From my unpublished novel
The Adventures of Cliff Barnes
If you pay attention to the news at all then I’m sure you’ve heard of me. Of course not everything in the news is true, and half of what was said about me was totally made up. It got so I’d hear my name, Cliff Barnes, and not feel that it belonged to me. Why I made the news anyway is ridiculous. Trust me, I did nothing to become newsworthy. It’s not like I rescued a pod of beached whales, or managed to get a school built in Africa for poor children with the change I made from selling lemonade in the afternoons, and I didn’t have the opportunity to sing bad on American Idol--which I could, no problem, if given the chance, and I didn’t uncover the plot of some adolescent psycho before he pulled some Columbine thing on our junior high school. But that’s just the way it goes these days, at least that’s what my aunts say. They believe you can be a nobody, flash your underwear in public, and that’s all it takes to have people buzzing for months. This, they say, is the work of the devil, and proof that our day of reckoning is coming. I don’t believe in the devil. Really, it was just plain fate that made me famous. Fate and the fact that my mother won the Lotto and died all in one week’s time.
I guess if I had paid better attention to the news I would have told my mother not to play Lotto at all. It turns out there is some sort of Lotto Curse. Plenty of winners end up with their lives wrecked. Sure they have crap loads of money, but friends and family come out of the woodwork and stab them in the back. Everyone they’ve known and loved dies or lets them down. I saw this one sad, old guy who’d won big time, and all he has now is his money and all the stuff money can buy. He spends all his time in this really nice cemetery and cries.
He made so much money that his family wasn’t buried in the ground like regular people. Instead he’s got this whole fancy house with his relatives’ names and angels carved into the marble, and it’s locked up tight. I don’t know if they are in the ground under the marble house, or if they are stacked in those weird coffin drawers you see in those cemeteries out in California, but, anyway, he said if he could do it all over again, he wouldn’t want to win. His money killed his granddaughter and she was his whole reason for living. She got spoiled, met the wrong kids, took drugs and died. The Lotto Curse. This might seem like a lot of superstitious mumbojumbo but trust me it’s not. They did a whole big story about it on 20/20 or 60 Minutes, and I think you can pretty much trust what you see on those shows because someone like Barbara Walters is not going to lie. If she lied then no one would listen to her anymore, even if she is good at making grown men cry in front of the camera. At least that’s what I think. All this to say I don’t want the money when I turn eighteen, even though Ted, my best friend, thinks I’m crazy. As long as the money’s in the bank, and I don’t lay a hand on it, I believe I’m safe from the Curse.
My aunts are in charge of me now. My mother didn’t have a will. I guess she wasn’t expecting to die at the age of forty-three. She was healthy. She never smoked, or ate greasy food. She had biceps that were bigger than mine and she could beat me in an arm wrestle without too much of a struggle. Sure she got sick from time to time, like with one of her headaches, or a bad cold, but even then she didn’t miss work. She’d drink a big glass of orange juice, swallow down a couple of horse-sized vitamin C pills, put on her clean uniform and go out the door. So I guess she didn’t give it too much thought, who’d she’d leave me to if she died all of a sudden, leaving me with no one.
If you’re wondering where my father is, I don’t blame you. I wonder that all the time too. When I was small it was practically all I thought about. My mother used to try and make me feel better about his leaving. She said all the things that a mother who cares says. Like it wasn’t my fault he left. It had nothing at all to do with me. But when someone leaves, you can’t help but feel like you had something to do with it. Even if you convince yourself that he didn’t leave because of you, you’re still faced with the fact that you weren’t reason enough to stay. It’s pretty obvious that he could have left my mother without leaving me. He could have given a phone number so we could have talked to him every once in a while, or he could have sent me a birthday card once a year with a return address, or come to visit and taken me somewhere that fathers take their sons, like fishing on a empty pond, or to the park with a couple of mitts and a baseball.
Even now, when I see a kid with his dad, it makes me feel like I was robbed. It’s funny though, because it’s not exactly like I know what it is I’m missing, only that I’m missing something good. I know this feeling well-- like when I used to walk over to the other side of town on a dark night, and see the houses getting bigger and the lawns getting greener, and then I’d stop and stare at one of those beautiful mansions, lights on in every room, the curtains never drawn as if they have nothing in the world to hide, so you can see the nice paint colors and the art on the walls, and you can see the families moving around inside, and they’re together, together in their bright house, and together when they all head out and pile into their shiny SUV, wearing sport uniforms, and there are folding chairs in the hatch for the parents who would never dream of missing a single game, a thermos of hot coffee in the mother’s hand, a camera held by the dad, and I watch them drive off and the last thing I notice is all the stickers on the rear windows with abbreviations that mean nothing to me, special codes for all the special places they’ve been together, places I don’t know about, beaches or clubs I will never see. If you let it, this sort of thing could really get you down. So I try not to let it.