House but not home (part two of series)

"How did I get here?", thought Al. He looked around the room, he looked at the girl in the bed next to him. Oh, right. Sandy, her dorm room, the university, 2 a.m. He vaguely remembered taking Sandy out to the teen night club here in the city earlier that evening, shortly after unloading his mother's moving van.

"How did I get here?", he repeated to himself, sitting up on the bed. This time he was thinking about his life. By outward appearances, things were going well. He started college the day after tomorrow, he'd just finished a summer job at the dog-food factory and his pockets bulged with money, he had his own car, he had a closet full of new, in style, clothes (the weird, colorful things people wore in the '80s), yes things looked like they were going well.

In the morning his mother, grandfather, and he were making the drive from Middle-of-Nowhere Nebraska to Deeper-into-Nowhere Iowa. He'd chosen the little church-sponsored liberal-arts college, in spite of better opportunities here at the university, because it was as far from his life as he could get. In spite of outward appearances, life wasn't so good and he would be happy to leave his small town past behind him.

The last thing he truly remembered clearly was coming home to that Nebraska farm town from church camp. As he came through the door that day, almost exactly three years ago, his mother told him his home had exploded. He honestly couldn't remember anything that happened after she made the pronouncement that his father was leaving, at least not clearly. The last three years were a blur. Literally, a blur. He wondered if people who drank a lot - like his father - felt this way.

His father, that's how he had gotten here. Al shouldn't have been surprised when his father left, it was something that had been looming just over the horizon for years. For as long as he could remember, his father worked nights. Oh, he was offered a day shift, but had turned it down many times over the years. He was always sleeping when Al and his brother got up in the morning for school, gone when they got home, and didn't get home until well after they went to bed. Sure, he had weekends off, but that was "his time" - time spent tinkering around in the garage, drinking beer, insisting to be left alone. Long before he packed up and moved out he was already gone. Towards the end, the arguments had become almost continuous, almost always about the drinking.

Al got out of the bed, careful not to wake Sandy. He had to get out of here. He looked distractedly at the crack of light under the dorm room door. He could hear muffled voices, but this was college, someone was always wandering the halls. Technically, they didn't start enforcing the 10 p.m. curfew until the following night, but he was well practiced at sneaking out of girls' rooms. He looked over his shoulder at Sandy's bare back. He thought for a moment about waking her, but then decided against it. He had to track down his brother and get him back to their mother's new apartment sometime before it was time to leave in the morning. He seriously considered the idea of letting John find his own way back. Al sat back on the bed. Yes, he could stay here, enjoy his present company, sneak out in the morning, and blame it all on John for not staying at the night club.

After all, he deserved it, didn't he? If Al's life over the last three years was a horror movie, his brother was the serial killer under the bed. John's reaction to the news of separation, and later divorce, was anger, vandalism, and violence; and Al was his favorite target. John was always bigger, though not taller, and more athletic than Al was. As much as Al was the skinny, pasty, introverted geek, John was the stocky, weight-lifting, football playing athlete. When John got in one of his "moods", Al was the most convenient punching bag for John to relieve his stress upon. Bruised arms, black eyes, and fat lips became a permanent part of Al's high school uniform. The wooden floor of his bedroom (at least it was his bedroom until this morning) was permanently stained with blood.

He stood up again and looked around for his pants. "How did I get here?", this time he said it out loud, cringing as Sandy shifted in the bed. He barely knew this girl, how did he end up in bed with her? Who cares, she was just one of many, though only the second he'd slept with.

Kathy. Now why think of her at a time like this? The twinge of guilt caught him by surprise. Guilt? What did he have to feel guilty for? It's not like she wasn't a willing participant. What was she doing right now? he wondered. Yes, he still cared for her. Some guys never got over their first love - at least until they find true love. He shook his head to get the thoughts of her to clear. That was history.

He'd dated Kathy all through high school, until his senior year anyway.  They never really did break up, her parents took care of that for them. She, quite possibly, was the only person he had known who loved him for being him. In spite of everything he went through, in spite of how poorly he treated himself and his stuff, she stayed by him, spent time with him as much as she could. She wasn't very pretty by everyone else's standards; her hair was long and wiry, her build was short and stocky, and if you got close you could see that she suffered with facial hair, but Al saw past all that and thought she was beautiful. Maybe that's what drew them together, their shared sense of ugliness left both of them needing to be loved and they only satisfied that need with each other.

