Home > We're All Damaged(9)

We're All Damaged(9)
Matthew Norman

I should call Byron. I should tell him where I am and have him yell at me.

Maybe they’re reading—Karen and him—the two of them in our old bed. Or maybe they’re catching up on their DVR. Or maybe she’s on top of him, riding him slowly, biting her lower lip and thinking about how much better he is at sex than I was.

His name is Tyler, by the way. Tyler Sullivan. The fucking ambulance driver.

It’s a cruel fact that if your wife cheats on you, the guy will have a name like Tyler. Something cool—something your parents never would have had the guts to name you.

The funny thing is, as much as it sucks thinking about Tyler Sullivan watching my old TV or fucking my wife, what’s somehow worse is that the house has never looked better. He repainted it. The gutters are all new—the rotting shutters replaced. He resodded the yard and landscaped with flowers and bought all this classy lawn furniture. A garden gnome in a Nebraska football jersey is looking at me.

The bedroom window is open just a crack, and through it I can hear laughter. It stops, and then it starts again. It’s not really laughter, though. It’s Friends.

This is Karen’s nightly routine. She falls asleep to Friends reruns on basic cable. I close my eyes and listen. The words are muffled, so it’s just voices. Chandler’s, then Phoebe’s, then Monica’s, then a big laugh. I think about hundreds and hundreds of nights lying beside her, me in boxers, her in sweatpants.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

I miss her.

“Hey!”

I open my eyes, and he’s standing at the window. Tyler.

“Who’s out there?”

He yanks the window open wider and sticks his head out, all square-jawed and broad-shouldered. I’m hidden in the shadows of my old house, motionless. There’s canned laughter behind him, and he’s not wearing a shirt, of course. Fuck him for that, for not wearing a shirt. Fuck him for protecting the house he stole from me and for trimming his chest hair. Fuck him for this creepy Nebraska garden gnome and for making everything look so much nicer than it was before and for erasing me from existence with a new coat of weather-resistant paint and some mulch.

I stand up and step forward into the moonlight, and for three unbroken seconds Tyler and I stare at each other. My hands are shaking. He takes a breath, like he might yell at me, but then he doesn’t. Instead he just shakes his head.

The melted remains of my Mr. Misty float are airborne before I even realize that I’ve thrown them, and now I’m just an observer, watching the extralarge plastic cup tumble through time and space. When it finally hits the siding, it’s louder than I thought it’d be.

“Hey! Jesus Christ!”

And then I kick the stupid lawn gnome. Its body stays anchored in the grass, but its smiling head pops clean off and sails into the night. I don’t hear it land, though. A dog barks from across the street, and Tyler swears some more. Maybe he’s still up in the window, or maybe he’s coming after me. I don’t know because I am running away.

8

Turn left onto Meadow Lane Park Road.”

It’s Siri on my iPhone, which is helpful, because I have no idea where I am. It’s hard not to detect the judgment in her terse robot-lady voice, though, like she’s been programmed to make me feel like an even bigger dipshit than I already do.

Have you been drinking, Andy?

I’m fine, Siri.

You don’t seem fine, Andy. Would you like me to search for the definition of fine? Or maybe the definition of psycho instead. There it is. Psycho is defined as a person who sits quietly outside of homes that aren’t his anymore and then—

Siri!

I’m not sure how I wanted all that to go down, exactly, but I definitely didn’t want it to go down like that. I’d look, I’d take it all in, and then I’d drive away. Simple. Because, as crazy as it sounds, I needed to see it. I needed to see everything—the house, Tyler’s SUV in the driveway with its shiny wheels, the home improvements, and the new grass. I needed to see her new life. It’s like slowing down to stare at a car accident or picking at a bug bite until it looks like a stab wound. You just have to do it.

Siri guides me through a few more turns, and as I pull onto my parents’ street, things start looking familiar. When she tells me that I am less than a quarter of a mile from my final destination, I see the house in the middle of a dark line of other houses, and I see that it’s lit up like an airport runway. The lights in the yard are on. The front porch, too, and the bedroom lights and the floodlights. It’s a strange thing to see at this time of night. Even stranger is the blonde woman in the black dress standing at the end of the driveway in heels, screaming at a VW Bug.

It’s my mother.

I pull over, running the Caddie up onto the curb.

“I’m calling the police!” she shouts.

Three guys are in the VW, the windows are all rolled down, and they’re laughing.

“Go right ahead, Nancy, call ’em up!” one says.

“Be our guest,” says another.

“Tell ’em hi for us.”

Their voices are over-the-top gay, like characters in a late-night skit. The VW pulls away, and they toss handfuls of glitter out the window. It hangs in the air like swarms of sparkling fireflies. I’m out of the car now, watching this from the curb. My mom kicks her shoes off and starts running after them barefoot. This just makes them laugh more.

“I see your license plate! I’m reporting you to the authorities!”

“Fuck off!” one of them says.

“We’re here, we’re queer . . .” One of them sings this—shouts it, really—then they all yell, “Deal with it, bitch!” in unison.

My mom winds up like a Little League outfielder and throws something. It looks like a shoe, but it can’t be, because it’s flapping and fluttering. It’s a Ken Doll. It misses its mark and skitters across the pavement in its little tuxedo. The sound of their laughter trails off slowly, and when they’re gone, it’s quiet.

The yard is a mess. There are more Ken Dolls than I’ve ever seen—I’d guess a hundred—strewn everywhere. My mom’s “Defend Marriage” sign has been mangled and pulled from the ground, replaced with a new sign, written on pink glossy paper. “Always Wrong! Always Wrong!”

Nancy is leaning against the mailbox, tanner and blonder and skinnier than I’ve ever seen her. She raises her arms up from her sides and they sparkle. Her hair does, too. My mother is glowing in the streetlights. “They glitter-bombed me,” she says.

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