Author’s Note: “Petey Cries” is the first in a series of stories that will introduce you to Finding Jeffery: A Memoir. You’ll ride shotgun on the short bus—rambling through The Divorce, starlings that drop from the sky, hounds that hump by the chicken coop, and Civil War heroes who drink lemonade in the garden. You’ll meet Petey, John, Jack, and Dorothy—the heroes, and villains, of my youth.
- Chapter 1: Petey Cries
- Chapter 2: Clink, Clank, Clunk
- Chapter 3: Smiling Nervously
- Chapter 4: The Unquenchable Thirst of Civil War Heroes
- Chapter 5: Jack and the Short Bus
For additional insight into Finding Jeffery, read Finding Jeffery: The Backstory.
Chapter One: Petey Cries
Petey never cried.
He was my 14-year-old brother—the brother who climbed the tallest trees, rode his bike without holding onto the handlebars, played tackle football, trapped the opossums that wandered into garage, and raised the baby raccoon that was tied to a stake in our back yard.
In a six-year-old’s world, the only thing Peter Franklin Riley was missing was a cape.
This morning, however, my hero is crying in the hallway of our home, a modest duplex located along the bustling, four-lane Ninth Street—the main drag of Corvallis, Oregon, a college town of 35,000 that ascends from the eastern edge of the Oregon Coast Range.
The Taco Bell is down the street, on the right. Sometimes our mother has a headache, so she sends me, Petey, my 16-year-old sister Marie, and my 8-year-old sister Veronica up there for dinner. We hold hands tightly as the cars splash past us. I’m allowed a small bowl of pinto beans and an enchirito, my favorite. We aren’t allowed to get sodas because they are too expensive. Oh, and they will rot our teeth.
The Pay Less store is across the street, down on the left. Sometimes when our mother is drinking, Marie takes me there, in her Beetle, so I can look at toys while she looks at girl stuff. Marie recently loaned me $5 for a Tonka Truck. She explained to me what an I-O-U is, and I signed the paper and we put it in the glove box. I am paying her back with the money I make on my paper route.
Our home is tucked between the Dairy Mart convenience store to the left and, to the right, a trailer park that my parents manage. My paper route isn’t a real paper route, says Petey. I just deliver newspapers that get dropped at our house for the people who live in the trailers, on my Big Wheel. Sometimes they give me a nickel. The nice old lady with the curlers in her hair gives me a dime but sometimes she doesn’t answer the door, so I set the paper against the door, under the roof and out of the rain, hoping she remembers that extra dime next time—but she almost always forgets, and I don’t speak to adults unless spoken to, so I just smile and say Thank You. The fat man with the bushy gray beard and cardboard taped to his windows gave me a quarter last week. He was laughing a lot, calling me the Big Wheel Patrol, and he smelled funny. Petey said he was drunk and on dope. Dope? Never mind, said Petey.
Highway 99 runs behind this enchanting world of mine, its log trucks rambling just beyond the creepy old motel behind us—with its creepy owner and his creepy son who dropped his pants and showed his privates to Veronica’s best friend one night. I don’t like that boy, I thought as I listened to her whisper this story to my sister, careful that our parents wouldn’t hear from their card game in the dining room. Because Kerry knows she’s not supposed to go near the creepy motel. “Eww!” they screeched. I shook my head and then turned my attention back to Fred Sanford on the TV. “Shhhh!” I snapped.
This morning, upon hearing my mother call for me from the kitchen, I have left the somewhat impromptu wedding of my GI Joe and Veronica’s Barbie in my bedroom to scramble downstairs. My mother does not like to call names twice. You kids come when you are called!
So I am catching my breath, facing the full-length mirror that hangs on of the door of the coat closet in the hallway, just outside the entry to the kitchen. I look up at Petey’s reflection as he stands behind me, dabbing at his eyes, puffy and red.
“Why you cryin’, Petey?” I ask.
Upon my arrival, my mother had instructed me to “Say goodbye to your father and brother.”
She sits at the kitchen table, her fingers pressed against her temples. A cigarette burns between two fingers of her right hand, its lengthy ash curving toward the flowered table cloth below.
She glares disapprovingly at Petey and his tears. My mother greets tears with Stop that blubbering or I’ll really give you something to cry about!
Marie has finished drying the dishes and is wiping the countertop, folding the towel and placing it back on the metal rod on the cabinet door. Veronica sits on a stool, in front of the fridge, rocking back and forth—clutching her tattered blue blanket, eyes darting between Mom and Petey.
My father—his name is Burton, but they call him Stick, and I don’t know why—stands with his back to it all, sipping his black coffee and looking through the screen door that opens to the back yard.
Petey is not answering me.
He bites his upper lip, takes a deep, choppy breath, and kneels down to look me in the eye.
Now he is saying something about leaving, with Dad. I look toward my father, who is rinsing his cup in the sink.
“California?” I asked. “Where’s California, Petey?