Do Bribes Work in Real Life Like They Do In The Movies?

There are times when I think I’m in the mafia. Sure, I grew up poor, in bad areas, but somewhere in my brain I believe that I’m the godfather. In the fourth grade I tried to start my own gang. I didn’t know what a gang was but I knew that I was good at convincing people of things and I knew that I could have followers. All was nice until I wanted my gang to beat up another kid for me. That kid was a dick, and he irritated me by bullying other kids. My gang of four or five nine year olds refused to inflict violence on the larger kid, which, ya know, was smart. Since I was smaller than my fellow members I couldn’t intimidate them to encourage them to hurt someone else, so I turned my persistent, irritating nature to another cause that allowed me to lead a group of humans and started an environmental group instead. The environment totally won.

About twenty years later we come full circle to my life now. I live in Italy with my boyfriend whom I love. However, as relationships often are, it’s problematic. We have problems. It all started about eight months ago when I realized I didn’t know my boyfriend at all. He’d lied to me about most of the details from his past. I’m jaded, I’ve been the rebound girl lots of times in my life. Since I’m totally awesome it’s not difficult for me to become a distraction for men. However, distractions only last so long, and eventually they go back to what wounded them in the first place and also I’m weird. Weird isn’t fun forever. Because this has been a recurring theme in my life, and because I’m not a fan of repeating my mistakes, I asked my boyfriend in the first few months of our meeting many details about his ex’s. Unlike many women, my jealousy is usually only attached to people I have a reason to worry about. Lying or hiding is a big read flag that I have a reason to worry.

I found out the truth after we were engaged, after we’d moved in together, after we got a dog together. The truth was this: He didn’t date his ex for “four months” nearly two years before I met him as he told me. He dated her for two years, ending only three months before I met him. Tragic. This left me with the decision to leave or to stay. I chose to stay, because I love him and because I’m an idiot. He was all like, “but I didn’t love her, EVER,” and I was all, “prove it, liar-face.” He can’t prove it. Which is weird because it should be an easy thing to prove. Right?

There are a variety of reasons why proving it seems to be a challenge. One, Italians don’t like to be involved in each other’s business. Even if it’s simply validating a friend’s story. Most of his “friends” have refused to even simply tell me, “yes that’s what happened” or “no it’s not.” Another issue is that nobody really knows the truth except for a couple of their mutual friends, her, and him. He lied so obviously he doesn’t count. Their mutual friends don’t want to be involved, and neither does she.

Unfortunately I know she doesn’t want to be involved because in a moment of desperation I asked her very politely if she would be willing to confirm something for me. She never responded, rather she called Francesco and told on me (what the fuck happened to women uniting!? Rude.). I’m always shocked when people have these reactions to things. Despite being a total asshole, I’m pretty fair and sympathetic to other people. Not always, I’m not perfect obviously, but I try and I would totally talk to me in this situation. Really.

Since that didn’t work and I hate being told “no”, I’ve resorted to bribes. They work in movies, and in the place I grew up. Maybe they work in Europe too? So, I sit at my laptop trying to think of the least creepy way to bribe her. I write and re-write the email in various forms. Note that, I’m kind of being silly and joking at this point. I know it won’t work and that I’m being super weird BUT I kind of feel like doing something silly makes up for the fact that this whole thing has made me feel like doodie.

Here are the first few drafts I wrote.

“You are a stupid bitch and I hope you die. If I give you 200 euros will you talk to me about my idiot boyfriend, if not I will take the money and pay someone to pee in your shampoo.” This one would obviously not work.

“Please, this is destroying our relationship and you’re the only person that can help me. I’ll pay you, please just take pity on me and help me out.” Since she’s a heartless, evil, witch this won’t work either.

And finally, the one I chose, “I get it, you’re bitter, I’m dating your ex, and you think I’m crazy. I am. Still, I need info and you have it, how about we make an exchange, you answer a few questions and I pay you 200 euros.” This one, maybe. Hmmm.

Now, I’m aware she isn’t going to answer back. I get it. However, I am unbearably tenacious, and slightly obsessive. I rarely, rarely, give up on anything, ever. My friends have tried discouraging my many crazy or odd “goals” many times in my life. Bless them they still try to talk me into more “normal” behavior. Sometimes I wonder if they hang up the phone with me and think, “dear god there is no hope for her.” Some of my friends have resorted to the idea that eventually I’ll off myself or develop serious Prozac dependencies in my future, something to curb my non-stop crazy thoughts. I like to think that it just makes me effective rather than broken. That’s justification!

The truth is that I’m scared. Sure, anyone can lose anyone they love at anytime. People change, grow apart, fall in love with someone else, lots of things can happen in a lifetime. But, it’s entirely different to start your life with with a base of lies, deceit and the idea that they are possibly in love with someone else. I could sweep it under the rug and “move on” but anyone knows that every woman will hold that in the back of her mind for the rest of her life. Ten years from now I’d wonder still if he misses her. And he’d sure as fuck never be allowed to go to spain without me for the rest of his life. Of course.  Wouldn’t it be easier to be sure?

I’ve always believed that hope is our greatest friend and biggest enemy. Hope makes us lie and trick ourselves, but it’s also the only thing that pushes our species forward. Without it, we’d give up and die off. It could very well be for the best.

But before that I’d like to focus my annoying nature to fixing my relationship so I don’t have to give up on it. I’d like people to cooperate, and since I can’t force them to do it just like in elementary school, the least I can do is make cooperating appealing. It works in the movies. And I mean, money! Who doesn’t like money!?

The Parent Trap

There is a phenomina in Italy known as Mimmoni. If you look it up you’ll find articles written by journalists, psychologists, historians, sociologists, all trying to cleverly explain a very simple concept: Parents, especially mothers, in Italy smother their children and spoil them rotten. We all know the results of spoiled children. The outcome is always the same in every country, and well depicted in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Imagine a nation of those little brats. I’ve always known that Italian families are close, but I didn’t realize they were insane (ly) close until I started dating Francesco.

Now, the dynamic of my boyfriend’s family is every bit as dysfunctional as my American family, only different. The Italian parents relationship from afar, borders on stalking, and harassment, but in close proximity it seems like they “love” their children with incessant nagging. Watching an Italian mother with her child is like watching a hen peck a worm to death. It’s slow, and cruel. Eventually the worm stops wiggling, goes limp and accepts that it’s going to be devoured. At least, this is what I’ve witnessed.

I’ve been dating Francesco for three years now, and though I still have hope, I imagine at some point I’ll throw myself over a balcony in his families presence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike them. In fact I’m often excited to see them when we go to Cassino (a small town between Rome and Napoli) to visit. However, the excitement lasts about fifteen minutes before I quickly regret my decision to go, and I spend the rest of the weekend fantasizing about rocking myself in a corner.

