Falling into Us Read online
“And my dad has a world of anger and demons hidden away in his soul. ” Jason’s voice was surprisingly soft, his words poetic. “He got injured playing his first pro game, and it ended his career. The only thing he ever wanted to do was play pro ball, and he couldn’t anymore. He had to go crawling back to his parents here in Michigan, and his dad was worse on him than Dad is on me. He ended up joining the police force and moved up pretty fast, but then the Gulf War happened and he saw his chance to be something. He joined the Army and did two tours in Iraq. He was a grunt with no college degree or training. He saw some heavy shit, Becca. Some really awful shit. He did some really awful shit, all on Uncle Sam’s orders. It…scarred him, on the inside. He has his reasons, too, is my point. Doesn’t make it okay. ”
I was silent for a long time, listening to a different song on the radio and watching the salt-sprinkle of stars across the black-cloth sky. “How do you know so much about what your dad went through?”
Jason answered around a mouthful of chip. “He drinks a lot. When he’s had enough, sometimes he talks to me instead of laying into me. Tells me stories like I was one of his buddies from his unit. ” He swallowed and stared up at the sky. “I hate those stories. Rather get hit. ”
I shivered then, as a gust of wind blew and cut through my sweater. Jason planted his palms on the lip of the truck bed and hefted himself out to the ground, leaned into the truck, and snagged his sweatshirt. I watched him hesitate, then grab his camera bag. He jumped back into the bed, climbing on the rear tire, and tucked his sweatshirt around my shoulders. It was heavy, warm, and smelled exactly like Jason.
He lifted the camera bag and then glanced at me, a smirk on his face. “You wanted to see a photograph I took?” I nodded eagerly. “Then you gotta trade me. I’ll show you one of my photos if you show me something you wrote. ”
I swallowed hard. “That’s—that’s…I’m not sure. I’ve never showed anyone my writing. No one. It’s my journal. ”
Jason nodded, gesturing with the bag. “That’s how my photos are for me. They’re private. Only for me, because I enjoy it. No one even knows I do it, not even Kyle. It’s like a journal for me, too. I’m no good with words, so I use pictures instead. ”
“Why would you keep something like that a secret?” I asked. “It’s not like it’s embarrassing. It’s cool. It’s artistic. ”
His face darkened. “You don’t know my dad. I told you, he’s not a nice guy. For one thing, I’m only allowed to do schoolwork and football. Working out, homework, practice, that’s it. He’s drunk or passed out now, so he doesn’t care what I do or where I am as long as I don’t get arrested and make a big spectacle or some shit. He’s the captain of the police force, so I have to be careful. He won’t bail me out, won’t get me off the hook. He’ll kick the shit out of me if I ever so much as get stopped by one of his men. They’re scared of him, too, so they won’t dare go against him, either. ”
“What’s that got to do with photography? It’s just pictures. ”
He unwrapped the second ham sandwich and another can of Coke. “Well, that’s the second part. Anything that even remotely smacks of art is for fags. His word, not mine. On top of being a plain mean-ass drunk, he’s a bigot. Hates pretty much anyone who’s not him. If he even knew I had a camera, he’d put me in the f**kin’ hospital. Musical instrument? No way. Painting? Hell no. I love taking photos, though. I love capturing something in the lens and making something else totally different from it. ”
He opened his bag and lifted the camera from it, turned it on, and touched a few buttons so the display showed his previously taken photos. He scrolled through them a ways, then turned it to me.
I took the camera gingerly, afraid of handling something that was so important to him, and so hideously expensive. The photograph he’d shown me was breathtaking. It was of a bumblebee, taken in the act of the bee landing on a daisy. It was from up close, so close you could see the wings blurring and the individual hairs on the fat yellow and black body. The sunlight was refracted off the insect’s bulbous, multi-faceted eyes, the daisy sharp and bright yellow, the sky a blue blur beyond. It was like something out of National Geographic, stunning in its clarity and focus and use of color. The bumblebee looked like an alien creature, made mammoth and impossible.
“Jason…oh, my god. This is incredible. You could sell this to a magazine, I swear to god. ” I breathed in and examined the photo again, amazed at the way he’d framed it with the flower in the center, taking most of the space, with the bee near the top, caught in the act of hovering downward.
He grinned, and seemed oddly shy for the first time since I’d known him. “Thanks. I got stung about six times trying to get that shot. There were a bunch of big, fat bees flying around a field. ” He pointed out beyond the tree, to the field beneath us. “Right out there, actually. There must have been a nest or something. Anyway, I followed these bees around for hours, taking picture after picture. I must have taken a couple hundred before I got that one. ”
“Can I see some more?” I asked, excited now.
He lifted an eyebrow at me. “Nuh-uh. Now it’s your turn. ”
I felt my hands trembling. I knew if I spoke it would come out all jittery and full of blocks, so I just sucked in a breath, reached into my purse, and pulled out my journal. It was a spiral-bound, unlined sketch pad, a piece of brown paper Meijer bag cut out and wrapped around the outside covers. On the front cover, I’d used a Sharpie to copy an inscription of a poem in Arabic:
??? ????? ????
??? ???? ?????
??? ????? ??????
“What’s that say?” Jason asked.
I hesitated, breathing several times and reciting the words in my mind before I said them out loud. “It says, ‘I am not alone—the truth is I befriended my loneliness. ’” I traced the lines with my forefinger before opening the cover and flipping a few pages idly, looking for the perfect poem to show Jason. “It’s by an Arab poet named Abboud al Jabiri. It’s actually part of a longer poem, but that’s the part I like the most. ”
“Was he from, like, a long time ago?”
I shook my head. “No, he’s alive and living in Jordan, still writing. My mom is a pediatrician, but she’s always loved poetry. On top of her medical degree, she has a second minor in Arabic poetry. She kind of turned me on to it, I guess. ”
“That’s pretty cool,” Jason said. “So what’s your dad do?”
“He’s in real estate. He owns several industrial properties, plus he does commercial real estate sales. ” I glanced at him as I chewed and swallowed. “What about you? You told me about your dad. What about your mom?”
He shrugged. “She doesn’t do shit. Works in a dental office three days a week, making copies and shit. Other than that, hides in her room gluing paper cut-outs into a book. ”
I scrunched up my face, trying to figure out what he meant. “Scrapbooking?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, whatever. Something like that. She’s got a ‘craft room. ’” He made air quotes around the phrase. “She spends all her time in there. Sleeps there, except when Dad makes her sleep with him for…you know. Mainly, she avoids both of us. Me because I take Dad’s shit instead of her, and him because he’s an ass**le. ”
“What do you mean, you take his shit instead of her?”
He snapped a chip between his fingers and ate both halves. “He used to beat on her, back till I was, like, three or four. Once I got old enough, I started jumping in. I hated seeing Mom cry, you know? She stood up for herself for a while. I remember that. Then she just got tired. Gave up. Let him do whatever he wanted, to me, to her. He wants the conflict, you know? He wants the fight. I started giving him that so he’d leave her alone, and now she sorta resents me for it, I think. Don’t know why, since I’m the one getting my ass beat instead of her. Whatever. Stupid bitch. ” The blasé tone in his voice was awful in its utter apat