Friday, December 23, 2011

Uncle Pat

There at the dinner table on Christmas Eve, I was looking down at the remnants of my meal, using my fork to poke at what was left of my mashed potatoes and swirling them around in some leftover gravy that pooled along the edges of my plate. I tried to focus on things like the wax dripping from the candles that sat in the middle of the table or the grandfather clock against the wall which I noticed was only minutes away from chiming that loud and prominent grandfather clock chime. I took a moment to focus on my cousin's girlfriend from across the table. The way they were sitting, I could tell he was rubbing his hands up and down her leg and at one point I saw her jump a little as if he'd gone a little further up the leg than she had expected he would and then she turned towards him, smiling one of those mischievous and turned-on smiles. The ones that say, 'stop it,' but also 'keep going.' I looked down at her breasts for a moment and pictured what they looked like and then I felt strange about doing so. My stomach was full as it always seems to be at every family potluck and for a while I could only focus on my misery. I imagined all of the food inside of me forming fists and punching the insides of my stomach, protesting the lack of capacity and looking for any means of escape. Eventually, I ran out of things to focus on and was left to give my attention to the thing I'd been trying to avoid ever since we sat down to eat.

My family surrounded the table; parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my cousins' girlfriends and boyfriends and the children of my older cousins. Seated at the head of the table is my uncle pat. Uncle Pat is a preacher at the Church of Christ and he sits at the head of the table because he's a 'man of God,' and my family thinks this makes him the head of the family. Pat used to be a tweaker and he hit rock bottom and then supposedly, while laying in an alleyway after a night of heavy drinking and getting fucked up, he was approached by an angel who told him how to turn his life around and start living his it the way God had intended. He told us that the angel was dressed in a referee uniform along with a trench coat and fedora. It never spoke to him but rather motioned. It was something in the way it smiled and stared at him, moving it's hands in such a way that said to him, "everything was going to be ok now." Since that night, he started attending church and drinking a lot of iced tea. He met some woman at a church sponsored bingo game and he married her and although I've met her a number of times, I still don't know her name.

The funny thing about this angel story, to me anyway, is that nobody in our family ever considered the possibility that maybe uncle Pat was simply tripping his balls off in an alleyway and had some crazy hallucination. Instead, they all just prayed extra hard over the course of a year for Pat's recovery from drug and alcohol abuse and thanked the good lord daily for sending one of his angels to point uncle Pat in the right direction. Everyone in my family loves to hear the alleyway story. Everyone fancies it a tale of another one of God's miracles, viewing it as an audience once probably viewed Houdini; shocked, amazed and perplexed. Amongst the amazed however, there are always the skeptics; the ones searching for all the loopholes and trying best to figure out the illusions. You could say I'm one of the them.

After the meal, someone always says, "Hey Pat, let's hear the story." And then someone else pipes in, "Yeah Pat, tell us the story!" Everyone loves the story but me. I didn't like hearing it the first time it was told and I especially don't like it right now. But when you're the only atheist in a family of christians, you might as well just suck it up, fold your hands and bow your head and say the lord's prayer like a good boy because if they were to ever find out that you, their own flesh and blood, don't believe in God's love, one might just as well disown himself because nobody takes kindly to godlessness in this family.

"I don't remember much before it happened," started uncle Pat's story. "I was out with a 'friend' of mine. We were drinking and smoking and giving in to all of Satan's temptations. The last thing I remember before the alleyway was this man at the bar who made me very sad. He was sitting by himself, keeping quiet and drinking from a mug. I hadn't payed him much attention but all of a sudden he turned to me and he said, "Salvation is near." I turned to him, a shot of Jim Beam in my hand, and asked him to repeat himself and he said, "The lord is coming and salvation is near." My initial response was to laugh. I saw him as just a crazy old boozer and thought nothing of it. I took my shot and I turned to walk away. When I did however, I was sad. I don't know why but I was sad and that's the last thing I remember before waking up."

