Intercosmic - Chapter 31 - Evan is Dead

Earth, home to humanity. A planet that our ancestors almost killed several times over due to greed. People fled the planet without trying to come up with a solution, leaving behind anyone who couldn’t afford a ticket. Corporations paid for the mass exodus as long as people were willing to work on borderline slave wages in one of their colonies. People were starving to death, but billionaires were on the moon, Mars, Pluto, custom built space stations. Things were bleak on Earth in the 21st century, but they managed to pull through. A lot of cities had to be abandoned, more were destroyed by war. Cities that survived were built up, instead of out. People had to be content with less, while realizing it didn’t make them less than others. The 22nd century brought corporations fighting wars of their own back here on Earth, almost destroyed all of the progress that had been made. It’s also when first contact was made, war with an alien species will really force people to work together. The 23rd century is when things were finally starting to get figured out. Humans are great at viewing the technology of other species, and finding ways to improve our own societies.

Some of my favorite history takes place from the race to Mars up until now. At one point, Earth was on the verge of being inhabitable, now it’s a beacon of pride for humanity throughout the galaxy. Viewing how other species treat their home worlds was an eye opener to humanity. Humans who never lived here make pilgrimages to witness what it has become. There’s no bubbles or walls holding you hostage. You can walk right out of a city and into a desert, forest or an ocean. Humanity has managed to advance, while finally understanding and working with nature, instead of battling it. Earth dropped to a population of three billion during the wars of the 22nd century, now there’s sixteen billion people living here and the planet is healthier than ever.

That sixteen billion also includes my mom and dad, who I haven’t seen in a few years. I initially didn’t think to tell them I was coming to Earth. I’m just here for a visit, see if some stuff I left in storage is still around. I never had an apartment here, but I stashed some things in the event that I had a place to settle down at some point. Part of me just wants to see the old albums and books that I left behind. I never really collected anything else, or anything of value. Just things that I like. I contemplated skipping out on lunch and going, but I need to do this. Clear the air, try to find some common ground. I do want my family to be a family, and I have to start with these two.

We decide to meet at Keats of Earf in Kinshasa, there’s nothing extraordinary about the food here. But each meal is served in a private room just above the Kármán Line. The windows are some kind of special material, almost like a telescope that lets you see pretty far into space, or down below if you aren’t afraid of heights. It’s a nice restaurant, but it’s made for people to get into arguments. Nothing about it is exceptionally formal despite the kind of place it appears to be. Divorce dinners, failed businesses, family deaths and everything else that might get loud, those are the kinds of the meals served here. Mom picked the place, she must have expected a shouting match between dad and I. I’ve never been the shouter in the family, I just leave until I calm down. She’s confusing me with Edan, it’s not the first time. He’s her favorite, in some ways, he’s my favorite as well. He just does whatever he wants and it works out for him. I’ve been trying to do whatever I want, and the whole thing has just blown up in my face at every turn.

“Oh my goodness, your arm,” Mom makes her arrival known as she grasps at my arm. “They really took your arm. I knew the military was no good for you.”

Mom pokes and prods at me, checking the important motherly vitals. Have I been eating enough? Am I still in shape? Does the arm hurt? Have I cleaned my ears? She does all this without so much as a hug. I’ve always felt she was more concerned with making sure us kids looked as if we were perfect, while not caring if were we just, okay. Dad is the worst, she just crumbles under the weight of his pressure. He uses a cane now, that’s different than the last time I saw him. He doesn’t speak to me, he just limps over and places an order for himself before Mom and I can take a seat.

“How’s it going dad,” I try to break the ice as I take my seat.

“Well my leg is doing better than your arm,” he laughs at his own joke.

“That’s uncalled for,” Mom scolds him.

“Uncalled for? Weren’t you the one complaining he never called. This dinner is uncalled for, because we never called him for it,” Dad laughs harder, but at least this one isn’t mean spirited.

He spends the next twenty minutes not so subtly updating me on a list of reasons he has that Edan or I should have died instead of Evan while mom tells him it’s impolite. Evan was his favorite, until he died; then he hated him. Then he loved him, because he left behind a perfect image for Dad to use as a way to shame Edan and I. I’m curious if mom actually agrees and doesn’t think he should say it, or she really disagrees with him. I can never get a read on her, at least dad is honest about never wanting a big family. I’m not sure why I thought meeting them here would be a good idea. I’m not even sure why I’ve been stuck on this idea of having a family either.

“So, you decided to run away from all the fighting,” Dad tells me more than he asks. Mom uses it as her cue to leave for the bathroom.

“I didn’t run away from anything.”

