Carly

Brother lost to dreams of rock-n-roll fame and fortune. Last seen in Florida 1987. Dave, come home. Carly@allisforgiven.net 
Carly wrapped her feet in the trailing length of flannel pink nightgown, and perched her cereal bowl on top of her bony knees. Captain Crunch and Space Blazers – a perfect Saturday morning.  Except Mom wasn’t home from work, yet, and it would  be three more weeks before she would spend her annual summer vacation with Dad – in which case it would be pancakes on the couch dripping in homemade syrup, and laughing while the Road Runner outsmarted the Coyote. No, this morning’s company included her 19-year old brother snoring lustily down the hall, wearing down vocal cords made raw by a night of what he called singing and Carly called screaming into an ancient microphone with his friends in the attached garage.

Carly hated the nights her mom worked at the hospital and Dave was told off to watch her. He made no bones about showing his dislike of the task, as well. Invariably it meant spending the night playing fetch for Dave and his buddies while they mastered the intricacies of “Running Free.” Or tried to. Carly grimaced as she crunched a spoonful of cereal. When Carly wasn’t subjected to the cassette tape turned up as loud as the aging stereo would allow, she was plugging her ears with her fingers in the garage, waiting for the next break when Dave sent her for sodas and chips for all the guys and their invariably changing gaggle of girlfriends, with hair teased impossibly huge and painted up in garish colors, puffing away on a variety of cigarettes.

Carly hated the smell, and knew Dave did, too. He kept trying to shoo the girls outside to smoke, but they were oddly resistant to the suggestion, instead preferring to huddle near the open window in a vain attempt to send the smoke outdoors. Mom, from her work at the hospital, offered interesting little bits of information about what this drug, that activity, or the other lifestyle could result in . . . just a few words and then poof! Onto a different subject: “How was your math test today, dear? Did you find a full-time job yet, Dave? Who walked and fed the dog today? Where’s the mail? Such an interesting case today . . .” and some choice tidbits of gory detail.

Carly got the point although she figured the message was really directed towards Dave – who occupied a good deal of her mother’s time and attention. Mom didn’t get how decidedly Dave’s ears turned off the second his mother mentioned a full-time job. There were plenty available, even if it was grunt work and low pay. It was a start. Dave needed to earn his way. Or go to college. If he went to college, Mom and Dad would pay as long as he kept his grades up. He could get a minor in music, but what about engineering? Law school? Business administration? No one directly addressed the overriding issue: Dave preferred to sleep all day so he could make music with his buddies all night.

The front door banged open just as Derek and Nova were facing off against Prince Zordar, and Carly jumped, narrowly catching the cereal bowl before it tumbled around her feet onto the carpeted floor.

“Good morning, dear,” Carly’s mother absently smoothed a hand over Carly’s rumpled hair. “Sleep well?”

“Yes, mama,” Carly untucked her toes from her flannel nightgown, and stood up with her cereal bowl so she could head to the table where food technically belonged. As long as messes were cleaned up, Carly’s mom didn’t make too much fuss, but it was a small thing to do, and kept mom happy.

“Brother still sleeping, hmmm?”

Carly shrugged and nodded her head towards the hall where the snoring continued to ricochet merrily along the lengths, a jagged wave of sound rising and falling, punctuated by occasional snorts.

“Well, today is a special day.” Carly’s mom twinkled. “Your brother will start work today at the hospital. They had an opening for night shift in room keeping.  I suspect a bit of doing that, and he’ll reconsider heading back to school. Best get dressed, dear – your dad is on his way. We’ll chat with your brother together, but it’s a private conversation, so you are going over to Nanna’s for the morning. She needs help making pies for her women’s luncheon.”

“Mama!” Carly allowed a bit of whining to tinge her usually upbeat voice. “Don’t send me away!”

“Carly,” her mom said with a small smile. “Was your brother allowed to be a part of our conversation when you first menstruated?”

“No.”

“It was a private conversation between the two of us. Your brother and father and I have some hard things to talk about, and your brother deserves privacy. Now, mush! Teeth, face, hair and clothes. Nanna is waiting on you.”

