Dirty Santa has no money is the reason why he calls me about a possible job. And look, there have been times when I have studied at the events of my life, the decisions good and bad, the whole nurture vs nature thing, in hopes of figuring out exactly how I came to run around with folk like Dirty Santa, but seeing as how I’m broke and down to my last everything, today’s not one of those days.
What job, I ask him.
I should know better by now than to trust the viability of Dirty Santa’s ideas. Once he wanted us to rob my parents, us dressed up all in black and with ski masks or Halloween masks on over our faces so they wouldn’t know it was us robbing them. I didn’t bother telling him that anything that they had that was worth stealing I’d already taken, and simply by walking through the front door and taking it.
They’ll know it’s me, I told him instead. No matter what kind of mask I’ve got over my face, they’ll know it’s me, because of the fucked up way I walk.
See, I walk on the balls my feet, some would say on the tippy toes, and no matter how much I’ve tried to fix that I can’t, so no matter what I’m wearing or how I’ve disguised myself, people always know me by the funny way I walk.
Once, in elementary school, I wore every piece of clothing I could fit over myself, and then a new heavy coat no one knew about, and then a ski mask, and then a hat over that, to pretend I was a new kid that no one knew and whose face was maybe burned by acid or something? Like kids do sometimes. But right away, see, everyone knew it was me, and I felt kind of like an idiot.
Anyway, when I thought I’d finally convinced him robbing my parents was a lame idea, he told me, Okay, okay, I get you, but here, just meet me at this address, and we’ll do this other job together. Then he handed me a slip of paper with my parents’ address on it.
I guess what I’m saying is, Dirty Santa isn’t the brightest bulb, but, since the thing I botched with the McNamara job, he’s the only bulb I know right now who’s willing to bring me in on a job.
He tells me the job and then the plan—a musician owes The Angermeier money but now it’s too late for the money and so we’ll wait for him at a bar in Brooklyn where he’s supposed to be and there beat the shit out of him and take all his stuff—which seems, for Dirty Santa, like such a straightforward and thought-out plan my Spidey-Sense should start tingling, but maybe because I’m hungry and I haven’t been sleeping too good lately, nothing tingles or whatever tingles doesn’t tingle loud enough and I miss it.
It’s a surprise, then, and not a surprise, not a surprise at all, when the address he gives me isn’t a bar, is just an empty storefront, half-burned down, and Dirty Santa’s there with another guy, some guy I don’t know, and I wonder, in the split second before it all falls to shit, I wonder if he called that guy first or second, if he laid out a plan as simple and sweet to that guy as he laid out to me, except instead of collecting from a musician, he told him, There’s a guy I have to take care of and I need a second guy with me, and if after the two of them take care of me, I wonder if Dirty Santa’s going to say, Hey, how about, now that we’ve done this, we go rob your parents?
Anyway, I start to run because I’m in no position to do anything else, and, truth be told, I’m not in much of a position to do that, either, but I start to run anyway because, fuck, what else is there for me to do?
It’s funny. I see this tree, like, I see it almost every night, whenever I’m standing outside your window. I see it, but I don’t.
Here’s the thing, I don’t ever really SEE it. Does that make sense?
Like, it’s here, but it’s just a dumb fucking tree, right? I’m not interested in this tree when I’m standing outside your window. I’m interested in you. Why else. I mean. Why else would I be standing outside this window. It’s goddamn cold outside, right? And it’s late. I mean. Really late, and I have to work in the morning, and I have to get up early, too, to help my wife get the kids to school, and so, I mean, I’m not the kind of guy who would stand outside in the cold and the late, knowing he has to wake up in just a couple of hours, deal with kids and lunches and breakfast, all just to look at a tree. It’s a thing to stand under, usually, a thing to stand under in a way that I can look up at your window and if you were to get the feeling that I’m here looking up at you in your window, were to get this feeling so strongly that you felt the need to look out your window and down onto the street, you wouldn’t be able to see me, because I’m under this tree. I wish it were a bigger tree, of course. It’s a bit skimpy as far as trees offering cover go, but it’s the tree that’s outside your window, and I can’t blame it for that.
What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that I stand here under this tree and don’t even think about the tree. But tonight.
Because, I don’t think of it because I’m thinking of a lot of other things, right? You understand that?
But tonight, I looked up at the tree. I don’t know why. You weren’t there at the window, I guess. I got bored, maybe, staring at the empty window waiting for you to cross by it again. So I looked around. It happens some times. I’ll look at the other buildings on your street. Or I’ll watch the people waiting at the bus stop, except, this late at night, there aren’t usually that many people. Sometimes, the bus will come by and people will get off, but not very often.
