Treading Water

by Sally Simon

They say I’m smart and personable (a rare combination), that I should be able to get a job that pays more than minimum wage (even though I’m a college drop out) and create a good life for myself (for fuck sake, what does that even mean?) but instead of answering (it really wasn’t a question), I stare at the vacation magnet on the fridge (the one Mom bought on our family vacation to the Galapagos when I was twelve) and imagine I’m one of those swimming iguanas, only I can’t swim.

My dad is talking now, but his words sound like blah-blah-blah and it reminds me of the tiny people who lived behind the hole in the wall behind my dresser, the ones that came out at night and pretended to be my friends only to chase me down the beach until I was out of breath and huddled behind a dune. His voice sounds like the waves, calm and nonthreatening, until they aren’t.

When I was about four we moved into this house (the one at the end of a cul-de-sac with a four-car garage) with the above ground pool where I learned to move my arms around enough to not drown. We had a flamingo float (that my dad bought for my mom because his sister was obsessed with them and he didn’t know any better). I loved that float and fought my older brother (who’s now my sister since puberty taught them they were born the wrong gender) for it, and won every time, but one day it was nothing but a puddle of pink plastic shriveled by the sun and I knew I would never trust anything to hold me up again.

I’m being told to shower (Do you need deodorant? I bought you deodorant) and come down to dinner. The water flows over my body (which is admittedly too skinny since I smoke too much weed without getting the munchies due to Lexapro making me lose my appetite, but for some reason they don’t cancel each other out), but I don’t really feel it. I know the water’s hitting me because I feel wet, and I think of when we were little and the three of us, my dad and brother and I, would have “sword fights” in the shower then run around naked (until Mom yelled what the hell someone’s going to break their neck) and I wonder if maybe that’s why I’m gay (but I dismiss it because that’s not what all the literature says), when I realize I haven’t used soap but I really don’t want to be clean anyway.

Dinner is meatloaf again. Mom makes good meatloaf. I think she uses a special ingredient because I never see her use a recipe but it always tastes the same–like maybe she uses honey or something sweet like agave syrup (an ad for agave syrup popped up online last week while I was watching Danganronpa, an anime series where kids are locked in a school by a robotic bear headmaster and have to kill to survive, and I thought damn, what advertising genius chose this time slot to push agave syrup, but then I thought someone more fucked up than me and it made me feel better). She doesn’t know, but it bothers me that she drinks too much red wine and by the end of the meal she’s slurring her words and dad has retired to the couch where he’ll sit all night (because it’s hard putting your hands in people’s mouths all day, so leave me alone damn it) and watch stupid comedy shows (he thinks he’s funny) and I’ll hear his laugh all the way up in my room with the door closed (because he can’t do anything half-assed, even laugh) and wonder how I’m his son, and does it really matter if I can’t keep job if all life has in store for me when I get his age is a deflated flamingo float and a family who doesn’t laugh at his jokes.  I’ll lie back on my bed, close my eyes and wonder why the tiny people who lived behind my dresser stopped coming to visit me, and where are they now, and fall asleep to the sound of waves.