April 14, 2010

Counting by Najela Cobb

I think this hate all started when Megan was forced to hold my hand any time we went out as children. I think she hates me because I could never stay put. She was truly her brother's keeper. It doesn't help that I have to walk the thirty seven steps from my bedroom to her bedroom to count the three hundred and seventy nine pink and black polka dots on her bed sheet everyday when I get home at 3:30.

It takes two hundred and thirty four steps from Megan's room to the kitchen. There's a green apple in there. Wash it six times and wash your hands six times. Okay. After circling the table six times and pushing my chair in and out four times, I sit down.

Anyway, I was saying that this all started when Megan was forced to hold my hand everywhere we went. I had a bad habit of wandering off. At first, she didn't mind. We're twins, we were always meant to be together. Mom even put us in matching colors. Megan would wear green skirts and I would wear green overalls. Or sometimes it would be blue. But never red, red gave me a headache. We'd walk hand in hand around the school, at the park, and at the store announcing our twinliness to the world.

"This is my brother, his name is Josh. We're twins!" She'd shout to everyone we came in contact with. Megan was always the talkative one, she talked enough for the both of us. She did have a head start, she started talking at nine months. I was three and I think my first words were "candy" or something. 
"I wish I had a twin, then we'd switch places." People would say. It doesn't exactly work that way, I wanted to tell them. Not when one of the twins is defective.

I don't really remember when the quirks started. Yeah, quirks. That's what mom calls them. When I think of quirks, I think of things like not liking tomatoes because they're mushy or eating mayonnaise straight out of the jar. Those are things that don't interfere with your life.

The things I have? Those are called tics, but mom won't admit that. It makes me sound crazy, like there's something wrong with me. Of course there's nothing wrong with me. I'm just like the other tree-licking, head-banging, and hand-flapping kids. The tics are just a symptom of an underlying problem. The kind of problem that gets you tested and put into special classes.

Mom constantly watches the old videos of Megan and me as toddlers. She says she likes to watch them for the memories, but really I can tell that she's watching to see where she went wrong. Why did one kid come out perfect and the other one not so much?

In one video, mom's favorite, Megan's singing and dancing to "Achy Breaky Heart" and wearing a pink cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a pink Disney Princess pull-up. Then there's me looking in her general direction, holding my ears and rocking back and forth. I'm screaming.

"Josh, be quiet, I'm dancing," Megan shouts, hands on her hips. Dad comes in and picks me up.

"It's okay, Josh. It's just music," Dad says. He goes to pick me up, but I start banging my head against the cabinet. "Hell, if I had to listen to Billy Ray Cyrus, I'd do the same thing." That's the last thing he says before Mom sets the camera on the ground.
Megan is crying. "What about me!?" The camera cuts off.

That's the last time we see Dad as himself and the last time we see Josh the slightly odd toddler. The years following we see Josh, the problem child and we see less and less of Dad. Early start counselors fear going to our house because I didn't even acknowledge their presence. I didn't talk. I hit and I bit people. I'm the kid that pushed my sister into the coffee table and cut her eye. There's still a scar there. Most of the sessions, I just rock. Back and forth. Back and forth. Much like I'm doing now.

When we're seven, Dad finally says he's tired of this family. He's tired of his distracted wife and his needy daughter. Most of all he's tired of his defective son. Mom lets him leave saying she always had to take care of the children and that he never helped anyway. His presence was making things worse, though the tics got worse after he left. Megan and I watched him go. The look in her green eyes say it's my fault. I'm counting the forty two freckles on her face.

After Dad left, Mom decided that the more capable twin is supposed to look out for the lesser twin. You tell me what happens when you take an outgoing and popular girl and force her to watch over her crazy brother who checks all seven doors in the hallway at school and the six doors up the forty two stairs to the second floor. Six years later, you wonder why they hate each other. You can only tie up a dog for so long before he finds a way to get out. He's either going to chew through the rope or bite your hand.
The door opens and I see Megan in her cheerleading outfit.

"Josh! What are you doing here?!"

"I live here." I'm laying flat on the floor with my nose pressed to the beige carpet of the living room.

"No, I mean, what the hell are you doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing?"

"Is there a way we can get rid of him?" Her boyfriend of the week, Andy Smalls, whispers. 
"We can go upstairs," Megan says.

"I don't want to... you know... with your brother in the house."

"Don't worry about it," I say. "She does it with every other guy she brings here."

"Josh!?" She shouts indignantly. Her face is bright red and Andy Smalls is chuckling. She turns to the hulking mass of male in front of her and pushes him upstairs.

"Are you sure, Megs?"
Megan does that strange thing with her nose, like she smells the boy's locker room after enchilada day (I don't doubt that she knows what it smells like either, she is dating a football player). "I'm positive."

Andy smirks.

"Keep it down," I say. "And wash the sheets when your through, they smell." I also want to say they have thirty seven bright orange, neon green, and electric blue stripes on them. The door slams and rattles all eighteen windows in our house.

Four official boyfriends. Six one-night stands. Two long term relationships. I don't know what Megan's looking for with all these guys.
Mom works double shifts at the grocery store. Sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. That's one hundred and twelve hours away from us the needy daughter and the defective son. Legally she can't leave, but she wishes that she could have before Dad left. There's got to be a law saying someone shouldn't work that hard. I'm sure there is, but mom doesn't care. She's got to put our gluten-free food on the table somehow.

Then there's me. It takes thirty three steps from the living room to the family room, so I can put the seven pictures of Dad and all of us down on their faces. I think Mom and Megan put them up when I'm asleep. It's been nine years since Dad got tired of this family. Three thousand, two hundred and eighty five days. I still count them, just out of habit. 
Author's Notes 


Anonymous said...

Gaarr, I just wrote a lovely review on this and then I buggered it up. Hate it when that happens! So, the general gist was that this is a very well written piece. The narrative is honest and engaging, and I was hooked right from the very beginning. If you had more of this story in particular to turn into a book, I'd read it for sure!

Najela said...

I hate when that happens too. *blushes* I'm glad you enjoyed it. I would like to expand this once I finish some other projects in the pipeline.

Thank you for your comment. =)


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