It was Walter Jr. who wrecked my life. He was the pebble that hit the window just right. The splinter that made you trip on the stairs and break your neck. He was always that, even before. My brother Walter was just the kind of fuckwit to go ahead and try to make sure his son carried his fuckwit genes by making him his namesake. Walter wasn’t shit. Dead end job, a habit of doing the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time, and a penchant for being duped into financial disaster over and over again. No wife. A shitty apartment on the west side over a sandwich shop, and a wife just smart enough to flee two days after Walter Jr. was born. I always figured his choice to name his son Walter was a spit-in-the-eye to Cheryl. Clearly he didn’t see it that it was a spit-in-the-eye to his halfwit son as well.
Walter Jr. wasn’t retarded. Wasn’t even slow necessarily. Just weird. Weird about being touched. Weird about how he got in and out of the tub. Weird about collecting little bits of broken plastic and putting them in his bed. A perfect fit for my brother really. It was his lot in life to be the broken bottom rung of the ladder in all respects.
My life was quite opposite. My wife, Carolyn, carried with her a trust fund of which we would never mention the size. It was obscene, not that we needed it. Some early sweat equity in the tech industry set me for life before I met her. I was retired at thirty-five, and while we could not have children we spent only spent our time on what we wanted. It’s rare for an American to own their time free and clear. We took advantage. She did charity work. I relaxed.
Until that one miserable day. I was helping my brother move for the second time that year, as he had lost $4,000 by not reading the fine print on a timeshare contract and was evicted from his new place after a record five months. We were carrying a rickety piece-of-shit table out to the U-haul that I had sprung for when we saw him. Walter Jr. must have gotten sick of collecting snot on his bedside table or whatever he did with his time, and decided that it was a nice day for a drive. There he was, head barely visible in the passenger window of my SLK.
I chuckled when I saw and tilted my head toward my brother to get his attention. I stopped laughing when I noticed that the car was slowly rolling. The house was at the very top of the hill on Hawthorne Lane. It had a nice view of the town below, but it was a nightmare trying to navigate that steep hill during the all too frequent Noreasters that hit this part of the state. My brand new Mercedes was four feet from the sharp decline and was picking up momentum.
I dropped the table, which landed on my foot and sent me reeling with a twisted ankle. I didn’t really realize that I was injured until later though, and sprung back toward the car. I calculated my trajectory to compensate for the rolling car, and darted behind and around to the driver’s side door. Fuckwit Jr. was was playing with the steering wheel, turning it back and forth while making exuberant wooo-wooo noises.
Now trotting alongside the car I tried the handle only to find it locked. I kept one hand on the door as I dug in my pockets to grab my keys. I must have spent five, even ten seconds flittering through my keys and then rummaging through my pockets for the keyfob. I only remembered that my new car had a numeric pin under the handle once the car hit the steep edge of the hill. The sudden acceleration cast me aside like a bag of bones on the edge of a precipice. Walter caught up with me, and we just stood and watched. There was nothing else to do. It was suicide to try to run down that hill and we’d never reach the car in time anyway. We inhaled sharply as it launched over the train tracks. But we were dead silent when the big brown semi with “Crowley” printed on the side T-boned my car.
Long and shitty story short, he died on impact. Airbags aren’t made for seven year old bodies. His ended up in a pile under the dashboard with his skull and the driver’s side door now locked in eternal matrimony.
It wasn’t my fucking fault. I wasn’t in charge of him, Walter was supposed to be in charge of him. I also wasn’t in charge of teaching him not to be a fuckwit and play with emergency brakes in other people’s cars. I didn’t do shit, but it didn’t make a difference. I paid for it anyway.
Carolyn divorced me because of my “lack of emotional depth” and “my inability to process sadness”. Truth was, it was just a shitty thing that happened, nothing more. Nothing to “process”, no reason to renounce the bottle, or run away and live in a sweat lodge until I was redeemed by Jesus-on-a-stick himself. It was a shitty thing that happened, and I moved on.