Carly headed down the hall scowling. It just wasn’t fair.

Ten minutes later she was being swooped up into a bear hug from her dad before being sent by bike the three blocks over to Nanna’s. She wondered what she’d find when she returned home. Carly didn’t know what would happen if Dave decided to move out rather than toe the line and get a job or go to college.

There was always a kind of reassurance bubbling in a back corner of her mind that Dave was there, available, a strong support. What would she do if that reassuring presence disappeared? It had been necessary when Mom and Dad divorced five years ago. Carly was just eight years old, and Dave had been the one to hold the pieces together as Mom finished her RN training and started working full-time.

Dave wiped away Carly’s tears, and when he tired of that, he tickled them away. He made her grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup every night mom was gone, and didn’t make Carly eat the detested green peas or salad. He read her story after story after story and sat next to her holding her hand until she fell asleep.

Carly had vague memories of waking up one night to realize Dave had fallen asleep himself sitting next to her bed. She happily started burrowing into her pillows before a glimmer of guilt stopped her, and she threw the covers back and stood up, urging her weary brother to wake up just enough to get to his bed. For the first time, the roles reversed and Carly tenderly tucked her big brother into bed and planted a kiss on his forehead before tiptoeing back to her room. Who would tuck her in, if Dave went? Who would tuck Dave in? Carly’s brow furrowed in worry as she wheeled her banana bike into Nanna’s driveway, dropping it on the lawn and trudging up to the front door.

“Carly, my dear!” Nanna threw open the door, beaming! “I’m so glad you have come to visit me this morning. Come in, child!”

Several hours later, Carly wheeled her bike home, balancing a cooled blackberry pie in one hand, her mouth watering and stomach rumbling, despite the huge piece of apple pie she had just eaten. Her dad’s car was gone, and her mom was out watering the hanging fuschias that drooped miserably under the summer heat.

Her mom must have the next few days off if she was still awake, otherwise she’d be sleeping from her graveyard shift.

“Hey, Carly!” Mom walked over to her and held out her hand in an offer to help.

“I have it,” Carly said, letting the bike thud into the ground. Her rubber handle bar covers were split through, allowing the sharp edges of the metal to cut into the lawn. She hadn’t been paying attention, and jerked her foot encased in only a cheap pair of jelly sandals out from under the descending handlebar just in the nick of time.

“Where’s Dave?” she asked.

“Inside,” her mother replied, opening her mouth and then closing it on whatever else she was going to say, instead turning back to her hose and fuschias.

Carly hurried inside and slid the pie onto the spotless kitchen counter. Her mom had been cleaning. Not the best of signs – she did that deep cleaning thing when she was upset, and the house sparkled in a way it hadn’t for a while now. Carly squared her shoulders and walked softly down the hall to her brother’s room.

Dave was sitting on his bed, sorting papers and books into boxes.

“Dave?” she said, peering worriedly around the door frame.

“Hey, Princess,” he said tiredly, “come here – I want to tell you something.”

Carly climbed up beside him and looked at the stack of clothing on the dresser and the pile of books on the floor.

“You know I love you, right?” Dave said, turning to face Carly. She nodded solemnly, but inside she could feel the scream of fear and sorrow and anger begin to well up, choking her.

“Well, I will love you no matter where I live, or what I do. Okay!” Carly could feel a tear trembling on the edge of her lashes, and she gulped for a breath.

“Hey,” Dave said, and wrapped an arm around her. “It’s time for me to grow up and move on. I want to do things with my life that mom and dad aren’t willing to pay for. That’s fair. I don’t like it,” he said, honestly, “but I don’t want to go to college, and my part-time job lets me have the time I need to do my music.”

Dave shifted his weight and pulled a weeping Carly into his lap. He knew she was growing up rapidly, but she surprised him with how little and fragile she still seemed to him. Except when she was in a temper, and then she seemed pretty fearsome, actually. He grinned thinking of her last temper tantrum. The guys in the band had all been taken aback by the variety and extent of the curses she had leveled on them that night.

