4760 Preston Road
Frisco, TX 75034
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For Mom, Tori, Mo-Mo, and Noah Monkey For Jimmy and Mal
Familys an awesome thing, isnt it? He didnt come out of my belly, but my God, Ive made his bones,
because Ive attended to every meal, and how he sleeps, and the fact that he swims like a fish because I took him to the ocean. Im so proud of all those things. But he is my biggest pride.
I know this is going to be hard for yu to read, but I hope yull understand.
I have to leave, Bear. Tom got a job out of state and Im going with him. Im doing this becuz I think it will be easier on all of us if it is red rather then sed.
This is a chance for me to make something for myself. Tom sez there are a lot of jobs where we’re going which will be better then here in Seafare. Remember my last job? At the Pizza Shack? Remember how well that went? In case yu can’t tell from this just being a letter, I was being sarcastic. It didn’t go well at all. (At least we know my future is not in pizza!)
I know yu never liked Tom, but he treats me ok. Yu shoudnt worry about him and me, as we’ll be fine. Well, I know yu won’t worry about him, but still. Hes stuck around longer then yur father did, and don’t even get me started on Ty’s dad. At least Tom hasn’t hit me yet or anything. He even said that when I save up enouf money, he’ll let me get one of those online degrees from University of Phoenix Arizona, or whatever its called. Imagine me, with a college degree!
Speaking of that, I hope that yull get a chance to be a writer like yu want to. I know this kind of messes up yur plans about going to school next year, but why do u need college for that? Yuve been making up stories since you were a little kid n e ways so its not like they could teach yu anything else, right? But that skolarship thing will be there later, right? It’s not like yu could never get it again. It just cant be right now becuz I need yu to do something for me.
Tom sez that Ty can’t go. He sez that having the Kid around will just “freak” up his concentration. (Ok, he didn’t say freak, but yu know what I meant) I know this seems like I am making a bad decision but last nite I had a dream. It was all black around me and there was a flashing light really far away. I felt like I had to walk a long time to reach it. I finally got there and the light was a sign for a motel. Yu know what the motel was called, Bear? It was called the LAST CHANCE MOTEL. Do u see what that means? LAST CHANCE MOTEL. It means it’s my last chance! My dream was a message, I know it, and I think Whoever is watching over us knew I was having a tuff time making this decision and that’s why I had the dream.
But Tom does say that Ty can’t go. So I am going to leave him here with yu. Yu were always better at taking care of him then me. Remember when I was sick for like a month last year couldn’t move, and u took care of Ty becuz we couldn’t afford to send him to camp at the YMCA? Yu did a really good job then and I remember thinking yur going to be a good dad some day, not like yur dad. Now that I think about it, yu take care of Ty a lot more then I did anyways like a good brother should and yu were always better at it. That is why I feel ok about leaving him here with yu. I just think it would be better for him if he stayed here. What if something happens to me when Im with Tom? I don’t want him to see that.
I got sumthing I printed from the internet for yu. Its called a Power Of Attorney. It means that yu can do stuff for Ty without me. Like doctors and school and stuff. It means yull be in charge I guess. At least thats what I got from it. Denise from downstares told me about it. Yu would normaly have to be there with me to have it notterized, but Denise owes me for that time I gave her some smokes when she couldn’t afford to buy more. Her kid is a nottery public or something (do yu really have to go to school to learn how to sine and stamp papers? How hard can that be?) and she will cover for me and notterize it. Yull have to wait for yur birthday but thats real soon. Its my present to yu. I hope yu like it.
I am going to miss yu, so yu know. Yu grew up ok, despite everything. I hope yu don’t hate me or n e thing for this, but maybe Ill be back one day if this doesn’t work out. Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe, I was never meant to be a mom. I see yu sometimes and I think how much better it would have been for yu if yu were never born. But I remember yu as such a happy baby, not like Ty who cried all the time. Yur smile still makes it worth it and I hope yull still smile even after this.
Please make sure Ty gets the note I wrote for him.
I don’t know what else to say.
Please don’t try looking for me. I don’t want Tom to get mad. Mom
P.S. I left a little bit of muney to help yu out for now. I really
can’t give more becuz Tom sez we need to save for our future. Remember, Rent is due at the beginning of the month, along with the other bills. Yu paid those for me n e ways, but what kind of a mom would I be if I didn’t remind yu.
Yu listen to yur brother and do what he sez, ok? Mommy loves yu!
Saturday night. I didnt know where the Kid was.
She left $137.50 in an envelope with my name on it.
