Chapter 3 – Birthright

Monday, early evening, March 27th

two girlsThe sisters had grown into negatives of each other, but were twins. Beneath obsidian hair leading to blank paper skin sat the driver, looking wan even for a Punk Rocker. Black lips. White hair and pink eyes marked the other; her face splotched with red pimples. They seemed about my age and were going to Roseburg, Oregon.

They started by telling me how stoned they had gotten that morning: killer bud, body high—not really a mind high—thick and skunky, sticky purple hairs, old friend’s, but not harsh, big glass bong, better than staring at walls, saying goodbye, crappy concert the night before, half a hangover.

I watched the scenery.

“Jimmy’s got some acid we can do,” the pimpled one said flatly.

“No!” The Punk’s hair flailed as she shook her head. “That was all ripped-off. And shit, we’ve been doing acid all the time.” She looked up. “I’m thinking crank . I could use a boost.”

“Yeah… you and the boost.”

“What?” snapped the punk. “Don’t give me any shit.”

The white one let her head roll forward, a slow capsize until she sat staring into her lap. Then, in a trickling whisper, “How’d we get so fucked up?”

“Huh?”

“Fucked up!” She stared hard at her sister. “How’d we get so fucked up!”

The punk smiled. “Because I’m starved for attention.” Her crisp answer seemed as if it had spent a long time waiting to emerge.

“We’re always together,” the white twin said. “You get plenty of fucking attention.”

Staring out the window could no longer distract me from my feelings; empty. I’d left people behind, but few connections. Months of constant bitterness had kept me speechless, not because I didn’t have something to say; there just didn’t seem any point. Maybe my proximity now to people that appeared as little more than shells forced me to recognize my cavity.

“It didn’t use to be like this,” the white one said slowly.

“Like when?”

“Like when we were little,” came out with a caustic edge. “Like when mom used to take us to church.”

“Oh yeah, that lasted a long time.” I couldn’t tell if her statement sounded sarcastic, angry or sad.

“The people were nice.”

“More like dorks on parade.” She glared through the black curtains of her bangs. “They didn’t know where we came from. And if they did know they would’ve shit-canned us in a heartbeat.”

“The people were nice.”

“You’re a dork.”

“Fuck you!”

I think they forgot that I was sitting in back. We rode for the next hour listening only to our thoughts. School entered my mind. I couldn’t tell if I resented other students for assuming entitlement, or because I wanted to steal their carefree attitudes. I resented my parents for almost everything, and resented myself for tolerating my life. During the previous months my thoughts darken and howled. This trip became my solution to get back some peace of mind. My solution now left me sitting behind these sisters as they fought about how they wanted to get loaded. I had to swallow hard knowing my decision to hitchhike in hopes of finding some authenticity, self-respect, had so far left me sitting with two zoners. Is this all I’d get?

Going into this trip I expected there would be times I’d question my decision to leave. But it caught me off guard happening day one. Not everything was miserable in the life that I wanted to leave. People knew me: my younger brother and sister, the twins born eight years after me, who I led on adventures into woods and uninhabited islands; my other sister, only two years younger than me, joined as a partner to grow up with, frictions were minor, like when I wrote on the cover of her Girl Scouts Handbook, Julie is dum; Mark Rock, my closest friend. Shortly before leaving Mark and I were on a hike on a flood plain, got lost, and ended up walking across a farmer’s field. We were walking by the barn and the farmer popped out from behind a corner, immediately in front of us, shotgun at eye level, and said we were the ones who had been vandalizing his property. Mark reached out and placed two fingers on the end of the barrel, and slowly pushed the farmer’s aim away from us. Then, like a schoolmarm providing gentle direction to a wayward student, “Now now, let’s not be hasty.” Of course he played bass; Scott, lead guitar, was the adventurer, fished in Hawaii, Alaska, South America, motorcycle trip through Central America; Steve Hamilton, rhythm guitar, somehow he’d end up holding a rubber chicken in front of an audience doing Rodney Dangerfield, corny stuff, but he delivered with such enthusiasm everyone roared. Although he held Canadian citizenship, he was in boot camp becoming a US Marine; Geoff, tambourine, all-day Frisbee partner, lead pirate; and there were others, people I’d know for years, those I’d gone with bicycle touring, hiking partners, people I’d worked with at a YMCA; Mary Sue.

