In spirit and in look, he is a black-haired Leonardo DiCaprio about to board the Titanic. We regularly work together at the store.
“The next time I go on the road, you should come,” he says. “We’ll stay over in Alaska to make money, then circle back.”
“Really … you would take me,” I ask.
“I don’t understand why these women allow you to ride with them to these places … “
“Well -- I mean,” he says. “We would sleep with them.”
I awaken. They are standing by my bed.
Like two witches exchanging sly lyrics, Grace and Flower whisper unintelligibly. Grace hmmphs, then Flower giggles.
It is the middle of the night. They think I’m still asleep. This is the second time.
Chris Datten owns the Subway/Gas Station in Kenley where I work.
Turns out his pregnant employee has been caught on tape stealing, but the cop on duty says he must go through the entire proceedings. Each employee present must meet with him outside in his police car.
“Are you okay, kid?” he asks me.
“Yeuh,” I offer, already knowing the cop knows who did it and how it went down.
“You’re acting like you want to tell me a whooole lot,” he says, kindly conciliatory, as he opens his car door, and I open mine, and the next employee is brought out. Regardless, there is no point dealing with cops or social workers. As soon as the aged-male-flesh meets a female relative of mine their demeanor changes, as if they want to be liked. In all the land there are no men.
Since I was a kid I would go on silent walks, walking the same path around a field over and over. Sometimes I would walk around the trampoline for hours. This time, I jump for hours, listening to one of the tapes I made for Dawn back when she was into exercising. I will have to prepare dinner though no one has given me permission. It is another risk of my getting in trouble because Dawn has been locked up in her room for weeks now and can appear at any moment. Ray will come home and pretend not to notice. Grace and Flower will perform on cue, staying at each other's throats.
This time Ray arrives home without Grace; she is officially gone. Dawn and Ray's half-conversation, half-argument distracts them from turning on any lights in the house even though dusk is descending. For hours the two of them walk back and forth through the house as Dawn tells Ray the story of the ungrateful daughter and Ray goes along with it while interjecting his own thoughts here and there. I sit in my door-less room, leaving the lights off, listening.
A woman with long red hair, freckles, and a field laborer's body took up at the store. Her voice is husky, country. “Mel and Van?” she says while wrapping food for the night. “Them teenagers now. My daughter is best friends with Van's little sister, Vera, got kicked out of second grade for trying to have sex with a boy ... We renting the old quarters a mile up from the brick house.”
Bet Mel was glad to look like a boy. Bet Van wasn't.
I run away just before the sun sets over God’s Country’s western fields. I pack my things and ease into the passenger seat of an old sedan without telling anyone. I want to be in an airport with a suitcase. No one knows my name. No one knows where I came from or where I’m going. My roommate is named Brandy. The two of us have been closing the store together each night for months. “What would Chris do without us?” she says regularly with her three-sheets-to-the-wind confidence as she leans against a mop handle.
In one of her grandmother's trailers, she sits in the corner on her bar stool, against pictures of her friends and our co-workers, Morgan and Karen. “Why are you like that?” she asks, swinging her crossed leg purposefully as she smokes her cigarette.
Karen is the one they secretly say I am in love with: my height, thin, with short, brunette hair, zipping around in her red Camaro. With my teeth, my silence, and mostly bone body, it is generally understood nothing will come of it.
It's like Karen's in a world of her own, super-cool, methodical, polite.
“When you say something negative it sounds so off the cuff but thoughtful … like … mean.”
Toward the end of our shifts, Karen sings when she does the dishes in the back, as I handle the front. She doesn't do that with anyone else. “Singing is so embarrassing … “ she says to me.
“So then Brandy went and got a sports car, dog,” Brandy's Marine-husband tells me that weekend. “Then Karen enrolled at Baton in Wilton, so of course Brandy has to enroll there, too. I try to tell her it's money she's chasing, not dignity or friendship.”
“You come from wealth,” Brandy says one night at work. “It's obvious.”
