"You're probably named after that ugly cat in the movie with the dog."
You scowl and your bottom lip sticks out but there's definitely laughter in her voice when she scolds your brother. "Hey, Milo & Otis is a good movie, Gabe, but that's not where we got his name."
It's not like you to speak up often. She knows this. She doesn't get it, you don't think, but she accepts it without passing judgment or trying to change you. She reads your face and answers the question right away instead of fooling herself into believing you'll actually ask on your own. Or maybe she acquired the mind-reading skill before you, child number five, came along.
"Your dad picked it," she explains, sliding a juice box across the table toward you. "Some dork named Milo sang in this shit band he loves. I’ll tell him to tell you about it.”
He doesn’t. It’s your own curiosity and desperation that leads you to the story he’s never told. You’re not even all that interested in music when you pull Milo Goes To College from its place between his other Descendents records. The basement walls are lined with shelves and his are all filled with vinyl, hers with books you like to borrow.
Flipping through the pages, you feel connected to her even if you’re still struggling to express yourself as easily as all your siblings. The pressure of conversation eases up when you talk about something you already know she loves. And maybe, you hope, it’ll be the start of something significant between you and your father if you actually make your way through these records. If you become that one kid in the family who gives a shit about music.
Because you’re twelve and you’re so tired. Tired of all the appointments with specialists he hopes will slap some label on you that’ll make how withdrawn you are make sense. Tired of how quickly he loses his patience when the anxiety he doesn’t understand cripples you completely. Tired of how embarrassed he seems when his colleagues or even relatives speak to you and you just can’t make any words come out.
You started skateboarding as a kid to try and make him see a little of himself in you. It didn’t work. This is Plan B.
The whole idea of rushing upstairs and initiating a conversation is too daunting. You settle for putting the record on his turntable yourself and it’s not like you’ve never heard anything like it before. He’s always playing something your mom refers to as “fucking noise” before reminding him how much he sold the fuck out a long time ago.
But it’s different this time. You feel it in your bones. It rattles you and your fingertips somehow know how easy it would be to learn this shit.
Music fails to bring you and him together the way you wanted. He’s too preoccupied with their crumbling marriage to care how much time you spend sprawled out on the basement floor listening to his records. Nobody even picks up on the fact you do this while sharing cigarettes with your best friend.
He does buy you a guitar for your thirteenth birthday and fuck, that means he’s kinda responsible for nudging you toward the inevitable. Because the first time Mat picks that guitar up and strums a chord you feel it so much stronger than any music you’ve heard blare through those speakers in the basement.
It’s the first time you want to kiss Mat and the billionth time you wish you knew how to talk to your father. Maybe he’d get it, you know? Maybe he’d understand there’s something about watching someone play that fuckin’ w r e c k s you.
Maybe he’d tell you it’s okay to feel this way about a boy you’re determined to impress by learning how to play “100,000 Fireflies” when your fingers decide to cooperate.
“Did Mom tell you I’m in a band?”
There’s a hint of pride in his voice you’ve never heard in your nineteen years on this planet and you’re so relieved the twenty minutes of sitting silently through dinner helped you build up the courage to talk. Sure, you’re fucking annoyed he’s still such a presence in your life and hers, but that’s never changed how much you ache for him to understand something about you. Anything.
“Yeah, it’s wizard rock,” you start, voice soft, unsure, shaky, and you can already see his interest fading, so much you doubt he really hears what you’re saying. “But I want to write punk-”
“Like, songs about Harry Potter stuff…”
“Your mom loves that shit.”
She shoots you a sympathetic look that practically screams “Better luck next time!” and you leave the Blu-Ray of Filmage: The Store of DESCENDENTS/ALL in your backpack. Definitely not the night to ask if he’d like to watch it.
You’ve been away for a week with Mat to celebrate his 22nd birthday without any interruptions from the outside world. It’s still surreal to you how much has changed since those days you spent in the basement together but the pain of the past has this way of creeping up on you while you’ve been too focused on the future.
The BENDIS KIDS group chat you’ve been dodging lately starts to pick up again and you realize reading over the last few messages that they’ve been talking about how next weekend is a big deal for the family: it’s your graduation and Father’s Day.
Fuck. You were supposed to write him a letter to make up for skipping a session with your new therapist. Yeah, apparently it only took two hours with you for her to pick up on the fact you’ve got so much to say to him and no clue how to express those feelings. There’s no way you’ll get anything to paper by your next appointment, much less be ready for him to read it.
But you have to try.
Thanks for being the reason I don't have shit taste in music.