Home > Doomed (Damned #2)(8)

Doomed (Damned #2)(8)
Chuck Palahniuk

“Dear Diary,” I’d write, “today I sucked mind-altering lungfuls of Maui Wowie through a bong filled with bubbling, lukewarm elephant semen.…” It saddens me, in retrospect, how easily my parents accepted the reality of my wanton bestiality. “Dear Diary,” I’d write, “today I ingested LSD and gave loving hand jobs to a herd of wildebeests.…”

Yes, on paper I was a libertine. However, secret repressed snob that I truly was, while my mom and dad imagined me in sticky twosomes and threesomes with donkeys and capuchin monkeys, I was in fact nestled in some dirty laundry hamper, reading historical romances by Clare Darcy. Most of my childhood consisted of this sort of double-entry behavioral accounting.

“Dear Diary, what a hangover!” I wrote. “Please remind me to never mainline stale hyena urine with a dirty needle ever again! I was awake all night, standing over my sleeping parents with a Wusthof butcher knife in one hand. Had either of them stirred I’m certain I would’ve hacked them both to bloody ribbons.…”

Me? In hindsight I’d made the same strategic mistake Charles Manson made. I should’ve quit while I was just a garden-variety animal-sex-and-drug addict, but, no, I had to escalate my status to potential knife-wielding psycho.… Small wonder that it was shortly after that particular diary entry that my folks sent my eleven-year-old sexually incorrigible self packing to tedious upstate.

DECEMBER 21, 8:47 A.M. EST

A Prelude to My Exile

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Gentle Tweeter,

I wasn’t always a great, fat pudding of a child. As an eleven-year-old I was rail thin. A mere sylph of a girl, with a body-mass index that hovered just above all my major organs failing. Yes, I’d once been a willowy pint-size ballerina with the metabolism of a hummingbird, and as such I gave good value. My job was to serve as the child equivalent of arm candy, proof of my mother’s fertility and my father’s glorious genetic legacy, smiling beside my parents in paparazzi photographs.

And then they sent me to live upstate. The distant memory curdles in my brain.

Upstate. Tedious upstate. It’s one of the few places my parents don’t own a home. Picture a million-billion wounded trees weeping drops of maple syrup into the snow, and—voilà—you have upstate. Envision a billion-billion ticks infected with Lyme disease and waiting to bite you.

And not to speak in unkind generalities, but using my mom’s laptop, the eleven-year-old me found a satellite photo of the location. Seen in its entirety, upstate is exactly the same mottled green-on-green as army surplus camouflage. From outer space I could trace the line of State Route Whatever forging a vital transportation link between nowhere and nowhere. I read the names of towns, looking for anyplace famous, and the truth hit me.… There on the map was Woodstock.

Woodstock, NY. Vile Woodstock. Forgive me for what I’m about to admit. For my part I shudder to broach the topic, but my parents first met at Woodstock ’99, where everyone rioted over the price of pizza and bottled water in the center of those thousand noxious acres of overpopulated mud. My mom was just a na*ed farm girl encased in sweat and patchouli. My dad was a pale, na*ed dropout from MIT with long greasy dreadlocks, who’d shaved off his pubic hair to look more like the Buddha. Neither of them owned a single pair of shoes.

They fell into a puddle and did the Hot Nasty. His wiener got mud in her woo-woo and she got a UTI, and they got married.

Who says magic doesn’t happen?

Nowadays they tell the story, switching off in tag-team fashion, making strangers laugh at wrap parties and in television green rooms. They stress the mud detail because it gives a self-effacing verisimilitude to the sordid episode.

And, yes, I know the meaning of verisimilitude—I can even pronounce it.

As a Somali maid had packed my suitcases, my mother checked each article of clothing for any dry-clean-only labels. Apparently people upstate did laundry by beating their dirty Vivienne Westwood basques between flat rocks on riverbanks. They didn’t have sashimi, either. Nor did they have Internet access, my mother explained. At least, my grandparents did not. Nor did they own a television. Instead, they harbored livestock. Not animals in some distant, abstract sense, like the downward-spiraling number of polar bears or the baby harp seals that lolled on some arctic ice floe, ripe for the Eskimo clubbing; no, these would be nanny goats and chick-chicks and moo-cows that I would tend as part of a daily chore regimen.

Ye gods.

No amount of pleading could stay my banishment, and I was summarily placed in the back of a Lincoln Town Car and whisked off, the whole of one smallish suitcase dedicated just to carrying my ample provisions of Xanax. That summer, at the tender age of eleven, I would learn to swallow my fear. To choke down my pride and my anger. And that would be the last time my mother could boast a skinny daughter.