We spent Easter, “Pasqua”, with Francesco’s parents two weeks ago. We arrived late and went straight to bed. In the morning we awoke at seven because Oliver, our poodle, was dropping toys on my head. He does this when he’s had enough of sleeping and wants to explore the world. I’d love to have his kind of enthuisiasm. Francesco and I stumbled into la cucina as we always do to make coffee, where in fact I made coffee, and he chose to drink tar out of a thimble. After, cups in hand, we settled down in the living room onto a couch to wake up.

Enter Francesco’s father.

“Bippoty booba mamma mia bibotty bobbity boopa, da boopa” he screamed in Italian. I didn’t understand any of it because I wasn’t mentally awake. I chugged my coffee while F and the pappa argued. When the volume grew louder than a New York nightclub, Oliver ran and hid under the couch. My brain turned back on and I tuned into the heated discussion.

“Italians we a do NOT drink the coffee before we make the shower, and make a the pee! We make wash the face, and make the makeup, and make the dress” Said the pappa.

“Okay pappa.” Answered F, who then continued drinking his tar thimble, and tried to tune is father out.

“No! No!” The pappa continued, “It is because you take the American girl for a girl, in America they do like this! In Italia we do not make like this!”

I realized that I was being accused of corrupting Francesco’s propriety, or rather, what his father believed was propriety but hasn’t existed since Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina. I wanted to explain to him that outside of his village humans no longer wear ball gowns to have tea in the afternoon.

“Maybe it be a generation thing? Maybe now we are young people and no we make like this, maybe we do different”. I tried to say in Italian.

“NO! NO! Nobody they do like this! Only you!” he used the plural form of you, meaning “you guys”. I wanted to tell him that we’ve had dozens of Francesco’s friends stay with us, and all of them took their coffee in the morning before showering, but I thought his head might blow up, so I remained silent (everything you do or say will be used against you in the court of Italian judgement).

The pappa took his seat in front of the television and turned his attention to the soccer match, and we snuck out of the living room to get ready and leave as quickly as possible.

After getting ready we walked towards the front door but was stopped by Francesco’s mother who wanted to know exactly what we would be doing that day. As F informed her she listened, and looked him all over.

“The shoes, they are dirty!” She yelled in Francesco’s face. We all looked down at his shoes, gray converse. They were a little dirty because it had been raining for weeks and he’d been wearing them outside, but they were by no means filthy or old. The pappa heard this and rushed into the kitchen to join in. Both the mamma, and the pappa were screaming simultaneously and gesturing wildly in Francesco’s face about how dirty his shoes were, about how trashy he had become, and about how irresponsible he was. Then the mamma and the pappa turned to me.

“MISTY!” Said the pappa, “LOOK AT THE SHOES THEY ARE DIRTY! HE HAS THE NEED TO BUY THEM TODAY NEW SHOES!”

I looked at Francesco, but he had clearly left his body, and turned back to mimmo, “okay, we will do that”. I had given the wrong response.

“YOU SAY OKAY! YOU ALWAYS SAY OKAY! SHE ALWAYS SAY OKAY!” the pappa yelled to the mamma.

I turned to Francesco and asked in English.

“What the hell do they want me to say?!”

“They want you to scream too. They want you to say that you always tell me that I’m terrible and dirty but I don’t listen, and they want you to start screaming at me with them.”

“Uhm, over shoes? Seriously? No. I’m not giving myself a heart attack over shoes”.

He shrugged and told them we were going to buy new shoes and we left. We walked through the small city going from shoe store to shoe store trying to find something he liked. All the while I kept thinking, “how polite do I need to be at this point?”. We’re getting married, I can’t get away from them. Will I become like Francesco and leave my body when they begin to speak? Will my children do the same? I’ve never been the type to run away, neither inside myself nor any other way, and why should I start now? Suddenly, like the odd-one-out in middle school, I felt bullied.

It started to rain as we walked slowly from store to store silently. The gray skies added to my foul mood, the water dripped down the old walls wetting the love-letter grafitti. In Italy one doesn’t spray paint walls to claim territory, rather to profess lust. “Ti amo, amore mio, per tutta la vita,” is written next to an old alley full of trash.

I started mentally going over all of the criticisms that we have received from them in the past few visits: I am too pale, they don’t like how I do my makeup, I wear too much black, they don’t like how I do my hair, our dog is ill mannered, we are too relaxed, marrying before buying a house will result in our children’s homelessness and thus we know nothing of the world, I’m too thin, my breasts are not big enough, and the list goes on, and on, and on. A tinge of anger hit me as I thought, “who the hell do they think they are!?” Then, a thought occured to me and I burst out laughing. At first it was nervous laughter, but then it became maniacal. Suddenly, in the rain, wet and defeated, I remembered that I write, publicly, and they’re simply giving me fodder for the rest of my life. Misty-1, Them-200.

We returned back to their apartment to get ready and went off to a nearby city to meet friends for aperitivo-a cocktail and snack before dinner.

At the bar (actually a cafe, but they are called “bar” here) my boyfriends extremely flamboyant, and excited best friend greeted us with the standard kiss on each cheek, and then thrust a prosecco in each of our hands. We toasted. We smoked a cigarette. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Next thing I know I’m drunk, surrounded by fifteen Italians outside smoking. I started dancing with my boyfriend’s friend Pietro in the middle of the cafe. This signifies that I’m well on my way to throwing up if I don’t calm down.  Just when I started to worry we left for dinner.

At the restaurant we were joined by many random humans I didn’t know. A roman who kept staring at me, a pregnant French girl and her drunk Italian boyfriend, a few Italians, and someone named “I drive” who was way too enthusiastic, and for me that meant “coked up”. Antipasto was ordered, a mix of raw and cooked fish, octobpus, oysters, and patè, followed by some form of fish I can’t remember. It was gross and had almonds on it. Whole almonds. I went to the bathroom to fix my makeup, within five minutes my boyfriend came looking for me. He often does this when we go out, panics, and comes into the bathroom to make sure I haven’t been murdered or raped. I assured him I was simply doing my eyeliner, and he left as “I drive” came in. In Italy, it’s very common for men and women to share bathrooms or at least the “common” area where you wash your hands.

“So you want to do some cocain?” he asked.

“No thank you.” I replied.

He pulled out a massive vile of white powder from his front pocket.

“You sure?”

“Si…I’m sure.”

I was right, he was coked up. Nobody in their thirties are enthuisiastic about life unless there is coke involved, unfortunately. I went back to the table and informed my boyfriend that everyone was cracked out. I don’t mind, I worked in a tranny night club as a bartender in college long enough to be immune to anything and everything, but my boyfriend is more pure, and naive than I am. Everything freaks him out, and he forbid me to talk to captain coke for the rest of the evening. We left the restaurant after everyone took their last liquor shot of grappa or limoncello (always served after coffee), and we took to a piazza to continue drinking.

