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Suicide And Keg Stands
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Suicide And Keg Stands

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I spent the first two years telling people where I'm from and what I'm majoring in. I spent the last two years telling people that I have no idea what I'm going to do after college. I'm sick of people …

I spent the first two years telling people where I'm from and what I'm majoring in. I spent the last two years telling people that I have no idea what I'm going to do after college. I'm sick of people asking. I'm going to sell out and get a job that I don't like. Just like every one else. For all our hopes and dreams, for all the talk about changing the world, for all the promise we show, most of us will end up sitting behind a desk in a shitty cubical. Life ends at graduation.

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  • 1. Suicide and Keg Stands A novella by Ben Corman http://bencorman.com bencorman@gmail.com
  • 2. Chapter 1 When Lynn walked into the bar, her eyes were rimmed red and she sort of slumped onto the stool next to me. The bartender was leaning back in his chair reading the paper and he looked up so I held up a finger for one more. “Jason killed himself.” She said in a voice that didn’t want to say it. I considered that for a moment because I didn’t have anything to say. It sat between us while the bartender brought her a beer. “Who?” “This guy,” she said. “Oh.” “We were sleeping together. It wasn’t anything.” “Right.” “He hung himself.” She paused. “In his bedroom.” I paused taking a sip of my beer. I tried to catch the bartender’s eye, hoping he’d interrupt us again but he had unfolded the paper and was reading again, ignoring us. The silence stretched out and I dragged my fingernails down the side of the pint glass, looking for purchase. I was starting to panic a little. Not because death is a tragedy -- I’m still up in the air on that -- but because I didn’t know Jason, and I didn’t give a damn about his problems. Lynn was someone who understood the need for distance. That’s why we worked as friends. She had this effortless beauty that drives guys wild. She’s half-Asian with long black hair that hung down to the middle of her back. And these deep brown eyes that hint at a sadness just below the surface. Everyone got caught up in that sadness. “You’ve never tried to sleep with me,” she said to me about a year after we’d met. The night before this guy Lynn had been seeing had found out that he wasn’t the only one in her rotation through the week and had reacted badly. Drunk and screaming, he put a half-full wine bottle through the sliding glass door of her apartment. When the cops showed up he was still standing there, crying his eyes out. From what I heard, they didn’t have to put cuffs on him. That’s how defeated he was. They just walked him to the car and sat him in the backseat. That kind of thing will make you take stock of your life. 2
  • 3. “Should I?” I asked. “Most guys do.” “How do you know I’m not?” I teased her. “Most guys right now would be freaking out, threatening to ‘kick that dude’s ass.’ Trying to show me how big and tough they are. You’re just sitting here, drinking a beer with me. You’re not trying to tell me how I should feel.” “And that’s about sex?” “It’s about control. They want me to coo and bat my eyes and be all impressed that they’re willing to commit felony assault for me. They want me to fit into some fantasy of they’ve got in their head. They don’t care that it’s not who I am, it’s who they want me to be.” “I’ll try to be more controlling in the future.” “Shut up,” she said with a laugh. “Just don’t change on me.” It was easy not trying to change her. That sadness in her eyes was a con. An accident of genetics. She was no more looking to be saved than I was and we both knew it. So it made no sense that she came to me and not someone else. There was a line of guys who couldn’t wait to play white knight. “How do you hang yourself in a bedroom?” she said after the moment had stretched on for an uncomfortable length of time. I didn’t want to tell her that it’s easy. Loop some rope or a belt or even a tie to a doorknob. Then get down on your knees. Loop the rope around your neck and lean forward. With your feet between your butt and the door, and leaning at the right angle, you can hang yourself surprisingly fast. I didn’t want to tell Lynn that if he’s smart enough to be in college, he’s smart enough to hang himself in a bedroom. “I can understand pills, or a gun or a car ‘accident,’” she said, the quotes evident in her voice. “But hanging? Where do you tie the rope?” I didn’t want to ask her if it was really a suicide. If he was a freak in bed. Did he like belts? Being choked? She’d know but there was no good way of raising the subject. A few years ago in Japan there was a rash of accidental deaths. Kids figured out that if they cut off their air supply during masturbation, if they could time their orgasm with the black edges of their consciousness that they’d cum harder than they ever had before. This can be 3
  • 4. affectionately called ‘risk behavior.’ Muscles in full spasm, dick pumping onto the carpet, eyes rolling around in their sockets, not all of those kids were able to get free before they blacked out. And once they were limp against that rope, their brain starved for oxygen, they simply expired. Imagine the horror of Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka finding their son like that. For those years the suicide statistics among Japanese teenagers spiked. Accidental death sounds better than suicide until you have to explain the accident. Parents had the unhappy task of cleaning up their sons and redressing them so that autoerotic asphyxiation wouldn’t wind up on the death certificate. It was a bitter thing to have to deal with. Especially in a culture as concerned with family honor as Japan. Her friend was dead and I was thinking about the Japanese predilection to choke themselves during masturbation. “There’s a memorial tonight,” she said, looking away from me. The bartender sat reading the paper and the rest of the bar was empty. It was early on a Friday afternoon. “Would you come with me?” She finished. Her voice was shaking a little and those brown eyes found mine. There are moments in life when things can go one way or the other. These moments, you don’t recognize except in hindsight. They just happen and by the time you’ve realized it, it’s too late to change anything. I should have told her no. I should have paid my tab and walked out. I had a friend who’d killed herself. Put a gun in her mouth and blew the back of her head all over an imported, hand woven, 18th century rug from India. Ruined a piano, one of those baby grand affairs. There’s no way to get blood out of imported teak coffee tables or lampshades. Whatever artwork is hanging on the walls is getting thrown out and the walls have to be stripped and repainted. They had to bring in a someone to clean up the blood, it’s not the type of thing you can scrub up with bleach. I didn’t go to her memorial service or to her funeral. Everyone told me how tragic it was but I didn’t feel anything for a long time. I didn’t know if giving up was really a tragedy. It’s not something I talk about. I didn’t go then and I should have said no now, but I didn’t. There’s something about a girl in distress and god help me I must be sick but there’s nothing sexier than a girl who needs my help. Maybe I’ve never gotten past the taste of failure in the back of my throat. “Yeah,” I said after a moment. 4
  • 5. Chapter 2 I met Sarah a week before classes started my freshman year. Freshmen registration was still done through the academic counseling staff because while we were smart enough to get into college, god forbid we register for classes without help. Thousands of us were standing around the gym, pouring over catalogues to see what was offered and checking that against printouts to see what was still open. Then it was standing in line to actually register once your schedule was filled out. The lines stretched on for hours. “Fuck this,” I heard from behind me, and when I turned around I found a shock of curly red hair looking at a printout. “No luck?” “This is bullshit.” She looked up from the paper. A crooked smile worked its way onto her face as her green eyes met mine. “How ‘bout you? Find anything good?” “I’m just taking what they told me to take.” “Just following orders, huh?” “The road to the American dream is paved with good intentions.” I told her. I thought it was an incredibly clever thing to say. We looked at all the people around us hunched over their catalogues, scribbling notes in the margins. We grinned at each other, momentarily separated from all the noise in the gym. When she smiled I couldn’t see anything but those green eyes and the freckles that ran across the bridge of her nose. “Let’s go somewhere,” she said. “Where?” “Who cares, lets’ have an adventure.” I looked past her at the line. I’d already been there for an hour hoping to get registered. She was looking at me and biting the inside of her mouth, expectantly, like she was asking me who I was. After a moment I shrugged and stepped out of line. Her whole face lit up with a smile and we both practically ran to her car. We drove all afternoon, hitting the highway and heading west across the desert, singing along to every CD she had. Soon though we drove in silence. It was the first time I’d seen the Pacific. It was cooler here by the water and gone was the flat desert. Instead I took in the gently 5
  • 6. rolling hills that were covered in brown grass, making them look fuzzy and soft. Here and there was a spot of green, a lone twisted tree or low bush. As it started to get dark Sarah pulled off the highway. She was yawning and shaking her head to stay awake. “Your turn to drive.” “Where are we going?” I asked. “North,” she shrugged, “and west.” From the way she said it, I knew she’d be disappointed if I had to ask anything else. It was a little after midnight when we pulled off the highway and into a town of about four thousand. “Let’s get some beers,” she said and pointed at a gas station up ahead. I pulled in and started to say something when she cut me off. “Stay here. I’ve got my sister’s ID.” I watched her through the window. The kid working the register wasn’t much older than us, and I could see that he didn’t want to sell it to her. But the way she smiled at him and ran a hand through her hair he couldn’t help but cave and a moment later she came out with a six-pack. We checked into the first motel we saw, ringing the bell at the front desk until an old guy with sleep lines on the side of his face came out of the office. After we got our keys we drove out to the beach. We walked down the beach for a while with our shoes off sharing a beer. We came to a short wooden dock and walked to the end. We both sat looking at the moon reflect off the ocean, our feet hanging off the side. “What are we doing?” she asked me. “Drinking beer?” “No. I mean, do you even want to go to college?” “Sure. It’s either college or working with my dad.” “What’s he do?” “Electrician. It’s not bad. I worked with him in high school, but he was really happy when I got into a college. He never went so it’s a thing with him.” “What do you want to do after college?” “That’s like years from now.” I laughed. “I’ll figure it out then. Why, what do you want to do?” “I don’t know. Everyone in my family went to college, and they all had a plan right from the moment they got there. But, it’s like, their plans weren’t really worth a damn in the end 6
  • 7. because they’re all miserable. I haven’t even registered yet and my parents are already asking me ‘so Sarah, what’s your plan?’ And all I can think to say is, ‘I don’t want to end up like you.’” “You don’t have to grow up to be your parents.” “We all grow up to be our parents.” After a moment she stood up and stripped off her shirt and jeans. “Come on. Let’s have some fun,” she said and dove into the water. I pulled off my clothes and followed her. When we got back to the motel we were wet and cold and Sarah fell into the bed and pulled me down next to her. Our first kiss made us giggle. Soon our clothes were a wet pile on the floor and we were naked next to each other. We made love in that awkward way that happens at eighteen but it didn’t matter because the beer and the adventure of it made us brave. When we finished she lay with her head on my chest and I could smell the ocean in her hair. I think we fell asleep like that. Sarah dropped me off at my dorm the day before classes started. We kissed over the center console and she wrote her room number on my hand. “You going to miss me?” she asked. “Nope.” “Good.” “But you’re going to miss me.” “You think? “Yeah.” “Cause you’re wrong.” “Dinner later? We can have our first real date in the dining hall.” “Oh, you’re such a romantic,” she said and we kissed again before I got out the car. I unlocked the door to my room. My roommate was watching TV. His side was unpacked and everything was neatly put away. My stuff was still in boxes, my unmade bed made my side of the room look lonely and uninviting. “Hey, I’m Ryan,” he said, standing up to shake my hand. “I didn’t think you were coming back.” “I ended up taking a road trip. It kind of just happened.” “Cool, so you know people here?” 7
  • 8. “No, not really. I just met this girl at registration and we ended up taking off.” “Holy shit,” he said, then as if I was playing a joke on him, “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “That’s nuts.” “I know. I’m sort of in shock.” “What’s your major?” “Undeclared. You?” “History and Political Science. With maybe a minor in business.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” He grinned at me. “It’s, like, the first day.” “It never hurts to have a plan. I’ve got one class in each this quarter plus an English class. I’m hoping to get the pre-reqs done quick. What about you?” “I haven’t even registered yet.” “Classes start tomorrow.” “Yeah.” “So what are you going to do?” “I guess I’ll figure it out tomorrow.” I started unpacking my side of the room. Ryan helped me, pulling open boxes and handing things to me. He was a nice kid, one of those overenthusiastic guys who’d map out their week while you were still trying to figure out breakfast. Good-natured, but terrified now that we were in college. He’d already started reading for his classes, highlighting and taking notes in the margins. “You haven’t even seen the class schedule yet,” I told him. “How hard can these classes be?” “I don’t know, but they said at the orientation that one-third of college students either drop out or fail out.” “No kidding.” “Didn’t you go to orientation?” “I missed my flight so I just skipped the first day.” “I still have my guidebook if you want to look at it.” 8
  • 9. “Uhh, thanks.” I figured that we’d live together for a quarter or two before going our separate ways and by the time I graduated, I’d have a hard time remembering his name. I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that I’d still be living with him in five years. 9
  • 10. Chapter 3 “Let’s get out of here.” I said as the bar filled up people we knew. They wanted to know what was going on for the night, if we knew about any parties or if we staying at the bar. Lynn was white knuckling her glass and not saying anything and I was having a hard time deflecting people from trying to say hi or give her a hug. She nodded and followed me out. We walked back to her place, neither of us saying much. I could see tears in her eyes and I felt a little sick with anticipation. I’m not good at serious occasions. I get nervous and run my mouth. Even on the walk back my attempts at humor fell flat. I kept trying to fill up the silence with a joke. When we got to her place we broke into a bottle of wine just to have something to do and when that was gone we broke into a bottle of Southern Comfort. By the time the taxi came to pick us up I was having a hard time standing and she so drunk that her eyes were crossing. The cab driver told bad jokes in broken English that made us both laugh hysterically. We were still laughing when we got there and that took some of the sting out of pulling up to a memorial service in a cab. Lynn was in jeans and a t-shirt and I was wearing shorts. We staggered past everyone in their suits and dresses and fell into a couple of chairs against the wall. For the next hour I watched with double vision as people came up to Lynn and told her how sorry they were for her loss. “I thought you were just sleeping with him?” I tried to keep my slurred voice to a whisper. “I was,” she stopped. “We dated sophomore year but that was, you know, over.” The crowd was thinning out, people starting to drift back to their lives when a lady cornered me. “Did you go to school with Jason?” she asked. I nodded hoping she’d go away. “It’s such a tragedy. He was such a good boy, with a bright future. He was seeing this lovely girl, they talked about getting married. Did you know he had an internship? It was very prestigious. Such a tragedy.” She murmured, not even really speaking to me. Something in the way she said it cut through the liquor and snapped her face into focus. Maybe it was because he was fucking Lynn on the side. Maybe it was because I knew his prestigious internship was bullshit. We all had the same internships, we all had the same futures. Jason was suddenly a 10
  • 11. bright and shining star because he decided to check out, not because of the way he had lived. “I don’t know a lot about tragedy. Just about waste.” I didn’t mean to say it. It slipped out but I knew from the horrified expression on her face and the way she waddled away from me that she had known exactly what I was thinking. A minute later a guy stormed over to us and pulled Lynn out of her conversation. “I think you and your friend had better leave,” he said in a whisper that cut through every conversation in the room. He was puffed up with self-righteous anger. “Get your hand off of me.” Lynn pulled away from him. “I never liked you. You were always … cheap.” “The fuck you say to her?” I said stepping in front of Lynn. Too late I realized that was exactly what he wanted. I didn’t even see the punch coming. We stood outside waiting for the cab to take us back and neither of us felt much like laughing. 11
  • 12. Chapter 4 I opened my eye to see Lynn standing in the doorway holding a glass of water. “How are you feeling?” she asked and sat down on the bed next to me. Even now, with her hair messy from sleep and wearing a bathrobe, she looked composed. It was the way she swept into the room, full of confidence. I could feel that my left eye was swollen shut. I hadn’t been in a fight since high school but I still knew what it felt to wake up with a black eye. I took a sip of the water. My head was pounding. “You?” I asked. She looked like she might cry. Maybe she had been crying. “Breakfast?” “Shower?” “End of the hall.” She stood and left. It was only after I stood up out of bed that I realized I had been naked under the blanket. That’s when I saw our clothes on the floor. The empty vodka bottle by the foot of the bed. The condom wrapper on the nightstand. Standing was making the room shake and sway. I got halfway down the hallway and put my hand out to steady myself. Everything tilted at forty-five degrees and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to throw up on her carpet. My head throbbed and I turned the shower to the coldest water I could stomach. I got out of the shower and redressed in last night’s clothes. Lynn was on the couch, sipping from a cup she was holding with both hands. Her knees tucked underneath her. “Hey,” I said. “Hey yourself.” “How are you doing?” “Bloody Mary?” she asked holding the cup out to me. “Sure,” I said. “Don’t get up.” I walked into the kitchen and stood dumbfounded. She didn’t have Bloody Mary mix like any normal college student. There was a bottle of vodka and a can of tomato juice. There was celery on a cutting board and next to it all the jars that I guessed you needed to make a Bloody Mary. “Thanks for going with me last night,” she said as she pushed past me to the cutting board. She began to cut and chop things while I stood there useless. 12
  • 13. “I’m sorry about Jason’s brother.” She gestured towards my eye. “We never got along.” She handed me a glass rimmed with celery salt and kissed me. “Besides the eye makes you look tough.” She said it with a little smile. I followed her out to the living room and we curled into each other on the couch. The first sip made my eyes water. It was spicy to the point I couldn’t taste the vodka but after a moment everything got a little brighter and I didn’t feel as sick. Half a glass later we were giggling again and by the time I finished my drink she had passed out again. I woke up a while later. She was warm against me and it felt good like that. She still smelled vaguely of vanilla perfume. I untangled myself from her and slipped out the front door. 13
