Fate

an excerpt



Chapter One

First there was Brian



I was born in the wagon of a travelling show. Um, yeah, I know that statement fairly--okay, exactly--resembles a certain song refrain from a certain timeless diva--Cher!--but, honest to God, I was born in a wagon, albeit a station wagon, and that travelling show was my mom's standup act. Dad was driving her on the weekends during her last trimester, while Mom cussed for money. Me, well, I was just a fetus at the time, but I was told I showed great potential even then.

As to being born in the family car, which, by the way, became mine when I turned eighteen, dents and all--"all" being one hundred and thirty thousand miles and a temperamental radiator that hissed when the temperature outside got to anywhere near eighty--well, the story goes that my mom booked the gig just after I was conceived, forgot about it until it was too late to cancel--the show must go on, even in a maternity muumuu!--and I cried my way into the world along Highway 5 just after midnight, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The stains are still there to prove it, though they could just as easily be from a spilled Slushie.

"You were a pain in the ass even then, Eddie. Maybe three inches up, but still," my mom likes to joke. Least, I think she's joking. Hard to tell with her, what with her being a comedienne and all. "Couldn't even wait until we got to the Motel 6 in San Luis Obispo. San Luis Obispo! Who the hell is born in San Luis Obispo?"

I looked it up online. Turned out Zac Efron was born in San Luis Obispo, so I was in pretty good company, ab-wise. I mean, I could've been born in Thousand Oaks, also along my mom's figurative parade-of-dick-jokes route. Amanda Bynes was born in Thousand Oaks. So, all in all, I was glad to have been born in San Luis Obispo. In fact, if I hadn't been born there, if my mom's water hadn't gushed like the Suez Canal springing a leak, as she likes to put it, along that certain stretch of highway, then Brian and I never would have met--at least not the first time around.

See, Lisa, Brian's mom, and Ted, Brian's dad, were on their way to Lisa's mom's house to get ready for the birth of their baby, namely Brian--in case you weren't paying attention--when Lisa's water also broke, four weeks early and in an '89 BMW 325i convertible that also made our station wagon's radiator hiss, only this time out of apparent and well-earned jealousy.

In any case, blond, blue-eyed Lisa and blond, blue-eyed Ted gave birth to, you guessed it, blond, blue-eyed Brian at one in the morning. Me, I was born six minutes later in the station wagon, all brown haired, brown-eyed runt of me, before we could make it to the hospital.

Lisa and my mom, Paula, had their beds side by side for the next two days. What our dads were doing, I hadn't a clue. That part of the story always gets left out in the retelling, mainly because when my mom isn't joking about herself on stage, the conversation still generally focuses on her off stage. I mean, she's a comic, so, yes, she craves attention. It's fun at parties, but not so much when you're a little kid also craving attention--or, say, lunch.

Anyway, Paula and Lisa hit if off, which was odd in and of itself, seeing as, well, like I said, Brian's family drove an '89 Beemer and mine drove a '78 station wagon. You do the math, but one and one didn't even come close to two when it came to the pair of them: lustrous blonde vs. mousy brown, rich vs. poor, quiet vs. my mom. The only thing they had in common, of course, was us, me and Brian, and we, as it's told, also got along famously, side by side in our cribs, staring at each other through the slats.

Now then, a lot could've happened after both moms were discharged. Or, well, two things could've happened, though the least likely one actually did. First off, they could've simply hugged, said their goodbyes, wished each other well, and said ta-ta. Though my mom always goes with ta-tas, because she's a lot of things, but subtle ain't one of them. Subtlety, after all, doesn't put food on the table--not that she ever did that, mind you. Nope, pots and pans remained pristine as the day they were bought. Anyway, that's not what happened. Ta-tas were never said. Lisa and Paula, and I suppose Ted and Sam, though again you rarely hear their side of things, decided to stay in touch once the babies were settled in. And, lo and behold, that's exactly what happened.

