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"Pastel, Bike and Jump"


Easter Day, 1993. There it was, finally, in pink wrapping paper and surrounded by jelly beans and Pez in my Easter basket, a copy of Kris Kross's debut album, Totally Krossed Out. The record had been out for a year and I'd been asking my parents to buy it for 11 months. At last, there it was - all the hits, in my reach. "Jump," "I Missed the Bus," "It's a Shame" and, most importantly, "Warm It Up." For exactly 10 minutes I floated on air, hovering above the couch, ready for church, holding the squarish plastic case, looking at the liner notes, anxious to get home from Easter mass so I could watch my Sunday morning barrage of Nickeloeon originals before popping my new treasure into the still-new portable CD player I'd just received for Christmas. I'd wanted the disc more than anything else for Christmas, but didn't get it and was upset. My parents, clearly, took note. For kids back then, in the 90s, it was easy. We didn't need much. Maybe a little McDonalds here and a late night spent watching movies and eating candy there. But a new CD to call my own?! Totally Krossed Out was, in those days, the pinnacle. My parents didn't know about this kind of happiness, but I did.

Before I could listen to my CD on Easter day 1993 my life stopped, started again, steadied, then took a nose dive.

Dad came downstairs, acting cold as ever. "Get in the car," he barked, stinking of Old Spice. "Mom's not feeling well, she's going to miss Easter mass this year." Something was wrong. People have told me all through my life that I have intuition, and that was one of the moments where I felt it most. All through mass I sat still, not thinking about "Rocco's Modern Life," "Clarissa Explains It All," my new Jermaine Dupri-produced treasure or the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the sky. Rather, I was stumped, wondering what could be wrong at home. Mom wasn't sick; I'd just seen her the prior night and she was fine. My stomach turned and turned as I stole glances of my dad's face while he sang along to the usual hymns. Those ridiculious fucking hymns that I'll never forget.

Dad had been a different person for a year or so, and it had changed mom, too. But not for the better. Mom had been staying up late at night, long after dad went to bed, to talk to my older sister. She'd vent about this and that - all the bad things dad was doing - with anger while Laura sat listening and eating at her fingers. They'd heat up frozen pizzas and watch TV and talk until 1 a.m. I'd sit and listen, not understanding a bit of their speculative girl talk. All I knew for sure was that dad was as happy as ever, mom was as sad as ever and Laura was staying up really late into the night. Weeks earlier, on Christmas afternoon when I was supposed to be in my room playing with my new CD player, I caught my parents doing something strange. They were laying together on the recliner, wrapped in a blanket. I'd never seen them so much as hug before now, yet here they were, tangled together, red-faced - either fighting, crying or fucking. My guess was crying, but only because I still wasn't quite sure what this whole "fucking" thing was yet. The closest I'd gotten was a few mysterious crotch pains after looking at Kathy Ireland in the Kmart ad on the weekends.

When we returned from church mom was nowhere to be found. I wandered into the house and looked around, then sat and held my CD, pretending to stare at the liner notes as my mind raced. Dad went upstairs for what felt like forever and Laura went to her room, slamming the door. Eventually the phone rang and dad picked up. All he said was "okay," but he did so in a voice I'd not ever heard him use. Not once. Dad looked out the window for a while before going into the bathroom with the phone. He whispered to someone - was it mom or was it the woman mom had been talking about at night? - for a few minutes then came out and headed back upstairs as I continued sitting in silence, wondering where mom and my little sister might be. Just as I was about to give up on my bad feelings and forget about whatever was mysteriously going on behind the scenes I heard crying. Loud crying. It went on and on, for minutes and minutes. It was Laura, in her room, and she was really, really crying. In a way I'd not heard her cry before. She was only 15 at the time, but was already a smoker who dated boys who claimed to be in gangs. But none of that gangster shit mattered now, because when Laura cried like this, well ... she may as well had been six years old.

I cracked Laura's bedroom door and looked in to see my sister and dad hugging, both crying. "Your mom left with Dani," Dad finally said. "Come here."

I joined the hug/cry, still frozen and most definitely clueless. What did dad mean? Did Laura know something? What made her cry so loudly and was I supposed to be crying loudly? Would I ever listen to Kris Kross again or had my sub-culture exploration been spoiled? Would I ever watch my Sunday morning Nickelodeon line-up again? Had Easter been called off?

"Mom's going to call back in a bit and we'll know more," Dad finally said. "But she's okay, and so is Dani ... why don't you go watch TV and relax, buddy."

Oh, sure. Easy, buddy. But I did as told. I always did as I was told. Eventually dad, seemingly oddly happy all of the sudden, turned off the TV and knelt in front of me. "Mom is coming back with Dani in an hour," he said. "But she wants me to leave. So I'm going to go stay with my friend Jack for a while. You look out for your mom, okay?"

The time inbetween when mom came back and dad left was terrifying. Why would dad leave and where had mom been? Would someone explain to me what was going on! Or did they maybe just assume I understood. In those days I understood Kris Kross, Major League Baseball, the NBA, a number of sitcoms, and was starting to understand the NFL. Little else. Eventually, after a few more phone calls from mom, dad suggested that I leave for a while. "Why don't you go over to Teddy's house and play basketball," he said. "I just talked to his dad and they're expecting you."

