Marvin, my stepdad, nicknamed me Bird. Taller than all the boys in my kindergarten class, I had comically long limbs matched with a metabolism that made me look as nourished as Mick Jagger or Jack Skellington.
“Birdie, it’s like this: You keep your skirt down and tell ‘em to keep their zippers zipped.”
I sat on a stool in McDonald’s when my dad bestowed this single nugget of knowledge. I swiveled my stool and shoved fries into my overstuffed mouth and nodded like I knew exactly what he was talking about.
At six, I didn’t know much of what happened when skirts went up and zippers zipped down. I knew it had something to do with no-no parts and that now my birthday Happy Meal tasted different.
That was the same day he told me I had an old soul. “Old soul,” I parroted, stretching out the “o’s”. I wondered if it was older than his.
“You’re over the hill today.” He said and patted me on the back. “You’re over the mountain.” I told him and stuck out my tongue.
Follow their gut. Not their eyes.
Over the years, even after my mom and Marvin split up and after he moved away from Buffalo, he remained my stepdad, a real stepdad, stepping into shoes that were never filled for very long. I’d visit and he’d call. Before I started college he gave me an updated version of the talk he’d started when I was six. “You just never know what anyone has.”
He’d aged 40 years since I last saw him. His scent had changed from his mix of cologne and man musk to the withering body odor of a stranger. I avoided looking at him. His eyes were no place to stay. I looked down, as if this had been my fault. I stared at his ballooned feet swollen with water because of the liver failure. He clung hard to my body, and I pathetically tried to console him, “I’m not ready to go.” He sobbed and I rubbed his head, but couldn’t lie to him.
On Thanksgiving morning, Marvin’s body lay still where he slept for the last time. There is a lot to say about that day and all that followed.
Marvin buried in his gators. My godmother, Sue, slipped in the backyard. The mashed potatoes burned. My godsister Jen and I drank sweet, cheap, piss-colored wine. Thanksgiving dinner was quiet; not because of the food. Sue’s son carried her to the couch. The pastor called my sister Krystina “Katrina.” Krys and I danced to Carl Carlson. I heard “Hallelujah” for the first time. I got pulled over.
I ignored a stop sign. I’d gotten lost on my way back to the house. I was sure the road led to a dead end. Pleased to find the corner had a turn instead of a turn around, I took it. I didn’t know until the blue and red reflected in my rearview.
When the cop asked me why I was crying, I cried more.
I thought about telling him about Marvin since he taught me how to drive and how he was dead now. But the cop was walking back to his car, and the ticket was in my hand, and here there was no braking. Tears and snot ran into my mouth, I crumpled the ticket in my hand and the cop’s lights swirled once more as he left me where I was parked.
I left the keys out of the ignition. I got out and walked nowhere. The streetlights were on.