Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chapter 3 ~ Houses

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

A week or two after the correspondence on Instant Messenger about the simultaneous consumption of psilocybin, caffeine, methylenedioxy, and methamphetamine, Eddy showed up at the house to talk. He sat on the bed in the back room, with his shirt off. He appeared to have lost weight since the last time I’d seen him. I attributed this to his new preoccupation with raw food. As far as I knew, he was eating little more than raisens and almonds at the eco-commune in San Mateo where he’d been living for the past four months while attending College of San Mateo.

“Well, that’s all right. Let him experiment,” I thought. Eddy was the kind of child who had been waiting his whole life to become an adult. Now that he was living on his own for the first time, I was grateful that he still wanted to come home and visit us. All the tension that had accompanied our 18-year effort to rein him in seemed to be dissipating. His legs were crossed, Indian fashion, and his hands rested on his knees as if about to meditate. I admired his flexibility before dropping my stiff, thick body into a circular bamboo chair from Cost Plus which was much too big for the narrow room. “Hi Eddy,” I said cheerfully. “It’s good to see you. How’s it going?”

“Okay, Mom,” he smiled graciously, his dusty brown hair brushing his bare shoulders. He adjusted one knee, settled more comfortably on the bed, put his hands palm up in his lap like a guru, and then, with no preamble, asked inexplicably, “What do you think of houses?”

“Houses?” I pulled my eyebrows together and pursed my lips, perplexed.

“Yes, houses. What do you think of them?” Eddy was sitting politely and attentively, so I tried to respond as best I could.

“Well, I like our house. I know some of our neighbors are kind of obnoxious, but it’s close to work and once you get inside…”

“No, I don’t mean our house specifically,” Ed interrupted. “I mean houses in general.”

“In general?” I was confused, but given Eddy’s apparently playful mood, I tried to come up with a reasonable answer. “Well, in general, I think houses are a good investment, particularly in this area. I know buying this house and our first house in Brisbane were the best investments your Dad and I ever made. But some say our housing market is so inflated that it’s due for a crash any day now…”

“No, Mom. That’s not what I mean either,” Ed interrupted again. “What do you think of the fact that people live in houses?”

“Oh,” I hesitated, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, but tiring of the guessing game. Was he deliberately trying to mislead me? Or just being vague by accident? “Houses are good,” I said finally. “They’re one of our basic human needs. Food, shelter, and clothing…right? Every human being needs shelter.”

“Did you know that if everyone in the world had a house like the kind we have here it would destroy the planet?”

“Really? No. I hadn’t thought about that, but I guess you’re right. It’s true our houses have been getting bigger and bigger, while our families are getting smaller and smaller. But our house isn’t really that big, compared to some.”

“Yes, it’s big,” Ed disagreed with me. “It’s fucking humongous.” He was starting to get irritated, despite his meditative posture. A tendon on his forearm stood out and the brown skin of his belly tightened. His eyes seemed to grow darker in color. A vein in his forehead pulsed.

But if he was irritated, so was I. “What’s the problem, Eddy? Why are you telling me this?” I asked aggressively. “What is it that you want? Are you saying that you think we should move to another house?”

Ed laughed. “Sure, it would be a good idea for you and Dad to move, too, but that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I’m moving.”

“Oh, I know that!” I laughed a little uncertainly. “You’re moving to Berkeley--to a co-op, right?”

Through a roundabout route, Eddy had managed to be accepted by UC Berkeley as a junior, even though he was only 18. He’d taken the California Proficiency Exam to get out of high school early, and been attending junior college for a year (while living at home), and a half (while on his own). He’d gotten a high SAT score and written a brilliant application essay. When we’d gotten the news in March that he’d been accepted to the same prestigious four-year university that his more-studious older sister attended—the university that every bright middle-class student in the Bay Area wanted to attend (the upper class preferred Stanford)—we were very excited and proud. But no one was prouder than his father. Now Lawrence told anyone who would listen that he had two children at Berkeley. On job applications, when explaining his gap in employment, he’d claim he’d been busy “shepherding” his children into Berkeley. He wore a Berkeley sweatshirt even when it wasn’t cold. Ed had one more month to go before finishing the spring semester at College of San Mateo, but, presuming he passed all his classes, he was scheduled to enroll at Berkeley in the fall, and, last we heard, was planning to move into a student-run co-op over the summer. I felt relived that the topic of our conversation had finally been revealed.

