By: Austin J. Dalton
You’re going to hate how this year ends, but it starts with an alright scene. I’m writing you from more than a decade in the future, and hopefully this letter finds you around New Year’s Eve 2006 or New Year’s Day 2007.
You’re watching the New Year’s Eve festivities with your Dad. They’re dropping the Times Square ball on television. Lenore is sleeping in the laundry room. She’s an American Staffordshire Bull-Terrier, or just a mutt if you feel like saving breath. Her leg is not doing well, the one that got infected this past winter. No matter how much you bandage it up, she goes back and gnaws on it. That dog is two years older than you are, so you can’t tell her anything.
Welcome to 2007, the year you turn thirteen. January is such a shapeless and drab time of year, don’t you agree? The Christmas lights are all coming down and there’s no more cause for merriment; only the prospect of back-to-work, back-to-school. They excite you about the new year every goddam day leading up to the 31st, but nobody cares about celebration now, do they?
Currently, you’re between schools, because you don’t get along with the other kids and have the bruises to prove it, as do they.
It’s late January – you finally get your Gateway (Windows XP) laptop hooked up with the house’s wi-fi, and this begins a period of regularly staying up until obscene hours of the morning with the infinite vortex of online stimuli at your disposal. I envy you, kid. With or without your newfound Internet addiction, you’re a nocturnal champion. No chemicals required, you can simply will yourself to stay awake until the sun is up and then go about your day.
The Internet is still discovering itself. Anonymous is on the rise and Chris Hansen is catching predators on NBC every Tuesday night.
The digital wonders are many. There’s this website called YouTube where you can watch videos of anything from Denis Leary routines to Green Day interviews to innumerable Resident Evil 4 machinimas to full episodes of South Park.
This is a great time to explore YouTube. In addition to its relative novelty in your time, it has also not yet been purloined by Google, Disney or Haliburton or whomever currently has their venal tentacles around the service.
Speaking of the Internet: your grade school buddy Bill Huxley keeps bothering you about making a MySpace page already, but you don’t know how many times you can tell him, MySpace sucks. It’s for preppy conformists and it’s full of pedophiles.
It’s February – your attitude towards MySpace and the preppy, pedophilic culture around it inspires the first song you and Heather write together. It establishes your musical modus operandi: Topic Songs. You and she divide up the labor: you pen the lyrics, or at least the first draft, and she composes the music. She’s only a couple of years older than you’ll be in April but put her dad’s guitar in her hands and she’s a wunderkind.
You’re a duo act for now. If Casey Ellis from your bio class would get his head out of his ass and do more than just play Warcraft, he could probably do something on keyboards.
It’s March – the first day without snow in a week. You ride along with your mom to the market. She doesn’t say much to you all morning, besides the bare-bones essentials of asking you if you want to go to the store with her, did you eat breakfast, reminding you to clean under your bed so that your dad can replace the carpet in your room.
You’re in the passenger seat and your mom is quiet all the way to the Minyard’s parking lot. Before it’s time to go shopping, your mother kills the engine and remains weirdly silent for a minute.
She asks, “Do you remember your Great Aunt Marie?”
You say yes, she explains, “She’s ill. We need to go see her, there’s going to be a gathering. We’re all going to spend some time with her.”
Why does it sound like that sentence got truncated at the end? Were you mom’s lips about to form the ‘b’ of the word “before”?
It’s April – “thirteen” is nearly here. On the day before your birthday, you get home from school and your parents are watching some breaking news. Tragedy has befallen a university in Virginia. The news anchors probe all possible sources to get an idea of who this bloodthirsty monster was, what kind of animal could gun down more than thirty innocents.
The nightly news wastes no time plastering the killer’s self-portrait across the screen, an angry South Korean man striking menacing poses with a hammer and guns akimbo. As soon as the news brings up the fact that Cho Sueng-Hui had startled his creative writing peers by penning gruesome one-act plays, one of your parents – I don’t recall which – asks you in a half-teasing, half-interrogative tone, “Ah see? Still think morbid writing is such a cool thing to do…?”, while gesturing at the television screen.
It’s your birthday. Heather, who wants to teach you to eventually be as magnificent on guitar as her, stops by your house in the mid-afternoon and gives you your present, a poster outlining the various possible chords in alphabetical order. Bill Huxley gets you something, too. He knows you’ve wanted to expand your musical palate, so he gets you a CD from an artist who he thinks you’ll enjoy, albeit one that might contrast with your Green Day collection. The cover art is an arresting watercolor self-portrait by the band’s front-man; the album is entitled Lest We Forget: The Best of Marilyn Manson. So begins your obsession with this guy. Thanks, Bill.
It’s late April – finally, time to drive up to the finely-trimmed plateau lawns of middle-class southern Illinois. Your mother avoids the d-word, insisting that she just wants to spend time with Aunt Marie “before she gets worse”.
