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#370111 - 09/14/11 03:16 PM
Loc: American South
“See, I didn’t even have to smile that time,” House says as we cross the sun-baked FOB. “It was all good looks alone.”
Violence, working poor, indemnity, these things I could never talk to Royal about except in the intellectual sphere. House knows these things same as I do.
“Before I was in preschool, I lived at my Grandmother's with my cousins,” he tells me as I burn documents in a metal trash can in the burn pit. “Don't make me tell you the things they had me do.”
I wake the next morning to the sound of House’s low voice saying my name: “Chuck ... wake up, Chuck … Time to get up ...” Our cots are less than a foot apart. Us soldiers are packed into a tent like sardines. We completed our first movement in the middle of the night; now we are waiting for the beginning of our second. Guys are buying t-shirts from Iraqis that say: “I know I’m going to heaven when I die because I’ve already been to hell.”
It startled me to notice House’s hands, the lack of size and scarring; I step outside. SPC Lawson, a medic I’ve never met before, starts talking to me in the smoker’s hut. He mentions a medic named Royal. “I spent an afternoon with him driving a truck during drill. He was one of the coolest people I‘d ever met.”
Methodically, House is catching me up on how to get high. Tussin involves large pupils, bad taste, and a tendency to trip, like my memories are right-over-there. I get high for the first time as I go through customs.
House puts things in my pockets, even my trouser pockets, and takes them out, without warning, in the middle of conversations and duties. He drinks from the same canteen as me. He seems always worried about finding me.
As soon as I begin to feel warm, he mentions how he wishes how it was colder.
Now that the deployment is winding down we’re all talking about our plans once we get back. Word of the investigations and the clearance of my name has made me popular again. SGT Boyd tells me he is going to be roommates with his battle buddy once we get home.
I make fun of House for a dimple he doesn’t have. “Everyone falls for your dimple except me …” I joke.
Soberly, out by the mortal barriers, in a low voice whispered in the dark, he tells me he’s ashamed of his behavior and doesn’t like himself because none of his qualities are real, people allow him those qualities because he flashes them the dimple. “You're the realest person I know,” he whispers. “All your qualities are real ... No one's ever allowed you anything.”
On the correct, cold side of the pond, there is a certain entitlement and vulgar laziness about the American workforce, obvious in their body language and sounds once arriving from overseas. The soldiers of Rome kept returning and seeing the character of their country in the eyes of her civilians. Each understood Rome did not exist anymore. Soon, Arabia sacks Rome, not because the soldiers did not fight, but because they had long packed up their families and left. I refuse to look the civilian women in the eye, not wanting to know the truth of the story.
On the bus ride to the barracks, the driver glances at me as moving shadows color us. “Man, you've been gone from America for a long time … Around here things have TURned over.”
I step into an optometrist's office located beside the PX, where my eyes receive the usual pretests, then I am led into the dark room with its electric chair. The eye doctor has been talking to me in pleasant conversation.
“You know,” she says. “You've only been here ten minutes and you've already used every expletive in the English language but for one.”
I get high on pills with Mercury and House on the day of the briefings. I took eight, so I only get relaxed.
“What phase are you at …” I ask Mercury, who is more sensitive to the pills. We are smoking cigarettes, exchanging notes and knowing smiles.
When playing cards, SGT Boyd is the one I can't read, because he already knew how to read before I met him. In poker, it doesn't matter if the person is good or bad, they have a tell: a secret hopping about their body with nowhere to land until it finally manifests. “No one can lie, they can only bluff on-purpose,” SGT Boyd whispers to me outside during a cigarette break.
I play a different game of cards with SGT Boyd and his friends, then shoot the moon somehow, even though the high snuck up on me and I can barely stand. I didn’t do it on purpose; everyone is impressed, as if I were a fast learner.
My functions are like lead, my sense of balance gone. “Independence over free .. “ I say to SGT Fyke without looking at him, as I lock my locker. He had offered me laundry detergent of his own so I wouldn’t have to buy some at the laundry mat. House almost falls out trying to not laugh.
Out in the smoking area, Mace looks so much like a soldier even though he's half the size civilians think soldiers are supposed to be. What do the experts know. He gives me his cigarette, then lights another, like he wants me to stay awhile.
"That stuff House's got you on," he tells me. "That's like the opposite of a gateway drug." He pulls on his cigarette, then exhales, adding to the fog between us.
"Mace ... My parents were drugging me with something when I was little."
"I know you feel really good right now," he continues. "But -- Chuck -- you look really devastated."
It is how Picasso says a true drawing is one in which the object is drawn from at least three angles in the same drawing, that’s what my eyes are doing. Everything physical comes sharply into focus, then shifts, then turns, then goes back to the first, second, and third way of looking at it.
I read the part of the Invisible Man where he is smoking marijuana and runs into an old woman. He asks her what freedom is. She says she don’t know, but figures it’s knowin' how to say what she got up in her head.
Throughout deMob, everyone’s pretending -- two words reiterating themselves in my mind, over and over. That’s how an UnReal world and a Real one can exist simultaneously. With each new person I deal with while being high, I think, “Do they suspect …” Turns out they want to tell me about how many times they had to stick their battle buddy before they could draw blood with the IV needle, or how long it’s been since they’ve gone to the bathroom, now that this side of the pond‘s food is different.
J___ can’t make it to pick me up, but his wife and daughter, Sooks, have. I introduce them to House, who is fortunately talkative with them. They drive me to their house, where the Jeep is waiting. The world remains three sharp angles at the same time. I pretend to sleep in the van ride and later the Jeep ride, but shift regularly.
We drive to his Mom’s apartment, a modern one in the capital city. House’s easy intimacy with me, like we‘re close brothers … The way his Mom and Aunt are treating me, as if they’re managing to accept that me and House are a gay couple, without actually saying it out loud. Are me and House a gay couple … Is it obvious to everyone else ... His Mom seems crazy to me, talking in a Minnie Mouse voice and asking probing questions like where I work and where I live and who my people are. His Aunt is a hippie who cannot cook but I eat it anyway, trying to act normal. House takes me into another room and gives me some clothes so I can change out of my uniform. The clothes are too small.
I am hesitant about changing in front of House. His body is tanned and normal. Small people always look fit. Only my abdominal saves my thin legs. House looks at me and pauses. “You look great ... ” he says, as if it surprises him. The black t-shirt is skin tight and the pants are without room enough for my shoot so that I keep pulling them down.
He asks me if the pills are still in my system. I say, “No.” There’s one bed and I wonder where I’m supposed to sleep, or where House is supposed to sleep.
House convinces his Mom and Aunt to go on to bed and we are alone. On the bed in the bedroom he reaches into my right pants pocket, pulls out a small bag of marijuana and shows me how to break it up and how to prepare the paper; he shows me how to roll it. House leads me to his Mom’s balcony, looking over pine trees which grow in a grove fifteen feet from the building. He smokes on the joint.
I take ten deep pulls. After several minutes, finally, suddenly, I am high. House turns a radio on low and jumps around the balcony, skipping and dancing, throwing his face and neck up and down and back and forth, rhythmically.
It is lightly raining outside. Drops on pine needles become crystals, while the needles themselves come sharp into focus. I feel my neck straighten as my posture enters its natural position, my pelvis more forward. At the base of my neck arrives a strong pull backwards. It pulls, I pull, it pulls me backwards, I pull forward.
House leads me back into the bedroom. He says he can tell I am high by the way I am looking around. “Let’s watch a movie. You’ll be surprised what it’s like when you’re high,” he says. He is acting like he is in his own little world.
