Embrace The Bizarre: “Daydream Nation”

Family is complicated. In “Daydream Nation,” Mal Sklar writes of a college student, returned home for the summer, who is watching a little league game with their father and his new girlfriend. Sklar’s short story does an excellent job touching upon the disconnect that is often felt after returning home from a new place, and presents us with a vivid and honest depiction of anger in all its glory. Read “Daydream Nation” below.

Daydream Nation

Mal Sklar

Bobbi was in middle school and I in high school when my parents got divorced.

It was a messy business, not least because everyone in town knew that our old man was slipping it to some pretty little thing and had been for the last eight months. Bizarrely, it was mom’s reputation that suffered around town, until she could hardly show her face at the Board of Ed meetings anymore.

Bizarre is my friend Roy’s favorite word. Bizarre. “Isn’t it bizarre?” he’ll say. “Isn’t it bizarre how-?” It’s his way of drawing your attention to something, whether it’s actually bizarre or not. He’s one of those types who hunches his shoulders and screws up his face to get you to laugh first and lose a staring contest. He’s my best friend, I guess, and he starts statements with questions because he’s secretly insecure. Isn’t it bizarre-?

Isn’t it just wild the way some people have of growing backwards? As I’ve gotten older- and I’m old enough to know things now, I’m already in college for chrissakes- I’ve noticed that it happens particularly in men. Take my rotten bastard of a father as example numero uno.

When I’m home for the summer I’m always around to catch the tail end of little league season. According to dear old dad, that means I have to sit there in the bleachers getting baked to a crisp and watch Bobbi’s team, despite the fact that they’re effing awful, I’ll tell you that for nothing.

And there my dad sits, arm around some gorgeous piece who must be barely my age, and I’ve got my phone in my pocket and half a mind to just walk away and call my girlfriend, who’ll tell me in her soothing burr that I am categorically forbidden from strangling my father, because her money’s tied up with student loans and she wouldn’t be able to afford bailing me out. God, I don’t deserve her. I keep expecting her to realize that, but I’ve been lucky, oh so lucky. Charming, too, and that helps, so says Roy, when I’m feeling sappy enough to confide in him.

So I don’t look at my good-for-nothing, adolescent mush-brain of a dad while I’m roasting in my crappy seat, and I don’t call my girlfriend, and I try to watch Bobbi’s sad, pathetic baseball team. But dad’s stupid booming laugh is so annoying. And his fat, hairy arm draped around his girl, and the light glinting off his whitish teeth and goldish watch drives me up the wall because his posturing is just so high school, and it gets me to wondering which one of us is really the adult, anyway.

Isn’t it bizarre the things your brain comes up with to stop you embarrassing yourself in public? I watch the players down on the field, listen to the crack of the bat, the parched cheering of those around me, the almost-instantaneous noises of outrage and disappointment from those throats belonging to people who are a little quicker on the uptake as the pitcher catches it on the rebound- smack, thwap- and I don’t even realize I’ve closed my eyes but the moment I hear that leather-and-canvas collision I picture the pitcher’s head exploding. Just going up in a plume of graying smoke, the bang arriving last and out-of-breath. Maybe some sparks hidden in there, but mostly just a great whump of dust and oops, headless kid standing on the mound, looking like an idiot. I’d turn my head lazily and like a spark in a den of firecrackers, the first explosion would have touched off the rest. The kid with his foot suspended, about to make a break from first is next, and with a quiet whuff his head is gone, cap and all, spiraling lazily like the last embers from a fourth-of-July whizz-bang. And on it goes, one, and two, and it’s almost like a beautiful symphony, until there’s smoke and particles drifting all over the field, and all in a matter of seconds. The sun-addled parents are just starting to catch on, just starting to raise their voices in a confused clamor when one of their own follows the kiddies down below. One whuff and Mrs. Salon-Blowout is no more, and before her husband’s eyes can widen, he’s touched off, too.

And it’s so goddamn beautiful, it really is, and I particularly relish in the squelching noise that accompanies my old dad’s demise, the airheaded fwee when the little-miss-thing on his arm pops too, and it’s about then that the delicious daydream dissolves like so much smoke on the wind.

Because Bobbi’s trooping out into the outfield and I can see his eyes darting even from here, see the look of hurt confusion, see the way his mouth moves- I can guess the words- Where’s mom?­ And I hate my father worse than ever because I don’t blame mom one bit for not wanting to bear witness to his slimy, stupid face, and if I’ve inherited any maturity at all, and there’s no guarantee I did, it’s from my sainted mother, who didn’t deserve this, who should have been here, who my father didn’t have to lift a single finger to drive away, because- isn’t it bizarre?- the rest of these people did it for him, turning a blind eye to mom’s suffering and a cold shoulder to her plight.

And I want to call out to Bobbi, want to stand up and publicly denounce my father and his evil ways, want to rage at him, get him to look me full in the face as he hasn’t since the divorce. But I stay silent. Stay seated. Even as I wish with all my might that his smug, bastard head would explode and I’d be rid of him forever.

I hate him.

Isn’t it bizarre?


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