It wasn’t nostalgia that brought Maynard back home. His mother said she’d found some of things of his and she wanted to give him a chance to go through them before they got tossed out. Maynard could have sworn he took everything of value when he moved out, but what the hell, he came anyway. His parents were selling the house and it couldn’t hurt to take one last look.
He parked his Grand Am on the street and walked across the ill-kept lawn to the front door. Dad must be slipping, he thought. When he was a boy, the lawn – along with the little garden out back – was a point of pride. One time he and was playing football with his brother in the back yard and an overthrown pass sent Augie reeling ass-backwards into some tomato plants. What followed didn’t hurt Augie so much because his backside was already numb from the fall, but Maynard wasn’t quite as fortunate.
The door opened before he had a chance to open it and he nearly ran smack into his mother. Mom had let her hair go all the way gray and wore it short. That and the glasses and the double chin made her a stranger to him. She looked more like an aunt he saw once in a blue moon than the woman who raised him.
“Maynard,” she said, giving him a perfunctory peck on the cheek. “Your things are in your room. I was just going to get the mail.”
He reached behind him and snagged a handful of magazines and envelopes from the mailbox.
“Here,” he said, passing them along.
The inside of the house had a ghostly feel to it. So much had been moved around, replaced or otherwise altered. Yet Maynard could look at any given spot and remember exactly what it used to look like. The blue recliner in the family room, for instance, had supplanted an older beige model that Maynard nearly broke when he tried to find out how far back it would go. Likewise, the book case in the dining room that now lay almost bare had once held volumes of baseball almanacs that Dad purchased and the males of the house read to tatters. But with two of the three males gone and so much information available online, the case had outlived its usefulness.
Remembrance was hard work and Maynard ducked into the kitchen to find a snack. He’d made it all the way into the fridge before he realized the old man was standing behind him, staring.
“Grab me a Coke while you’re in there,” he said.
A spiteful flair compelled him to tell Dad to get his own fucking Coke, but Maynard controlled himself and silently passed a can into the old man’s hand. He grabbed another for himself and shut the door. Dad was shorter than him, practically blind and cursed with a bad back and stubby fingers. Still, Maynard couldn’t shake the sense that he was sizing him up.
“Everything going OK?” he asked.
Maynard shrugged and reached for the cookie jar. “Can’t complain.”
“You seen your mother yet?”
Maynard nodded. His mouth was full of chocolate chip.
“She looks tired,” he said after he’d swallowed.
“We both are,” Dad said. “The move…well, I don’t think she expected it. I think she figured we’d be here long enough to see grandchildren running around this house. I figured the same thing too, for a time. 'Course now I know better.”
The last sentence was delivered with a snicker that made Maynard ball his hands into fists and grunt. He looked again at his father, searching for some sign of provocation in those cool blue eyes. But the hate wasn’t there anymore. The old man was just going through the old motions.
“I’ll be in my room,” Maynard grumbled. He was glad their new place was even further away. It gave him an excuse not to visit.
Maynard’s room was much as it had been the last time he came back. The bed was neatly made, the walls were bare and the floor was free of clutter. It was a far cry from his teenage years, when vulgar posters and dirty dishes and wayward clumps of clothes made his parents afraid to venture inside. If he wanted to, he could pick a spot and a memory would come, just like it did downstairs. But that wasn’t a game that Maynard wanted to play, not with these four corners.
Unfortunately, he might not have a choice. A stack of erstwhile belongings sat on his bed, beckoning him like a misshapen siren. Maynard approached with caution. He felt the bedsprings groan as he parked himself – another reminder of all that had changed since he lived there. With a curious eye, he went about rediscovering what his mother had saved from permanent destruction.
At the top of the pile was an issue of Playboy. It surprised Maynard for two reasons, the first being that he did a pretty good job to get rid of all his porn when he cleared out and the second being that it seemed like exactly the kind of thing Mom would throw away. It didn’t make any sense, unless…
Maynard checked the date and scoped out the old-school hairstyles. Yup, he thought, this was the one. This was the very first adult magazine he could lay claim to, given to him by his very own father when he was 13. The old man laid it on him like it was a rite of passage, which Maynard supposed it was. He was going through puberty at the time and skin mags were valuable guides to the carnal world that awaited his future self. Dated or not, Maynard was glad to have it.