“You’ll be using less resources in a big house full of a lot of people,” I smiled encouragingly.

“No, not to a co-op,” he stopped me once more, frustration creeping into his voice. “I’m moving to the forest. But I need you to buy me a few things first.”

“To the forest? What forest?” I was perplexed. “I thought you were going to UC Berkeley,” I said with some alarm.

Yes, I am,” he spoke very slowly and carefully. “I’m going to UC Berkeley in the fall, and in preparation, I’m moving to the forest behind UC Berkeley.”

“The forest behind UC Berkeley?” I asked stupidly, stunned. “You can’t live there, Eddy. That isn’t a forest. That’s a park.”

“A park? A park!?” he exploded, suddenly enraged at my objection to his plan. “That’s not a park! There are acres and acres of open space. There are other people who live there, and I am moving there, too. I’ve been thinking about this for months, Mom. I know exactly what I need to live off the land and not harm the planet. There’s a lightweight tent I want to buy, a hammock, some cookware, some special pellets that you put into water to make sure it’s safe to drink. ”

“Edward.” I tried to calm him with the steady tone of my voice. “Wait a minute. Calm down. What about your classes?”

“I’m going to go to my classes.”

“You are? What about your computer? Where are you going to plug that in? How are you going to do your homework?” I worked to keep my voice quiet. The idea was preposterous. Surely he would see that.

“I can take it to the library, or to a restaurant. There are plenty of places to plug in a laptop.” He spoke in a condescending tone, calmer but still angry, as if I was either an idiot or being willfully stubborn. His determination began to alarm me. Something about his voice reminded me of childhood scenes with my sometimes-crazy father. He seemed full of an unnatural arrogance, as if everybody on the planet was grossly inferior to him. He wasn’t registering my objections at all.

“Eddy, why are you talking like this?” I tried to exude reason. “Of course you can’t live in Tilden Park while you’re going to UC Berkeley. What about showers? How are you going to stay clean?”

“I’ll use showers at the co-op. Or I’ll go to a friend’s house.”

“Use the showers at the co-op? But you won’t be living there! They’re not going to let a stranger just walk in off the street and take a shower whenever he feels like it.” My voice rose in spite of myself.

“What do you know?” Ed scoffed. “Yes they will! I’ve been there. They’re just a bunch of kids!” Now he was angry again. “No one’s paying any attention, Mom. They aren’t grown ups who have to control everything. They aren’t afraid of anything new. No one will care if I come in and take a shower!”

Ed was shouting again and I felt suddenly frightened. It seemed as if he had climbed aboard a big balloon of anger that was feeding rage directly into his spinal cord. His arms shot out, sinewy and hostile. His eyes flared. His stature got bigger and bigger as anger puffed up his chest, his neck and shoulders.

“Where are you going to take a shit?” I shouted back at him, trying to match his intensity, to puncture his balloon. But my voice slurred with tears from the back of my throat. Ed’s face and body looked scary, unfamiliar. He seemed unmoored, floating above the bed in a miasma of his own making, unable to hear reason or see his own mother in front of him.

“In the forest!” he shouted at me. “There couldn’t be anything more natural! We should all be shitting in the forest!” I looked at him incredulously. “I’m not shitting that much anyway,” he added incidentally, suddenly and inexplicably calm, “because of my new diet.”

“Eddy,” I spoke deliberately as I got up out of the chair and began walking slowly towards the door. “You’re talking like a crazy person. You’re making me very unhappy. You’re sounding just like my father used to when he was out of his mind. Of course you can’t live in the woods and go to UC Berkeley,” I pronounced quietly. I moved toward the door but Eddy shot from the bed to stand in front of the opening, blocking my passage.

