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 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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Suicide And Keg Stands

  1. 1. Suicide and Keg Stands A novella by Ben Corman
  2. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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