A Brighter Shade Of by Kevin O’Rourke

Photo Credit: Amy Millios

Photo Credit: Amy Millios

The house was pink so that’s how it got the name The Pink House, though the house’s color was less of a proper pink than a lighter shade thereof, more of faded, dirtied cotton candy, but The Cotton Candy House sounds less like the name of a house than that of a business whose customer base consists of children hopelessly addicted to sugary treats, so The Cotton Candy House might not have been so inappropriate a name after all, as The Pink House functioned much of the time less as a house than as a repository and enabler of juvenile behavior, specifically alcohol-related juvenilia:

e.g. continuous punch parties; and those involving vodka encased in jello; and pre-Thanksgiving dinners attended by people in their late teens and early twenties playing grownup, wherein the attendants couldn’t tell if their drowsiness was from the turkey or the boxes of red wine, or the bongs; and far more frequently those parties thrown for no discernible reason, and with no theme aside from the rapid consumption of beer, at one of which events, standing on the back porch of the colored house in question, I once got a can of economy beer caught on my lower lip as I was attempting to shotgun it—

shotgunning being a manner of drinking a canned beverage wherein one tears a hole in the side of the can with some implement, such as one’s keys and, after opening the beverage’s top one tilts one’s head sideways and rapidly pours (for to call what one does when one shotguns drinking would be to demean the act of drinking) whatever it is that is in the can, in this case beer, rapidly down one’s throat via the new hole, the pouring process sped up by the extra air flow the hole provides

—and it was much to the delight of several of those in attendance that I got said can caught on my lip but not to my own delight, as I had a can caught on (read: in) my lower lip, the hole I’d created in the can’s side being jagged & pointy, having used to make the hole the dull key to my mother’s house several hundred miles to the east, in which she was blissfully unaware of what I was doing with the key to the back door of her house, and I am sure that I thought about how my mother would disapprove of my behavior in the strongest possible terms, and of me generally, half-drunk on a sagging porch in rural Ohio trying to wrest a can of beer from my bloody lip while one of my fellow partygoers literally pointed and laughed at me, as if seeing an undergraduate drunkenly injure himself is the funniest thing in the world, a guy

who was definitely older than all of us, he had bad facial hair and long, dark hair, I think he was an alumni and was therefore someone who at the time I thought should have been mature enough to realize that there is a time and place for drinking cheap beer with college students in small towns in Ohio and that one should not in general participate in such activities as an ‘adult’ (and should not, moreover, mercilessly heckle those who hurt themselves in so doing), which I now am, an adult: I pay bills; I get into bed around 10 PM; I am a commuter and a parent; I understand the importance of life insurance; I take fiber supplements;

and I remember such moments from my youth in the same way I imagine my mother would have thought of them then had she been so aware, with a palpable sense of disgust, and it strikes me now, years later, how few of my memories from the flower of my youth I can recall with pride or happiness, and how much of what I remember well are those things I’d in fact rather forget, but in lieu of being able to recall very much about my father, for instance, who died while I was in college, my mind is instead filled with bullshit like the details of a pink, run-down, three bedroom house in which I did not live, and in which I constantly drank myself to the point of insensibility for several years running: the fake-oak-paneled dining room where we played beer pong; the way the living room’s filthy, off-white couch sagged in the center and pushed at its seams; and most of all the kitchen, the eastern wall of which had a walk-in pantry where the punch would go, when there were punch parties, which was often.

