Chapter One: You, and the Reason it Exists
By JD Miller
Photo by Natalie Bruno
It is my firm belief that there are some people of whom this world is not worthy. I don’t know if that’s a popular or unpopular opinion, I just know that I believe it. And for anybody who knows me (like you do), you know that I don’t have all that many firm beliefs. I have some in you, in God I guess, in my mom, and not a lot else.
I feel like I should be clear about the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing. Just right up, I think you should keep that in mind, because expectation is the mother of disappointment, and you are probably going to be very disappointed by this work, even though you won’t say anything about it. But I’m sure it’s not going to be what you think it will.
Then again, I could be wrong. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, that I wouldn’t be doing this at all if you hadn’t asked me to. And really, I’m not even sure if you remember asking me to. I think that it’s probably likely that you don’t, but I do. You probably remember the night, but not what you said, or what order it all came in, when you leaned your head on my shoulder and we both looked out over the lake, and you said, “you really ought to write this down.”
And I said, “this?”
And you said, “yeah, all of this. Our time together. I read those stories you wrote for school, they’re really good. And I want to know how you remember it.”
And to one degree or another, I tried to convince you that nothing I created could possibly be worth reading, and at one point or another (I guess I don’t remember it perfectly either) you just said, “well, I want to read it.”
Which was just one example of all the times you believed in me more than I did. And here I am. That may as well have been my great commission, even if, until recently, I think I’d forgotten it myself. I’m sure you hadn’t meant it, really. But here I am.
The third thing, if we’re keeping track, is that this isn’t really how I wanted to start. But I don’t really know how I do want to start, and now we’ve already started.
You would want me to start at the beginning, with a little autobiography or something (which would only take like fifteen seconds to tell), but for me, the beginning is you. To some degree, I think that is doing a disservice to the seventeen years of my life that passed before you, but at the same time I don’t think they deserve much praise. Before you, I did what wallpaper does. I wallpapered. I jellyfished. I algaed.
You are the twist that makes my story worth telling. You are the renovator who took the dilapidated old house on the corner, with its peeling paint and sagging porch, and flipped it for a million dollars or something, in one thirty minute episode. New countertops, bam. New metropolitan-chic colors. Check out that designer bedspread. And would you believe it, there was Vintage American Hickory flooring under this pukey carpet this whole time! What a reveal! And all of this on the combined budget of a nonprofit hamster trainer and a retired flip-flop salesman. Dreams really do come true.
I’m bad at analogies. But what all of this means, in the end, is that if you’re the star, then this isn’t my story at all, but yours, which gives me hope, because if it was mine, I would just stare blinking at the chapter heading, and then go do something useful, like watching water boil. That being said, here we go:
Isaac Parker-Bates, here!
I may as well have been named after a library. I never liked it, but you always did. That being said, I have a fat stack of nicknames that everyone seems to prefer. My mom calls me Zac. The guys I know from my football days, and my coach, call me Bates. Some people call me Batey, which is whatever. And a lot of people call me IPB, which I realize isn’t remotely shorter than Isaac. Some people, mostly Cass, just throw around IP.
A brief history of my life: I was born. I did a couple things, including 1) sleepwalking to my neighbor’s house and asking her for food, which made her really worried about me for a long time, 2) throwing up in a middle-school cafeteria, 3) making Cassie Greer’s 4th of July party a memorable event by belly-flopping off of her roof and into her inflatable pool, and 4) having my bones broken by Demetrius Legér and Marcus Coback (in that order).
And then, one day, I met you. And really you could say that that’s the first important thing that really happened.
You wouldn’t. But I would.
I guess that took slightly more than fifteen seconds. But only because I had to sit here and think for a while to come up with anything worth mentioning.
And I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating, really. I mean, you could ask my mom and she’d probably have more stuff to tell you about everything that happened between first and eleventh grade, and she’d probably bring up those several awkward years when I needed my comfort blanket with me wherever I went, or the Thursday that I decided to be vegan, or that time I tried to wash the cat and it almost carved out my eyes, and a whole bunch of stories that would make you laugh, or think I was cute, or probably horrify you. (Also, wow, if that isn’t the Nile River of sentences. I swear I won’t do that again, or I’ll at least throw in some semicolons next time, or something.)
But none of that stuff is the point. That was all the Before Times, before whatever hands are out there, steering my life, decided that everything would look better turned upside down. In hindsight, I obviously agree.
I just realized how I wished that I’d started:
Towns, and people, are like snowglobes. They look good on shelves, and stuff. But they’re remarkable, once they get shaken up. The same is true of me.
Of course, you already know that, about towns and people. Your world never really held still. There wasn’t even enough time for the snow to settle, before it rocketed back up into the dome. Or at least, that’s how I imagine it. From your perspective, I’m sure, it was just a long winter.
But to me, you are a snow day. Or the falling snow at the end of a Christmas movie, when the hot love interest’s niece yells “it’s a Christmas miracle!”
I feel like there’s more that I should say, in the interest of not throwing you into my life blind. I feel like a bad expositor. I decided (just now) to finish the rest of this introduction in classic interviewer-to-interviewee style (that old cliché). It’s the kind of thing I would have been ready for if I was going over to a friend’s house and their mom asked me to “Tell her something about myself.”
Imagine me in the awkward comfort of a friend’s house (this should be easy for you).
Interviewer: “Isaac, would you like a snack?”
Interviewee (probably lying, but it depends on the friend; nonetheless flattered): “No thank you.”
Interviewer: “So [friend] tells me that you guys have [class] together?”
Interviewee: “Yes ma’am.”
Interviewer: “Great! How do you like Clemps-Mount?”
Interviewee: “I mean, the warden’s a sweetheart, and the other inmates are friendly, once you get to know them. So long as you avoid the mashed potatoes, the cafeteria is pretty survivable.”
Interviewer (hopefully laughing): “Oh, someday you’ll look back at this time in your life and wish it hadn’t passed so quickly.”
Interviewee: *looks out the window to see if that sound was a helicopter or plane. Probably a plane?*
[Friend’s] father enters the room, looking paternal, joins discussion. “Well look at this! If it isn’t the not-so-indestructible Mr. Bates!”
Interviewee (with a shrug, intended to loosen the feigned tightness of an old collarbones injury): “Yessir, that’s me.”
Interviewer 2: “How’s the team looking this year?”
Interviewee: “Uh, not bad. We’ll see.”
Interviewer 2: *thumbs up*
Interviewer 1 Again, finally arriving at a topic with which the interviewee is remotely comfortable: “So you’re friends with Noel Roschavich?”
And finally my brain would engage. I’d say “Yeah, I am!” And I’d probably smile, but hopefully not in a weird way. It’d be like if I was an art professor, and someone finally stopped asking me about astrophysics, and finally asked about Van Gogh (your favorite).
And then I imagine that she’d say, “tell me something about her?”
(Why wouldn’t she? This is my imaginary scenario.)
And I’d respond by getting serious, the way that a mountain climber might get if you ask him about, just, a great mountain (I’m not a mountain climber), and I would say what I have always said, since that day when we sat on your couch, or by the lake, or I watched the city lights climb over your face while you slept in the car:
“There are some people of whom the world isn’t worthy. I’ve never been one of those people. But Noel Roschavich has always been. And sometimes just spending time close to someone like that can make you feel like you are—or forget that you’re not—everything that you ever dreamed you could be, or more.”
There would be more that I could say, but chances are that I’d run out of words. I’d lose a little bit of my direction, because after all, you weren’t right there next to me, keeping me going the right way.