  • 14. Chapter 5 I was sitting on the couch with a washcloth full of ice against my eye, working on my third or fourth beer. My headache was gone and my stomach had settled. For everything that had happened I was feeling giddy. “I heard you went home with that half-Asian chick from the bar,” Ryan said as he came into the apartment. “You just getting in from the bar?” “I had work this morning. You look like shit,” he said as he saw me. “It’s Saturday.” “Yeah, well the managing partner didn’t fucking care. Called me at seven and told me to come in. He was already at the office when he called me. What kind of life is that?” “The one you’re living?” “Thanks asshole.” He pulled his tie off and tossed it on the table as he walked into the kitchen. “Let me get one of those beers?” he said pointing at the mini fridge next to me. “Sure.” “So the Asian, she have a boyfriend? What happened to your eye?” “Her name is Lynn.” “What?” “Her name is Lynn.” “You go home with her?” “We just went to dinner.” “So what happened to your eye?” I looked over at him. He looked tired. “Seven o’clock, huh?” “The thing is, half of what I do is a waste of time and the other half gets stuck in a report that no one will read.” He paused. “Bar tonight?” “Sure.” 14
  • 15. Chapter 6 “Let’s go,” Sarah said. “We just got here.” “Are you having fun?” “Not really. Are you?” “It’s hot and it’s loud and someone just grabbed my ass.” “You want to go back to the dorm?” “What about Ryan?” “He’s at the library.” “It’s a Friday night. Doesn’t he ever go out?” “He’s a machine.” “Let’s go to the beach,” she said. My red cup was half full of beer. I dropped the nozzle back onto the keg and handed the cup to the guy behind me in line. We’d been there forty minutes, standing in line for the keg while the house filled and contracted around us, packing more and more people into a dimly lit basement. “We survived our first frat party,” I said once we were in the car, fresh air blowing in my face. “So are you, totally, like, going to rush?” “Oh totally. That’s how I want to spend every Thursday night.” “Surrounded by blondes dressed in bras and bad taste?” “Pressed from all sides by sweaty guys with their shirts off.” “Spending all night asking ‘What’s your major? Where are you from?’” “Spring break.” “Go local sports team.” I took the highway west and rode it all night before turning north. Hours later we threw a blanket down on the beach and rolled up our sweatshirts to use as pillows. The sun rose behind us but it was still pretty to watch it break over the water. A while later a cop in a dune buggy woke us up and told us we couldn’t sleep there. 15
  • 16. There was nothing much to do. We checked into a hostel and made up stories about ourselves. We were writing a book about McDonald’s and we were driving around the country so we could say that we’d eaten at every one of them. Or we’d just come from the East Coast and wanted to see if the Pacific tasted as salty as the Atlantic. We told strangers that we’d run away to join the circus but that we couldn’t find one we liked as we sat drinking beer at a taco stand on the beach that didn’t card. No one believed a word we said but it didn’t matter. It was our joke on the world. That night we took off our shoes and walked on the beach until we got to the lighthouse. We sat and dug our feet into the damp sand. We held hands when we walked and she’d squeeze my fingers when I made her laugh. The next day we drove further north to where the beaches disappeared and became sea cliffs. We pulled the car over and stood on the shoulder high above the ocean. Sunday we were sitting on the lifeguard’s stand, the beach empty before us. It was threatening rain and everyone had packed up and left. The last of the sun sat below the clouds, burning the tops of the waves. “Why so quiet?” “Let’s stay,” she said. “Here?” I asked, surprised. “Why not?” “I don’t want to miss class this close to midterms.” “Ok, Ryan.” “I’m not that bad.” “So let’s stay.” “If I fail those midterms, they’ll kick me out of school.” “It could be the best thing that happens to you.” “How’s that??” “We could get on with our lives, really start living. Imagine if we were free of all these bullshit hoops we’re jumping through all the time.” “What would we do?” “We could do anything, go anywhere we wanted.” By then the sun had slipped into the ocean. “Come on.” I said. “One more swim before 16
  • 17. we go.” I jumped off the stand and pulled my sweatshirt off while running down the beach. A moment later Sarah followed, both of us splashing into the water, our clothes thrown all down the beach. 17
  • 18. Chapter 7 The bar wasn’t crowded when Ryan and I got there. I slunk in wearing sunglasses hoping people would just assume that I was high or drunk or trying to be cool. I didn’t want to spend the whole night lying about my eye. I figured I could always go over John’s if it was unbearable. Everyone ended up stopping by his place on Saturday nights anyway and Lynn was usually at the bar or there. I had though about calling her but I didn’t want it to be weird. I figured it would be more casual if we just sort of ran into each other. I didn’t want her to think that I was taking last night as anything more than it was. I managed to find a seat towards the back. John wandered over after a few minutes with a pitcher and a couple of glasses. “Nice sunglasses, Bono.” “I’m starting a look.” “Is that the coke-head alcoholic look or the ‘I got my face punched in’ look?” He said but I wasn’t really paying attention. Marie had looked over at us and smiled. I pretended I didn’t see her. “I thought you were having a thing tonight? I was going to stop by.” “My apartment is quarantined.” “Really?” “A guy on the first floor dropped dead. The smell is horrible.” “Shit.” “Yeah.” “What are you doing after graduation?” I asked after a moment. “Street urchin.” “Like a pickpocket?” “God willing. You?” “I don’t know.” “Didn’t you have that internship?” “I quit.” “Why?” “I just couldn’t do it. I sat in this cubical under these neon lights checking textbook 18
  • 19. manuscripts for typos. The work was awful, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t that. The people who worked there … There was this lady, Betty in HR. She was in charge of office supplies. Every day she’d send these little passive-aggressive emails about ‘appropriate copier use.’ Things like the cost of copying each page or how much printing had been done the day before. Reminders we shouldn’t take the pens home with us or that staples weren’t free. Every day was another annoying email or memo. Plus she’d make up these yellow and pink signs about being responsible and hang them above the copier. It was like her job was to suck the life right out of that place. It got to the point where I just wanted to start throwing office supplies out the window onto the street. Just to see if she’d have an aneurism. “I think I could have dealt with the whole thing if my boss would have just had a spine and told her to fuck off and worry about something that mattered. But he wouldn’t. He was just as big a moron as she was but in his own way. She was always bugging him to assign the office copy codes and since he wouldn’t stand up to her he’d just give her some bullshit line about looking into it. Week after week they’d do this little dance and while the rest of us are at home carving Betty’s name onto the tips of our hollow points.” “So what? Betty’s insane. At least it was a job.” “I had to drop my timesheet of at her desk because I’d forgotten to email it on time. I went when I knew she’d be at lunch so I wouldn’t have to talk to her. In her cubical, right over her monitor was little sign that said ‘I can only please one person per day. Today isn’t your day … and tomorrow’s not looking good either.’ At first I kind of chuckled because it’s funny. But then I started to think about it. No one sees this quote except for her. It’s not like anyone comes by her cube when they need something. They just send an email. And it’s not like she can realistically say no to anything. She has no discretion. She either handles requests or passes them up to her boss. So I’m standing there looking around her cube and she’s got these postcards of London and Paris and Venice pinned up but they’re blank. They weren’t sent to her, she just bought them and hung them up. I felt so bad for her, no pictures of friends of family. No pictures of her on vacation. Just her little slogan and pictures of these places that she’s never actually been to. I didn’t want to end up being her. Surrounded by these little reminders of all the things I’d failed to do. So I quit.” I said as Georgia walked over and sat down at the table. She was holding another pitcher of beer. “This is what I like about you. You’re like a beer delivery service.” John said. 19
  • 20. “What are you doing here?” Georgia asked him. “My apartment is quarantined. Chemical spill.” I looked at John but he just shrugged. “Really?” “Sure.” “What are you two talking about?” “Graduation.” “Big plans?” she asked. “John’s going to be a hobo,” I said. “Street urchin.” “You’d do better with trains.” “What about you?” he asked her. “I don’t know. The more people talk about it, the less I know what I’m going to do.” “What happened to your eye?” she asked. “He’s starting a look.” “A look?” She asked then saw Marie. “I can’t stand her. I heard she’s sleeping with her TAs just to pass this quarter.” I had heard the same thing. Marie was almost legendary in her excesses, coming to college for the boys and booze and easy access to drugs. “God bless her,” John said. “Shut up John. She should have been kicked out years ago,” Georgia said cutting herself off as Marie made her way to our table. Marie slid onto John’s lap giving him a kiss on the cheek. Georgia gave us a tight smile that didn’t touch her eyes and walked away. “Nice sunglasses,” she said and John grinned. “Was she worth it?” “Didn’t you two used to date? I should leave you alone,” I said. “Me and this one here? We’ve dated for a night or two. But Johnny here’s all love struck and has no time for me,” she said with mock sadness. John blushed and pushed away from the table, a little unsteadily. She sat in his seat. “What about you?” “What about me?” I asked. “You love struck too?” I looked over her head. The bar was filling up with people. This early it was a mix of the late afternoon crowd who were downtown for the weekend and those of us in college who were getting an early start on the night. Friday nights were worse when the 20
  • 21. working crowd came in to hit on the sorority girls and bang away at the happy hour specials. Later it filled up with mostly college kids. There was probably some kind of music at the union tonight so the indy kids in their tight shirts wouldn’t be in until late, already trashed off of cheap vodka they’d snuck into the show. I hadn’t seen any fliers for frat parties so the frat guys might start filtering in soon. Lynn hadn’t come in and I didn’t see any of her friends. Maybe she had gone to a house party instead. I didn’t know if she had been sleeping with anyone besides Jason. It was possible, probable even. Maybe she had decided to stay in tonight. I didn’t want to think about it. “You know I only got eyes for you, Marie.” “You’re trouble,” she said with a smile. 21
  • 22. Chapter 8 Sunday morning I woke up to my phone ringing. “Can you come over?” Lynn asked. “I don’t want to be alone here.” Her voice was small on the phone. She was lying on the couch when I came in. She patted the space in front of her and I sat down. “You alright?” “I’ve been better.” “You didn’t come out last night.” “I didn’t feel like seeing anyone. Then, I don’t know, this morning I couldn’t stand being alone.” “Want to get breakfast?” “Let’s just lie here for a moment,” she said. I kicked off my shoes and slid onto the couch with her. When we woke up Lynn made mimosas. It was ten in the morning and I didn’t feel like drinking but I wasn’t going to say no. We finally left for lunch at one or so, and I was feeling tipsy. “Who do you have to fist-fuck to get a waitress around here?” she said, more to herself than to me, the moment we sat down. When the waitress came over Lynn ordered double whiskey cokes for the both of us with a whiskey shot on the side. She must have seen the shock on my face. “Don’t even try and tell me you’re not going to drink with me.” “I just don’t think I’ve ever seen you combatively drink on this level before.” “Gotta fake it to make it.” “I think that’s what they say when they’re trying to sober up.” “Don’t be a pussy,” she said and that pretty much settled it. We moved from lunch to McMurphy’s, a faux Irish bar that everyone raved about. Lynn ordered round after round of car bombs until she smashed a glass on the floor and the bartender cut us off. 22
  • 23. “You better get her out of here before I throw you both out.” He said when I tried to tell him that it was a mistake. He’d seen Lynn throw the glass down though. “Yeah. Just let me use the bathroom.” I told him and proceeded to throw up all over the sink. “Come on. We gotta go,” I told Lynn as I led her out on unstable feet. When we got back to her place I tried to put her to bed but she pulled me down next to her and rested her head on my chest. Then she burst into tears. “I don’t know if I can do this.” she said. “You can, it just takes time.” “I miss him,” she said. “It’s like something was torn out of me.” “I know, but it gets easier.” “It does?” “Maybe you just get used to it.” “I don’t know if I want to get used to feeling this way,” she said. I don’t know that we get a choice, I thought but didn’t say. That night I woke up and Lynn was crying next to me. Silent sobs that shook her body as it curled in upon itself. I tried to think of something to say but before I could she got up and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door softly behind her. I lay helpless in that bed, the sheets sweaty under me. Eventually she came out and lay down next to me. I put my arm over her and she pulled me close. I could feel her breathing grow even and soon she was asleep. I was awake for a long time. In the morning sunlight coming through the window we both looked worn out. Finally and without enthusiasm she got up and showered. I found her sitting on the couch. The TV was off. Her brown eyes were red and puffy and she looked broken, defeated. She was picking at a thread in the cushion she was sitting on. “What are you doing?” “I don’t know,” she said. I didn’t have much to do for the day and I didn’t want to leave her sitting on the couch looking like she did. 23
  • 24. “You want breakfast?” “I don’t know if I want to run into anyone,” she said. “There’s this place out in the desert we could go to. I’ve never eaten there but it looks interesting.” “What are you talking about?” “Come on. It’ll be fun.” We drove out of town into the desert to a little place I’d been past before. It was a gas station and restaurant that was fifty miles from anything. It was a wind-blasted building with peeling paint and pumps so old we both stood dumbfounded looking at them. Finally the waitress came out and flipped levers down and pressed buttons. Then she hit the thing on its side until it came on with a bang and a noticeable shudder. “You two wanna eat?” she asked once the gas was pumping. “Sure.” “Lemme get Earl up. He’ll cook. I’m Emma.” “Emma and Earl?” I asked. “No jokes about our names or I’ll poison your food,” she said and disappeared into the back behind the restaurant. We went in and stood looking at the jukebox and I knelt down and plugged it in. We dumped our change onto a table and ran up a bunch of songs. “I was watching the TV,” Emma said when she came back in. I grabbed Lynn and spun her and we danced around the tables back to our booth. “You two are crazy,” Emma said with a smile and flipped off the TV. She took our orders then sat at the counter, waiting for Earl. “Why are you out in the middle of nowhere?” I asked. “Whaddya mean?” she asked. “There’s nothing else out here.” “There used to be. Used to be a crafts market here when we opened up. Indians would sell that or produce. Turns out people needed gas more’n they needed that other stuff.” After we ate we asked Emma if there was anything to do here and she said eat, get gas and walk, so we left the car in the parking lot and walked out into the desert. It was flat except for tall sandstone pillars and we found one that had eroded sides and scrambled to the top. The 24
  • 25. desert stretched away from us and we sat at the top, the rocks warm in the afternoon sun. “I think it’s my fault,” she said. “It’s not your fault.” “I know. But it doesn’t stop me from thinking it. How could I have not known? I should have seen it in him.” “You don’t even know why he did it.” “It doesn’t matter. I should have known.” “His fiancé didn’t know.” “He wasn’t engaged.” “That’s what the old lady at the memorial service said. But she was old so she’s probably dead by now anyway.” “That’s horrible,” she said with a laugh. “She probably just broke her hip. The memorial wasn’t that long ago.” “Well, if the hip thing didn’t kill her, I’m going to run her down.” “Not in my car. There’s no way my insurance will cover the body work.” The sun had begun to set. It burned a deep gold across the clouds and Lynn was not much more than a silhouette. When I looked at her, her hair burned red and curly and I blinked my eyes until they cleared. The gold faded into blue then to black in the east. When we got back to the diner, it was closed for the night. Emma had left a note under our windshield wiper that there was two cups of coffee sitting on a table next to the door if we were interested. We watched the stars come out and the moon come up and even as it grew cooler we stood sipping the coffee and warming our hands on the cups, not wanting to get back into the car. “Let’s go somewhere,” I said to Lynn. “Where?” “Who cares, let’s have an adventure.” She looked at me for a moment and I could see that she was trying to make up her mind, that it could go one way or the other. “Yeah,” she said after a moment. A slight grin on her face. I drove all night. It was the first time I’d been back to the coast in years but it was all still 25
  • 26. familiar, nothing had changed. I hit the place on the highway where I used to turn north and my hands shook a little and my mouth dried up. I felt sick to my stomach at the memory and kept the car headed west. Lynn slept for a while and when she woke up we were rolling through small coastal towns. “Where are we?” she asked with a yawn. “There’s a motel up here that’s pretty cheap but it’s nice. At least it used to be here.” I said. I hoped I had the right town. It was just about dawn by the time I found it. Once we checked in we were asleep almost immediately. “How’d you know about this place?” She asked. “I used to come out here freshman year.” “Really?” “Yeah, almost every weekend.” “To this motel.” “All over the coast. There’s a bed and breakfast called the Seaside further north that I used to stay at but …” I trailed off for a moment “… it’s kind of a far drive.” I finished lamely. I didn’t know if she could hear the tremor in my voice. It was too cold to swim and mornings on the beach were bright but cool. That didn’t stop us from walking along the water for an hour or so. I found a café I remembered. They’d added an outside patio and we sat out there in heavy sweatshirts we’d bought. Everyone else clustered inside and we were alone for the most part. Lynn read the paper aloud, looking for the funny or weird. She’d read the headlines, then pause and look up to see if I was interested. In the afternoons we would walk in the hills behind the town. Lynn’s mom worked in a greenhouse and Lynn pointed out plants she knew as we walked. Every once in a while she’d bend down and pluck something up, telling me it was eatable. “What’s the matter?” she’d ask grinning as I held something green or brown in my hand. I’d look at her sideways for a moment. “You want me to eat this?” “You don’t trust me?” Her grin would grow into a smile. “What if it kills me?” I’d say. “Maybe that’s why you brought me out here.” “You brought me out here.” 26
  • 27. “You tricked me into it.” I’d say and she’d laugh. I took distrustful bites of this or that while she watched until she too ate whatever she held. We spent the days like that. We’d picked up a nature map at the motel and we would drive off to see a meadow or waterfall or whatever looked interesting. She’d scroll through the radio stations looking for something to listen to and when she couldn’t find anything, she’d stop on the crazy preachers. By Friday her laughter had begun to falter. When I got out of the shower she was sitting on the bed and I could tell she’d been crying. We went to breakfast and sat drinking coffee but when she didn’t bother with the paper, I knew it was time to go. 27