“This is heaven,” I catch myself think. “That's why the same rules apply.”
“Something’s wrong,” I whisper to no one in particular, sitting on the bed, my back against the wall since there is no headboard.
“The first time I got high on weed, I stayed in the bathroom, throwing up,” he says, his eyes bright. “You’ll be alright, just relax.”
“No, man, I’m getting pulled backwards into the wall.”
“Just allow it. Just allow it to take you wherever it takes you,” he says.
On the other side of the wall against my back is the House in God‘s Country, vivid, except this time I see it through the boy’s eyes because I am the boy again and remember his short memory and feel his terror as the future becomes a dream I had. Shifted to other rooms in the house, with furniture I recognize: the little green table that sat at in the kid's room, the fireplace it sat in front of, a shiny, burgundy wood table I would build on with my Lincoln Logs. Here I walk around in a consistent state of terror, my little-boy chest hurting from pounding day in and day out.
“Holy f-ck,” I whisper. “My heart stopped beating.”
“What...” I hear House say, “Man, you just gotta stay calm. Maybe you’re gonna be sick.”
“No, it’s not like that, this has nothing to do with being high. There’s some memory behind me; I keep getting pulled INto it. Whenever I allow it my heart stops beating and I have to pull myself FORward to let it beat some more, then I go back INto the memory, then I have to come back forward to get it BEATing again. Goddamn. Goddamn, I’m screwed, House. I f-cked up.”
“Just watch the movie, man,” he says. “You’re just tripping, that’s all.”
I lean back into the house in God's Country where I am a toddler or just older and am on Dawn’s bed where Ray is sitting Indian style. Smiling with innocence, I tumble toward him with a laugh. Of course you'd never really admit to anyone you had such little memory. When it's true, you won't admit it to yourself. Of course flesh would lock up with the nurturing violence of life Herself. I want him to like me and the routine is familiar. I begin to ram the top of my head into his lap and almost turn it clockwise, over and over, shifting away, then back again as the shift breaks into other, violent shifts where I can feel someone hitting me, punching me, then I shift back to the original innocence and terror of my head in his lap which now curls with evil and rape.
“Hey man, be cool,” House says, because I've half-performed the same movement in real life. I curl up and rub my face and head.
A huge King-Kong like woman terrorizes the city. The buildings are all phallic, domes and Washington monuments pointing to the sky as if we were living in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, or Babylonia. She beams down a laser that sets people on fire right in front of me. I’m running. I remember how there is an old Hindu parable like this in the book Tantra by Georg Feuerstein.
I’m in a bedroom having sex. The bedroom is surrounded by the House, as if it has been inserted into the House. It does not fit that sex and the House can exist in the same world. The confusion plays out through disjointed, incoherent thoughts: Life is this easy, sex and babies, sex and babies. You can't do any wrong to that.
At a local university, I am in uniform but do not have to stay at the booth. I am pulled into a mansion by Joan Crawford. I visit in her bedroom. She leaves and I wait. A young woman comes in through a door at the bottom of a set of stairs that lead directly up to the bedroom. She works as a mattress fluffer. I naturally strip. The husband and daughter come home and wait for me to leave.
For some reason I have purchased opera tickets for Dawn. I am running around trying to get everything in order for the opera night. I am kidnapped by aliens. Afterward, I am mistaken by the alien’s enemy as one of them, and am kidnapped by the alien’s enemy. The aliens befriend me, as well as the enemy. They all pitch in to get me home. When I arrive, Dawn and Ray are ready to go. I run into the house, remembering that I have forgotten to bring the electronic device used to translate the opera for us. “When is he going to Grow: Up,“ Ray says to Dawn.
The darker I go, the farther back in time I can remember.
The darker I go, the more I start to smile, joke, and chuckle.
‘Cause I’m older.
“But you’re British, my boy,” comes a voice. “Say the ‘Br’ ‘Br’ ‘Br’ British language like you were spitting a br br br bullet -- USE Your VOIce!!”
Racing into the valley, untouched God's Country pulses around me as my brothers stand, arguing.
My second-oldest brother has tall, straightened posture and tanned skin. His jaw clenched as he looks away toward the dawning sun.
“You see Eden – but there will be RAILroad tracks along this route … CHANGE!” Cain exclaims to Able as if his heart were broken by Able's ways.
“There is nothing new under the Sun,” Able replies, his voice measured and low, as if he is saddened Cain does not know this already.
I race to them, bare feet over dewed grass, the sky darkening with pinks then purples and devilish red as the crescent moon bleeds emergency. Loud dragons circle and screech overhead, licking their lips for the body as the pounding screaming of a roaring locomotive splits my ears.
I wake and sit up with an audible rush to morning light filtered in through a winter storm. I separate the white sheets and step out of bed, then open the bathroom door to shave as House wakes apologetically, his tan, tattooed skin dark against the sheets, then smiles.
While adults go their whole lives making sure not to cheapen their own sex, the sexually abused child doesn't have a chance until he realizes he never did. The sexually abused boy feels two options: pretend obliviousness or say, “So?” To pretend obliviousness is to be ignorant while at the edge of the sound of that word 'so,' lies an un-masculine path. Somehow admitting being the victim of sexual abuse unfairly remains tantamount to admitting impotence. The worst about sexual abuse is how forceful thrusts work with the predator, not to mention the emotions thrust into the receiver … Trauma acts as a weight that cannot be lifted because the bearer feels mysteriously deserving. With each new insult or stab or whip more weight is added because the bearer cannot change his stance simply because undeserved weight is added. I knew my history all along, regardless the traumatic effects on memory. No wonder the constant abuse from my relatives, it had been working. Wasn't until June 1st, 2004, I heard the sounds of their voices instead of the words, saw their body language for what it was: lying, they were all lying. Lacking memory from before the age of twelve was not reason enough to remain ignorant to it. Wasn't enough memory at the time to know what they were lying about, only the certainty of the eternal clarity of June first, 2004, the way it had been me all along.
"Ready for more adventures … “ House says as he rubs his eyes.
House wants to visit his sister, who lives in the high-rise across the parking lot. She is a blonde girl with glasses who talks in that way stoners seem to talk: dragging their words out, saying, ‘That’s so cool,’ but sounding like, ‘Thaat’s so cooool.’ Her manner is relaxed and fluid as she walks around her apartment as if in slow motion. She is hospitable and conversational with us.
House introduces me but I don’t speak much. I find these moments familiar. I begin to handle House and his sister the same way I handled people when I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. I could hardly speak to people back then. At the time I thought I was silent out of discipline.
His sister passes a bong around and we watch a movie. I don’t remember the movie because as I use the bong I remember how I walked around for years as if I had just left the scene of a vulgar car accident. I pull out my pocket notebook and write notes, hoping to prevent another flashback with another flashback inside and me lost in shifting again. How could God or Life or both design flesh to be further victimized by lacking memory not only of sexual trauma, but also the memories around those memories, and the memories around those, turning whole years into blanks of floating colors as if by habit. Same as the pope, God abandons children. It would be one thing if the boy hadn't said his prayers and made his decisions according to the Bible, but he did.
“Really?” House suddenly asks, surprised. “You can’t drive?”
It is virtual reality. I change my perception and the whole world physically changes around me. Upon arrival House says he loves my Log Cabin, Thacker’s daughter’s house. He pulls out paraphernalia, sets it on the coffee table and suggests we continue to get high and watch a movie. The couch is a love seat recliner which I push in front of the TV. Upstairs, I grab five heavy blankets and dump them down from the loft. I step down stairs and lay them out. “We’re too high to handle things right now,” I say to House.