DECEMBER 21, 8:51 A.M. EST

Papadaddy One

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Gentle Tweeter,

Early on, my papadaddy conscripted me in his ongoing campaign against biodiversity. His strategy was that we two crouch in the harsh upstate sunshine and excise every trespassing native plant from a portion of my nana’s vegetable garden, leaving only the nonnative green beans. While we labored shoulder to shoulder, plucking, uprooting, endeavoring to create a questionable monoculture of legumes, he asked me, “Maddy? Dumpling? Do you believe in fate?”

I made no reply.

Still he pressed his topic. “What would you say if every iota of your life was predestined before you was even born?”

I continued to not engage. Clearly he was trying to enroll me in some demented existentialist worldview.

He paused in his weed pulling and turned his wrinkled face to regard me. “What do you know about God and Satan?” An upstate breeze ruffled the strands of his gray hair.

Without meeting his gaze, I killed a weed. I spared a bean plant. I felt like God.

“You know, don’t you, that God and Satan got themselves a feud going?” He glanced around as if to confirm we were alone. No one would overhear. “If I told you a secret, do you promise not to tell your nana?”

I yanked another weed. I promised nothing. Instead, I girded my girlish loins for some hideous revelation.

“What if I told you,” he continued, unbidden, “that you was born the greatest human being who’ll ever live?” He asked, “What if your destiny was to patch things up between God and Satan?”

DECEMBER 21, 8:53 A.M. EST

A Politically Incorrect Feast

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Gentle Tweeter,

If you must know, my papadaddy and nana’s isolated upstate farmhouse consisted of a book-lined parlor … two cramped bedrooms … a primitive kitchen … none but a single bathroom. Of the two bedrooms one had been my mother’s, and now it would serve as mine. As I’d been warned, they did not own a television nor any sort of a computer. They did own a telephone, but only of the most rudimentary rotary-dial sort.

A typical luncheon would find me seated at the kitchen table, confronted by a plate filled with my worst eleven-year-old’s nightmare. Veal, for example. Or cheese sourced from nonunion, slave-labor Central Americans. Factory-farmed pork. Gluten. I could taste the spores of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. I could smell the aspartame tested on lab monkeys. When I ventured to ask whether the beef had come from cattle raised on slash-and-burn-decimated Amazon rain forest, my nana merely looked back at me. She lit another cigarette and shrugged. To buy some time I dropped my fork to my plate and launched into a droll recounting of what had happened to me the previous month at Barbra Streisand’s house party, really the most madcap mishap at Babs Streisand’s lavish beachfront villa on Martha’s Vineyard—

The telephone rang in the parlor, and Nana rushed to answer it. Her voice as thin as an odor, from the next room she said, “Huh-lo?” The springs of the sofa squeaked as she took a seat. She said, “Well, I don’t ever buy the cotton balls. I’m more likely to buy the cotton swabs.” She fell silent, then said only, “Blue.” After a beat of quiet listening she said, “Mint.” She said, “Married, for some forty-four years, now.” She said, “One child, our girl, Camille.” She coughed the words, “I was sixty-eight June last.” Adding, “Assembly of Brethren in Christ.”

Alone in the kitchen with my truncated Streisand anecdote, I didn’t eat a bite. I flung my tortured cutlet through the open window above the sink.

Likewise, dinner revealed a plateful of dolphin-unsafe tuna casserole. The piquant flavor of Japanese drift nets was unmistakable. Not ten words into my droll yarn about Toni Morrison, the telephone rang yet again.

My nana went to answer it, and from the parlor I heard her say, “Babette, ain’t it? Yeah, I’d be happy to answer a few questions.…”

As before, I tossed the offensive meal out the kitchen window, making it a present to some less scrupulous rural mammal. The world was crowded with attractively starving children my parents could adopt, and I was not going to twiddle my thumbs upstate, guzzling gravy and getting too fat to be anything but a handicap to my mother’s public image.

That became the pattern of our meals. My Nana Minnie would serve me some creamed corn of politically dubious origin—obviously loaded with butter containing conjugated linoleic acid—and I’d tell a shaggy-dog story about Tina Brown until the phone rang with some telemarketer or survey taker. Dinnertime meant my nana sitting on the parlor sofa saying the word “radiation,” saying “chemotherapy” and “stage four” and “Leonard” into the telephone receiver. Where she couldn’t see, in the kitchen, I’d be sailing my fattening meal, meatball by meatball, mushroom by mushroom, out the open window. Thinking: Leonard?