The piazza was full of young, drunk people as it often is during holidays when all of the youth return to the city. Otherwise, the city reminds me of a prune, all wrinkled, dried up, and void of life. I talked with random friends of Francesco trying to say as little as possible and still appear charming. I have nothing in common with any of this friends and it’s best if I simply do my duty as a barbie doll, smile, nod, smile, nod, repeat. This way I come off as useless, but at least attractive and it seems to be what they all want from me. When I talk too much I get into trouble here. It’s very different from my life in the U.S. where my bold, forward personality was appreciated, and my sardonic humor was accepted. Here, I’m a freak, and I’ll always be a freak, though I’m pretty so I can get away with simply existing without thought or communication, it’s disgusting really. It’s times like this, when I’m surrounded by happy people that I realize how unbelievably alone I am.

The next day at Francesco’s parents we awoke for Easter, told everyone, “auguri” and dashed outside with Oliver to breathe a little before Francesco’s sister arrived. When we left the mamma was in the kitchen banging pots and pans and screaming at the pappa. Outside was dead, nobody was in the streets and nothing was open. We smoked a cigarette on dead grass while Oliver peed on every inch of the surface, and trotted along merrily. We watched him lovingly, while we held hands and exhaled in preparation for the hours, and eating to come.

At dinner we sat at the round table in the dining room while Francesco’s mother stood over us holding a jar of holy water. I was informed earlier that it was not for vampires as I had assumed. She dipped some sort of leaves in it and splashed the water on all of us saying some sort of prayer, then splashed extra on me while she said, “babtismo”, still annoyed apparently that I am not catholic. We laughed while water dripped down our faces. After, she brought course after course of food: three appetizors, two pasta dishes, three main courses plus sides, followed by three or four different desserts. We ate until we felt sick, as usual for the holidays in Italy. After, I played with Francesco’s neice while he napped before the long trip home. Leila, his four year old neice, after seeing her grandmother bless people, was inspired to bless Oliver who couldn’t understand why this tiny human kept throwing water on him and screaming “santo, sprito…etc.” He hid under the bed. Leila and I drew together, I drew trees and she drew crosses, until her parents came in to take her home. I tried to help the mother clean up, but she shooed me away. As I walked out of the kitchen I told her that lunch was wonderful and thanked her for cooking.

“It was not so good” she said while blushing, “you don’t have to thank me.” I paused at the door realizing that all of her neurosis comes from the need to please, to be perfect, and her awkwardness comes from never believing she can achieve that. At least, in this, we have something in common.

On the four hour drive from Cassino to Florence I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. I kept thinking over and over again, “is this going to be my life forever? The superficiality, the bella figura, the need to be nice to people who are in general terrible to me?” Then I remembered again that I write. And I calmly fell asleep on Francesco’s lap while he drove.

Art School in Florence: The First Weeks

The first week of school in Florence was over-whelming given the fact that I was jet-lagged and refused to stop wearing high heels despite the cobblestone and my frequent falls. By then, I’d become aquinted with my room-mates, and we formed a sort of friendship based on a lack of other options. There was Mindy, a woman of around sixty-five who told everyone she was thirty-five, a painter, the recipient of the schools scholarship and was given a full-ride. Then, there was Amy the southern bell who talked fast, walked fast, and seemed to be full-on addicted to some form of upper I desperately wanted. There was Click, a small girl from South Africa, a film-maker, who spoke a mix of ghetto and educated, british english. And another girl who was sort of a non-factor and not really worth mentioning, not because I didn’t like her, but because really it was like living with a ghost. Ghost shared a room with Click.

On the first day of class we were a dozen or so in the graduate program. We were asked to give a presentation explaining our previous artwork. I’d painted here and there, but I didn’t have a body of artwork and I certainly didn’t have photos of any of it. I wasn’t even aware that it might be a good idea to take photos of artwork. I’d only ever done it for fun while drunk. All of the students took their turns, many who, I was surprised, didn’t have a bachelors degree in art either. Some however, did and they were scary. When it was my turn I walked up to the front of the room, and waved to everyone. I’m really shy and I overcompensate by acting like I don’t care. “So, I used to paint, with oil and acrylic. My laptop exploded so I don’t have images, but I can tell you about the work. Sometimes I painted animals with human heads in sexual positions. I’m really interested in sex and sexuality, my thesis in college was on sexual fluidity. I write. Uhm…yeeep”. And then I took my seat. Everyone was staring at me as though I’d just said I had sex with my mother.

Our professor stood up in front of the class and assigned the task of choosing our “major professor”, the human who would guide us throughout the year. Then he looked at me, and in broken English with flailing hand gestures said, “But not you Misty, I a choose one for you bee-cose I can a see you’re like a fire, and you need someone who put out your fire”. I didn’t think giving a poor presentation made me appear aggressive, however clearly to this man it did. Though, from the looks of him it was easy to see he was a nervous person. He held his body in the shape of an “S” with his head bent down, his spined curved with his pelvis forward, and his knees bent. He talked with his hands while simultaneosly bending his knees. He moved and bounced like a puppet.

Later that day I discovered that my major professor was Serbian, and famed for making students cry. “Perfect,” I thought, “just what I need.” Though, Amy had him for a class and refered to him as “brilliant”, which helped to erase my picture of him as a sort of war criminal. I’d made an appointment with him and took to the library. I spent a few days before our meeting trying to understand as much about contemporary art as I possibly could. My knowledge was limited to everything before the seventeenth century which would not be helpful, unless I planned on recreating (destroying) Da Vinci work. I was immediately drawn to Sophie Calle who was also a writer, and seemed to be a little crazy. Which was exactly what I needed.

When I met my major professor it was obvious where his famed reputation came from, he was intense and extremely bold. His eyes were very serious and always locked on a target, he was overly confident, and spoke with a harsh yugoslavian accent. He was intelligent, true, but  I was able to follow him. This seemed to please him and he would smile with his mouth when I responded to his obscure references to things like Kant, or Sybil of Cumae. He agreed to be my professor and somehow I felt very accomplished. He seemed like the type who hated the general population, though I would later discover he was rather sweet and altruistic in his own scary way.

That night I stayed in the studio until three a.m. printing references to work from and making long lists for ideas and inspiration. If I would have known then, what I know now, I would have outsourced my projects to India, and become a sort of Damien Hirst  of globalization. Live and learn. Instead, stupidly, I tried to do my art work myself. For the next few weeks everything I saw, smelled, felt, or heard was a potential installation. “Look! Dog shit! I could do something with dog shit! Mastorbation! I like that! I could do something with that! Gypsies! I could do a photo documentary on gypsies!” I was unbearably clueless, and have no idea how anyone put up with me.