The list of things I’d prefer to forget goes on and on, for in the years following college I continued to embarrass myself on a pretty regular basis, proving that I am not one of those people who instantly embrace adulthood—the sorts who upon getting their first job in the real world by the age of 23 have married, begun the process of procreating, and taken on a mortgage—but am instead one of those people who wander slowly into adulthood’s neighborhood and decide after more wandering, lost within the boundaries of adulthood’s neighborhood, to check out the new restaurant that just opened up down the street, to mix metaphors

as cruelly as I have tested my characteristically Irish-Catholic ability to feel deep and constant shame. Which, as cliché as the Irish shame thing might be, is something I nonetheless admit to being a victim of, as I am pretty much always ashamed of my life and past and the person I used to be, either because of embarrassing things I have done, such as getting a can of beer caught on my lower lip while binge drinking, or simply being ashamed of those now-unfashionable clothes I used to wear, or the unfortunate period, again during college, when I thought it was funny while out at night to drunkenly yell DUDE! WHAT? DUDE!! WHAT?? at the top of my lungs, in sad imitation of the forgettable stoner movie Dude, Where’s My Car?; i.e. shame at having acted, in the past, like a douchebag.

Which recognition leads to anxiety about whether any of my present actions will lead to any future shame re: acting like a douche, such as going on ad nauseum about this one dumb time I got a can caught on my lip like it was an event in my life that meant something when really, it wasn’t, at least not compared to the big events in our lives, the ones that are the architects of our dreams, like the death of one’s father when one is eighteen, but no, that’s not fair either, because were all such small moments, even those shameful ones, truly forgettable, what would be the point of remembering anything but the big things, thus making of our memories points on a sparsely populated timeline, long spaces of black nothingness punctuated by recollections of big events: BLACK birthday party BLACK waking up in the principal’s fat lap after having had a seizure BLACK staying up all night with dad watching Kindergarten Cop BLACK: and so on, but no, color is what is wanted, some color, any.

For example. My father’s mustache looms in my memories of him like an eclipse, nearly blotting out any clear recollections I might have of his appearance, unaided by photographs; when I think of my father’s face, I mainly see his mustache. I have trouble remembering what color his eyes were—I think they might have been green—and while the rest of his features are hazy, I can quite easily recall the bristles of his mustache. For most of his adult life, my father had a serious mustache, only shaving it off a few times: when he did shave it he looked oddly undressed, and always immediately grew it back. His mustache was what might be called a “full” or “natural” mustache and, as far as I know, he only ever trimmed it for length: no Dali-esque pencil or Hitlerian eraser for my father. To this day when I see well-grown mustaches on other men’s faces, I feel a twinge of envy, nostalgia, and loss.

Though my father’s mustache was for many years a deep, lustrous black, by the time he died it had begun to gray, and was flecked throughout with wiry gray hairs. In particular, there was one gray hair on the left side of my dad’s mustache that always seemed to jut out from the main mass of hair, as if it were a mustache cowlick. Because my father was fastidiously vain about his appearance, this errant gray hair was far more noticeable than it would have been had my father not trimmed his mustache on a frequent basis. So when I looked at my father’s face, I tended often as not to look at his mustache, and the way this one hair stood apart.

The hair wasn’t special in and of itself. It was a hair. And he never mentioned it, nor did I mention it and in so mentioning it prompt some sort of deep father-son conversation about grooming, and the face one presents to others, how to navigate the churning waters of adulthood, and the iniquity of aging. The hair was simply there. But it is special insofar as I remember it, or at least insofar as it is a conduit for remembering something that is special; I cannot say for sure that I would much remember what my father looked like (without photographic aid) if not for that gray hair. And so that hair, which rode on my father’s upper lip, a piece of anatomy I associate with watching him smile (& the way the hairs above it curled as his lip moved) and with watching him speak, helps keep my memories of my father from completely fading into the fog. Because my memory of that gray hair shines like a light in the dark, like lights on an airport runway in the deep dark of an autumn night, the lights climbing toward the end of the runway before retreating and climbing again, seemingly ascending to a point that they nearly reach but don’t before attempting the ascent again. The lights signaling: land here, here is safety. Here is light and warmth, and knots of family members waiting among harried strangers and disaffected airline employees lounging by the luggage carousels spinning & spinning, waiting to take you home.

 

 

Kevin ORourke is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. His work has been published in Seneca Review, Word For / Word, and Pithead Chapel, among others. He is also editor of The Hairsplitter.

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