When I opened my door, my stomach twisted into a knot. He was there, staring back at me with the same cold blue eyes. His little ninety-nine cent store cowboy costume was a little too big for him, so it hung loosely all around his body, but it was Halloween then, and it only came once a year. It would make do for an hour of collecting candy in the dark. That was then, but now, I was older. I was approaching fifty.
I looked back at my seven-year old self.
We not only had the same eyes, but also the same teeth, nose and brown, unkempt hair. My smaller self, who had gone by Petey in those days, spoke first.
“Hello. Do you know who I am?” Petey asked with a crooked grin.
“Of course I do. Why the hell wouldn’t I know myself?”
“I don’t know. I was just tryin’ to be nice.” Petey paused, and then continued quietly. “Momma told you not to cuss, Petey.”
“Peter. And Momma’s been dead for six years.” I said.
Little Petey looked down at his feet for a moment. I thought I had inadvertently made myself cry. But Petey didn’t, and instead, he perked up and asked to come inside. I couldn’t deny myself entrance into my own house, so Petey walked in, his large boots banging on my floorboard with every step.
“Do you know why I’m here?” Petey asked me. He was looking at some of the toy soldiers I had saved from my childhood and placed on my bookshelf. Technically, I suppose, they belonged to Petey.
I sat into my favorite chair and studied my younger self. His back was to me, he was setting up the soldiers into a line. Just like I used to. He suddenly turned and stared at me with a grin. He had lost his front tooth the day before Halloween, and I could see it.
“To help you remember. Do you remember when Momma got his costume for us? From Mr. Barnaby’s ninety-nine cent store?” he said.
I felt a lump in my throat.
“I remember.” I said.
“It was all Momma could afford, ever since Daddy started giving money to that girl…do you remember her? When Momma goes to work and Daddy doesn’t, Miss Gonzalez comes over. She tells me to call her that, but for some reason, when her and Daddy go into the back for her to teach Daddy some Spanish, Daddy calls her ‘Oh Jesus Baby’.”
Petey crinkled his nose and smiled in confusion. “Isn’t that weird, Petey?”
I didn’t correct him this time. The lump had migrated north from my throat and to my eyes. My eyes started to water because of this.
“Yes, that’s weird.”
Petey moved to the corner of the room, to my flat screen. He started to touch it, then recoiled. I had taught myself well, I was polite.
“What’s this?” Petey asked me, pointing to the television.
“That’s my T.V.”. I replied.
My little self looked incredulous.
“That’s a T.V.? It’s really big. Our’s is small. Daddy said that only morons need T.V.’s, but Momma said that I should be allowed to watch cartoons and stuff like my friends, like Bobby Drayton and Scottie Smith. Do you remember them, too?” Petey asked.
I did. Bobby Drayton jumped off of a bridge when we were eighteen, but of course, Petey wouldn’t know that. Scott Smith was an insurance salesman back in Utah.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Oh. That’s good. Do you remember…” Petey started to say, but I interrupted him.
“Did you just come here to torture me?” I asked suddenly and loudly, making Petey turn around abruptly, thoughts of my crappy life flooding back to me. “To help me remember how horrible our lives were and are? To help me remember that my father had an affair with the seventeen-year old daughter of the preacher? To help me remember my mother working every day and night, only to be paid lower than minimum wage? That’s why you leave Utah when you turn twenty, Petey. You leave all of that horrible life behind you, move to New York City, get rich, unhappily married twice, keep the fancy loft. That’s all I remember Petey, and that’s all I want to remember.”
He was quiet for a moment. Then, he started to walk away, boots clomping. When he got to the door, he turned to face me. He spoke.
“I wanted to make sure you remember the good things, like when Momma bought you this nifty outfit. Or when you caught that ball last year. No matter how many fancy things you put around you, remember, you had a life once in Utah. It wasn’t great, but it helped you turn out right. You need to think about it, instead of try and make it go away. You owe it to Momma.”
He smiled his missing-tooth smile one last time. “G’bye, Peter.”
And with that, he was gone.