My father always pushed the idea of good work ethic on his children. Every birthday, we got new freedom, as well as new responsibility. Just before my thirteenth birthday, he sat down on the long white peninsula in our kitchen, his huge forearms taking up so much space. He was always so serious with me. In a strict tone, he would explain that as we got older, we grew the ability to do more to help around the house. “Thirteen’s a big year,” he said “you’re one step closer to being an adult.” In exchange for a half hour tacked onto my bedtime, I got the privilege of mowing the lawn. I never knew how to act when he started one of his lectures. My head would bob in agreement awkwardly, and I would try not to break eye contact. I never knew what to do with my body. My fingers would grab each other, as if in prayer.
In the summers, when all I wanted to do watch cartoons, he made sure to keep me busy. We had this small garden in the backyard, mostly green beans and a few other root vegetables, and we got to weed the damn thing.
I liked how his hands looked covered in dark soil. His wide fingernails would be stuffed full of the chalky dirt, and his large pores would hold grains of the dark stuff. I wanted my hands to look just like his. When he wasn’t looking I stuffed my fingers into the freshly hoed soil, trying to mimic the roughness of his hands.
After doing yard work, all the kids would jump into the pool. I liked the feeling of leaping into the cool water with all my hot clothes on. All the sticky grass and warm dirt would peel off my body. It was one of these moments that my siblings persuaded me to swim to the deep-end. Although I could swim well enough, I would cling to the side of the angled pool, refusing to push off into waters too deep for my toes to touch. My brother Paul always seemed annoyed by my refusal to let go of the railing. I imagine I begged him and my sister to stay in the shallow end so I wouldn’t get lonely. Even though I had siblings, I was lonely. That’s part of being the youngest. The novelty of having a brother or sister had worn off before I came along. I always felt I was never allowed to talk like the rest of my family did. It seemed like every time my mouth opened, my brother’s nostrils would flare up and my sister would start exhaling. By the time I started speaking, I wished I hadn’t ever started.