  • 28. Chapter 9 We spent a lot of time just talking. One night we went to the drive-in for the midnight show. Soon though we were leaning against our doors looking across the car at each other and ignoring the movie. Kids around us shouted or made out or threw popcorn between the cars. We put the windows up and turned the radio down and shut out the outside world. It was an eager kind of talking and everything she said felt like it could have come out of my mouth. We spent the whole night excited and nodding and laughing. After the movie we drove around for a while, we had nowhere to go but that didn’t matter. We didn’t want the night to end. That kind of thing has lost its shine, but it felt good then. We would talk whole nights away, falling asleep as the sun came up. I know now we were trying to figure out who we were. All those thoughts, all those dreams and hopes and truths. They had always been there but hidden and never had the chance to really take shape. Childhood had shown us a lot. How our parents lived and how the world worked, but it hadn’t given us a sense of ourselves. All those things we’d been too embarrassed to say or maybe we didn’t have the words for, they needed to be taken out and shared with another person. We needed to hear how they sounded and once shared, how they came back to us. We were so excited to be on our own. Away from the lives we knew, we could finally see who we were without the preconceived notions and expectations that had always been there because of family and friends and all the other people who’d shaped us growing up. It was new and scary. Asking people who didn’t know you to accept you. With Sarah I felt safe. Even when the conversation turned serious. “You don’t talk about your family,” she said. “I don’t?” “Nope.” “What do you want to know?” “Well, what about your mom?” “She died of cancer when I was sixteen.” “I’m sorry.” “It’s alright. She was sick for a long time and in the end it was better. She was in a lot of pain.” 28
  • 29. “Do you remember her?” “I remember things. Like trips we took. Or how we used to have family game nights, just the three of us. It sounds kind of lame now but then it was fun.” “It doesn’t sound lame.” “There were a couple of hard years after she passed. My dad and I always got along but with her gone, you know, it was totally different. Like we didn’t really know how to act around each other anymore. Plus we were in a new house and I had changed schools when we moved.” “What did she do?” “I can’t remember. It’s that kind of stuff that I forget. She got sick when I was twelve and was pretty much home after that. I remember her always being there when I got home from school. She used to get really bored being in the house all day but the doctors wouldn’t let her work. They said it was too stressful. She wasn’t really one for housework but she loved to bake. I’d come home and find she’d made a cake or brownies. My favorites were always her cinnamon buns. She was always trying to send whatever she had made to school with me. She’d tell me to give it to my friends. I was always kind of embarrassed to show up at school with a tray of cookies but my friends loved it. And I think it might be why I passed algebra.” “She sounds great.” “The other thing she’d do is steal my books. Whatever I was reading in English or history she’d take so she’d have something to read during the day. I’d tell her to go to the library and get something interesting but she’d read whatever I was reading so we could talk about it. That’s the thing she missed most, being social. She couldn’t really go out because she’d get tired really fast. So she’d make me sit down after dinner and talk about Lord of the Flies or Huckleberry Finn or the civil war, whatever I was studying at school. My dad isn’t much of a reader so I’d have to have these discussions with her every night.” We sat for a while. “What about you? You don’t really talk about your family either,” I said. “You know everything there is to know.” “I don’t know anything.” “They’re miserable people with too much money who don’t love each other.” “That’s … I don’t know what that is. Is that true?” “It’s been like that forever. My parents are in Italy for a month. This is the sixth time in 29
  • 30. four years they’ve gone away to ‘save their marriage,’” She made the quotes in the air. “I don’t know what happened. You hear them talk about college and it seems like they really were in love then. Right out of school my dad started his own company and my mom stayed at home to raise my sister and me. At some point they just stopped liking each other and they always used us to get at each other.” “Wow.” “My older sister doesn’t talk to them. The minute she graduated college she moved to London with some friends. I still talk to her and she never even asks about them. My parents flew out to see her walk at graduation and she wasn’t there. She didn’t tell them that she wasn’t going to walk. The day before the ceremony she was already on a plane out of the country.” She didn’t look at me, instead looking down. Her curly red hair hiding her eyes but I could see her biting her lower lip. “Growing up I called my mom ‘mop.’ I didn’t want to say ‘Mom’ because we were always fighting, so I called her ‘mop.’ I still do it. She’s never noticed.” “What do you call your dad?” I asked “Nothing. He’s never around so I don’t really call him anything.” And it went like that. Sometimes serious, the things we didn’t share with anyone else and sometimes it was just us, sitting at a red light and making faces at each other trying not to laugh. We wouldn’t know the light had changed until people behind us honked. There was this twenty-four hour grocery store that we sometimes went to. They served ice cream and we’d buy ice-cream cones and sit on the mechanical merry-go-round out front eating them. One night I bought one of those big plastic rings, the kind that are cut to look like a huge diamond but they’re shot through with reds and blues. I got it for a quarter from the machine and got down on one knee and made a big production of it, trying not to laugh. She swatted at my head and shrieked and was embarrassed in front of the single checkout clerk and the homeless guy putting empty cans into a plastic bag. She never mentioned that night but for as long as we were together that ring hung from her rear-view mirror, next to her tassel from her high school graduation. It was the first thing my eyes would find whenever I got into her car. 30
  • 31. Chapter 10 We got back Friday afternoon and Lynn dropped me off at my place. She said she felt fine, she’d call me later if she was still awake. Ryan wasn’t there when I walked in. I flipped through the channels for a while and didn’t know what to do with myself. Georgia stopped by on her way to a house party I wasn’t really interested in. “Is your roommate seeing anyone?” “Have you two even met?” “I was talking to him at the bar last week.” “I don’t think he is.” “Have you talked to John recently?” “No. Why?” “He’s been all fucked up since he went home a last week. He’s all twitchy and weird, and I want to know why.” “You could ask him.” “Don’t be stupid. Anyway, you should come to this party.” “I don’t want to go to this party.” “It’s going to be fun.” “I don’t like fun.” “Shut up. I’m going to get out of here,” she said. I looked around my apartment. It seemed small, and the thought of sitting there watching TV made me nervous, like something bad was going to happen. “Alright. I’ll go.” “Really?” “You talked me into it.” The party sucked though. I didn’t know anyone and it was mostly freshmen. They crowded around the keg laughing at tired jokes that weren’t funny. I thought everyone was dressed as douchebags until one girl bounced up and brightly asked me what my costume was. “I’m dressed as a college student but really I’m narcotics officer. I’m not supposed to tell anyone that,” I said. “That doesn’t make any sense.” She said. 31
  • 32. “What are you talking about?” I asked her. “It’s an eighties costume party. You think we all dress like this normally?” she asked like I was the idiot. I found Georgia talking to a guy and told her I was going to take off. “This is Tim,” she screamed above the music. “Yeah, great. I’m going home. They’ve played ‘Safety Dance’ like three times and if hear it one more time, I’m going to beat my own face in.” “Hi. I’m Tim.” He leaned in to shake my hand. “Yeah. Congratulations,” I said, ignoring his hand. “Georgia. I’m leaving.” “Wait like half an hour and I’ll go with you.” “Fine, but don’t disappear.” When I checked the time on my phone I saw that I’d missed a call from Lynn. I called her back but there was no answer. I didn’t know if she was calling me to come over or just to say goodnight. I debating just going to her place but I didn’t want to be weird about things if that’s not why she was calling. Instead I wandered around the second floor of the house looking in medicine cabinets and through people’s movie collections. A guy and a girl, both drunk, crashed their way down the hall. I stuck my head out of a bathroom where I was stealing two Valium from a pill bottle. When he saw me he said “dude” and gave me a nod. I swallowed the valium with a handful of water. I couldn’t find Georgia so I left. 32
  • 33. Chapter 11 Saturday I dropped by Lynn’s with a bottle of wine, which she attacked with enthusiasm. We sat on her couch, not really talking but not really watching TV either. She was nervous and I didn’t know why. It was making me nervous and we both would start talking at the same time and then stop but instead of being able to laugh, it was awkward. “I’m going home for a couple of a couple days, maybe a week,” she said. “All I’ve done since we got back is drink and cry. I can’t stand to be here alone and when I’m out I get so fed up I want to scream or cry so I just come back here.” “If you think it will help.” “Don’t be like that.” “Like what?” “Like I’m putting your dog to sleep. I’ll be back.” “Don’t go. We’ll go somewhere. We’ll go back to the coast.” “My parents want me to talk to someone. They think it will help.” “There are someones here. Go to student counseling,” I said but she just looked frustrated with me. When the wine was finished I got up to go. I was mad at myself for wanting her to stay. I didn’t want her to think that I was taking this for anything more than it was. I wanted to get out of there, get some fresh air and figure out what I was feeling. She put her arms around my neck and kissed me goodbye at the door. She paused, looking into my eyes and searching my face. When she shut the door I realized that I should have kissed her back but it was already too late. I walked home and stood for a moment listening to the TV through the door. I hadn’t seen Ryan in a week and I didn’t want to have to explain where I’d been or that her goddamn name was Lynn. It was a Saturday night and the town was coming alive around me. One of the frats was hosting a battle of the bands and in an hour the streets would be choked with people heading out to get drunk on cheap beer and scream at their friends on stage. This early downtown would be packed with the wine and cheese crowd. Every other Saturday night local businesses stayed open late trying to attract the wage slaves who rushed home Friday at five to come back and blow their paychecks somewhere other than strip malls. Mostly it was thirty-somethings and their wives wandering around and reminiscing on their 33
  • 34. college days, pretending they were still young enough to party but fleeing downtown before ten when the bars filled up with twenty-two year-olds looking to get blasted. “Everybody is a goddamn moron,” I found myself thinking. It was pretty early but I figured there would be people at John’s. John’s was a weekly thing. Five bucks at the door, but that was more of a habit than a rule. There was nothing to keep people honest but for the most part, everyone paid. The money covered the alcohol but it meant we were subjected to whatever John decided to drink that week. Sometimes it was cheap wine, sometimes he bought bottles of liquor. Rarely did he have beer unless there was tequila. Mixers were hit or miss and sometimes if he was feeling lazy it was whatever was left from the previous week. It was a refuge for those burned out on frat parties. A break from the bar scene. A place to drink for five bucks, or less, if it had come to that. The dive of college parties. When I walked in Georgia and Tim were sitting on the couch drinking screwdrivers out of Disney juice glasses. “You two look fancy.” “Bar tonight,” Georgia said. “You wanna come?” “Probably not.” “Alright.” The three of us said nothing for an awkward moment. “So … how’s life?” I asked. “Seriously?” she said. “What?” “I don’t think in three years you’ve ever asked me how I was doing.” “Oh.” “The eye’s looking better,” Tim said. “It still hurts, Tim. But thanks for reminding me that I had my face beat in,” I said. “See, that’s the you I know,” Georgia said as I walked away. I walked into the kitchen and poured half a bottle of red wine into a plastic cup and sat, leaning my head against the wall. “Welcome back,” John said sliding into a chair across the table from me. “Thanks.” 34
  • 35. “You doing alright?” “I’m fine. What do you mean?” “Well -- ” He paused and I wondered if he was enjoying this. “You look like shit and you disappeared for a week.” “It’s nothing.” “She’s not coming out tonight?” “She’s going to her parent’s place and I’m not talking about this.” “I’m glad to see that you’re staying positive.” “Shut up.” “I told people you’d been kidnapped.” “Kidnapped?” “Russian Bratva, Chinese Triad. I don’t know, drugs, prostitution, maybe you like cutting up little kids and stuffing them in the trunk of your car.” “Thanks asshole.” “The point is, I’m not sure anyone else noticed that you and Lynn happened to disappear for the same week.” “I told you, I’m fine.” “Good. I’m fine too. Thanks for asking.” Tim and Georgia finished their screwdrivers and left the cups on the coffee table. They waved at us on their way out. “Are they together now?” “Who knows? I always thought Tim was gay.” “Is this stuff even safe to drink?” I asked, looking into my cup. “Why wouldn’t it be?” “Wasn’t this whole apartment quarantined?” “Asbestos is only dangerous if you breathe it.” “Asbestos?” “That had a cork in it right?” he asked. “But anyway, about Tim.” “Tim’s not gay, he’s a moron.” “You’re not that much fun to hang out with anymore,” John said, getting up to say hi to 35
  • 36. Jimmy and Marie who’d just come in. The night turned hazy and indistinct. I stared at an empty wine bottle that I thought I had just opened. Tim and Georgia came back from the bars early and sat together on the couch flirting with each other. “Is asbestos safe to drink?” I asked Jimmy and Marie when they sat down at the kitchen table. “What?” “Never mind. Want some wine?” I asked. From the couch Georgia was making faces at Marie behind her back. I laughed although I tried not to. “What’s so funny?” Marie asked. “Nothing,” I said shaking my head. Marie was looking at John. “You miss him?” “Not really.” “Even though he’s seeing someone else.” “He’s a weird guy. He’s like a mom. You know he’s trying to steer people away from coming over here to talk to you.” “What’s up with his family?” “Nothing. Why?” “I don’t know. Just the rumor mill.” “Yeah? It’s had some interesting stuff to say about you recently.” “That’s why we should talk about you.” It was well past four and the night had exhausted itself. John had long ago gone to bed with the object of his affection, and Marie and I stood on the balcony. She smoked a cigarette as I took a drink from the bottle of wine I was holding and passed it to her. She drank and gave it back. Those who weren’t slumped into uncomfortable positions in chairs or on the floor said their goodbyes and filed out into the moonless night. We watched them as they went their separate ways. Two people, their faces indistinct in the darkness, made out at the bottom of the stairs. The rough need of a one-night stand. Across the street a kid in a baseball cap wretched into a bush, his friends turned to laugh at him. Three girls, back from some party and painted in 36
  • 37. cocktail dresses, passed under a streetlight. They carried their shoes in their hands. Their singing was loud and out of tune. “This fucking town,” I said. “They’re just having fun.” “Fuck them.” “Look at you. All drunk on cheap wine,” she said deflating me. “Whatever. Yeah, you’re probably right.” “See, I’m good for you.” “Is that right?” “That’s right.” “And what if I’m not any good for you?” “You worry too much.” “Look, right there,” she said after a moment. There was excitement in her voice. “What?” “Those two, holding hands.” “So?” “It’s cute and it proves that not everything is all doom and gloom,” she grinned at me. I watched the two make their way up the hill together. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen two people hold hands. It seemed a very simply gesture. Marie turned to leave and when she asked me if I was coming, I wasn’t surprised to find myself following her. “I should warn you about my roommate.” Her hand rested on the doorknob. “It’s almost four in the morning, isn’t she asleep?” “She’ll be up.” Marie opened the door and every light in the apartment was on, as was the TV, but it was muted and the stereo was on low. An overly thin girl sat in her bra and underpants on the couch sipping a drink. She was very intent on the TV in front of her. “Hi. I’m Stacey. I’m Marie’s roommate. Hi Marie. I made margaritas. Do you want a margarita? I’ll get you a drink.” The words poured out of her mouth and before either of us could react, she was off the couch and bounded into the kitchen. Marie and I looked at each other. Marie shrugged and Stacey was back with two salted glasses. We sipped at them while she 37
  • 38. continued to fill the small apartment with words. Later as Marie and I lay next to each other we could hear Stacey pacing the living room. “Seriously?” “College introduced her to Adderall, and Adderall made everything else seem small. In a way, she’s got it all figured out.” “You’re joking.” “I wish. She might be a little crazy now but she’s going to graduate next year. You should have seen her last year. She couldn’t even get out of bed for class. She would cry for days over nothing. She found something that gets her through the day.” I wanted to fight with her but as I lay next to her, her leg over mine, her sweat drying on me, the words died on my lips. The sun coming in her bedroom window woke me up. I looked at my phone to get the time and saw that Lynn had called and I had missed it. I tried to get out of the bed without waking Marie, but as I pulled on my shorts, she opened her eyes and smiled at me. I tried to smile back. “Breakfast?” she asked. “There’s a pretty good place I like on Sundays.” “Thanks, but I should get home.” My fingers tingled and my heart pounded in my chest. “You look pale.” “Hangover.” I lied. Lynn hadn’t left a voicemail and when I called her back, she didn’t answer. When I got home Ryan was on the couch, most of a twelve pack gone. “Hey,” he said, his voice thick and slow. “It’s eleven in the morning, what are you doing?” “Man, I got work tomorrow. You go home with that girl?” “What girl?” “The Asian. She’s good for you, you know. Is she the first since Sarah?” “One, you’re a goddamn moron, and two her name is Lynn.” He stared at me in surprise. “There’s no number three.” My head was pounding in time with my heart. I drank one of his beers in three long gulps. 38
  • 39. “You doing ok? You don’t look good,” he said watching me. “And you never used to drink this much.” I slammed the door to my room shut. Chapter 12 “You want to go to the library?” Ryan asked me. I was sitting in our room watching TV. It was a Sunday night and Sarah and I had just gotten back from a road trip. It seemed like we were away every weekend. Dead week was about to start and she’d wanted to stay, saying we could study for finals at the beach but I had study groups lined up that I didn’t want to miss. “Sure. Let me get my stuff together.” “Cool. If we get there early, we can probably get a study room.” “A what?” “A study room. It’s like a private room for just a few people. Then you’re not stuck with everyone else. I spent like all weekend in one, I got a lot done.” “You spent all weekend at the library?” “I gotta get all A’s this quarter. I want to get into an honors section next year.” “What are you doing for Christmas?” He asked as we walked across campus. “Going home for a couple of weeks. My dad is going to be off for a while, then I guess I’ll come back here. You?” “We’re going skiing in Jackson Hole. My dad is a huge skier and every year my whole family goes up there. It’s sort of a reunion I guess.” “Not bad.” “Yeah. It will be nice to have a vacation.” “Let’s go somewhere for break,” Sarah said. We were standing outside the library. It was about midnight. Sarah had found us a few minutes before. “Aren’t you going home?” “My mom and grandma are taking a cruise. I don’t think my dad is doing anything. He’ll probably work on Christmas. Their therapist said they need to spend some time apart.” “Really?” 39
