Exile from Eden
The Breakfast Papers
I am my father’s son.
If there is one thing he gave me, it is this: Like my father, I have an endless fascination with putting things together.
One time—this happened about two months ago—he brought home a kind of puzzle for me. The puzzle had been sealed inside a large colorful box. The box said this on it:
THE VISIBLE MAN
SCIENCE ASSEMBLY PROJECT
After I put the puzzle together, I decided to name my visible man science assembly project Breakfast.
My grandmother, whose name is Wendy, was unhappy with the way I’d put together Breakfast, my visible man science assembly project.
Wendy was always so regimented and constrained.
She said, “Why don’t you follow the instructions?”
“You don’t need instructions if you know how to think” was my answer.
I didn’t even bother to consult the image of the visible man that had been printed on the cover of the box Breakfast came in. No matter. He wasn’t much of a man—visible or otherwise. He was missing some key parts, and anyone could see that, whether you looked at the instructions or not.
My father told me that science frequently regards modesty as being superior to truth.
But Wendy was angry because I’d glued Breakfast’s brain on top of his see-through head, as opposed to inside his skull, which is where anyone—instructions or not—would have naturally concluded a brain belonged. I also painted an extra set of eyes on Breakfast’s brain and affixed his lungs to his shoulders as though they were a pair of chubby pink wings.
Breakfast was arguably ugly, but he was mine.
Also, he infuriated Wendy, my grandmother, who was eternally attached to elaborate lists of rules and protocols.
I might explain the name I’d given my modestly edited visible man science assembly project. Breakfast was a real person, and he was out there somewhere. In many ways, I was obsessed with the idea that one day I would meet the real person named Breakfast. I frequently tried to imagine the feeling of meeting anyone else, especially a young person—a boy, someone like me—which is what my father and I concluded the real Breakfast was. I had never seen another human being—visible or otherwise—besides the people I’d lived with for my entire life.
Think about that!
Because it had been my understanding that everything people had decided for themselves to be real—and this was supported by accounts, without end, in stories, books (true and otherwise), paintings, and music—had all been a result of stitching together the collected experiences and emotions of the people around them, even if they were lies. And among the many things my father had brought home to me over the last few months was an odd assortment of artifacts he’d used in compiling a presumed history of this boy who was named Breakfast.
Father called these artifacts our Breakfast Papers, and, like me, Father wanted to find this person, if for no other reason than to validate Breakfast’s existence and to put to the test our assumptions about the boy’s life.
Maybe it was just a game—something my father made up to keep me entertained. Who knows?
Perhaps none of it was real, but, like the visible man science assembly project I named Breakfast, putting things together was something my father and I were both driven to do.
• • •
We lived inside a hole.
Naturally, I had nothing to compare our hole to. I had only on one occasion been anywhere else that wasn’t within very short walking—or sprinting—distance from the hole. But growing up here, and hearing the others talk about our hole as they did, I pieced together a picture that it was pretty nice and concluded that we were all very lucky, which is what my father liked to call me: Lucky.
Robby, my other dad, called me Arek, which is my real name.
So, after sixteen years and some days, I crawled up from our hole in the snow-covered ground. I was like one of those bugs—a cicada, which I have only seen in books from our library.
The books tell me that cicadas live for about seventeen years underground, and then, after they come up, they only live another month or so. Knowing that the upstairs part of their lives will only last a few weeks is probably what keeps them underground so long. In any event, it was not my intent that Mel and I would expire in a matter of weeks, but what can you do?
I grew up with Mel. She’s the only other person I know who’s basically been a human cicada. Mel and I were born in the hole. I also had powerful, unexplainable feelings about her—feelings that caused a sensation like something was growing inside my rib cage, trying to crawl out of me, like the plastic parts inside Breakfast, every time I even thought about her. Like now. But I would never have told Mel about that.
It would have been too weird.
I asked my father about the way Mel made me feel, how sometimes I couldn’t sleep thinking about her. It was times like these, when we would talk—especially about things that happen to boys when they are fifteen or sixteen—that my father’s eyes would turn into different kinds of eyes (I can’t explain this, having no context), and he would tell me about BEFORE THE HOLE and AFTER THE HOLE as though some clear demarcation existed, but it was invisible to me. I could only see the after.
My father could straddle time.
Near this place where we live there are three holes in the
ground, surrounded by an immense accumulation of other artifacts from which I have constructed an understanding of the way things were before we got here. Before the hole.
The holes are in a field, flat and wide, located about two thousand steps from a house whose roof, according to my father’s account, had been sheared away by a tornado that struck just months after I was born. My father says the house is “historic,” but he says that about everything, without end.
He is probably right.
Everything is historic when you think about it—even things nobody would ever care about.
I ate pancakes this morning.
My socks tend to get dirty on the bottom, on account of the fact that I rarely wear shoes inside our hole.
My hair is the color of pale tea—just like my mother’s.
And the three holes look like this:
I have two fathers, one mother, and a grandmother.
I only pretend to remember who Johnny and Ingrid were—based on the things my family told me about them. I can’t
remember a thing about Johnny and Ingrid, but sometimes, when I think about the holes, I make up my own stories about them.