I find my reputation in Kenley stunning, considering my strict, penniless upbringing. She asks me lots of questions, even about God, lofty stuff, though she is the one in college. I tell her I used to pray in secret as a boy, but do not remember much about my childhood.
(during first flight, Delta Airlines)
The architecture of the churches, cathedrals, parishes, and missions of English and American heritage alone tell the story. I miss the days when I could read the stories of David and Jonathon, and Jesus and his 'twin' brother, Thomas, with innocence and certainty. It ended after noticing certain literary tactics being used in the King James, especially prevalent in The Book of Ruth. Didn't take long to notice Christmas lands at the winter solstice, Easter near the summer solstice. One celebrates the birth of the sun, the days now slightly longer instead of shorter. The other celebrates the rising of the sun, the days now at their longest, the nights their shortest. Maybe some things had to come first, a judiciary system before capitalism, religion before politics. Once one notices these things, there's no going back.
The 1992 film, Orlando, written and directed by Sally Potter, displays the literary character, Orlando, living over four-hundred years of Earth's history without aging past bloom -- the year 1600 to present day.
Orlando is the favorite lover of Elizabeth the first as the Queen reaches old age and death. He is given an estate by the Queen as she asks he never fades, never withers, never grows old.
Post adolescence, he falls in love with a princess of the visiting Russian embassy during the Frost Fair held on the frozen Thames River during the Great Frost of 1608. After the ice breaks, the princess departs to Russia. Orlando then becomes a poet, penning The Oak Tree. Suddenly fleeing his present life, he chooses to be appointed by King Charles the second as ambassador to the Middle Eastern Constantinople, which he does well. The novel goes on.
Woolf's path of the journey of the fool reads: 1) Death, 2) Love, 3) Poetry, 4)Politics, 5) Society, 6) Sex, 7) Birth. It doesn't matter that I cannot fathom how she naturally concluded such a thing. Reading the book around my female relatives had been a secret foil to their campaign that if I'm heterosexual it means I've been sexually attracted to them all along.
Virgina Woolf -- the author of the novel of the same name -- is played by Tilda Sweeton, who displays how the character she plays – Life – lives through her children and that she is neither a woman nor a man, but both, hence a scene, which is also Woolf's opinion on politics, and by way of supporting scenes, shows how history remains a simple vieing for power:
(Orlando lies to sleep as the perfect male in Constantinople, startling those who see him. He awakens, then incidentally baptizes himself by way of washing his face and hair from a water bowl. He then notices his reflection in a mirror, which is that of the likes of Venus, a nude female woman.)
“Same person,” Woolf says, in calm, knowing, amazement, to the camera. “No difference at all. Just a different sex.”
I cannot imagine what it is like to be female. My imagination of what it is like to be female is still male. I do not think there is a such thing as 'male qualities' and 'female.' I think they learn from each other as seasons pass. Sometimes matriarchal, sometimes patriarchal.
“Like how males defending gays sound gay and Kinsey sounding like a talking ape and vets finding talking about it vulgar,” I am saying.
"Isn't it like you're setting things up to trick someone into falling for you," says some female therapist, her legs crossed but not swinging, her clipboard and pen on her lap. "Women are not all tricks ... Virginity cannot be stolen away from you."
"They cast spells ...”
As the plane descends, I awaken.
“So is anything going on at home, though?” Aunt Karen asks me.
I set my suitcases in the spare bedroom of their house. They gave Grace a weekend vacation here last summer, so now they are forced to give one to each of Grace's siblings.
“No,” I say, noticing the large windows and sweeping views of mountains.
In their living room they act consciously in-the-know, as if of course I’m on the outside looking in.
“But you don’t live there anymore.”
“Yes. I left. I live in Smithfield now.”
“And you just pay your own bills, there’s no one taking care of you?”
I’m to miss a plane ride on my way home from the mountains, and begin my life as a homeless teenager in Atlanta, Georgia.
I have a job in my home state -- two if you count the un-paid overtime.
I think about it for a long time, eating Chinese in the massive airport food court.