“You’re AWOL, it’s easy to see. You don’t even dress like a marine on an off day anymore.”

“How does a marine dress?”

“Not like you. Did you come back to borrow money? Look for a place to sleep? I’ve got nothing for you. I gave you kids everything I had then scratched to give you more and all of you wasted it. One blew his brains out. One is running around playing space pirate and then there’s you. You thought serving the system would solve all your problems. Always looking for an easy fix. Now you’re running back for help. If Evan could see you now, he’d blow his brains out all again.”

“You’ve got it all wrong dad. I didn’t come to ask you for anything. I just thought it’d be nice to see you one last time before you die.”

There it is, I learned to hurt people from him and perfected it in the service. He was always kicking us when we were down. Pushing harder when we were up. He just couldn’t let us be happy with anything. Even now, I didn’t get a chance to reconnect with my parents. Mom spent too much time keeping me from getting upset by his comments and I spent too much time thinking of all the places I’d rather be. If Edan was here, I’m sure something would have been thrown by now.

“Let me show you something dad,” I adjust the viewer for our window.

“Probably isn’t worth a damn knowing you.”

“This is Pluto. It’s a planet that has its status questioned every two hundred years or so. It’s also the planet where I went AWOL. They got me blown up, and didn’t even get me a good arm. They wanted me to go fight some more and I said forget it.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because unlike you dad, I wasn’t lacking in courage. I was able to quit a job for low pay that I hated, but you’re just an old bitter coward upset that all his sons surpassed him. Edan is out enjoying his life. Even with me being AWOL I’m a respected member of society and Evan was brave enough to kill himself, when you just couldn’t get over the hump.”

I don’t believe anything I’m saying, I’m just trying to fight back with him. I learned to hurt using words from him, but I can’t match him. I don’t have enough of the vile fluid he calls blood pumping through my body. I can only do enough to amuse him, and buy myself a brief reprieve from his barbs. After each exchange he seems to respect me for a few moments before reloading for another round.

“What did you boys talk about while I was gone,” Mom returns to her seat.

“After all these years, I’m sure Efrem is actually my son,” I share a laugh with my dad for the first time in years.

I don’t pay attention during the rest of the meal, Mom and Dad just talk around me, almost like being a kid again. They don’t ask what I’ve been doing since they heard about me being blown up. I don’t really care that they don’t ask, but there’s a lingering question. Why didn’t they at least come visit me when I was recovering? Maybe it’s for the best, I might not have wanted them to visit me.

“Are you going back to the army dear,” Mom’s question comes out of nowhere.

“Marines, and probably not.”

“Probably for the best, not sure why they kept you around for so long,” Dad injects some venom into the conversation.

“They kept me around because I’m a good soldier.”

“A good soldier doesn’t get blown up.”

“That’s your opinion but you never did the job, so when I need to have my ability to transport cargo and skim off the top evaluated, I’ll ask you.”

“If I wasn’t skimming off the top the family would have starved.”

“If you weren’t so blatant, gleeful and celebratory about it Edan wouldn’t be running around trying to be a space pirate with a record on two different planets, three moons and six stations. But, I guess you’re not going to take responsibility for that either.”

“What else do I have to take responsibility for?”

“You told Evan to deal with his shit, and all you had to do was drive him to a doctor a couple times each month. But, I guess he dealt with his shit in the end.”

“Are you blaming all your little issues on me? It’s not my fault none of you grew up to be the men I raised.”

“One of us didn’t even get to grow up.”

“Well, would you boys like some dessert,” Mom interjects.

“No mom, I want you to hold him accountable for just once.”

“You and this damn accountability,” Dad raises his voice.

“Because people need accountability, and integrity, and empathy, all things you lack.”

“I suppose you have plenty to spare right? Mr. AWOL.”

I let Dad have it, along with his laughs. He’s right, I’m not any better than he is right now. I don’t have anything to throw into his face at the moment. I can’t be the one to fix this family because it isn’t mine to fix. It’s his mess, he has to be the one to clean it up. I can speak to Edan at least; maybe Mom if she stops trying to coddle Dad.

“How about we go enjoy a projection like old times after dessert,” Mom asks as if nothing just happened.

“I’ll pass.”

I’ve come to the realization that Evan’s death was the point where the family broke beyond repair; where we went from dysfunctional to dangerous. It’s dad’s job to fix it, but I can’t rewind to the time before Evan died. He was the one who always tried to keep us together. Make sure Edan and I played nice, calm dad’s temper, help mom with hobbies. I can’t do any of that. There’s not really any point in trying. Evan is dead, his space can’t be filled. So why am I wasting time trying?

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