Much of the pain built up in him over the last three years involved her. Not caused by her, but by others because of her. Everyone in school had a horrible name they called her, and likewise a name for him because he was with her. There were kids that didn't even know his real name, but they knew that nick-name and stabbed him through the heart with it every chance they got. Rumors in a small town spread faster than a grass fire. In spite of what the truth may have been about the physical side of their relationship, the gossip, and the teasing that went with it, was always worse than the name-calling. His brother had become the reigning champion at it.

He tripped over one of his shoes as he reached for his T-shirt hanging on the back of the chair. He caught his balance against the window. Looking out he could see his car, the rusty faded-blue '67 Impala,  parked on the street 6 floors down. "How did I get here?", he said aloud again, his breath fogging against the glass as he exhaled. It was getting colder at night. Maybe his dorm room in Iowa would be warmer.

The thought of leaving Nebraska gave him another twinge in his stomach.  He'd only been out of state a few times and that was for family vacations. Even then they didn't go further than a few hundred miles, always able to get back home within a day's drive. His heart soared at the idea that he could break away and start his life over, but then his heart sank at the thought of leaving home.

Home. It hadn't been home for three years, it was just a house where they lived, and even then nobody wanted to be there. He, his brother, and his mother had all started looking for ways to not be home as much as possible. At some point John had gone to live with their father and his girlfriend, but then had left there to live on his own while he finished high school. Mom had thrown herself into hobbies, self help groups, and boyfriends. Al committed himself to church government and camps, but those only kept him away from home a few days in the summer. Most days and nights Al was alone in the house. He'd been making his own meals, doing his own laundry, and basically taking care of himself for a long time.

Reaching for the doorknob, he shuffled through his keys for his car key. Looking back at the bed he could see Sandy's blond hair over the top of the blanket. He knew this would be the last time he would see her, and he didn't really care. He'd write her when he got to school, but only if he really felt like it. The fewer ties he had to his small town life the sooner he could make a real life for himself. Sandy, like all the other girls before her, were part of that small town life.

All the other girls... that made it sound like there were a lot. In reality there were only a couple that mattered. He'd long ago learned to compartmentalize his church gamp life from his small town Nebraska life. The girls at camp really didn't matter, though they were the reason he went to so many. They were really just an attempt to fill that void he had. Sandy didn't really matter either, she was just filling the gap between high school and college. Her, and Dani, and Sue, they were only helping him kill time this summer. Kathy, she mattered, but he'd never see her again thanks to her parents, and Chris, she mattered, but he'd never see her again, thanks to the fact she was insane.

In his mind's eye he could tour the streets of his home town. Before he got his car he used to ride his bike all over the place. Especially past the girls' houses. Kathy's of course, while they were dating, but Chris' and anyone else he might have had a crush on at one time or another. It was stupid, he knew, but since he had no car at the time and no money, he really had no other way of getting together with them than to "accidentally" run into them. It wasn't like there was any form of entertainment in this town, unless you were old enough to get into the bars. Even if he could talk a girl into a date, without money and a car the only thing to do was hang out... and make out.

How many miles had he ridden on that bike? Hundreds probably, never leaving the 6 block by 6 block area that made up the main portion of town. He knew every inch of every street, not by choice but because over the years he'd had hours to kill and no other way to kill it. Even now he could trace the path in his mind from home to the school, to the church, to the post office, to Kathy's house, to Chris' house.  Every bump in the sidewalk, every barking dog, every low spot that would become a puddle in the rain, was as familiar to him as his own face in the mirror. In his dreams he sometimes still saw himself at the park, sitting at the wooden pic-nic table under the shelter, scratching his initials into the multicolored layers of paint. How could a place he hated so much be so firmly pressed into the clay of his life.

As he opened the door, he turned to look at Sandy one last time. He couldn't really see her in the dark, but that was fine. She was already fading into his past, like the small town he had left behind.

To Be Continued....

Author's note: the events and locations in this narrative are fictionalized versions of experiences from my life. The characters are fictitious and do not represent real people, living or deceased.