“Yeah, I’m f-cking lit,” he says.
He chooses two films, one an old Japanese martial arts flick, the other a psychedelic comedy called Trainspotting. When we are under the covers, I feel the pull at the base of my neck, and feel sex in my fingertips. The world seems to be spinning and I breath hard again. Sex insists Right Now, Right Now, the only true perception is where sex is possible Right Now this moment. It takes till the end of the first movie, the martial arts film, for me to adapt to the tarot card.
House’s phone rings. His cousin, the hippie’s son, invites us to his house for a party where we are to spend the night. The next morning when we arrive back at the log cabin I am more functionally high. I get the water going, the heat, while House watches me and smokes his bong. Later he slowly sweeps the wooden floor, like someone in a trance. We decide to meet his friends at Best Buy where I am to buy a flat-screen.
At Best Buy I meet House’s new girl friend. She seems strung-out looking but I keep a straight face. On Facebook she looked like a knockout, and technically is.
Still groovy on Mary, I drive separate back to the house, stopping by Food Lion with the television still standing in the back of the Jeep. Never a beer-fan, I find the descriptions in the beer aisle enticing, though I'm supposed to be acquiring party-fare and breakfast. With a full shopping cart's worth of proudly-groovy-partiality unloaded and stocked in the refrigerator, House's beer-brewing friend's eyes widen as he notices which brands of each kind of beer I chose. “Man …” he whispers, mesmerized by the bulb-lit bottles. “You have such good taste … ”
Each high insists on a chance at recovering memories and sometimes I follow blindly only to find my way back by becoming so afraid I find Willahford on Facebook and send him messages so bizarre I know he’ll never forgive it or the implied insult of my casualness – how I would give up the human race to have my own memory.
“You're just trippin', that's all,” House whispers to me curled up in the corner rubbing my face and head.
“Every time I smoke it screams murder … Some little kid I used to know but can't remember his face,” I whisper.
I stop rubbing my head and face and cover my ears, pulling the lobes into my fists. He tries to pull my hands away.
“The little-boy keeps screaming, screaming … “
I never knew that the reason I have such a thick beard when I skip shaving is because I like to rub my face and head -- the beard lets me know the last time I’ve bathed. I was a hunter, not a farmer, back in the early times. Meat and fruits was my diet and way of life. The farmers thought they could get away with what they were doing. They couldn’t hunt because they weren’t men enough. During each high there is a set of rules I fall back on, like in the dreams when I shift. Shifted to working on the sink upstairs; it had never worked right so I rarely used it. It takes all day. I take it apart, put it back together, take it apart again, put it back together. Now it works fine.
I smoke marijuana, stopping here and there as I work to take notes; the marijuana classes have no review, they only move forward. Each new memory shows up at first strong, to the point where I can shift all the way and look around for clues, but afterward the memory normalizes.
I’m on a long drive to J__’s house, to help his family move Sooks from Charlotte. When I’m on pills, there will be a warm place, I cannot tell if it is warm or if it is stinging; yesterday it was my right thigh, now it is my elbow. It will be like this for hours.
Pink eyed and licking dry-mouth, I pull the blackened pizza from the oven while watching a Ken Burns documentary involving photographs of people out on the American Plains in the 1880s. I remember the blond pediatrician in God’s Country who Dawn would take me to for checkups. I remember the way the office looked, so Eighties. I remember the Native American festival we went to as a family. We got there in Dawn’s car because Ray’s truck was in the shop.
I remember Bill, Sandra’s husband, Sandra, Ray’s just-older sister, my aunt, him always offering to buy the truck, but Ray always saying no. Sandra was nice, and pretty; her son Billy was nice to me. I loved Billy, he was one of the few boys in our family. He didn’t notice me, because I was a little kid. Leaving the homestead, the van all packed up, Ray holds Sandra's hand through the open window. She smiled goodbye as if they had been the closest, her eyes asking forgiveness. He acknowledged her look, as if resigned, glad to get away.
I remember the cookout and how Billy would play Frisbee with me and he broke mine because it was cheap and plastic and then he gave me his. I loved Grandpa, Rays’s dad. He cracked a joke sometimes and he got angry sometimes.
“We're going to have to get you so high you stop having flashbacks altogether,” House whispers to me sitting beside him in front of the mumbling television.
I glance at him with half-open eyes.
“Then we'll get you a girlfriend.”
Drunk, high, and tripping at eight in the morning, we brave left-over remnants of the snow storm and build snowmen, throwing snowballs like play-punches, arguing about ice skating in boots over the pond a football field away. The land is green, white, and bark, the snow so old and new each of our steps sinks a foot into powder, ice, and mud. The sky stays gray and loud with rumbling thunder over rural landscape. He feigns death when I hit one of his fresh tatoos through his t-shirt; laughing, he low crawls behind his half-snowman. White snow hits the air like the flash of gunpowder as I dive and duck under the tumult of House's artillery. House tackles my snowman and lands on me rolling snow melting against our skin.
“Let's stay here forever,” House says. “Like a whole country to ourselves.”
The falling snow increases and the wind picks up with chilling wisps.
“Like Neverneverland,” I say.
“Will the ice hold us you think?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” I reply, turning my head from his and looking down the field where we lay toward the pond curving behind the wood line.
“Lets' play football on it – SLIDE football!” he rises and runs ahead toward the pond, the football in the crook of his right arm.
Properly grocery shopping, sipping on hot cocoa, we arrive at the cashier with two over-flowing carts.
We chat splitting the bill; I assure him I don't mind that my cart is full of expensive spices and adult food.
“Are you two brothers … “ the elderly cashier says with her familiar, pleased twang.
House's head swells with delight as he smiles at me.
That night another snowstorm pummels the house. The upstairs loft is warm and dry due to the crackling fireplace downstairs.
"I know what it is because I'm hetero," I tell House, as he tries to get me into articulating again. "I know there's nothing wrong with it but I wonder about the homosexuals -- who -- aren't -- hetero."
Suddenly the air smells of familiar … salt. I exit my covers and step downstairs out onto the back porch to the moonlit coastline stretching to the horizons. I listen to the crashing, rolling waves as they begin to pummel across the small stretch of sand and slam into the wood work beneath the porch. “They taught that the soul never rests … “ I catch myself think. “It wouldn’t know what to do with rest.” I quickly turn my head as waves crash and heavy ocean-water wets my face. Why would you worry about the future at a time like this …
I can’t get drunk. I can’t acquire a buzz. After drinking three bottles of red wine in three hours there is nothing. I can drive drunk, turns out. It used to be that when I drank I would wonder about myself because I would start to pretend to be drunk after a few drinks. Now when I drink I hear my heart beat more and more, louder and louder, till it turns into a loud vibration in my ears like a hum or a whirl.
If I concentrate on the Real the vibration becomes enjoyable instead of inebriating and I can drive, I can operate machinery, I can cook, I can clean up broken glass on the floor, no problem. If I can’t recognize the Real, if I don’t follow the rules I’ve made, then my eyesight goes the other way, and the high or drunkenness results in my feeling like a fool, then passing out somewhere.
I want to get higher and higher, drink more and more, heavier and heavier. Now I do them at the same time, navigating my way through the awake dreams, memories tucked away by little-boy imagination. I can recognize what is true; I can shift forward into the memories through the tumult until a break where notes are written. I am surprised when I find myself downstairs. Several shifts ago I was upstairs.
When House comes home in the night he asks me about my future.