I run through the Atlanta airport, seconds from missing the flight, steady that things work themselves out, work is the key.
“Grace is gone, Flower works now,” Dawn is saying to me across the gas station counter. Over the summer she’s been stopping by in good moods, as if she’s proud of me or something. “Things aren’t the way they were before.”
Outside the store's wall-sized windows the morning is heavy with the usual fog of late. Squirrels with extra-bushy tails skip through the gas-pumps, looking for crumbs. Cobwebs cover the garden separating the lot from the four-lane road that meets the interstate and its magic of otherworldly outsiders needing gas, college sports teams needing sandwiches.
Brandy’s drinking, drug-use, and marital problems are taking their toll. I only last four months on the outside. Arriving back in God’s Country, Dawn seems pleased, carefree. As soon as the prison gates clang behind me, all Dawn’s promises are off.
Brandy is upset by the decision. “You don't remember shit do you?” she says angrily, like she's trying to spit on me “Everyone knows who you are. That boy grocery shopping by yourself staring at the ground. God took your memory so your family would get away with the whole thing. And you praying from some piano bench, you NIGger.”
What Capitalism is saying, is that the world adds up to a single sum and vice versa, I catch myself think, as Eric‘s Dad‘s beach music fills the van. The wealth of the world begins with the number one and ends with as certain a digit.
Eric’s dad tried to teach me this, but I was more interested in being an American, not an American subject. His mother keeps a hopeful eye on our friendship because Eric and I only know each other, us both home-schooled. “You have to understand,” she said to me with her understanding eyes, “He always Acts so cool,” as if in apology to his peer. “But really all he wants is to meet the right girl.”
It makes sense that money would work the same way as violence. Eric is a year younger than me and loves to talk about the military and girls, the military and girls … To be certain enough to evoke the death penalty in combat must require having a sense of perception honed down to the sharpest point.
I don’t know where Eric’s dad’s mid-life crisis came from, but it seems a quick and final tragedy. It will never happen to me. I will never wake one morning in my house on my land enjoyed by a wife and kids while feeling like I am the only adult present. I will not marry before I am grown. Meanwhile Ray got over his late coming-of-age and bought a Volkswagon Beetle.
Eric's dad regularly rejects his teenage daughter, Jessica, who is my age, tall, athletic, slim, with a killer sense of humor. He does it behind her back, cracking jokes when she can’t hear.
“Look at the way she walks,” he says in the van. “Now that she’s a shift supervisor she thinks she’s living in the big leagues.”
I don’t understand him.
My second night as a teenager lands in a summer that feels like the last summer, the days so long, not enough work to fill them, Jessica driving the twenty-minutes to pick Flower and me up, Eric riding shotgun, then stepping out into the muggy, slow dusk, moving to the back so Flower and Jessie can talk up front; “We've come a long, long, way together,” plays regularly on the radio. We drive thirty minutes of long, winding, country roads until we get to Wilton and the movies and watch the fourth Star Wars installment, which is really the first episode. When we step out, night has only just descended. Jessie drives us to McDonalds where we sit in a booth, all decked out in our best 'teenage' clothes as Jesse and Flower seem to relish their grown-up conversation. “Yeah,” Jesse is saying. “I have classes at Wilton College on Mondays and Wednesdays.” While Flower responds with equally scholastic sentences. I notice how we look like a scene from a movie.
(Sunday, 31OCT1999, Halloween)
“She was glad to have met Able. His rare stories of deadly mountains to the north, vast, violent water to the east, years of land to the South and West, and cultures where slight disrespect meant death, could have been enough to seduce her. Her husband mistakenly believed his name to be the only written word she knew. In reality, when she saw the four symbols he carved into tree bark, her heart stopped beating. She felt life, her mother’s mother, had sent her a guilty verdict. She turned away and sobbed to herself. Her husband stood in the same position Seth’s father had that last and first day, one arm reaching toward her … stopping short.
