Home > We're All Damaged(10)

We're All Damaged(10)
Matthew Norman

I walk around the Caddie, stepping over a few random rainbow flags and a cutout photograph of the actor Neil Patrick Harris. “They what?” I say.

“They glitter-bombed me. And they put that . . . that thing in your father’s favorite tree.”

I follow her eyes. It looks like a man up there, a naked man, clinging desperately to a branch. It’s not, though. It’s a sex doll—a life-size, blow-up male sex doll.

I meet her at the mailbox, and she hugs me. And after I get my bearings, I hug her, too. Her hair smells like chemicals.

“Your eye,” she says. “Did . . . did someone hit you?”

I’ve forgotten about the cyclist and the black eye.

“Why is there a sex doll in that tree?”

“Why did somebody hit you? And why is there purple all over your shirt?”

“It’s Mr. Misty,” I say. “Who were those guys?”

“Why is there Mr. Misty on your shirt?”

The questions come quickly to a halt when we realize that my dad is standing on the front porch. He’s in plaid pajamas and a pair of dad sneakers. His hair is sticking up, and he’s holding a handful of garbage bags.

“I caught them in the act, Bradley,” Nancy says. “They’ve gone too far this time.”

He surveys the yard and then his wife, and then me, and then the Caddie, which I’ve crash-landed at the foot of the driveway. I left the headlights on. And then four small golf cart tires squeal to a stop.

“Did you see ’em?” It’s the security guy from earlier today, Don. He jumps out of his cart. He’s in pajama pants, too, and a Prairie West Security windbreaker.

“Just in time again, you idiot,” my dad says.

“I missed them?”

“Yeah. Big surprise. How about you turn around and get the hell out of here before I jam that RadioShack siren up your a—”

“Mr. Johnson,” my mom says. “I think it’d be best if we all deal with this tomorrow morning, OK?”

“I wanna file my report right away, Nancy. The sooner I get—”

“Report?” My dad hacks this word out like phlegm. “Report . . . Are you kidding me? You’re an entirely made-up—”

She stops him with a look, and then she gives Don the same look, and he stands down, too. Apparently my mother is in charge here.

“Fine,” says Don. “Suit yourself, if that’s how you want to play it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Johnson,” Nancy says.

The three of us Carters watch him as he goes. The streetlights reflect off his bald spot like a beacon. “Asshole,” my dad says.

Wind scatters some of the mess in the yard. A rainbow flag blows across the lawn and sticks to the base of a tree.

“Wait a minute,” I say. “Is that guy’s name really Don Johnson?”

“Andy,” my dad says. “Go in the garage and get the ladder.”

The garage is clean and new-looking, and everything is orderly and well kempt. I spot the ladder up on the wall, hanging from some pegs directly behind a vintage motorcycle that I’ve never seen before. It’s red and a little rusty. I touch the handlebars. It smells like gasoline.

The ladder is heavier than I thought it’d be. And in my struggle to take it down without crashing into the bike, I manage to knock into a line of green plastic garbage cans. A lid pops off, clattering to the cement floor, and what I see staring at me from inside is enough to make me nearly drop everything. Eyes. Little blue eyes. A shitload of them. Mouths, too. Smiling mouths. The entire bin is full of Ken Dolls, and they’re all wearing tuxedos. There’s stuff in the other bins, too. I look inside each one. There are Teletubbies—the gay one, I guess. There are more pictures of famous gay people, a few dildos, some stretched-out, colorful condoms, dirty magazines, and naked photos of men printed onto 8½ x 11 computer paper.

“Oh, Nancy,” I say.

I drag the ladder out of the garage and haul it across the driveway. I need an explanation. I need them to tell me why all this has happened and who those guys are. At the front of the house, though, the sight of my parents stops me. They’re just standing there next to each other, their arms at their sides, my mom barefoot in an aggressively tight dress and my dad in pajamas that are too small for him. I can see his thin, hairless ankles, exposed and vulnerable.

Something is wrong here. And not just the obvious stuff, like the dildos, the trashed yard, and the fact that my mother is covered in glitter. It’s something worse.

There’s more wind now, and the sex doll catches a gust. Its plastic arm bobs up and down, and it’s smiling, and for a moment it appears to be waving at me.

Welcome to Omaha.


The next morning, my dad and I are at a place called New Beginnings.

I imagined some cold, institutional thing, but set against a big wall of trees, it looks like it could be a resort and not an old folks’ home. If it weren’t for the Starbucks and Bed Bath & Beyond directly across the street, it’d be picturesque, complete with an enormous green space, walking paths, and bocce ball court. Even the sign is classy—a yellow sun over an orange horizon. “New Beginnings: Where Every Day Is Something Special.”

We’re in the parking lot. The engine is running. We just pulled in, but neither of us has made a move to do anything.

“You want me to come in with you?” he says. “I have a few minutes.”

“I’ll be OK,” I say, which probably isn’t true.

I’m nervous to see my grandpa, and I’m moderately hungover, and the toe of my right foot hurts from placekicking that garden gnome.

“Where’d you go last night?” he asks.

“Dairy Queen,” I say.

“It was pretty late.” He fiddles with his beard. His concern for me is like a fog in the car, this actual tangible thing I can see. He looks less like a mental patient today than he did yesterday when I found him shooting at vermin. He’s in gray pants and a crisp button-up shirt—business casual, even in retirement. I can tell he’s tired, though. We were up until after two gathering Ken Dolls and fishing pornography out of the shrubs.

“So,” I say. “Dad . . . are we maybe gonna talk about last night?”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Well, late last night, I held a ladder for you while you pulled a sex doll out of a tree. We could start there.”

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