U.S Marine Club
Outside a tavern
Dad at Dunkin' Donuts
Money, of course, is tighter than ever. The whole family moved in together to help make ends meet. The result = Donna and Daneal both leaving and no longer speaking to my mom and dad. Daneal is also proudly pregnant. Neither have working phones or e-mails so I didn’t see them at all this time. My mother sighs about the situation then suggests the title for the “October Country” sequel should be called “It never fuckin’ ends.”
Chris is back home and got his GED after years of struggling with the test. He came into our room, all sincere and twitchy, to tell us how he felt about the film. He said that seeing my mom cry because he’d gone to jail “…just fuckin’ killed me. I knew how they felt when I got out, but to see it, how it hurt them, that just slayed me. After all that, I’m here with them now. They gave me a key. Nobody’s ever had trust in me like that. I kept thinking about it and helped me to keep working and get my GED.”
Isaiah with cellphone self-portrait
I also have a new foster brother named Isaiah – a sweet kid who put himself in foster care to escape his family situation and is now in community college. It meets all my expectations of family strangeness to come home to the would-be-gangster white kid and the soft-spoken black guy both calling my parents mom and dad. Upstairs Chris stomps and mouths along with thick, vulgar rap. In his room, Isaiah cranks Christian pop and contemporary gospel, crooning along fervently. Not since we lived south have I heard anyone raising their voice to Jesus in our home – even then it was a drunken uncle singing along with George Jones’ cover of “Walk with me Jesus.”
Photo of Isaiah's mom in his room
The house goes quiet after midnight. The music and multiple TV’s switch off. Snow muffles outside noise. My mother’s plush animals, hard faced Victorian dolls, and far, far too many Father Christmas figures watch over the living room. Black enamel eyes catch the blinking lights of the Christmas tree. Through the window I can see the luminous inflatable bear on the neighbors’ porch. The rotund bear doesn’t face the street but smiles into the neighbors’ living room window with immutable, insipid cheer. My mother tells us, “She just lost her son. He was overweight and didn’t breathe well. He had some kind of other problems, you know…mental. In summer he’d sit on the porch, but this year we didn’t see much of him. It’s only been a month….” During daytime bear lies in a deflated puddle of itself, rising, filling with air and light as darkness comes on.
We gave the family money for Christmas, not large amounts at all, but enough to help at this time of year. My parents were subdued in their thanks. Their awkwardness was the measurement of their appreciation. Soon though, they were talking about the film and how weird it was that strangers knew about their lives, but that they were proud of the story being told.
Desi, true to form, jumped about doing money spell-casting moves from her favorite Japanese cartoons.
At Denise’s house the shades were down. She looked pale, moved slow, but seemed happy. When we gave her the gift, she wept.
Despite memories of food stamps, trailer parks, Salvation Army clothes, worried Christmas mornings; despite making the film about life upstate – my own life has come so far and is so full of comfort that I’d forgotten what money can mean. Getting money when it is badly needed gives bodily relief, like food or warmth. You feel it right in your blood. On our first day visiting my mother paid for the heat oil with a tight face that brought a host of anxious memories back to me. Thanks to all of our participation in the film the damn oil bill is paid till spring.