No Difference Between
I’m not sure if it is a memory or a dream. Odds are it is neither. If not for the particulars, I might believe it was a story I made up to sound cool, frighten friends, elicit a particular reaction: shock, awe, incredulous amazement.
In this tale/memory/dream, I am visiting my second cousin, the son of my mother’s nemesis, someone who made making others miserable her profession. We are the same age, this boy and I, roughly 11 years old. One summer, we played on the same baseball team. Other than that, we have little to nothing in common. I don’t like him and I’m sure he doesn’t like me, but it is a summer evening in August and our parents are pretending to get along. We mimic them.
It is early in the new decade, 1982. I am likely wearing too short shorts and a t shirt that does not match, probably stained with dirt or food. My cousin will be dressed better than I, cleaner, which he will point out in subtle ways, a look, voice inflection, to which I will be oblivious.
Across the street and down half the block, new construction is underway. The shiny wooden houses look out of place set among the textured brick ramblers and bungalows lining the eastern side of the road.
We are unsupervised beyond the occasional look out the window. It doesn’t take long or much convincing for us to make our way to the vacant houses (some only wooden frames, others missing windows and doors, a few ready to welcome families), bravely wandering through the least complete, then checking for unlocked doors among the others.
One opens and invites us in. Dark yellow carpet and bright white walls (the aroma of fresh paint and glue) shine like warnings, and the unfinished kitchen gives us pause. Workers may be about, or will soon arrive. We are silent, listening for a hint of another human being, ready to run, hearts in our throats.
My cousin laughs, breaking the spell.
We explore rooms. It is a not-dangerous situation that somehow feels compellingly dangerous. Part of me always feels broken, different, but it is a secret part, one that few will ever see or understand. More often than not, I am passive, overly careful, unwilling to risk. Being here in this empty house, I feel unlike myself. I am an invader. A sudden urge to plunder rises up. I want to break something, kick a wall, a door, just to prove to myself I am capable of casual destruction. Instead, I run my fingers on the walls, whisper in hushed tones as if the future occupants of this dwelling are already present. observing my behavior.
My cousin calls to me.
He is in a back bedroom, un-carpeted sub-flooring marked and labeled with cryptic words defying understanding; numbers and lines that should have meaning, but appear as hieroglyphics.
He is kneeling near the wall opposite the closet. A toolbox in front of him. I imagine removing a hammer, a few screwdrivers, my earlier inclination towards random destruction returning in heavy waves of fear and excitement. He winks at me, flicks the clasp with too clean fingers, lifts the lid.
There are two versions of what happens next. In the first, the gun is a snub nosed revolver, chrome, with a brown grip. We do the right thing and leave it alone, locking the door as we leave the house, agreeing never to tell our parents.
The second seems more honest. The weapon is black, something a cop would wear high on his hip. In this version, the gun takes on the persona of violence (if there is such a thing), an ominous presence that fills the room, chokes the air from my throat. I am suddenly timid, cowering. I do not hesitate. I run.
Or maybe I stand still, watch as my foolish cousin reaches into the toolbox and lifts the weapon out, cradled in his palm. He looks at me, the total brown of his eyes sizing me up again, just like he will years later when we attend the same Jr. high and he tries to figure out how in the hell we can be related, when he is so cool and I am such a hopeless dork. He rests his index finger on the trigger, aims just to the right of me, laughs like this is a game.
But I am already outside, right? I’m running down the street, back towards my parents and the relative safety of the front yard. I don’t stay in the bedroom of the almost finished house, waiting for the inevitable sound of gunpowder igniting, the thud of the bullet as it enters the wall behind me, narrowly missing my face and neck. I would never be that stupidly brave, even if it would make that one girl (with long legs and soft brown skin) who lives down the street look at me with new eyes.