There will come a time (very soon I hope) where I’ll have the opportunity to share my book with you in its entirety. But in the interim, I thought I might commemorate the holiday weekend by giving you just a little taste.
Printed below you will find the first chapter. Here’s hoping that it whets the appetite… Because an entire five-course meal is on its way.
Please to enjoy,
“‘For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.”
– Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun
Caleb Worthington was so sick and fucking tired of waiting. He’d been a teenager for going on four years now, and he’d spent nearly every waking moment waiting for something. There was the abstract, big picture stuff like “waiting to become an adult” (whatever that meant) or “waiting for the day he understood girls” (if that was even possible). But it was the smaller, more incremental stuff that really got to him.
Like take his first pubic hair for example. It took 13 years, three weeks, and six days for it to finally appear. And that wasn’t even the worst part. He had to wait an additional three days before the second, third, and fourth pubes decided to show up, which meant that he’d spent an anxiety-ridden 72-hour period wondering whether he’d be known for the rest of his life as “The Genetic Freak with One Pube”.
And that was just the beginning. He’d waited (quietly) for his voice to stop squeaking like a dog’s rubber chew toy. He’d waited (and waited) for a growth spurt, which had finally come the previous summer, thereby rescuing him from life as a Hobbit and (temporarily) preserving his fantasy of one day playing in the NBA. And he was still waiting for the day when he’d be able to grow a thicker mustache than his grandmother.
His life was a giant calendar that extended infinitely out into the future, each day filled not with appointments or plans, but with question marks. How long would he have to wait to kiss a girl for the first time? Or to touch a boob? Or to finish inside something other than an old gym sock? The only way to find out was to wait.
More than anything, though, Caleb waited for the day when he’d be free. Free of the daily mounds of homework his teachers threw at him. Free of a social ecosystem that he neither fit into nor understood. Free of his mom’s proprietary blend of over-protectiveness and nagging. Free of, well… All of it.
He knew it was just a pipe dream, of course. Being a teenager was like living in a totalitarian dictatorship. You went to school when you were told. You did your chores when you were told. And you spent half your fucking life waiting for the bus.
It felt like Caleb was always waiting for the bus. And today was no different.
There he stood with all the other pathetic, license-less freshmen and sophomores, watching the upperclassmen whiz past in their cars, blaring music, smoking cigarettes and reminding him of everything that he wasn’t.
And the waiting was only made worse by the relentless, late afternoon sun. Caleb’s ash-gray T-shirt featured pit stains the size of Lake Tahoe, and there was a reservoir of sweat slowly pooling in the boxers beneath his black jeans. It felt like he was standing in a tide pool.
But just when Caleb was about to reach his breaking point… Just when it felt like he couldn’t wait another fucking second… It happened.
He heard it first: the sound of the motorcycle’s engine ripping through the parking lot like a chainsaw. And then there he was, idling in front of him on his jet black TT 650 Triumph: his dad flashed a half-smile, his beard inching up the right side of his face.
“What’ya waitin’ for, kiddo?” he said. “A written invitation?”
Caleb turned to the braces-riddled freshman standing next to him: was this really happening? Her awed, metallic smile suggested that it was.
“Sh- Shouldn’t I wear a helmet?” Caleb asked, hesitating ever so slightly.
“Not unless you plan on ratting me out to your mother,” his dad smirked.
It was all the reassurance the boy needed. Without another thought, he hopped on the back of the bike and wrapped his arms around his father’s midsection. And just like that, the waiting was over.
The motorcycle shot out of the parking lot like a missile. A moment later, Caleb’s dad was weaving the bike through traffic, passing the many cars that had passed the boy just a few minutes earlier.
Caleb felt the wind in his face, and the life-force of his father radiating in front of him. And suddenly, he was transported back to his childhood. Back to when he’d sit atop his father’s shoulders – on top of the world – weaving through the crowd after a 49ers’ game.
A red light turned green, and the motorcycle took off down the Alameda in a blur.
This must be what it feels like to be a man, Caleb thought. This must be what it feels like to—
Suddenly, Caleb heard the screech of the bus’ brakes, and he was right back at the bus stop:
Backpack weighing him down. Sweat pooling in his boxers. Waiting.
The bus’ doors folded opened, and the herd of the car-less began to push past him, as he stood there in a daze, trying to stave off reality for a few more seconds. He could still hear the roar of the motorcycle’s engine in the distance.