“Those four markings she quickly made into fresh, dark dirt with her staff were the only reasons her parents never learned words enough to finally ask her about what had happened to Cain; by Seth's expression they knew what had happened to Able. Words were already dangerous enough, being man made. It was the work of it that frightened them. Miracles were one thing but she had proved she had been keeping secrets, learning knowledge over long periods of time.
“She had drawn the symbols harshly, decisively, carving them into dirt, symbols chosen by the Way this time. It was a sacred act to make art, to scratch a symbol, make a mark, not to mention in the light of day instead of torchlit cave walls.
“Her mother cried out when she saw Seth’s behavior. Her father ran up and reached out toward Seth but stopped short due to Seth's posture being bizarrely re-situated as she silently looked him in the eye.
“Seth’s father’s eyes followed her staff down to the ground at her feet. She watched as he translated each story each symbol alluded to, then recognized the name. He could’ve asked her what happened next, he could’ve asked for another work of literature, another four drawings of stories called symbols alluding: C-A-I-N. He never did.
“From then on all her parents songs to her held sadness: ' … ‘I’ believe … ‘I’ believe … ’ they sang, ‘God is as real as the Sun … ‘I’ believe, ’I’ believe, God is as real as our Son … ’
“They sung sad songs even after she brought them Able -- the miracle of him, like a gift from God, her father’s father -- still, to Adam and Eve, the human race was in peril, not only begun by a woman this time, but lacking the original Able.
“Her husband noticed her rising at dawn to the bird songs, then lying down at dusk to the same music. At the time it seemed normal enough to him. Her movements, like music in motion, matched up with his ways. He later grew suspicious that her ways weren’t truly his ways, her reasons for rising at dawn, for lying with him at dusk.
“Seth had sensed Cain would haunt her, she had not known it would be so physical and unforgiving right in her own children's eyes. She hadn’t known that her older children would ask her questions about him in that suspicious way, hinting at a wildness of their own. She hadn’t known that her husband would steal looks at her not out of youthful eroticism, but out of a mysterious intelligence, gaining on her secrets.
“As a little girl she thought ghost stories were about ghosts, not memories, she hadn‘t realized memory was so physical. She couldn’t have imagined as a little girl that what she saw with her most private point of being, would later miraculously turn out to be true only it was physical, in her husband’s language instead. She remembered how as an adolescent, she would close her eyes and know who was related to who simply by listening to their individual accents and dialects. She could decipher the truth of the most secret trysts, some so recent in her family it frightened her, others so long ago she felt embarrassed listening into graves.”
“We don't want you here. You have no money and no where to go,” Ray says from across the kitchen table. Evening light filters through the windows and the chimney smoke lingering on the ground outside. Sounds of another V-formation of geese flying extra-high call from above.
“Therefore your only option is to join the military,” Dawn says loyally from beside him.
“You have no talent, skills, or personality,” Ray continues. “And the sight of your face and teeth frighten even church people.”
“It would be immoral not to join,” Dawn finishes.
I stare at the wall behind them with its open, heavy, larder door and out the pantry window facing the shed.
I wake at six am to walk Tommy and take Roxie to the chain, where she curls up in her igloo.
At eight-thirty I wake for the second time and take Tommy out again. Then I feed Roxie and change her water. By nine thirty, I’ve eaten, washed the breakfast dishes, and brushed my teeth, so I take the puppy, Muffin, outside to exercise Roxie off the chain. At ten-thirty I come in and start my math work. I usually do not finish till after lunch. By two o’clock Tommy has finished eating, so I let him play with Roxie and I chaperone. At three I watch, “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” on channel seven, sweep my room, and work. At six-thirty I eat supper, wash Roxie so she can come in that night, then take a shower.
I take the SAT’s January twenty-second, two-thousand. I have been on all library books. Home-schooling allows me to.
I don’t mind how quiet it has been. It was much different before: There wasn't one day without Dawn and Ray going through the trouble of officially threatening to kick me out. They seemed pissed that after they had given me home schooling, I suddenly shelled out like a dog bolting with the chance at freedom.