Sonny and I met in the second grade inside the red bricked building of Public School 79. We were introduced by chance, placed in the same class and wound up seated next to one another. We bonded immediately. Two devilish little runts. His house and our rotation of houses and apartments were always situated quite close by. No matter how many times I moved, Sonny’s house remained in place. We would walk to school together in the morning and walk to either his house or the park after. The truth was I needed Sonny’s house to escape my own.
Mrs. Winnows was a great woman, often taking us to Taco Bell and treating me to three soft shell tacos and a soda. I said thank you, but often felt embarrassed that I couldn’t offer to buy my own. If I didn’t have dinner at the Winnows’ house, I might not eat.
The Winnows gave me asylum from my family. I practically lived at Sonny’s house. If they ever decided to lock their doors I’d have a key. We were inseparable, running around causing trouble in the neighborhood or watching movies unsuitable for our age. A Clockwork Orange and slasher flicks shaped our outlook on life. With a voracious appetite for mischief we always found ourselves in trouble, in and out of school, reprimanded for fits of laughter and punished for our dark sense of humor, and tendency to throw hands.
It was easier for me at the Winnows house than with the Floods, and later with Hattie and her second marriage. Home, if you could call it that, was a place I never wanted to be. I couldn’t stomach Hattie’s dreadfully slow, self-induced decomposition. I did not want to stand and bear witness to such events.
Sure, Sonny’s parents didn’t get along and ultimately, they divorced as well. Love does not seem to last for anyone. I didn’t find their arguments to be unusual, I was well versed in domestic squabbles, their fights never appeared that bad to me, tame in comparison to what happened in our house, but dysfunctional families were not a competition.
It is possible that it didn’t affect me because they were not my parents, though I loved and respected them, but If it did bother Sonny he kept it to himself. Whatever went on they still ate dinner together like a family. At home I made a plate depending on if there was something to make a plate with and brought it to whatever room was designated to be mine and ate, alone. I detached myself from everyone in my household and Catherine was an innocent bystander of my isolation. I regret that. It didn’t occur to me that I was shutting her out with them. Was history repeating itself and I was mistreating my sister again?
Why do I want to be always in seclusion? Why is it difficult for me to talk to people? I can’t be completely open with anyone. Not my sister. Not my friends. Not myself. What was I so afraid of? Everything, I supposed.
Sonny’s father was old school, a hard working man, with swollen and bruised hands, and a penchant for Budweiser for breakfast. His father’s hands found themselves under heavy truck tires, and caught in the crossfire of tools. A tough man who enjoyed goading us, and making fun. He didn’t know any way to express himself and this was his way of being affectionate. Breaking balls was bonding. He was a man, much like ourselves, without a good handle on his emotions or lack thereof. You might presume he didn’t have them, but we all do and that is part of the problem. We channel them incorrectly or don’t channel them at all, which is just as detrimental.
“What are you up to?” Sonny asked his father, as he entered the house, seemingly annoyed.
“What am I up to? What are you up to?” Mr. Winnows questioned from the foyer, as he hung up his mechanics jacket on an old hook by the front door. A six pack of Budweiser on the floor next to his dirty work boots. A walking Dickies advertisement. “What the fuck are those?”
Those are coffins, Sonny said.
“With my wood? Coffins? You made coffins? For the living room?”
“Well, Dad, you’re always complaining that we never do anything productive so Wilhelm and I made these. We worked hard on them all day. These lovely caskets were built in the basement.” Sonny mimicked hammering with the television remote.
“We went for a minimalist, spaghetti western type of coffin,” I said. “We just have to stain them.”
“Wilhelm, what the hell are you doing here? Don’t you have a home?”
Yeah, I said. Sort of. I had a place to stay, a place where I technically resided but nothing I would call a home. I preferred his house to ours. I wanted to tell him that it hurt my feelings but I didn’t. I was too sensitive.
No one died, I said.
“Yet, said Sonny, with a sinister look in his black shark eyes. He sat there on the couch in a black hooded sweatshirt. Schwarz. We all dressed the same, mostly plain hoodies and jeans, and a cheap pair of skateboarding sneakers, no regard for fashion trends. A large gash burrowed into the top of his head, stapled down the center of his inverted mohawk. His mother pleaded to shave the rest but he liked it as it was. Injuries were common, as we were always hurting ourselves or getting into fights. My current black eye was one of dozens I received growing up. We were reckless, feisty lads with no regard for our bodies or well being.
“So no one died but you made coffins. No one died. Are these for fucking midgets?” Mr. Winnows fought to keep a straight face, holding back a smile and laughter, which a smile from him looked painful.
“Midgets? No, they’re for us. This one is mine and that one is Wilhelm’s.”
“Oh. they’re for you two. I suppose you fucking idiots are planning on dying real soon or not hitting those growth spurts that you so desperately need.”
Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.
“We’re going to be buried right next to each other,” said Sonny.
“That was the gayest thing I have ever heard. Just as I suspected.”
Sonny and I leaned in closer to each other, shaking our heads and wildly wiggling our outstretched tongues. Mr. Winnows called us fags as he walked into his bedroom, ignoring the “Janitor” sign we glued to his door. Mr. Winnows seemed like an ornery man but he was just exhausted and stressed and probably unhappy with the world, and who knows what his childhood was like. Life hardens a man.
We all get hurt. That is not to say I haven’t hurt anyone, intentional and unintentional, I have.
Sonny and I walked my coffin to my house, we were dressed in black, it was like an old school procession in the middle of the street commemorating the death of our future. I only wished there were more people involved in the ceremony. I kept blankets and pillow cases inside my coffin. Sonny stored comics in his, Spawn and X-men and hundred other titles. Mr. Winnows might have been pissed that we used his wood to make them but secretly I think he liked it. We constructed the coffins with our bare hands and took polaroids of ourselves laying inside them pretending to be dead. This was when this type of behavior was still considered morbid and weird, before all the dark things we loved became cute, before they became images embroidered on neck ties, or made into candy shapes, or sweatshirts for teacup Yorkies. My Nana had a tattoo of a grim reaper, she didn’t really have one, but it wouldn’t be that shocking if she did. Everything you think is cool will become lame.
The sign is still on Mr. Winnows bedroom door. A week later, I pulled all of the crusty staples out of the gore and silly putty flesh of my best friend’s head.