“Let's go on your bike trip,” he says, giving me his winning smile finely-honed for me. “All your plans … I could ride a hundred miles a day.”
“My relatives were not of creation. I have no future,” I say, waking on the bathroom floor, squinting in the fluorescent lights as I peek from behind an elbow bent over eyes. His tanned bare legs standing above me smell of my Dove soap. “The only thing I had to build on was long gone all along.”
“Not to me.”
Morning light illuminating the downstairs, House says something to me while donning an Aeropostle jacket and stepping out of his room on his way to the front porch for a cigarette. Through his open bedroom doorway his nude girlfriend lies glistening on his bed.
Shirtless in thickly threaded, white long johns, I carefully look through the cedar wood kitchen cabinets, focused, glancing at him as I say “Hey,” trying to think of where I might have hid something if I had hid anything at all.
I find two bottles of cough syrup and check the labels looking for active ingredients, how much, doing math. I curl back on the bathroom floor, shivering for hours. I hear House call my name from outside the door.
Later I collect from around the house: orange juice, two large unopened bottles of cough syrup, a bottle of 100 proof rum, then sleep in the locked bathroom. I shift to a place where I am eaten by a huge furry animal, just after having shifted from another place where I watch a large cat behead a tiny, adorable one after an impressive fight by the little one. Inside the large animal is a world of warehouses and hallways where a work force is trapped inside. There is an attractive girl. I tell her with my mind: die with me, be brave and die with me.
House is me, same as the LT during deployment, both of them using something they have going for them, good looks, rank as an officer. Just like Dawn, I used hard work. Our chemistry got going when I started joking with House about his inexplicable dimple, one which allowed him to lie and get away with everything. Why would he then think that inevitably I would fall for it … How could that have been his plan all along … What’s the point of not being Real … What’s the point of House being so refreshed by someone who sees right through him if he then crosses the pond, changes his mind, decides he’d rather live off a dimple after all. Maybe he wanted a babysitter while he used.
House steps into the house, home from his new job, flashing me a smile. I stand still and silently look at him, stunned that he could think me so dumb. Seemed like he only told me his story because it’s the story he tells people when they don’t fall for his dimple.
I blurt out that he is to move out, I tell him he needs to leave.
He gapes at me.
“It’s not a debate. Just get out," I reply.
“You're being unfair.”
Alone on the icy land, during what seems like the next day, I take solitary walks down the same paths I'd discovered that first Christmas here. It is difficult being wordlessly conscious, indefinitely disallowing a word in the mind. Silent hours require me to express myself in other ways. I write with a pencil to paper instead of think.
The man on the television says to the other, “It is your life, so you never have anyone to defend yourself to, not even me.”
I change the channel.
“No one knows what you’re going through,” an old woman says. “Whatever you have to do to get through it, do it.”
#370112 - 09/14/11 03:17 PM
Re: F) House
Loc: American South
The piano plays on its own now, the keys moving ferocious at times, other times, the notes are soft as air.
I would get up to urinate, or to turn off the alarm’s warning beeps, or even to eat something, but always seamlessly went back to bed.
If I brush too close to the bench as I step on my way to the kitchen, the piano music is upset, so I move the bicycle farther away from the end of the stairs so there is no bother.
I awoke for good at four-thirty in the afternoon. The shifting was disturbing. I consistently mistake it for waking life and get confused when I awake to take a leak, or step downstairs to turn off the alarm’s warning beeps. There are moving photographs on the walls – more memories. There are relatives standing around, the older ones hang out as I move into this house from the one in God’s Country. Ray seems harmless, unloading the truck of file boxes.
Rachmaninoff's C Sharp Minor Prelude plays but none of the relatives ask why. Ray, Rose, Grace, the old relatives, many I don’t know in waking life, Grandpa, Grandma -- Ray’s side -- are all moving me into this house from God's Country. Everyone seems nice and genuinely glad to be there. After the relatives leave, House comes by to get the rest of his stuff. His girlfriend is unrealistically mature and capable. She packs House’s stuff and sets the pace of his move. I’m unusually charming for such a would-be-awkward situation. It takes him a long time; when he’s done he has a huge lime green truck loaded high against the horizon. After he and his truck exit the drive, I kneel down and sob into the China rug in front of the hearth because I do not know if I am asleep or awake.
The ancestors throw a party, seemingly ignoring me but actually it is their ease in my existence and their assumption that I already know everyone. Barefoot women in white robes like silk sheets and others in flowing dresses made of flower petals laugh gaily and skip up and down the stairs from the bedrooms in the loft with its adjacent balcony over the muscular stone fireplace downstairs shelved in by the two large porches, laughing splendidly in their chatter, pointing out to each other the wonderful details of the house with its flowing drapes and sparse furniture.
The men, some dressed in robes also like sheets, others in cotton linens and beige excitedly decide to open the front and back doors cut into the walls standing perpendicular to the fire place and throw themselves a parade, demanding Beethoven's Turkish march from the piano. Instruments are gathered from inside the five barns the balcony overlooks: trombones, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, french horns, and all kinds of drums, cymbals, chimes, and whistles. They decide to walk the circle that runs through the house beneath the railing of the loft and out to the left below the railing of the balcony as the house and rural acres fill with merry music.
I see Tommy with his one floppy ear, his small build, and German Shepherd breed. He does the same as when he was a puppy, making me chase him, my fingers just about to make contact before he twists away then looks back at me with his smiling pant. He races outside through the back door where the dusk has shimmered a golden dust upon the wood planks and railings and he bounds the three steps onto the grass as I bump through the loud, triumphant hustle and bustle of the marching band which has become a full circle through the garden and around the northern half of the house and I'm little and Tommy has turned a corner except I'm not in pursuit and there is Grace, smiling, throwing me a baseball we found at the summer party which is my first memory. There are green grass hills in all directions and a large, white, four-story house where garden salad and chicken salad and tuna salad and cut fruit and jellos are served on the first floor, grilled pig and cow and turkey and chicken served on the second floor, cold pastas and souffles and casseroles are served on the third floor, and on the fourth floor is the vanilla ice cream which I have managed through the adult legs to bring to Grace a cone along with mine while old birds give me snapping looks warning of carpeted stairs as I escape through more leg jungle. Everyone is dressed in white, including me. I notice how much I love Grace, my big sister who is not in kindergarten yet. She told Dawn last night on the car ride home: “Mom, when I grow up, I'm going to marry Ben,” and Dawn made that concerned expression as she watched the road, and how much I love Dawn and Ray, who are inside with Rose, the newest arrival in Kenley. Grace finds the baseball and we throw it between us until I miss and have to pick it up where a big, white dog is chained who bites my hand when I reach for the ball and throw it to Grace. It scars my right index finger which I notice, sitting in kindergarten class with all our names in cut outs on the classroom door and the huge, brown-hued woman who is our teacher who hates me because instead of writing the letters I draw them in cinder block form with shadows and shading and she calls me up to the desk and says, “Now was that really necessary,” and upon sitting down I am surprised by the scar on my finger and I first remember the memory. Tommy races through the classroom and afterward the green grass just between my overly-long legs, and just out of reach of my overly-long arms as I bump into a tall, blonde woman clashing cymbals who laughs and says something in a language I do not recognize. Her eyes beckon me to clap along with her and as I do I am carried along with the joyously violent momentum of the crowd three times around the circle while the people in the loft and the balcony empty baskets of sharp, clear smelling flower pedals onto us until a tight hand and strong arm pulls me into the first floor bathroom which is really a large green-carpeted bedroom with a shower placed in one corner, a toilet and sink in another, an old fashioned tub just below the window, and now a greyed woman with a wrinkle-less face sitting at a table in the center of the room, pleasantly laying cards as if for her own amusement until she sees me and drops her face into a sober expression as she rises, quickly steps toward me and closes the door, then backs away from me and playfully asks, “You a shifter for pleasure or by trade?” She steps to the table and sits down.
