my first kiss ended in murder
A month before I moved to Australia for two years when I was 12, I spent the night at my friend Jeanette's house. Her parents were divorced; her father lived just down the street from me, but we were at her mother's house, a huge yellow split-level thing with an unfinished basement and a chocolate lab that drooled on everything and only took commands in French. We spent the evening watching HBO, making Rice Krispie treats, and teasing her older brother J.R.. Normal near-teen girl stuff. Around eleven we gathered up as many blankets and pillows as we could find scattered around the house and lugged the unwieldy mass up the stairs to the room we'd be sleeping in. We piled the pillows and blankets into a big nest and curled up to sleep.
August in Kansas is the hottest month. The temperature can (and often will) top a hundred; the humidity will get into the low seventies, creating a lovely baking and steaming effect. It wasn't quite a hundred that night, but it was hot, hot, and though Jeanette dropped off quickly, I couldn't sleep. I crawled up onto the couch and cranked open the window (which didn't help at all), and then flicked on the tv. After ten minutes, there was a soft knock on the door. Peeking into the hall, my friend's older brother stood in the hall, hands stuffed in his pockets.
"I heard the tv. Can I come in and get something from the closet?" he asked softly.
"Sure," I said. Like it was my own house. "But Jeanette is sleeping, so be careful."
"Awww, she's a real heavy sleeper. Did you know she slept through a tornado once? It blew in the windows and everything. She didn't hear a thing." He stepped around his sleeping sister as he made his way to the closet, removed a video from a cabinet inside, and made his way back to the door. He turned around at the door frame. "Can you sleep?" he asked. He had floppy brown hair in that goofy bowl haircut that was so popular in the early nineties and darkly tanned skin. We had been swimming earlier in the day, the three of us, and he had a funny-shaped lighter spot on his neck where Jeanette had stuck a sticker to it without his knowlege.
"No, it's too hot." I said, sitting on the couch.
"Me neither," he said, sitting on the other end of the couch. Jeanette made a snuffling noise and rolled onto her back. Her blonde hair flashed in the flickering light from the tv. "I'm going to watch a movie," he said, holding up the movie case. "Wanna come watch it with me? The basement is alot cooler than up here."
"Sure," I said, padding after him down the hall. Down past the exotic insects mounted in glass cases on the wall, somebody's mementos from a vacation across Asia. There were bugs I'd never even heard of before, much less seen, and most of them were bigger than my hand. I had once watched their mother repair one of the gaudier arachnids with super glue. The younger sister had knocked the case off of the wall chasing the dog up the stairs. The mother, a painfully thin woman with a cloud of ultra-black hair, didn't blink once while picking up the pile of glass and insect parts - she just neatly organized the pieces into glass, legs, and abdomen pieces, and went to work.
J.R. had converted the vast unfinished basement into his room, so to speak, and the space wasn't that different from any other guy's room; a few piles of clothes, a Nirvana poster tacked to the bare wooden support beams, a tv in a huge hand-me-down entertainment center stacked with Super Nintendo games and VHS cassettes. He had a game of Super Mario World on pause, and we played that for awhile. After I'd racked up thirty extra lives and hadn't died in six stages, he snapped the game off abruptly.
"You're too good!" he laughed. We were sitting on the bare concrete floor, the harsh light from the uncovered incandescent bulbs bathing us in inappropriate shadows. For a long time, we just looked at each other. The clock beside his bed said it was after two in the morning.
"So, where are you moving again?" he asked, finally breaking the silence.
"Australia," I said. "To Sydney. My dad moved there a couple of months ago."
"That's really far away," he said. He inched a little closer. His eyes were so large. "How long will you be there?"
"I don't know," I said, playing with the hem of my shirt. Looking at him made me feel shy. "At least until next spring."
"Is your mom going, too?"
"Of course not," I said sharply. "My parents are divorced."
