I don’t pray. Not as a rule, it’s just something I don’t do.
Every prayer I ever had was beaten out of by my father’s hands, my mother’s indifference. I’ve been told that we have to save ourselves, when I bring it up, but it doesn’t work like that. We save each other: and not a single prayer to any god makes one bit of difference in that. No god is ever going to save you: they’re too busy passing around the popcorn and gloating in our tears. Want to know why there is suffering in the world? I figure it’s because it’s what give them their power.
Otherwise, if any god was real, they’d do things now, not just in dusty books that mean less than nothing. Sorry. I’m just trying to explain, so that it makes sense. There have been worse parents than mine. Ones who were never home, or ones kids prayed – having nothing else to hope for – that they’d never be home. I’ll just say my day was a mean son of a bitch even before he got a beer in him and mom was on so many drugs to deal with everything that she did nothing at all. She was about as empty as you could get and still walk around calling yourself human. I bet the pharmacist got a crap ton of pens for all the drugs he put her on.
I was on a few, because of school. ‘Problem child’ as if that didn’t mean problem parents. Mom took some of mine, or dad did to sell them. I never found out who, but I was shaking, strung out. Uncle Tony had killed himself. He wasn’t a good uncle, I think, but he wasn’t bad either. In my books then that made him almost a saint. He didn’t drink, but the doctors said there was something in his brain. Parasite that made him just walk out into traffic one day and not stop, something like that out of a bad horror film.
And I was seeing things. People talk about spirit animals, but it’s more spirit forms. What’s important to people, what resonates with them. For dad it was beer, for mom the pills. I had a cockroach. I knew that because cockroaches are afraid of people and I never saw it. Never saw anything that could help me. Sometimes, when I saw them, the spirit animals warned me just before dad would swing a fist. I learned to read them as well as him. Wasn’t even sure they were real.
Honestly, I’m still not. No one had a wolf I ever saw, or a crow. TV characters, family members: whatever someones drug is, that was their spirit animal. Could have been me just projecting, or whatever the term is. The bad day wasn’t bad, not worse than any other. Maybe that’s what it was. Words I didn’t escape, a bruise to hide at school. Sometimes all you try to do is escape when you know you can’t and it eats at you. Like animals gnawing off their feet in traps.
I felt like that. I didn’t pray. To this day, I’ll swear I didn’t, but there was a kid in my room. Between one moment and the next. He was eleven. I remember that. I think if I ever get Alzheimer’s like a blessing, I’ll still remember him being eleven.
“Hi. I’m Jay,” he said, and he grinned. No one ever grinned at me like that. Not my mom when I was born, not any lover I’ve ever had. No one has, before or since. It hurt like nothing else too.
I might have screamed, because he had one hand on my mouth, worried. For me. He was worried for him, not of anything else. I knew that too.
“I didn’t mean to surprise you,” he said. “But you were sad-face and I thought I could maybe help?”
“My spirit animal is a cockroach and it hurts.” Of everything I could have said, could have asked, could have wondered, somehow that fell out of my mouth. These days, even on bad days like nothing I imagined as a kid, I’ll remember that moment and have to laugh.
The boy took it in stride as if it made all the sense in the world. “That’s not very jaysome,” he said, and – I can’t tell you what that means. I mean, it’s a word, but it meant – it helped, is all I’m saying. Somehow the word helped.
He offered to be my totem, entirely serious, and boasted he would probably be the best spirit animal ever. I said yes, trying to cover for my stupid statement, still thinking it so stupid but dad heard things, came in.
Demanded to know what another kid was doing in my room, said he wasn’t going to be having – well, no need to repeat. I try to forget it. The kid turned, stared up my father. And dad fell back. Fell away, looking scared. Whatever jaysome was to me, it had other edges I never got to see.
He left. Dad left. I’d like to say he never hit me again, or that he changed, but I’d be lying. The kid looked back at me and let out a huge sigh. “I’d like to do a helping, but then you’d be changed and you wouldn’t be you and that would be really wrong.”
And he meant it, as he meant everything else I said. So I’ve tried to be me ever since that day, even if it hurts. I haven’t seen the kid again. I left home as soon as I could, two years later. I don’t talk to my parents anymore, though sometimes I don’t think I ever did. I don’t pray. Never do. But now, some days, I think I understand a little better the people who do.
Huh? No, I haven’t seen any kind of spirit animal in years. I figure it was just the withdrawal and some of the drugs making me loopy, that’s all. It happens. I got better. I think the kid maybe helped with that too, but I’ll never know. It’s probably better that way. Definitely safer. Because whatever Jay was, safe wasn’t part of it at all.