This was odd. Dad had never once called Teddy's dad or took any interest in my budding basketball obsession (dad liked baseball, swimming and rollerblading). "Mom will be here when you get back," he added. "I love you ... are you okay? ... don't worry ... did you like your new CD? ... is it the right one? ... did you enjoy mass this morning? ... go have fun with Teddy ... we'll talk tomorrow ... I'll come by and we'll go look at some new Rollerblades for you ... it'll be fine ... I'll call you tonight ... hurry, if you go now, quickly, you'll beat the rain." I just stood there, looking at my dad's dirty green eyes, clueless. There were brown flecks in the green that made him seem distant. "You have to go now, they're waiting for you."

And so I jumped
 (Jump! Jump!)
 on my bike, absolutely dazed, and peddled to Teddy's house, which was about two miles directly east of my house. When I got there Teddy and his dad were already shooting baskets. Teddy's dad, Ted, smiled big at me and just said "hey dude." The three of us shot and shot and shot, not talking, until the rain came. Then we went inside and ate leftovers from the previous day's dinner and, eventually, played video games
, listened to Totally Crossed Out
 and shot more baskets. All day the rain and sun traded places until the grey evening began to set in. Ted and Teddy just kept on hanging out until finally the phone rang and Ted told me my mom wanted me to come home.

I rode home, frightened. What was waiting for me beyond the greyness I rode slowly through? Dad? Not dad. Mom? Yes mom. After putting my bike in the garage I walked outside and looked at the sky, wondering where all the rain really came from. Wondering if dad had maybe done some of the bad things mom had been talking about - or worse. Not yet anywhere close to the knowledge that Easter would become not just my least favorite holiday, but my least favorite day of every year for the rest of my life.

I don't remember what happened after I walked into the house, but people kept coming in and out of our house all night long. Friends and family. My mom's sister came down from Indianapolis. Three or four of my mom's friends stopped by and talked to my mom late into the night. Even Jack, my dad's friend, stopped by for a while, "just to check up and get some things for Victor," he said. Why couldn't my dad get his own things? He slept here last night. He woke up here this morning. Flecks of his shaven facial hair were on the sink and his grass-cutting shoes were in the garage. Before I knew it the moon was up and it was nearly midnight. Mom, also oblivoius to the time, finally came up to my room, where I was, for some reason, playing with Legos. I hand not played with my Legos in years and years. Half my life at the time, probably. "Do you want to come down and watch TV with Laura and I? I can make us some dinner." I had no reply. "You can miss school tomorrow if you want. Just this once."

I took my Totally Krossed Out CD downstairs with me, feeling better, as well as some of my Easter candy. I was excited to stay up late and sleep in the next day and eat dinner and see that my mom was still alive. I didn't yet know the pain of real human growth, but I was beginning to see that life was tricky. Sometimes you had to lie about being sick and sometimes you have to leave. And happiness, for most, doesn't boil down to something as simple as discs containing music or shooting hoops in the driveway, or kids wearing their clothes backwards, or staying up late watching the still-pretty-damn-great Thelma and 
Mah'Fuckin' 
Louise while eating prozen pizza and egg rolls. (After Thelma ended Laura went to bed while mom and I stayed up. The next movie on USA Up All Night was National Lampoon's Vacation, which meant that my mom and I were about to share a glimpse of Beverly D'Angelo's then-perfect boobs - a memory I'll probably never forget.)

I often ask myself these days if I've been since stuck in a state of suspended reality. Am I stranded at age 13 because of the emotional horror of Easter 1993? Do I love CDs the way I do because my parents decided once and for all, on the same day I got Totally Krossed Out, that they were splitsville? Has the importance of holding that CD on that day lasted all along? Because, well, I most definitely still turn to CDs in times of need, and have always done so ever since.

A few days ago I happenstantially ran into Teddy's dad, Ted, at Best Buy. He was on his way out, carrying some sort of huge electronics box with a big smile on his face, practically bouncing through the store; I was on my way in, planning to buy Craig Finn's 
mediocre debut
 solo album. This was the first time I'd seen Ted, now in his 60s, in at least 10 years. Ted was a self-made man. A successful psychologist who spent most of his life working at a very rowdy State Mental Hospital located on the north end of Fort Wayne. He played college football and was one of the best amateur weightlifters in the country for 25 years. Growing up Teddy and I would often go to Ted's weightlifting competitions, where he'd always win first place in his age group while Teddy and I wandered around the town where the meet was held.When I saw him recently I realized that, at 5'9 1/2", I was now taller than the aging Ted Striverson, Sr. who always seemed bigger than life to me and Teddy. But, damn, he still looked just as muscular as any linebacker I'd ever seen. And, more than anything, he looked very happy. Happy to see me? Happy to get home and plug in whatever new toy he'd just picked up? My guess is that Ted had just bought a 3D projector for his house, because that's exactly the kind of thing Ted would buy. Not a coffee maker, not a computer.

As much as I despise the 3D fad of the day, I can't help but wish I could go back over to Ted's house again to hang out, watch television, eat leftovers and shoot baskets and forget about the pain my family has been in since that gray Easter day in 1993. As much as I love music and look forward to cracking open any new CD I buy - even a strangely Christian one by the fading frontman of The Hold Steady - I can't kid myself. I'd much, much rather hang out with Ted and Teddy again, sitting on the floor, watching NBA games or whatever movie happens to be on. Passing around a bottle of hot sauce as we sip sodas and aim funny comments towards the television. Shoot hoops
, listen to raps
 and forget about the mess that is real life.

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