Finally reaching Roseburg we crossed the Umpqua River, a fast slip flowing from the Cascade Mountains. “A couple weeks ago Jimmy and some of the boys threw a guy off this bridge,” the punk said. “Look down there.” I peered over to whitewater and car-sized boulders. “But he lived.” She turned back to me. “You hungry?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Early evening now surround us and I hadn’t eaten since morning; no point in eating when it detracted from covering miles.

“We’ve got some food at our place,” she said. “You can have some.”

I wasn’t crazy about spending more time with them, but my hunger convinced me to stay.

We parked at the base of narrow stairs that climbed an ivy-covered hill to a pale-green Victorian house. Surprisingly grand for these two, maybe it wasn’t really where they lived. Four columns on the front porch held up arched timbers with carved French curves. Above the curves, a wrought iron handrail ran along a deck with a thin door and tall rectangular windows. Between the windows the roof scaled skyward to form a range of sharp mountain peaks flagged with distant weather vanes.

I grabbed my pack and started trudging up the stairs. Reaching for the handrail a large section wavered with my grip. When we made it to the porch I could see the majestic arches presided over dry rot, peeling paint and cracked windows. The place took on the aura of a haunted house where people entered but didn’t leave. Had they lured me here so their drug-dealing friends could do something to me? My knife sheath received a quick caress.

We walked in and they introduced me to the people behind the creaking door.

“That’s my mom,” the white-haired one said, tipping her finger toward a wispy grey woman sitting in the corner reading a paperback. “And that’s my uncle, Whitey,” she said, nodding her head at a middle-aged man lounging in a green vinyl recliner.

Whitey lived up to his name. He was a big albino with tangled strands of white hair that merged into a long white beard. Thick black glasses provided the only interruption to his arctic head. His chest glowed pink, and sprouted more white hair surrounding bright pink nipples. Hairy white arms hung down to his waist where pasty hands steadied a magazine resting upright on his lap. From under the magazine his chubby legs stuck out, with their own carpet of white fur, leading down to pink toes. He’d grown into a mangy polar bear, and sat naked. I did a double take and saw the magazine was a Penthouse.

“Hi Whitey. What’s up?” I couldn’t resist.

“Huh?” He glanced at me but focused back to his magazine.

“He’s like that,” the Punk said with resignation.

We walked through the living room into the vast kitchen that had once been white. The cupboards all showed grayed halos around the handles and the countertops lay rough with countless chopping scars. The girls offered me a small green apple that had been lying on the counter. I stood eating it while they opened cupboards rifling through the contents.

“This is a mighty tart apple.”

“We’ve got a tree,” the Punk mumbled while closing a cupboard. “But they’re not ripe yet.”

“Your house is huge.” I heard my voice bounce off the hard walls.

“Yeah,” the white one replied. “Our mom used to be a madam and needed a big house.” She opened the fridge, bent down and stuck her head in, then shouted from behind the door, “She grew up here. We grew up here.”

Whitey the girl closed the door with a disappointed thud. Then she mimicked a game show hostess, flaying her arm in an accentuated arc to point out prizes. “This was quite the lively place. Yes, indeed.” Her hand swept across the kitchen. “This was the house of ill repute. The House on the Hill. The jolly pump-a-rump.” Her arm fell back to her side and she dropped her hostess tone. “This was a hell of a place, at least until we had to come along.”

Her sister filled in. “There’d be enough girls sometimes they’d have to sit in the kitchen here until they’d get into the front waiting room.” She looked at me, tipping her head down, as if looking over glasses to scold a naughty boy, “No more girls here though, so don’t be sproutin’ a thick one.” She slapped another cupboard shut.

My stomach clenched. “So were you two here then?”

In a voice glassy smooth, but hard as concrete, the Punk said, “That hookin’ stopped when we entered junior high.”

Raised in a whorehouse—these girls were raised in a whorehouse; my grasp of reality slipped. I’d never even thought about kids going into whorehouses, let alone raised in one.

I took a few more bites of the bitter apple. Not feeling comfortable, or even safe, I thanked them for the ride and the apple. Passing back through the living room I figured I’d get another dose of Whitey. His chair sat empty. I let myself out.

While walking down the rickety stairs, I reflected on my middle-class home, and even though alcoholism and anger wandered the halls, our living room never featured a porn-absorbed naked albino and old whore. I couldn’t image what type of a childhood the girls lived, but thinking about the possibilities left me nauseous, with the sour apple adding its kick. Grasping the magnitude of our differences, I turned to take a last look at the house, and saw the world getting bigger.

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