by Theresa Edwards
Do you know that one really bad thing that they do on prime-time soaps to give male characters a little bit of broody dimension and/or an excuse for being an absolute wiener? The one where said character will get this far away look in their eyes and maybe flip a segment of their Wacklemore haircut back and mumble something like, "I didn't have a childhood — I had to grow up fast"?
That's me. I'm a prime-time soap wiener. Except my hair is better and I tend to avoid saying so because not only does it not make a person unique to have grown up in shitty circumstances, it's really boring to talk about. I'm not particularly sad about how things went down, especially since they're not exactly things that I can change. Plus, as other people without childhoods know, there are benefits: you're born fully formed knowing how to do your taxes and read a laundry label, you're awesome at not getting hit because you're great at reading body language, and random tragedies like break-ups and house fires don't seem so bad, overall.
But every once in awhile, you do take a little trip to Ripoff City and start to feel like someone ought to make this right. Because I'll sit and realize that, holy crap, that's it. I'll never not be a grown up. I parented myself, and now I'm parenting a kid and if genetics are any indicator, I'm about half done with the whole ashes to ashes thing. I'll admit to some foot-stamping. Some whining. Succumbing to wanting to just not have to be a fucking adult all of the time, because hey, other people got to! So you stay a little longer than you really should in Ripoff City in a crappy little house on This Is Total Bullshit Avenue. You start to live there.
Enter my brother, a handsome viking with a really cool pseudonym.
We've always been close but our closeness has largely been defined by a series of separations. We were split at 6 and 7 years old, and after that, our relationship segmented further and further. He ran, and I stayed, or I ran and he stayed. When disappearing is easy, it's what you do.
Before we knew it, it had been 7 years 1400 miles since we'd last seen each other. And every year it got a little harder to close the miles: living in Ripoff City does that to you. It's possible to love someone and hate the things that seeing them make you remember. So you look away, and before too long you're forgetting how to do anything except that.
Except one day you wake up and you realize you've dug a moat around Ripoff City that's so deep you can't get yourself out, and no one really understands why that sucks except the person you dug the moat for, so you invite them to your house for a week and the two of you torch Ripoff City to the ground.
We started with a science museum, ostensibly for our kids but ultimately for the adults: there were taxidermied gazelle balls and a mini planetarium and a gift shop chock full of useless shit. The universe exhibit was for feeling small, the rocks and minerals hall for becoming a giant. There was a place to move ping pong balls with your mind and stand underneath a Pteranadon statue.
And that's how you teach yourself wonder.
We went to a candy store the next day. We filled our baskets with horrible shit and spent too much money and stopped off to buy expensive slices of pie and a set of handsome cowboy boots for my viking brother while our kids got more and more bored.
And that's how you teach yourself indulgence.
We had chicken fights in the pool, and slept off a taco coma before heading to a retro arcade, where we guzzled beer and taught our kids how to stomp Goombas and jump barrels while "Under Pressure" blared over the P.A.
And that's how you become a little too big for your britches.
We smoked too many cigarettes outside of a tattoo parlor and then went inside to mark ourselves up. On the way home we had "so deep you can't even see us right now" conversations about love and life that would have been right at home in a comp book plastered with punk stickers. After dinner I teased him about the way he rolls joints and we stayed up longer than everyone else and didn't say anything at all.
And that's how you pull off a low-stakes, no cops involved, homeless shelter-free teen rebellion.
And long, long before I was ready to say goodbye that's what we did. We got our kids ready to go, or to stay, and we expressed real gratitude that the other's spouse was so awesome and understanding. We packed suitcases and put toiletries into federally regulated baggies and double-checked boarding passes. We hugged, and hugged again, and maybe one of us cried or didn't. We said I love you. We meant it. We said I'll see you in less than seven years and we meant that too. He left, and I left, and we hugged our families and picked up our lives and went in the right direction, which is forward.
And that's how you grow up a little more slowly than you had to the first time.