He chuckled to himself before tipping up Carly’s head to look into her eyes. “I’m not going far, Carly. Just over to Brandon’s – less than a mile away. I’ll leave you his phone number. Call anytime – even if you don’t need anything. Okay? Besides – when mom has to work, I’ll still be over here so you aren’t alone. She is paying me to do that; and the band and I have to pay her for the rent and electricity to use the garage to practice. I’ll be here! You won’t know I’m missing.”

Carly hugged her brother tight, trying desperately to stop her tears. This was exciting for Dave, and he wanted it so badly. She wanted him to not worry about her. If she kept crying, he might change his mind.

With a last deep breath, she sniffed mightily and scrubbed her hand across her eyes.

“I made blackberry pie,” she offered. With a smile, Dave set her on her feet and stood up, stretching.

“Cut me a piece, little sis – it sounds great. And then maybe you can help me pack? You are so much better at sorting and organizing.”

*******************************

Dave slumped wearily against the wall of his bedroom, absently licking the last of the blackberry pie from his lips.  Carly was a shaping up to be a fine baker, he thought, as he surveyed the wreckage of odds and ends gathered over the last nineteen years. All he wanted was to move on, without the hampering effect of boxes and bags. His mother! She would insist that he pack everything that was his, take it with, toss it, she didn’t specify – but it had to be out by the end of the day.

Some nurse, he snorted. Surgeon, more like. Neatly cutting away the barriers to her carefully sculpted life; the impediment to moving on, moving ahead . . . by sending him away.

Dave clenched his fist and took a deep breath.  He supposed in all fairness, she had given him a firm deadline months ago. College or full-time work. If college, living expenses were on her. If full-time work, he needed to pay a fair market rate for rent and utilities. Buy his own food. Take on household chores beyond the usual assortment he had been tasked with for as long as he could remember . . . plus, the watching over of little Carly.

Well, he’d tried, damn it! He just couldn’t see spending forty or more precious hours a week slaving over a grill, or washing dishes, or — as she so thoughtfully suggested — changing fouled linens and mopping up body wastes in the hospital.

He had a future waiting for him, a plan and a chance. His band was going somewhere – each member was dedicated and practiced, and they were gaining a small following at local parties and events. Brandon’s dad owned a local bar, and the band was soon to start featuring there on Friday nights. They just needed to cut a demo and start submitting if – after they saw which of their originals meshed best with the local listeners.

He couldn’t do everything! Why didn’t she see that? And his father! As usual, daddy (and Dave curled that name into his mouth with an angry twist) just sat by and nodded  in time to Maureen’s rapid fire words, seeming to agree with his ex-wife, offering no thoughts of his own. He would later, Dave reflected – when Maureen wasn’t around to hear his opinion, or rebut, or challenge, or even – on the odd occasion, ask for more thoughts — he would go off on her callousness and unfair expectations and try driving the wedge he had stuck in between Dave and his mother ever deeper.

Dispiritedly, Dave lay back on his bed and pressed his forearm against his forehead. Brandon would be here in another couple of hours with his old battered Chevy truck to help Dave move his things. Some to Goodwill, others to Brandon’s house in the little corner den that Brandon’s parents had agreed to let Dave stay in for the next three months – just until he got on his feet and found a job.

Dave groaned. It was endless – this “get a job” idea. Why was everyone fixated on it? What was wrong with the 15 hours a week he worked for the local carpenter? It paid better than minimum wage. The right amount of hours. Joe liked him – had suggested Dave consider an apprenticeship through the local carpenter’s union. Maybe that would be enough like going to school that his mom would relent and let him stay. Get her off his back just for a few days.

Probably not, he thought. His father was a tradesman, and out of work more often than not. The first steady paycheck the family had enjoyed had been after his parent’s divorce and his mother’s graduation with her RN. No, Dave decided – it was better to carry on – get packed, cleaned up and out. Move on, move ahead . . . move out.

With a burst of energy, Dave rolled off his bed and started to sort through his life – this goes, this stays, and one other pile – decidedly undecided. Carly was doing her chores and then she had promised to come “help.”

Dave sighed. She didn’t need to be a part of this – but she wanted to be close. That was the piece that bothered him – he knew how she had depended on him for time and attention with their mother so busy with work and paying off the debt her twenty years of marriage had cost her.