Papadaddy Ben was seldom home, always running some errand that took longer than you’d expect. At times I thought my nana raced to the phone because she hoped he would call. Or that my mother would. But the caller was never anybody; it was merely some market research slave named Leonard or Patterson or Liberace phoning from God knew where.

Just once I beat Nana Minnie to the ringing phone. She was washing dishes, both hands plunged into sudsy sink water up to her elbows, and she asked me to pick it up. Giving a labored sigh, I left my plate of not-fair-trade, nonsustainable pecan pie and went to the parlor. I put the telephone receiver to my ear, and it smelled like cigarette smoke, like my nana’s coughing, and I said, “Ciao!” A silence followed. For an instant I thought it might be my mother calling to check up on me, but a voice asked, “Madison?”

It was a male voice. A young man, possibly a teenager. Definitely not Papadaddy Ben. Half laughing, he said, “Maddy? It’s me, Archer!”

He was nobody I knew, and I froze him out. As my nana followed me into the parlor, drying her hands on a threadbare towel and slinging it over her shoulder, I asked the phone, “Have we been introduced?”

“Give it a couple years, killer,” the boy said, adding, in the deeper tone of a conspirator, “Did you tear off anybody’s dick today?” And then he laughed outright. He laughed and laughed and laughed.

And as slow as tai chi, I handed the smoke-smelling receiver to my nana.

DECEMBER 21, 8:55 A.M. EST

Papadaddy Two

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Gentle Tweeter,

On another occasion my papadaddy enlisted me as his accomplice as he plundered the not-hatched offspring from beneath the feathery bottoms of domestic poultry. We made the rounds of a ramshackle hut where the chickens were quartered, and ruthlessly stole their future generations. All the while he grilled me: “You ever stop and consider how your ma and pa got themselves so rich so fast?”

My hands burdened with the basket of looted eggs, I merely shrugged.

He pressed his point. “How come every investment they make pays off?” Without waiting for a response, he explained, “Well, Sunshine, when your ma was your age she got herself a guardian angel named Leonard. Regular as clockwork he called her on the telephone.” Talking, he continued to loot nests. “She come to me and said as much. She was just a teenager when she told me her angel gave her the lucky number for a lottery ticket. She asked for me to buy it. Some stranger calling from gosh knows where … what was I to believe? Her ma believed her.”

Unthwarted by my failure to engage, he continued. “Her guardian angel, Leonard, even today he still calls her up. Angels can do that. It don’t matter where in the world she’s at; he finds her. Calls her direct. Calls your pa, too.”

I busied myself by inspecting a particularly speckled eggshell.

“It’s that Leonard,” my Papadaddy Ben insisted. “He’s the one who demanded they send you to us for the summer.”

That detail, Gentle Tweeter, arrested my eleven-year-old attention. I returned his rheumy gaze.

“You’re not supposed to know,” he said. His voice dropped to a whisper. “But you got a big showdown this summer with the forces of evil.”

My eyes must’ve betrayed my confusion.

“You didn’t know, did you, Honey Bun?” His complexion testified to a lifetime of neglected skin care.

No, I did not. A showdown? With evil?

“Well,” he stammered, “now you know.” His gnarled hands foraged in the straw of a nest and brought forth another egg. This new plunder he set in my basket, saying, “It’s best not to worry your little head about it too much.”

DECEMBER 21, 8:57 A.M. EST

Embarking on a Bon Voyage

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Gentle Tweeter,

The summer I spent on my nana’s farm upstate offered no end of diversions. Amusement could be found in, for example, shelling peas or shucking corn. A scintillating plethora of cherries offered themselves for the ready pitting. I breathlessly complained that I simply did not know where to begin.

A lurching husk of weathered human skin, her jawline and upper arms replete with flapping wattles, my Nana Minnie stood over her electric stove. She fiddled with the appliance’s complicated heat controls while the lid of a pot vented so much steam that the kitchen air shimmered, as sweltering hot as that of any Turkish hamam. Scads of local fruits had been slaughtered and arrayed about the counter-tops in differing stages of being skinned and dressed, and every work surface felt sticky with the dried blood of their flesh. Peaches, disemboweled of their stones, filled a large crockery bowl. Other fruits, apples, had been dismembered and embalmed in glass jars for their root-cellar interment. The aforementioned steam condensed on the walls, collecting into rivulets. It dripped from the ceiling. Busy amid all this butchery, my nana squinted at her grim labors, and, talking around the cigarette clamped between her pale lips, she told me: “Sweet Pea, darling, you’re underfoot. Go and entertain yourself.”

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