  • 40. “Spending time together wasn’t working.” “Oh.” “They’ve spent the last week trying to buy me off. My mom offered to take me on the cruise and my dad wants to send me to his parents.” “So what are you going to do?” “Take a trip with you.” I flew home the week before Christmas, as soon as finals were over. My dad had the weeks before and after Christmas off. We slept in late and when we were both up we made pancakes or waffles or French toast for breakfast. He laughed when I asked him to make enough coffee for both of us that first day I was home. “When did you start drinking coffee?” he asked. “I don’t know, during midterms maybe?” I didn’t realize it but he was something of a coffee snob and his was much better than anything I’d had at school. He showed me how he roasted his own beans and ground them every morning. “You never used to do this when I lived here,” I said “Without you here sucking up all my time I’ve picked up a few hobbies,” he said with a grin. Then he got excited and made me put on shoes and follow him out to the garage. Despite the snow on the ground his truck was parked outside and when he let opened the garage door I could see why, there were parts and tools everywhere. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s an airplane. Or it will be once I’m finished.” “An airplane? You don’t know how to fly.” “I’m taking lessons,” he said with a hint of pride. “I’m going to get my pilots license and I’m going to build my own plane. I figured we could work on it together while you were here.” I couldn’t do much but stare at him. Besides his work, he’d never spent all that much time building things. As he showed me the blueprints for the plane though, I began to think it was pretty cool. After breakfast each day we’d go out to the garage and turn on the space heaters and hang out all afternoon, working and listening to the radio. He’d picked up a Christmas tree like he did every year and each night we’d pull out a 40
  • 41. box of ornaments and decorate it. Since my mom had died we’d always spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my uncle and cousins but my dad still liked to put up a tree, especially since we weren’t going to be there. He’d been saying for years that it was the small things that made a house a home. And it was always better to come home the day after Christmas to a tree. It made the house feel less empty. After we got back from my uncle’s house, we spent the day making a Turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and whatever else we could find at the supermarket that looked good. I hadn’t come home for Thanksgiving and he wanted to make me a Thanksgiving dinner. It was more for him though, he loved making the bird and everything that went along with it. The rest of the year he couldn’t be bothered to cook but we’d always done a big thanksgiving when my mom had been alive. She’d invite her sisters and their families and her parents. It was the one time of year she liked to show off for her family. A big Thanksgiving was a tradition he’d kept alive all these years, even when it was just the two of us. After we ate we were sitting in the living room watching TV. “You can stay longer if you want,” he said. “It’s alright. You’re going to go back to work after New Year’s and there’s not going to be much for me to do around here.” “You haven’t called anyone from high school, have you?” “Nah. People have break at different times and they’re pretty busy with their families this week,” I said. He gave me a look like he didn’t believe me. I could have called my friends from high school but I hadn’t. A couple of them had called me but I hadn’t called them back. I didn’t want to tell my dad but my life didn’t feel like it was here anymore. It was back at school. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t happy to see him but I wanted to get back. And I wanted to see Sarah. 41
  • 42. Chapter 13 Suddenly it’s Thursday morning and I’m standing in front of the coffee maker. I can’t remember how many scoops of coffee I’ve put into the machine or how many classes I’ve gone to or how many I’ve missed. Ryan came out of his room and looked at me. “Make some of that for me,” he said “No work?” “I called out.” “It’s Thursday, right?” I asked “Yeah. You alright?” “Yeah. I just, you know, need some coffee.” “Cause you were pretty drunk last night.” “What’d we do last night?” “We didn’t do anything. You came in around ten drunk as shit. Then you went to bed.” “Oh.” “Don’t even tell me you don’t remember what you did yesterday.” “No. I remember. I went to the bar.” “You got class today?” “I guess.” “You’re going to graduate right?” “Totally. I might even make honor roll. Go scholarship.” “Don’t be an asshole.” “What’s it matter?” “If you don’t graduate, what are you going to do? You quit your internship. You’re living off financial aid. The whole point is to get the degree, not get within a quarter and quit.” “It’ll work itself out.” “And what if it doesn’t?” “And what if it does? I graduate. Walk across that stage making everyone so proud. Then what?” “I could probably get you a job at my place. It would be in computer stuff, tech support, they’re always looking for people. You wouldn’t be doing analysis but it would be something.” 42
  • 43. “No thanks.” “Why not?” “Cause no offense man, but you hate your life. And I don’t want to end up there.” “No I don’t.” “Yes you do.” “Whatever. I’m not going to be there forever. I got plans.” “Right.” “Seriously. I’m thinking about grad school. And my uncle is doing this commercial real estate development in Arizona. I could go out and work with him.” “You’re going to move to Arizona?” “Maybe.” “Do you even want to do real estate?” “Sure.” “So you want to get me a job at a company you’re looking to quit?” “I’m just trying to help out.” “Don’t.” I was still holding the scoop trying to eyeball how much coffee was in the filter. Finally I just dumped the scoop I was holding and flipped the switch. Who cares how good the coffee is? 43
  • 44. Chapter 14 When Lynn walked into the bar her eyes were shining and she put her hand on the back of my neck as she slid onto the stool next to me. “Hey,” she said. “How’s it going?” “Good.” “Did it help?” “What?” “Being home.” “They had me talk to someone, and I think that helped.” “Yeah?” “I don’t know. I kept thinking that there was something I could have done. That it was partly my fault. We just talked a lot about that.” “They wanted me to talk to someone after my mom.” “Did it help?” “I don’t know, I never went.” “Why?” “I had my own way of dealing with it. Mostly getting in fistfights and drinking.” “I see that not much has changed.” She glanced at the beer in my hand. “I’m not fighting anymore. Now I just get punched in the face.” “Protecting my honor,” she said with a smile and kissed me on the cheek. I didn’t tell her that they wanted me to talk to someone after Sarah as well. I hadn’t gone then either. “But there wasn’t?” I asked her. “What?” “Anything you could have done.” “That’s what she said. Some people do the whole ‘cry for help’ thing. Some people just hide how much pain they’re in and you never see it coming.” “So what do you do?” “You try and put your life back together. It doesn’t mean I loved him any less but I’m still here and he’s not. So at the end of the day I need to do what’s good for me,” she said. I bit the 44
  • 45. inside of my mouth until I tasted blood and blinked back the tears before they could roll down my face. “And I always like going home. How are you?” “What? Why?” “I don’t know, because that’s what people ask.” “I’m fine.” “You sure? You look tired.” “I’m fine.” “How are classes going?” “I haven’t really gone this week.” “Oh.” We sat like that for a moment. “Jimmy’s having a thing tonight. You in?” I asked. “Maybe. My parents drove me down. We’re going to have dinner tonight before they head back.” When her glass was empty she dropped a five onto the bar and got up to leave. “I’ll call you tonight. If it’s not too late.” “Ok.” I said and she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Then she was gone. I watched her step from the cool darkness of the bar out into the brightness of the day. It was just me and the bartender. He sat reading the paper and I looked around. “You don’t get many regulars?” I asked him. “Around this time, you’re it.” “Oh.” “You want another?” I looked back towards the door and into the sunlight beyond. I guess I stared too long because he said, “I can close you out.” “No. Give me another one.” 45
  • 46. Chapter 15 Jimmy’s that night was a ‘summer school’ party for all those who would walk but still had classes to finish up. We were standing on the deck overlooking his backyard. “I was going to print out all these fake diplomas for people. You know cause they weren’t really done.” “What happened?” “No one knows if they’re going to graduate or when they’re going to graduate.” “Come on. People know.” “What about you? When are you done?” “End of the quarter.” I said dismissively, then paused. “Shit.” “What?” “I quit that internship before they turned in the paperwork giving me credit for it. I’m probably four credits short.” “See. No one knows.” “Shit.” Ryan came up to us still wearing a tie and dress shirt from work. He had spilled something down the front and was weaving from side-to-side. “Hey working man,” I said. “Man, I miss college. Free beer.” “What are you up to these days?” Jimmy asked. “Politics.” “What?” I said. “You’re not in politics.” “Hey,” he said, surprised to see me standing there. “What do you think of politics? I’m going to work for a campaign this summer.” “What about grad school?” “Yeah. That’s a good idea. I could go to grad school.” His eyes unfocused off of me and he swayed for a moment before he found Jimmy again. Once again surprise washed over his face. “Hey Jimmy. You throw a hell of a party.” Jimmy looked uncomfortable. 46
  • 47. “Thanks, it didn’t really work out how I wanted.” “No man, this is really, really great. I miss this.” The three of us stood for a moment. “I really miss this,” Ryan said again after a moment. We stood there for a moment and I caught Georgia’s eye, she was standing by the keg and I walked away as Ryan laid another round of compliments on Jimmy. “Hell of a party,” she said. “It’s better than rehab.” “You don’t like Tim, do you?” “Tim’s a moron.” “You don’t know him though. You’ve never talked to him.” “Trust me, I can spot moron from a long way off.” “Do you think we’re going to be okay?” “You and Tim?” “No. All of us. We worked so hard to finish college and instead of it being this big reward, we’re all just fucked. No one has any idea what they’re doing after graduation. Ryan spent an hour telling me how much he hates his job. And he’s, like, the success story. He got hired right out of school. So what’s that mean for the rest of us?” “We’re doomed,” I said. “We’re doomed,” she repeated as we touched our cups in a toast. The night ended with just a few of us sitting around on lawn chairs. Most of the people had left, and I was glad when Ryan passed out in a lawn chair because it gave me an excuse to leave too. “I’m not even looking forward to graduation,” Georgia was saying. “It’s just another pain in the ass thing I have to do.” Jimmy’s was ending how everything ended these days. All we could talk about was graduation and there was nothing left to say. We’d worried the life right out of it. To hear us talk, we could have been preparing for our own funerals. I dropped Ryan on the couch and looked at my phone but she’d still be with her parents, maybe. She hadn’t called and with Ryan snoring on the couch, I didn’t want to sit at home waiting for her to call. 47
  • 48. “Hey,” I said when Marie opened the door. “Hey.” “I just wanted a cigarette.” “You walked over here for a cigarette?” “Yeah.” “Then I guess it’s good that I’m a smoker.” Later we turned her couch to face the sliding glass door and sat in the dark watching people in the apartment building across the way. “That one there, he’s my favorite. I think he’s a musical theater major. He spends all night singing and dancing around his living room.” “Where?” “The one with no furniture.” “Maybe he’s a gay cokehead.” “I don’t think so. The girl he’s sleeping with is just amazing. I’ve seen them fuck on the floor a few times. It’s pretty hot,” she said. “How about those two there?” I asked, pointing at two people who looked like they were fighting. “Brother and sister.” “Really? How do you know that?” “He was in a psych seminar I had.” “Who’d want to come to college and live with their sister?” “I think the parents bought them the place.” “Oh.” “But you’re right. They fight like that all the time. They both sleep with each other’s friends. One night he was drinking with a friend of his and they both passed out. He’s on the chair and his friend is sleeping on the couch. His sister comes home and sits on the couch and kind of slaps the friend in the face till he wakes up. Then she kisses him, leads him into the bedroom and like an hour later, he sneaks back out and falls asleep on the couch again.” “This is what you do, sit here in the dark and watch people?” “It’s better than TV. Why, what do you do?” she asked. 48
  • 49. “What do you mean?” “When you need a break. When you need to recharge.” “I don’t know. Go to the bar I guess.” “You go to a bar?” “Yeah. I mean, if you get there early enough, no one’s there. You can just be alone for a few hours.” “That’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard.” “At least I’m not stalker weird.” “Shut up.” “What are you doing after graduation?” she asked after a while. “Why?” “I want to know.” “Why do you want to know?” “I don’t know anything about you. We have all the same friends and I’ve seen you around for three years and I don’t think we’ve ever had a real conversation.” “I don’t know.” “Come on, you’ve got to have an idea.” “I just realized tonight that I might need summer school. I got into the internship program but I quit it and I haven’t applied to any grad schools. I’m really trying not to think about it. How about you?” “PhD program for anthropology.” “Seriously?” “Got the letter this week. Early admit.” “I thought you … I guess people say …” I trailed off. “People say a lot of things about me. Most of it isn’t true. So hush you.” “Well congratulations, doctor.” Sometime in the middle of the night Marie’s roommate came in humming to herself. We could hear her knocking around the apartment. Then she was gone again. “When does she sleep?” I asked. 49
  • 50. “I don’t think she does. Not more than a couple of hours here and there.” “You don’t worry about her?” “Of course I do. But anything is better than last year.” “When she would just cry all the time?” “When she would just cry all the time.” “About what?” “I don’t know. Nothing. Everything.” “And this is better?” “She’s up and out of bed. She’s going to class. She even went on a date with a boy in her class. So yeah, this is much better.” The next morning we were up early with nothing to do. We lay in bed talking for a while. “You want go to breakfast with me?” she asked. “There’s this little café, I probably told you about it, but I love it early when no one is out.” “You mean like a date? I don’t know if I’m ready to start dating.” “You’re so weird,” she said as we got dressed. It was still early enough that no one was out, no cars on the streets. We walked into town and it was as quiet as I’d ever heard it. “I can’t remember the last time I was up this early,” I said. “It’s nice isn’t it?” “It’s a little eerie.” “I think I’ve walked past this place a hundred times and never realized it was here,” I said when we were seated. “Hiding in plain sight,” she said. “It’s my favorite place to eat because you can people- watch and they never know you’re here.” “Not at this hour. No one else is crazy enough to be awake.” “You’re the first person I’ve brought here,” she said. “It can be our little secret.” “I like that,” she said. “That me and you have a secret.” 50
  • 51. Chapter 16 I flew back the day before New Years Eve. Sarah picked me up from the airport and we headed west immediately. This trip was the same as the others for the first few days. We stayed in hostels along the coast and worked out way north. It was eleven at night or so on our third day. We had pulled off the highway and were slowly driving up the coast, through a cute town looking for somewhere to stay. The road ran along the beach and to our left we could see the white caps on the waves in the moonlight. We came around a bend in the road and Sarah slammed on the brakes, pulling onto the shoulder. “What?” I asked looking around wildly. “It’s perfect. Look at it.” “What?” “That place there.” “The Seaside?” I read off their sign. “Uh huh.” In front of us sat a four-story house painted a faded red color. It was grand, towering over us and it looked stately, old. The road curved away behind it, so rather than being set back from the beach, it overlooked it. It was hard to see how big it was in the dark but it gave the impression of size and permanence. Like it had been there forever. She slowly pulled the car up the gravel driveway that led us to the back of the house and we parked. The walkway was white crushed stone and was lined with flowers. Behind the flowers was a row of trees. “I’m not sure I can afford this,” I said, nervous. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I just feel bad. You pay for almost everything we do and this isn’t a hostel, this place is nice.” “It’s Mop’s money. You worry too much.” When we got inside a sleepy woman in pajamas was sitting at the desk reading. “Hi,” she said as we looked around. Oil paintings hung on dark wood walls. “Hey,” Sarah said. “You two are lucky. I was just thinking about closing up for the night and going to bed,” she said as she put the book down, looking at us over her reading glasses. In some of the nicer 51
  • 52. places we’d stayed at the desk person wouldn’t want to let two kids check in, even after they’d run Sarah’s credit card to make sure it was going to clear. But Jean didn’t care. She introduced herself and gave us our keys. One was for our room and one was for the front door and “if you’re going in and out, keep it quiet, people are sleeping. Breakfast is from six til nine most mornings. It’s pretty late tonight though, so if you two come down after nine just find me and I’ll whip something up for you.” Then she leaned forward and said, “And don’t miss the sea cliffs. There’s a campground up the road that overlooks the beach, you’ll find it. You have to go through the campground to get to the trail but it’s not hard to find. Most people don’t take the time to hike up there. They want to roll around on the beach or surf. But standing on top of those cliffs with the world opened up underneath you, that’s the only reason to come here. Go early because we get fog later in the afternoons. It’s bad in the summer months, but we still sometimes get it in winter too. Sleep tight.” We came down the next morning a little before ten. We didn’t want to ask Jean about breakfast, figuring we’d find somewhere in town but when she saw us she made a fuss about it. “There you two are, give me a sec and I’ll whip you up some eggs.” “That’s alright. We can find somewhere in town to eat.” “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s no problem and my eggs are better than anything you’ll find in town. We’ve got good lunch places, but I’m the expert on breakfast,” Jean said. Sarah and I looked at each other and sort of shrugged in a nervous way. “Is there anything we can do to help?” Sarah asked. “Sure, I can find you something to do,” she said to Sarah and then she looked at me. “I was going to run to the store later, but I supposed I can trust you with the shopping.” She handed me a list from under the front desk and money out of her pocketbook. “Uhh, okay,” I said. “He’s not too good with words, is he?” Jean asked Sarah and they both laughed. By the time I got back breakfast was ready and Jean was right, it was delicious. They had packed a lunch and that afternoon Sarah and I hiked to the tops of the sea cliffs. The view was gorgeous. There wasn’t a hint of fog and the sky was a deep blue with wispy clouds drifting over us. The ocean lay below us and we watched sea birds hunting for fish. One minute high in the air, the next falling like stone and crashing into the water to emerge a 52