I’d also taken to insomnia and drinking my weight in alcohol almost every night. It wasn’t accidental. Since my brother had past away exactly one year prior to my arrival in Italy, I wasn’t emotionally stable. I was also lonely, and anxious which only fueled the  need for some form of escape even more. Somehow, I would drag a random school-mate out with me until five a.m., sleep for three hours and be in class in the morning. Luckily, my earliest class was Fresco, with Mario and Luigi (no shit). They had a coffee maker in the classroom so I was able to load up on caffeine while sketching out paintings in our sand mixture. Luigi was very quiet and was rarely in the studio, but Mario was extremely lively. He loved to talk, and I spent the morning inhaling my coffee, the earthy smells of the Fresco workshop, and laughing at Mario’s naive way of speaking exactly what was on his mind. “I make the sex with my girlfriend. Then my mamma call me, I love my mamma but I want her to make dead”, I’d try not to laugh, “that’s not nice Mario”. He’d gesture wildly as though he were carrying heavy rocks in front of his groin area and say, “but she a always breakin my a balls!”. After I few months I’d learn that professors in Europe basically say, and do whatever they want with little respect of propriety. I have to say, I kind of learned to love it.

Arrival: Art School in Florence

I would be lying if I said I had a deep, meaningful reason for moving to Italy in the first place. Honestly, it was on my bucket-list. I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish in life, among the list was learn to paint, to cook, and learn two of the romance languages. I searched the internet for a few hours and found a year-long Post Bachelors program at an art school in Florence. It offered financial aid, Italian language, art, and writing, and within a few weeks I had applied. In the fall of 2009, I packed my bags, waved goodbye to my family at the airport, and hopped on a plane for Italy. I’d been before as a tourist so I thought I knew what I was in for. I did not.

Nearly twenty-hours later when I arrived at the airport in Florence, I found a woman who worked for ARTSCHOOL (name changed to be nice), and I, along with many other students, were thrown into a taxi. We’d been assigned our new homes on a small, white piece of paper and the taxi man sped towards my destination after I grunted and pointed to the paper like a chimpanzee. Upon arrival to my new apartment on via sant’antatino I paid the man, waved goodbye to Jonathon who shared the taxi with me, and proceeded to drag my two massive pieces of luggage up five flights of concrete stairs, in high heels like an idiot.

The three-bedroom apartment was empty, though all of the tiny midget-sized beds, except for one, had been claimed with pieces of luggage. I took the remaining bed, checked the name tag on the other twin size bed, located against the opposite wall from mine in “our” room to see who my new room-mate was, and where she was from. “A southern girl” I thought, “this should be weird”. I unpacked, and dragged my exhausted, sweaty body to the shower.

Afterwards I dressed, said hello to my four new room-mates as they came home one by one, and snuck out to have a drink with a few Italian friends I’d met a few years before on vacation in Florence. I was tired, but it was my birthday and I had to celebrate turning twenty-eight. Jonathon, the young man from Denver whom I’d shared a taxi with that day from the airport, joined me, Nicola, and D’Elia to Santa Ambrosia Piazza where we drank Mojito’s on the steps of the church surrounded by two-hundred other Italians doing the same thing. Only in Italy is it prefered to drink yourself retarded in the shadow of a massive cross.

At the end of the night I stumbled home, crawled into my new, tiny bed, and listened to the breathing of my new-roomate as I fell asleep.

 

My Life with Animals: Nervous Breakdowns and Dingoes

M.E. Evans

June 29th, 2011, Taken from the Short Stories section from my more serious blog DirtyFilthyThings

My Life with Animals: Nervous Breakdowns and Dingoes

I moved to Italy for art school, the calm Italian lifestyle, great coffee, lax smoking laws, inexpensive wine, and beautiful cobblestone streets lined with sophisticated Europeans. That was the imagery I had of Europe from my random vacations over the years. Living in Italy, as with living anywhere, changed the idealistic setting and replaced it with reality: The cobblestone is often covered with excrement, the sophisticated humans have no concept of personal space, and the calm lifestyle is actually just well-dressed laziness, and it’s isolating. Terribly isolating. The loneliness is different than what I had experienced growing up in Utah, but every bit as uncomfortable. I can handle it though, it’s something that I’ve grown used to and developed a lifelong love-hate relationship with because I need to be alone to work, to write, to think, but in it’s in these great flashes of productivity I notice the silence.  The sporadic urge to inform close friends of rare moments of genius is expunged by the fact that I can’t, there isn’t anyone of the same species to call here. And “home” is eight hours behind by phone, or twenty hours of traveling by air.

My boyfriend, Francesco, gave me a midget poodle for my birthday last year and I bonded with the animated mop of fur the way most women might attach to a human baby. Maybe that’s because I’m thirty, and I don’t have an actual human baby and, really, who wants one anyways? I’ve never been a fan of the things that throw up on you during weeks of sleep deprivation. I like to tell myself that I’m set, I have a career and a homeless looking poodle that pisses on his own legs and walks like a drunken iguana. Living in a foreign country, it’s important to have someone who can’t get away from me whom I can depend on.

The poodle, Oliver, started out as my dog, because Francesco had never had a dog before and didn’t believe they had personalities, memories, or the will to live. This is what happens when you have children kill chickens for dinner. However, after a few short months, he changed his mind and began talking with Oliver and carrying him around the house while cleaning and cooking like a schizophrenic Aunt Jemima. Oliver even sleeps between us, head on pillow, tucked under our comforter, we fall asleep turned towards each other with our hands resting on him.

I read somewhere that dogs reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure but that’s probably every dog except for Oliver who can’t even stand still while he poops. Regardless, one day when Francesco announced we had to go to his hometown for a weekend visit, I picked up Oliver and started rubbing him. Hard. Many things make me regress in the world, but parents, especially his parents have me all but sucking my thumb and wetting my pants. I know from life experience that parents are not to be trusted, and the fact that he concedes to their every whim is enough to shut down my frontal lobe. I don’t like to be rude so I tried to lie instead.  Nothing came to me, and the harder I tried, the harder I rubbed his dreaded fur, until it bordered on molestation and Oliver had turned his head and gave me a look like, “are you going to at least buy me dinner first?” I usually had excuses reserved for that: A bladder infection, a yeast infection, a staph infection, syphilis, a plague of some kind but this time there was nothing, my brain was on strike and regardless of the fact my body began objecting with nausea and anxiety my brain wouldn’t respond. I finally accepted my defeat.

“Can Oliver come?” I asked. Oliver, hearing his name, perked up his ears and pawed at the air.

“Yes of course he can.” said Francesco, leaning over and kissing Oliver’s head while making eye contact with me, “Don’t start freaking out.” The intense eye contact is something I’ve always enjoyed about him, it’s creepy, a little invasive, somehow sexy and an excellent momentary distraction; even in the most stressful moments he calms me down and lets my brain drift off to sex. Unfortunately it only lasts as long as a teenager’s hymen.

“I’m not going to freak out. But why the fuck do I have to go!” I whined.

