“RJ! Did you just say ‘fuck?’ You know that’s bad! Who taught you to say that?”
“Tita Tess did…”
“I didn’t teach him that! He just heard me say it!”
Muffled laughter. Guilt drove Marese to walk away from her mother. She, too, had a part in teaching her cousin “this new kind of vocabulary.”
Glaring eyes fixed on Tess.
“Did you still want me to buy RJ an iPad?” Tess asked her sister. “RJ, Sweety, what do you want me to buy you today?”
“We need to go to the mall. I need a Freddy Krueger action figure.”
“Whatever you want, Sweety. Hurry up and finish your breakfast. When you’re done, we’ll go buy your stuff.”
Nanny duty. Tess and Marese spent time with RJ as often as they could. Being an only child, Marese longed for a younger brother. She loved to play with little kids and hounded her mother frequently for a younger brother. She didn’t think her mother would ever find a man who would help grant this simple wish. RJ was a compromise.
Neurotic workaholic Tess was happy to be in a different role. She felt needed for a different reason. She was the cool aunt who would buy RJ all the inappropriate toys and video games. Different demands. Different expectations. While on nanny duty, Tess felt free.
Driving in the car, “RJ, your mommy won’t let me buy you any more Resident Evil games. You’ll have to pick something else when we get to the mall”
“Mommy, that’s like for adults”
“Well, how was I supposed to know? You know I don’t allow all that video game crap in our house. It’s too distracting. And they have like 1 through 4 already. He plays them all the time.”
Ring tone. It was RJ’s mother. She wanted to make sure RJ brought a sweater and make sure he eats something while they were out. And don’t stay out too late or RJ might get tired and run a fever.
Turning down the car stereo, Tess instructed, “I want you to say, ‘chill out, Mommy, I’m good”
“Chill out mommy I’m good.” The little boy answered without looking up from his iTouch.
“Good job, Sweety”
Reaching the mall, RJ lead the pack. Tess and Marese followed. RJ was in charge. This time was his, dedicated solely to him. Tess was his favorite aunt and Marese was his favorite cousin. Tita Tess would get him whatever he wanted. Almost everything, at least.
RJ jumped, skipped and ran ahead of the two. His face beamed with joy. His voice was full of laughter. He would dart in and out of the different stores. The video game store was a particular favorite. He would spend hours just looking at the different games if allowed. The store with the creepy novelty items was another favorite.
“Here, Tita Tess, buy me these, please”
“Freddy Kreuger. Cool. A Dexter doll? Who the hell is he?”
“Action figure, not doll! I need it.”
“Whatever. Let’s go pay”
Settling in the food court, the three were hungry. Each was going over their loot during lunch. Tess had bought Marese a whole new wardrobe that would last the young teen about 3 days and for RJ, a replica of America’s favorite serial killer. That’s what it said on the box.
“That would explain why there was red ink all over the doll’s hands. I thought he was a painter or something. Oh well.” Tess thought to herself.
“Are we done, kids? Let’s clean up our mess and go. I’m getting tired. RJ, Sweety, throw away the boxes to your toys.”
Driving back, “RJ, I want you to say, ‘F it, who cares”
“I can’t say that, I’m just a kid”
“That’s right, Sweety, you are a kid so you can’t say, ‘fuck’. That’s bad. You can say ‘F it”
“Is ‘F’ a bad word?”
“No, Sweety. ‘F’ is a letter of the alphabet. You know that”
“Yes. Now say, ‘F it, who cares?”
“F it who cares”
“Good job, Sweety. Now say, ‘stupid DA”
“Do you know what DA stands for?”
“I know, Sweety, that’s why you can’t say that. You’re just a kid. You have to say DA”
“Mommy, that’s so wrong”
Dinner went by uneventfully. Marese retired to her room. RJ went down to the basement to play video games. Tess’ sister was washing the dishes, talking about the on goings in her community, job and various other aspects of life. Her brother in law was watching television. Tess wanted to write. It was noisy on the main floor. She went down to the basement where RJ was playing video games. Resident Evil.
Led by the hand, Tess was taken to the back of the room. Her nephew was playing his game, oblivious of whether she was there or not. He played fervently. He would jump up and down. He would laugh whenever something died, whether it was a monster or his own character.
RJ was exceptionally good at playing any kind of video game. He would intentionally kill his own character when he pulled ahead of who he was playing against or when his score got high. Either way, he would always emerge the victor.
Tess had drifted off to sleep and woke up in her dream. Again. She was having trouble breathing. Damn! She left her inhaler upstairs. She watched as her nephew played. She had no clue what was going on. Whenever RJ’s character got hurt, her chest got tighter, breathing got more difficult.
Tess couldn’t break out of this dream. She was getting weak. She was suffocating.
“Gosh freakin’ dammit, RJ! Will you kill the mother fucking bastard already?”
The words didn’t come out. Tess couldn’t speak let alone breathe. RJ laughed as he let his character die. Tess’ throat started to close. Her chest was caving in and she could hardly inhale. The room started to dim.
“Ha! I beat your sorry A!”
Air gushed into Tess’ lungs. Her heart raced and pumped oxygenated blood from her lungs throughout the rest of her body. She broke out of her dream. She was shaking. She was dazed. She was breathing freely now. RJ was jumping up and down, laughing triumphantly.
“F it, who cares? You’re a stupid DA”
“RJ, let’s go. It’s time to go to bed. Who are you talking to?”
“Chill out, Tita. It’s all good” the little boy beamed.
“I saved you”