I sit down across from her, in the wooden chair I keep in the bathroom so as to take off my boots.
“Look at that,” she says pointing to a card with a young man on it. Several times she places the cards, then picks them back up again to place again in different formations some requiring the whole table and others as few as two or even one card. As music blasts from all around the closed room stomping begins above us in rhythm as ancestors clap and hoot tribally.
“The summer you were sixteen,” she begins as if she loves to tell stories. “A black rectangle half a football field wide and half that in length slowly moved just above the tree tops. It had no light on the outside but for the two rectangles of thick, cuuurrved glass on its underside. You moved across the yard to take in the details, confirming the metals of the craft were not of Earth. It continued across the field, over the house, then over the next field and over that horizon of fooorest. You were so young you figured the world was changing and in the future you might hear something about it.”
I stand. “I need to shift back.”
“I haven't read your future,” she says, her voice suddenly bolder.
“I was to see the Oscars.”
“You're the shifter.”
I step out of the room back into the noisy crowd of paraders. Pushing through the men and women chattering and singing correlating melodies in tongues not correlating as they blow and clang and dexterously manipulate their bellowing, clanging instruments I reach the stairs, keeping close to the wall as I climb as more men and women in more and more bizarre and outlandishly colorful outfits travel up and down past me in a chorus. On the second floor I pass by the first set of French doors. It is the bedroom with the balcony and full of throngs of people moving in and out. Stepping through to the second set of French doors, I expect my bedroom but instead the doors close behind me with my weight leaning back against them, my heels dug into the bit of floor sticking out beneath them as I hold the door knobs behind me because all below and above and in front of me is blue sky with puffy clouds. In front of me I see the Trickster performing a rain dance to the music of flocks of colorful birds playing in the wind he's creating as the cloud grows larger and larger. I look down because I've never seen a sky with no bottom and begin to tremble.
“Leap,” the Trickster calls as he skips about purposefully, watching his own feet land in particular ways.
I lift up on my right foot except my foot doesn't lift, what's inside it does. I look back towards him and call into the wind: “I'll rapture instead.”
His cloud grows so large and gray, bolts of lightning begin to strike, lighting up the insides of the cloud like rooms. I carefully dab at the cloud with my right toe, feeling for solid ground. Finding a patch, I twist around and step back into the French doors into the crowds and their excited mingling as a torrential rain descends pelting the house and the paraders who run laughing back to the five barns to put back their instruments, then back to the house to shield themselves from the dark ceiling of clouds. The people hug each other, the women kiss each other's cheeks, and the men call out Adieu and Goodbye and other secret sounds. Making my way downstairs to crowds thinning out, their laughter and milling lose ferocity until they're all gone but for Tommy who sees me standing alone in front of the fireplace on the china rug where he leaps forward to my outstretched arms, then dissipates into air.
The skies outside have darkened black and the only light in the house is from the television in the corner by the fireplace. I pull the recliner across the wooden floor and rest it in front, wrapping myself in a blanket and sitting down to Steve Martin turning toward Alec Baldwin beside him on the Kodak stage, "Now we'd like to introduce two beautiful actresses. Because frankly, we're sick and tired of bringing out all these ugly actresses."
In the night as I pack mementos properly and unpack according to how the house should be set up, the setting regularly switches to the house in God's Country. I am taking care of an enlarged industrial version of the House where Dawn is my boss, but keeps locking doors and refusing to open them. She blames me for the problems in the House’s upkeep. At one point me and another little boy are trying to figure out the plumbing. The pipes are enormous as we walk through them turning corners and entering archways. Finally I find where a typewriter is in the way. I wake in the hammock, during sunset. The pecan trees around me are the ones surrounding the house in God’s Country. I go back into the past whenever I want. I didn’t know the past could be forever. Shifted from a dream full of secrets. It begins in a kind of warehouse where outside is a war between the US and Iraq. I’m not really in it, I’m just there, with Willahford. Days go by and the logistics of living in the warehouse make up the dream. I notice in the dream how I don’t have a weapon of any kind, and wonder about my being in the war. Willahford wants to start working out regularly. We agree to start in the early morning. I agree to meet him there. Outside the warehouse is the House’s yard. Two trees fall, in the early morning, as I make my way across the yard to the warehouse’s gym to meet Willahford. The first one is small, like an indoor tree. The next tree is scarier when it falls, the fall is darker, bigger, and is a tree in the side yard, not the China berry tree, but maybe a young, thinner pecan tree, not like the ones I had known as a boy. I shifted back unnaturally, from the phone ringing. House’s gone. He came by, got his stuff, and left without hardly a word.
As I shower I can choose to remember and go so into the memory I can remember the sensations. I can go so into it that I forget the present moment or that there ever was a future. I can go so into the future I can make myself totally numb to the point where there is no past, no sensations, no remembrance.
Shifted to the house in God's Country which seemed to also be my workplace. There is dirt on my forearms and calluses on my palms. My boss, Sergeant Major Forester is there, and also Dawn and Grace. There was a killing of some kind, on a small boat I was standing on, motoring through the reservoir adjacent to the workplace’s land.
I thought about how beautiful it was, the difficulty of it all, and saw a beauty in the scenery around me.
I am in my room at the house in God's Country, talking to Sergeant Major Forester, defending Dawn’s intricate actions, explaining to him that I come from this place and that was the end of it.
He said for me to “Do whatever you have to do,” to free myself of her, as if he were my supervisor, some kind of mediator, letting me know he understood. Shifted back to my bed, wondering how on earth I could have defended such a person as Dawn.
Shifted to Camp Deer Lake, where I went for two weeks in the summer as a boy. I am amazed to feel the familiar material of a turquoise t-shirt I would wear back then. I keep trying to find the boy.
Shifted to an island facility I seemed to be serving a sentence at. I’m a teenager wearing a navy blue jumpsuit that is rough against my skin. I escape and ask another kid if he wants to come with me. We have to swim a long way.
He reminds me of my brother. I am surprised and appreciative that he chooses me over the scantily clad girls in the island facility. He’s smart and tells me the way. I go that way but the islands we run into are actually buoy boats. The facility counselor is a young man who runs after us through the buoy boats.
The buoy boats become a long chain of floating buildings that runs for miles. The kid with me gets caught first, and falls into the water. I keep running because my brother is dead, the guy catches up with me.
“Why don’t you want our help?” he asks accusingly from the other side of the buoy boat as he runs alongside me. “Do you really think you’re okay?”
I tried to fight the counselor off but couldn’t remember Violence. I do know violence, I know exactly how it works. I remember Ray beating me, his hand ‘POP‘ onto my flesh whenever he had to change my diaper. I should have fought the counselor earlier in the shift.
I swing myself out of the hammock and step out to the pond by the house. I sit on the grass and watch the geese and sunset, listen to the sounds of frogs and crickets. I watch the ripples in the water and clear my head of words. I remember the ripples in the water of a small tub in first grade, where an empty two-liter-soda-bottle-boat floated with a balloon attached to it. When the balloon let the air out the boat shot across the tub. The teacher was trying to teach us science. I had forgotten that day.