At this point in the story, uncle Pat likes to ask everyone to join hands so they can say a prayer for the old man. Wherever he may be. It's aunt Paula's theory that the old man was the guardian angel. That he was always there, keeping to himself in the corner and silently looking out for Pat. Everybody nods in agreement, assuring themselves that these things really do happen. After the prayer, throughout which I bowed my head and wondered how a stick of butter doesn't melt or spoil at room temperature, uncle Pat continued with his tale.

"I have no idea how I wound up there or what I had done hours prior to it happening but the first thing I remember thinking was that my pants were wet. I thought maybe I peed in my pants but then realized the wetness was in my shirt as well. So I slowly opened my eyes and saw that I was sitting next to a dumpster in a puddle of something that was leaking out the side of it. I slowly stood up. I immediately started feeling dizzy and my stomach started turning and I vomited. I felt too weak to do any walking and so I slowly fell back down to the ground, partially in my own vomit and partially in the dumpster goop. I started to fall back asleep but this bright light that came out of nowhere filled the alley. It wasn't sunlight and it wasn't light that could have come from any lightbulb. It was a light unlike any I've ever known. I knew immediately that this was something holy and something important and something not to be ignored. Something in the light itself told me that. And then, from the light, a figure came. It floated down towards me with grace and elegance. The light was blinding but I couldn't bring myself to look away. I was filled with this overwhelming sense of comfort. The alleyway disappeared and everything was this glorious bright light. The figure floated down in front of me and he was wearing a zebra striped shirt underneath a trench coat and wore a fedora that tilted forward just enough to shadow his eyes. At first he just looked down at me, saying nothing. His gaze, though, it was power. It entered me and stirred me up inside. He then hunched over and extended his hands to me. I slowly reached out for them and embraced them. The angel then closed his eyes which made me close my eyes and I could feel the devil being drawn out of me. I could feel him clawing and grasping to stay inside of me but the angel was stronger and the devil lost. I opened my eyes and I was back in the alley. The bright light was gone. I could no longer see it. But I could feel it inside of me. It got me on my feet and it led me home. I took a shower, cut my hair, threw out all of the liquor and the drugs and I found a church. And that's how I found Jesus."

There's a moment of silence after the story is told in which my family members look upon Pat with eyes of remorse and mouths curved into adoration. They tell him how brave he is and how much he inspires them all. "God has blessed this family." said grandma. "Praise him." They all close their eyes and they say "Amen." Finally, it ends. We all go back to discussing the weather and the Illini stats and the people at work who make them angry and tupperware and deer season.

My cousins and I have nothing in common and so none of them really talk to me. They'll say hello and they'll be interested in where it is I work and whether or not I have a girlfriend yet but after these topics are covered and briefly discussed, it's off to the next person and I'm left feeling awkward amongst my own family. My aunt Jackie is the only person I care to talk to. She tells me how handsome I've gotten and always hugs me when I arrive and hugs me when I leave. She jokes with me and when I offer her a beer she accepts it. She goes to church and loves the alley story just as much as the rest of them but If I told Jackie that I thought the alley story was bullshit and that God wasn't real, she would shrug her shoulders and say something like, "Eh. You're allowed to think anything you want, sweetheart."

I was talking to no one, however, when the grandfather clock struck 8 o'clock and began its chime. It momentarily muted everyone's conversation and in that moment I decided I would leave. I've eaten, I've said hello to at least half of them, I've heard uncle Pat's story and the end of its telling usually signifies the end of my commitment to be there. I got up from the table and excused myself to the bathroom. I like to pretend I'm using the bathroom before I leave a place so that I can re-enter the dining room, coat on and car keys in hand, and be able to walk in and quickly say goodbye so that everyone hears it at the same time and so that everyone can say it back at the same time and no one feels obligated to get up or shake my hand or hug me.