The next day, I turned eighteen. Three days after that, I graduated high
to be up front with you, my names not really Bear. Its actually Derrick McKenna, but Ive been Bear since I was like thirteen or fourteen. Its when Ty was trying to say my name as a baby and couldnt say Derrick. It came out all weird, like “Barick,” but once Mom heard that all she could focus on was how it sounded like he called me “Bear.” I guess it was a sort of divine comedy in its own way as I had done something similar to someone else when I was little. But Ill get to that later.
Anyway: Bear. So she started calling me Bear. Of course I hated it at first. There wasnt and still isnt anything
about me. But she insisted, and anytime I had a friend over or she answered the phone for me or talked to one of my teachers, she made a point of calling me Bear. I was just beginning high school then, too, and you know how that is: anything done as a freshman gets remembered forever. This was all thanks to my mom. The name stuck, she didnt.
Im not trying to sound all maudlin or anything. This isnt that kind of story. This isnt about poor old Bear and how his mom ran out on him, leaving him to raise his younger brother and how his life was totally screwed up by it, but in the end he learns A Very Valuable Lesson about life and shit. Its not going to be like that.
Well, okay, scratch that. I dont know what kind of story this is. I just hope its not going to be saccharine and make you gag or anything. Things like that make me queasy.
I just wanted to be up front with you about my name. I imagine, for some reason, when people hear my name as I get called now, Bear McKenna, that they assume one of two things: that Ill either be a really big, hairy lumberjack with a stern demeanor but a heart of gold or that Im pretentious as all hell. Usually its the first thing, until they see me and blink a few times, trying to associate such a name with what theyre seeing. As for the second part? Think about it: if you met someone for the first time named Bear, wouldnt you assume they were an exaggerated version of themselves? Yes? No? Well, I guess I dont think like most people. And I dont fight them about it anymore. My names Bear McKenna.
Well, most of the time it is. I look in the rearview mirror and see my little brother, Tyson, staring back at me with an expression on his face that I cant quite identify. Usually, he reserves calling me Derrick for when he is about to ask something serious, like if there is a planet of cows that have farms that milk people, then slaughter them for their tasty cutlets, or why Mom left and didnt come back. He asks a lot of questions.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“How do you know if youre in love?”
I smile. I try not to think about where this is going. Understanding the Kids line of logic is an extraordinary exercise in futility. He thinks on a whole different level than the rest of us. Last week I explained to him, at his insistence, where babies came from. He sat with a look of dire contemplation on his face through the entirety of the conversation. When I finished, hed gotten up and gone outside to play without a word. Later, when I was tucking him into bed, he finally responded: “Bear, why on
would any girl want to push a baby out like that?” I didnt know how to answer him then, as I sometimes dont. Not many people can make me speechless, but Ty manages it on a daily basis.
I look back now at Ty and arch my eyebrow. “Why? You got someone you havent told me about, Kid?”
He shrugs vaguely. “I dunno. It doesnt necessarily have to be about me, Bear. Its just a question.” By the way, my brother is eight going on sixty. Given everything he has gone through in his life, I cant blame him. Most kids his age havent gone through a quarter of the shit hes been through. But at the same time, how many third graders do you know that are vegetarians by their own decision? I had nothing to do with that, trust me. I like hamburgers with bacon and sausage (and stop grimacing until you try it—its damn good). But thats what I get for allowing him to watch some documentary on slaughterhouses on TV. He hasnt been the same since.
I stare ahead so I dont rear-end someone on the freeway, but Im hedging and he knows it. I feel his eyes on the back of my head. I sigh again. “I guess its when all those stupid songs on the radio start making sense.” I chance a glimpse in the mirror and see him frowning. “What do you think it is?” When it comes to these esoteric sorts of questions, I always find it better to let him answer. But factual questions about babies and stuff, I make sure I answer for him. Even if I want to pull my hair out while doing so.
Hes quiet for a moment and then says, “I think its when you cant go on another day without the other person. That they make you feel like your stomach is on fire but in a good way.”
“That sounds good to me.”
“Can we stop? I have to pee.”
“Sure, Kid. Were kinda early anyways.”
I see a sign for a rest stop ahead and move off onto the exit. The parking lot is empty and its drizzling outside. I pull into a space in front of the bathrooms, already knowing the routine. Ty sits patiently in the car while I walk into the mens room to make sure its empty. It is. I walk out the door and wave. He gets out of the car and walks up to me.
“Bear, youre going to wait right here, right.” Its not said as a question, but as a command.
“Okay, Ill be right back. Make sure you wait right here.”
