March 23, 2007
The Suburbs, Winter 2003-2004
Nothing more frightening than waking to a fat man flickering the lights and asking “What the hell are you doing in MY house?” Knowing a wrong answer would make me the hotdog between his ass cheeks. Would four hundred pounds of pressure or asphyxiation kill me first? My first thought is holding my hands up in desperation to say “Please don’t sit.” Instead I need something else. Like a story. The first ten seconds awake and I’m rubbing my eyes forced to think of a good lie – and fast. The fat man isn’t getting any happier.
“Uh… I'm sorry. I'm having problems with parents, and Mandy said it’d be alright if I stayed here.” Then I look at him, and he looks at me. One second taking too long. But he finally nods.
“Get up, I’ll give you a ride home.”
It took the man ten minutes to shove himself into the drivers seat. From the passenger side it’s a fascinating view – like a large balloon covered in a button up shirt being pushed into the door. Almost… in… One more roll past the frame… then “POP”. The fat man’s in the car. We pull out the driveway – crunching over snow – and I make up more of the story. A fake address off Highway 94, brother enrolled at Kirksville, alcoholic parents, and none of it true.
“Probably not a good idea to drive me home.” I tell him. “Parents always drink around this time…”
“What?! Eight thirty in the morning?”
“ESPECIALLY eight thirty in the morning.” I tell him. “Gets ‘em past the hang-over. Better drop me at the library.”
He turns for McClay street. Wipers toss flakes of snow off the windshield.
“I wouldn't be mad at Mandy…” I say. “It was late when I called. I’d feel bad if anyone gets in trouble.”
He pulls to the library.
“Mandy’s not in trouble.” He says. “After talking to you, I can see she’s done the right thing.”
I get out of the car and the ice wind hits me. Yet still, I have to wipe the sweat from my brow. Too close…
Back in the house the next night, I move from closet to crawl space under stairs – suggested by Mandy – my ally, who many months before stated, “It’s cold, come live in my basement.” Not able to pass the offer, I transformed ‘Catholic family’s suburban basement’ into ‘criminal headquarters’ – stocked with shoplifted food, and computers built with dumpstered parts. Getting caught always looming every time parents descend the stairs with three to four hundred pounds of weight. I squint my face under ever creaking, bending step. So could I call what happened being caught, or just elaborating the lie? Because my sob story works too well. The parents proud of Mandy and asking about me – insisting I stay on the couch. But if they knew the truth, I’d still be engulfed somewhere in the father’s body. I’ve been getting away for months – rent-free and using the shower when everyone’s gone for work and school. Then I wake to sunlight through dusty basement windows, put on my shoes, walk out the front door and wave to neighbors on the nicer days. That’s right, I live here, and know all secrets of the house – like things the brother’s have broken, where they’ve hidden them, the mother’s gangsta rap music when thinking she’s alone, father’s video porn addiction – heard through the vents, and though I missed finding his dolphin vibrator, I was there when the little sister – sick from school – did. Such horrified screams…
Valerie coming home from college is a threat. Surely the factor that will push me into the cold. The typical college girl, fried or foe? Starbucks drink in hand, she comes through the basement door one day to check her whitened teeth in the mirror, gives me a look – then asks “What?”
“Uhhh... Don’t mind me.” And surprisingly… she doesn’t – for the next several months. I can’t explain it. Her with her bought Starbucks and me with my stolen veggie burgers – coming to an unconditional agreement usually only shared between REAL family, because I live here too – under parent’s roof so… I guess… we’re sort of… siblings! The family I never had. Mandy, Valerie, and me – rebellious atheism in the basement – watching boxes of horrible 1970’s Robin Hood video tapes found in the corner and responsible for the creation of mad scientist inventions. The most notorious being the box fan with blades replaced for knives – chopping bibles at alarming rates ‘til one knife flies loose to stab the wall in a near miss of Mandy’s head. Maybe god was pissed. Thankfully he has bad aim. We shove the fan into the corner with vows never to speak of it again.
So many good things from my situation – shelter, family, and microwave to heat up the veggie burgers. Call it the closest I’ve had to normal ‘home life’, but it has cons. Like hours spent near the closet door – listening to groans of the fat man cleaning the basement. Trapped, but not defeated. Desperation grew with time – leading to an eventual snap and me dashing for the exit. So many close calls…
Like the time when the father opens basement door to stand at top of steps before I can hide. “Mandy? I though you went out with your mother!”
I go for the window and struggle with it.
“Mandy? I see feet down there! Now who is it!?”
With the window open, I jump out and run down the street. Valerie later covers by telling her father I’m a female friend who came over to burn CDs. All my traces are blamed on someone else. And thankfully Mandy’s hair is not only the same length, but color as mine – giving easy explanation to what’s found on the shower wall. I’m grateful for the parent’s gullibility. I push for ridiculous extremes. “How much more can I exploit this?” – the question in my head while riding through town in the trunk of the family car – gaining free transportation on the ‘go-out to eat night’.
Maybe some could say I’ve gone “too far”, but… it’s cold outside. Pass the veggie burgers.
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Spydr, editor of "Conscious Defect" zine, picks up where the "Evasion" author left off. Scamming Rite-Aid, Amtrak, Starbucks and numerous other chains while finding unused squats in University stairwells and rooftops; Spydr's column is more travel journal or How To guide than opinion.