There’s. What I’m saying is there’s not a lot to look at when you’re not crossing by your window, and so tonight, I looked up at that tree. And that tree, it was glowing. It was a red, glowing tree, and I’m sure it’s like this every night, you know. I’m sure there’s a light hitting it a weird way, and that it’s always the same light, but tonight, tonight I saw it, but really SAW it, and I just thought it was eery and beautiful and bathed in this light, I don’t know, I guess it was an orange light but the weird green color of the leaves turned that light into a haunting kind of red, but something deeper than red. Plum, I guess. I would call it plum. And this red made the leaves look almost blue, like maybe the tree was under water or we were all under water, and what I wanted to say, I guess, what I’m trying to say about this tree, this god damn tree and the light that hit it, is that it was beautiful and I wished I could tell you to come to your window right then and look down at this tree and see it, too.
I miss you, I haven’t forgotten you, I still think of you, every night, I think of you often, Your eyes, Your lips, I find myself staring into space and when I come to, I lose myself in thoughts of you, I drove fifteen miles the wrong way, I left my wallet on the hood, Your smell fills this room, this whole, I found your earring in my closet, I bought a necklace because it made me think of you, There’s a cabin, a friend of mine owns it, I have something for you, a surprise, Remember the winery, Remember the paddle boats, Remember our day at the Met, Remember El Oriental, There’s something there, There’s a thing we have, We have something strong, The two of us have a connection, Our connection is special, You feel, I know you feel it, too, You must feel, I only wish we’d had more time, I only wish you’d called me back, I only wish you’d see me again, I wish I could touch you one last time, Your husband’s no good for you, Francis is a girl’s name, Your boyfriend doesn’t see you how I, It might not be an easy life, but it, Things might be difficult at first, but love, True love will make our hardships small, Love, there, I said it, I will say it again, You don’t have to love me, At first you might not love me, I know to love me the way I love you is a lot to ask, I don’t expect a miracle, I’m not hoping for, All I ask is another chance, If you give me one more chance, I can’t promise, I promise, I promise, I promise, It’s not too much to ask, I’ve seen you, I’ve looked for you, I’ve called you, But you didn’t notice me, But you must have changed your number, I’ve left you messages, You won’t return my messages, But I want you to know, You need to know, If there’s something you must know, There’s nothing I won’t do, There’s nothing at all I won’t do, Nothing in this world will keep me, I will find a way to bring you back, You will come back,
Sometimes we like to try to make the girl who is allergic to water cry, not because we’re cruel, necessarily, although I’m sure we’re that, too, but because we’re curious and full of disbelief, even the most allergic of us, even the girl allergic to her own goddamn hair, full of disbelief that anyone could be so allergic to something so essential and still be alive. She’s full of stony-faced resolve, though, and no matter what we try, and we have tried many, many things, she refuses to cry. Somebody suggested one night that maybe she’d had her tearducts removed against just this sort of thing, but that seems extreme, even for the likes of her.
I’m no dummy so when I first came here, I lied. I told the others I had a food allergy, nuts, strawberries, shellfish, but that’s not me at all. I’m allergic to words. It’s strange, I know, which is why I don’t ever tell anyone about it. Not even the girl who’s allergic to water, which is pretty goddamn strange if you ask me. So nobody knows. I’m on some pretty strong medication, is the thing. And nobody knows about that, either.
Sometimes someone will throw me a strawberry and I’ll forget for a moment and I’ll catch it and there will be a split second when I won’t do anything and then I’ll remember and then I’ll squeal and then throw the thing—which wasn’t a strawberry at all, in fact, or not a real one—and the rest of them will laugh. And someone will say, “Jesus, it’s just felt. Don’t be a spaz.” It’s not always just felt, though. A couple of times, just as I’m about to take a bite of my sandwich someone will knock it out of my hands right and then they’ll be scared, not a lot scared, but a little scared because they’ll have switched my ham and cheese with peanut butter, and they’ll say, “Jesus Christ, don’t you check your food before you eat it?” And I’ll stop myself before asking, “Why would I?” Because I’ll remember I’m supposed to be like them and they always check their food. Sometimes after and before each new bite, they’ll check their food.
Some days, having grown tired of trying to make the girl who is allergic to water cry, we try instead to make her sweat. We turn up the heat in the rooms. We turn on the stove burners and the oven. We grab a spray bottle of water and chase her around and around and around until we’re winded and undone, bent over panting and sweating ourselves, but even in this simple task she refuses to sweat or cry or give us any satisfaction at all.
”She has to sweat,” someone will say.
”Why don’t we just fucking spray her with the water,” someone else will ask.