It wasn't a great kiss. No swelling orchestral music, no audience clapping, no dimming of the lights. No tongue, even. He held his lips against mine for maybe twenty seconds, not really moving, just touching. Our eyes were open and we just sort of stared at each other, hair creating a visual filter, and then we both pulled away. Blinking, he looked sort of sheepish, and I stood up.
"I'm tired now. Good night," I said stiffly. I imagine myself now looking like an imperious brat, a princess with loads of straight black hair and too-large green eyes in my pale face. He shot me a toothy grin, his face twisting into something that struck me at that moment as extremely childlike, jumped to his feet agiley, and gave me a quick hug.
"'Night," he said. "Have fun down under, mate."
I slipped up the stairs in the silent darkness.
Two and a half years later: it's seven thirty on a school day, and I've just gotten out of the shower. I'm in my bra and panties, roughly towel-drying my hair, when there's a knock on the door. I crack it open and peek out, and it's my mother. Her face is pale.
For a minute she just looks at me. Then:
"J.R.'s dead. He was killed."
For a full minute I just stand there, staring back at her. She's holding a copy of the newspaper, and I can see the headline: Rose Hill Teenager's Body Found in Suspect's Back Yard. There's a picture of a body - obviously a body - covered in a white sheet, being pushed on a stretcher into the back of an ambulance parked in a street. There's a school picture next to it, and all of a sudden the words and the pictures don't make any sense, nothing does but the panicked look on my mother's face. I swallow a few times, then nod.
"Okay," I say, and I close the door. I stare at my reflection for what seems like days, and I think about the last time I heard from him: a message on the machine, inviting me to see some hesh metal band with him, two months ago. I think about Jeanette at lunch a week ago, angrily slamming her lunch tray around, bitching that her brother had ran away again and hadn't come back this time, and good riddance. I think about my mother's face, how she must've been expecting a complete breakdown - this is the first time I've ever known anyone who died - and how I'd just stared at her and said okay and closed the door. And then I walk to my bedroom and get dressed for school.
In the middle of pre-Algebra it hits me like I've been backhanded across the face and I start blubbering like a baby out of nowhere. Somehow I manage to grab my things and stumble to the office, where I call my mother and wail for twenty minutes about oh my god mom he's dead he's dead oh my god mom while she drives to pick me up. She holds me for what seems like hours in the lobby, through a passing period, through all the curious eyes and whispers. She holds me and then she drives me home.
At home, the newspaper with the awful news is still sitting on the kitchen table. I sit down and force myself to read the entire article, four or five times, until certain phrases are burned into my memory. Caught joyriding in a car with adult suspect. Was going to testify against suspect in joyriding case. Suspect fabricated a 27" knife at metals plant he worked at. Suspect and suspected accomplices - suspect's sister and girlfriend - took the victim out in a 1978 Dodge Charger to 55th Street South and Hydraulic, parked the car in an abandoned field, drank liquor and smoked some marijuana. Victim got out of the car to urinate; the girlfriend ran to the trunk and let out the suspect, who stabbed the victim 67 times. Put victim's body in trash bags brought along for that purpose. Drove back to suspect's parent's house. Buried victim in parent's back yard under a car that was not running. Victim's body discovered two months after the murder when the suspect confessed.
I want to tell you, at this point, that everything I've just said is pure fiction. I want to say that this never happened, that there was never a kid named Roger Santo, whom everyone called J.R., that he hadn't started hanging out with some adult fuck-up named Geoff Moore. That Geoff Moore didn't have a sister with pretty, curly black hair that J.R. thought was super-cute. That Geoff didn't have a girlfriend named Amy something-or-other with short blonde hair and glasses and plain Midwestern girl features, who let her boyfriend out of the trunk of her car, knowing full well that he had a fucking homemade machete and planned to kill somebody with it. I fucking wish to god this had never happened, that I made this up as a nice entertaining read for points, or whatever. But it's all real. This all happened, in Wichita, Kansas, in the spring of 1994.