  • 53. moment later shaking themselves free of the water. Off in the distance we could see what was a cargo ship or maybe a big fishing boat out on the horizon. Closer in two sailboats were flying across the ocean. They were far enough away that all we could really see was their white sails standing proudly out of the water. “They’re really pretty. The white sails against the water,” she said as we found some flat rocks to sit on. “Just think, we could sail to Hawaii from here.” “We could sail around the world,” I said. “That’s what we’re going to do one day,” she said with a finality that I couldn’t argue with. “We’re going to sail around the world. We’re going to see everything there is to see.” We spent what was left of the week at the Seaside. For the rest of the week Sarah got up early and helped Jean with breakfast. They had taken to each other quickly and by the second day you’d have been hard-pressed to say that they weren’t old friends. After breakfast Sarah and I would walk the beach or walk through town. Sarah always packed a lunch for us, and we’d pick it up before we’d head to the tops of the cliffs in the afternoon to eat. Sarah could sit there for the whole afternoon, long after the fog came in and we sat huddled close together for warmth. Jean had been right, that week we never saw another person up there. The last day we were there, Jean packed us a lunch for the drive. Normally Sarah wanted to stay wherever we were, she never wanted to go back to school. But that afternoon after we’d hiked to the cliffs so Sarah could take pictures on the disposable camera she’d bought, she turned to me and asked if I was ready to go. “Really?” “Yeah, why?” “Cause you never want to leave.” “It’s okay, we’re coming back next weekend. Jean said she’d save us a room.” I couldn’t do anything but laugh. “Okay, then I guess we’re coming back next weekend.” We went to the Seaside almost every weekend of winter quarter. There was one weekend around the time of midterms that I spent in the library with Ryan trying to finish a paper that I’d 53
  • 54. put off. When I told Sarah that I couldn’t go, she took off a few days early, skipping her classes. We got into a routine that quarter. My classes worked out that I only had a discussion section on Fridays that I could miss, and so Thursday we’d pack up the car and drive all afternoon to get there. Jean let Sarah keep a set of keys so if we got there after she had locked up, we could let ourselves in. Jean and Sarah spent a lot of time together. Sarah was like a daughter to her and would wake up early to help out with breakfast, letting me sleep in. After breakfast they plant flowers or trim the trees along the path. Jean always threatened to put me to work painting, which was the one job she hated, but she never did. I spent the mornings reading for class or working on papers. I’d taken a loan from school and bought a laptop so I could do homework from the Seaside. The afternoons Sarah and I would spend together, either walking along the beach or hiking to the top of the cliffs. We found a great place for late lunches called the Solar Café. It’s weird to think about now, but we had a whole life there that no one at school knew about. It was something that was ours that no one else could touch. 54
  • 55. Chapter 17 “We’re going to have a huge party here graduation weekend,” Ryan said when I opened the door. “I don’t want a huge party,” I said but he had already turned back to his phone call. “Last night was a lot of fun, but we can do better,” he said after he hung up. “I didn’t realize it but a lot of people from last year are going to be in town for graduation and we,” he paused for effect, “are hosting the party.” “Oh.” “It’s going to be awesome.” His eyes were shining. “Right” “I’m thinking of making it my send-off too. Make it a party for both of us, you know, to celebrate all the new shit in our lives.” “New shit?” “Yeah. I’m moving, switching careers. I’m getting a fresh start.” “What are you going to do?” “Fuck it. Who cares, right? Just something new. I’ve been talking to a recruiter in Seattle.” “A recruiter?” “Army. He’s telling me I could spend like two years in Germany or Japan. That would be pretty sick right?” “What happened to Arizona?” “I assume it’s still there.” “I mean the real estate job.” “This is going to way better. Plus you’re graduating, we have to celebrate.” I started going to classes again. I’d missed two weeks of the quarter and I wasn’t sure if I had missed midterms or not. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to graduate but I knew that if I failed a whole quarter, my financial aid would be fucked. I walked into class a few minutes late. There were only fifteen of us and when I slid into a chair everyone was already there and no one looked at me. I stared at the top of my coffee cup 55
  • 56. hoping that the professor wasn’t going to ask where I’d been for most of the quarter. I didn’t recognize him and I didn’t remember the professor for this class being skinny and Asian. He was half-way through a story about his best friend. See, his friend booked this trip to Australia. Ever since he’d been a boy he’d wanted to go, probably because his father had a few issues of National Geographic lying around when he was a kid. It probably looked so foreign and exotic with aborigines standing there in the foreground in tattered leather holding wooden weapons like something out of a comic book. That bright yellow border like a window into another life. It was one of those dreams that had never died. He’d held it through college and into his career as a professor, sort of in the back of his mind. This was going to be one of those defining moments in his life. When he finally landed in the outback and went bouncing across the rough and broken surface in a jeep or whatever rugged thing is done in Australia. This was going to be the kind of thing he would tell his grandkids about. And because fate has a sick sense of humor he finally had the money. His marriage had fallen apart and when the house sold, his share was more than enough for that trip. While his ex had used her half as a down payment on a new house and a new life, his half languished in the bank. To hear this guy at the front of the class tell it, everyone could see the decline in him. The late night phone calls. The emotional outbursts. The drinking. He had missed classes and he was late with his research. After a year and change they started talking about an intervention. They even spoke to a counselor who specialized in such things but before they could pull it together, he drank himself into a blackout and he spent three days in the drunk tank drying out. Amazingly, it seemed like the wake up call he needed. The first thing he did when he got home from jail was book six months in Australia. The school gladly gave him the time, afraid that he’d show up to class drunk or somehow embarrass the institution. About a week ago he called his ex. He told her he had driven out to the beach to clear his head and that he just wanted to talk to her for a moment. She asked him how he was doing, if he was ready for the trip. He was going to leave right after finals. “I was going to cover his classes for the summer,” said the skinny Asian at the front of the room. Anyway the fiancé asks and he says -- and this is really the best part -- he says “Yeah, I’m just ready to be away from here,” and puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. The last thing she heard was the bang as he shot 56
  • 57. himself. I could see the tears well up in this guy’s eyes and it looked like he might start crying at any moment. “We didn’t see it coming,” he said. “We really thought he was putting his life back together.” The girl on my left was already crying, a thin pathetic sound and it looked like half the class might join her. “You all knew the best part of him. The part that loved teaching.” I didn’t realize that I was white-knuckling the coffee cup and it was spilling all over my hand and onto the table, running into my lap. The one on my left opened her mouth to say something and I knew that if she started talking I was going to throw up or hit her. I got up, mumbling something about the coffee and ran to the bathroom down the hall. The last thing I heard before the door shut was the guy saying, “… and if any of you would like to come to the funeral …” I couldn’t stop throwing up into the sink. There was no way I could walk back into class. The rest of the hour was going to be an emotional gang rape as fifteen people poured their personal pain out onto the table so they could all stand around and admire it. Fifty minutes of sweaty palms, murmured understanding and respectful silence. Lots of hugs. All to a sound track of ‘this class meant so much to me.’ I hadn’t been to more than three classes. They didn’t want me there anymore than I wanted to be there. And it seemed crass to ask if he’d been keeping attendance records before he decided to ruin his ex-wife’s morning. I didn’t really want to go to the bar at eleven in the morning but I didn’t really want to go home and standing in a bathroom for the rest of the day wasn’t an option. When I walked into the bar’s soothing darkness I stood blinking, trying to get my eyes to adjust. That familiar smell was comforting. I didn’t recognize the bartender and even though I had my ID, I could tell he didn’t want to give the shaking and sweating thing in front of him a drink. He asked if I was ok but I didn’t know what to tell him. How to explain the sick inevitability of it. How could he not see the suicide coming? I want to tell the bartender that there’s no other way the story could end. That the moment she walked out of his life there was nothing left. That once the life is torn out of something, nothing can grow there again. Empty and hollow, it walks around like a lie covered in skin. Instead I told him I was fine and could I get that goddamn drink already? By the third one my hands no longer shook. By then I calmed down enough that I don’t want to put a gun in my own face and pull the trigger. 57
  • 58. I tried Lynn’s place but there was no one there. I walked to Marie’s and she’s not there but I can come in if I want and do I want a drink and how am I doing and am I graduating and the words are like a physical thing coming out of Marie’s roommate, which is how I still think of her. I took her offer for a drink and we sat in a silence that filled the room. I think I was making her nervous and when she asked me how I was doing for the third or fourth time, I tried to tell her about my professor. But every time I opened my mouth the bottle in my hand shook. “Want one?” she asked, popping a white pill into her mouth. “I don’t know.” “It makes things easier,” she said and laughed, either high or crazy. This is what it had come to, heart-to-heart confessionals with Marie’s roommate over Adderall shots chased with beer. “Gotta fake it to make it?” I asked and took one, letting it sit on my tongue before swallowing it. “Gotta fake it to make it,” she repeated. Her eyes unnaturally wide. By the time Marie came home we had the stereo on too loud, the TV was muted and Marie’s roommate was finger painting on the wall while I rolled a joint. In-between shots of vodka Marie took the scene in stride. “You’ve got to fake it to make it,” I told her, my voice an enthusiastic slur. “What do you mean?” “I feel great. I really do,” I said, and she just laughed at me and took another shot. In the morning I woke up in Marie’s bed. She was looking at me. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “My professor shot himself in the face. I’m not really sure how I’m feeling.” 58
  • 59. Chapter 18 It was just before finals and Ryan and I were hanging out in our room. He rarely drank, I’d seen him have a beer or two at parties, but that night he’d scored a bottle of vodka. He’d gotten into the honors program and we were having a few drinks to celebrate. “This is alright.” he said looking around the room, pleased with himself. “Cheers.” We clinked coffee mugs. They were the only thing we had in the room to drink out of. The pens and paper clips they normally held were spilled across our desks. “Where’d you get the vodka?” I asked after a moment. “I bought it?” “How’d you buy it?” “Oh, I have a fake ID. I just don’t use it. I got it last summer before I came to school.” “What? Are you insane? Almost every night there are cute girls looking to drink. Why don’t you ever buy them alcohol? You’d be a god around here.” “I don’t know. I mean, I’d just buy them alcohol and then what, we’d all sit around their dorm room drinking?” “Yes. That’s what people do. They get drunk and hang out. That’s what we’re doing,” I said, flailing my arms and spilling screwdriver everywhere. “Why wouldn’t you want to hang out with cute girls?” He didn’t say anything for a moment. His face went from the almost perpetual scowl he had because he worried so much, to disbelief as he looked at the mug in his hand. Then he just started laughing and I couldn’t help but laugh too. There was a night during finals last quarter when he had told me that he wished he had a girlfriend. “You’re really lucky to have Sarah,” he told me. “I’d love to find a girl that was that cool and into me.” And the whole time he’d been sitting on a gold mine, too afraid to use it. We laughed until our sides hurt and mixed screwdrivers until the vodka was gone. Looking back, I can’t say he turned into a party monster after that. He still studied all the time and rarely went to parties but I think getting into the honors program relaxed him and showed him he belonged at school. He gradually started to open up and he got more laid back about his schoolwork. By the end of the year he knew almost everyone on our floor and people knew me as Ryan’s roommate. 59
  • 60. It must have been five or six in the morning when Sarah crashed into the room. She was crying, almost hysterically, and couldn’t catch her breath. I came awake through the vodka and immediately thought I might puke. Ryan and I had just passed out a couple of hours before and luckily she didn’t wake him. He was still drunk and snoring away, completely oblivious. I pulled her down next to me and hugged her. She was shaking violently. I held her like that until she calmed down. “Can we go somewhere?” she asked. “Yeah, of course. Let me get dressed.” I said and stood up. Then I ran for the bathroom and threw up most of the vodka. There was a twenty-four hour diner in town and we walked down there to get breakfast. She was chain smoking, something I’d never seen her do and I reached out and took the pack. She gave me a look daring me to say something but I just took one and lit it, handing the pack back to her. It made me cough but it calmed my stomach as we walked. “They’ve decided to split up,” she said after the waitress brought our coffee. She was out of cigarettes and sat bending the tongs of the fork in separate and distinct directions. “That’s … isn’t that good, in some way. I mean …” I trailed off as she looked at me. “I don’t care if they stay together or split up or whatever. They can do whatever dumb thing they want to. It’s that …” she stopped and looked down at the table. She took a long shaky breath. “They both want me to move out of the dorms and come live with them. Mop is staying in the house and he’s getting an apartment.” She paused again. “She wants me to live with her because she can’t stand to be alone. That’s why they fight all the time. She doesn’t want to be alone and he doesn’t want to be there. He wants me to come live with him because he doesn’t want me living with her. I’m like the one last thing they can fight over.” “Shit.” “I know.” “What are you going to do?” I asked. “My housing is paid through the end of this quarter so I don’t have to decide until then. They both said the same thing, ‘I’ll pay for your school, your car. Whatever you want honey, if you come live with me.’ They tried to be all sweet ‘You know we both love you and we know this is a hard time.’ Of course neither of them want to pay for anything if I don’t live with them.” We 60
  • 61. drank coffee in silence. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she brushed them away and tried to smile. I didn’t know what to say. 61
  • 62. Chapter 19 Ryan was pacing back and forth when I opened the door. Bits of paper, mostly bar napkins and Post-it notes were clenched between his fingers. He was reading off of them. “Hey,” he said when he saw me walk in. “How’s this sound? We get blocks of ice with channels cut in for people to do shots off of.” “What?” “For the party.” “Yeah, whatever.” “Or we could freeze the bottom half of the liquor bottles in blocks of ice to keep them cold. If we rented a bar it would look sick to have them all lined up. Plus we’d have taps.” “I think my professor shot himself in the head.” “What? That’s not funny.” “I’m not trying to be funny.” “Then stop saying weird shit like that. Now which do you think is better?” “Whatever. I don’t care.” “I’m doing this for you.” “Don’t. I’m not even sure I’m graduating.” “Yes you are. Shut up,” he said and he was still looking at the scraps of paper when I let myself out. Lynn was home and she let me use her shower while she washed what I had been wearing the night before. We sat on the couch together, me in a towel, her in a bathrobe. We sat under a blanket watching TV. “So what’s up?” she asked. “Nothing.” “You normally don’t show up here and ask to shower and wash your clothes. So,” she dragged the word out. “What’s up?” “Nothing.” “You fighting with your roommate?” “No.” 62
  • 63. “So you just wanted to use my shower.” “Maybe I was just hoping to get lucky.” “Maybe you will if you tell me what’s going on.” “My professor for my independent study seminar shot himself in the face.” “In class?” “On a beach.” “You’re kidding?” “I wish I was.” “When?” “Last week I guess.” “Are you doing alright? Were you close to him?” “I never really went to that class. Just showed up in time to find out he was dead. This skinny little Asian guy told us the whole story yesterday.” “Wow.” “You want to get something to eat?” I asked her. “Are you sure you’re alright?” “I don’t know. These things just sort of happen. I try not to think about them.” “Oh. You don’t have class today?” “I’m taking a mental health day.” “What’s that?” “It means I want to spend the day with you.” “Then let’s get something to eat.” John and Georgia were sitting at a café and waved us over. After a moment we sat with them. “Hey peoples,” Georgia said when we sat. “Hey.” “Your roommate called me,” Georgia said to me. “I’ll tell him to stop,” I said. “No, it’s ok. He wanted to invite me to your graduation party.” “You’re having a graduation party?” Lynn asked, surprised. 63
  • 64. “No.” “He said you’d say that,” Georgia said. “Ryan is throwing a graduation party. He just expects me to be there.” “So am I invited?” Lynn teased. “You can have my invite,” I told her. “What are you two up to today?” Lynn asked. “Tim and I are going to catch a movie this afternoon.” “Sounds romantic,” I said. “What is it about Tim that you don’t like?” “I like Tim just fine. Invite him to lunch. Let’s have a Tim Appreciation Day.” “Don’t listen to him,” Lynn said. “Are you two dating now?” “No. I don’t know. It’s not that serious,” Georgia said. The waitress came over to take our order. John looked after her. “What’s with the sad eyes?” Georgia asked. “Don’t tell me you’ve already broken up with Cindy.” “No. That girl. I used to see her at parties. She graduated like two years ago and she’s still working here.” “See Georgia, we’re doomed.” “Doomed,” she said. We sat for a moment then Lynn asked John. “What are you doing after graduation?” “I’m so sick of that question,” John said. “No one really cares what I’m doing after graduation. It’s conversational masturbation. We spent the first two years asking each other what our major was and the last two years asking what we’re doing after graduation. Why don’t we ever talk about what we’re really interested in?” Everyone sat in silence for a moment. “So what,” Lynn asked when it was clear no one else was going to, “are you interested in?” “I don’t know anymore.” John sighed. “I used to care about things. I thought I was going to be one of those people who made a difference. Who did something important, you know?” “But not now?” “I used to lie about it. Tell people that I was going to do Teach For America, or I was 64
  • 65. going to teach English in Korea. Anything. I’d tell them anything because I hated not having anything to say. I hated that all we ever asked each other was what we were doing after graduation and I didn’t have anything to say.” “So you’ve started telling the truth?” “No. I just don’t have the energy to make shit up anymore.” John looked like he might crack. His face was frozen in a way that looked painful and he stared past us. “I always wanted to be one of those interesting people that had something to say. The person that other people want to be around. And now I don’t even have that. My parents are always telling me, ‘Of course you have choices honey, you can be a doctor or a lawyer.’ That’s all they care about. Being able to show me off to their country club. And since I’m a big pussy and all I do is take their money, I’ll probably end up going to law school. Another three years of my life wasted because I can’t think of anything better to do.” 65
