I’d just broken up a fight between Earl and Eddie – I was seriously disappointed in Earl and had sent him to the front room to serve a time-out until bedtime. Earl had been a good Head Boy, he had a good job at a sawmill and he was on his way to being a productive grownup. The possibility that he would throw it all away by losing his temper and attacking Eddie was extremely frustrating.
As a result, I was positively furious with Eddie.
I stood up to deal with Eddie, but I’d stood up too fast and got dizzy, so I had to sit back down. Why in the world had I drunk so much beer?
Then I stood up more slowly, walked to the screen door and growled, “Eddie! Get your ass in here!”
Eddie, wide-eyed, pointed to himself and mouthed “Me?” as though there were six Eddies out there and I might be talking to someone else. “You have three seconds,” I said, and walked back to my chair.
Suddenly the screen door blew open and Eddie came flying in, shouting, “Two and a half seconds!”
“Shut up and sit down,” I said.
“Oh, no,” he said, “I ain’t sittin’ in no Teddy’s chair, no way, I …”
Gingerly, his eyes scrunched shut, Eddie eased himself into Teddy’s chair, certain he’d be zapped into eternity. When it didn’t happen, he looked around wonderingly.
I opened my mouth to start in on him, but Eddie quickly held up both hands and said, “I din do nothin’, Mr C, I was jus’ sittin’ there mindin’ my own …”
“Put a sock in it, Eddie,” I said. “I’ve got half a mind to crook my arm around your scrawny neck and finish what Earl started.” Eddie put his hand to his neck and looked nervous. I pointed at him. “How many times have I told you not to start in on Earl? Are you deaf or just stupid?”
Eddie’s mouth opened and closed several times but no sound came out. “You think you’re clever and funny, Eddie, but you’ll never be half the man Earl is.”
“Hey!” he said. “That ain’t …”
“And it’s not just Earl. You taunt and mock all the kids until they’re ready to kill you. The only difference with Earl is that he’s big enough to do it.”
“I don’t hardly never …”
“And let me tell you something else. In a few months Earl will turn eighteen and he’ll have to leave VA. We’ll be looking for a new Head Boy and …”
“Tha’s me!” he said, pointing excitedly to himself. “Eddie’s your new Head Boy, Mr. C, yessiree!”
“Just so you know,” I said, “right now you’re dead last on my list of candidates.” Eddie seemed shocked. “That’s right, Eddie. Nobody wants a Head Boy who makes fun of everybody, who gets them all twisted around in their minds until they crack.”
“No, huh uh,” Eddie said. “I don’t do that no more.”
“You just did it!”
“No,” Eddie explained, “I mean, I don’t do it no more since then!”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see. You’ve got two months to clean up your act. But right now you’re going to bed early. Get out of my sight and up to your room.”
“But, Mr. C, it ain’t but …”
“You have three seconds.”
Eddie spent one of those seconds looking stunned, but then he shot out of the chair and across the kitchen and was gone.
I sat in my chair for a good ten minutes, wondering if I had the strength to make it up to my room on the third floor. Then I heard loud yelling outside, followed quickly by one of the girls crying and then more hollering. I thought, now what?
I stood up – slowly – and walked to the screen door and looked out. Meg was nowhere to be seen – turned out she’d gone around to the parking lot to get something out of her car. In the meantime Terry had completely lost control of the kids.
I knew the kids were upset about the fight between Earl and Eddie, and that they were even more upset about the fight between Earl and me. I didn’t blame them and I wasn’t mad at the kids – I was mad at Terry. How could she have lost control of things so quickly?
I knew how, actually. Terry didn’t give a damn about the kids, paid little attention to them, and was mostly clueless about how they were feeling. It was amazing how different two sisters could be.
In any event, I couldn’t yell at Terry, at least not in front of the kids, so instead I yelled at the kids: “Everybody knock it off!” I shouted. “I’m sick of all this nonsense!” The kids looked startled but they did stop hollering and crying.
“In fact,” I said, “I’ve had it with all this commotion. You’re all going to bed early, get up to your rooms – now!”
The kids ran inside and Terry, shooting me a very nasty glance, followed them in.
The next thirty minutes were a complete blank. I had it in my mind that I needed to go up to my room, but the thought of navigating three flights of stairs in my inebriated condition was daunting.
But what had I done for that half hour? Had I gone up to my room and then come back down? Had I just wandered around the VA property in a drunken stupor? I had no idea.
Eventually, Meg’s voice brought me out of my blackout and I realized I was sitting under a pine tree at the far edge of the VA property. How’d I get there?
“There you are!” Meg said. “I’ve been looking all over the place for you! I need you to come inside and tell the girls they can get out of their beds.”
“You tell them,” I said.
“I did tell them! They won’t listen to me because you were the one who told them to get in their beds in the first place!”
But I shook my head. “I can’t do it,” I said.
“Because I don’t work here anymore.”
Next up: VA, Part 17
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