Soon after her brother's murder, Jeanette transferred schools. We stopped hanging out - she'd moved out of the city, and she was one of those lanky girls who excelled at softball and volleyball and cheerleading and I was one of those girls with spiky purple hair and KMFDM t-shirts and piles and piles of unfinished art projects and differences like that matter in high school.
So it wasn't until three years later, after the trial and convictions, that we actually met up again and talked about everything that had happened. We met for a late snack and then we headed back to her mother's house, back to where it all began, and it was another hot hot hot late summer night and we were in the same room, the television flickering, only this time she was awake and we were sharing a bottle of cheap red wine, laying on the floor, with our heads on each other's shoulders. And she talked. Oh god, did she talk. Tipsy, her voice had taken on a throaty, haunted quality, layers of bitterness and pain affecting the girlish tonalities, an amount of tragedy that I had been party to, but had no idea how deep it could go. I'm an only child. I have no idea what it's like to have a brother, much less lose him.
She talked for hours. About going to the trial. How her mother and father, even though they were divorced, had sat next to each other and held each other's hand the entire time. How Geoff Moore had taken the stand and arrogantly denied everything he'd confessed. How his sister, the one that J.R. had liked, had eaten at their house the week before it happened. How, when the guilty verdict was read for Geoff, Jeanette had looked him straight in the face and gave him the biggest, most sincere smile she knew how to give, and how he'd lunged up and started screaming at her. How the girls, the sister and the girlfriend, had also gotten convicted. How, during the penalty phase, Geoff had managed to get out of the death sentence, but he still got hard 40. The girls got 20 years each. Maximum penalties. She talked until her voice was barely a whisper, and then we just sat in silence for a while.
We were watching the local news, and near the middle of the broadcast, there was a quick story about an inmate at a medium security prison in El Dorado who had tried to escape and had gotten caught. And when they said his name - who do you think it was? - I turned to Jeanette in shock, and her face was changing from fury and rage to the most creamy look of satisfaction I've ever seen. And then she laughed. She laughed hysterically, she laughed for what seemed like hours, and I couldn't help myself either. We laughed together at this moron, at everything that had happened, and oh yes there was pain, too, but if there was any thing that could've come out right, it was that that asshole wouldn't be staying in a medium security prison, possibly working off his punishment the easy way, because he'd been stupid enough to try and escape and he'd gotten caught and how he'd be sent back to Leavenworth and they'd probably slap another ten years on his sentence and just for that night, there really was a god and justice and a just a little bit of peace, too. Of course it didn't last, but it lasted long enough. I saw her smile, I saw her laugh, and I laughed with her.
the air full of ice and electricity, then the sky went green and the air raid sirens went off
It must've been summer, because we weren't in school and it was murderously hot and I seem to remember we had been talking about the meteor shower a little earlier, which always comes around in August. Martha and I were in her back yard, lazily pushing ourselves back and forth in the huge old wooden swing that hung from the tree, and engaging in lame tug-of-war sessions with her huge collie, King. It was so hot and so humid that we didn't even pretend to talk; we were only outside because Martha's mom had run us out of the house, with our loud dancing and yelling along to MTV.
(If you take a look at a meteorological map of the American Midwest most days between the months of May and September, you will notice a nasty red or orange blob from south-central Nebraska down almost as far as the Kansas-Oklahoma border, and sometimes as far south as Oklahoma City itself. This is where the cool dry air coming off of the Rockies meets up with the sticky, humid winds blowing up from the Gulf of Mexico. This is the birthplace of all manner of nasty weather phenomena: tornadoes, straight-line winds gusting over seventy miles per hour, microbursts, and the more mundane hail and thunderstorms. There are numerous little weather-monitoring stations dotted here across this volatile area of the Great Plains, stations with no purpose other than to watch the sky during the summer months. We live in awe of Mother Nature, here.)
