I was a morbid and unpleasant child; a 10-year-old guitar prodigy whose weekends were spent wrapped in a Gibson Les Paul copy and facing a stacked 100-watt amplifier. I would sway back and forth in rhythm within a cloud of shrieking feedback, muttering about the black dog. If my father’s Vietnam-era rifle that stood erect and ready for action in the hallway closet hadn’t had its bolt removed and I could’ve worked out a way to acquire sufficient ammunition, I would’ve gunned the town down, written a conceptual musical about it and watched with silent glee as my parents wept at my execution (which I would face with uncommon courage). This was natural behaviour for a never-bullied child of academic parents who existed in the Disney-esque bubble of a crime-free suburb. It’s called testing
But then I discovered summer. I was 14. I’d blown a valve in the Marshall and had stepped into the backyard. Into a white summer morning. Where diamonds danced on the swimming pool (we had a pool?) and the family beagle lay asleep on the hot concrete driveway panting, her hind-quarters spasming as she dreamt.
Nearby, my elder brother knelt on freshly cut grass, his hair long and blond and dripping into his eyes. His arms looked stronger and more tanned than I remembered as he rubbed a compound onto a lime-coloured fibreglass device – a canoe? – as long and as wide as his own body and with three rudders affixed to one side. He looked up through his hair, showed his straight teeth and explained that he was a surfer now and that he’d been sharing lifts with an older kid from school to the beach, one hour away.
“You would love it, Chub,” he said (did I mention I was obese?).
“Nancy,” I said, and retreated to an acoustic I kept in the back shed in case
But as the summer progressed, I was tortured by the elevation of my brother’s status. His stories of near-death and encounters with marine fauna held my family in awe. Girls with freckled cleavage wrapped in sarongs from Bali came to the house and didn’t leave until late. He didn’t wash or care about his clothes and he had never looked so good.
It was a longer and hotter summer than usual. For one month, the temperature hit 100 or more every day. On the hottest day of the year, I opened my curtains and prised the window open. A warm wind breathed on my face. A cicada jumped onto my bed. The house was quiet. It was school holidays and my parents were at work and my brother had left for the beach long before I woke.
I walked up the hallway to my brother’s room. I didn’t stop, as I usually did, to shoulder my father’s rifle. The door to my brother’s bedroom swung open to an Aladdin’s cave of men surfing and women in bikinis. No plaster was visible between the torn pages from magazines. His bed was unmade, the sheets stained. His clothes formed a volcano in the middle of the carpet. A block of melted wax was a surreal sculpture on the windowsill. I thought, this was how the family’s demi-god existed? In squalor?
I thumbed one of the magazine carcasses. The colours were blue, pink, yellow, white, red and brown. The colours of the ocean, flowers and skin; of air-brushed surfboards and bleached hair. Summer colours. Bright colours.
“My brother’s such a nancy,” I said aloud, dropping the magazine, and walking to the closet.
I wasn’t convinced, yet. Not about surfing or summer. But my eyes were open.