”It’s not the same thing,” we’ll say, almost in unison, and it’s not. The rest of them, the things they’re allergic to come from the outside world. Nuts, dust, mites, grass, tree pollen, dog or cat dander, cockroaches, berries, stone fruits, eggs. The girl who is allergic to water, what she’s allergic to makes up, like, three-quarters of her body. Three-quarters of the inside of her are dangerous to one hundred percent of the outside of her. Spraying her with water just isn’t the same thing and no one understands this better than the girl who is allergic to her own goddamn hair, but even she doesn’t really get it, because when her allergies kick in, her body doesn’t attack her—doesn’t close her throat or break her skin out in a rash or swell up her eyes and lips—but attacks the hair itself, so the worst that happens to her is that she grows some hair, her body kills it, she goes bald, and then the whole thing starts over again, and so really the only person who really understands the girl who is allergic to water is me, and sometimes I’m tempted to tell her this. As I chase her through the house with the spray bottle, I will whisper, I’m just like you, just before shooting a mist of water at the back of her head to make her run faster, but really, that’s not true, either.
Thinking about water doesn’t make her skin crawl, doesn’t make her lips go numb, her eyes go all blurry. Thinking about water doesn’t make her nose start to bleed.
Before I came here and before they figured out my meds, I had trained myself to think about chains of random letters—aofiwfjdieongk and so on—all day nothing but these letters instead of actual words. If I saw a chair, I didn’t think ‘chair’. I thought, ‘wifjei’. I didn’t think door, or cat, or blue sky, or window, or glass of milk. I crossed my eyes just enough so that when I saw a stop sign or an exit sign or a billboard, I only saw colors and lines, but no words. But now I don’t have to do any of that. The medicines do it all for me, or they did. Last night, I stopped taking them, and since this morning, words are becoming clearer to me again. I can feel my ears turning red, can feel my chest tightening up. I’m waiting for one of the others to ask me, Did you eat something, like a strawberry or something? But I don’t care. I’m taking them all in, as many of them as I can. I’m eating them up, because I don’t fucking care. Right now, all I care about is this: before my fingers swell up into sausages, I will take the bucket under the kitchen sink and fill it to the top with water and find the girl allergic to her own tears and pour that shit right over her head.
We were by the sharks. No. Wait. Not the sharks. I mean. Yes. We were by the sharks, at one point, early in the morning, it’s what he wanted us to go see first, the sharks, but this happened after the sharks. We were by the manatees, I think, or, no. I get them confused with, what’s the one that looks like a manatee? It’s been a long day. I mean. You know, right. You know this. It’s been a really long day. I don’t know if the aquarium even has manatees. Porpoise. We were by the porpoise tank. I don’t know, is it even called a tank? And then she took Sammy to the bathroom because it was her turn because, you know, we trade off. That’s what we do. That’s, like, whenever we talk about how glad we are we only had the one, we only had Sammy, we talk about how it’s nice because we can trade off. You know. If we had two, we’d each have to, well, we wouldn’t be able to. Trade. So I took him to the bathroom right after we ate lunch and then she took him to the bathroom when we were by the manatees. I mean. Whatever. The porpoise. And? I waited. And? And nothing. I waited and they didn’t come back. For about twenty minutes, at first, because, you know. I didn’t want to leave. I mean. I wanted to leave. I had this idea that I should go looking for them, you know, and it’s like you’re driving and you think maybe you missed your exit, and you want to turn around, but you’re not sure. You’re not sure that you missed your exit, and you think, maybe this next exit will be it, or over this hill will be it. So you don’t turn around because what if you turn around right before you hit your exit? And so what if I went looking for my wife and kid and the next second they show back up and I’m not there? That’s going on for twenty minutes and after that, I lose track of time. I mean, I stop looking at my phone. All I’m doing is looking at my phone, right, looking at the time on my phone, and it makes me a little crazy, so I stop. I make myself stop. I, what is it, I exist in the moment because I think that if I stop obsessing over where they are, they’ll just, well, be there. I watch the porpoise and the people watching the porpoise and I lose myself in it, in the porpoise, in watching it slip by the glass. It’s not the prettiest thing. I know people are supposed to think these things are sleek and graceful, but the head, the snubbed head, it looks like its brain is too big for its head, like it’s a mad scientist, maybe, and not at all attractive, and so I can’t stop watching this thing circle around the tank, showing everyone its pale, soft, white belly, and there’s this kid, maybe two or three years older than Sammy, but not as nice as Sammy. I mean. He’s pounding his fist against the glass, which everyone knows you’re not supposed to do, and he’s just pounding and pounding and pounding, until finally, the porpoise swims right up, just, out of nowhere, swims right up to the glass, its mouth wide open, like it was going to eat the kid’s head, like, if the glass weren’t there, it would have chomped right down on that kid’s face, and it scares the shit out of that kid, makes him squeal and flinch, and I don’t know what it was about that moment, about what happened then, but something about it made me think that I wasn’t ever going to see them again, that I wouldn’t see my wife or Sammy ever again, and I looked at my phone, I looked to see just how long it had been, thinking that maybe I’d sat there watching and waiting for another ten minutes or fifteen minutes, but no. It’d been two hours. They’d been gone for over two hours, and that was five hours ago, and I’ve been all over, and then I came here, came here to you.