Another story about my character Warren Cowell. This one is set in 1994 when he’s celebrating his tenth birthday with his crazy family, awaiting that arrival of classmates that don’t really seem to like him or understand his offbeat behavior. If you want more stories about this character there are dozens on this blog, but two of the more recent ones are here and here.
Trigger Warning(s): Domestic abuse, child abuse
My mom invited a bunch of kids from school over for my 10th birthday party and by the time all of them got there it was way too loud. I just wanted to open presents and eat cake and then go up to my room. None of the kids like me anyway.
Obviously they weren’t going to be mean to me in front of my mom but I could tell they just wanted to eat hamburgers and hot dogs and cake and then leave. They didn’t actually want to see me. My dad made the hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill outside, my mom talked him into it.
He was playing loud country music and singing along with his bad voice. It was a song about lonely road-side bars and women and never having to wake up alone. It was so embarrassing.
“Are you sure this music is okay for a kids’ birthday party, Earl?” My mom said, “There’s a lot of… innuendo.” I don’t know what that word means. I’ll have to ask her later or maybe just look it up.
“Kids are too sensitive these days,” my dad said. “There’s worse stuff on day-time TV.”
“Are you looking forward to seeing your friends, Warren?” Dad asked.
“Hmm.” He knows I don’t have any friends.
“Are there any cute girls in your class?”
“This one girl, Patricia, shared her gum with me yesterday.”
“That’s nice.” My dad wasn’t really listening. He was already drinking beer and he was pulling two or three cans out of the fridge at once.
“Can I have a sip?”
“No you can’t.” My mom swatted me. I should have asked when she wasn’t in the kitchen. One time he gave my sister Rachel a sip of his Bourbon and she made a face and spit on the ground for like two whole minutes, which was pretty funny. I think she was making a big show because neither one of us like Dad drinking.
He loses his temper and yells at us a lot and then he cusses and calls Mom names. One time Dad pushed me out of the way when I was standing there in the back hallway ‘phasing out’ (that’s what Mom calls it) and my shoulder bumped against the wall.
Mom got really mad at him and he finally called her a ‘stupid bitch.’ She slumped down and cried and Dad put his hand on his shoulder and said “I’m sorry.” And Mom scooted over so his hand slid off of her and said “I know.”
So, Mom got out a big pitcher of lemonade (she made it herself and made sure not to make it too sour) and pulled out the Lion King plates and cups. It’s one of my favorite movies but I can’t watch when Simba’s dad dies. I always fast-forward and go all the way to the part where he meets Timon and Pumba.
I dressed in my best shirt (I got it at a science museum and it has a bunch of beetles on it and says go buggy!) and spent some time on my hair. It’s gotten down past my ears and somebody at church the other day said they liked it. I told her I liked her hair too but I was just being polite.
I hope I don’t get in trouble with God for lying. One of the ten commandments is that you’re not supposed to lie but Mom says you can make an exception for white lies. Dad never tells white lies. He tells people exactly what he thinks but then he hurts their feelings.
While I waited for the kids from my class to arrive I watched part of a documentary on TV about dinosaurs and then I went to look for my presents but Mom didn’t put them in the usual place in the hallway closet. I snuck into Mom and Dad’s room and started looking under the bed but then I heard the doorbell ring.
Mom answered the door and Ben Mathers said hi. He had a present in his hands that was little and wrapped in bright red paper. I hid behind Mom and then peeked out and waved at him and his mom.
“He’s shy,” my mom said.
“I can see that.”
Ben smiled and handed me the present. I felt it and then I sniffed it and Ben laughed, which made me feel bad.
“Put it on the table next to the cake,” Mom said. The cake was blue and green with an icing race car. Ben wasn’t mean to me at school but we weren’t friends either. We hardly even talked to each other unless the teacher paired us up for an assignment.
“Do you want to play Mario Karts?” I asked.
Ben shrugged. “Okay.” He had really dark eyes and was one of the only boys in my class who wore glasses. I wanted to ask him if I could try them on but I thought that would probably be weird.
I kept winning and every time I yelled “Ha ha! I won!” and Ben went red. He dropped the controller on the glass coffee table and went to the kitchen to talk to his mom. Dad walked in and put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘Nobody likes a know-it-all.’
When the other kids came over we all went outside and I sat with Patricia for a while and talked about random stuff. Ben wasn’t talking to me and most of the other kids were hanging out with each other. Patricia walked away after a while so I went to sit next to Mom and some of the other moms, who were talking and laughing.
Mom kissed my head. “Are you excited to be turning ten?”
I looked around at Dad cooking meat on the grill and the other kids from school pretending I wasn’t there.
I sighed. “Yeah.” It was another white lie but I don’t think anybody at the table noticed.