NF Prose by Josh Olsen

Spontaneous

My partner recently told me that she can tell I was mostly raised by my grandparents. She called me the oldest young person she knows. Or was it the youngest old person? Either way, her point was made. And I can’t deny it, as much as I’d like to try. I do appreciate a quiet night at home, devoid of surprise run-in or unscheduled interruption. Even when I make plans, well in advance, no matter how much I’m looking forward to it, whether it’s a concert, a baseball game, a poetry reading, or a live pro wrestling event, when the day of the show comes, I’d rather stay at home, and even after I’ve convinced myself to go, no matter how much I enjoy it in the moment, I’m happiest when it’s over. Katie told me that I lack spontaneity, and my response was that I experienced enough spontaneity in my childhood to last me the rest of my life. Katie rightfully groaned and rolled her eyes, her response whenever she felt I was playing the victim, and I said, “I lived in 20 different houses before I was sixteen!” My mom and my stepdad were spontaneous, spontaneous with their jobs and their bills and their fidelity and rent, and as a result of their spontaneity, we would spontaneously move to two or three different apartments in one year. During the first grade, I attended three different elementary schools (one of them twice that year), a fact that still makes my mother cry when I bring it up. All three schools were within the same school district, in Holmen, Wisconsin, a village with fewer than 10,000 people, but for a first grader in the mid-1980s, they might as well have been on different continents. For one of the schools, I was only enrolled a couple weeks, while I temporarily lived with my maternal grandparents (hardly the first or last time). I barely remember anything about it, except for pissing my pants one day because I was too shy to raise my hand and ask for permission to be excused for the boy’s room, but it turns out that my brief presence evolved into a bit of an urban legend for my classmates. One evening, in my early 20s, I was approached by a group of drunk college students (granted, I was also then a drunk college student) and asked if my name was “Josh Sather.” And, well, the answer was yes. “Sather” was my legal last name before I was adopted by my stepdad, when I was in the second grade, but for these strangers to know me by that name, it meant they would’ve had to know me before then. So, yeah, I am Josh Sather, I confessed, and my answer was met with an explosion of laughter and profanity. “Holy shit, where the fuck did you go?” one of them asked. “What the fuck happened to you?” another slurred. “I told you he existed!” said another. As it turns out, this gathering of intoxicated individuals had all gone to school together, from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, and my two weeks in their classroom, in first grade, was like a blip in their collective memory, like a shared delusion. The weird, quiet, ambiguously ethnic apparition who showed up, unannounced, in the middle of the school year, and then vanished without a trace, just a couple weeks later. Did that even happen? they’d joke amongst themselves, Was he even real? And finally, it was confirmed, like the existence of Bigfoot. Josh Sather lived. “And that,” I proclaimed, “was the result of spontaneity.” Katie just looked at me and yawned, and then so did I.

At the Drive-In

I told my mom that Katie and I were at the drive-in, and she had plenty of romantic advice to give. “Buy her some popcorn, put your arm around her shoulder, hold her hand, and kiss her on the cheek,” she told me, as though this was our first date, and Katie and I hadn’t been together for over 18 years, and raised two kids and a dog. I read my mom’s text to Katie, and she sarcastically gave me the finger.

“Do you remember when you took me to American Werewolf in London?” I asked my mom, and she immediately began to apologize. When I was about 2 ½ years old, my mom took me to the drive-in theatre, with her then boyfriend/friend who was a boy, to see John Landis’ American Werewolf in London. I was obviously too scared to watch the whole movie, and almost immediately began to cry at the sight of Rick Baker’s groundbreaking, Academy Award winning horror effects, but it was one of the most formative memories of my childhood, and likely why I’m such a horror fanatic to this day. “Your grandparents weren’t always so perfect,” my mom said, attempting to change the subject. “They took me to the drive-in to see The Graduate when I was 7 years-old,” she said. She said watching the love scenes in the car with her parents was one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life, and she still hates Dustin Hoffman for that very reason. “That’s great,” I said, “you should ask grandma about that,” and once again the texts began to pour in. “You can never do that!” she said. “Grandma would be so mad. She would deny it. Don’t ask her about it. Promise me you won’t ask!” she begged via voice-to-text, and I promised her I wouldn’t ask.

“What a shame,” I said to Katie, “to be almost 60 years-old and still not feel comfortable talking to your only living parent like an adult … Remember when Jackson puked at the drive-in?” I suddenly recalled. Our son was barely one year old, and we had taken him and his then 6-year-old sister to the drive-in theatre, to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Katie had just finished feeding Jackson a bottle, he had just recently stopped nursing, and when she sat him up on her lap, to be burped, his entire stomach full of breast milk emptied onto the dashboard. Perhaps needless to say, we didn’t stick around to watch Johnny Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka, with Katie and Jackson soaked in hot, curdled breast milk, and his sister, Gabriella, throwing a crying fit over having to leave the movie early.

Well, on the night of July 3rd, Katie and I didn’t have any kids with us at the drive-in. It was just her and me, our first movie together, alone, in god knows how long. It didn’t even really matter what movie was playing, it was just good to be out of the house. “In the car, but out the house,” Katie posted on Facebook. All around us, even while the movie played, thunderous fireworks lit up the horizon. “Next time we’ll bring booze,” we promised each other, and sighed in relief when the credits rolled and it came time to crank the air conditioner.


Josh Olsen is a librarian in Flint, Michigan and the co-creator of Gimmick Press.

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