It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of madness when you’ve got a name like Brown.
That goes with the territory, of course, the land of the toy piano and the empty mailbox, the sketchy gauntlet of sinister trees and greedy sidewalks, sequestering their stolen treasures, their kite and ice cream cone holdings, a booty for the next shrink who writes me in his datebook.
I’m cursed. Have been since I was a boy. I’m not blind to the fact.
But self-awareness is the gift that burdens. No one can alter the course of things, not even a Van Pelt.
I’ve watched my life take its path of obviousness, the ache of childhood twisted into the gut-punch of adolescence, beaten down by the numbing drone of adulthood, scared shitless by the dawning realization of middle age and what horror lies beyond. I sit on the curb when the sink is full of empty bottles and I imagine what loss and tribulation breathes just over the grassy knoll, the steam of inevitable despair issuing from a maw wet with saliva, its teeth like arrowheads, assembled across bleeding gums, ripe with Halloween poison.
What good is a name when you have no one to share it? How long before the lonely heart eats itself, straining its neck to gnash at what ails it?
Lonely only gets more so. I’ve spent a lifetime with it, watching it grow, feeling it take on weight, its dull, lint-lined tongue filling my ear with unimpeachable certitude, the truth of the downward crawl into the damp trench, the eternal picture of a long face, deep in a leather mitt, staring through a rainy window.
I am Brown, as my parents, rest their souls, were Brown, as my sister was a Brown, before the scar tissue ran her arms, before the promise-maker who smelled like a turned field dragged her to the magistrate’s office and made her take his filthy name. Then, soon after, leaving her for the gulls, stuffed behind a rocky alcove, her socks balled into her torn mouth.
There has been a certain pageant running at the corner of my life, ever since I was a top-heavy scribble stuck in the crib. It is a festival I can never see, only hear, a muffled chorus of joy, teasing my wafer ears, while I sniff at the breeze, my thimble-nose tasting its hot-buttered appetite. I have dreamed of this wonderful place so often that it seems more real than the four walls that reflect the depressing glow of my television set on calendar holidays. I know that everyone else goes there, revels in everything it has to offer, sups of its nectar, dines on the flesh about its heart.
They avoid me with their eyes for this very reason. The people who people this place, this chain of hastily-delineated bungalows, bushes, and vanishing sidewalks. They never include me on their invitations. They whisper my name, voices trailing when I approach, leaving silent frames, arms still gesturing, like autumnal tress undressing in the wind.
Time has drawn me a reality, one corralled by its own dependency on sequence, each movement of the soul framed like a picture, isolated, yet connected, a blind narrative of repeating nights, difficult mornings, shakings in the bathroom, habits best left unsaid, dreams pinned between glass and screen like last summer’s flies. I am forever the glyph of sadness, the vessel of this traveling despair, fingering through the ruins of hope, dashed to splinters on the shores of my own wreckage, a balding pouch of desperate dignity and humbled masculinity.
I am the sorry soul at the bottom of entertainment’s well, the slouch-necked canvasser of the pavement crack, the trodden gum, the missed bus, the picnic in a storm. Upon the jagged rails of my disenchantment are hung the echoes of their glory, the shower of coin, the ruffle of counting bills, the rubbing of gilded beams.
I am good bank, I know, I pay well all those who line their passage with my sighs, the cries of my anguish, the dancing radiator of my twisted mouth. Upon my misery a foundation has been built, bread and butter sold, insurances made, grievances settled, beagles lionized.
I have seen the rosy blush of the nuclear age, the turbulence of new freedoms and ancient crimes, the interior of greed, the vice of patriotism, the bludgeoning beat of tradition, and the cold, cold hand of God.
I rose from the inky pits, first a graphite blur, chased across white plains by the creator’s hand, rubbed out in his despair, that which was the font of my own, father to son, son to father, syndicate to ground, designated victim of the pitching mound.
I am Brown, the color of mud, even on Sundays, when the press runs red, the paper yellow, the newsroom blue, my shirt gold, a sun setting behind every hill, as I pace away the days, returning to my empty home, the vacant dog house in the somber yard, its roof pocked red, before a scratched door the rusty dish of yesterday’s rain.
From many gourds have I fashioned the face of doom, the breath beyond the hill, the whispered carnival, the cool glass about the hockey rink, the reflection of a boy dumped to his shorts, bent on his knees, a miserable arch, a heavy heart beneath a blanket of hurtful laughter.
Offer me bacon, steal the pig, a trope I know well, the sporting mania of the raven-haired vulture who still feeds on my grief, whose brother curses my street with his drive-bys, offering no security, controlling the price of each fix when I am broken, my erratic pulse nearing a flattened line.
All of this I know is so. And yet, when I go, when my wallow is worn, my five-cent philosophy a bitter brand of lemonade, my limbs divided by the hounds of time, when I find that final panel of regret awaiting me, a plot thickened with tired blood, only then will they say I was a worthy man, a good soul, the sort who could bring a smile, dimple a cheek, soften an eye.
Only then will they meet my gaze, as I pass, on my way, heading towards the eating tree.