I learned to crumble crackers into my soup by watching my father very carefully. He could take fifteen saltines into one big hand and turn them to sand between his fingers, spreading the grist over a steaming bowl of meat hash soup. My hands were smaller then. I was more delicate and broke crackers one by one, picked the petals from flowers one by one. But I watched and didn’t speak and admired his manhood from a distance.
I learned to drink by matching my father’s mouthfuls of scotch with my own of milk. Fights osteoporosis, he’d say, pouring me a cup. Ice clattered in his glass while we sat in front of late night nature shows. He liked to watch the lions roam the plains. I asked him if we could go one day and he told me No, the Sahara is no place for a boy. He’d swig and I’d sip, and in the blue-white flicker of the television we’d watch groups of hyenas snap at the heels of solitary lions. I was going to have unbreakable bones.
I learned to piss by listening to my father in the mornings. It was a waterfall behind the closed bathroom door; the way that thick sound roared around inside the toilet bowl, churning water into gargantuan bubbles. We both had dicks, we both used the same toilette—how could his be so much more than mine? From then on when I went I pushed as hard as I could, forcing blood to my face and trying too hard to make the bathroom shake with masculinity. I’d soon piss thunder.
I learned to fight by hearing again and again the stories my uncle told about my father. Sitting on the fireplace hearth I heard how on Rue Saint-Jaqcues he knocked out a priest who’d molested his childhood friends at seminary school, how he’d broken the nose of a hockey player who in the wrong tone called my dwarf uncle a dwarf, and how he got thrown in the drunk tank for dragging a man who had spat at my mother’s feet down the street, making him sing “Where Does My Heart Beat Now?” to my then curly haired and enamored mom. About how behind the cell bars he bared his teeth and snarled until they let him out. I’d grow up to snarl, to rage, trying to protect those near to me with fangs out and hardened fists.
I learned to draw by locking myself in my room the nights my father cut the zip-ties from the liquor cabinet door. I’d sketch him as a great lion with spades in his eyes and a thick mane that hung heavy on his shoulders. The pages occupied empty spaces below my bed. But as time went on his mane grew thin, fangs dulled; I ran out of pencil led. And it’s probably better that way. I was tired of the hyenas gnawing at my hands as I drew, tearing tendon from bone, barking about how we were nothing more than gazelles or some sad zebras, still afraid of the wildfires just like everyone else.