The next evening, you and your mother arrive in southern Illinois. The farmhouse is located on the rural edges of Mt. Vernon, and there’s a party in motion when you guys arrive. There’s many relatives you’ve never met, a local band is playing on the makeshift podium in front of the house. Coolers, lawn chairs and tiki torches are everywhere, a multitude of cars are parked single file on either side of the country road leading up to the property. Finally, you and your mother make it to the front porch and you get to greet Aunt Marie.
She looks emaciated these days, much more so than you remember when last you saw her in 2002. For the few days that you stay up here, you and your mother lodge in one of the guest rooms. She sleeps on the bed, you sleep on a cot in the corner with your laptop tucked inside its carrier bag as a pillow.
You spend some quality time with Aunt Marie, who is in good spirits despite discreet murmurs of other relatives in the house, words like “pancreatic” and phrases like “late stage”. On the last day of you and your mom’s visit, Aunt Marie talks enthusiastically about an experimental new treatment in Canada that she’s interested in. She hopes her insurance provider shares this enthusiasm.
Later that afternoon, it’s back to Texas.
It’s May – you memorize the words to the song “Suicide is Painless” because you want to do an awesome cover of it on guitar. Hell, maybe your version can go viral, like Green Day’s recent cover of that John Lennon song. Anything’s possible in this popculturesphere of former teen starlets shaving their heads and weird viral videos of men sitting at their desktops raving to Moldovan dance songs.
Despite all the time you spend memorizing the words and Googling the necessary chords, you never even approach Heather with the idea. Too bad.
It’s June – Manson has a new album out. You’re stoked to hear it, but first you need to catch up on the rest of his musical catalog. Lenore is more and more disoriented these days. She limps from room to room, looking perpetually lost.
It’s early July – your mom gets a call about Aunt Marie. Things are worse. Apparently, the family tried to take her out on a boat for the holiday to observe the fireworks from the lake, but increasingly she could barely stand.
Your mother says it’s time to drive back up to Illinois. This time, your mother qualifies it: “…before it’s too late.”
It’s August. On the night of the 1st, you and your mom arrive back at the farmhouse to discover that a few relatives are still staying up here. Aunt Marie is, by now, confined almost entirely to her bed. She greets you and your mother when the in-house hospice folks say it’s okay for you to see her, but her words are sparser than ever before. Eye contact becomes impossible as she mostly stares at the ceiling, the light draining from her pupils periodically.
One night, Aunt Marie tumbles out of her bed and you and your mother rush into her room to untangle her from the mess of sheets in which she thrashes. Eventually, you secure her back onto the mattress. When the valium rage passes, she looks to you and murmurs, “It’s just not living, kid.”
You should have spent more time with her. You should have asked her if she’d like to tell any stories about being a sheriff, if she’d like to talk about what moral lessons she’s gotten out of her sixty-three years of life.
The next night, you’re on your cot with your laptop when your mother enters the guest room and says that Aunt Marie is gone. The funeral is three days later, out on the lawn of the farmhouse near the meadows.
Later that evening, your mother gets a phone call from your next-door neighbor back down in Texas, who was tasked with watching Lenore. Apparently, he found her curled up peacefully on her favorite spot on the back patio, and she wouldn’t wake up.
You and your mother stay at the farmhouse one or two more days after the funeral. The day before it’s time to leave, the two of you go have lunch at Steak n’ Shake and she announces, “I think we should sell our house in Dallas. Move up here. That way, the farmhouse will be occupied, won’t be taken by the banks. It’s what Aunt Marie wanted for us.”
Naturally, you’re despondent. “You know it won’t be that bad,” she tells you, and you realize that there’s no point in arguing about it. Once you’ve “accepted” this, you ask your mother when exactly she thinks you’ll be leaving Texas for Illinois. She tells you that she and your father have discussed it and that they plan to move just after the new year.
The next day, you and your mother head home to Texas again. As you look out the passenger window at the farmhouse getting smaller in the mirror, you know that the next time you gaze upon the flatscapes of Illinois and most especially that farmhouse, it will be permanent. This town will be your new home. It will be like reincarnation.
For the rest of the trip back down south, you are silent. You barely listen to your CDs, contemplative as you are. Your mother chalks it up to you just being petulant about recent revelations, but you’re not mourning or fretting – you’re planning.
At thirteen, I don’t blame you for coming up with the devilish idea that you do. You know that your impending new life in Illinois will necessitate a definitive end to your current one. What if you could make that literal?
Your plan: bide your time, play along with your parents’ moving plans, wait for moving day. When the Penske is almost entirely loaded and it’s time to depart your hometown forever, you hope that your dad doesn’t notice that his hunting rifle is missing from the master bedroom closet. Then, you surprise your parents in the mostly vacant living room with the barrel up to your chin, and announce, “Hey guys, guess what?”