Turned out, our families lived twenty miles apart, across the tracks, literally, but barely fifteen minutes away from one another. Fifteen minutes for the Beemer, that is. The wagon reluctantly made it in twenty, on a good day, when the weather was below eighty degrees. And in Southern California, good luck with that.

Ma was taking a break from standup to raise the old ball and highchair, as she affectionately called me. Lisa didn't work to begin with, so was always free for a gab session or, more than likely, a pinot session, which was also something the ladies had in common--fermented grapes being thicker than either blood or water. The dads went right back to work, paternity leave not being so hipster cool like it is now. And as for me and Brian, we were crib mates from the get-go, happiest in each other's company, not a peep out of us.

I've seen pictures of us from back then. We're always side by side, head to head, hand to hand, like Siamese twins without the awful tethered cartilage. Adorable, I'd say. Perhaps made for one another, but that might be pushing it a bit. In any case, the way Ma tells it, if one of us was fussy, all the other parent had to do was make the short drive--shorter for the Beemer--and that was all she wrote: instant pacifier.

As for Ma and Lisa, they became the best of friends. Ma didn't need to tell raunchy dick jokes to drunken strangers; she had an appreciative audience of one. Or perhaps a captive one of three, seeing as we were always nearby. We even laughed, I've been told, at just the right moments, trained as we were to do so.

Ma would tell her jokes, point to us, and say, "Cue!" Then she'd make a goofy face and we'd all laugh. We were soon good enough at it that we didn't need the cue; we simply picked up on her timing. Even at one! Prodigies we were, or maybe make that protégés. Give them a little Gerber's mashed peas and, voila, instant fans.

Fine, I was always a bit skeptical on that part. "Really, Ma? I was laughing at your dick and vagina jokes at one year of age?"

"Good humor is good humor, Eddie."

True, I suppose. But vaginas are nothing to laugh at. They are and have always been as foreign to me as, oh, say, astrophysics. Sure, someone's gotta appreciate it, study it, master it, but not me. What would the world be like if no one was an expert in astrophysics, right? Same thing with vaginas. I came out of one, I'm good. Been there, done that. In other words, that pinot of theirs might've made Ma remember things a bit differently.

Which isn't to say that Ma doesn't tell a good coochie joke.

But I digress. Back to the remembering.

I do remember Lisa. And Brian, of course. And not just from the scores of pictures I've seen. No, they're hard-wired into me. I learned to walk. I still walk. Hard-wired. I learned to talk. Ditto. Same thing with Lisa sand Brian. See, they were always there: at birthdays, holidays, weekends, family vacations, and then at school, once Brian and I were old enough. Lisa was the Ethel to mom's Lucy, the Rachel to her Monica, the Shirley to her Laverne. And me and Brian? Well, I suppose that made us Lenny and Squiggy, only much more adorable.

But that was still some years away yet. And by then, the two families had, sadly, gone their separate ways.

I was there the day it happened. I remember it, too. You don't have to be gay to appreciate drama--however much it helps. It was a Saturday. I was seven. Brian was coming over to play. Dad had built us a tree house. Our own split-level home could've used some work, but Ma liked getting me out of her hair, so it was sort of a win/win for everyone involved.

The doorbell rang. I can still hear it. It was a memorable ring. Oh, and not because of what was soon to occur, but because it played the theme song to All in the Family: boy, the way Glenn Miller played. See, Ma found her best inspiration for joke writing late at night, which is when she also bought the doorbell. It's amazing what they sell on TV once the Tonight Show goes off the air. We also had a shield guard for our microwave. Ma thought the radiation might've leaked like our station wagon did, and it never hurts to hedge your bets. Which is also why I have a sister, born three years after me. Elsie was a bet hedger, too, in case I someday also leaked. Or fell out of the tree house. Whichever came first.

