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Authors: James Howe

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BOOK: Totally Joe
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: You don't have to travel to some other planet to find your way home.

F is for

and Aunt Pam. It's not that they don't think Jeff is cool. He's just not on their radar screens. Okay, it's true Addie had a crush on him once when she was younger, but then she decided that having the hots for your friend's older brother (who also happens to be a jock and not exactly what you'd call politically enlightened) was too much for her feminist soul, so she went from giggling whenever he was around to making these
noises to pretty much ignoring him.

So, anyway, this is who is in my family:

I'll start with Jeff because I've already written about him and there's not much else to say. He is:

1. 15

2. Growing what he calls a beard.

3. Obsessed with a girl he met at camp last summer whose name is something that ends in
(Joanna, Sienna, Brianna, Banana, whatever). He mostly calls her Clark, which I believe is her last name. She calls him “the J-man.” This is so
a healthy relationship.

(Guy-guy Fact: Guy-guys love putting “the” in front of their names and adding “man,” “ski,” or “ster” after them, as in: “the J-man,” “the Jeffski,” “the Jeffster.”)

4. An expert on all those guy-guy things I talked about back in B. (Except acting tough. As I said before, despite everything, he's actually a fairly decent human being.)

5. Possibly a computer genius
a computer geek).

6. The owner of a stunningly boring wardrobe, made up of two colors and the World's Largest Collection of Identical Pairs of Athletic Shoes.

7. The quietest member of our family.

In some ways he and my dad are alike. They both love sports, they're both into their computers, and they both have beards (except my dad's actually
a beard). Oh, and
they both love these meat-snacky things called Slim Jims. Do not ask. I am, like,
close to becoming a vegetarian.

But in other ways my dad is like me. We're both funny (well, I think I'm funny, thank you very much), we both like to talk (although we often talk about different things; my father has nothing to say about hair, clothes, or movie stars), and we both like to cook.

My dad's name is David, but everybody calls him Dave. He's a social worker at this agency over in Saratoga that works with “troubled teens.” My dad loves kids, and it's pretty obvious to anybody with eyes that he loves Jeff and me. He's always outside with Jeff throwing a ball around or shooting baskets. When they're inside, he gets Jeff to help him with computer stuff. With me, he plays games and watches movies (he gets a little squirmy during chick flicks like
Steel Magnolias
but he hangs in there), and, as I said, we both like to cook, so sometimes it'll just be the two of us out in the kitchen making dinner for the family.

The best thing about my dad is that he's not afraid of showing what he feels. He's big on hugs (even with my friends, which is one reason they like him so much) and … Oh. My. God … he cries at the drop of a hat! True story: Last Christmas, Bobby and I were watching
A Christmas Carol—
the old one in black-and-white—and my dad happens to walk through the room right at the moment when Tiny Tim says, “God bless us, every one,” and he starts sniffling!

“Dad,” I say, “are you

And he's all choking back these tears and he says, “Gets me every time.”

Maybe you don't think that's a cool thing in a dad, but I do. Colin says my dad is THE BEST and that I shouldn't worry about telling him I'm gay. He's right. I don't know why I
worry about it. Maybe it's because when I see Dad and Jeff outside shooting baskets, there's a way my dad laughs that makes me think he has a lot more fun with Jeff than with me. I listen very carefully for that laugh when we cook or play games together. When it comes, it's almost the same as his Jeff laugh—but not quite.

Here's something else about my dad: He is much neater than my mom. He's always picking stuff up and folding clothes and grumbling about the mess. If we were a sitcom family, it would be my mom carrying on like that, talking about having to live with a house full of men! But my mom can be the biggest slob. Honestly. I mean, she's super nice, but she just doesn't care about things like dirty
dishes or papers piling up on the dining-room table. Her motto is “Life is short and there will always be dirty dishes, so let's dance.”

Did I mention my mother is funny, too? Her name is Penny. What's weird is that she has this copper-colored hair, which she swears no one knew she would have when they named her (she's the only one in her family with penny-colored hair). My dad says he fell in love with my mom because of her name and her hair, but I doubt he's that shallow. (I pride myself on being the truly shallow member of the family. Remember, I fell in love with feathery blond hair and a head shaped like a melon.)

My mom teaches second grade in a school a couple of towns away. I'll bet she's a really good teacher, even if she gets in trouble sometimes for having a messy room. (I hope she doesn't tell her kids her motto.) Half the time our kitchen table is piled up with her classroom projects. And she's always talking about her students like they're part of the family.

I never really thought about this before, but both my parents have jobs where they work with kids, and they're both always talking about how terrific “their” kids are-even my dad's “troubled teens,” who he says only need love and direction—and, well, the part I never thought
about before is this: Why do I keep worrying that they won't love me as much once they know “the truth” about me? They love everybody.