  • 66. Chapter 20 When I walked into class someone had left a copy of the campus paper on a desk and I grabbed it as I passed by. The front page was a profile on Professor Drake. His smiling face plastered there as a half page picture. I didn’t realize until just then that I hadn’t known his name. The details for the memorial service ran across the top of the picture. Tomorrow night at eight in front of the library. The chancellor was going to speak. “Yo. You know that guy?” said the kid sitting next to me, leaning over to point at the picture. “He fucking shot himself. They don’t say that in the article. I heard he killed his wife, too. Crazy shit huh? They don’t say why he did it but I heard his wife was cheating all over town. That’s why he did it. I never had him but I saw him around campus all the time. And my girlfriend had him for history. You gonna read that shit?” “No. I think I’m good.” “Can I have your copy? I think I want to save that picture. I never knew anyone who killed themselves before.” I handed him the paper and got up to leave. Georgia and Jimmy were eating lunch at the coffee shop on campus when I walked by. “You just get out of class?” she asked. “Sure. You guys?” “We’re just having lunch.” “Have you seen this?” Jimmy asked, smiling in a way I didn’t like. He pulled an envelope out of his bag and handed it to me. I pulled a card out of the envelope, about the size of a photograph. On the front was a fat guy with a can of beer in each hand and no shirt on. Across the bottom of the photo was written, “Rock out with your cock out.” “What the fuck is this? I’m not into your gay porn.” “Turn it over,” he said with obvious glee. On the back was printed all the details of Ryan’s party. “Oh god.” “I got one too.” Georgia practically yelled at me in excitement clawing through her bag to show me. “If there was a god, he’d kill me,” I said but they just laughed at me. 66
  • 67. Chapter 21 By the time spring break rolled around we were regulars at the Seaside and around town. We’d met the owners of the Solar Café and they had a hard time believing that we’d drive out there every weekend. The Solar was owned by a hippy turned rocket scientist turned café owner named Roger and his wife Nancy. Roger had opened the Solar for something to do in retirement. “It’s boring,” he’d say. “I’m supposed to just sit around the house all day staring at Nancy? This way at least we have something to do all day.” Sarah and I liked to go in after the lunch rush, when it was quiet. Nancy would sit at the counter and tell us stories from when she was younger. She’d been a surfer before she met Roger and traveled the world just looking for great places to surf. “No one knew what surfing was then. There were only a couple hundred of us and we all knew each other. You could fly to Hawaii and you’d see the same people you’d surfed with all up and down the coast. It was like a family. You’d ask them where they were staying and they’d invite you to crash with them.” She paused. “There were some mornings, we’d be driving to the beach and see all these people leaving for work with their carefully manicured laws and their neat little houses. We felt like we were getting away with something. We were so afraid that someone would figure out what we were doing, that we were really happy and come shut it down somehow. It was a great time to be alive.” We’d begun to feel like locals. At the end of spring break, Sarah was forced to choose, and ultimately moved in with her father. Neither of them were at that apartment much. He worked late and began traveling for work, which he had never done in the past. At least that’s what he told Sarah. She didn’t care as she spent most of her time on campus hanging out in my dorm room. At first she didn’t stay over much, it was awkward with Ryan there. Then Ryan started seeing a girl who had her own bedroom in a house off campus, and Sarah stayed over more and more. She was usually there when I would get out of class, and we’d hang out all afternoon. In a lot of ways it didn’t feel like anything had changed. We still saw each other all the time. That quarter we continued to go to the Seaside most weekends. Like some kids went home for the weekends, we’d drive to the Seaside to hang out with Jean and walk along the beach. It got to the point where most people thought we were going home for the weekend and we didn’t 67
  • 68. do anything to convince them otherwise. I was happy to have something that was ours. It felt like we’d discovered something no one else had. We’d both worked out our schedule so we didn’t have Friday classes. Thursday afternoons we couldn’t wait to get out of town. “I don’t think Sarah is going to class,” Ryan said one evening. Sarah was on her way over, we were going to grab some dinner. “I know she’s here a lot. I’ll say something to her. It’s just that she’s living with her dad and it’s not going that well.” “No. I don’t care if she’s here. You know that. I don’t think she’s going to her classes this quarter. At all. When I get home in the morning she’s usually sleeping and when I leave for class she’s still sleeping. And if I get back before you, she’ll be here watching TV or reading. You gotta say something to her or she’s going to fail her classes. They’ll kick her out of school.” “They’re not going to kick her out of school. She probably just has a weird schedule.” “I’m telling you … Have you seen her go to class? Or study?” he asked, but I just looked at him. “Ok. Have you heard her bitch about her classes? Even once? Who doesn’t bitch about their classes?” “She just stressed about her parents.” “Just say something. If she is, then what does it matter? And if she isn’t, I don’t know man. She’s going to get in trouble.” “Alright. I’ll say something to her about it,” I said. A few minutes later Sarah knocked on the door. “Hey,” Ryan said. “Hey,” she said. “Are you sure you want to go out? You look tired.” I asked her. “Yeah. I just didn’t sleep all that well last night. My dad was up until four or five with one of his bimbos.” “Is this the one he brought home last week?” “No, this one was a flight attendant he met on the flight back from Spain.” “Didn’t he just come back from Spain?” “Yep, they shared a cab.” “Creepy.” 68
  • 69. “I know, right? It’s not like they’re divorced, they’re just separated. And some of the women that he brings back he’s known for years. It makes me wonder if he was fucking around.” “Wow.” “I don’t even know why I care. It’s not like she’s any better. It’s so depressing to learn how fucked up your parents really are.” I never asked her about her classes. I didn’t know how to bring it up or what I would say. It never seemed to be the right time. She was upset a lot of the time, fighting with her dad and I thought that school would work itself out when she and her father learned how to live together. Things continued to get worse for her. When her father was around they fought nonstop. “He expects me to do all the house work. I’m not the maid. He’ll have his friends over all night and there’ll be dirty wine glasses and beer bottles and takeout containers all over the place. Then when he gets home from work he’ll start yelling, ‘Why isn’t this cleaned up? You don’t do anything all day, you could at least clean this place up, it looks like shit in here.’ I’m so sick of it.” Most of the time though he wasn’t around and that might have been worse. As much as they fought, it was worse when she felt abandoned by him. He’d be gone part of the week almost every week. He’d never tell her he was going out of town, he just wouldn’t come home for a few days and then, she’d get home from school or wake up in the morning and he’d be there, like nothing unusual had happened. The only thing that really cheered her up was our road trips. Once we hit the highway she was a completely different person. We’d talk and laugh in a way that was so carefree and so different from the rest of the week. 69
  • 70. Chapter 22 When I walked up to the apartment, Tim and Georgia were sitting out front in Georgia’s car. I could see the backseat was loaded with suitcases. “Eloping?” I asked, walking up to the driver’s side window. “Hey,” Tim said, his eyes wide, all enthusiasm. Georgia got out of the car and we walked a bit away from it. “Does that kid ever blink?” “Stop.” “I’m serious. He’ll dry out his eyeballs.” I said looking past Georgia and watching Tim as he played with the radio in the car. “We’re taking a road trip up to Berkeley for dead week. See some friends, maybe check out their grad programs,” Georgia said. “We’ll be back in time for the party,” she teased. “Great.” “I didn’t come by just to say goodbye, as much as I know you’ll miss me. I want you to keep an eye on John. Cindy says that he hasn’t been sleeping at his apartment and he hasn’t been staying at her place.” “Do you think it’s an affair? Should we call a detective? What will this do to their children?” “Don’t be an asshole. He’s your friend too, you know. Just, I don’t know, take him out to lunch or for a drink or whatever you do when you’re not making snide comments.” “Have fun with ‘it’s not that serious’ in Berkeley,” I said. She glanced back at the car to make sure Tim couldn’t hear us. “What is it about him that you don’t like? Because I respect your opinion, but you’ve never even given him a chance.” “Georgia, do you like him?” “Why don’t you like him?” “Do you like him?” “Yeah. I think I do.” “Then it doesn’t matter what I think. Have fun in Berkeley.” “Thanks.” 70
  • 71. Chapter 23 I’d been spending more and more time at Lynn’s. Ryan had adopted a sort of single- minded focus towards throwing his party that’s usually reserved for visionaries and serial killers. Pages and pages of legal paper covered every available surface. Some of them were price quotes, some sketches of our backyard. The last time I was home he’d run extension cords out under the deck. I didn’t stick around long enough to ask why. It was the night before Monday of finals week. Neither of us had a final that day so we gave ourselves a break and went to a late movie just to get out of the apartment, sneaking in a flask of whiskey that we poured into our cokes. When we got back it was almost two and we were drunk and tired and fell asleep immediately. Somewhere in the dark my phone was ringing. I lay blinking in the darkness trying to clear the sleep out of my eyes. “Hello?” I tried to keep my voice down so I wouldn’t wake Lynn. I could hear what sounded like Marie on the phone but her voice was shaking and I couldn’t make out what she was trying to say. It took me a moment before I realized that she was crying and that she was holding it together, but barely. “What’s wrong? What happened?” I asked. She took a few deep breaths and in that space I found myself wishing I hadn’t picked up the phone. Stacey had fought with her boyfriend or they’d broken up. Marie wasn’t sure. But Stacey had started drinking and taken too many of her happy pills. She either blacked out or had a seizure and smashed her head into the coffee table.. Marie was in her room and heard the crash. She’d come out to find her roommate on the floor, foaming at the mouth with blood pouring out of her head. The doctors kept asking Marie if Stacey had ever tried to hurt herself in the past, if she was depressed or having problems in school. I briefly wondered how many happy pills were too many for someone like Stacey. “Can you come down to the hospital?” she asked me. “I can’t be alone here. I’m shaking and the doctor gave me a Valium but it’s not doing anything. I don’t want to be here.” The words were broken, pathetic. I could see her sitting there in the waiting room. Cold neon lights shining down on last month’s Vanity Fair and Home and Garden. People with hollow eyes wandering past her to the vending machines, sucking down Cokes mindlessly because it was better than 71
  • 72. doing nothing. They’d grip a fist full of sweaty change, small and hard in their hands like it was hope. I knew I should go. I could hear how much it hurt her to have to ask and the fear causing her breath to hitch in her throat. I hated hospitals, hated that fear. One night after my dad had driven my mom home from chemo she’d gone right upstairs saying she felt tired. A few hours later, after I’d gone to sleep she’d gotten sick. I heard them moving around in their room, my dad asking if she was alright, then telling her he was taking her to the hospital. I started to get out of bed when my dad yelled at me to get up and get the goddamn car started. I watched him carry her from the bedroom to the garage, the whole time she was throwing this bloody foam up onto the carpets. She couldn’t stop. She tried, holding a bathroom towel over her mouth, crying because of the pain. Sitting in the backseat the whole car smelled like copper. They took her right away. My dad filled out the forms while I tried to sleep on two chairs pushed together in the waiting room. They told us to go home, come back in the morning but my dad didn’t hear them and I didn’t want to be in that house alone. We sat there all night, unable to sleep. The antiseptic smell of the hospital all around us and the nurses at their station laughing quietly at whatever got them through their shift. About four-thirty in the morning this guy rushed in through the automatic doors, a bloody towel wrapped around his hand. He yelled at the nurses to get him a doctor and when they didn’t he dropped the towel, blood pouring from where two of his fingers used to be. There was a pool of it on the floor. Later, the janitor came out and mopped it up like it was nothing, just another mess. It was easy for him. Just some soapy water and in half an hour there was nothing left but the wet floor signs. But for days I couldn’t get away from blood. The doctors kept my mom for observation and we had to drive home in that car, the floorboards covered in it. We shampooed the carpets in the house and bought seat covers and new floor mats for the car. We never got rid of those stains though. Shortly after my mom died, my dad and I spent the weekend ripping all the carpets out of the house. There were these beautiful hardwood floors under the carpet that we sanded down and stained. Then we sold the house and moved across town. We traded the car in for a truck. Lynn rolled over and half opened her eyes. She smiled in a sleepy kind of way when she saw I was awake and mouthed, “Who is it?” I just shook my head. She reached out and rubbed my arm under the covers. I could smell her perfume. Marie heard the pause in my voice and I 72
  • 73. know she could feel my hesitation over the line. “Please,” she said. “I don’t have anyone else I can call.” “I’m sorry, I can’t,” I heard myself say as I watched Lynn close her eyes again. As I folded the phone shut I could hear Marie call me an asshole through her tears. I dropped the phone onto the rug next to the bed. I pulled Lynn close to me and held her as she slept. Chapter 24 CJs was a sports bar across town that no one went to. I’d just finished faking my way through my first final and didn’t want to see anyone. After Marie’s late night phone call it seemed easier to just avoid everyone. It was early afternoon when John walked in. He was surprised to see me but after a moment he dragged a chair up to the table I was sitting at. “You always watch soccer here in the middle of the afternoon?” he asked. “Do you?” “Yes, as a matter of fact I do.” “You know Georgia is worried about you,” I said. “I could say the same about you.” “So you’re alright?” “I’m about the same as I’ve been,” he said. “But you’re not staying at your place.” “There was a fire in the basement, my power’s been out.” “But you’re not staying at Cindy’s?” I asked. “I’ve been staying in a hotel.” “Well, it’s your money.” “It’s my dad’s money.” “And I’m sure he’s proud of how you’re spending it.” “What’s your fucking problem? What do you care how I spend anything.” “I don’t, but it’s always something with you. The power’s out, there’s a chemical spill, there’s asbestos in the walls. And now we’re sitting in a sports bar where no one goes in the middle of the day. I’m sure we’re both healthy, well-adjusted individuals.” “So why are you here?” 73
  • 74. “I might not be graduating and even if I am, the best thing I’ve got going for next year is maybe getting a job with Ryan’s consulting group. Ryan has gone insane, my apartment is mission control for what’s going to be the biggest clusterfuck of the year. Marie isn’t talking to me and, oh yeah, my professor for my independent research seminar shot himself in the face. So take your pick.” “You’re an asshole.” “Why am I an asshole?” “Your professor shot himself, really?” “It was in the papers.” “Damn. Sorry.” “Forget it,” I said “So why aren’t you staying at your place?” “What do you mean?” “I hear you’re MIA. So?” “I don’t know. I went home a month, maybe a month and a half ago. The weekend I got the doctor or lawyer speech. And when I got back to my place I just freaked out. I just didn’t know what I was doing or why I bothered. So I could grow up and be a lawyer? All I could see was my dad’s face, slightly red slightly red after three cocktails. I could see that he just wanted to tell everyone that his son was in law school. His son was doing something important. Carrying on the family tradition. And my mom, she’s already starting look at firms I should interview with. I haven’t even taken the LSAT yet and she’s picked out where I’m going to work. I guess I’m lucky. Cindy came by that night because I wasn’t answering my phone and she found me sitting in the dark drinking gin and eating my roommate’s antidepressants. She got me to check into one of those 72-hour hospital observation things but it sucked so I checked myself out the next night and went to the bar.” “You checked yourself out of a suicide watch to go to a bar?” “Yeah. But I mean I’m okay now. I just don’t like being in that apartment anymore. So I’m staying at a hotel until the end of the quarter. It’s nice. They do my laundry and the room service is pretty good.” He stopped. “Plus, you’re the one with the problems. All my professors are still alive.” “Thanks asshole.” “At least we can tell Georgia we had our little talk.” 74
  • 75. She had been right though. We both felt a little better and when John waved the waitress over, we ordered a couple of beers and a round of shots. That afternoon it was fun again, to sit around and get drunk with a friend. For once we didn’t talk about graduation or jobs or what other people were doing. When we left we had to call a taxi. Neither of us could walk straight, much less drive. The cab dropped me off in front of Lynn’s. “Are you drunk?” she asked when I came in. “No.” I laughed. “You’re hammered. It’s finals week,” she said. I thought she sounded mad but when I looked up, she just looked worried. “Woo!” I said “Go to bed.” she said and went back to studying. I was lying in Lynn’s bed. I could see her neighbors through her bedroom window. They were in the middle of moving and they had cardboard boxes stacked high around the living room. There were no shades on the windows. I couldn’t tell if they were moving in or out but they were pissed, slamming the boxes down, waving their hands. I watched them pace back and forth and I could see them yelling. It was like watching TV on mute. The need to call Marie came over me like a wave. I wanted to talk to her, to tell her about the neighbors. I hadn’t talked to her since that night she’d called me but I knew she would love this. I flipped my phone open a few times, scrolling through my address book until I found her name but I didn’t have the courage to dial. Maybe I just didn’t have the words if she answered. There wasn’t anything left for me to say. “Hey I’m lying on Lynn’s bed watching her neighbors fight and it’s really funny” didn’t seem to cut it. It didn’t matter. In a week or two everything that had happened would be forgotten if not necessarily forgiven. I would safely fade into just another college mistake that she could write off to bad judgment. It was probably easier for her that way. And I’d never had to admit to Lynn that Marie had existed. I didn’t know what Lynn and I were but I didn’t want her to think I was hiding Marie from her. If she didn’t know about Marie, what didn’t I know about? She’d been seeing Jason behind his girlfriend’s back. She’d never been good at the monogamy thing. Lynn came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. When she kissed me water dripped on my nose. 75