The late night has been like a secret place I’ve been living my life. I went a few days and nights without sleep so now I’m starting to be up during the day. I have a hard time being out in public. I cannot remember the last time I spoke a word out loud. On one silent morning, I find an empty upside-down turtle shell placed in front of my front door. I step outside and the deer in the yard don’t mind me, sometimes they stare, but eventually go back to grazing. The birds who live in the bush across the walk from the front porch don’t fly away anymore, they scurry across the dew-soaked ground around my bare feet same as the others. I think it might be the squirrel leaving me these gifts. He acts familiar with me. I saw him recently with a little animal in his mouth, like a dark-brown baby mouse. He’ll watch me work outside the same way a dog would; sometimes he‘ll follow me through the yard through the tree tops. He’s around a lot. I notice he uses his senses, especially the tip of his nose, to experience and perceive the world. No words in his head.
Outside at the bird feeders the red cardinal never stays but for a few seconds, while the other birds hang out. He knows he is masculine beauty. He knows his masculine beauty, his bright red color, stands out and puts him in more danger. It’s the same for the black coyote out here that people talk about with awe. He’s rarely seen. He’s not dirt colored like the others. His blemish-less, black sheen, keeps him in greater danger.
I remember as a little kid noticing that it took me over two weeks to register an event like a Tiger Cubs meeting or the first day of school. I remember the tricycle, I remember teaching myself how to ride a bike, I remember the restaurant we stopped at on the way home from visiting my grandparents in Florida.
In the afternoon, upon seeing “Food Inc.,” I become a vegetarian. For days and nights I grocery shop, look through cookbooks, while continuously washing rondeaus, sautoirs, and saunteuses, while more cover the lit stove and the tamis and chinois stay soaking. The house emits the new, subtle smells of plants and experiments even all the way to the pond, until I finally succumb.
At one in the morning I play the piano, drunkenly, for an hour. Unlike a slurring drunk slurred notes have their own appeal. I loved them so much reality was impossible, incest, violence, my siblings making fun of me, Grace’s eyes accusing me for not being aroused and for being aroused, me innocent, ignoring her intent, maneuvering away, the way Rose would analyze me, watch me, trying to steal qualities of mine that weren’t hers and never could be … these were my loved ones, so even if reality happened they still didn’t mean it, I’d be okay; everything would be okay, all would be forgiven, all trauma healed, because I loved them to the death. I especially miss Dawn, she was effortlessly beautiful, intelligent, the kind that effortlessly outlives everyone.
Shifted to a different version of my house where dark clouds threaten from outside. Looking out onto the back porch through a window, Rose and I watch as a bear violently rips off the back half of a truck. I let Ginger, a white German shepherd we had as teenagers, watch, hoping her barking will scare it off but it doesn’t work. Rose is the only one terrified when we see that there is a skinny guy out there, acting oblivious to the huge beast. He wears the PICA t-shirt I had back then. He stands on the back porch, casually defiant. The bear calms down, scruffs around the young guy. Dawn is supposed to be taking Rose to a train. Rose is packed and ready, on her way to some sort of camp or school. The context says to call Royal, he’s coming to pick you up, like he promised. He’s so late. I understand it is rejection.
I had three ways of getting more pills and each one failed. I am an hour late for the cookout.
“Oh -- hey Ben. I’m so glad you arrived,” Mrs. J__ says with a hug as I enter their house through the kitchen door. “We got to the point where we thought you might not arrive at all.”
“It was a long drive,” I reply.
They have a big family, many of whom I don’t really know. Whenever I visit it’s to see J__ and his wife, Mrs. J__. It’s uncomfortable having an audience as I talk to them.
When I arrive they both seemed haggard with how busy they are, J__ going in and out of the house depositing pans of grilled chicken, Mrs. J__ trying to boil Easter-eggs while finding enough chairs for everyone. I walk to get the chairs out of the shed outside, passing the male members of the family playing basketball.
Without a perception based in love, J__ and his wife’s offspring can come across distracted, always hooked up or focused on electronics. They’re always nice to me; I feel like they don’t have to be.
One of their daughters asks me where House is. “Easter weekend … he’s with his family,” I answer.
“Oh okay. I’ve been hearing a lot about House ...“ she says, with a wry smile, as if she wants to make me smile. Suddenly she darts away to check on her small son.
Later, Mrs. J__ pulls me aside and asks about House. I tell her I ended up having him move out.
“Good, good,” she says. “Glad to hear it.”
It grows dark. “I need corn syrup,“ Mrs. J__ says to J__. “Will you go?”
When we arrive back from the grocery, we cross the front yard toward the house, I say from behind him, “Remember how I could never remember much before twelve years old?”
“Huh?” J__ says.
“Remember how I could hardly remember before twelve years old?”
“Was it good or bad?” he said, still walking.
“Maybe it’ll help you to, you know, ease on down,“ he replies, making a motion with his hands.
After we step into the house, I announce it is best I get going.
Next morning I shift to the floor of my kitchen, the back of my right shoulder leaning against a metal table leg. I feel relieved by the sight of endless pieces of paper littering the downstairs, sentences and dates scribbled all over. A wind from outside slowly thrashes the white linen of the open windows. The pieces of paper lift up with the wind, descending around me as I rise. I step into the downstairs bedroom of a bathroom and look into the mirror. The person in the mirror isn’t me. I’m on the inside. It’s going to be like this for eternity.
On a bright morning I woke and remembered the name: Principal Wood. I remember how all the men were monsters. They’d undo their pants and rape you in a minute. The females know it, they just never let on, never protect anyone, nothing more to life but the soul and death and the Who Knows place. I remember the lunchroom from when I was in kindergarten, Grace entering with her first grade class, them forming a line to the bar after us kindergartners had already gone through. The teachers know it, they pretend not to because what can they do. They allow him to rape me because so many men are that way. I’m not a monster, I’m not a male like the other males. I wouldn’t have thought that rape would be the ultimate crime, I would’ve thought murder. It was my job, my job alone, to not to get raped, those are the rules of honesty. Principal Wood was the principal of the elementary school I went to. I almost remembered him last night; I could only see the side of his face. I could never remember kindergarten before. All along the world was like a Henry Miller novel, vulgar, monstrous. Where a transsexual's insides are correct and the body wrong, my body is correct and my insides wrong, they don't match with my soul.
Maybe the world is so f-cked up there’s nothing I can do legally. Now that I’m 3D, murder doesn’t seem like some foreign idea you only see on the television. I can feel the ability in my fingertips; I can feel the intelligence to get away with it in my skull. It is the same intelligence I’ve used to do all the things I’ve had to do these past few days that I’ve never done before: fixing the upstairs sink, working on the well system, working on the Jeep, working on the lawn mower .. a capable-ness I had never been in touch with until I accepted the rest of what was in my bones.
Is it possible to murder assertively instead of aggressively ... Am I capable of killing my own mother … If that’s what the boy wants. The only law is nature. If I was natural I would be thinking of killing them, deciding whether or not to do it. God ignored that boy so that boy is now my responsibility. Him could be a cop one day. Him could be an FBI agent if the boy wants. Him could be a murderer, honorable like the criminals in Invisible Man and White Tiger.
It is warm with a chilly wind blowing. I wear my blue Nike baseball cap like I did as a teenager, always hiding under a blue base ball cap, its brim curved, worn low. It is a long, quiet drive; the radio in the Jeep stopped working while I was overseas. When I arrive at the receptionist’s window she is on the phone. “How may I help you?” the receptionist asks. I tell her I need to talk to someone about child abuse. She tells me they are in the next building.
