I'm not at work. I'm not even in Texas. I'm holed up under a feather comforter in my brother's new house in the bleak mid-western city where he lives with his wife and eleven-month-old daughter.
The house is huge, swank, and located in an exclusive neighborhood of old trees and other nearly identical huge, swank houses. I don't think any member of my family as ever lived in a house and neighborhood like this before, ever. But we have always wanted to.
His wife is a doctor, see. She works in adult medicine at a city hospital, which has got to be one of the most thankless jobs in the profession. Her patients are all sicker than sick, most of them with chronic illnesses that only get worse. They might live relatively pain-free, she says, if they would take a modicum of responsibility for their own health, but they don't, so they end up in the hospital. Lots of them die, essentially of laziness and stupidity. That's her take on it anyway.
But, she makes a lot of money and has a really nice house and a semi-psychotic trophy husband to stay home and take care of the baby, cook her nice meals, and clean his guns. So somebody in my family married money, after all.
My brother. The handsome one. He got the blue eyes and the ash-blond hair and the eyebrows arched like one clean stroke of ink. He got the brains, too, and he got something else. I don't know what to call it. Men in my family are cursed, and I was supposed to be a man, but I'm not. I only felt the shadow of it but my brother got the full dose of doom. I always wanted him to love me, but I see now that he couldn't.
I recognize little things. Like yesterday I was looking for coffee in the pantry and found the half-eaten bar of chocolate wrapped up and hidden in an old canister. Food hoarding. Weird, residual instinct. I've done it, too, but not in years. Only in times of stress. Food under the bed. Food in the top left drawer of the dresser where no one can see it, no one can find it. Just in case. It's not the food you need as much as the secret.
When my brother and I were small, I didn't know we were poor. Life on the farm was pretty idyllic, in a Tom Sawyer way, if you filtered out my mom's trips to the hospital and my dad's rare but terrifying outburts. My brother was the one who taught me we were poor. He taught me not to ask for toys or treats or second helpings at dinner. He taught me that having things is a zero sum game and every bite you swallow comes from someone else's mouth.
And now he lives in this house, this enormous house. This house with rooms that they don't even use. He is making himself ugly, bit by bit. He fights, MMA, and his ear is permanently fucked. He shaves his head and tries not to be the handsome one.
He's sweet with the baby, though. Plays peekaboo and tosses her in the air and spoons mush expertly into her tiny mouth, like dads are supposed to do.
She's a pretty cool baby. She learned to walk about a month ago. She takes a lot of face plants, but gets up without a tear and keeps trying. I could watch her fall down and get back up all day.
I haven't thought about whether I'll be dancing in the future, and I won't bore you or myself with the details of the last couple of weeks. Well, just this: my last night, an occasional customer of mine I call John the Gimp paid me again to flick ash and spit loogies in his beer and "make" him drink it. When John the Gimp started coming to see me, I had to fake a lot of the agression. But over the nearly a year I've known him, I've come to hate him nearly as much as he wants me to. I wish he wouldn't come to see me, but he does. I tell him to give me the money and shut the fuck up.
He shuts up, but only for a little at a time. Then he's sniveling again. "Could you please -- oh, mistress, could you please -- could you blow your nose on this napkin and feed it to me?"
"Shut up," I say. "You're disgusting, you know that? I mean it. You make me sick."
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes."
I blow my nose and push the napkin into his loser mouth. He waits til he thinks I'm not looking and then quietly takes the napkin out and puts it in his pocket. I wonder, not for the first time, which of us is really being degraded.
So anyway, maybe I'll dance again and maybe I won't. I'm not deciding right now. I'm just enjoying this feather comforter for all that it's worth. Which, given how my bro lives now, is probably a lot.