• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 10

Precarious Pile

As a little boy you didn't have a care in the world. You taped together broken Hot Wheels tracks handed down from your older brother so the roads twisted and turned. Your mother gave you a loop-de-loop for your fifth birthday and you delighted in pushing the cars with just enough force to send them through but occasionally forgot and watched the cars crash down from the peak of their circle.

In fourth grade, a bully sat beside you, masked as an innocent boy all the teachers loved. He was polite to adults and wore his uniform shirts pressed and buttoned. You were always wrinkled and quiet, often overlooked, but the bully saw you. "Let's be friends," you pleaded, but he stabbed you with pencil lead and left permanent marker dots on your shirt. You shoved them down in the laundry hamper but your mother saw anyway, sighed and scolded you to be more careful because money didn't grow on trees and you had to make these last two more years.

By middle school, you were taller than everyone else. You could see over the heads in the hallway and people cleared a path for you. You pretended your head was so far in the clouds that you couldn't hear their whispers. You perfected the blank stare and carefree shrug, making classmates leave you alone because they couldn't get a rise out of you. But when you tried it at home, your father replied with the back of his hand. Time faded the red bloom on your cheek, but nothing erased that moment from your memory.

No one cheered at your high school graduation. Your mother had left three years ago, your older brother was too drunk to remember the day, and your dad flat-out told you he didn't care. You turned 18 two days before, and he acted like that was the last day he had to parent you—not that he ever had.


Precarious Pile

You shared a limp, sweaty handshake with the principal who mispronounced your name and looked out over the auditorium into the sea of faces that didn't know you.

When you turn 21, you sit alone in your bedroom and realize you don't know yourself. You hear your roommates on the other side of the wall, drinking and laughing, but they don't know it's your birthday and you don't want to drink with them and risk ending up like your brother, whom you haven't heard from in two years. You flash back to yourself at five, nine, thirteen, eighteen, picturing those selves precariously stacked on each other. You have no clue what to add to the pile, or what will cause it to topple.