My Father, the Green Boy

That old house on Big Spring Avenue was the damndest house. It was structured almost labyrinthinely, with halls winding back on themselves, unexpected back staircases, two patios, two balconies; like those places you hear about where voices told an old woman to keep building, and she did, and nobody stopped her.

To a kid, it was a marvel. It seemed all houses must be built like this: with surprises. And of course, it was ugly, too. Poop-brown hardwood floors in some rooms, and elegantly finished wood in another. Gray wood paneling on some walls, and on others, wallpaper that seemed to have been designed solely to confuse, a mix of paisley and leopard print. It was at this particular woozy wallpaper that I was staring the day my father came home as a stranger.

It is the kitchen wallpaper to which I refer.  It was mostly green, with some yellows. It was a flower print, mainly, with other little slapdash touches thrown in, in case anyone thought for a moment it made any sense. As I grew older, I started seeing pictures in the patterns, the way starry-eyed teenagers see turtles or boobs in clouds. Men riding bicycles were in that wallpaper, as were wedding cakes, rocket ships, shovels, and Falcor, from The Neverending Story. I was staring at this wallpaper when my father walked into the den—which is facing the kitchen, with a big wide open door between the two rooms—and I had no idea who he was.

I thought at first that one of the Green boys had broken into my house and was about to kill me. The Green boys (on the off-chance you’ve never heard of them) were the most rotten, vile, badass kids Newville had ever seen. One of them was  mentally disabled, which in those more unenlightened days seemed like some kind of moral failing. Every time something horrible happened, it was blamed on the Green boys, and there seemed to be more Green boys than Baldwins (a reference that would have made sense even in 1984). There were so many Green boys, in fact, that I had no idea what any of them looked like. All badass boys were simply Green boys.

He entered the den and it is the first time I remember feeling that stomach-dropping sink of fear, the kind where you almost instantly puke. This feeling shares a home with the ‘I slept past my alarm’ feeling, as well as the ‘cop lights in the rearview’ feeling, but it is more intense and coercive. It’s the same kind of fear you get when your car starts to go off the road, or a relative tells you to ‘sit down’ before they start a conversation.  Such in-depth fear is quite foreign to such a young person.

I leaped from the dining room chair (at this point, still quite a feat for me) and padded my little feet around the gray tiled kitchen floor, to position myself behind the kitchen table (a table, incidentally, which I can no longer picture in my mind, at all). He was closer, perhaps by ten feet, and still advancing. Finally I summoned enough child-courage to address this advancing (grinning) man: “Who are you?”

The man only grinned and kept advancing. I questioned him again, “Who are you?” Still no reply.

The fear was incredible now. I thought I would die. Have a ‘hard attack’ as I thought they were called. My body trembled, my saliva flowed uncontrollably (this happens), my voice shook, and finally, tears. I turned and ran from the room.

I ran through the laundry room, which was really a concrete hallway painted some sort of color, with a makeshift bathroom on the left hand side (with walls made from, I believe, plywood) and the washer and dryer on the right. Quickly through the laundry room, out the back door, down the six concrete steps of the slab back porch, into the bright preening sunlight of an unassuming day. There, I found my mother where I knew she would be (hanging laundry? Digging in the garden?) and I explain our frantic situation. It was no longer my frantic situation; obviously now my mother was in danger, too. The Green boy couldn’t be far behind me.

Before my mother could fully grasp what I was saying to her, the man stepped out of the back door, onto the slab porch, still grinning. My mother gave a small but serious laugh.

“Oh honey, that’s your dad! He just shaved his beard, is all.”

Dad, don’t feel bad. There’s no way you could have known.

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