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Coming of Age Funny LGBTQ+

She gave me the crown to remind me that I was a King.

My grandmother summoned me to her room on the second floor of our old house on Georgia Avenue during one of my parent’s tornados, and there it sat on her vanity. The crown was made of golden felt with fabric jewels sewn into it. While the cacophony raged downstairs over an unkind word at a corporate barbecue, my grandmother lowered it onto my head.

At first, I thought she was playing some kind of game with me, but then she put her hands on my shoulders and looked at me with all the seriousness of a Russian novel.

“Remember,” she said, “You are a King. As much as Arthur and Henry and anybody else. The crown is just a reminder for when you forget. Now, you put it somewhere safe, and whenever you feel unheard or misunderstood, you go get your crown, you hear?”

The number of things I could tell you about my grandmother wouldn’t fill up even a cigar box, and that breaks my heart. It wasn’t for lack of trying. She had grown up in the old country--even if I never knew what that country was. Later I would learn that her family fled a dictator, and that they wound up on a sunny street in America learning how to decimate their accents and bake banana bread. Both her parents died before she was nineteen, and she ended up raising six younger brothers and sisters. She never had time for words or indulgences, but when she spoke, you listened. And when she gave you something, you behaved as though you were a museum being loaned the Mona Lisa. Nothing could be more precious.

I folded the crown carefully and placed it in a shoebox under my bed along with a bright red hairbrush I had stolen from my older sister before she left for college and a pair of high-heeled shoes my mother threw out after one of the heels broke. I told myself that these items were meaningful because of their colors or my inexplicable attachment to them, but as I grew older, I knew that there was a magnetism in them that would endanger me if I wasn’t careful. My family did not tolerate eccentricity. The one thing that was genetically inherited from the old country was the belief that sticking out could get you put down. That’s why you combed your hair a certain way and walked at a particular pace and said “Thank you” with a smile even if you weren’t thankful at all. When my parents had their verbal brawls, it was usually because my father forgot to blend in, and my mother needed to puree him.

Their biggest argument occurred the night before my grandmother moved in when I was around seven-years-old. It would be a few months before I was given my crown, and I remember the floorboards buzzing with aggression as I tried to will myself to sleep.

“I know she’s family,” my mother was growling, “But she has sisters and brothers and two other sons and a daughter with no children and nothing going on. Why does she have to move in with us? It’s bad enough we have all these kids running around night and day.”

As hard as I tried not to hear it, the regret in my mother’s voice crawled up the stairs and placed itself right at the foot of my bed. What did she mean by all these kids? When my sister had left for Williams, my younger brother and I were the only ones left, and we never ran anywhere. Elijah was always off playing sports or sleeping over the house of a friend. I kept to my room and practiced my Oscar speech until I got it right. It was a combination of the one given by Jodie Foster when she won for Silence of the Lambs and Jessica Tandy’s from Driving Miss Daisy. I would go back and forth about whether or not to thank my parents, but eventually I decided that they’d be long dead by the time I won the award anyway. I saw how much salt they put on their food, and my father wouldn’t have known a jumping jack if it slapped him across the face. I decided I could accept the award in their memory, and everybody would think I was lovely for the thought.

Grandmother and I didn’t speak for a few days after she moved in. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other--quite the contrary. On my birthday and every Christmas, she’d always get me the best presents. While my aunt fussed over my sister and my uncles commented on my brother’s athletic prowess, Grandmother would sit me down at her kitchen table and we would look through copies of Vogue together. She may have come from nothing, but that didn’t mean she was without style. In fact, she admired the craftsmanship of a good garment.

“I don’t know who is dressing Michelle Pfeiffer these days,” she’d say, turning a page carefully, “But they do not understand her point of view.”

Despite our holiday routine, living together full-time would take some getting used to. Grandmother was used to having her own house and a modicum of privacy. Here, she was relegated to a room on the second floor that had once belonged to her granddaughter. The ghost of a Keanu Reeves posted was still present on the wall over her bed. The first time she experienced my parents tossing mountains around in the living room, she knocked on my door and asked me if everything was all right.

“No,” I said, “But you get used to it.”

Sometimes I think wisdom is being able to take the nonsensical and process it sensibly. Grandmother walked away from my bedroom that day, and began constructing me a crown. She was not the best seamstress, but when she put her mind to something, it was reasonable to assume she could accomplish just about anything. Two weeks before she died, she decided to take up chess. Her nurse was a former child prodigy who claimed to have won over two hundred chess tournaments before the age of twelve. My grandmother beat him in under three minutes, and then quietly passed away.

That was almost ten years later. By then, I had moved out of the house and taken my shoebox with me. Grandmother had become too frail to make it up to the second floor, and she was moved down into my father’s study. The former prodigy was hired to come in everyday and check on her. I came down from school on the weekends and we would go through Vogue together deciding who had stylists that understood their point of view and who didn’t.

My parents had their last volcanic eruption a few months after I received my crown. We were all seated at dinner, and I began to tell them about the perfect score I had gotten on my art exam. My mother commented that art wasn’t a real subject, and my father snapped back that she was always putting me down. They proceeded to go at it, and my grandmother motioned for me to excuse myself. I went upstairs, retrieved the crown from beneath my bed, and returned to the dining room table. It was then that I stood on my chair and began to recite my Oscar speech using the tongs from the salad bowl as a stand-in for the award.