“Use it in good health,” Dad had told him. “And don’t tell your mother I gave you that.”
Maynard heeded the warning at first, but foolishly ended up showing it to his pre-pubescent brother. Actually, he didn’t show it to Augie as much as Augie caught him looking at it and wanted to know what it was. Maynard, feeling like a big shot, told him it what it was and that Dad had given it to him because he was practically a man now anyway. Envious, Augie wanted to look too.
“Fat chance,” Maynard told him. “Look at you. You’re still a little kid.”
“Aw, come on,” Augie insisted.
Maynard decided to be magnanimous and relented. Unfortunately, Augie’s exclamation of “wow, neat!” drew the attention of their mother. Mom snatched the magazine and tore into Maynard without mercy. After laying into Maynard for exposing his brother to “such filth,” she demanded to know where he got it from. He waffled and dodged and equivocated, but in the end, she broke him. What followed nearly touched off World War III.
“How could you?!” Mom shrieked. “What was going through your mind, giving him that?”
“He’s a growing boy!” Dad snapped. “He needs to learn!”
And so it went for more days that Maynard cared to remember until one day Dad spontaneously took them all out for a steak dinner. It wasn’t quite the Peace of Westphalia, but hostilities ceased. It was stupid, he knew, but Maynard couldn’t help but wonder if Augie would have turned out differently if he’d been allowed to see more of the magazine.
The pile on Maynard’s bed contained a few more firsts. There was his first concert ticket, which was for some God-awful band he regretted he ever listened to. There was his first leather jacket, which was tattered and far too short. There was even a letter from the middle school vice principal commending Maynard for his quick reaction when Joey Bellanozza got hit in the head by a fly ball during gym class and passed out.
Looking at everything made the four corners of his room feel alive again. It brought Maynard precisely the nostalgia he’d hoped to avoid. This was supposed to be in and out, nice and easy. Instead, he found himself thinking. Maynard hated that. He’d done enough thinking in that room for one lifetime.
Then, at the bottom of the pile, Maynard found something that nearly made his heart stop: his diaper. She’d saved his diaper.
“For fuck’s sake,” he whispered.
When he was eight years old, Maynard was a helplessly prolific bedwetter. Like other mothers who tired of wet sheets, his resorted to diapering her son at night. To his adult self, it made logical sense. To an eight-year-old, it was catastrophic.
Maynard rubbed the old cloth between his fingers and the memories came. He found himself on his back on that bed more than 15 years ago, watching as Mom removed the diapers, pins, waterproof pants and powder from the plastic Food Lion bags. He had already been disrobed and positioned, but that part of him that swore she wouldn’t really go through with it was getting a second wind. Now that part compelled him to try to get back up.
“Maynard,” Mom cautioned.
“No, Mom,” he said. “I’m not gonna do it. I…I won’t drink anything before bed, OK?”
“We tried that,” she said. “Remember?”
“Well, try it again,” he said with his arms crossed. “Because I’m not gonna wear a diaper.”
She sighed. “Do I have to get your father?” she asked.
That sat him back down in a hurry and brought his dreams of escape to a crashing end. He was moist-eyed and red-cheeked as Mom slid the thick cloth folds under him, but the worst parts were yet to come. He would go on to experience being stuck with the pins courtesy of Mom’s slipping hand and suffering the indignation of her sliding the waterproof pants up and tucking every inch of extra fabric in. But the worst part was Augie, watching from his doorway and giggling. He shot his brother a look that could kill, but it took Mom’s admonishment to ultimately make him leave.
He wore those diapers to bed every night for about a month. Every evening, Mom would come and put them on him and they would remain on the following morning when he joined the family for breakfast. Every threatening gesture he made against Augie was negated by the words “…or I’ll tell about your diapers.” In short, life sucked.
The bedwetting passed, but the memories of the diapers did not. Maynard made a point of finding them and throwing them away before he cleared out. Apparently, there was one that had gotten away from him.