Then bang – you’re gone, R. Budd Dwyer-style. Stay a kid forever.
It’s September – none of your friends know about your moving plans, or certain other plans. Heather notices that you’re acting different, but you change the subject when it comes up. The two of you speak begin speaking with diminishing frequency.
Your laptop is your best friend lately, and increasingly you see more of its glow than you do the sun. Games and LimeWire binge-watching episodes of Beavis and Butthead. You, your laptop, your blanket covering both of you. This world is your refuge.
It’s October – on the evening of the 4th, the wiring connecting the screen of your laptop to the rest of the machine fizzles and now the screen displays nothing but a white void.
Without distraction, you may have to focus on schoolwork or producing something creative. You put the laptop away and resort to the geriatric Packard Bell computer in the garage. You try to type out some lyrics. Sometimes you pen something interesting, most of it is just cringe material. As much as you maybe rightfully find yourself hitting the backspace button, I would encourage you to keep writing anyway. It’s the only way you’ll create something interesting.
One afternoon before Halloween, your mom sends you up to the newspaper stand by the fire station to pick her up a morning edition. When you reach the stand at the edge of the station’s parking lot, you notice a young man – about your height, but bigger and older than you – has been following you for a few blocks. He’s as bald as an egg.
You try to avoid the guy, but you can already tell that there will be blood. He doesn’t like the look of your face, the shape of your nose and your curly hair. He’d like to wipe the asphalt with you.
His initiating blow is banal. He gives you an open-palm shove to the shoulders. You remain upright, so he dives in and gets you with a right hook to your lower jaw. After a few minutes of punches being thrown and him finally getting you into a headlock, you form an exit strategy. Your evasive maneuver won’t be a gentlemanly tactic, but this skinhead is no gentleman. You clench your right fist as tight as it can clench, try to work up a certain amount of momentum in that arm, and then you go for the balls. It’s very effective, and you’re given a chance to escape.
This isn’t your first physical altercation with some jerkoff in your neighborhood, and for the limited time that you remain in Texas, it won’t be your last. Does it matter if you bleed a little here and there? You intend to die in January anyway. You probably assume that going toe-to-toe with skinhead shitheads won’t be a regular part of everyday life in a future America.
It’s November – one night, your parents are away at the market. You peek inside the master bedroom closet. If you’re going to martyr yourself, you need to make sure there’s ammo available. You enter the bedroom and dig around in the closet. Something starts to dawn on you. How embarrassing. Despite your plans for a grand exit, you forgot that your father hocked that rifle years ago. The guy seldom hunted anyway, and so he got some cash for it when he realized that it had no sentimental value and having it in the house made your mom uncomfortable. “Well, shoot,” you mutter to yourself after a few long minutes of staring vacantly at the empty spot in the closet. You were serious enough about this plan to go snooping around, apparently. Now, you’re overmatched. It looks like having to start over anew in Illinois is going to be a reality. You could try running away, but that sounds cumbersome.
To maintain contact with everyone, you’re going to have to set up a MySpace page. Do it for your friends. The world is a dark graveyard and if you can say you maintain at least one genuine connection, then do so.
It’s December –you finally get to hear that new Marilyn Manson album. You probably hear it on LimeWire, and it’s surprising. It’s more introspective than his other work, it experiments with some new sound, and unfortunately you feel like it kind of sucks. You don’t like the melodramatic tone of it, you find that the aesthetic is too emo, lyrically it’s too fixated on maudlin relationship woes. Another disappointment. Give it time, you might like it later.
On New Year’s Eve, it’s a habit of yours to collect your thoughts, reflect on what has been gained and lost. You sit out under the backdoor awning in a lawn chair while your parents watch television. Letterman plays clips of President Bush’s latest speech gaffe or malapropism. The studio audience laughs, confident that there will never be a more inarticulate man occupying the Oval Office.
Your dad doesn’t like the idea of you going outdoors at night, even if it’s no farther than the goddamn back patio, because really, what do you do out there in the backyard? Just stare at the sky? That’s not normal! When he grills you, you wonder, what does he want to hear? That you go into the toolshed and shoot heroin into your dick? It doesn’t matter. He’s not going to actively stop you, just make snide remarks.
This whole year has got you down, and though you’d like to imagine that it’s temporary, I’m afraid this melancholia is here to stay for a while. In fact, this low mood will be a defining characteristic of the next few years of your life, not only because of what’s happened but because of the world’s expectations for you. In all senses but legal, you’re not a child anymore, something precious and marketable to make hearts swoon. You have no say in this transformation. Truly, you are a Teenager.
I’m writing this letter to you, my 2007 self, in hopes that the facts herein will help to fortify you for the things to come. And should this letter never reach you, it’s fine. Somebody out there must be turning thirteen this year.
Sincerely, Your Young Adult Self