Everything you’ve ever heard about Italian families is entirely true. Well, except for the cool stuff. The sexy mafia men don’t exist; instead it’s a nation of man-children who supplement their diet with breast milk well into their fifties. A psychologist from Milan wrote an article about how the “supervisory, overbearing nature” of the family causes actual emotional impairment of the children who grow into functional vegetables. The same article said the needy relationship is also accountable for the majority of divorces in Italy, probably suicides too. This is something I can’t understand, since I raised myself in my formative years. My boyfriend is much less of a mamma’s boy than most Italians, except for when we are in his parents’ house where he often resembles a menstruating teenage girl instead of an Italian Stallion. I did the only thing I could do: panic, and pout while clinging to Oliver like a baby monkey. Oliver is my only true friend in Italy and, like the children who bear the burden of their mother’s loneliness; it’s entirely against his will. He’d rather be peeing on something or molesting another dog at the park with his “lipstick”.

We set out for his parents that following weekend. Oliver sat on my lap, readjusting himself every three seconds bored out of his mind, sitting, lying down, sitting, growling at me, and lying down. I stared out the window trying to imagine possible conversations to mentally translate so I’d be ready to slaughter the Italian language in front of his family. I do this often, but the problem is that I can never think of something I could actually say out loud to anyone. “How was your weekend?” Turns into, “It was fine. I saw a man masturbating at the park. Another time a man chased me with his penis in the center near a grocery store. Speaking of, is everyone in Europe really uncircumcised? Or, would I love to see the church again? Of course I would! Say, do you think Mary was REALLY a virgin or do you think she just didn’t want to get in trouble for getting knocked up?” This is yet another reason why I prefer the company of Oliver, or animals in general. They don’t have expectations, they don’t care if you talk with them or not, and they’re not particularly judgmental. It’s nice to be loved and needed without fear of disappointment or abandonment.

My boyfriend’s hometown, Cassino, despite its name, which I think means “mess” or something, is an objectively beautiful place resting between Rome and Naples, surrounded by mountains and vineyards. The city is famous for the Abbey of Monte Cassino, and the Battle of Monte Cassino where both allies and Germans suffered massive losses during WWII when the original city was destroyed or so I’m told.

After four hours of driving-because of my newborn sized bladder-twenty-five pee stops later, both in public off to the side of the freeway and in tangible bathrooms, we made it to his parent’s apartment. I stalled at the front door as always pretending to converse with Oliver about how to behave. “Now these people are insane so you have to be extra good okay honey,” while Francesco rolled his eyes, anxious to get inside. We entered their home and gave the customary kiss on both cheeks before going into the kitchen for dinner. We all took our places and sat silently, as usual, while the mom scurried around the kitchen adding the final ingredients to a creamy pasta dish and pulling a fish with its head still intact out of the oven. Francesco’s father, surely to piss off his wife, pulled Oliver onto his lap and fed him bread and cheese.

“Mimmo no! Metta il cane giù!!!!” Squawked the mother, shaking her hands the way someone might to expel water, nobody turned in her direction since they’d grown accustomed to disregarding her. “Mimmo, the dog you put down,” a literal translation into English sounds like she is learning disabled, or wants to euthanize him. Like most women she’s a pain in the ass, but then again, I’d probably be the same if I’d spent my life as an underappreciated servant. How tolerable could she possibly be at this point? Mental note: Never do anything nice for Francesco lest I end up like her.

His mom is a notable chef but I can’t handle the quantity in my stomach or on my thighs. She brought course after course of food while I reminded myself that I put bulimia behind me in college and I had to resist throwing up, difficult after eighteen courses. I kept one hand on Oliver under the table to make sure he didn’t get into any mischief and to give me something to do so I seemed too busy to communicate. Francesco’s father was the first to break the silence in his dialect which doesn’t resemble Italian at all, but instead sounds like musical Russian.

“You resemble someone who made free from Auschwitz. You have the need to eat more!” He said to me. I would take him more seriously if he wasn’t the size of a tall midget.

The mom quickly jumped in.

“She has the need to drink more wine. To put color in her the face!” said the mom, “And she has the need to put more of the eye makeup!”

I looked around as though I were alone in a restaurant examining bad wall-paper while absent-mindedly picking through my food. Strange, I thought, I’m sitting right here.

“Oliver it is dirty.” His father said with a crinkled face like a dehydrated fruit.

“You make the brush on him more, and make a slap on him more.” His mother chimed in, “the dog upstairs it is better than Oliver because with her they are more serious!”

I tried to respond back in Italian,

“We don’t make the hitted Oliver. They made him washed. He makes to play. He like. A lot,” but I sounded like an idiot, so they ignored me.

“He plays too much. And for me it’s like this!” She waved her hands like she’d cast a spell ending the argument.

The only thing his mom and dad can agree on is that Oliver and I are a hot mess; I’d like to think that it’s their mutual distaste for our lazy appearance that keeps them together. I deliberated on how long it has been since they’ve had sex…with each other. I watched Francesco quietly stare at his plate. Something about being in the south changes him, and it scares the shit out of me. In a less severe way it reminds me of that film, “Not Without My Daughter,” where an Iranian man marries an American in the United States. They have a perfect marriage for ten years before he takes her to Iran for vacation. Once they arrive he turns into a real asshole and starts beating her and his daughter refusing to let them leave the country. My mom made me watch it when I was a kid to make me fearful of my father, which didn’t work because my dad is a huge push-over when it comes to daughters plus he’s a scary lesbian-level feminist. Instead, she made me weary of Francesco. Humans are inconsistent and weak because of their constant need for approval. A life spent desperately seeking a gold star destroys their character and makes them unpredictable. In the mistrust I felt unaided, In their home it was just me and Oliver against the judgments of Francesco and his family.

The next day we went to see his sister Laura to take a break from his parents-or more importantly-to give them a break from me. She lives near Gaeta, close to the coast. Most of the time I like her because she’s really bitchy and in a lot of ways reminds me of a black girl from the Bronx, which I love; however, she still has this obnoxious traditional side that makes her seem like a freak. Always waiting on her husband despite the fact that they both work which in my mind means, “both work, both cook, both clean or hire a Spanish servant.” She yells while she waits on him and calls him an idiot regularly to my amusement, but she still does everything for him.  Another note to self: Do not clean or cook.

We met her and her four year old daughter, Leila, out front of a pizzeria in a long line of locals to take something to go. While waiting, Oliver barked himself into a high-pitched frenzy at a dog across the road.  The dog, a small, Lassie looking creature had fur the color of wood paneling wagged his tail and tap-danced with his front paws. I picked up Oliver when he patted across the street to come see us because Oliver has a tendency to pee on other dogs out of jealousy. I pet the dog and talked into his big brown eyes. A young boy with a huge ass and Hanes sticking out of both the top and bottom of his booty shorts explained that the dog had been abandoned a week prior. The tenants simply moved away and left him outside, the way one might a broken stove or an old bookshelf. I wanted to take him home, so I tried to think of the fastest possible solution to make it happen. I turned to Francesco,

“I want him” I said.

“No. I’m sorry, but no.”

“Asshole” I said.

“That’s fine, still no.”

“What can we do!?” I begged.

“Nothing, honey.” He said as though it were the most obvious answer in the world.

“What? Why? Can’t we give him to your dad? He likes dogs.”

Francesco looked at me as if I’d just announced I’d once had a penis.

