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Satan and solitude 

There's no greater hell than being alone

I have horns. Who would have thought? I mean aside from Lary, who has been calling me a lesser demon almost since we met. "If I'm a lesser demon then what the hell does that make you, nuclear Satan or something?" I ask, but he doesn't even have to answer. He is Lary, and Satan can only aspire.

But back to my horns: I found them in Grant's kitchen and have been wearing them ever since. They are red and glittery, sculpted from clay, and Daniel says they are quite a nice accessory to my daily attire. Grant probably will want them back, but they've grown on me. They are mine now, glorious testimony to my inner evil. I wonder if later, when I'm super-old and sitting in the carport next to my trailer with my tiny dusty horns on my head, sitting there with half my face drooping southward like a mudslide in front of a Malibu beach house, I wonder if Grant, Daniel and Lary will be there to hear me sputter, "You bastards, you made me what I am."

Because that's kind of my big fear, to end up alone in a trailer park in Arizona or something, trying to fire up my hibachi with arthritic fingers. As a kid, I rode cross-country twice with my father in our family Fairlane, through expansive, desolated stretches of total nowhere dotted with lonely homesteads occupied by ghosts who are not ghosts, just people who might as well be. I wondered what happened to drive those people out there. Did they arrive because they couldn't contain their inner evil? Did it sprout out of them like horns, repelling their friends? Were they banished to those outposts because they couldn't cope with regular people? Normal society?

That could be me, you know. That could easily be me. When I was 6, I took a standardized intelligence test along with the other kids in my school, and my results were not normal. Far from it. My mother made my father promise not to tell me, a promise he kind of kept. Just looking back at my childhood in general, I'm totally surprised I survived. My mother made bombs. As a missile scientist, she could design complicated weapons but couldn't follow a recipe more complex than "just add water." As a result, she fed me so much junk food I'm surprised I'm not sitting here right now with a tumor the size of a Siamese twin.

And my father, now, he's a whole other sack of bats. He was an alcoholic traveling trailer salesman who liked to drive drunk with me in the front seat. Once he ran over a lady's foot but that's because she deserved it, he said. For family entertainment, we used to cruise through the cemetery and watch the deer eat flowers off fresh graves. I had no idea this wasn't normal.

I had no idea about a lot of stuff. One Halloween, at my seventh birthday party where I was dressed as a little devil complete with horns and pitch fork, my father figured he had a way to tell me but not tell me what he and my mother knew about my brain. He took me aside and whispered fiercely, "Never forget this: You are not normal, you are more than that. You are better than me, better than your mother, better than anyone you know."

I laughed, because it was so seldom that he was serious with me, and I had no idea what he meant. I tried to turn away to resume my party, but he had me by the upper arms. "Dad," I said nervously, "I'm not better than you."

"You are," he said solemnly. "Never forget that. Be better than me," and with that he was back to his old self, drinking Buds and making the other parents laugh.

But they didn't buy his act. Nobody did. He ended up alone like those people in the Arizona desert, with nobody to help him come to terms with his inner evils. He died suddenly one day in a furnished studio apartment next to the Los Angeles airport, with planes packed with strangers roaring overhead. "Be better than me," he'd said. But why? He wasn't so bad.

Now part of me really longs to hang out at those homesteads in the middle of nowhere. I guess it's because I want to know it's really not that awful to be cut off from almost everyone. Maybe you could watch the sunset every night from a lawn chair on your carport, and you could have three crusty old coots for friends -- Daniel, Lary and Grant -- who shuffle over occasionally with bad box wine and a dozen doughnuts. They could help you light your hibachi. They could help you with the hope that maybe you were wrong about your father. Maybe he wasn't alone after all. Maybe he had friends he could show his horns to, friends like this who could look at his inner evils and make him realize they weren't so evil after all.

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