Setting foot into my brother's first apartment was interesting for a couple of reasons. One, it was the apartment we both grew up in, and two, it looked like a meth lab. Another interesting fact: neither my brother, nor his two roommates (one legal, one squatting) attended college or worked full-time jobs at this point in their lives. So, at ages 19, 18, and somewhere between 17 and 25, the three of them lived chaperone-less and could party with impunity. They could also avoid household chores as if they were a detriment, which I believe led to the slow construction of the castle for bugs made of dirty dishes. They were on their own with hardly a concerned neighbor to peek through the paisley window curtains. Our old home had been converted into an island for lost boys,of which my brother, William, was king.
Will's biggest talent, his fairy-godmother gift, his blessed gene of providence, is gaining followers. This is a risky talent, because followers put things in motion. They continue a cyclical pattern supplying power to the person that attracted them in the first place. The end result could be great, like with Ghandi, but, it could also be very bad. I hate to mention Hitler, but... Hitler. Will was neither good nor bad; he found the middle ground and became what I like to call the love child of Peter Pan and Jack Sparrow. If anyone were to start a pocket society of dirt-stained, maybe-legal, rum-swigging vagabonds, it would be my him.
Walking through Will's front door wasn't so much a trip down memory lane as it was a glimpse into the suburban version of Tortuga. The myriad derelict teenagers lazed about, eyeing me as I walked through the kitchen and dining room, deciding whether to seduce me or stab me in the thigh. I use the word, "stab," literally since everyone in the house seemed to own a pocket knife. There was a faint smog in the air that smelled like blueberry blunt papers, and the ground appeared to be coated entirely in a glossy film of Hawaiian punch. The dining table our father had made entirely by hand was now a permanent beer-pong surface, ready for a game whenever Will's guests felt inclined. Just south of it was a large fish tank that contained all the accoutrements of a fish habitat, but no water.
"What's in there?" I asked Will, afraid of his answer.
"Geckos!" he answered. "We used to have three, but now we have two."
"Where's the third?"
Will cupped my cheeks with his giant hands. He eyes went wide as he brought my face close to his. "We're not sure," he said with a large smile.
"I shee..." I said through smooshed lips.
After that, I noticed a sofa flanked by two blanketed piles of lumps that resembled the covered remains of a murder-victim. A busty, black-haired girl named Tourell stretched awkwardly over one while browsing her phone. On the wall opposite the couch was a flat screen television that was so big, it partially covered the two windows on either side of it. I had a flashback at this point to when Will and I purchased this very TV at WalMart. Since it was wider than my Camry, Will had to lie horizontally behind it in the back seat, and hold onto the door to keep it from swinging open. I I wanted to ask how he managed to mount the TV onto the wall, but I drifted back toward the suspicious blanket-covered lumps by the couch. I wondered whether my brother and his roommates were hiding contraband in plain sight.
"Guns??" Will said to me, "No, Sam, jeez there are no guns under there. They're upstairs in my room."
I craned my ear to the ceiling where I heard footsteps and hearty laughter. "Would your room happen to be where those minors are milling about?" I asked, pointing up.
"Naw, they're not. And don't worry, those guys don't need supervision. Most of them are 18."
"Oh, good," I said, "I was worried."
Will had recently joined the National Guard, so his ability to behave responsibly in regards to his own safety did not worry me. However, he had a strong penchant for providing shelter to idiots that didn't know their dicks from their foreheads. With his new home, he created a limbo between high school, college and full-time employment--a responsibility-free zone that attracted wayward youths like bugs to a zappy light. They ranged in age from 17 to 25 and were all people you'd be disappointed if they dated your children. Except Tourell. I noticed she had neither a knife, a joint, or a drink in her hand, and apparently she was a very smart girl on her way to college in the coming Fall. Everyone else was packing heat, by which I mean weapons and an astonishing amount of body odor. This delighted Will, as he loves guns and hates soap. Combine that with a tendency for impulsive behavior, and you have yourself an 18 year-old rifle owner.
"Here, I'll show you!" he said, as he bounded across the living room and up the stairs. I followed, choosing my steps carefully between more exposed blades and what could have been a dead gecko. I entered Will's bedroom to see him cradling a fully functioning, semi-automatic rifle. I wasn't unnerved by the fact that Will owned a gun; what bothered me was the gun itself. For I also harbor a powerful lust for weapons. I don't know where it comes from. Maybe it's just the guy in me, or maybe it's just what happens when you watch Power Rangers on repeat in your early years. Whatever the cause, I have tried to contain it, because it's all fun and games until someone gets shot at point blank range with a paintball gun.
FLASHBACK TO... Summer 2006-ish:
It was Summer, 2006-ish. I had invited my cousin, Jumbalaya to hang out and do something fun, but not too expensive, maybe a movie? Nah, it was too nice out. Who knows, we'd play it by ear. Both our parents were out doing whatever they hell they did when we were left unsupervised, so we started to feel a tingling sensation of freedom. While I waited for her, I was overcome with an urge to really frighten her. I concocted an idea to shoot her without actually shooting her, by emptying my paintball guns of all its paintballs, but leave in the cartridge of CO2. I could lock it into the gun and it would produce a loud bang, without actually releasing a projectile. But she would think she was actually being shot! Hilarious! I was so excited, I had to use the bathroom three times before she arrived.