Under the heavy old tree, swimming in the humid air, Martha and I rocked lazily back and forth. Clouds had been gathering for the last half hour, normal with the onset of dusk, and we didn't really think anything of it. Martha suddenly shivered, and I turned to my skinny, pale friend; in a few years, she would be involved in a freak car accident which resulted in the removal of her adenoids, which would turn out to be three times larger than any other pair a doctor had ever seen. But we are little girls now, and the only inkling that my friend will go down in medical annals is her voice, which sounds perpetually nasally - her ever-growing adenoids pushing on her sinus cavity. She looked up at the sky, which was getting darker by the second, and said detachedly: The temperature is dropping. I nodded and said nothing. Neither of us moved.
Her mother walked out into the fenced yard, the screen door to the kitchen slamming behind her. She was pale and red-haired like my friend, and she looked up into the sky with a worried urgency that us girls lacked. I know now that it's the eye of experience; it's the eye of a woman who has lived in Kansas her whole life, under the aegis of Hollywood imitations like that Easter tradition, The Wizard of Oz, or the hilariously innacurate Twister. She was there in '91 when the tornado that was more than a mile wide and black with debris and ripped up earth laid waste to the town of Hesston. And she was there last summer, when a little fart of a twister ripped up part of Kellogg and part of a car dealership, just a few blocks away.
She frowned at the sky and went back inside, muttering about getting her chickens in the oven. Martha and I continued to rock, rock, rock, but quickly we became fixed on the grass clippings that had been piled on the concrete walkway in front of us: picked up by the wind, and whirling, now, in a little mimicry of what the clouds above us were about to do. Martha and I both stood up at the same time, my blood knocking about my body like a scared animal, and then a ferocious, direct-from-god bolt of lighting ripped the sky open, and it started to rain.
Rain is too kind of a word; this was a liquid beating, and we ran for the kitchen door. The wind had picked up, throwing leaves and bits of paper into the air, bringing waves of cold drops into our faces like a slap. Martha grabbed King's collar to drag him inside, but her mother stopped him at the door: no wet dogs in the house. She began to cry, and her mother hugged her and explained that he would be more agitated inside, that he was an animal, and he'd know what to do if a tornado came. We ran to the living room, where the severe weather alert had just preempted every channel, and stared at the doppler radar map on the screen: a fat band of green-blue-yellow-orange-red over the east side of the city. Over us.
(On the other side of the city, in a very typical Kansas house with a basement and three bedrooms, my mother is snapping pictures of the black evil line of clouds over the east side of the city. She is snickering, because she is a west side girl through and through, and because she is a weather junkie, and seeing the funnel cloud drop out of the blackness is, you know, a total trip. So long as it's not on your own house. She doesn't know that I'm pretty much directly beneath the funnel. She thinks I'm at Martha's father's house, not quite a mile away and quite far from tonight's storm. Nobody thinks of threats like this when they think of the perils of a split home.)
In Martha's living room, we stared through the picture window into the backyard, transfixed. The sky was black and King was barking and running around the yard. Lighting and thunder, a constant barrage, and then the hail started: first little, like hard rain pellets, and then the air was thick with chunks of ice the size of golfballs. I was suddenly reminded of last summer at Sea World, and the steel drum players one San Diego night. I now empathized with the drum.
The hail kept this pace for only a few seconds before things started happening very, very fast. Martha began to scream for her dog, who appeared to have taken cover under the shed from the hail. I was dimly aware of the mother rushing around the house, looking for the little brother. I was far, far more cognizant of the color of the sky: the hail had stopped for one tiny second, and the sky faded from the iron grey it had been to a putrid, sick olive tone. It's hard to describe; it's really not so much that the clouds or the sky turn green, but everything seems to reflect the same sick shade. This wasn't my first experience with severe weather - I knew what that color shift meant. I turned around to where the basement steps would have been in my house, to get as far away from the glass window as possible, and then my heart dropped out of my stomach as I remembered that Martha didn't have a basement in her house.
