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Parties Weren't Meant to Last
By Ashlie Kauffman
No one explained to me why my brother was living with us that summer, when he slept on the couch in my mother's and my apartment. For some reason he wasn't living with my father. He was in college, at Towson State, which was only a ten or so minute drive from us, but as far as I remember, he hadn't had an apartment on campus yet, and had still lived with my father up until that summer.
We had two bedrooms in our apartment, and though my mother and I had shared a bed in the prior two we'd lived in, we didn't change the arrangement in the new one when my brother moved in. I was eight, I think—maybe I was already nine. Maybe I was past the age when my mother would be willing to share a bed with me, likely because she had a boyfriend. If I had moved into my mother's room where the double bed was, though, my brother would have been able to sleep in my room, but my mother had bought new furniture for it that was white wicker (not the dark brown color that I wanted) and the room was packed with my books and dolls and toys, including a Barbie Dream House and Barbie Corvette, with my name in pink-painted plastic letters above the bed. That could have been the deciding factor, for a nineteen year old whose room, when we lived with him and my father—when I shared it with him—was full of trophies and football pennants. Or it could have been me who didn't want to give up the first room I'd had by myself to my brother.
We had just gotten cable in the apartment, and before he moved in, I watched MTV religiously, lying on the couch and absorbing the endless images of the staged dance fight of "Beat It," the train tracks and cobblestone paths of "Breaking Us in Two," the frighteningly long fingernails of David Bowie's China girl, the floating heads of the blonde and brunette female keyboard players in "1999"—the blonde woman wearing a black captain's hat—a man's hat—pulled down over her eyes.
When my brother took over the couch, he'd take the control and turn the dial to WWF, even if I'd been lying on the floor, my chin propped in my hands, staring at David Bowie's naked silhouette on a beach, or Eddy Grant's face in close-up staring back at me. We'd argue, because I hated watching wrestling: it was boring, and obviously fake—the wrestlers bouncing off of the mat and the ropes and each other. And my brother would ignore me: even when I cried that I'd been watching TV first, that he hadn't asked, that wrestling was stupid.
My mother ignored these arguments. If she was home, she'd be spraying Pledge on the furniture, or shaking powdered cleaner into the tub, or reading a paperback romance novel, or putting on her bathing suit and telling me I had to go to the pool with her.
The only chance that my brother wouldn't take the controller from me was if a Prince video was on, both of us obsessed with watching the gyrations and eye rolls and splits, the urging and the desire. My brother kept a box of things on the floor of the hall closet, next to the vacuum, and in it, along with his pairs of sweatpants and football jerseys was a costume he had: black dress pants and a turquoise-colored muscle shirt that he'd gotten at one of those stores in Ocean City that would glue your name to the shirt in velvet letters, but which instead of my brother's name, had black velvet lettering spelling out the word PRINCE. There was also a long, purple satin cape, along with some large, round metal buttons he'd had made that had a picture of him taking his shirt off, baring a ridiculous amount of chest hair for a college student, with something white tied around his head. I can't remember if it was him or my mother who informed me that he was stripping at a dance club, but it was made obvious that it was something I would never be allowed to do and that it was okay for him because it was like dancing, which was something that he loved, and because he could make some money doing it.
His stage name was The White Prince. When "Little Red Corvette" came on, he'd pull me off the couch and teach me how to dance to it. He'd stand across from me and have me mirror to him the moves that he would make, stepping to the side he'd step to, moving my ribs and hips back and forth in opposite directions while pulling my fingers across my eyes in Vs. I'd turn my head toward the TV and time myself to the finger snaps and claps. When I got confused, he would stand beside me and show me how to do it from my own perspective: how to criss-cross my feet in front of each other while moving them across the floor, how to spin and drop down to my knees in one motion. We'd fold back the blue carpet and I'd horse-step next to him in front of the couch, swinging my arm in a circle above my head and slowing it down to smack my hip, over and over and over. The moves I liked best were the slow ones, where I'd have to slide my hand through my hair, drag the back of my hand down my cheek, sway my hips and turn my chin to my shoulder.
At the time I hadn't realized that this was one of his routines, or part of it. My mother went with a group of her friends so she could see one of his shows, pinning one of his buttons on her blouse before she left the apartment. The slow moves, my mother said, were sexy. I had stopped taking ballet the year prior, when a different man she was dating would pick me up once a week at my babysitter's and drive me down to the city, to Peabody, the arts school. There, the girls in my class and I would follow one another's steps in a circle, each holding a sheer, colored scarf out to the circle's edge as we bent our knees and leapt, our toes pointed, then flexing. Bob, the boyfriend at the time, had taken my mother and me on vacation to St. Maarten, in the Virgin Islands. He picked me up from the end of each lesson and then we'd meet up with my mother. He was probably paying for the classes. My father had never done something like that—taken us on vacation, taken me to dance class, even picked me up from my babysitter's. My mother would drop me off and pick me up from my father's apartment, and they'd spend an extra hour after my visit with him screaming at each other, while I flipped through the television channels. The slow moves in the dance my brother taught me were like ballet, delicate and feminine, but they required so much restraint, so much patience.
After school started in the fall and my brother moved out, my mother's new boyfriend moved in with us. My brother came over to babysit me with his girlfriend from when he was in high school, and they made out on the loveseat, lying on top of one another, while I sat on the couch and watched a movie. When he told me to go play in my room, I was so angry that I stomped down the hallway and slammed my bedroom door, somehow locking myself in without knowing how to unlock it. I kicked and pounded at it for him to come and get me out, and he and his girlfriend stood on the other side while he yelled at me that I knew very well what I was doing, that I'd done it on purpose, to stop lying. He finally calmed down and his girlfriend talked me through how to turn and pull at the handle to open it. I lay in my bed the rest of the afternoon, tucked under the covers, not wanting to talk to him. Locks were significant in that apartment. When I had nightmares, which came frequently, and from which I'd wake up screaming, I would spend the night crying on the floor outside of my mother's room, that was now both hers and her boyfriend's, curled up on my blanket because they'd refuse to unlock the door and let me sleep with my mother.
Both the couch and loveseat became my brother's when my mother and her boyfriend bought a house together and we moved to the northern part of the county. We gave away the Barbie Corvette and packed up the Dream House, which would sit in a box in the basement for two decades. I was in sixth grade, and in a new school district, but my mother's boyfriend drove me to my same school every morning, which was close to my brother's college, and to where my father lived, still in the apartment complex where we had once lived together. Over the winter holiday, my friend Cheryl had a sleepover for her birthday and ten of us piled into the basement in our sleeping bags to watch Purple Rain on videotape, while her parents were upstairs watching television. We all became quiet when Apollonia unzipped her leather outfit and dove into the lake, Prince standing on the bank watching her—when they had sex in his room in his parents' basement, her on her hands and knees as he bent over toward her.
Spring came, and it grew warmer, and my brother would need to move out of the house where he and his friends lived, and so my mother and I stopped by one day because he needed help cleaning. There were beer cans on every surface, a brass spittoon in the corner, full of slimy brown tobacco spit, crab shells and claws wedged under the couch cushions. They'd just had a party, my brother said, though it was something like a week earlier. He lived with four or five other men—boys, really, since they were just in college—who strode around the house, though I'm not sure what they were doing. I stood washing the dishes, which were piled up to the cabinets, while my mother cleaned everything else, listening to her complain about how filthy the house was and how he'd ruined something she'd given him, even though it was his now, and we had another sofa.
#Real #PersonalEssay #Prince #LittleRedCorvette #Family #Siblings #Lessons
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