The two of them went silent. It’s possible they interpreted my oratory as a sign that my mind had cratered. A reasonable thing to think if you raise a child in a home full of bile and chaos. I carried on with my speech, and when I got to the part about dedicating it to my two parents who both died a long time ago of dreadful illnesses, I saw them deflate like wounded tires. What sort of son fantasizes about a future so wonderful only to kill his parents off before they can see it with him? My mother filed for divorce the next day. Neither of them ever brought up my speech again or the crown that I wore on my head as I performed it.

Before I got down from my chair, I looked at my grandmother, and lightly touched the crown she’d given me.

“And most of all,” I said, “I want to thank my grandmother for reminding me that I’m a King, because otherwise I’m sure I would have forgotten.”

My grandmother cleared her throat, using only one swift finger to swipe a tear away before it could reach her cheek.

“Pardon me,” she said, standing up, “But I was wondering if the King would like to help me do the dishes.”

She washed, I dried.

Out in the dining room, my subjects retired to their rooms without any dessert.

May 13, 2022 23:35

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20 comments

K. Antonio
12:43 May 15, 2022

Well, this was really heart-warming/wrenching. I like how this story conveys a real life problem (a parent moving into her son's home) and how it generates a point of tension. The part about "the kids running around" was well done, and emotional. These two lines: "...and looked at me with all the seriousness of a Russian novel." AND "and that they wound up on a sunny street in America learning how to decimate their accents and bake banana bread." - were my favorite. There was something about the subtle specific details used in the story ...

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Kevin Broccoli
21:21 May 15, 2022

Thank you my friend!

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Craig Westmore
20:33 May 19, 2022

Fantastic opening, Kevin! In the second sentence you establish so much with so little: setting, four characters, tension, and, conflict. "My grandmother summoned me to her room on the second floor of our old house on Georgia Avenue during one of my parent’s tornados, and there it sat on her vanity." From that point on I was completely caught up in the story and lost all sense of time. All that mattered was how the narrator would survive the ordeals with his parents. And the wonderful moments with his grandmother. Great storytelling!

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Kevin Broccoli
21:51 May 19, 2022

Thank you so much, Craig. I appreciate it.

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Suni Nelson
21:39 May 18, 2022

This was a very moving and wonderful story! Well done. Thanks, Suni Nelson

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Kevin Broccoli
22:16 May 18, 2022

Thank you, Suni!

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Riel Rosehill
12:23 May 18, 2022

Wow. Love this story! That first line was perfect, and I could just see that disastrous dinner... Adored the MC's relationship with his grandmother, and he was just overall such a well put together character. Great work, thanks for sharing!

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Kevin Broccoli
17:16 May 18, 2022

Thank you Riel!!!

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Rebecca Miles
05:18 May 15, 2022

Objects convey just so much emotional intensity and so well chosen; I love how key symbols like the crown build in depth and help you deliver a satisfying end with the much needed filing for divorce. Your narrator's magpie like nature, hoarding discards and drawing meaning from them, was very compelling. Another thing that impressed me was that this was a hopeful not a tragic closure, with positive change on the horizon but it didn't read as schmalzy at all. Your writing reminds me of Debroah Levy and as she is one of my all time favourit...

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Kevin Broccoli
21:21 May 15, 2022

Thank you Rebecca!

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L. Maddison
11:01 May 14, 2022

‘…With all the seriousness of a Russian novel’- what a great way to convey the solemnity and nobility of the moment. This grandmother had surely fled the Old Country’s royal courts with style and charisma like that. A wonderful story.

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Kevin Broccoli
22:37 May 14, 2022

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

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Suma Jayachandar
04:29 May 14, 2022

This is such a beautiful story. Emotional impact aside, clever use of puns is so on point. One thing- did you mean to write Keanu Reeves 'poster' instead of 'posted'? A very good read. Thanks for sharing.

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Kevin Broccoli
22:37 May 14, 2022

Thank you so much.

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Jules Davis
03:21 May 14, 2022

I enjoyed reading this. Specifically I love the imagery you use throughout. "When my parents had their verbal brawls, it was usually because my father forgot to blend in, and my mother needed to puree him" is such a great play on words. And I really loved "As hard as I tried not to hear it, the regret in my mother’s voice crawled up the stairs and placed itself right at the foot of my bed." I think many children can relate to the dreaded feeling when hearing their parents fight, and this conveys that brilliantly. The details remembered abo...

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Kevin Broccoli
22:38 May 14, 2022

Jules, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

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Felice Noelle
00:08 May 19, 2022

Kevin: You had me with your second sentence, introducing your grandmother. I am a sucker for stories that demonstrate how important grandparents are in the lives of children. This grandmother proved to be such a supportive buffer; I'm surprised she didn't intervene in the disagreements, but her background had trained her to fit in, don't interfere. Great story with heartwarming details and utterly charming characters. Lots of memorable lines and phrases that illuminated a lot of the emotions. I 'll read any grandparents story with a li...

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Kevin Broccoli
16:02 May 19, 2022

Thank you so much, Felice. My grandmother was my favorite person.

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Zack Powell
06:36 May 18, 2022

I hope you know how good this is, Kevin. Loved every single sentence of this. I like that you tagged this as 'Funny' - which it most definitely is - but then it's also got a sad undertone to it. Thought you struck a lovely balance between the two, which made the ending bittersweet in the best way. Love the king motif in this - the crown, the speech, the last sentence. Especially fascinating given the parallel between that and the hairbrush and high heels that the narrator chose to keep - queenly items, I would say. This story is short, but ...

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Kevin Broccoli
17:15 May 18, 2022

Thank you Zack! I really appreciate it.

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