In the correct building there is a receptionist’s window directly in front. Most of the florescent lights are off; the place is quiet. There are five empty waiting chairs set against a corner. “How can I help you?” the woman asks. I tell her I need to talk to someone about child sexual abuse. “Okay, someone will be out in a moment.”
The restroom is clean and filled with personal touches. I stand looking at nothing for a moment, the baby boy and the future me decided by fleeting moments. I did not know I hated my father. He had always been irrelevant, by his choice. Even when he seemed to choose the opposite, my little-boy-self had to realize he was trying to teach me as erroneously as possible. I catch myself needing the truth to be something specific.
In the empty waiting room I sit down in one of the five chairs, my elbows on my knees, my hands rubbing my face and head. A stout, young woman wearing glasses steps in. She acts like a manager would at a business, being called upon by one of her employees to handle a situation with a customer.
“Are you here to put in a report?” she asks in the waiting room.
The room she leads me to is full of cubicles; the florescent lights are kept at minimum and little lamps sit on each desk. “Um … it looks like I’m doing intake. So why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” she says.
I give her the jist of it. Lowly, she asks me questions like my parents’ names, their date of births, their address, other siblings, the year I was born, when the sexual abuse started and when it ended.
“So you just want to see your file … I don’t know if I could do that; I’d have to ask my supervisor … Let me have your cell number so I can call you if we find anything. But you know, they probably didn’t practice good record keeping in the Eighties.”
When she says the last part I hear the laziness in it. I notice that she is writing notes at the corner of the back of a sheet of paper that has already been on her desk. I understand she is only writing them to humor me.
“Oh,“ I muster.
Shifted to the inside of a plane, flying through space. The seating area smells like Lysol spray; my seat is a dark blue color, my right temple resting against its back. I yawn. I recognize Stephan Ridaeu, an actor I see a lot in French films, sitting beside me, his voice a low muttering, talking to the person to his right. He wears a grey sweater made of a material I don’t recognize. It is as if the fibers are tiny vines.
I seem to be traveling with a girl. She sits on the other side of Rideau. They are talking and the girl acts charmed. Her eyes are quick and blue with an expression as if she knows me better than she did Rideau. She keeps looking at me as if she is wondering if I am waking up all the way or not. The girl sits in the aisle seat; I sit in the window seat. I understand I have been sleeping because I have just gotten off deployment.
I look away from the girl and down at my clothes. I am not in uniform but I understand the others in the plane know me to be a soldier by what I wear: thick, strong wool, grey with darker grey stains as if I had been wearing the clothes daily for months. I am resting with my face toward Rideau, so that I am half in, half out of what was going on.
I almost fall asleep when the girl gets up to leave; she seems to be going to the restroom. She wears a uniform I feel I recognize, red with a blue stripe and family-crest-like-emblem above the right breast. Rideau turns and I adjust in my seat as he starts talking to me in a thick, French accent. He has a playful expression. I notice the hairs on his cheeks, the almost-mustache. His dark eyes blink twice, waiting for a response.
Shifted to a huge facility full of noise and commotion. My stomach suddenly turns and tightens so I won’t fall from having been sitting. The facility is like something off the show Star Trek Deep Space Nine, or Babylon 5. Familiar looking aliens walk by. I want to touch them to see if they are wearing elaborate costumes.
The place is lined with restaurants and bars, temporary quarters and laundry facilities. The same girl as before steps up from behind me, acting excited as she steps ahead of me.
“He was so nice,“ she says, turning around to face me as we walk toward the shops. “He agreed to meet up with us for dinner.”
A large blob made up of thousands of twinkling, colored lights nears us, then stops, making clapping sounds even though it doesn’t have limbs; it waits silently as if it were expecting an answer. I don’t immediately know I have heard the sounds from him since he has no face or mouth. I exhale, “Huh .. ?”
The blob bows a little, taking the sound I make as the answer, then leaves.
“How can you understand anything through that French accent?” I say.
“He could’ve been speaking German for all I cared,“ she replies. Her voice has a particular softness to it.
Shifted to the hotel room I recognize from the Christmas before deployment. I feel the same way I did that day, as if deployment hadn’t happened yet. I look around for my cell phone so I can check the date, I wonder if I am running late.
There is a knock on the door. I step up toward it, noticing how I am not wearing shoes or socks. The knock comes again and I look up, hearing the girl on the other side laugh to someone. I open it and she enters with another laugh. “Hello,” she says. “Look who I found in the hallway.” Rideau follows her into the room, then steps past me and turns back around. She has changed out of her uniform into a white cotton dress and high heels.
There is an awkward silence. “I’ve decided not to go to dinner,” I say. It is all I could think of to resolve their questioning expressions. From behind Rideau the girl thanks me with her eyes.
Her cell phone rings. She looks at its screen. “Excuse me,” she says, stepping through the open doorway.
At first we seem normal, like we are just two guys waiting by an open door. I exhale, feeling calmer. His face falls, as if he were thinking to himself, him looking at me, then towards the hallway where the girl is still talking intently into the phone, a finger to her ear. The girl comes back from around the corner and they leave for dinner.
I sit on the edge of the bed, wondering when I’d shift again. I stand up, pull the heavy, cream-colored drapes away and look out the window. I realize the birds in the sky are stationary; it is a photograph, not a view, then sit down again. Time has a slow drip feel to it. I don’t understand why I haven’t shifted again. I wonder if I should try to force it. I hear a sound from the door. Rideau steps in. I understand it is much later in the evening and he has finished hanging out with the girl. He smiles at me and empties the contents of his pants pockets on the dresser.
“I don't understand Adam and Eve,” I tell him while rubbing my hands over my head facing my cross-legged lap. “And what did happen to Cain...”
“We're just us,” he says. “You and me.”
“And feminist libraries encourage lesbians while treating gays as if what they are is the worst … of more importance.”
“Who makes these rules?”
“But I’m lost.”
I am expected at another family cookout; it is a two hour drive. This time it is at a ball park. J__ won’t be there, only his wife, his daughters, their husbands, and the grandchildren. Since J__ won’t be there I take eight pills as buffer. That’s the thing about taking too little, that period where the body makes the switch from not-high to high is longer, so you feel in between for a longer time, jittery and springy while you wait for the high to smooth out, just in time for athletics.
After the cookout and game -- our team won -- and having cleaned up, I turn out the lights of J__ and Mrs. J__'s upstairs latrine and step into the hall.
"It's like he lives a whole day and purposefully never gives a hint of it.” I overhear over sciffs and scuffs of hair being brushed, then adjusted. “... He allows the other person to assume he's living in the day of the person he's talking to ... or is in front of."
I stop movements, noticing the shadows of the hall from the sun setting in the west.
“For whose benefit I wonder.”
After wisps and whispers of moving cloths being donned and adjusted, the elder sister says: “... maybe he can convince others he is irrelevant but he doesn't know everyone is already aware of the ... heavy subject matters of his … days”
“Frightening to any -- Woman in his life.”
Over tinks and clinks of bottles and discreet cases of makeup ingredients, the younger says, “I heard he told Sooks a long time ago he was gay. Then she secretly found out that he wasn't.”
“WHAt ...” the other whispers sharply.
Thuds implying heels being casually rejected from foot to closet, then clicks of earrings and necklaces, overwhelm their words.
“Awful opposite of kind ..."
"Ma joked yesterday he must've had a good mother -- after she noticed that his innocence --”
"Always saves him ..."
Silently moving toward the bottom of the stairwell, I overhear the matriarch and the patriarch talking.
“Yes, but look at his promise,” Ms. J___ says to J___ among the sounds of him adjusting in his kitchen chair and her placing dishes.
