I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I was born on April 1st, but I’ve always thought my life was kind of a joke being played on me by everyone else. For example, its January 5th, and my parents are “wintering” in North Dakota. People don’t even summer in North Dakota. Yet another in a long line of bad jokes.
It doesn’t really help that my parent’s also decided to name me April. I have always imagined my Dad calling his parents in California from Eielson Air Force base. That’s in Alaska.
“It’s a beautiful baby girl. Her name is April.” He would say with a wide smile under a thick moustache.
“Very funny, Bill. April Fools.” That’s what they would say.
Of course it is.
How would you feel if your birthday was more synonymous with practical jokes than the day you were born? Everyone always feels like they are the first one to get me a fake gift and yell “April Fools!” after they see my disappointed face.
That honor was reserved for my mother.
A can of those exploding snakes.
I was five.
She didn’t get me a real gift.
Anyway I’m off point. It’s January 5th. I don’t know if you understand what it’s like in North Dakota on January the 5th. For one thing, its too cold to snow outside, at least thats what my mom says.
We’re living on Minot Air Force base, which is north of everything and south of Canada.
There’s a saying on the base that I’ve heard people say like it amuses them.
“Forty below keeps the riff-raff out!” They say it to each other like the shit is funny. I’m pretty sure I’ve even seen it emblazoned on a trucker hat at the Seven-Eleven down on I-2.
So you get the picture.
You’d figure on a day like this, in a place like this, that I could get some work done. You’d figure anyway. Nope. I’ve been staring at this piece of paper so long that I can see the lines when I close my eyes. They are like college ruled ghosts on the backs of my eye lids. They are empty there too. Taunting bastards.
Every time I get anything even resembling an idea my mom will call me down to help her with some chore, or my dad will ask me to give him a hand while he tinkers on the carburetor for our Jeep on a pile of greasy rags at the kitchen table.
I love that car. It’s a 1972 Willy. You know, the kind you can take a tractor to and it will still climb a mountain afterward. It takes a lot of love, but my dad has had it since he was my age so he’s used to it. We’ve been all over the country in that thing, and it always gets us from point A to point B with almost no hassle. There was that time on the way to Edwards, down in Southern California. We got stuck in traffic and it overheated. My little brother Bradley and I were too busy playing travel Boggle in the backseat to pay any attention. Everyone was honking and giving my Dad the finger as they passed him, but he just got out and tinkered for a minute and got it up and running. That’s what’s so great about that car. Beat it to hell and all you have to do is give it a little tinkering and it fires right back up.
My dad loves that I love it. He thinks that’s funny too.
It’s frigid in my room at this point. I eye the glass oil lamp sitting across the room from me for a moment, but lighting it would mean leaving the cozy(ish) “warmth” of my bed. Maybe I could call my mom and have her come up and light it for me.
I look down at my menacingly empty page again. There have got to be a ton of things I could write about, but they are all happening somewhere else. I try to close my eyes and picture where that place is, but its too far away. It’s like trying to look at ants from on top of the Sears tower.
It’s not called the Sears tower anymore. It’s called something else now but I really can’t think of what it’s called. Probably named after some other company. I always thought it was odd that Sears had such a big tower when you almost never see the Sears stores anywhere. Maybe that’s why its not called the Sears tower anymore. It’s probably Starbucks tower now.
I pull my blanket up under my chin even tighter. It’s an old light blue quilt that my mom made when I was ten or eleven. It’s thick so its really warm. I remember when she gave it to me. I couldn’t forget it.
It was our second Christmas without Bradley. It was a big box, huge compared to every other box under the tree, and it was heavy. When you’re young like that you always assume that if the box is heavy, then it must be something really good. Like a bike. So I sat there, for two weeks, imagining what was inside the box. I picked it up to see if I could hear anything rattling, but it was pretty quiet inside the box. I must have asked her a hundred times what it was, and must have guessed a thousand wrong guesses, but she never budged. She just looked at me and smiled.
I remember running to the living room Christmas morning. My parents were still in the kitchen making coffee when I pulled the giant box over to my spot and went for the corner of the bright blue wrapping paper.
“Ah ah ah!” My mom clucked as she walked into the living room in her blue plaid pajamas. “That one is last, open the others first.”
I grumbled, and started to tear through the small packages as quickly as I could.
Blue jeans. The kind from costco which always felt like the fabric was made from rough cardboard loomed into fabric.
A board game. Cranium I think. I don’t ever remember playing it.
A stack of books. Can’t remember which ones.
Finally, the grand prize. The ultimate present. I tore into the corner like a Bengal Tiger. I would have used my teeth and my feet if it would have made it faster. I looked at the side to see if there was anything on the box that would clue me in a few seconds earlier.
So I tore the lid of the box open and stared at the light blue material. I was really confused.
Maybe it was just there to protect the super great thing inside. I pulled the blanket out and looked back into the box. Empty.
Just the blanket.
That was twelve years ago, and I get it now. She sewed every panel by hand and it must have taken her weeks. As I sit here staring at my violently empty lines, that toil seems endless yet full. There wasn’t a lot in the way of money then, and there still isn’t. Maybe that’s why I can’t seem to start my own story, I’m holding theirs together.
We still tell that story sometimes. My parents laugh at me and I laugh now too.
My mom pokes her head in and asks if I want her to light the lamp. I grin and say “Yes, Please.”
She lights it.
“What are you working on there Aprilita?” She asks. It’s her favorite nickname for me. It still makes me cringe.
“The Great American Novel, mom.” I say sarcastically.
“Oh really? What’s it called?” She asks with a grin.
“I think I’m gonna call it, Sometimes It’s Just A Blanket.”
I laugh too.