07 July 2013

Families, part one

As a kid, you suspect everyone else's family is better than yours. At least, I did.

Growing up, the other families seemed less restrictive, or better regulated. More fun. Even when you encountered families demonstrably worse than yours, you still harbored the belief that your family was defective, strange, weird, and boring while everyone else's was better than to good old mom, dad, and sis.

Want proof? Matt and I were good friends in the seventh and eighth grades We were in the same Boy Scout troop.  We bonded over Tolkien, big time. Despite sharing my obsession with Elvish, he was smart, good at math and science, sharp in English. He looked a bit like Henry Kissinger -- same glasses, same curly hair, but in his case it grew wild. 

Unlike my other friends, he kept his address secret for a long time.

Once he invited me over, I understood why. His front yard was a dried-up desert, the lawn just a vague, brown memory. Their living room was jammed with crap, and the curtains never opened. I didn't -- and don't -- care too much about tidy lawns or clean front rooms, so that I even noticed this to begin with shows you how bad it was, relative to the other, nicer places in the neighborhood.

Matt's mother was an alcoholic who'd croak out a cheery, Maryland accented hello when you walked in. She only changed out of her quilted bathrobe to visit to the Three Kings bar in a strip mall. 

Did I offer thanks that I didn't have to clear out empty whisky bottles to make a path through the house to the backyard? Or that cigarette smoke didn't sting my eyes when I sat in the kitchen back home? Or consider that it was maybe a good thing for me that my parents had regular habits, drank maybe once a year and then not in front of me? 


I envied Matt. I wondered if I could move in. He could stay up as late as he wanted. Eat what he wanted. He just had to fix it himself. He had a trampoline in his backyard, and no one bugged us about safety when we jumped on it. He didn't have a dad to bug him about mowing the lawn. 

He didn't have a dad, or a lawn.

His sister was older, and used to smack him around for fun.

Better family, all the way around.

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