  • 76. “Why me?” I asked her. “What?” “Why me? Why did you ask me and not someone else to go to the memorial? Why me and not someone else?” She was looking at me like I was crazy. “Because you’ve always been a good friend to me and I wanted a friend with me.” “But there are a hundred guys out there who would have gone.” “Did you want me to ask someone else? I’m sorry it was such an inconvenience.” “It’s not that … I just mean … look I wasn’t trying to save you.” I was pacing at this point. I didn’t know what I wanted to say. “Is that what you think you did? You saved me?” I could hear her anger. “No. I mean, it a way. It’s just that I used to know where I stood with you, you know? All those other fuckers, they were always trying to sleep with you. We used to be friends. I used to know where I stood with you, there weren’t any secrets.” “What are you talking about?” “Are you sleeping with anyone else?” “Why would you even ask that?” “Is that a yes?” “You know, you can be a real asshole sometimes.” I left before either of us said anything else. 76
  • 77. Chapter 25 It was four weeks before the end of the quarter when Sarah walked out or was thrown out of her father’s apartment. I never got the full story. She called me late on a Tuesday and asked if she could stay over. She wasn’t crying. She didn’t cry anymore when they fought, she just sounded numb and exhausted. Ryan and his girl were having some drinks at their place so we went over there and watched a movie. Then Sarah and I went back to the dorms and fell asleep. I’d known she’d been fighting with her father. I could hear that from her tone, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I walked out in the morning to go to class. Her car was parked on the street and I could see that the backseat was filled with clothes. “What happened?” I asked when I got back from class. “Nothing.” “You’ve got all your stuff in the backseat of your car.” “We agreed that me living with there wasn’t working. So I’m going to try living at the house.” “Are you doing alright?” “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said and that was as much as she said about it. We went out to an early dinner and when she handed me the keys, I asked what they were for. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. At first I was happy that Sarah moved back into her mother’s house. Her mother was so happy to have Sarah back that they didn’t fight. Or at least the screaming matches Sarah had endured with her father ended. Instead she’d resort to a passive aggressive martyrdom whenever Sarah wasn’t listening to her. Her mother was almost sickeningly sweet to her as she tried to piece together the trappings of a happy family life. She’d wake up and make Sarah breakfast before she left in the morning and insisted that Sarah be home for dinner at seven every night. After dinner she’d insist that Sarah pull out her homework and work on it. Sarah actually started going to class again rather than fight with her mom about it. I was surprised but Sarah did almost everything her mother asked her to. The breakfasts before school, the dinners at night. Having family time after dinner when her mom did the 77
  • 78. crossword while Sarah worked on homework. She consented to all of this. Their only point that Sarah was intractable on was going to the coast on the weekends. For the first two her mom had offered just a token resistance, trying to bribe her with activities instead. “We could go to a movie, or a museum. Whatever you like honey. How about a play?” she’d say as Sarah was packing on Thursday afternoons. “You can invite that boyfriend of yours, and the three of us will make a day of it.” None of it could entice Sarah to stick around. She’d pick me up from school Thursday afternoon and we were off. Eighty hours of freedom. It was on the third week that things took a turn for the worse. Sarah had wanted to stay over my dorm, which she hadn’t done in two weeks now. The only chance we had to spend any real time together was on the weekends. Her mom was dead set against it, saying that it wasn’t right, that Sarah should be home. The argument grew worse all week and whether it was really about impropriety or control or whatever it didn’t matter. By Wednesday they couldn’t be in the same room without screaming at each other and her mom forbade her from leaving for the weekend. Saying that she’d get the privilege of going on road trips back when she learned to listen. Sarah called me and told me she didn’t care what her mom said. She would pick me up in the afternoon and we’d go. “You think that’s a good idea?” I asked. “I don’t care. I can’t spend all weekend here with her.” “You gotta do what’s best for you.” “I am doing what’s best for me.” “Okay, see you tomorrow,” I said and I was glad. I wanted to spend the weekend with her. It didn’t turn out that way though. After she hung up with me they fought more, her mom having overheard her, or listened in, on the phone call. When Sarah went to sleep that night, her mom took her car and when Sarah woke up in the morning, it was gone. I don’t know if she drove it to her husband’s apartment or a friend’s, but she’d trapped Sarah the last way she knew how. “We’ll take vacations as a family,” her mother said the next morning. “This summer you’re not running off to God knows where. As long as you live here we’re not going to act like a bunch of strangers. You can take your silly road trips next year. When you’re back in school.” Sarah locked herself in her room and her mother left, taking the only other car. 78
  • 79. When she called me to tell me she wasn’t coming, she was inconsolable, barely coherent. All should could say was, “We’re never going to get to go back there. It’s all over. We’re never going back.” I felt very helpless. Ryan came in a few hours later. I was lying on my bed watching TV. “Shouldn’t you be gone by now?” he asked. “Sarah’s mom took her car. She’s stuck at home and I’m stuck here.” “Shit.” “Yeah. They’ve been fighting all week. I wish I had a car. I’d go pick her up. Get her out of that house.” “Is that a good idea? I mean, her mom would be pretty pissed.” “It’s better than letting them fight all weekend.” “Take my car.” “Seriously?” “Yeah. I’m going to be in the library all weekend anyway.” “Thanks.” “Have fun.” I didn’t call Sarah. I wanted to surprise her. I wonder about that now. If I did the right thing. If calling ahead would have made any difference or if it was already too late. For years afterwards I’d have nightmares about it. I’d see myself taking the car keys from Ryan and I’d try and tell myself to pick up the phone but, of course since it was a dream, I couldn’t hear myself. No matter how loud I’d shout. There would be nights when my dad would come into my room and shake me until I woke up. “You were having a nightmare. You were screaming so loud you woke me up.” “Sorry.” “Don’t apologize. Just wanted to shake you out of whatever it was.” I can only imaging what Ryan thought. He never said anything about them though. I pulled up in front of Sarah’s house and hopped out of the car. I rang the bell but no one answered. She’d shown me where they hid a key so I let myself in. 79
  • 80. “Hey, you around? It’s me,” I shouted from the front hallway. I should have recognized the smell first. That coppery twinge in the air that sticks to the roof of the mouth. I was in a good mood though and wasn’t thinking about the smell of blood. It was still sunny out but the day had started to cool. Perfect driving weather and all I could think about was how happy she would be when I told her I’d gotten us a car. I don’t remember much now. She was sitting on the couch but she was slumped at a weird angle. I thought she might be passed out drunk, she looked that unnatural. There were spots and streaks all over the floor to ceiling glass windows behind her making these strange spotted shadows on the floor. I stared at them, wondering why no one bothered to clean the windows. They were on the piano also, like someone had sprayed the whole room. I opened my mouth to wake her up, I was still walking into the room, and that’s when I saw that something dark had pooled on the couch next to her thigh and run onto the rug on the floor. Next to her foot lay a silver pistol, her arm draped casually down toward it. I felt far away, calm and like I wasn’t all there. My head felt light and my eyelids heavy. Like that moment just before you fall asleep when all you feel is relaxed. Someone was screaming and I closed my eyes wishing they would stop. They were ruining how peaceful everything felt. The screaming got louder and louder and my head felt started to feel like it was going to split open. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I was suddenly dizzy and I felt the floor sliding out from under me. I rode in the front seat of a police car to the hospital. There was only one ambulance and they didn’t think I should ride in the back. I had a blanket wrapped around me but I didn’t feel cold. I pulled my knees up and hugged my legs to my chest. “You did the right thing, calling 911. Most people freak out, they don’t know what to do,” the officer driving said. “Whose blood is this all over me?” I asked. “You’re going to be alright, kid,” but the way he glanced at me said that I was going to be anything but all right. “Could you pull over?” I asked. “Sure,” he said pulling onto the shoulder. I opened the door and threw up. 80
  • 81. When we got to the hospital I still wasn’t cold but I couldn’t stop shaking. A doctor gave me a pill and a tiny paper cup of water. They led me to a quiet room where everything was fuzzy around the edges. When I woke up, Ryan was sitting next to the bed. There was a doctor standing next to him. Ryan started to talk but I couldn’t hear him and I started shaking again. The doctor gave me another pill. I didn’t know what time it was when I woke up. The curtains in the room were heavy and dark and I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. I wondered if it was like this for my mom at the end. Just sleeping and waking up and not knowing what time it was. I wondered if she knew she was dying. She must have known and I wondered if I was dying as well. I couldn’t quiet remember why I was in the hospital, just that something bad had happened. Suddenly I had to get out of there. I found a payphone in the hallway and called Ryan collect. “I need to get out of here.” “What about the doctors? Can you just leave?” “I don’t care.” “Don’t leave before I get there. I’ll figure something out. Ok? You’re not going to leave before I get there right?” “Bring me something to wear.” I didn’t know what had happened to my clothes. I didn’t care enough to go looking for them. It was the middle of the night when Ryan got there. There wasn’t any staff around and once I changed, it was easy to walk right out of the hospital. No one noticed us. “I really think you need to talk to a doctor before you leave,” he kept saying. “I want to go home,” I said. “Yeah. I’ll take you home. Just stop for a second and let’s find a doctor.” “I want to go home.” 81
  • 82. Chapter 26 The apartment had been transformed. I’d never seen Ryan throw himself into something like he’d thrown himself into this. I thought it would be just one of those things. Tell a few friends, they’ll tell their friends. A couple of kegs on the deck and maybe grill some food. Everyone would drink too much and someone would throw up all over the bathroom. A few people would get laid on my bed before the party was over, and the best I could hope for was not to walk in on them. Someone would pass out on the couch. A few would end up skinny-dipping in the neighbor’s pool. Now it was something else. Ryan had rented a bar with taps. There were blocks of ice in the freezer. The kitchen countertops were lined with liquor bottles. I had seen the invitations. Ryan had sent out five hundred of them. Never mind that our apartment’s backyard couldn’t hold five hundred people. There were now power strips screwed into the wood on the deck. Stacked in the corner was a full PA system. In the middle of the living room sat a ping-pong table with hundreds, or maybe thousands of red keg cups on it. There was a set of plastic margarita glasses on one end still in the packaging. Lying on top of them was a box of fifty ping-pong balls. The only thing we didn’t have was furniture. Except for the ping-pong table and the PA, the living room was empty. All of the furniture was gone. I stood for a while, not wanting to be there. I didn’t know where John was staying and Georgia had started staying at Tim’s place. In the fridge I found a case of cheap beer. I used it as a makeshift table as I slumped against the wall and cracked one open. This was it. This was what my college career had come to. A few broken relationships, a case of beer and a living room with no furniture in it. My dad would have been so proud. I woke up surrounded by empty beer cans, the box crushed from where I’d fallen asleep on it. I didn’t feel drunk but I wasn’t hung over either. It was dark but I didn’t know what time it was. I staggered into the bathroom and threw up warm beer. I looked at the mirror and my face looked pale, the skin waxy. I pushed a finger into my cheek and watched my lips move. I wasn’t even aware that I was saying something. “Gotta fake it to make it, gotta fake it to make it,” I told myself over and over again until the words didn’t have any meaning. In the medicine cabinet I found a bottle of Vicodin that was way past its expiration date and stood there slowly chewing 82
  • 83. the pills, the bitter taste not registering. In the kitchen I took a bottle of whiskey off the counter and pulled the plastic tamper-proofing off with my teeth. I took the bottle into my room, turned on the radio and listened to whatever station was playing. Everything got slow and fuzzy. I woke to Ryan crashing in the front door. I could hear him laughing and someone was giggling with him and he was trying to shush them both. “Champagne?” I heard him ask and then I heard the cork pop. They were both quiet for a moment, then his door slammed shut and there was muffled giggling from behind it. Staying for the party was out of the question. I had to get out of there. The Vicodin made everything slow and confusing and I couldn’t get a hold of what was happening. The whiskey bottle lay on the floor, smashed. There was a hole in the drywall a few feet above it. I stared at it for a while, wondering if I did it. I threw a dirty t-shirt on top of the broken glass and now it was no longer my problem. I didn’t bother to shower. I just threw clothes into a backpack. I stood there wondering what I was doing. I had to check and see what was in the backpack because I couldn’t remember what I had just put in it. Clothes, right. Everything was happening too fast. I shook my head to try and clear it but it left me nauseous and off-balance. I couldn’t catch up to what was going on. It was a sixteen-hour drive, most of which I didn’t remember. I remember pulling into a rest area to sleep and throwing up in a gas station bathroom. When I got there, I was destroyed. Black spots from exhaustion floated across my vision turning everything surreal in the afternoon light. I staggered out of the car and stood dumbfounded. I was amazed to find the Seaside still there and it looked exactly the same as it had then. I turned my head to the side almost believing that I’d see Sarah getting out of the car. I started to say something to her when I realized no one was there. Tears stung in my eyes and I had to blink several times before they went away. Then I started to notice the differences. The flowers along the path had been changed. They were tropical and brighter than I remembered. The flowers had been planted in beds and now they stood almost four feet high in places. The trees, too, had grown higher, giving more shade to the walkway. The sign was freshly painted. The Seaside itself hadn’t been painted though and the years of abuse from the ocean had faded the red almost to a pink. When I stepped inside, I recognized Jean right away. She looked at me sideways, like she was trying to remember who I was. I knew she would have recognized Sarah right away. 83
  • 84. “You look like hell,” she said. I started to say something. Reintroduce myself or remind her who I was but I stopped myself. I didn’t want to tell her about Sarah. She wouldn’t have known about the suicide and whatever memory she held of Sarah, I didn’t want to taint by having to tell her how Sarah died. It was better to let her remember Sarah the way she was when we were there. Happy and relaxed and carefree and in love. There was no reason to ruin that. “Long drive,” was all I managed to croak out. “I guess. Let’s get you to a bed before you die right here in my lobby.” “Thanks.” 84
  • 85. Chapter 27 Morning was a novelty, something out of a coffee commercial. It was the first morning I could remember not waking up with a hangover or with a feeling of guilt or dread hanging over my head. Like the sky was just waiting for me to look up before it rained down in pieces on my head. A feeling that had been so pervasive that I didn’t notice it until it was gone. The window in the room was open and I could hear the waves breaking on the beach. The sky was still a dark blue and the sun was just starting to come up. From where I lay all I could see were the stars retreating before the oncoming day. Downstairs I sat and drank coffee holding the cup with both hands. The warmth was comforting. Across the small dining room sat a good-looking couple, dressed in high-tech hiking gear. They couldn’t have been more than two or three years older than I was, but they radiated something I hadn’t seen in so long that I didn’t know what to call it. Happiness? Success? They sat close together, talking and smiling, sharing some inside joke or maybe making plans for the day. They were sharing breakfast from one plate. I imagined their life together, so far from the casual relationships and the drunken hookups. Mornings like this one where they shared breakfast. Seeing each other at the end of a long day. I wondered which of us were the freaks. Is that what life is really like, people falling in love, getting married, planning vacations and eating muffins together? Or was it just the grace period eventually life would get in the way and their mistakes would piled up between them until they resented the sight of each other? Would it be an affair or just the “I don’t love you anymore,” deadpanned over undercooked pancakes one Sunday morning. Their smug happiness grated on my nerves. When they were done eating they smiled good morning at Jean and went out holding hands. Once they were gone I felt drained, exhausted like I hadn’t slept at all. The anger was gone and in its place I felt empty. I desperately wanted to know if they were going to make it, if there was redemption for any of us. I desperately wanted to believe I wasn’t so damaged that I couldn’t find whatever they had myself. Dear god, I hope they make it, I thought. But I had nothing to bargain with and no faith, just my vain hope. 85
  • 86. Outside I walked through town. There were a few new cafés and restaurants and a few places that looked like they’d been around for a while but I didn’t remember them. The Solar Café was still there. I smiled and thought about going in but didn’t. Someone had opened yet another surf shop on the corner. The campground was still there but they’d added an RV section. Row after row of what looked like tour buses sat parked with their generators on. The noise shook my teeth. I wandered around for a while until I found the trail Sarah and I used to hike to the tops of the cliffs. I stood there for a moment staring at it. I traced the path with my eyes to where it disappeared over a low rise. Finally I turned around and walked down to the beach. I was standing at the water line with my shoes in my hand watching a couple of kids build a sandcastle. I liked their attention to the details. They’d taken their time crafting each wall, each building behind that wall. One continued to build the castle back away from the water while the other was digging an impressive moat to save their work from the incoming tide. He was madly shoveling the sand away with a red plastic bucket. It was then that my cell phone rang. Immediately I felt bunched up inside, sick. There was no one I wanted to talk to. There was nothing left that I had to say. I took the phone out of my pocket and one of the kids looked up at me. I didn’t bother to look at it, just reached back and pitched the phone as far as I could into the ocean. It rang the whole time and I saw his eyes go wide as he followed its trajectory. He looked at me in surprise after it hit the water and I just smiled and turned and walked back up the beach. I spent the rest of the day bumming around town doing nothing. There was a used bookstore that doubled as a coffee shop. There was no one in there and after I had my coffee the kid at the counter pulled out a sketch pad and continued working on whatever he’d been drawing. I tried to catch a glimpse but couldn’t. The next day I walked down the beach as far as I could go and found a Mexican cantina that sat on the spit and overlooked the water that catered almost exclusively to the young surf crowd. I sat in the back corner at a small table and listed to their conversations, pretending that I wasn’t alone. The place wasn’t fancy, rough wood floors and people had carved their initials into the tables. The chairs were mismatched, but the food was cheap and it was good. The walls were covered in pictures of surfers from all around the world. Some were signed and most weren’t in 86
