(DON’T) REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS
1. During the space race days your parents sip Maxwell House in the morning, Beefeater before dark. Through bedroom walls you hear talk of traveling to the moon, Viet Cong soldiers, and Brezhnev. How it’s another Bay of Pigs and screw that. Over Sloppy Joe casserole ask, What’s a Commie? Stick your tongue out when your brother flips you the bird. When no one answers, wonder aloud where the pigs are, may you pet them? Walk the dog, your mother will answer.
2. On the way to Dunkin Donuts after church, notice all the beat-up Chevys and Impalas plastered with bumper stickers that say Bring Home Our POWs. Observe the drivers’ twitchy fingers, pinched lips. Ask your father what POW means. Pronounce the letters like a pistol’s report—pow pow pow. Not like an acronym. You don’t know what one of those is but you do know about guns. Right then your brother will jam a fake one into your ribs—point an index finger at his crotch. If your father pretends not to hear, ask again. Louder. Just a little bit. With the exhale of his Winston filter learn POW means unlucky. Like you, your brother will hiss. Now roll over. Play dead.
3. Down the street from your house is an army base called Fort Carson. You’ve always liked the sound of that. Anything with fort in it sounds fun. Your brother and his friend build one in the backyard, scrawl on the door No Girls Allowed. For Halloween let your mother dress you up as a flower child, smear gaudy rouge across your cheeks, press a faded pillowcase into your palm. Hoist the cardboard sign she painted, Make Love, Not War, when you step onto porches and ring the bell. Some of the women who answer the door will shriek before slamming it in your face. Ask your mother why they didn’t give you candy. She will sigh, It’s all rotten anyway.
4. At the midnight drive-in where your parents believe you’ll conk out while they watch Goodbye Columbus and Easy Rider—prove them wrong. Peer spellbound in your flannel pink pajamas from the jump seat of a VW Bug until you can’t contain yourself any longer and ask in a squirrely voice, What are they doing? Nobody knows, your father will say. Close your peepers. Everything will be over soon. When your brother pops up, slug him hard. He will smirk, Someday you’ll do the nasty too.
5. Each month when the magazine arrives wrapped in brown paper, note how quickly your father snags it from the pile of mail and hoofs it downstairs to the tiny half-bathroom. See your mother fill a wine glass to the brim, carry it to the couch, mumble in the dark, Nothingbutamansworld. Yell after your father, Why can’t you read that up here? Let me be, he will call over his shoulder. Give a man peace.
6. One Saturday when you can’t fall asleep, tiptoe into your brother’s bedroom, nudge him awake and ask what will happen if you don’t want to go to the moon. Admit you have no interest in living on cheese and floating around weightlessly. I’ve never been good at floating, you say. What will happen if I don’t want to go? He’ll roll over and belch Rocky Mountain Coors piss-breath. Simple, he will mutter as he wipes crust from your eyes, you will end up all alone.
7. Toward the end of ninth grade find your mother spread-eagled on the couch, eyelids fluttering, the balding neighbor from across the street rummaging beneath her skirt. Like a pig rooting for truffles, you tell your brother—they didn’t even hear me come in. How can I ever look at her the same? Let it slide, your brother will urge. She’s probably trying to feel something. Or get even.
8. After college graduation visit your brother in a windswept apartment facing the sea. Clasp his shadowy hand, whisper, I’m here, ask, What can I do? He is gossamer thin, sports blotches the size of cigar burns. As he puffs each word of, Please don’t remember me like this, your parents—no longer married—can be heard arguing on the stairs. Bring a blanket to his chin, tease, You’re leaving me with them? Step toward the door to let them in, stop when he commands, Not yet—first you must promise. Pledge with your whole sloppy heart then say, But I’ll be mad at you forever. Flip him the bird. Watch his papery lips crack into a grin. Hey, you will hear him whisper—forever sounds good.
Cynthia (Cyn) Nooney’s stories and essays have appeared in CRAFT, Chestnut Review, Ursa Minor, Fractured Lit, New Flash Fiction Review, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and holds an MFA from Pacific University. Read more at www.cynnooneywriter.com
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