“But I love him. This is bullshit!” I cried.

“You just met him honey,” he mumbled and rubbed my arm.

He stopped listening at this point and was more focused on removing me from the situation by standing in front of me, so I couldn’t see the stray dog. I stepped side-to-side trying to see around him, while Francesco mimicked my movements to conceal him. Francesco’s sister caught on and tried to shoo the dog away.

As he politely shoved me towards the SUV with our pizzas and without Lassie, I could feel it building. I tried to think about something else to avoid the embarrassment that was to come, but I could hear his pitter patter footsteps behind us, wood-paneled Lassie, and I imagined him thinking, “A new family! Someone loves me again!” My stomach ached, and I felt light headed. I could understand him, because I could understand me. Just as we reached the door, I let out this hideous “gaaaaah” and started howling like Mary while Jesus was being hoisted up on the cross. Saliva and snot were all over my face while I climbed into her car. Francesco and his sister remained silent, exchanging a few uncomfortable glances. It was not the proudest moment of my life, but it wasn’t the first time I’d cried over a stray dog. I felt guilty for making everyone uncomfortable. Then again when did humans start feeling guilty for being sympathetic? This is how I spare my pride: telling myself that I’m exactly like Joan of Arc. I felt as though I deserved to be sainted, “I’m amazing,” I thought. “If only everyone were like me.” And then I realized that being sympathetic isn’t that impressive when it only extends to certain non-human species. Thinking back throughout my life, I’ve always had an “unhealthy” attachment to dogs.

Years ago during university, my medically ordered psychologist had a lot of notions about my “animal issue.” One was that I should never speak to my parents again, primarily my father who my therapist called a “lunatic.”, his other theory was that I should work on my bond with humans and stop using animals as a crutch. This was the same therapist who said, “Well you won’t die so, so what!” after everything I said. Next to death nothing really matters, according to him.

This guy is nuts, I thought; here I am for a nervous breakdown, and he can’t stop talking about animals as though I told him I was in love with a goat, or fucked a horse. All of this for telling him I’d recently smacked a blind person.

I was sitting on a bench reading The Hollow Men, on campus, when I saw a young man outfitted like Mr. Rogers punch his seeing-eye dog, a wheat-field-in-the-sunshine colored golden retriever. I thought that was pretty low considering the dog spent all day putting up with his bad outfit. I had to do something. I figured he couldn’t identify me unless I wore a ring with brail so I ran over and slapped him a couple of times growling, “You can’t be a jerk just because you’re blind.” In my mind, I was the one in the right, because I was defending something that couldn’t protect itself. Though I was never perfect myself, was I?

There was a point at age eight where I had a rabbit (an actual animal, the pink and pearled, elongated rubber version I wouldn’t purchase until college), twelve hamsters, a dog, a cat, six rats, a hermit crab, sea monkeys, and frogs I’d dug a pool for in the back yard. I spent most of my time tending to my animals, or at least trying my best to do it. I wasn’t always perfect. There was a time when my hamsters ate each other, because while I remembered to play with them, I forgot to feed them. I accidentally baked my rabbit in the July sun because I thought he would want to enjoy the fun of the summer sun too I boiled my sea monkeys in a similar fashion. Then following my mother’s divorce, she let my rats go in a field nearby, euthanized my dog (but told me she’d given it to a neighbor), and gave my hamsters to our carpet cleaner guy. I was devastated. I vouched I would never forgive her. Of course a few days later, I moved on from it in my own way, remaining only slighter bitter.

At age ten I started an environmental group that was featured in various newspapers because I was a freak demanding an end to littering, and animal cruelty at city hall meetings. I’d also taken up the habit of calling the humane society of Utah thirty times per week on every neighbor with a pet for neglect, brutality, or tail docking which I associated (and still do) with cutting off a leg, arm, or penis.

Honestly I had nothing better to do, and nobody to do it with. Apart from being really poor, my mom had me when she was only eighteen, and regardless of how hard she tried she was simply far too young.  We all have our own ways of dealing with humans and mine was by dealing with animals. For a very long time I’d coped with loneliness and lack of control by drinking entirely too much, which I started at nine, or caring for someone else instead, be it a dog, the world or a friend. It’s difficult to think about yourself when you’re worried about someone else. It was a coping device I learned as a child with my first dog and my mother’s first clinically insane boyfriend.

When I was four years old there was a period when pet rocks were the closest thing I had to friends, and my mother was still making, “shit on a shingle” for dinner. It was her favorite food, and required minimum ingredients: White toast, and gravy. I hadn’t started school yet and I was still an only child so my social circle consisted of my mother and me and even that was about to change. One morning I roamed around our apartment in northern Utah wondering why my mother wasn’t up smoking, and drinking Folgers. I could breathe real air, so I assumed she’d left me.

On my way to her bedroom I lingered on a picture stuck to the fridge with a Christmas magnet of a self-portrait I’d drawn, me, in stick figure form, fishing in a small pond with the title, “I’m Phishing Fer My Mommy.” I’d drawn it with a green Crayola two weeks prior when she’d left me with a babysitter a bit longer than expected. Melissa, the sitter, was great and much better than the previous baby-sitter who made me sit in my room so she could watch porn with her friends. Melissa was around fourteen and handled the situation pretty well for someone pre-pubescent. “I don’t want to call the cops, but I’m not old enough to keep you either, don’t worry I won’t leave you alone. I don’t want you to end up like that other girl. I just don’t know what to do, your mom is over twenty-four hours late.”

I’d drawn it for revenge, making the little girl as sad and pathetic as possible with an upside-down “U” mouth bolded for emphasis. When my mom finally strolled in later that night, I didn’t even bother to say hello. I marched the drawing up to her before taking my seat in our over-sized brown recliner.  I waited for the waterworks. I’d fantasized about her dying from guilt and heartache, falling to the floor in remorse when she realized how distraught I’d been. She took the picture and examined it in one hand while holding a cigarette in the other: “I thought I told you I was taking a road trip with some friends. No? Strange I thought I did. Well, I tried to call,” she said, “and at least you made some extra money this weekend.”  She stuck the picture to the fridge, “I really like the picture sweetie” then turning to the babysitter, “she’s really good at drawing.” The baby sitter shot me an “I’m sorry” look before leaving the apartment.

Lingering on the picture, I tried to accept that I might be alone. My mom had never slept longer than me, being the kind of woman who runs on jet fuel, coca-cola and three packs of cigarettes per day. I pushed her bedroom door open expecting an empty room when two figures shot up from her waterbed; I screamed and jumped back. A man with brown hair, short but somehow disheveled with a shit-eating grin on his face, had his arm around my mother, “I’m Kevin,” he said, resting up on one elbow. His eyes twinkled like tap-water. My mother was smiling too. They both smiled awkwardly at me as they floated and bobbed like two hung-over rubber duckies.

“Are you my dad?” I walked towards him to get a closer look.

“No honey! MISTY! Oh my god! I’m so sorry!”