“Not this time,” he said. He prepared to fling it into the trash, but held it awhile longer. It was funny how something so innocuous could screw up his life so much. After all, if it hadn’t been for the diapers, things probably wouldn’t have gone the way they did with Christa.
He was 16 and he’d been on dates before, but she was the first one he’d felt he had a future with. It wasn’t that Christa was smoking hot (she was a little on the short side) or especially eager (if anything, she was guarded), it was that she seemed more real than the other girls. She was a stream, uncontaminated by the sewage pipe of adolescent bullshit.
It was that realness that led him to confess, within these same four corners, that he had once been a bed wetter. And though he felt emboldened enough to trust her with that, he still expected some degree of fallout. Taunting wasn’t likely, but a look of disgust or an abrupt exit seemed within reason. Instead, Christa merely shrugged.
“That’s it?” Maynard asked.
“Maynard,” she said. “You were eight. Eight-year-old boys do gross things.”
He laughed in spite of himself. All that time he’d been flogging himself over it, and for what?
The success of his confession led Maynard to reason – perhaps naively – that Christa was the only one who would ever understand him. And that reasoning, in turn, allowed him to drop the inhibitions he may have had with other girls.
It was again within the same four corners that Maynard made a play to lose his virginity. He and Christa had been together for a good while now and something in his teenage reasoning said the time was right. They were making out like they always did when he tried to slip a hand under her jeans.
Christa sat bolt upright.
“Maynard,” she said. “Don’t.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“I thought you liked me.”
“I do like you.”
“There are some things I just can’t tell you about,” she said.
He felt like he was being treated like a child and he didn’t like it. He couldn’t picture some of the other guys his age being talked to like this.
“That’s great, Christa,” he said in a patronizing tone. “But I don’t see what that has to do with us fucking!”
Christa’s eyes welled up and she abruptly tore away from him, mumbling “Jesus fucking Christ” as she bounded out of the room. She was in such a hurry to get away from him and those four corners and that house that she took no notice of oncoming traffic and promptly got herself hit by a car.
Maynard’s curiosity is all that staved of suicide. Lord knows his guilt demanded it. It wasn’t until two weeks after the funeral that he got his answers. Christa’s sister took him aside and questioned him thoroughly about her relationship. It was an uncomfortable topic, but he felt he owed her some truth. He held nothing back.
“So you never actually…”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t. I wanted to, but she freaked. Then I wanted to ask her what I did and say I’m sorry, but she was gone. Marci, what did I do?”
The sister sniffled and gave him a pitying look.
“You reminded her of our uncle,” she said.
“You’re uncle?” Maynard ask. “What does your uncle….oh, shit. I’m sorry.”
“She was ten,” Marci said, solemnly.
Maynard nodded. He buried his suicidal notions, but he found he couldn’t really get close to anyone after that. His father later tried to set him up with the daughter of a coworker, but things never panned out. The girl’s brother confronted him one day and asked him if he was a queer, like Augie had recently revealed himself to be. Maynard broke his nose. Things went south with the old man and never really recovered. Not long after that, he was gone.
“Fuck this place,” Maynard snarled, scattering the pile back across the bed with a swipe of his hand.
He began to wonder if the whole thing wasn’t some kind of set-up, a ploy by Mom so he’d get all misty-eyed and come visit them at their new house. If that was her intention, it’d backfired in spades. Then again, he couldn’t say he was surprised: when it came to his childhood, he and his parents were acting out Rashomon.
Exasperated, Maynard began to gather everything on the bed back into another pile. He decided he would take everything with him, even the diaper. Removed from the four corners, he doubted they would have much power over him.
Mom spotted him on his way out, the belongings tucked in a loose ball under one arm.
“Is that everything?” she asked.
“Yup,” he said.
“Can you stay for dinner?”
She frowned. “I hope you’ll make more of an effort to see us at the new house,” she said. “You and your brother both.”
“Seeya, Mom,” Maynard said.
He blew her an air kiss with his free hand and stepped out without saying goodbye to his father. There was more than enough room for the pile in the back of his Grand Am. As he slid behind the driver’s seat, he felt the familiar urge to speed away and leave the house behind him post haste. He took caution, however, to watch the road for signs of upset girls before he did.