“Hey! You comin’ or what?” the bus driver shouted, stamping out the daydream once and for all.
“Yeah,” Caleb said, “sorry.”
There was no motorcycle. Of course there wasn’t. Caleb hadn’t seen his dad in almost five years.
* * *
“Did you check your mirrors?”
“Are you sure?”
With each question, Caleb felt his body grow tenser. He fidgeted in the driver’s seat, avoiding eye contact at all costs. As a teenage boy, the only thing more emasculating than being given a driving lesson by your mom was being given a driving lesson by your mom in an empty parking lot – in a mini-van. It was like driving a boat. With a vagina.
“So, what’s behind us?” his mom asked.
“I want you to tell me what’s behind us.”
Instinct took over and Caleb turned 100 degrees in his seat to look out the back of the car the old fashioned way. Given his mom’s tone, he half-expected to see a pack of wild dogs behind them. But all he saw was more parking lot and a few unoccupied office buildings in the distance.
“In the mirror, Caleb! Look in the mirror.”
Caleb wasn’t sure which mirror she was talking about, so he tried to look everywhere at once.
“I have a glob of mascara in the corner of my eye,” she said, leaning in to get a better look. “And you know how I know that? Because the rear-view mirror is pointed directly at me. So, I’ll ask you again: did you check your mirrors?”
Janice used a tissue to stamp out the rogue mascara. It didn’t matter whether she was in an abandoned office park or at a restaurant sitting across from (yet another) first date, Caleb’s mother always wore eye make-up. “Show me a woman with a smoky eye, and I’ll show you a man who burns with desire for her,” her stomach-curdling motto went.
“Well?” his mom said, her “smoky” eyes back on him.
Annoyed, Caleb yanked the rearview mirror in his general direction.
“There,” he said, the parking lot now stretching out behind him in the mirror’s reflection – only slightly askew.
“What do I always tell you, honey?”
Janice leaned over and tweaked the mirror another quarter of an inch. Caleb’s entire body clenched. He was ready to explode… But he said nothing.
“Caleb, what do I always tell you?”
Caleb mumbled something unintelligible through gritted teeth.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Safety is no accident.”
“Exactly. Now, let’s put the car in gear, but remember to keep your foot firmly pressed against the brake, okay…?”
Instead, Caleb closed his eyes in the hope that he might re-open them and magically find himself somewhere else. Anywhere else. It wasn’t just his mom breathing down his neck. Or the mini-van. It was simpler than that: he was scared shitless. He was probably the only 16-year-old on the planet who wanted no part of learning how to drive.
“You are such a pussy, Worthington.”
The words of Caleb’s long-time nemesis, Bryan Byrnes, echoed through his head. Bryan took every opportunity to remind Caleb of his “pussy-dom”, and he’d had more than a few chances, as the two had been classmates since junior high. Over time, the sentiment gradually drilled down deeper and deeper into Caleb’s psyche until it was no longer just a childish insult; it was an accepted reality.
“Caleb,” his mom said, “are you listening to me?”
“What did I say?”
“You said to keep my foot on the brake when I put the car in drive.”
But even that didn’t satisfy her. When Caleb finally reached for the gear shift, Janice pressed her hand against his knee to ensure that he maintained sufficient contact with the brake pedal.
“Mom, I can do it myself.”
“Go ahead. Put the car in gear, honey.”
Caleb shifted the car from Park down to Drive.
“Let go of my leg.”
Caleb’s eye-line moved from the parking lot down to his lap, as he bucked against his mother’s grip. He pushed his knee into her hand causing his foot to come off the brake pedal. The car began to roll forward.
“Put your foot back on the brake!”
“Let go of my leg!”
The moment his mom’s hand came off his knee, Caleb’s right foot rushed back toward the floor and connected with a pedal… The gas pedal.
The mini-van lurched forward with a screech. As the car picked up speed, a strange mix of adrenaline and terror rushed through Caleb’s body. A panicked Janice reached over and grabbed the steering wheel, causing the car to swerve wildly to the right.
“Brake! Hit the brake!”
But Caleb couldn’t hit the brake. His foot felt like it was super-glued to the gas. His vision was starting to blur. And all he knew for sure was that there was a baby tree encased in a cement planter rushing toward him at warp speed.
To be continued…