Last time I saw Miles was just before he went to prison for tryna kill his stepdad. I wasn’t there when it went down and by the time the story floated my way, it’s like–take it with a grain of salt, right? Except everybody knows Miles is crazy, so when I was told he burned the old man’s face off for saying something bout Miles’s daughter pronouncing her Rs funny, I thought bet, that sounds like Miles.
So his daughter–she gotta be five, maybe six–she’s telling her daddy what kinda rice she wants to go with the fajitas he’s whipping up, and her granddaddy–Miles’s stepdad–chuckles and mimics the way she says it.
Just a cute little kid thing, you know.
But this is coming from the man who felt the best discipline for backtalk from a teenage stepson was a belt across the mouth, so yeah, we all know grandparents are different with their grandkids, but still. Miles takes the mimicking some type of way. Grabs the old man by the back of the neck and shoves his face into the skillet that’s over the burner. So his face is sizzling and popping in steak grease–he’s screaming and flailing and Miles’s mom is tryna get her boy off her man before he melts his face down to the bone–and you gotta imagine baby girl is losing her shit, if not sitting there quietly traumatized.
But Miles wasn’t tryna kill nobody last time I saw him. He didn’t even have a skillet.
How I know Miles is he was married to my cousin Tonya for a minute. She met him at a house party his shitty band was playing at and a couple months later, they couldn’t afford a Plan B. Decided “fuck it, this is us now.” Tonya didn’t slow down with the XOs, though, which is maybe how come their daughter was born with a heart arrhythmia and how come she says her Rs like Ws. But who am I to judge. I was the one feeding her habit at least half the time.
That’s the reason all three of us fucked with each other like we did, really, was the XOs. Miles and his shitty band would attract a good-enough number of dead-eyed customers to the bars they played at, so I could just do my thing in the parking lot and chill. Easy money. The band, though–Sons of Paimon–they really did suck, I ain’t gon lie to you. Miles was the singer. He did a lot of that screaming shit. This one time, though, they played a cover of “Soldier Side” by System of a Down. Go look that up and play that joint, I’ll be done with the story before it’s over. But this the only song that nigga could sing well, and it ain’t like he was singing on key. He absolutely was not. The Sons of Paimon butchered this shit. Screeching the wrong notes on the guitar riff, drums and bass all out of rhythm with each other. And like I said, Miles can’t carry a note to save his life, but when he sang this song, it was coming from somewhere else. Like the him that wasn’t haunted by some demon was singing from somewhere deep inside. He’s at the edge of the stage, leaning out over the dozen people gathered there washing their XOs down with beer and his eyes are bugging out his head and he’s got this crazy Joker smile. This is when his teeth were all crooked and sharp, too, before they got blasted out his mouth and he had them replaced with perfect fakes. Real devilish. To this day when I hear this song, I leave my body for a minute.
“They were crying when their sons left, God is wearing black…”
They only played it the one time, and later that year Miles joined the Army. Could have been the couple months buying diapers on the wages of a fry cook and a sex shop clerk is what made his mind up. There was about a week there where Miles would let me borrow their car if I’d drop him off at the sex shop, just so it wouldn’t be sitting, waiting for the repo man. Their phones were shut off most the time. I guess he saw a commercial one day and showed up at the recruitment office the next. This is back when America was balls deep in Iraq and a lot of niggas I knew couldn’t piss clean were joining up no problem. Miles was one of those they tossed to the frontlines off the jump.
Their baby girl was a couple years old when he came home from Iraq with half his face blown off. He had this picture printed off a throwaway Kodak from right after the explosion. What happened was the Humvee he was riding gunner on had run over an IED. The Humvee flipped over and sent Miles flying across the desert and when he landed, he says he hopped up–half his face peeled off his skull, just dangling from his chin–and he says he upped his M4 ready to blast any haji in sight, but wasn’t nobody around except his own squadmates and some goats. So he starts blasting at the goats. Kills them all just to watch something die. And we all believed the story because I told you, Miles is crazy. The picture he showed us was after he’d been convinced to lie down in the back of this truck, and he’s lying there with his body full of glass and metal, blood haloing his head and half his face blown off, and in the picture there’s this beam of light shining through a hole in the tarp, like the finger of god stretching out to touch his forehead.
When they shipped him home, it was back to the same ole, same ole. The Army gave him a Purple Heart and his scarred-up mug scored him almost a thousand bucks a month. He started selling weed and making beats. I’d come over and we’d smoke the weed he was supposed to be selling and he’d loop whatever beat he was obsessively putting together while we played Call of Duty.
