her boiling point, she would go on a massive crazy house-cleaning spree. Then Jim’s dad would come home to find all of his shit moved around the house, which drove him absolutely nuts. Jim thought it was really funny, and when his parents weren’t watching, he would secretly move more stuff around, just to instigate even bigger meltdowns. I told him he should stop doing that, because his ass would be toast if they figured it out, but he would always just laugh and tell me to relax, because he knew what he was doing, and it was actually part of his ultimate master plan. He was working on getting them both to agree with his idea about letting him permanently move out to the pool house, since he was getting good grades and wouldn’t be able to keep his 4.0 average if he had to listen to them act like a couple of psychos every day.
I told him it seemed like a solid plan, although I didn’t think they would go for it. Besides, I’ve been to their pool house, and I don’t know what’s wrong with Jim because there’s no way I would trade my room to live in that crappy little shack. I wonder if he ever did it. I haven’t talked to Jim in forever, and he would probably be blown away if he saw what I look like these days.
My father cleared his throat, loudly. I blinked a few times, and then returned to the real world, where everybody was staring directly at me. I must have been zoned out for a long time because even Piz was sitting still, not moving any part of his body except for his eyes, which were darting from side to side to see what Mom and Dad would do.
Mom wasn’t about to watch her happy little moment go to shit, so she pulled another one of her classic moves by repeating “My beeg boy!” with a panicky grin plastered across her face. Dad grunted, and sat back down.
Clearly, I had forgotten that everybody in the room was waiting for me to blow the fucking candles out, so we could all get on with this unbearable moment of obligatory family time. I stepped forward to fulfill my duty as quickly possible, hoping that I could just take a slice of cake up to my room, and try to make the most of what remained of my weekend.
Mom dashed up to me, firmly clapped her hands on each of my cheeks, and tugged at them, because that’s all she knows what to do when things spiral out of control. This time I was the one wriggling around, trying to escape. I made eye contact with her for about a second, and something was definitely off about her too. She hasn’t grabbed me that way since she was as tall as me.
“Just look at heem!” she said, with panic in her voice.
My father was looking. His eyes had been locked on me, ever since I walked into the kitchen.
“Hurry up and blow ’em out, Brad. And make a wish. Let’s finish this.”
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