International Writers Magazine: Lifestories
on Good and Bad
was the summer after I'd crashed and burned at U.C. Davis, and
I'd come home feeling as if my whole world were tumbling. Whenever
something awful or unexpected happens, and there's no love in
a family, all kinds of ugly things can happen inside a house.
My mom, her beef
was with all the little crumbs I kept leaving on the floor. Toast crumbs,
rice cake crumbs, grapes and raisins fallen out of slices of raisin
whole wheat toast. She couldn't stand the sight of these, and somehow
I think they must have been all the bits and pieces of my college educational
My dad, on the other hand, was just outright mean sometimes and really
tough to talk to. But, we had our moments, especially when we'd get
out into nature. It was as if Redwood forest or Juaquin Miller park,
with those holy trees looking down on us as guardians, we could shoot
our mouths off about anything we felt inside. They'd protect us and
keep us from beating the heck out of each other.
"I'm telling you dad," I tried to say as forcefully as possible.
"There are such things as good and evil. Things that are very simple,
like Superman, Batman, heroes in storybooks. But then there are
more complicated things, things of the heart. Sometimes, maybe somewhere,
you'll find something, like a book or a movie, or a subject, or a friend,
or a woman, who touches your heart. Or maybe there's a decision coming
up. Something you've thought about doing that keeps on coming up in
your mind and feels good, so good, to just think about. Just thinking
about this thing makes your insides light up and you just want to jump
for joy. Well that's good. And it's the evil that stops you from doing
it, or gets in your way, or crushes all joy, or stamps out the light.
There's a battle out there. I know it. I've felt it."
We walk for a while and reach a fork in the road. Dad's thinking. He's
thinking real hard and I have to nudge him and ask him, "Are we
going this way, or that way?"
Suddenly, he bursts to life, "there was this Persian guy. He slept
in the room next to me. Well, he'd always have some girl or another
in there with him. And you should have heard the stories he'd tell them
to get them there. And then they'd come up to me afterwards and ask
me where he was. What he was doing."
"He dropped them. Just like that."
"But you weren't like that. What about mom?"
"Ha-ha. That. That's what you call the biological drive. We met
in an all you can eat ribs place, after singing."
"That figures," I laughed. My dad had always been a big eater.
"And then I remember afterward, I was on the bus, joking around
with the bus driver, who was a friend of mine. And he said to me, 'Hey
Paul, I bet you can't get that Berkeley girl.' He bet me five bucks.
Now, who he meant was this blonde bomb who was sitting in the back of
the bus. I guess he'd been peaking out at here in the rear view mirror
for a while and he was probably thinking about doing something himself
if he hadn't been driving the bus. But I took it to mean your mom. She
was spunky and red-headed, and I always wondered, 'how the heck could
a girl have that much energy?'."
"So you followed her out here? In your car?"
"Yep. She was married at the time so I had to lay low. I hung around
doing dish washing jobs. I worked in a Bakery for a while."
"And then she left him, and then you found her."
"And then it was Adam, and then it was you."
"You know what dad," I said as we passed out of the trees
and onto the sunny hill. "Fuck the Persian guy."
I guess I'd just wanted to know why bad things happened in the world.
When I was a boy I once dropped a train into a pond, and cried for hours.
It felt like it would never come back. I wanted to dive down but I was
afraid of the murky depths, and I doubt my mom and dad would have let
me. And I wouldn't take any replacement toy train. I knew that no matter
how many new toy trains I ever got, they'd always be different from
that one which may still now be buried under sand deep down at the bottom
of that pond.
I was getting ready to go back to U.C. Berkeley for the summer, and
my brother was coming home from Taiwan for the first time since Christmas.
Up until then it'd all been homesick calls from Pouli, a small province
at the center of Taiwan, called Tai Zhong, nearby Da Jia. I can't say
he liked teaching down there one bit, except for those weekends when
he'd ride off on his motor scooter down a long, winding dusty road toward
Da Jia, where he'd wander around Cafes chasing after girls and writing
It was morning and I had just woken up after a family feud over school
again. And I felt like I needed to do something to fix everything. My
brother would be getting home on the BART train soon enough. I'd been
using his room as a kind of office to work from while he'd been gone,
and I moved my computer back into my room. And I organized his shoes
under his bed and tried to straighten everything out for him. He'd be
back soon enough.
But where were my glasses? I suddenly thought as I was about to go out
for lunch. I'd been near-sighted for eighteen years before I finally
flunked an eye examination and qualified myself for a fairly weak prescription.
My eyes weren't bad, but, sometimes, just losing something so little
after losing something so big can be a mighty blow.
In frustration, while I searched, I pushed over my bookcase, and it
keeled downward, crashing upon my dresser and spilling everything on
the floor. My glasses were gone, I couldn't see, and everything around
me that I'd I'd collected from the world as a momento of everything
I loved lay in ruins. But my mom came to the rescue. She had a moment
"I'm sorry mom, I'm an idiot."
"Adam was coming home so I was moving my computer and I'd put my
glasses somewhere, but then they were gone, and I didn't know what I
was going to do for summer classes but... I ruined everything."
"No... everything's not ruined. It just needs to be picked up."
"But picking things up can be so difficult, especially when it
feels like there's no hope in sight for the future."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I can't see! What will I do in class?"
"You can always listen."
"I know but... it's not the same!"
"He's not so bad, when you really think about it."
"I mean, there are good times."
"Oh, I know."
"And bad times too. Ups and downs."
"There're always ups and downs."
"I just wish he would quit sometimes!"
"Me too. But you've got to support him."
"Support him in whatever he does, good or bad, if you love him."
"Ever read Crime and Punishment? Raskolnikov, a student, kills
an old woman because he thinks she's too cruel to continue living."
"How can he justify that?"
"In short, he calls himself a God."
"Or at least Alexander the Great. A true king among students, as
"Ah, I see."
"Anyway, the point is this Raskolnikov is hounded by the police.
He was isolated. Trapped in a room. No friends. No relatives. He went
insane. But when his parents returned he regretted every moment. He regretted
it so much he knelt in the middle of the cross roads and begged for mercy
from the entire world. And yet there was a woman who loved him, who moved
to Siberia to be with him."
"Through good and bad."
"There is no darkness that cannot be brought to light."
© David Tavernier
Schoolfriends by David
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