Aunt Pam says that a kid like me couldn't have better parents.

Oh, I have to tell you about Aunt Pam. She's my mom's younger sister—a lot younger. When I tell people that my aunt lives with us, they probably picture this old lady with her hair up in a bun who sits around all day chain-smoking and knitting baby booties for the starving children of Armenia.
But Aunt Pam is not like that at all. She is twenty-eight years old, and I think it is fair to say that if a vote were taken tomorrow, she would win the title of Most Beautiful Woman in All of Paintbrush Falls and Maybe Even All of Upstate New York. If Julia Roberts were her sister, Julia would be whining all the time, “Why can't I look like Pam? It's not fair!” I am
not kidding.

Aunt Pam is an artist. When she moved in with us a couple of years ago, my dad helped her turn the upstairs room over our garage into a studio. She makes these really big paintings that she says are abstract and all about feelings. I don't know about that. I know I like
them, but maybe that's because I totally love Aunt Pam.

It's hard not to love somebody who is always on your side. When I was going through such a tough time in fifth grade, it was Aunt Pam who helped me know I'd be okay. I told her everything—even more than I told Bobby. And do you know what she would do? She'd sit there and nod her head and say, “That's cool.” Like nothing I told her was a big deal! Then when I would finish, she would say, “You're good just the way you are, Joe. Life isn't always going to be easy—it isn't for anybody—but you've got the stuff and you're going to be so fine you'll shine.” We'd laugh when she'd say that. It was so corny, that “so fine you'll shine” thing. But it really helped. It still does.

I guess I could believe anything Aunt Pam told me, because I knew she'd been through tough times herself. She moved in with us after living in New York City for a few years. It wasn't that she wanted to move to a small town, she just needed somebody to take care of her for a while and help her get back on her feet—“love and direction,” as my dad says. She had a boyfriend in New York who wasn't good for her. I think there might have been drugs involved, and I hate to say it because it makes me so mad, but I'm pretty sure her boyfriend hit her sometimes and that's the main reason she had to get
away. When she came to live with us, she looked a lot older than twenty-six, but the longer she stayed the younger she got.

Bobby has this major crush on Aunt Pam—or did until Kelsey came along and he got a girlfriend of his own. (And one his own age. Hello.) When he found out that Aunt Pam was going to move back to New York (which she's going to do after Christmas), he could hardly talk about it. I'm kind of glad he feels that way, because to be honest, I can hardly talk about it myself. I'm going to miss her soooo much. She says we'll IM and talk on the phone, but it won't be the same. She's my aunt, but in some ways she's my very best friend. She's the keeper of my secrets. She makes me feel so fine I shine.

She says I'll shine just as bright without her. We'll see.

I just reread everything I wrote about my family. I pretended I didn't know me or Jeff or my mom or dad or Aunt Pam, and I thought,
Wow, this is a pretty nice family
. Then I got thinking about Colin's family and how I'll bet he could write really nice things about them, too—but there's something, I don't know, different about them. I've been over to his house a few times now, and his mom and dad are very polite and try hard to make me feel welcome,
and his little sister, whose name is Claire, is really cute (although weirdly well-behaved for a six-year-old), but I never feel entirely comfortable there. Everything
. It's all so perfect—from the American flag flying out front to the cabinet in the family room full of trophies and awards (a lot of them Colin's). The magazines on the coffee table in the living room are fanned out like they belong in a doctor's office, and there isn't one picture on the walls that's even, like, a millimeter crooked.

Then there's Colin's room. It's nice and all, but it's not exactly what you'd expect a seventh-grade boy's room to look like. Neither is mine, of course, but it definitely looks like me. Colin's room looks like it belongs in one of the magazines on the coffee table downstairs. I asked him once if he'd picked out the furniture and pictures on the walls, and he just laughed and said, “As if.” He told me his mom uses this decorator named Paul, who comes up from Albany and
makes all the decisions in their house. He said his mom thinks Paul is “brilliant,” but his dad doesn't want to be there when Paul is around because “people like that” make him “uptight.” When I asked Colin what his father meant by “people like that,” Colin said, “You know,” and changed the subject.

My other friends' families are nothing like Colin's.
They're more like mine, but funkier. Addie's family is the funkiest of the funky, even after her mom started shaving her armpits a few years ago (thank you, Lord). They all wear these really ugly sandals that should be totally banned—Birkensomethings—and the way they eat tofu 24/7 you'd think it actually tasted
, when in fact it has no taste at all! And they're always carrying on about the latest political outrage and the starving children of Armenia and animal rights and women's rights and Native American rights … and, well, their car has so many bumper stickers I swear it's a miracle they haven't caused, like, a zillion accidents. I mean, how are you supposed to read those things when you're zooming down the highway at a hundred miles an hour?

BOOK: Totally Joe
4.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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