When her car pulled into the driveway, I waited in my bedroom, shaking like a heroin addict. She killed the ignition, and I let our a muffled squeal. I listened to her feet crunching the graveled driveway, and my cheeks grew red hot. As she opened the screen door, I peed a little in my pants. It was possible that I would burst into tears before she even got to the living room.
"Sam?" She asked once inside. "Hello?"
"hi!" I squeaked. "i'm in here!"
"Mmkay...?" I heard her walk toward my room.
As she appeared in the doorway, I squeezed the trigger. The loud bang rang gloriously--just as I hoped it would! However, it appeared I was not successful in fully emptying the paintballs. Imagine my surprise to see an explosion of white paint blossom across Jumbalaya's stomach. Jumbalaya was very surprised, indeed, and let out a sharp scream--the ultimate "what the fuck" of screams. She clutched her abdomen and crumpled to the floor. I ran to her side as my bowels filled with diarrhea.
"OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!" I yelled into her face.
"AAAAAHH!" She screamed.
"WHAT DO WE DO? WHAT DO WE DO?" I asked.
"AAAHHHH!" She continued.
"ARE YOU OKAY??"
I ran into the kitchen to get ice and a towel. Hands shaking like I was on a roller-coaster, I madly grabbed the ice-tray. In my panic, the tray slipped from my fingers and went cartwheeling through the air, scattering the cubes in a pinwheel formation toward every corner of the kitchen.
"FUCK!" I yelled and reached for a bag of frozen peas.
"Muuhhhh!" I heard Jumba moan from my bedroom. Peas in hand, I sprinted back to her, but missed a turn and ran straight into a wall. With a searing pain in my right eye, I stumbled through my door and offered the peas. Jumba removed her hands to reveal a small hole in her shirt, then lifted the fabric to reveal a perfectly round welt that looked like a sun seen through a powerful telescope.
"You... asshole," she gurgled, taking the peas from my hands.
"I'm so sorry, I'm so... sorryyy!" I wailed again and again. She lay there for about five more minutes before she was able to stand up. I made us eggos and ate mine in the corner without a fork.
Poor Jumbalaya. She just wanted to hang out and maybe split a Dairy Queen, or go for a walk--it was breezy but not windy, y'know? I felt like the biggest fuck-wit on Earth. I could have killed her! Had I angled the gun a fraction of a degree higher, the paintball could have crushed her wind pipe, or gone up her nose and into her brain. Even worse, if I had angled it at all lower, I could have shot her right in the pacoochy. It wouldn't have killed her, but reconstructive labia surgery would surely have ended her social life forever.
Fortunately, she survived and her bruise only lasted for a cool 8 months. It took me a long time to recover from this ordeal and grant myself the permission to laugh shamelessly and at length about it so, as I watched Will hold an actual, bullet-shooting rifle in his lap, I became queezy with PTSD.
"Don't worry," he said, "it's not loaded."
"Right, I've heard that before," I said, referring to myself.
A snake-in-the-garden grin spread across Will's face as he looked up at me. "You want to hold it? Don't worry, there's no ammo in the gun, or in the house. I don't allow it."
No I thought, I do not. But of course I did! I wanted to hold it, and spin it, and use the butt to smash a hole in the window and pick off an imaginary army of zombies in the backyard. Against all common sense and that whole fucking story about shooting my favorite person at point blank range, I said, "Uh, okay."
It felt heavier than it looked, and the metal was cool. It was certainly no paintball gun. My cheeks started to get hot, and I suddenly felt powerful. I was a lottery winner, a former man of meager means stepping out of a Camry and into a Corvette. It even smelled powerful, like really dense nickel or some type of mineral people die for in Africa. Before this moment, I was a clumsy English Major from Connecticut. Now, I was a clumsy English Major from Connecticut with a gun, motherfucker.
"Okay, take this back, please." I said, sensing an adrenaline black-out coming on.
Will chuckled as though he saw exactly what he expected to see. "You sure?"
"Yep, all done."
Will gently wrapped his hands around the body of the gun and lifted it from my sweaty palms.
"Feels good, right?" He asked.
"Yes, it does. Please put this away and don't let anyone here see or touch it."
"Because this place is like a half-way home for people who think Hot Pockets are non-perishable." Just as I said this, a scrawny boy wearing an oversized ACDC shirt walked in.
"Whoa," he said, "can I see that?" And, as if he hadn't heard me at all, Will handed the rifle over to him. I took some steps backward as the definitely not-of-drinking-age Lost Boy sauntered off with the rifle like Rambo with a wedgie.
"I'm leaving," I said, "and I'm calling child services for the geckos."