Monday, March 10, 2014

The last time

Jake Ocumanos towers over me. If you stand us against each other, face-to-face, my nose slides in just below his chin while his either pokes me in an eye or stands in the half-forest mess of a space between my two eyebrows. Up close, his face is a mixed-density minefield, a mess of stubble and pockmarks between scars set over sallow skin and brown-yellow teeth from a lifetime of coffee and cigarettes. Unpleasant, to say the least.

We've only been in this situation three times: Once, on an elevator in Los Angeles when he started dating my aunt and was helping us move out of her apartment and into his Chevy Astro and we pressed up against each other between suitcases and boxes of old Harlequin novels destined for the dumpster; then again in the woods outside of Alturas, California, after a night of sleepless drinking on his part, where he charged into my tent, pulled me out, stood me up, and told me I was a miserable failure while the sun rose behind us; and a final time right before I grabbed hold of a desk lamp and broke it against his head, causing opaque glass to embed in his cheeks.

The last time is the most important. When the lamp crushes his face there's a hollow crack followed by the sprinkling of the glass that doesn't stick in his face dropping onto the laminate floor. I step back and drop the lamp. Jake topples onto my particleboard desk, and it breaks down the middle, splinters and dust billowing into the air, as he collapses with it to the ground.

When Jake meets me for the first time at my aunt's home in Los Angeles he is pleasant. He smiles broadly and musses my hair. I smell his aftershave and it tastes like metal in my my mouth. My aunt tells me this is Jake and he's a good man and strong and he's going to take care of us because she knows how I've lacked for a strong male presence in my life since my father died in the car wreck with fire and smoke and the bright, spinning lights from every direction. I smile and so does my aunt because I believe she's genuinely happy. This is fifteen years ago.

I stand over Jake. Each day I more closely resemble the picture of my father that I keep in my wallet, bulbous nose to bushy eyebrows down to the broad shoulders and pooch of a stomach that slumps over any belt I wear. Although and distended by age, signs of the chiseled, ex-Army man remain. He's entirely square, forehead, jaw, chest, body. I kick him. Don't you dare, I scream, because you've never been my father.

My aunt laments our arguments. Disagreements, she calls them. Jake strikes my face and I feel the heat of his hand and collapse to the ground. She clucks between parsed lips and sips her coffee and orders me to get up already because I'm embarrassing myself. Jake recoils like an undercard boxer having downed his over-matched opponent, retreating to his corner, seeing if I'll answer the count. Inevitably I get up and slide away, and he watches contentedly as I go.

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