“Get out of my way,” I said sternly.

“I’m not crazy, Mom,” his voice was sinewy, wheedling. “Just because this idea is new to you doesn’t mean it’s insane. Think about it. This is what everyone should be doing. We can’t sustain life on the planet living the way we do.”

“Okay Ed,” I said tiredly, “you may be right, but this isn’t the time or place for you to do this. You can’t do this in Berkeley, an urban environment. You can’t do this when you are going to school. Please get out of my way, now. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” I put my hand on his arm and tried to move him aside.

“Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” his eyes fired as he jerked his arm away from me, still not moving from the doorway. “I can do this! I’ve thought it through. Every little thing that's happened to me in the last three months, I've asked myself ‘how would I handle this if I didn’t have an apartment? What would I do in this situation without a house?’ I’ve studied it. I have all the answers. I’m serious, Mom. Give me some credit! Don’t treat me like I’m 12 years old!”

“Fine!” I was exasperated. “You want to be homeless, go be homeless! I can’t stop you. You’re a grown up. But don’t ask me for money to finance your experiment.” I was growing hysterical from a feeling of entrapment. “Now get out of the fucking doorway! Let me out of this room!”

Ed looked down at me a moment before moving aside, then trailed after me as I stomped off to my room. “I’ve been thinking about this for months and you’ve only been thinking about it for five minutes!” he yelled at my back. “I know what I’m doing. I just need a thousand dollars for some camping equipment.”

“A thousand dollars?!” I snorted. I couldn’t believe the sum.

Eddy hounded me into my bedroom, where Lawrence was lying on the bed with his laptop perched on his stomach, keeping track of an auction for a bicycle on ebay.

“Eddy wants $1,000 to buy camping equipment so he can become a homeless person,” I explained before crawling in bed beside him and pulling the blankets up to my nose.

Lawrence laughed delightedly.

Eddy sat on the bed and composed himself for the assault. “Listen Dad,” he began quietly, keeping his voice in control. “We’re raping the planet. You can’t deny that. But we don’t have to. I just want to live in the forest so I don’t harm anything.”

“Where? In Berkeley?”

“Yes. Behind the campus.”

“What, are you going to leave little pieces of toilet paper on the bushes in Tilden Park?” he laughed again. His fingers were still poised above the keyboard, his gaze was lifted only slightly from the screen.

“Look Dad. I won’t use toilet paper. I’ll use leaves,” Eddy laughed a little too, in spite of himself. “I just need a thousand dollars for a tent and some equipment.

This time Lawrence put the laptop aside. “Look, Ed, if you want to renounce the material world and live off the land, that’s wonderful. I support you. And I think the very first thing you should renounce is money. I’m perfectly okay with that, because, frankly, your mother and I have a lot of things we’d like to spend your college money on anyway.”

“Dad, I…”

“It’s not happening Eddy,” I shot out from my haven beneath the blankets. “Give it up.”

Eddy crossed his arms and glowered at the wall. “You’re not listening to me!”

“That’s true, Edward,” Lawrence put the laptop back on his stomach. “We’re not listening to you, because this conversation is over. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? Because if there isn’t, I’d appreciate it if you’d go away.”

Eddy got off the bed and left the room abruptly. We heard the front door slam a few seconds after that.

When I knew the coast was clear, I emerged from under the covers and walked over to the dresser to look for my pajamas. As I pulled off my tank top, I noticed a small dot of moisture on the fabric above my left nipple. “Wow. Look at that,” I said wonderingly to Lawrence. “I must be starting menopause. My hormones are going wild. My body thinks I’m breastfeeding.”

“Hmmm,” he glanced up from his laptop, but wasn’t much alarmed. “Maybe you better come over here and let me take a look at that.”

Read the next chapter HERE, or buy a paperback copy of Count All This HERE.

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