It was at this moment that a terrific bolt of lighting arced across the sky, followed immediately by a clap of thunder so incredible you just knew if there was indeed a God he looked up just then from his drink and said, "HOT DAMN, Saint Peter, that was a mighty roar!". Back on earth, the power went out immediately in the house. We three kids instantly yelped in fear and started moving towards my friend's mother, and then the slow wail of the tornado siren started.
(I don't know if you, dear reader, are among the priveleged ranks of humanity who has had the good fortune to hear an air raid siren, but it is hands-down the worst sound I can think of, above even the dental drill and the tattoo gun. This is not only for the cultural and textbook memories associated with it's unmistakable long wail (the burning statue of dancing children at the firebombing of Dresden, bomb chutes opening on planes, you know what I mean), but because in Kansas the air raid sirens are used to warn the populace of an imminent danger from a tornado. Imminent meaning someone has spotted a funnel cloud. Meaning, in no uncertain terms, get thee to an interior wall on the lowest level of your domicile or the nearest standing structure.)
We three linked hands and followed the mother, who led us to a closet in the hall. The closet had a little trapdoor in the hardwood flooring. My heart sank - what kind of nutcase lives in a house in Kansas without a basement? Is that even legal here? - and then she shooed each of down the hole. There was no time to look or feel or make sure there wasn't a nasty old witch hiding under the house - only a gentle but firm smack on the backside as I hesitated, and then I was, literally, in a hole in the ground beneath the house. Maybe eight by eight feet square, no gravel or plastic tarp or anything. A hole in the ground. I think the fancy name is crawlspace. The mother dropped down last, closing the door above her, and we all clutched hands silently.
Even now, years and years later, I can still smell the calming aroma of the earth in that hole under her house. I remember being suddenly glad for that smell, the most basic and right of all smells, good dirt aroma here to provide me with some comfortable anchor to hold on to while the world went haywire for a time. The house was rocking above us; my hole-mates, Catholics all, prayed in a flat, hypnotic drone. My young heathen ass dug into the earth deeper, pulling my knees closer to my chest and bringing my chin down; our grips became tighter, and then the noise changed pitch and I knew that this was it.
Wind. Wind on such a scale that it was organized and with purpose; my muscles locked up and my hair blew all over the place, and a horrible wail filled the air. Ten million freight trains, all going too fucking fast, all bearing down with whatever righteousness Mother Nature's armies may hold, and I realized my eyes were screwed shut and I forced myself to open them, because at that moment I was sure I was going to die, we all were, we were going to be picked up and carried away someplace very, very far, to be brought down in a field, most likely with enough force to impale us on the blades of grass. And so I opened my eyes -
wind wind wind we're spinning, we're flying through the air, wind filled with houses, with pitchforks, with cows still mooing, with cars and people drinking tea and riding bikes, and through it all I can still hear the sirens wailing, we're crashing down through roofs and into barns at never-before-seen-speeds, we're-
- I opened my eyes and all around me the air was filled with water, with chunks of ice, with pieces of newspaper from the recycling collection bins, with grass and leaves and dirt and rocks, but the house was still above us, still solid and standing, and we were all still there, and the noise was retreating, moving further on. The wail died down, the wind with it, and my family-in-extremis all opened their eyes, too, eyes full of dirt and tears and panic and awe and even if I couldn't articulate it at the time, I knew that among all the things on this planet I was just one tiny, extremely fragile little sack of meat and fluid and my dreams and insecurities didn't make one bit of difference in the face of ninety seconds of standard operating procedure for nature.
We waited until the sirens stopped before we left the now-muddy hole under the house. Climbing up through the hole in the floor, the first thing I noticed was that it was night out now, and that the power was still out. Through the broken windows I could see the storm still raging outside, but at an imperceptibly calmer pace, lighting slicing the sky open every few minutes. Martha's mother began to wander the house, checking for broken windows and damage, her little boy sobbing and clutching her tightly. Martha grabbed my arm and hissed, Monica, we need to find King! I nodded, and we slipped out the door.