I nod, knowing that Ill be here just as sure as he knows. Ty refuses to use public restrooms when there is anyone else in them. He always makes me check first. When I give the all-clear, only then will he go in. He doesnt allow me to go in with him, stating very plainly that he is “old enough to know how to work his parts.” But before he does, he makes sure of where Ill be. And I mean in the
. If I move a foot or two away from where I said I would be, he notices. I know he understands that Ill never leave him like that, but he still needs those reassurances. Its the same with what time I will pick him up from school or what time Ill get off of work. If Im late, he has sort of a panic attack, where his breathing becomes constricted, and he has thoughts run through his head that he knows arent true. I took him to a doctor at a free clinic who suggested putting him on some kind of anti-anxiety medication that was supposed to be all the rage these days. But Ty told the doctor and me plainly that he didnt want to become “one of
kids.” I try not to be late. Its easier.
I can hear him humming while he pees, his sign that hell be a while, so I turn and look out at the rain. Its the end of May, but in Oregon that doesnt matter. It can still be cold and raining whenever it wants to be and theres not a whole lot you can do about it. Especially when you live in Seafare, a small town on the Pacific Ocean, like we do. For anyone never having been to the Oregon coast, the ocean there is nothing like the ocean in California. Its cold and foggy and rainy pretty much all the time. Oh sure, we do get sunny days, but the Pacific Northwest has its reputation for a reason. I hear that a lot of people commit suicide up here. Weirdos.
Were currently making the sixty-mile trek to Portland to pick up my best friend, Creed Thompson, from the airport. I havent seen him since he came home for spring break. Hes a junior at Arizona State, majoring in computer science. Pretty soon hell graduate and go to work for IBM or Google and make a bazillion dollars per year, but as of right now, hes still Creed, the guy Ive known since my first day at Seafare Elementary School in the second grade. We were instantly connected at the hip, maybe just because of how opposite we were. Hes outgoing and can talk to anyone, whereas I dont like most people. His parents are still married (and around and alive). Theyre rich, but not so much that you became distracted by all the stuff they have. Im obviously not rich. So life goes.
Mr. Thompson had had some sort of computer company in Seattle in the late eighties and early nineties and sold off everything before it all went to hell. He then decided he hated living in a big city and hated having a lot of stuff. He sold all the things he didnt want and moved the family to Seafare. I always found it funny how Mr. Thompson seemed to be the only rich person who hated being rich. It still didnt stop him from buying one of the biggest houses in Seafare, where Ive spent a lot of time through the years. The same house where we are having a surprise birthday party for Ty soon, providing I can keep it a secret.
Creeds parents are cool as far as parents go, but Im glad that theyre gone. Not gone-gone but off in some country on some kind of retreat, helping to build homes in Africa or curing leprosy in Sweden, I dont know. I know theyll be gone until November so theres a big empty house for us to use this summer. Itll be nice to get out of the crappy apartment for the next few months.
Dont get me wrong; I have friends. It just so happens the majority of them are at school somewhere else and living their lives, doing whatever it is they do. Most dont come back to Seafare if they can help it. The rest might be imaginary. Creed comes back a lot, saying that Arizona is actually located on the surface of the sun, not next to California like a map says. But with his parents being gone the majority of the year, he can always come back here, and its like he has his own private vacation home, which is cool if youre into that kind of thing. When I told him this, he just looked at me funny, saying he never thought of it that way. We didnt talk about it anymore.
Its hard to maintain normal friendships when youre the guardian of the smartest eight-year-old in the world. Most couldnt understand why I did what I did. Hell, there are times that I dont understand it, either. The only way I can rationalize it is that a person can do strange things when they dont have any other choice.
The only other person I really care to see is my sort-of girlfriend, Anna Grant. But she lives in Seafare, too, commuting back and forth to the next county to go to the community college there, so its not like I dont get to see her. She was the second person I met after Creed way back in the day. Were together more often than not, but its
a lot of the time. Its not a joke: one time we did get back together and broke up five seconds later when I accidentally told her that her nose looked flat from the angle I was at. I didnt mean it as a bad thing; it kind of just popped out of my mouth. She got mad and stormed off. Five seconds. But shes my other best friend, so I generally try not to worry. I find if you worry too much, you spend less time doing other things.
Like standing outside in the rain at a rest stop, waiting for your brother to get done peeing. I turn back toward the door and hear him humming still. I look down at my watch. Its two thirty. Creed needs to be picked up in a half hour, and weve still got a few miles to drive. “Hey, Kid? You good? We gotta get going.”
I hear him stop humming. “Bear, I dont talk to you when youre going to the bathroom,” he says matter-of-factly.
A few minutes later he comes out. I make sure Im standing in the exact spot he left me in. I see him give me an appraising look, finding me there. I hold out my hand and he grabs it, and we walk out back into the rain.