Anyway, the doorbell rang, and Ma and I sang along. Not that I had a clue who Glenn Miller was or what exactly he played, but by then, that was also hard-wired into me. Ma answered the door; I stood behind her. Brian and his mother were on the other side. Lisa didn't even wait to start crying before she entered the house. She was bawling before our theme song even ended. Brian, too. Then we were all crying, except that two of us didn't know why just yet.

"Ted died!" my mom wailed.

Lisa coughed and covered Brian's ears. "No, Ted didn't die, Paula!"

Ma was no fan of Ted's. Sure, he was a nice guy and all, but I think she would've preferred to have Lisa all to herself. "Oh," she sighed, her hand over her chest. "Well, that's good news then."

Lisa and Brian walked inside before Ma closed the door. Brian wouldn't look at me. I knew something was seriously wrong. Brian always seemed to like looking at me. He liked my brown eyes and brown hair. He thought he was looking at himself through one of those fun house mirrors, but instead of smushing you, it reversed your features. Me, I liked looking at Brian's blond hair and blue eyes because they were so pretty. Not that I ever vocalized such a thing, mind you. I was seven, but I wasn't Ronald Reagan--which is what Ma called anything that was stupid.

"Don't be a Regan, Sam," she'd say to my dad when he'd suggest something dumb--like breakfast, and not one out of a Happy Meal box.

We had a seat in the living room. Ma sat next to Lisa. I sat on the floor playing with my G.I. Joe. I'd put doll panties on him. Ma and Dad didn't know. It was my little secret. Well, mine and Brian's. I thought he'd smile when he saw me playing with it that day, but he didn't.

I dropped the toy as Lisa dropped the news.

"We're moving," she blurted out.

My mom's lip quivered. "Bigger home? What, is this one thirty miles away? The station wagon's gonna go on strike."

Lisa shook her head. Brian shook his head. Never one to be left out, I shook mine. G.I. Joe stared up at me, head locked in place. "Pittsburg," she blurted out.

"Pittsburg, California?"

And still Lisa's head kept shaking. "Pittsburg, Pennsylvania."

My mom sucked in her breath. It was an awful sound. I'd heard a Yoko Ono album once. It was worse than that, though only by a smidge. "What, Ted's taking up steel production in his spare time?"

Lisa laughed, then cried, then laughed again, and then cried again. It was one of those women things, like tampons and Oprah. At seven, I'd seen both. I understood the latter; the former was still out of my ken. All these years later, nothing much has changed. "He's being promoted," she explained.

Again my mom's head shook. "Isn't that an oxymoron: promoted to Pittsburg?"

Lisa's head leaned forward and found its way onto my mom's shoulder. I looked away. I looked at Brian instead. At last, he was gazing back at me, those eyes of his boring in, like he was trying to burnish the image of me into his memory.

"I don't want to move to Pittsburg." She was bawling again. My mom stroked her beautiful blond locks. I'd wished I could do the same to Brian's. At the time, I didn't understand why. "There's no ocean in Pittsburg. There's no palm trees in Pittsburg." She glanced up at her friend. "There's no you in Pittsburg."

"Amen to that," said my mom before catching herself. "When are you, um, leaving?" The last word came out in a whisper. Leaving. Like cancer. I fought not to hear it, even though it buzzed around my head like a swarm of angry hornets.

Lisa wiped the tears from her face and straightened herself up, while Ma seemed to scrunch into herself, legs high, arms wrapped around her knees. She was now a ball. She liked to do that with me as well, calling herself Lucille Ball. "Here comes Lucy," she'd playfully holler, rolling into my bedroom. I never got the joke, though I liked the ball routine just the same. Only, now it was scary.

"Two weeks," came the also whispered reply, which I heard all too loud and clear.

"Two weeks? Who can pack and move in two weeks?"

Lisa shrugged. "Ted's company is doing it all. They want him there as quickly as possible."

I'd always liked Ted. Ted was one of those chill dads who never hollered when you got too noisy or when you dropped ice cream on the carpet. Now, I hated him. Hate built up inside my little body. Hate and fear. What, after all, was I going to do without Brian?