There was a time when kicking my cat seemed a cruel and demented idea. She’d curl around my legs while I cooked and I’d spill half the chicken stir-fry on the floor. Glaring down, thoughts of punting her across the room would flash through my mind. But she’d always win me over. Threading between my legs, unraveling her affections around me, my scowl would disappear. I’d pick her up and scold her. "Bad kitty." A poke on her nose would get me a loving slap of her paw. I’d place her on the floor, toss her a piece of sesame chicken. How could I have ever entertained such an idea? She was like family, for Christ’s sake.
That was before I knew the Truth.
The Truth about life.
I ate her the following week.
Now here I sit, feet flying up in the air, a child’s swing beneath me. I’m not cramped or uncomfortable in the least. In fact, I feel downright fine. Children play around me, some on the adjacent swings trying to match my looping arch, some watching me in awe. How can he go so high? Others run past, lost in the frenzy of childhood. Me? I’m swinging like there’s no tomorrow. But there is, of course. An unlimited supply awaits me if I never forget the Truth.
How did I come across this Truth? It started innocently enough. I can remember the day as if it were yesterday. Cliche, I know. But that’s what’s so beautiful about it. Not the cliches, though I suspect I’ll have to deal with those quite a bit now. The memories, I mean. The memories. Unlimited memories. But I digress.
It was a Tuesday, 11:45 AM to be exact, nearly a year before my famed feline fricassee, and I walked out of the hospital with bad news.
"You have cancer, Mr. Carver. You may want to gather your loved ones. It doesn’t look good."
So delicately handled.
And cancer of the balls, to boot. Here I was, nearly fifty, divorced, childless - I never got to use my balls all that much while married - and this Mercedes-driving moron is telling me to gather my loved ones. I had a brother, but he was far from a loved one. He named his six year old son, Johnny, after me. The kid even looked like me. Some kind of twisted love, though. Seems my brother was the reason I never got to use my balls in the first place. My wife was too busy using his. Gathering my parents might be possible, but that would require manning a backhoe at midnight. No. Family was out of the question.
Unless you counted my cat.
Anyhow . . . 11:45 AM. Tuesday. The day I discovered the Truth! I’d always been a pretty descent guy. I worked hard for a living to bring home the bacon. (Damn those cliches!) I never went to church but I sometimes prayed - usually when my wife didn’t have a headache, wasn’t on the rag or didn’t feel fat. I always paid my taxes, religiously wore my seatbelt, never stole and seldom drank. But that day, Tuesday at 11:45 AM, I did something shameful. It felt shameful at the time.
I paid twenty-five dollars for a blow job.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. What an asshole! But you must remember, I was dying and my wife was fucking my brother. But I digress.
The Truth! The Truth was soon to be revealed!
Over the next three weeks, I drained my wife’s bank account getting blow jobs at twenty-five dollars a pop. She had quite a bank account. Shameful, I know.
I didn’t stop there. I began stealing - bottles of beer, mostly - you know, the singles, from nearly every liquor store in the area. When I clipped a parked car while drinking my stolen booty, a Mercedes I think, I drove off, laughing something about fucking the bearer of bad news. When the time came to pay my taxes - well, I never did pay my taxes after that.
The thing is, here I was, dying, but I never felt sick. Six months passed. I had stopped stealing beer and had moved on to kid’s lunch money and such, when I checked in with the doctor again.
It was a miracle! My cancer was gone! My balls were fine!
The Truth! The Truth had set me free!
No, it had nothing to do with the nearly 300 blow jobs at twenty-five dollars a whack. At least not directly. Let me explain.
When morn-MD gave me the good news, I sat in shock. I had a second chance! My God, how could I squander a second chance? I vowed to turn my life around. I would make amends. The cashier at the liquor store might look at me funny for paying a hundred dollars for a six pack of Bud, but it wouldn’t matter. I’d have to quit getting blow jobs, but hell, it would be worth it. I’d drive like a school teacher. I’d even file an amended return.
And I did.
But I got sick again. My cancer returned within a week. "I’m sorry, Mr. Carver. A mixup at the lab. Regather your loved ones."
Not only that, but the IRS served me an audit, I got a ticket for a busted taillight and the goddamn cashier at the liquor store pocketed the hundred herself. I saw it! My second chance had fizzled.
It took me some time, but I was able to convince Lola that fifteen dollars a whack was appropriate for a man who was dying twice. She agreed. Volume discount, she said, laughing. I laughed too, but not for long. I sank lower than ever. If the cruel world wanted to watch me go out, it wouldn’t have to watch for long. Yet, the lower I sank the better I began to feel.
Could it be?
I didn’t need a doctor to tell me otherwise. I knew.
That’s when I set up the test, just to be sure. If cheating, lying and stealing could beat back my cancer, what could, say, lighting a house on fire do for me?
My brother, unfortunately, wasn’t home, but I enjoyed watching his four bedroom colonial with three and a half baths and fireplaced family room snap, crackle and pop. That day, the heat from the blaze warming my skin, I felt younger and more alive than I ever had in the previous 48 years of my do-gooder’s life. Five minutes and pow! My grays were gone - literally. I had unaged. It didn’t take me long to figure out the rest.
My wrinkles vanished the moment my neighbor’s dog disappeared. They found his mangled body strewn across the road by their little boy’s bus stop. By the time the police labeled me a serial animal killer on the loose, I was recelebrating my thirtieth birthday. One week of cat-fireworks and I couldn’t legally drink the Johnny Walker I stole at gunpoint. Unbelievable? Nah. I never did like animals that much.
Except for maybe my cat.
It all caught up to me, though, rather quickly too, at the age of fifteen when my three week leave of absence from work came to an end. Showing up for work was out of the question. Christ! Getting there was damn near impossible. Not that I didn’t know how to drive any longer. I still knew everything I knew when I was forty-eight. But I was bound to get pulled over. And since the picture on my license - well you get the picture.
No. There was no going back now. No going forward. Not that I wanted to go forward. I was fifteen! What did that song say? Never a wish better that this?
It was Hell. Fifteen is great when your mortgage, clothes and fast food allowance are paid by your parents. But mine were long since dead, and I was out of a job. Fifteen wouldn’t do at all. I needed to unage further. I needed to start from scratch. I needed parents.
How in the hell was I going to pull that one off? I had lived the life of a couple dozen felons just to get back to fifteen. How could I possibly get back to six and find loving, caring parents?
"Johnny! Time to go home!"
Ah! My parents come to get me. I climb off the swing and give the kid next to me an elbow to the stomach.
"Coming Dad! Coming Mom!" I cry.
As they lead me to the car, I overhear them whisper. Such good parents, trying to protect me from the frightening news.
"Still no word from the police?" Mom asks Dad.
"No," says Dad. "I’m expecting the worse. He’s been missing for a month."
"Isn’t that just like your brother," says Mom. "He was always disappearing when we were married. So self-centered."
Mom turns to me. "Buckle up dear."
Oh, I will. I always do - religiously.