“In the end he'll have some big story, but really he'll have run off.”
That night before I leave their house, I show J__ and Ms J__ the bike I’ve just bought, a Giant Trance X2. It cost thirteen hundred dollars but was listed at nineteen hundred. I drove all the way to the mountains from home in order to get to the bike shop that was selling it. It was supposed to be the bike I’d take on my bike trip down the West coast. It is in my Jeep because I had arrived back home so late the night before.
“Hear that … He didn’t go home last night … ” I overhear Ms J__ say in aside to J__.
It's sad, the orderliness witnessed in the chaos of God's Country's courthouse and station house: all one building of glass and trees and plants so that I never really feel indoors navigating elevators and labyrinths of hallways.
"I don't like to suffer fools neither," I mutter as he gapes at me from across his Sergeant's desk.
"You realize you might have memories that aren't true," he says as his countenance continues shifting from concerned to quizzical to investigative and interrogating then all back over again.
"What if some are ..."
"All that crazy negativity in people's lives," he says, as if suspicious. "They could look at it as a whole. Even identify with it."
Shifted to a good high, effortless, natural, that timelessness feeling strong, seamless. I had finished a bottle of Mondavi’s Merlot and had fallen asleep but don’t remember lying down. It’s the middle of the night, music is on, I‘m Awesome by Spose; the Bonnie Hunt Show plays on the television in the corner. Still on the pills the world is always a graveyard; I walk through the endless lines of tombstones at my feet as I run errands, walk through parking lots to the Jeep, deal with whatever present culture … I feel like a soul, like in that first chapter in Invisible Man, where he is separate from life; life’s a distant thing he allows into his house through a record playing. He steps out the door, but not out of that place.
During deployment Royal would refer to a psychology study done where it was shown that a human being was biologically happier with a new car if he had to work hard to get it. The study showed that the harder the difficulties the human being was put through, the happier he was by the car. His happiness was in direct ratio with his troubles. If he had few troubles, he had little happiness.
I don’t go back to sleep but instead go on to work when the time comes. I work at a military installation, a bunch of shooting ranges and training areas: thousands of acres of wild country with a few buildings scattered about. They have me cut my post-deployment period short, only five weeks, due to a change of command where properties, sensitive items, and monies exchange hands – a hefty logistics operation.
I drive out to pick up a special part from an Equipment Parts dealer. The front of the store is lined with riding lawnmowers and four by fours. Two guys are standing there, looking at me. People looking at me like that remind me that I’m in uniform and have ventured way out into the bizarre civilian world.
Woke up inebriated; didn’t know that could happen. I catch myself acting like no one should have respect for me because I’ve come to work drunk but then I walk in and see the workplace dog lying on the bathroom floor; there is something about the look he gives me, as if he knows me. I ask around; turns out he’s been lying on that floor for several days except to carefully go out to urinate sometimes. I insist to my colleagues I am shooting the dog.
The boss finally agrees on a grave site, but the colleagues remain up in arms. The dog has always been the responsibility of certain people, people the dog seemed to like best. The dog didn’t seem to like me that much.
I ask SSG H__ for his M9 pistol, which he gives me. I dig the grave and earn two blisters for it. Digging the grave kills whatever is left of my inebriation. Standing in it at three feet deep I rest, leaning against the standing shovel. “You will hear the prayers of the damned,” I pray, staring at the ground a while before slowly making the sign of the cross. “You are the one true God and I do not approve of you and you will hear the prayers of the damned.” I make two grown men cry, one a retired Colonel, the other a retired Sergeant Major. Even the workplace bullies leave me alone, stay out of it. There’s only about a dozen people who work here full time. Some feel I have no right since I’d just come back from deployment; they feel I have no right to make decisions for the dog.
I insist on taking it to the vet, paying for it, making the subsequent decisions myself. I show them the grave, argue with them that the dog needs to be dead, now. “I don’t care whose fought it was, or what crime of neglect, has been committed,” I say.
They agree to take him to the vet and hear what the doctor has to say. I load the silent Scruff into the SUV of another coworker who would go with me, SFC Cray. I am the youngest and the lowest rank and haven't reached crying yet. That’s right when I would pull the trigger, just as I was apologizing to the dog for there being so many civilians in the world compared to humans.
SFC Cray is one of those animal-lover types. She drives like a maniac. Her phone rings and she answers it. I look back at Scruff as if to say: It’s gonna be the both of us shifting to eternity.
At the emergency hospital as soon as someone new touches him he yelps in pain. The vet checks him out, tells us what was wrong. “Scruff has gone septic several days ago,” she says. “… Meaning his stomach and intestines have burst inside him.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” SFC Cray says on the late-night drive back to Butler. “Even if old wounds do heal hardened.”
Before I deployed she tried to get me to take the pup, but it was obvious he liked being wild on Butler's five thousand untouched acres. “Dogs have an unwritten code,” she said in her purposefully, always kind voice. “You show up honest, and you fall into your place, whether as the leader of the pack or not. When I had Scruff at my house, my yard was immediately his, my house was immediately his, he's his own wherever he goes, always calm and centered. I felt like he wouldn't really fit in with my four dogs who had formed a kind of family.”
In the euthanasia room she cried, tried to speak but teared up to the point her throat choked up. “He’s my rock,” she had said through tears into the phone, jokingly, to her husband.
“When you're dying you don't remember the bad things,” she says, turning into the lot where my Jeep is parked. “Otherwise dying wouldn't be so awful for the dying.”
“It’s clear that it is time to end it, there is nothing left to hope for,” I remember thinking that night into the mirror. I woke in bed, remembering the specifics of the shift, how I was in my bathroom, looking in the mirror. I know I need to get up and commit suicide. I fall asleep.
In some Mexican restaurant bathroom – my coworkers must be sitting somewhere outside this room. Heart palpitations: That's the fourth time I've noticed it. I’ve been taking sixteen pills an evening. My heart will beat wildly, not a strong thump thump thump but half-beats, thu thu thu thu..
Shifted to little-boy-me starts crying and bolts out of the House into the night, towards the field, her chasing me, bigger than me, faster than me. I understand music, now, even classical, all those staccato orchestral hits, expressing the past, present, and future waves colliding as the house pulses with volume. I understand humor, I’m glad I was humorless as long as I was. Humor is about throwing your hands up and laughing – giving up. I get to be that little kid for the rest of my life. His perception is my perception, each perception the same soul that is me.
The ghosts in the field wear clothes like something in another country … there are lots of them, even though only one speaks, the other laughs. The rest are outlines of people. One is a woman in a red bandana, looking on. They all rear up and I can see them in the light of the full moon as I shoot into the field. Once the multitude sees it is only Grace chasing me they melt back into outlines and on to empty air. The two men handle it, as the woman in the bandana watches on.
The woman in the red bandana never looks at me, never, no matter what reason I am shooting into the field for. She looks onward at the two bad men, at the edge of the field. She looks at Grace chasing me, trying to figure out where I shot off to. I stay crouched down in the field‘s green wheat, hiding, looking at the old woman in the bandana; the cloth of her faded blue skirt moving in the same night breeze against my skin.
One of the two slaves at the edge of the field hisses at Grace, their sounds cutting through moonlight like knives. “You GET away from this field,” he hisses in quick, low baritone. The other one laughs, his cackle drunken. She bolts away.
When I sing it’s a voice I’ve never heard before, a low base rumbling; it feels primal. I bet human beings learned to sing before they learned to speak, to moan and groan and hum before they articulated words with their lips and air and tongue.