My mom squealed like someone shoved a hot iron up her ass. He smiled as though he’d just been nominated for some kind of hillbilly Grammy,

“I sure can be if ya wanna.”

I shrugged and left the room to make a packet of Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal and watch He-Man. I’d been collecting Skeletor toys and was a proud owner of Castle Gray Skull, where I stuffed all of the Barbie gifts from grandma.

“That’s what you get,” I’d tell them, “for waltzing around naked like a hussy and crashing your sports car,” either before or after burning their hair off.

For the next two years Kevin took on the role of my father. Both my mom and Kevin actually told me he was my father, as though I were a goldfish and couldn’t remember meeting him. In the two years that they were together they made a little boy named Mitch. Then one day when I was around six and Mitch was around one year old, Kevin stood my mom up at the alter and just as they’d told me Kevin was my father they told me he wasn’t. My mom was taking a bubble bath and I was sitting on the laundry hamper as usual bouncing my heels off of the white weave. She blew bubbles and slumped down into her four inches of water.

“Misty, I have-ta tell you somethin’.”

“What?” I looked down at my hands.

“Kevin isn’t your dad.”

“I know that,” I smiled. “It’s okay mom; don’t worry.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do. I mean, I don’t even look like him.”

She sat up in the water and stared at the bubbles in her hand for a minute.

“Your real dad lives in Salt Lake. He’s Persian from Iran, and you look like him. But he doesn’t want you even though the DNA test was 99.9% positive. Men are so full of shit.”

“Why doesn’t he want me? Did I do something?” I asked.

“He thinks you’re not his because we never had sex.” Just what I always wanted: God status. I popped into her womb just like Jesus.


My childhood was sprinkled with feminism regularly, but during this time, after the Kevin relationship, she was at her peak. I was taught to never trust anyone, and to never need anyone because more likely than not people wouldn’t stick around. Unfortunately this had a lasting impression, and regardless of how many times Francesco asks me to marry him I refuse to accept the idea, because in my mind men can’t be trusted, and nobody could possibly like me long-term. Her intentions were good; she wanted to protect me from the evils of the world, both men and hell so every night she lectured about both subjects together as if to show they were on par with each other. She’d sit on the side of my bed after reading a Dr. Seuss book and tell me about life while she smoked or I played with her hair.

“Where do babies come from?” I asked after watching a cartoon with a stork. It conflicted with my mother’s pregnancy, and the fact my mom told me my brother was in her stomach, which explained why she ate so much: he was swimming in her food and stealing it.

“Babies come from sex; you should never have sex, because men can’t be trusted.”

“And sex is with your privates?” I asked horrified.

“Yes. After you turn eighteen.”

For a long time I believed neither the penis nor vagina could function until after a person turned eighteen.
“Who is God? Everyone at school talks about him” I asked.

“The nicest man in the world”

“What is h-e-l-l?” I spelled because I knew it was a swear word and I didn’t want to risk my mother’s belt.

“Lying will make you go to hell where the devil lives. He’s the meanest man in the world, and he skins babies alive.”

That little piece of information she could have kept to herself. It took me a few months to be able to sleep in the dark after her vivid description of some asshole named, “devil.”

As disturbing as these talks were they somehow paled in comparison to her “stranger danger” drills, inspired by the rise in child abductions and violent crime that year. The eighties were a dangerous time in America, and we lived in government housing, in Utah, a state known for its repression and astonishingly high rate of sexual offenses. Her stranger danger drills came randomly throughout the week in an effort to protect my vagina from foreign objects.  She’d read a book called, “Never Talk to Strangers,” and then we’d discuss what to do in case of emergency. If anyone touches you, tell me. If anyone looks at you, tell me. If anyone breathes air by you please tell me. Then we would hide.

“If anyone breaks into the house to kill us, hide in the laundry basket and don’t come out, no matter how much I scream and cry and even if there is blood everywhere.”

Then she’d stuff me in the basket to make sure I fit. Dying from lack of oxygen was second to sexual violation. For years every time someone would accidentally bump into me, or pat me on the back, I’d wonder, “Was I just molested?” and scary noises at night would prompt me to roll onto the floor and crawl like a war veteran towards my dirty laundry.

All of her seemingly useless, often disturbing information proved useful at Kevin’s house where a cesspool of degenerates congregated daily. Despite the fact that my mother dumped Kevin and he wasn’t my real dad, she would occasionally leave my baby brother and me with him for weekend visits. On the way I’d stare out the window and watch the fields blur by while my mother belted out country top-forty hits between cigarette drags, occasionally singing to me. She always had a lovely voice.

Kevin was in his early twenties and still lived with his mother, Lorraine, out in the country in the middle of nowhere. His father died when he was young and because Lorraine worked full time her kids were more or less raised without any discipline. All three of his brothers and sister still lived at home.

Lorraine was an older woman, who for some unknown reason refused to kick her drug addicted brood from her home. She was what she called a “good Mormon” and went to church every Sunday. She came home, complained about her bunions, and hung her Sunday pantyhose in the hallway talking about how tired she was. She worked for the IRS and spent a lot of time running between offices. Every few minutes the smell of old, tired feet would waft into the living room.

I loved Lorraine, but honestly if we had lived in ancient Rome all of her children would have been left to die on a cliff.  And I think she knew that, but being a good person, she tried really hard to love them in spite of themselves. I, however, avoided them as much as possible and knew they were not to be trusted.

On a few occasions she took me to church with her, but I wasn’t good at it. I couldn’t sit still, and asked, inappropriately, if it was “time to eat Jesus,” my favorite part was when they handed out bread and water. She also tried to teach me to play the piano, but quickly resigned after my tenth attempt at, “Mary had a little lamb,” still sounded like, “Mary beat the lamb to death and ate it raw” two months in. I felt bad for her, despite being a woman of god, she was obviously being punished for something.

I spent a lot of time in the fields with the horses, or sitting on the back porch. There weren’t any children in the area my age not that it would have mattered since I was, I am, and will always be socially retarded. One thing I can’t say about that house was that it was boring. Kevin was as emotionally mature as a pine tree, he felt victimized by everyone, cried over everything, and drank incessantly. Lorraine would yell “unjustly” for the way he left beer cans piled higher than tee-pees in front of the house, or for his porn magazines being too visible from the hallway, which were stacked in ten piles, waist-high around his bed and visible from Montana. My two-year-old brother had randomly developed a habit of humping pillows, and furniture. Don’t do that! We’d say, when guests from the church were over, Lorraine had to pry him off of the sofa arm with a broomstick, “Where in the heavens did he learn that!?” She’d holler. I had a few ideas, and all of them were bound, and glossy with titles like, “Hustler.”

My mom never really knew the extent of weird shit that went on over there because I never told her anything about Kevin’s after my first attempt failed. One random weekend I caught him buying cocaine, which I knew was bad, illegal, and not something children should be around thanks to Twenty-One Jump Street. If I would have been twenty-four however, I would have made him my best friend and it would have been a different story. Still, I wasn’t twenty-four and I tried to do what I thought was right to remedy the situation.