She might be a nuisance, but she was his only sister and Dave didn’t want little Carly alone. Well, Brandon was just a short distance away – and he would be here several nights a week.  Carly or not, the packing wouldn’t wait – nor would Brandon who was impatient on a good day – and Dave picked up his pace, hastily tossing items into one of the three piles with rapid-fire decisions. It was all just stuff, in the long run. In the end, what counted was the music in his head and heart – not the Lego pieces from a long-gone boyhood, old school projects, and clothes barely worn.

An hour to go. Dave was starting to look forward to the change.

***************************
“Fascinating story, Carly,” Mom murmured, setting the notebook pages down gently on the table. The lined notebook paper’s tattered edges crackled as Mom smoothed them over and over, her eyes focused on something only she could see.

With a little shake of her head, Mom looked Carly square in the face, tilting her head.

“I have not heard from Dave in a long while – how about you?”

Carly swallowed convulsively, and shook her head in denial.

“Carly,” Mom tipped Carly’s head up, one finger delicately placed under Carly’s chin, to look into Carly’s swimming eyes.

“I can’t help him if I don’t know where he is or what is going on,” Mom continued. “Have you seen him?” Mom picked Carly’s story up in the other hand, as if weighing it’s veracity. “This story would seem to suggest otherwise . . . and yes, before you say it, I know it’s ‘just’ a story. Stories come out of real places, Carly. Even if just the seed of an idea.”

“I don’t know where he went, Mom,” Carly said in a low mumble. He stopped by a couple of weeks ago and said he had a lead on some gigs. He needed some money to help tide him over until the band was paid, though.”

Maureen sat, slowly sipping her mint tea. Her stomach had been clenched in knots for what felt like forever, and she wondered again about ulcers. She could feel acids rising up into her throat, a mixed blessing that – as it choked off the screeching she could feel burbling below and seeking a way out, a release from the fear and anger and sadness.

“How much did you give him, Carly?”

Carly had been babysitting all summer earning money for her school clothes and fall sports. Maureen simply didn’t have the money after bills and basic living expenses – and really wanted to make sure at least one of her children developed skills and confidence leading to self-supporting adulthood.

“Carly?”

Carly heaved a deep sigh. “It’s okay, mama,” she responded. “My clothes still fit, and I already talked to the track coach. He can offer me a scholarship for the track team fee. I’ll just need to spend extra time with the fundraising.” Carly hastily added, “It’s okay to do homework at the same time.”

“I see,” Maureen responded. Carefully, she slid the papers back over to Carly. “I gather from your story that you think a lot about how requiring Dave to do something other than his music has caused pretty much an end to the world as you and he knew it.”

“Yes, mother, I do!” Carly’s own pent up fear and worry and anger raged out suddenly. Her mother had provided an opening, and Carly felt no desire to tip toe around the issue any longer. “You kicked him out, mother! Because he wouldn’t get a full-time job! He was working – at a paying job and at his music. He cooked and cleaned and mowed the lawn and scrubbed the toilet. He was taking care of me when you weren’t here!” Carly sputtered to a stop, tears welling up in her eyes, and she angrily dashed them away. “We were doing fine, mother. Dave was doing fine. Maybe not what you wanted, but he was following his own drumbeat – just like you have always told us to do! And you . . . you . . . you shit on him for it!” Carly’s voice had risen to a screech on the last words, and the unspoken question lingered: How long before you shit on me, mother, for not following the drummer and drumbeat you assigned to me?

Carly froze – she had not raised her voice to her mother in over a year – the last time she had been grounded for a month. She certainly had never cursed at her mother.

Maureen looked at Carly evenly, before sitting back with a sigh and a nod of her head, as though she had tallied up the count long ago, but just now received confirmation of its validity.

“Thank you,” she said at last, “for honestly sharing with me what you are thinking and feeling. I wish I had an easy answer for you, but I don’t. And I frankly don’t know how much you need to know or should know about the whole story right now, Carly. But rest assured, it has much more detail to it than you know about – it is not clean, a line sketching in easy black and white, if you will.”