He and Tonya were always in a limbo between fighting or fucking, or they were off fishing at the beach. One time I dropped in and they were gone but the door was unlocked, which wasn’t unheard of. I decided to just kick it until they got back. Hit a leftover dab off some tinfoil on the table and booted up the PlayStation. I was still customizing my weapon setup when I heard the tinkling of xylophone keys from down the hall. Got up to check it out. Baby girl was wearing a princess shirt and a puffy diaper and she was going crazy on the keys now, there on her bedroom floor encircled by a cyclone drop of toys and stuffed animals. I unlocked the baby gate and she waddled over to me with her arms outstretched and I carried her to the couch. Tried hitting up both Tonya and Miles, but their phone bill hadn’t been paid.
We watched Blue’s Clues until baby girl got bored of that, and then I found some crayons in the mess on her floor but no coloring books, so I sat her on the kitchen countertop and showed her how you could color on the formica and it would just wipe off. She thought that was fun and she kept grinning and scrunching her nose up at me, this little cute-ass kid with a bird’s nest of black hair, and soon the counters were all covered in blue and purple squiggly lines and then she started crying.
I didn’t know how to feed babies at the time so I searched for a pan and scrambled some eggs that were in the fridge and she ate those okay. I didn’t know the rules about diapers or nothing so I left that alone until Miles and Tonya finally showed up smelling like beer and salt water, both of them carrying a cooler at each end. Miles was cheesing real big and said, “We caught a shark.”
He opened up the cooler and there was a bright blue bull shark laying on a bed of ice. Its gills fanned open-shut and its eyes were wide and there was blood all in the ice water. Baby girl reached out over the shark for her momma to carry her. The only bruise on Tonya’s face was smudged highlighter yellow, meaning it was old, meaning they’d been working through shit.
Miles dipped off to the kitchen and opened the fridge and hollered out, “Nigga.” I shut the lid on the shark and poked my head in to see what he wanted, and he was tilting a milk carton sideways to show the last little bit swishing around, and this nigga had the nerve to come at me talmbout, “You for real drink all the milk?”
The time I got to fight his ass, we were tailgating at a Texans game. Thing about tailgating is people get drunk, and when Miles gets drunk, it can go one of two ways: he loves everybody so much he could cry, or he’s ready to throw hands. This was one of those times he was ready to throw hands. Thing you gotta know about Miles is after he became the scar-faced slayer of Iraqi goats, the Army was kind of his whole shit. I’ve got this Arabic script tatted down my forearm–Haqq: la illaha il Allah–that I’d put zero thought into. I was dating this Sufie Muslim chick at the time and thought the symbols looked cool and it was fun to say. But that night at the tailgate, my tattoo was a declaration of war against Miles. The veteran with the Purple Heart, the hero who’d left half his ugly mug on the other side of the world fighting for his country. I wasn’t finna get bitched out, though, so when he started screaming the Arabic chants of the hajis who killed his frontline brothers, talmbout “You know what that means, nigga? Huh?” with his spit flying in my face, I was like fuck it, let’s go.
Tonya ended up driving me home that night. I don’t remember it, but I remember how my face felt the next day. And I still ain’t gone to the dentist to get a bridge in my mouth. Keep telling myself I’m holding out to do it big, get a gold grill or some shit.
We didn’t fuck with each other again after that. I heard through the grapevine a while later that Tonya wasn’t fucking with him no more, either.
Thing about Miles is war didn’t change him. He was built to be a frontline nigga shooting five-five-sixes at goats with half his face looking like Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
Last time I saw Miles, he was fishing. It was an even number weekend so he didn’t have his daughter with him. Me and my girl had brought our baby boy down there to build sandcastles and let him feel the sand under his feet. He’s six months old, so we stand him up with his little fists wrapped around our index fingers. We’d all parked there in the sand, just this side of where the tide was coming in, and when I looked up and recognized the truck, and the scar-faced fisherman waist deep in the ocean, my silent prayer was we wouldn’t get our car stuck and have to ask him to pull us out. But nothing happened. Miles eventually threw his rod in the truck next to the empty shark-sized cooler and my girl and I rinsed baby boy’s feet off in the tide and we drove off in separate directions without saying a word.
My girl was riding shotgun with control of the aux cord, and I told her to look up that joint “Soldier Side,” and I heard it as if Miles was singing it, like I always will, and it took me a while to get back to my body.
— Kelby Losack is a woodworking artisan and carpenter by trade. He is the author of Hurricane Season, Dead Boy (with J. David Osborne), The Way We Came In, and Heathenish, and the co-host of Agitator. He lives with his wife in Gulf Coast Texas. He is on Twitter @HeathenishKid and IG @kelby.losack