That’s when I got hit with the lawsuit from my fuckwit brother. I had good lawyers but I left them to their own devices. They eventually painted themselves into a corner at the hearing and then the trial. Walter junior walked away with the bulk of my savings four months after my wife walked away with her trust and the house. And shit only went downhill from there. Empty bottles, a string of bad relationships with women desperately plucked from local bars, and finally a DUI led me to the program.
It took a year to dig myself out completely. Two weeks ago I hit six months clean and I landed a job that put me back into an apartment where I didn’t need to fall asleep while listening to gender-dubious prostitutes get ass fucked by fat, cigar smoking dock workers. I’d had a bad ride, just like Walter Jr. did down that hill, but I was finally coming out of it.
It was last Tuesday as I was driving home from an AA/NA meeting that my car just stopped responding. The wheel locked and I could hear the accelerator ramping up. It was a piece-of-shit Buick similar to the one my grandfather had bought new in the 70’s. There was no computer system to glitch out, or fancy digital connections to the machinery, but somehow the engine roared as I pressed the brake into the floor and ensured that my feet were far clear of the gas pedal. One moment I was reaching for the e-brake and then next I was waking up as if from a long restless dream.
I looked around, confused as to why I was in my car. Confused as to where I was that mist might collect so heavily. Confused as to why I seemed to be covered in blood. I don’t know how long it took for me to put it all together but red and blue lights began to cut through the smoke by the time I assembled the puzzle. I let my head drop back onto the steering wheel, suddenly feeling nauseous. I opened my eyes seconds or minutes later when I heard a cop shouting at me from outside. The only thing I saw was 0002536 in thick white lettering on a black background. It was the trip odometer. I never really used those myself. I don’t drive often, or long distance. It struck me immediately that that I had clearly put more miles on this car since I had bought it. Something else struck me. I knew that number 2536. It struck something inside me. 2536. I said it out loud.
“2536…. Hawthorne”. The street name come out of my mouth before I had any concept of what it meant. Even after it escaped my lips I had to repeat it several times before it sunk in.
2536 Hawthorne Lane was where the Walters lived, before one of them went and got himself killed. And got me a shit pile for a life.
Next think I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had had a rather severe concussion along with a broken rib. It was agony. It was worse to try to turn down the Oxy. But I had too. I knew I had to, and I actually managed to “Just say no”. For an hour at least. It took almost a full hour to decide that it was too much to bear. That day and night were a blur of instructions, prescriptions, phone numbers, warning signs, and finally ended in an uber back home.
I thanked whatever shitty gods might be above that I lived on the first floor as I opened my door and turned on the lights. I wasn’t really hungry due to the painkillers, but decided to have some soup anyway since I could not remember when I had eaten last. I dumped the contents of the Clam Chowder can into a bowl and twisted (much too quickly) to the microwave.
The bowl hit the floor and that white pasty mess sprung in every direction. Creamy potatoes slid down the walls like pale white slugs. But my eyes did not leave the readout on the microwave display. 25:36. There’s nothing I would nuke for twenty five minutes. Those numbers they… they stared at me. Into me. They held my attention then disappeared suddenly along with the lights. I was cast into blackness. Then into a new kind of light. Then into that pungent sulky mist again as the sound of efficient and enormous destruction split my skull.
I awoke in the same hospital that I had left just this morning. I could see my former room just past the nurse’s station from my new room. This time around I found that I had new casts on my left arm and my left leg, along with a host of sterile patches along my side. It was the night nurse who filled me in on what happened.
It turns out some fuckwit named Walter had gone on a bender that night after losing a boatload of money on a poker game. He’d managed to raise his blood alcohol level to a staggering 1.2 before plowing his pickup into the side of my house and stepping out of the cab into what was for a time my kitchen. Apparently he landed in Butler Psychiatric immediately when the cops found that the only thing he would say, sing actually, over and over was two-five-three-six, twenty five and thirty six, two, fifty-three and six. Over and over like a drunken ballad, all the while laughing and wrenching his fists up and down, as if playing with a steering wheel.