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This is what you will and will not remember. You will not remember the coarseness of your father’s hands, or the feel of his breath laced with smoke on your neck. You will not remember the stains on his t-shirt, the grey one from Fruit of the Loom with holes and brown patches on it that he likes to work and sleep in. You will not remember the Dodge Ram hat, turned at an angle that fit his head better than when it was on backwards or flat against the crest of his brow. No, you will not remember these things first.
You will remember the slugs.
You will remember the slugs because they ate the plants at night and crawled on the concrete in carnivorous search of those captivating weeds and dandelions that closed on themselves when the moon was high. You will remember the slugs because of the nightmare of the Boogeyman, who was covered in soot and brown trousers and a brown tunic and kinky black hair, a mane of an age that did not exist anymore. He climbed through the window of your bedroom while you were asleep on the couch with your mother holding you. She didn’t wake, but you felt the scratch and itch of the threadbare couch as he entered the house, marking the floor with dirt in his wake. You watched him and you would remember him even now, almost like a bad dream. But he must’ve been real, right? He had those bandages from wounds that never had a chance to heal. And eyes the color of the dirt he carried. Beside each clump of dirt was a trail, a mark, that a slug had passed through. You will remember this as you tell your father and your mother of the man who had taken your childhood away while one was at work and the other was off in their own dreamworld.
And so your father will grimace at the thought, but the grimace will turn into a laugh, because he always knew something you didn’t, even when you knew something he didn’t. You will think that is confusing. Perhaps it is. But that is apparently just how life was made. Either way, you will always end up in the same place: on the back porch with your father as sirens echo in the distance. He is standing there in his work boots, the same ones he will kick your mother with when she calls him out for being a liar and a cheat and yell out “Get out of my face, your breath smells like pussy!” You are standing there in cartoon pajamas, small and chunky and a little too round about the face. You look like your mother when she was young, except they have cut your hair so short and so often that the curls would never form, except at the crest of a cowlick, that strange blessing your grandmother likes to finger when she checks your head for lice. Just in case. Your father will hold Morton’s Salt with the little girl and the umbrella on the side and you will wait on the steps for the sun to pass down on the other side of the world, or the world to pass down on the other side of the sun, and you will wait and wait and wait. Because that is all you ever did. Waited. And finally, the slugs will crawl up from their hiding spaces and slither about the porch in search of a new meal and you will watch them with a quiet fascination, a delicate and horrible stare and realization of what was about to happen before it could happen.
Years later you will cling to what happens next and it will become a part of a chain of memories that you hope will never fade, like the memory of you and your best friend on the green couch as you played with the stuffed green alien. But how could you ever forget that one? After the Big Terrible Accident of the Slugs, the next memory is of you sitting on the carpet. Your father and mother are in the kitchen and there are cabinets slamming and hushed voices followed by full voices followed by screams and yelps and arguments. You hear them, but do not see them. All you can see is the watered-down spaghetti in front of you and the television and a clump of hair on the floor. Your favorite underdog hero is saved by a strike of deus ex machina, but you are stuck here and they yell and scream and fight and have an argument.
“Who do you want to live with?” he asks.
“You’re making a mistake,” she says.
“Who do you want to live with?” he asks.
“Don’t,” she says.
You stare at them from the floor and you can feel the mess curl around your mouth. You feel the red sauce on your collarbone, as warm as your own skin. They are staring at you with wild eyes, like if you don’t answer them right now that the world itself will end. You turn to your mother and then your father and then back again. You chose then and there. Years later when you recall this memory and hand it to your father like a gift saying “Here! I remember! I know what you both did!” he will look at you in the same way as when they asked you to decide between two completely different lives. His lip will curl around a Pall Mall, the blue kind that are supposed to be menthol and smell like there is a hint of gasoline in it. He will stand outside of his truck as you sit inside with your own cigarette. You will think that smoking is a sort of twisted inheritance you have earned from your parents for all their feuds and all their ways of betrayals. It is too cold to be standing outside, you will think, as he shivers out there in a coat that is too close to his chest. You will think a lot of things as he stands out there in the cold, like how he called you while you were in a dorm room with a boy you hardly knew. How when you picked up the phone you felt the most amazing mouth kissing the spot between thigh and hip as he sobbed. How you felt that mouth and the teeth and the eyes of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed lover looking up at you with your hand in his hair and your most sensitive member disappear inside of him and he told you the news and you stifled a laugh and a gasp in a singular breath. Your great grandmother was dead and gone and had gone and your father was weeping and you were sucking in breath and you go soft and feel empty and panicked and you push the lover from your loins and you tell him “Leave! Leave! I need you to leave!” and he will look at you, confused, hurt, estranged and he will pick up his clothes and change in the corner as you change and put your father on hold and you will tell him “Hold on, I was studying with a friend,” and he will cry and wait and cry and wait. You will be dressed and you will go out into the hallway and usher your lover out of the door and run down the stairs and sit on the bench and smoke a cigarette and listen to nothing but tears and silence and it is freezing out. It was February after all. It’s always cold in February.
You will write poetry about the experience. About the funeral. About your stepmother. Your classmates will read it and sigh and ask how you knew which words to choose and could you choose another in the stead of this one. And was this real? How could you do that? Wow, I didn’t realize you were so … active. And you will sit and listen because your professor told you that is what you should do and then you will remember another time with your parents. You will remember the questions and looks and then the night of slugs, because who could ever forget the slugs? Who could forget your father’s steel-toe boots? The sick? The crashes and raging, fuming, screams. You don’t get over something like that, at least not yet. Because you remember why you did it. You remember that there was a reason to it all.
Your father was going to kill the Boogeyman for you so you would stop writing those cartoons about the fisherman you saw in a dream. The one killed by Death in the basement with a scythe and gurgle and red red red blood on the concrete basement floor. That one disturbed your mother. She refused to hang it on the fridge and you vaguely remember taking a magnet from your elementary Parent/Teacher Night and hanging your masterpiece on the very front of the fridge, the part where you could just reach on your tiptoes. Everyone needed to see it.
It was your art.
Plus didn’t they know that it actually happened? That was always happening to you. Your dreams were realities that no one else could see but you. Your secret burden. And perhaps you’re too afraid to tell them you knew your grandmother was dead before anyone asked. And perhaps you’re too afraid to tell yourself. And then you are back on that porch behind your first house, the only house your parents owned together before they left one another for more reasons than you could count. The concrete is cracked and sunken in places. Your house must’ve been very old or very poor to have sunk that much in such a short amount of time. It must have been. Nonetheless you are there and the sky has turned blue, but not the morning blue or the robin’s egg blue or the navy blue or the cobalt blue, this is a black blue. A blue that has electricity in it that is so blue the stars will hide themselves from it until much later when it all turns black and it is so dark you can’t help but look up at the night sky. But not yet. You and your father have a task to do now. You remember this as the slugs start to form on the steps and your father stand behind you. You watch them slither across the cement together, they have feelers reaching out for something new and exciting. That’s when your father pulls the salt out and pours the grains into his hand. He bends down next to you and holds his hand aloft, just above a single yellow slug with little black spots. He drops the salt over it and within seconds it boils. He takes more salt and pours it out on another slug. There are four in total and he makes quick work of it.
And just like that the slugs are fuming, their bodies writhing and bubbling up. It is as if they are on fire and you and him were the ones to do it. You did it. You killed them. This is what you will remember because of many things. You will remember it because you will think will this happen to me? Will I burn up? Will I bubble and die? Will this happen to him? To her? To them? To everyone? You will remember this moment and it will be glued to you in a way no one could have expected. Yes. This is what you will remember.