  • 87. frames, just stuck to the walls. Every once in a while the chef would come out from the back, a heavy Mexican man dressed in a dirty white t-shirt, and talk to people as they came in, laughing with them before taking their order. There was one waitress, a cute girl with brown hair and a swimmer’s body who everyone seemed to know. In town it was the beginning of the tourist season and mixed with surfers were fat pasty families from the Midwest. Down here though you’d never know it. They weren’t going to walk all the way down the beach to enter a dark cantina with a crooked sign. It was perfect. 87
  • 88. Chapter 28 I went back to the cantina the next day. The beach was starting to get crowded and I didn’t really know where else to go. I’d gone into the Solar Café but Roger and Nancy weren’t there. There were a couple of people sitting at the counter and a middle woman with bad highlights and leathery skin taking orders. I thought about asking her what happened to Roger but I didn’t. When she saw me standing in the doorway, she told me to sit anywhere but I just said thanks and left. It didn’t feel the same. I was just finishing lunch when the waitress came over with my check. Instead of putting it down, she slid into the chair across from me. “You’re not a surfer.” “I could be a surfer.” “Could be, but you’re not.” “Why do you say that?” “Cause I know all the surfers around here and I don’t know you.” “Is this were you get all local pride on me and tell me this place is only for surfers?” “No. Just wanted to say hi.” She smiled and held out her hand. “So what are you in town for? We don’t get many of the vacation types this far down the beach.” “I used to come out here four, maybe five years ago. I don’t remember this place though.” “This is our second year.” A couple of girls in wetsuits came in, their hair dripping on the rough wooden floor. “I’ve got a table. See you tomorrow?” she asked, dropping my check on the table. “See you tomorrow,” I said. That afternoon I noticed how much things had changed. Antique furniture stores and high-end clothing stores had moved in. The coffee places were corporate chains now. They were the kinds of places Sarah had hated and had refused to shop in and now they’d taken over. Even the cafes, which had been small and maybe dingy but had had character, had been redone. Baristas in khakis and white shirts had replaced the kids with mohawks and bondage belts that used to bring us our food. I felt stupid walking around Main Street trying to find something that felt familiar. Eventually I gave up and went back to the campground. I walked past the trailhead 88
  • 89. and headed for the cliffs. Sarah’s parents had asked me to come to the funeral. They had wanted me to talk about the Sarah I knew, the one they never got to know. At first they had been polite, their messages simple requests because they knew how much we meant to each other. When they didn’t hear back from me, their requests turned to demands and eventually to begging and bribery. They offered to pay for me to spend my whole summer on the coast. They promised to put me up at the Seaside, anything I wanted. But even if I had gotten their messages, they had it all wrong. This was the last place I’d wanted to come. Even now, walking along that path four years later, I found myself thinking that if I could just get to the top, she’d be standing there with her arms wrapped around herself to stay warm as the fog rolled in over the ocean. I thought about turning around to save myself the disappointment. By the time the funeral came around I was halfway across the country, head rested against the passenger side window while Ryan drove. When I had walked out of the hospital, my dad had already booked a ticket to come get me. I kept telling Ryan that I wanted to go home but when we got to our dorm, I just sat in the car and told him to take me to the airport. He called my dad because he didn’t know what to do with me. He didn’t want to put me on a plane by myself and I wouldn’t get out of his car. In the end he did the only thing he could think of. He started driving. It took four days and when he dropped me off in front of my house, my dad was standing in the doorway, waiting for us. Ryan only wanted to stay long enough to sleep and eat before he turned around to start driving back. He was sure that he needed to get back for finals. My dad wouldn’t let him leave, saying that was crazy. Ryan called the honors counseling department and explained what had happened. The story about a freshman who killed herself had already broken and after my dad faxed them my medical records and they saw that Ryan was my roommate, they said he could take his finals whenever he got back. I didn’t get her mother’s messages for almost a year. They’d left them on the answering machine that Ryan and I shared at school. The first one was left while I lay in a hospital room counting ceiling tiles. Ryan didn’t know what to do with the tape. He told me later that he didn’t want to delete the messages, even though by the time he got back to school the funeral had long passed. But he didn’t want to send me the tape either. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t talk, and the last thing I needed was a tape of Sarah’s mom alternately begging and demanding that I speak at a 89
  • 90. funeral I hadn’t gone to. He held onto the tape until I moved back to school to start my sophomore year, which was his junior year. I was now a year behind him. I didn’t know if I was going to be coming back to school but after staying home and working with my dad for all those months, I wanted a change. I called Ryan to tell him and he said he’d get us an apartment, if I still wanted to live with him. I almost cried with relief. He didn’t tell me that his last roommate didn’t work out. An alcoholic with a penchant for peeing himself when he was passed out, Ryan was all too happy to get out of the dorms. When I moved back in with him, he handed me the tape and told me what was on it and he thought I should just trash it. I didn’t take his advice, listening to it late one night while he was out. I threw it away the next day. When I reached the top of the cliffs, I found the flat rocks overlooking the ocean where we used to sit and I stood by them looking out. It was still sunny, but already the fog was coming in. I could feel the soft cold bite of the wind changing. There were sailboats off in the distance, nothing really visible except for the white triangles of their sails as they streaked so easily across the horizon. Sarah had loved them. We would bring lunch up there and sit there for hours watching the boats until it got too cold to stay. She’d never been on a sailboat before but she wanted to own one. “Don’t they look so free?” she’d ask me. “We could go anywhere we wanted and we’d never have to come back.” “You don’t know how to sail.” “You can teach me.” “I don’t know how to sail.” “How hard can it be? You can learn,” she’d say and laugh and I never said it but I would have learned to sail for her even though she was just kidding, trying to get a rise out of me. I would have done anything for her, I realized now. I stood there for a long time, until the wind picked up and whipped my t-shirt around me. I didn’t realize I was crying until I could feel the tears cold against my cheeks. By then it was too foggy to see the boats anymore but I didn’t want to leave. I stood until it started to get dark. Then I headed back to the Seaside. 90
  • 91. In the room, I sat down and started to write. By midnight I had written everything I could remember about her. I think Sarah’s parents had stayed in the same house. They’d called my dad at some point and given him their address and phone number. That was during the year I lived with him. I’m not sure why they did that, whether it was their way of reaching out or if they thought maybe he could force me into talking to them. He didn’t give it to me right away. Those first couple of months that I was back were rough for both of us. I wasn’t talking much and I was sleeping all the time. I had nightmares and started sleeping with the TV on in my bedroom. When that didn’t help, I would sleep on the couch in the living room. I looked for anything that was a distraction. He wanted me to talk to someone, which surprised me. I never thought of him as the ‘talk about your feelings’ type. After my mom, neither of us had gone to talk to anyone, but then, we’d had each other. This was something he watched from the outside and I didn’t know how to let him in, even if I’d wanted to. Sometimes I couldn’t say anything because when I’d open my mouth I was afraid I’d just start screaming and I wouldn’t be able to stop. Eventually though I began to sleep less and talk more. It took three or four months. I couldn’t stand to be alone though and I asked for my old job back. I had worked with him during the summers in high school and I started doing that again. On the weekends we’d go out and work on the plane in the garage. We’d get up late and make breakfast, then go out and get started. All year we worked and by the end of that year it had started to take shape. He put his pilots license on hold when I had come back and now we had almost a full airplane in the garage with no one to fly it. After I returned to school, he picked it back up. When I went home the next winter break he was flying and instead of doing Christmas with his brother we spent the whole break flying down the coast, just checking out whatever small town we could find near a runway. It was a few weeks after I started working with him that year that he came into my room one night. He handed me the note with Sarah’s parents’ phone number and address, like I didn’t know it. “They called for you a few months ago but I didn’t think you’d want to talk to them then so I saved this. You can do with it what you want.” “Thanks.” “I know you were involved with their daughter and all and nothing against her, I know what she meant to you, but her parents are fucked up something bad.” I looked at him for a long 91
  • 92. moment, and then just started laughing. I laughed until it hurt and then I started crying. He hugged me to his chest until I stopped. When I pulled back my nose was running and we smiled at each other. It was the first time since I’d been back that I’d laughed or cried. He didn’t tell me all the details of the phone call then. Sarah’s mom had dumped her life story on him the moment he picked up ending the story by saying that she and her husband had been in the process of separating when Sarah killed herself. After the suicide they stayed together although she didn’t say why. Just that things were getting better between them. I suppose after a thing like that you hold onto whatever you can. My dad had listened to the whole story not wanting to be rude, but after that particular piece of unsolicited honesty he just hung up on her. 92
  • 93. Chapter 29 At breakfast the next morning I realized it was the day of the party. I thought I would have cared more but it felt far away, like it couldn’t touch me. Jean had been giving me sideways looks all morning and I wondered if she had finally recognized me. I hoped not and I finished breakfast as quickly as possible in case she had. I didn’t want to answer her questions. I spent the rest of the morning in a café drinking coffee and imagining a life with Michelle in a sleepy little beach town. We’d find jobs that we didn’t care much about and live in a small apartment with cheap rent so we could work part-time. She’d teach me how to surf and we’d spend every day at the beach. I think I had missed my last final and for all the talk about graduating, I didn’t know what to do now. I told myself that I needed nothing more than a small life by the beach. I walked into the Cantina a little after noon and found my table in the back. Michelle was taking an order and winked at me when I came in. When she was done she sat across from me. “So you surf?” she asked. “I thought you had that figured out.” “I said you weren’t a surfer. I didn’t say you couldn’t stand on a surfboard. So how about it?” “I’ve seen it on TV, how hard can it be?” “Oh it’s like that, is it?” “It’s like that.” “Well then I’ll show you. Tomorrow morning, six in the AM. We all meet right here. I’ll even bring you a board.” “See you then.” That night I went to bed early looking forward to both the early wake up call and my new life as a surfer. Everything felt right, I told myself. The alarm went off the next morning and I was rubbing the sleep out of my eyes when there was a knock on my door. I didn’t remember telling Michelle where I was staying and 93
  • 94. thought it was weird that she’d come get me. I opened the door and found Lynn standing there looking, for once, uncomposed and nervous. We stared at each other for a moment, both of us a little surprised. She stepped into the room and kissed me hard on the mouth. “Hi,” I said a moment later when she pulled back. “You. Are. An. Asshole.” she said, enunciating every word. “You drove all the way out here to call me an asshole?” “Yes.” “Ok.” “You’re an asshole because I went to your apartment early, before the party. I wanted things to be all right between us. I wanted to give you the chance to apologize for being a jerk. I wanted to give you the chance to buy me dinner so we could hang out and be friends again. But no, you weren’t there. And Ryan hadn’t seen you in days and you’re too good to answer your phone. And you made me drive hour and hours and I had to stop in every one of these stupid little towns just to find this place all so I could call you an asshole,” she said. “That’s quite a list.” “And you still owe me dinner.” “How about coffee?” The clock said a quarter till six. “It’s a start.” “Ryan is probably pissed,” I said when the waitress brought our coffee. “Yeah he is.” “I’ll have to call him later. Did you bring your phone?” “What happened to yours?” “I threw it into the ocean.” “Glad to see that you’ve been handling things in a calm and rational matter.” “I’m not the one driving around calling people ‘assholes.’” “So what now?” “I was going to drink my coffee.” “Ryan told me about Sarah. How you and her used to come here.” “That was a long time ago.” 94
  • 95. “So it’s ok that I’m here?” she asked. I looked around the coffee shop. It was a new place, right down the road from the Seaside. I’d never been there before and it was the same as all the other new cafes in town. Too polished to have any real character. And the coffee wasn’t even that good. “Yeah. I think it is.” Later that afternoon while Lynn slept off the drive, I finished the letter to Sarah’s parents. We went for a walk later and I dropped it in a mailbox. “What was that?” she asked. “Nothing. Just a letter I’ve been meaning to write.” I checked out of the Seaside that afternoon. Lynn and I had decided to stay on the coast for a few days but it didn’t seem right staying at the Seaside. I wanted to start fresh. 95
  • 96. Epilogue I had missed a final but when I went to see my academic counselor, he took the class completely off my transcript citing “the emotional stress of losing a professor.” I didn’t even have to say anything. I just turned up for my appointment and when he saw my transcript he took care of everything. That class plus not having gotten credit for my internship put me eight units shy of graduating. I got a job as a bartender at CJs and enrolled in summer classes. Lynn stayed in town that summer. We got an apartment together, a sublet on a one bedroom. She’d been working with one of her professors on research and decided to stay on for the summer before moving west to start “my big girl job” as she called it. Her professor had gotten her the gig, she was going to be a researcher for a tech company. Neither of us had any idea what she’d actually be doing. Ryan ended up moving to the east coast. After all his talk about getting out of consulting, he had decided to stay when his group got transferred. “So you’re still going to be an analyst?” I asked him. “Yeah. I don’t know what I want but going east seems like a good change of pace. Plus if it sucks I can always quit and find something else.” He wasn’t even pissed that I missed the party. From what I heard it was a smashing success that ran all night until it was shut down at ten the next morning. Ryan was so drunk that he didn’t know if I was there or not and when the cops came to tell them to break it up, he was passed out in the bathtub. Since they couldn’t find anyone who actually lived in the apartment the cops said forget it and didn’t write up the noise complaint or the underage drinking. John ended up joining the Peace Corps. He had to promise his parents that he would apply to law school the second he got back in the country, but they let him go. We had a going away thing for him over the summer. John, Georgia, Lynn, Jimmy and I sat around drinking beers at CJs one night after my shift was over. He didn’t want it to be a big deal and outside those of us who where there that night, I’m not sure anyone else knew. “So how’d you end up in the Peace Corps?” I asked him. None of us had heard anything 96
  • 97. about it until he announced that he was going. “My parents wanted me to get a job as a paralegal this summer. They said it would look good on my transcript. It’s the firm my dad was a partner at before he opened his consulting business, so I just had to meet with one of the partners as a formality. I get in there for the ‘interview’ and this guy goes on and on about his law school days and about how lucky I was that I was about to start and how it was this great time in his life. Then he starts talking about how before law school he was in the Peace Corps. I could see that being a paralegal was going to be about as interesting as internal hemorrhaging and I hadn’t really thought about the Peace Corps before, so when I got out of there I drove over to school and picked up the application. It’s my parents’ fault really. If they’d let me get a normal summer job, I’d probably still be headed to law school next year.” “So two years of freedom then you’re back to this shit, huh?” I asked him. “Fuck no, I only told my parents that so they’d let me go. Once I’m out of the country I’m never coming back.” Georgia and Tim ended up moving to Berkeley together. Tim is still a fucking moron but he makes Georgia happy. She works in an art gallery and I have no idea what he does. He’s probably a motivational speaker. After summer school was over and Lynn was done with her research job we took her final week and went back to the coast. We packed up the apartment and I shipped my stuff to my dad’s. Her company was paying for her to move and once the movers left, there was nothing left in the apartment. CJs didn’t want to give me the time off. “It’s a busy time of year for us, with the students coming back and we’re going to need every member of the team here, alright buddy?” my manager said when I told him. I just laughed and walked out. We ended up going south this time, far from the cold foggy days I was used to. It was fun and even though at the end of the week we were essentially breaking up it didn’t feel that way. When I dropped her off we were friends and she made me promise to come visit her once she was settled into her new place. It was our last day on the coast. I was driving Lynn to the airport the next day before 97
  • 98. setting off for the east coast and we were just finishing up dinner at a fancy seafood place. She had insisted for months that I owed her dinner, ever since that day at the Seaside and I wanted to take her out to celebrate. “So do you think you’re fired from CJs?” she asked. “I don’t know. I’m not going back either way. It was just a summer thing.” “What are you going to do?” “You’re not going to believe it,” I told her. “You didn’t call Ryan for a job?” “I did.” “After all that shit you talked about not wanting to end up like him, he still found you a job?” “What can I say, he’s a better person than I am.” “What are you going to be doing?” “I’m on their IT staff.” “IT? Do you know anything about computers?” “My resume seems to think so.” “Wow.” “Yeah.” “So you’re going to be a productive member of society after all,” she said. “I guess so.” The End 98