ďTy?Ē His voice isnít exactly a whisperótoo deep and too course to ever have a real whisperóbut itís quiet, secretive. At first, I donít respond because Iím asleep, and although Iíve been stirred a little from the disturbance of light and the sounds of footsteps, Iím not really awake. At first, thatís why I donít respond. After that, I donít respond because I realize that itís him. Because itís him and heís drunk.
He turns off the hallway light and walks carefully into my bedroom. He sits down on my bed and strokes my hair. Itís supposed to be gently, but his hands are too rough, and the booze makes him clumsy.
I move a bit, like Iíve seen my mom do when sheís napping on the couch and Iím being too noisy. I stir, like Iím still asleep, but not soundly. He sits silently until my breathing evens out. Iím almost asleep for reals when he finally speaks.
Itís that same whisper/not-whisper.
ďI love you, boy. At the end up this fucked-up run we call life, I hope that you at least get that out of it. That I love you. I know IímÖwell, I know Iím not the best there is. I wish you would have been dealt a better hand, really. But this is what you got, and I hope youíre able to do something with it. God knows I hope you do better with yours than I did with mine.Ē
Heís quiet for a while, and then I feel the bed shake, and itís a familiar feel. My mom makes the bed shake this same way on some nights, but her sobs arenít as silent.
ďIím such a loser,Ē he mumbles, and laughs a laugh that doesnít seem like it should be allowed to be called a laugh. Itís quiet and miserable and mean. ďIíve fucked up everything Iíve ever had in life, you know that? I thought when I met your momma, that things were turning around. Turns out, it was just another opportunity for me to fuck up. I tried. I know she ainít gonna tell you that. God knows what sheís gonna tell you. But I did try, Tyler.
ďGot that job at the tire shop, kissiní everybodyís ass: from the customers to the managers to the bastards tryiní to get me to sell their tires. Kiss ass all day, and then I get home, to your momma bitchiní about how we ainít gotta nuff money. Bitchiní Ďbout how sheís tired of waitiní tables. Like Iím liviní the high life and sheís in the trenches. Shit on me.Ē
I hear the sloshing of the liquid and then the bubbling sound as he tips the bottle to his lips and takes several drinks. He belches, and the smell isnít the familiar beer smell. Itís stronger, more acrid. It smells sort of like under the sink, where he keeps his bottle of whiskey. The points of thought connect rapidly: I realize that heís slugging right from the bottle of bourbon tonight, and Iím afraid.
Silence. The minutes stretch out, and I wonder if he has passed out at the foot of my bed. ďBitch haztaÖhazta get in my face. I know you think Iím the bad guy. And prolly I am. But sheís no princess. You know? No princess, either. TheyÖthose rumors, Ďbout her blowiní guys down to the cafť. She does it, too, I bet. She got that new purse. I didnít buy it for her, and you canít get shit like that with food stamps.Ē
He sobs, and it seems more ragged and painful than when my mom does it. Perhaps he has held in the pain longer, perhaps it hurts more to let it out.
ďYou poor liíl guy. I love you so much, and you got no one to look up to. Letís just hope you got someone on TV worth a damn, or in those comic books youíre always readiní, Ďcause there sure as hell ainít no one in this trailer park thatís worth a damn as a role model.Ē
He cries for a bit, and I lay so that he canít see my face, and I stare out the window through the bent blinds. I look at the stars, and wonder if maybe one of them is a planet. Maybe a planet just like this one, with a little boy just like me. But instead of living in this trailer park, he lives in a nice house. And instead of his home smelling like cheap cigarettes and spilled beer and anger and poor, his house smells like cookies and love and washed clothes. And instead of having parents that come in and cry at the foot of his bed while heís supposed to be asleep, he has parents who come in and read him stories from the foot of his bed so he can get to sleep.
And instead of hating the world, maybe thereís a little boy out there who loves it.
He finishes up his crying, and takes another drink from the bottle. He dries his eyes and laughs that shouldnít-be-allowed-to-be-a-laugh laugh again. He stands up and leaves my room, trying to pull the door closed gently, but instead, slamming it. I hear his footsteps thud down the small hallway, towards the bedroom at the end of the trailer.
When he gets there, there will be noises. Noises of lust or anger or violence. I donít know which, and I donít want to know.
I curl my pillow around my head, and I close my eyes as tight as I can, and I try to fall asleep before the footsteps reach the end of the hall.
I think about that little boy, wherever he is, and for just a moment, I hate him. But then I imagine that he is my long-lost brother, and that he has come to take me back to the right planet. The right life.
The footsteps fade away as I think about my new life, and I barely hear my motherís voice as she tells him to leave her alone.
My new family rushes to meet my brother and I as soon as weíre out of the spaceship, and they have laughter and hugs and tears of joy instead of tears of anger and regret.
As I tip into sleep, my last thought is that laughing and crying sound a lot alike when youíre too tired to care.