“Mom. What’s an eight ball of coke?”  I asked when we arrived home one Sunday.

I tugged her shirt. She whirled around and glared at me mouthing, “I’m on the fucking phone with grandma!”

“What’s an eight ball of coke?”

“Hold on mom. What? Where did you hear that? You probably saw that on T.V.” She exhaled smoke, which acted as a curtain between us.

“No, Kevin bought it. So what is it? He was acting really weird and he tried to spell it, like I can’t read,” which was very insulting because at the time I assumed that everyone learned to read at three years old, not realizing it was actually an insight to my future as either a librarian or a serial killer.

“You think everyone is weird. Don’t be so dramatic. I’ll talk to ‘im. He better not be doin’ that shit.”

She turned her back, giving a full ass view of her favorite jeans, where the zipper started at her crotch and ran all the way under and up to her butt crack so one leg could be removed at a time. She shooed me away with her hand and continued talking on the phone with my grandmother,

“Oh it’s just Misty saying something about Kevin.”

“Yeah I agree he’s a piece of shit mom. I know…they all are.”

“Well, I think she just watches too much T.V. at daycare.”

I bring up Kevin’s house when I want to win “worst childhood” contests. My time there was also responsible for the so-called-compliment, “Despite your childhood you turned out okay,” which is like telling someone that despite their cleft lip and peg leg they’re really not so bad looking after all. Although, I have to admit, though my family wasn’t even remotely ideal the chaos taught me how to be self-sufficient, empathetic, and determined, which is something that I see lost in families where the children are spoiled. I wouldn’t call Francesco spoiled, but I don’t understand their need to still make decisions for him, or govern his plans. For me it’s also damaging, just in a different way, or maybe it’s simply so foreign I can’t make sense of it.

Though I didn’t like going to Kevin’s house I didn’t really object because they had horses that I could ride and a dog they kept in a dog house on the side of the yard that I took naps with, plus I never really objected to things that would stress out my mom. Since I didn’t have friends my own age at my mother’s house either, the animals were at least something to interact with and they weren’t crazy like the people were. Plus, once in a while Kevin could act like a normal human being, or at least his interpretation of a normal human being.

On one of Kevin’s Saturdays, I hopped out of my mom’s car with my chubby brother, whose blond ringlets had been put into barrettes. He resembled a cross-dressed midget. My mom dressed him like a girl because, “He looked good that way, and barrettes never hurt anyone.” I couldn’t remember the last time anyone died from hair decorations so I let it go. I walked to the front of the small brick house where Kevin waited at the screen door, handing over my tranny brother. Kevin smiled at me from under his cowboy hat, itched his balls through his dirty wranglers, and said, “Frog-legs I’ve got somethin’ for you in the barn. It’s early, but it’s for your birthday. Go see it.”

He spoke a destroyed version of English common in Utah where consonants are left out as if it would be too much work to leave it in, “moun-in” instead of “mountain.” I stood there staring up at him. The last time he said, “I’ve got somethin in the barn” he’d managed to plug up the rat holes, laid a twenty-two next to the barn and told me to sit at the other end of the rat tunnel to shoot them when they emerged.

“It’s a gift” he added. “Well what are ya starin at? Go, look!”

I ran around the back of the house and through the field that led to the barn, trying my best to dodge horseshit and horses. The grass was up to my waist, and it took effort to get through it. When I finally arrived at the barn gate, there he was, sitting calmly behind the chicken wire as though he were waiting for me; I threw open the gate. He was brownish-red, the size of a loaf of bread. I scooped him up and squeezed him. He wiggled around breathing puppy breathe into my face.

“What’s his name?” I asked Kevin who had caught up with me.

“You hafta name him” Kevin ruffed up the top of my head.

“What kind of a dog is it?” I nuzzled the puppy and kissed his face.

“A dingo pup.”

“Okay, I’ll name him Dingo then.”

We spent all day and night together doing nothing much. I found blankets for his doghouse, fed him and gave him water. He teetered around and slept, I talked to him and tried to explain what the horses were and what was expected of him. He began following me, and coming to his name. It gave me something to do, and someone to talk with. Generally on hot afternoons, Kevin would kick us out of the house to have, “adult time” where his friends Boyd, or Lloyd came over to circle jerk to the porn channel, or smoke pot in the living room before his mom came home from work. During those times, I would swim in the irrigation ditch, care for my brother, look for grasshoppers, or collect beer cans to sell to the aluminum plant. I was allowed to keep any money I personally earned, unless it was over five dollars. Then that would go to Kevin for what he referred to as, “booze tax.” Because of booze tax, I stopped filling them with dirt to make them heavier.

Dingo was a fast learner, which I appreciated because I didn’t have the patience or know-how to train him to do anything special. He was also able to ignore my blabbering and decipher between commands and me talking about my favorite movie. By the third or fourth week he could already come, sit, stay, lie down, and do a number of other things he’d learned with ease, such as avoid everyone besides me. He was smarter than my brother who just sat, drooled and shit his pants. I hated leaving him and tried to bring him to my mother’s as well, but I wasn’t allowed. During the week, I would draw pictures of Dingo in between watching cartoons and wandering in the apple orchard next door. I’d moved schools twice already that year and didn’t have any friends with the exception of a little boy across the way that I’d kicked in the balls and, consequently, stopped speaking to me.

After six months had gone by, Dingo was almost as big as me, around seventy pounds. When I’d arrive I’d run to the barn, and he would run out and meet me half way. I’d turn my back to him while he ran circles around me until he calmed down enough to hug him. I’d share my ice cream with him convinced that things couldn’t get any better for me.

One of my last weekends at Kevin’s that all changed. My mom dropped us off in the same fashion as always, I waved goodbye and ran full speed towards the barn. This time, Kevin stepped out from behind the house and nearly clothes-lined me. “Frog-legs,” he said, “we’ve had an accident, and Dingo was hit by a car an died.” I stared at the ground and tried not to cry.

“You need time alone,” he said, as he headed to the barn with some friends to smoke a joint he was rotating between his fingers.

“Don’t worry, we’ll git-ya another dog” he called over his shoulder.

A half hour later, I stumbled across Dingo’s corpse near a ditch on the side of the house, next to the road. For one reason or another, they didn’t bother to bury him. There wasn’t anyone else to talk with, so I sat down next to him and, while rubbing his head, I told him that I was sad. It was strangely comforting. It wasn’t like when he was alive, but it was nice to have someone there. And so I continued that way for the rest of the summer; me, Dingo, and the ditch every other weekend.  When it got to the point where I couldn’t stand the smell anymore, I sprayed Old Spice inside of my shirt and pulled it up over my nose. When the maggots finally came, I turned my back to him and talked straight ahead. This carried on until snow finally covered his bones and what was left of his brown and red fur.

For Ari.
This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper. -T.S. Elliot