Home > We're All Damaged(5)

We're All Damaged(5)
Matthew Norman

4

I’m on a stone bench outside of Eppley Airfield in Omaha.

For the sake of ambiance, I imagined it’d be raining when I got here. It’s not, though. It’s a beautiful Midwestern summer day—warm, breezy, and sunny.

A guy in a big silver Range Rover is honking his horn in the loading and unloading zone, and I’m watching a YouTube video on my phone. It’s grainy and the sound is shitty, but you can see a guy in a tuxedo standing in front of a bunch of people. He says something and then pauses. And then, with no warning whatsoever, he throws up all over the stage.

More honking—three long, loud bursts.

Worst Best Man . . . Ever!!!! is the video’s title, and I’m the nine hundred and seventy three thousand four hundred and twelfth person to watch it.

“Hey there, young man.”

I look up, and a traffic cop smiles down at me, an old guy with a white mustache and an orange police sash. “I believe that fella over there is trying to get your attention.”

I look up and see the man sitting in the Range Rover. He throws up his hands.

“Jesus,” I whisper.

“Welcome to Omaha,” the cop says.

He’s just being friendly, of course. But as my brother inexplicably honks at me three more times, it is, without question, the most ominous thing anyone’s ever said to me.

Jim holds up a finger when I get in. “Shut up,” he whispers.

He’s wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, and when he hits the gas, I very seriously consider grabbing the door handle and flinging myself onto the pavement like a stuntman.

“Oh, come on, George,” he says. “You know how short-sighted you sound? You and Judy are in this for the long haul, right? That means not obsessing over the Dow, like some overleveraged day-trading poser.” Jim rolls his eyes at me and makes a blah-blah hand puppet. “No, George. You’re insulated from that. We’re golden.”

He goes on like this, and I feel sorry for poor George, whoever he is. I turn around and check out my niece and nephew in the backseat. Bryce is playing a handheld video game and wearing full-on karate gear. “Hey, Uncle Andy,” he says.

“Sweet robe, dude.” I say this quietly so as not to distract my brother’s rampage.

“It’s not a robe . . . it’s a karate gi.” I can’t remember exactly how old he is, but seven sounds about right. “It gives me one hundred percent mobility for my fighting moves.”

“That’s pretty cool,” I say.

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Jim says. He gesticulates with both hands, so the car is briefly steering itself. “Let’s ride the wave. Gas prices are down, interest rates are low. Everyone wins.”

“Your dad’s really getting after it, huh?” I say.

“Yeah. That’s his butt-kicking voice. He uses it when he kicks butt.”

“I recognize it.”

“What happened to your face?” he asks.

“A ninja got me,” I say. “I didn’t have one of those robes—my mobility was compromised.”

“Gi,” he says. “Karate gi.”

“Exactly.”

There’s a little girl in the seat next to him with frizzy blonde hair, and she’s staring at me, wild-eyed. She was an infant when I left town, so she has no idea who I am. “Hey, Emma,” I say.

Her eyes go even wider. There’s a Cheerio stuck to the side of her face, and she’s clutching a Dora the Explorer doll. “Blare,” she says.

Bryce sighs. “She’s terrible at talking. She just says blarg and bling and junk like that. It’s superannoying.”

Emma takes the Cheerio off her face and puts it in her mouth. After a few good chews, she pulls it out and offers it to me in a glob.

“No, thanks,” I say. “You should eat it.”

Bryce pauses his game and gives me a long assessing look. “Uncle Andy,” he says. “Are you drunk?”

“Am I what?”

“Drunk? Like . . . wasted?”

“Do you even know what that means?”

“Uh, yeaaaaahhhhh,” he says. “Dad bet Mom you’d be drunk when we picked you up.”

“Seriously?” I say.

“Seeeeriiiiiaaaa!” shouts Emma. She wants in on this, too.

“Yep. Twenty bucks. I just got Urban Death Fight III for my PS2, and that cost thirty-five dollars. That’s more than twenty.”

I look at Jim, who’s still quoting lines from Wall Street. “And there’s no way we’re chasing after some stupid IPO again,” he says. “Diversity. That’s the play. Less exposure, slow and steady.”

“Tell him to buy low and sell high,” I say, which he totally ignores.

“So, are you?” Bryce says.

“Am I what?”

“Drunk?”

“Oh, right.” I tell him no, which is only partially true, but I like the idea of my brother being out twenty bucks. Emma has even more Cheerios on her face now, four by my count. She removes and eats each one systematically while continuing to stare at me.

“What about crazy?” Bryce says. “Are you still crazy? You know, from your breakdown?”

“Did your dad say that, too?”

He nods. “He said you went off the reservation. Did you live on a reservation, like with Indians?”

Jim’s just sitting there in his suit, weaving through traffic, yammering away, and I imagine seizing the wheel and crashing us all into a Taco Bell. “I’m all better now, Bryce,” I say. “Perfectly sane. Nothing to worry about.”

Bryce accepts this and goes back to his very violent-sounding video game. Up ahead, Omaha’s small skyline appears. It looks like someone took a sliver of New York City and airbrushed it.

When Jim is finally done emasculating George, he touches his ear and slaps me on the thigh. We’re not huggers, the Brothers Carter. Whenever we try, it turns into one of those embarrassing hug-handshake hybrids that make white people look so stupid, so we usually just resort to hitting. “What’s up, NYC?” he says.

“New car?” I say.

He rubs the steering wheel. “Few months now. Traded up.”

“White-collar crime is still paying well, then?”

He smiles. “I’d be offended if I thought you had any idea what that even means. How’s the big city treating you?”

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