Maureen slowly stood up from the table.

“I need to get a few things done before turning in. I have graveyard shift for the next several days.” Maureen cradled her mug in both hands, absently running her thumbs over the cup’s rim, a gentle, soothing motion. She looked at Carly with a mixture of deep compassion, as well as some disgruntlement. Her own mother used to say that daughters in adulthood were a mother’s best friend – but during adolescence were a trial and worry.

Maureen knew she had been blessed with Carly, who generally speaking made wise decisions far beyond her years, and could be counted on to take care of life’s daily business in a matter-of-fact way without the games and sulks. A bit of a temper, yes – but that she came by quite honestly. Maureen’s lips curved up in a sudden smile. “I love you, Carly – just as you are. I do hope  you know that.”

Carly blinked, and slowly stood up from the table, reaching a hand across to her mother.

“Come here, child,” her mother murmured, setting down the coffee cup, and drew Carly away from the table into her arms. “Forever and always.”

***************************************

The lost is found. Dave is traveling with local band as roadie. His hair is longer than mine! Carly@notestomom.com

Carly strained to see Dave as he muscled the speakers up into the truck, carefully covering them with quilts and tying them down. The band had long since dispersed, packing their personal instruments and exchanging high-fives with each other. Carly noticed that the gaggle of girls honking along behind the men looked pretty much the same as the group that had haunted her brother’s band when she was younger, whispering excitedly, and occasionally breaking out in vicious wing-flapping at each other. She snorted at the image in her mind, and wondered how time could have flown so rapidly forward for her, while it appeared to have slipped backwards for Dave, and stood still for young women stopped in their young teens.

Quietly, Carly moved closer to where her brother shifted the packaged sound board and crates of wound cables and cords and what-all else Carly wasn’t sure. Her heart went out to her brother as she watched him pause and wipe the back of his hand across his forehead before straightening and looking longingly in the direction the band had disappeared.

“Yo!” A heavyset man with grizzled hair sticking out in unflattering spikes came around the back end of the truck. “Almost done?” he leaned against the bumper, and took out two cigarettes, lighting them both and handing one to Dave who took it with a weary smile. “we’re getting together over at Dan’s if you want to come along,” the man continued after reflectively puffing a time or two. “If you’re thinking you’d be welcome to join the band, think again.” He snorted.  “That group has a bit of att-tih-tuhde,” the man drawled the word with disdain, “when it comes to mere flunkies like us.”

Dave hopped down off the truck and shook his head. “Rather like the waitress looking down on the cook, hmmm?” he murmured.

The man gave a hearty guffaw. “Good man!” and nodded his head toward the waiting car.

Carly paused, debating. Dave didn’t know she had found him. He didn’t want to be found. Time seemed to stand still for a long instant while she reached out longingly to her brother, and then she cried out, “Dave!” running a few steps toward him.

He froze, immobilized, before turning, astonishment showing on his tired and worn face which was backlit by the streetlight.

“Carly?” Dave managed to croak out, “is it really you?”

Dave had last seen Carly when she was a gawky teen doing furious battle with bulky glasses, persistent zits, and a body that didn’t seem to fit all its rapidly growing parts – he wasn’t prepared to reconcile that memory with this beautiful young woman who came flying into his arms, crying and laughing all at once.

“Carly, Carly, Carly,” he chanted into her hair, tightening his arms around her and twirling her in circles. “Where did  . . . how?” he stopped and peered around her suspiciously. “Mom or dad here?” he scowled.

“Stop it, Dave,” Carly said with a bit of a sigh. “No, they’re not. It’s just me. I’ve been looking for you for years. Mom knows I found you, but that’s all she knows. Where have you been? What have you been doing?”

“Long story, Carly. Just a sec,” Dave turned around to the waiting group. “Go ahead, Bob,” he said, waving to the older man. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the loft for rehearsal.”

“Good enough,” the man waved back and folded himself into the car, setting off down the road.

“C’mon, Dave,” Carly said, tugging at his arm. “My car’s over here. Let’s get some food. You can take all the time in the world to catch me up on where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to.”

 

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