On the porch we stood, arms gripping arms, staring in disbelief at the carnage. Her entire block, a page lifted right out of Babbitt - Main Street, USA - was now reduced to third-world chaos. Debris everywhere. 2 x 4's on the ground. The blue recycling collection bins that had been lined up in front of each house at the curb - all over the place. Shards of glass. Dirt. Gravel. An above-ground pool - I remembered swimming in it on another visit, when it had been in a house across the street's back yard - now slumped over in a blue-tarped pile, the decorative wood pieces snapped around it. A truck on it's side in a yard. Toys. Roof tiles - so many. No house must have any left. I looked up, sucked in, and grabbed Martha and pointed at the house next door. Her jaw sagged, then she ran inside to grab her mother. While she was gone, I stepped out on the grass, in the rain, among the mess, to get a better look at the house. The inside of the house.
The roof had been completely ripped off. I didn't see it anywhere around, but it was gone, ripped off as cleanly as if a giant had pried it open with a special implement. I could see the wallpaper in the second floor rooms in the stabs of lightning. A bed, the top mattress ripped off and flung into the yard. A rocking chair still by the window, though, the one unbroken window in the whole house. Curtains and blankets everywhere. I shivered, wondering where the family was, and then Martha's mom ran out and we all began calling for the residents.
It was all mysteriously calm. Everyone we ran into gave us and was given a hug, and we all looked hard at each other's eyes and were sure to say thank you. The family from the destroyed house eventually showed up with the city crew and part of their roof (it had been thrown four blocks, into the same car dealership that had been partially destroyed a few years earlier by another tornado), and we were all ushered back into our houses when the power crew came around to fix the downed lines. King showed up, happy and excited, and four or five hours after the storm left we all went to a 24 hour diner to get dinner because the chickens hadn't finished cooking before the power went out.
by the sea
San Diego, 1988: From the sliding glass door, I can see the ocean. I'm curled up on the couch in our hotel room, twenty some floors up, watching the sun rise. The door to the bedroom is closed, but I can hear my father and his soon-to-be wife through the thin walls. They've been doing drugs for hours. Soon, they will come out, and I will pretend to sleep. They will bustle around in preparation for their big day. I will be sent off to a babysitter's for the event. My future stepmother does not think an unsupervised eight year old girl is a good idea on the boat they're getting married on.
All of that is moot at the moment. This is the first time I can really remember seeing the ocean; I know that I've seen it before, but I can't remember what it looked like. The sky is pinking slowly; there are birds circling around; there is an endless line of waves marching to their destruction at the rocky shore. It's all magic to my midwestern eyes. I drift off to sleep dreaming of boats made of feathers, bobbing on an endless swell in an ever-pale sky.
Sydney, 1992: We've driven two hours south of the city, past Botany Bay and into the Royal National Park. We drive through the dense bush, slapping at insects on our arms, trying to decipher the tiny map we picked up at the entrance to the park. The sky above us is grey and threatening; this is, quite possibly, the worst day to be getting close to nature. But my father is a stubborn and over-worked man, determined to find this tiny beach hidden in the park, and so we forge on. Suddenly he chops across the road and down a narrow dirt track which opens into a small parking lot. We whoop and yell and get out of the car.
The parking lot is empty, the air electric with the impending storm. Except for a little path, all is thick bush and buzzing insects. We head down the path, through a living breathing green cavern, with nothing but the sound of dripping and the whispered promise of the ocean nearby. There's no need to hack at the vegetation but it's certainly tempting; there's something about these hanging vines that brings out the Robinson Crusoe tendencies within.
And then we're standing on a sandy beach barely thirty feet wide, and nestled between two cliffs. There's nothing between us and South America. The ocean snarls at the tiny mouth, but the water on our side of the cliffs is calm and green. My dad and I look at each other, stupid grins on our face - how could a place this perfect exist? - and then the sky opens up and starts pouring down on us. We stay there, sinking slowly into the wet sand, until we're soaked to the bone. Then we clamber back through the bush and drive home, silent the entire way.
