This is the story of your seventh birthday and how Cousin Victor came to visit.
You were so excited about your birthday, and you wanted to dress up as an alien and tell your friends that our house wasn’t just the bungalow at 1909 Cherry Lane, it was also an outpost from the planet Heptagon. You said we were not human, we were Heptagonians. Our family had been dispatched from Heptagon to observe the people of earth. You had it very clear in your mind. You wanted a seven sided cake. You wanted hot dogs with ketchup made from Heptagonian tomato plants, called Heptamatoes, and you wanted Heptachoco milk to drink.
I did my best to comply. It was your birthday, and I was your mother. For the hot dogs I took Heinz ketchup and added a splash of barbecue sauce, and said it was Heptamato ketchup. For the Heptachoco milk I put a dash of nutmeg into some cold Ovaltine. You loved them both. Then I helped you make a costume out of pajamas and a football helmet, to which you added an old transistor radio that hung from your cowboy belt. With that outfit, you absolutely could have been from another planet. You got annoyed with me when I wouldn’t agree that we were from Heptagon. I never argued with you about it, I just wouldn’t say it was true. Your father got really upset whenever you talked about it. He was afraid that the other kids would think you were weird if you said you were from outer space. He didn’t realize that you were already weird, but your friends were equally weird, and you all had a great time with each other. Besides, he should have been happy because kids who aren’t weird fade into the wallpaper and lead very boring lives.
The party was going along fine. Your friends liked the food and the games, especially the paint balloon wall board where they could throw balloons filled with watercolors against a piece of white sheetrock and watch them explode on contact. You said each paint explosion was a moon from your home planet, and by the end of the party all of the Heptagonian moons would be displayed.
Then your Cousin Victor showed up. Victor was a gawky twenty-something who had been in and out of rehab and had always had a difficult time fitting in. When people told jokes, he laughed the same robotic way every time because he never understood them. He lived mostly on vitamin pills, milk, dessert and drugs, although he was working on that last one. You always said he was your favorite cousin. Even though you were only seven, you understood him and immediately showed him your cake and said he could have a big piece and be the first person to have seconds.
When it was time to unveil the spaceship, we all gathered outside and you announced, to your father’s embarrassment, that we were about to see the ship that had brought our family to earth when you were a baby.
“He has a wonderful imagination,” your father told everyone. “We’re actually from Daly City.”
It was a wrought iron spiral staircase, about twelve feet high, but not the manufactured kind with straight lines and all. This one was handmade, with slanty steps and undulating guardrails, and a figurehead on the top that looked like Bart Simpson. I had found it in a junk yard in West Oakland, one of those places where they store Burning Man sculptures and other creations of mind-altered welders. The owner, a guy named Captain Dan, said it had been there for seven years, and he wanted $700. I offered him $50, plus $20 for delivery and installation in our backyard. He agreed. When he finished setting it up, it looked kind of cockeyed like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but he assured me it was steady as a rock. I made a cover for it out of tie dyed sheets that I had bought on Telegraph Avenue when I was young and free of responsibility.
When everyone had gathered around, I pulled the cover off the spaceship. You were ecstatic when it was unveiled and climbed up the spiral stairs to the top. “This is our spaceship, the one that brought us here,” you announced, even though you had never seen it before. “When I grow up, I will fly this spaceship back to Heptagon. Mom and Dad, you can come too.” Everyone applauded. You leaned forward to take a bow, and the spaceship started to wobble. Captain Dan hadn’t done a very good job setting it up. You tried to try to stabilize it, but it had too much momentum and started to tip over. I screamed, and from out of nowhere your Cousin Victor dashed across the yard and caught you as the structure crashed to the ground. You were saved, and Cousin Victor was a hero. Everyone rushed up to you to make sure you were OK, and they patted Victor on the back and on the shoulder and everywhere and told him how brave he was. Victor was smiling and holding your hand. He wasn’t used to hearing that kind of praise. You told everyone that the spaceship had fallen over because the gyros didn’t work too well in Earth’s atmosphere, and you’d make sure they were fixed before the flight back to Heptagon. It was agreed that Victor could have as much cake as he wanted. Even your father was smiling.
When I tucked you in that night, you asked me what planet Victor was from.
“Earth,” I said.
“Cool,” you said. “I like him a lot. When we go back to Heptagon, can he come?”
“We’ll see. But you can be friends with him here on Earth, you know.”
“That’s good,” you said, falling asleep. “That’s really good.”