ERASER HEAD (part 1)
[from "Eraser Head" by Tim Freeman]
Ever since Patrick was old enough to suck his thumb he can remember dreaming of the day when he would walk through foreign lands in army-supplied camo brandishing a machine gun for defensive and offensive purposes. He envisioned eating K-ration meals in fox holes and patrolling streets littered with spent shell casings, twisted bits of shrapnel glinting in the sun like metal orange peels and maybe even the occasional body part or two. He liked to imagine the smells of war at family barbeques or on the 4th of July. Having never been in an actual combat zone he wondered how closely these smells approximated the actual aroma of a battlefield.
GI Joe figures littered his house growing up which he sometimes played with in bed wearing his camouflage pajamas with the words SLEEP TROOPER sprawled across the chest. When he entered high school he joined the Junior ROTC and ran Cross-Country. He was also a varsity member of the swim team by his sophomore year. He took karate classes and in the eleventh grade he became a part-time karate instructor. Patrick did everything he could to fortify his body and mind for the trials that lay ahead. He was building the iron constitution that he would need as a man of the military.
By the end of his junior year he was well into the application process for The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Everything was falling into place just like he had imagined.
Then he had his accident.
IT was an unseasonably chilly night in June with a crisp breeze blowing from the northwest through the valley where New Hatfield straddled the border between Hacksack and Totum Counties. It wasn’t just any night in New Hatfield. Tonight was the night of the Senior Ball at Free Mason Academy High School and everybody who was anybody was headed to the house of a popular girl who lived in the hills that overlooked the city. Patrick and his friends Aleisha and Justin climbed into Patrick’s ‘83 Honda Civic and drove to the party from the dance. They were following a long line of cars all headed in the same direction that moved like a noisy funeral procession of partying teenagers in rented tuxedos and sheer, lacy dresses.
“There’s gonna be beer at the party,” Aliesha said as she lit a cigarette. “Beer, beer, beer!” She had a tendency to repeat things over and over like a little kid when she was exited.
“No beer. No drinking,” Patrick said with a fatherly inflection of sternness in his voice.
“What?” Aleisha snorted out a laugh and the question at the same time, almost dropping her cigarette down her cleavage.
“I just don’t want to be responsible for what happens if anybody drinks.”
An incredulous silence hovered in the car for a moment. It seemed that all the air had gone out the windows and Patrick suddenly felt helpless. His cheeks became hot and rosy. He was momentarily embarrassed by being viewed as a prude by his closest friends, but he knew in his heart of hearts he was doing the right thing. Foreseeing the potential for this scenario, he had worn his RIGHT IS WRONG AND I AM STILL CAPTAIN shirt under his tuxedo.
“No one‘s going to force you to drink,” said Justin from the shadows of the back seat.
“You really should though. You don’t want to remember tonight. All your dickweed high school friends being dickweeds for the last time.” Aleisha could muster a persuasive tone when she wanted to and she was using it right now on Patrick.
“No. No alcohol. Can’t drink alcohol.” Patrick reiterated his position and stayed firm to it despite more complaints from his comrades.
The conversation continued this way as they followed the snaking line of cars up into the hilly, suburban streets of New Hatfield where the doctors and lawyers all had sprawling houses with neatly manicured lawns. The house of the girl who was hosting the party was at the top of the hill in a cul de sac of newly developed houses. Half of the houses on the street were still wooden frames erected over concrete foundations. Shadows of people were standing inside of these frames passing around small burning cherries of joints and talking trash and laughing. Aleisha, in a fit of exitement, almost jumped out of the car before it had come to a complete stop.
“Gonna get drunk, drunk-drunk-drunk-drunk!” she sang as she hopped across the front lawn where people were flocking into the party.
“That’s a negative,” Patrick said.
“There’s going to be a big bong,” Justin said.
“Negativity,” Patrick responded. This somewhat jovial response to Justin’s prodding belied an incipient relaxing to his hitherto position of firmness, and Patrick was aware of it.
“Bong. Spell it. Bong,” said Justin.
This was always the way Patrick gave in. Peer pressure. He could maintain his iron constitution as long as he wasn’t with his friends, who he always felt he had to impress. Somewhere up there, he thought, every Remsey is looking down at him with disapproval in their sad little eyes and shaking their heads. “Patrick! You should know better,” they were probably saying right now.
Deep in his heart of hearts there was a voice whispering. It was telling him he should back out, think up an excuse to leave the party. Get away. Go far away. Sit on the levy all alone, maybe, or go home and lie in bed with the lights out and listen to White Snake until he fell asleep. The voice was barely audible, but it was there. If he listened through the din of the party he could just hear it. The voice of his ancestors, a small fountain of voices in his heart springing up. He tried to listen but the faces of his peers standing around told him he was a freak if he did, so he stopped.
“C’mon,” Justin said.