Fremantle, 1994: It is just past dawn on a foggy spring morning at the end of the world. I've been a naughty girl - I stayed out all night, drinking extremely free and extremely illegal drinks at a 200 year old pub down on Cappuccino Row until I saw the sky get light. And then I staggered through the tiny cobbled courtyard, under the ivy, and somehow managed to get down to the street level. I'm walking the wrong way home now, and I know it, but something about this morning makes it seem imperative that I walk to the beach before scaling the impossibly high hill to our apartment. Maybe it's the emptiness - there's nobody, and I mean nobody out here but me. Maybe it's the way the white cobbled streets - almost Roman in their ancient appearance - seem to drift in and out of sight with the fog. Maybe it's the knowledge that I'll be in no small amount of Shit should I walk home and my father be up and waiting for me. So I weave to the beach, the hem of my black coat fluttering slightly, the heels of my little black shoes clicking on the old stones.
Where the street ends and the beach begins, I kick off my shoes and walk out onto the sand barefoot. I know this is stupid, because there are chunks of glass and sharp rocks and shells and chunks of jellyfish that can still sting all floating around in the gravel, but I don't care because I am fourteen and I am in a foreign country and I am drunk and therefor, I am a total badass. It is within this perfect circle of logic that I walk straight out onto the crappy little broken piling and peer over the edge, into the sea. My little toes hang over the edge, and at that moment the thought that I could just step right out and nobody would know, I wouldn't even know where I'd end up, I would just disappear floats into my head. And it's so clear and so unlike anything else that I'm thinking at the moment that it scares me. I try to step back but I'm clumsy and my arms pinwheel in the air for a few seconds and then I fall flat on my ass like Kafka's protagonist in his bedroom, my hands and legs scrabbling like some big insect's against the old wood and rough concrete. I stumble back to the street, wipe off my feet, and put my shoes back on. I trudge up High Street to our ugly-ass Soviet-style apartment building as the fog burns off around me.
Skipping down the stairs, then stealing across the gangway beside the gorgeous tropical garden hanging from the side of the cliff this building is built into. Silent twist of the key in the lock - I've since lost so much grace - and then I'm home safe. The apartment seems to hum with calm and comfort, and I'm the only one awake. I start peeling off my dress so I can take a shower, and I stop in front of the balconey door. Seven blocks away is the beachhead; I watch a sheep ship that is pulling into port, and I wonder where my body would've ended up if I had fallen into the ocean.
Wichita, 1998: He looks little and fragile now, his skin yellow and hanging off of his bones. One side of his face won't move, his lips are vaguely blue, and his organs have given up inside him. He doesn't know I'm here. He wouldn't tell me. My grandmother, on her deathbed herself, was the one who told me he was in the hospital. And now I'm here, standing on the outside of his room, looking in through the crack between the frame and door like I don't belong here, like I'm not this man's only child.
In the end, I do not go into his room. I turn around and walk back to my car, burning under the hot Kansas sun. I do not go back to school. I drive. I drive without the radio on, with the window only cracked a little, until I'm sixty miles west of the city. Until I'm nowhere. I pull onto some little trailer access road until my Taurus is surrounded by stalks of wheat taller than my head, and I get out and climb on top of my car. Oblivious to the metal burning my skin, I lay back on the roof, staring into the sky. Around me, the wind rustles through the wheat. It almost sounds like the ocean. Almost, but not quite.
If I were to offer some kind of opinion or critique of the above pieces, I would say only that there is a marked and differential improvement with the third piece. This was not reflected by popular opinion when the nodes were still nodes, however; a personal experience such as the ones described in the first two is quite a bit more initially compelling to a random reader than the subtle implications of my relationship with my father described in the last piece. In the end, I realized I was happier putting my writing elsewhere, where I didn't need to feel like it was all part of a social group or a popularity contest. I don't need anything to be judged to create my own opinions about my writing, and truthfully, I think most of these were written during slack time while at a job I held for far too long and (thankfully) no longer retain - so their value is somewhat tenuous at best.