I went through all of the motions to strengthen my ruse. I didn't have to pee but I went ahead and tried to. A couple little dribbles came but that was all. I washed my hands. There wasn't a towel to dry them with so I used my shirt. I opened the medicine cabinet to see if there was by chance any Vicodin. There wasn't. I left the bathroom, found my coat amongst the rest of the coats stacked in a corner and re-entered the dining room, keys in hand.

"Welp, I think I'm gonna take off," I tell them.

"Oh you don't have to go so soon now do ya?" my grandma asked. "Are you going to be at church tonight?"

"I'll try to," I said.

Everybody said goodbye and aunt Jackie gave me a hug. As I was saying my last goodbye and turning towards the door, uncle Pat spoke up and said, "You should really try and make it to church. It's going to be a very lovely service."

"Yeah. Ok." I replied.

I left.

I rolled a joint on the dashboard before I drove off. It was Christmas Eve and I was getting high and driving through the country with an especially heavy sense of loneliness. It seemed to me that I was the only person driving right then. It seemed to me that everyone else was asleep and I had the road all to myself. So I drove further and I turned on the radio. I rolled down the windows and made my hand float waves against the wind while some choir from California was singing Christmas songs to me on 90.3.

I'm not a big fan of Christmas songs and I don't particularly like choirs. But I listened to them and it reminded me of the way Christmas Eve used to feel. When I was a kid, I mean. When Christmas was very literally, in my head, a magical time. I mean we all had to have felt that way. We all believed that one single man who lived in the Arctic amongst a bunch of elvish factory workers went out one night a year with his flying reindeer and his bag of endless presents and delivered toys and gadgets and gifts to everybody in the world who had been "good" according to his carefully observed and scrutinized list of those who were naughty and those who were nice. We believed that it was all real and life didn't get any better. But as you know, Santa turned out to be fake. He turned out to be a ploy created by parents to keep their children in line. And once the magic was gone, the world grew darker and Christmas was just another reason to eat retarded amounts of deviled eggs and a time to figure out which of my cousins has a new boyfriend or girlfriend.

My parent's had not yet returned from midnight mass. The house smelt of mom's pumpkin spice candle that sits on the kitchen counter. There was a faint smoky undertone to the smell and I noticed that the wax had not hardened yet and so I gathered that my parents had stopped home before heading to church and that they hadn't left very long ago which meant I had about an hour and a half to myself. I grabbed a couple beers from the fridge and headed for the couch. I started feeling sleepy immediately after sitting down but I cracked open the first beer anyway and drank it in just a couple minutes. I stared at the lifeless television screen and saw the Christmas tree in its reflection, standing there behind me all lit up and alive. I opened the other beer, not really wanting it and took a sip. I felt my eyes become heavy and decided to close them for just a minute. When I opened them again I decided I didn't want the beer so I set it on the coffee table and laid down on the couch, deciding that this is where I would sleep for the night.

In the moments before I lost consciousness, I thought about how when I was little, it was always my plan to hide behind the living room chair so that I could catch Santa Clause in the act. I wanted to see him. I wanted to talk to him and ask him so many questions. It wasn't about finding out if he were real or not. Mom and Dad told me he was real and so I felt no need to question the matter any further. However, I usually just fell asleep within minutes and dad would carry me to bed so that he and mom could lay out the presents and eat the cookies and drink the milk that my sister and I left out. I can't even imagine the excitement I must have felt each and every Christmas Eve. And here it is, 20 something years later and I'm half drunk and a little stoned and I'm realizing that I completely understand why someone like uncle Pat is the way he is. Hallucination or not, if someone truly believed that they saw something so beyond our reality that it transcends description, It's no stretch of the imagination that they could, right then and there, transform into a person completely opposite from who they were. Because it takes you back to Christmas Eve as a kid. It proves that there is something else. It might not be Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny but there is something magical and upon realizing this, all of that excitement that had been tucked and hidden away for so long comes rushing back to you and why give up a feeling like that? That's what everyone wants. That's what everyone is looking for. And if they find it, good for them.

For me, the stories and opinions of other people are proof of nothing. I have to catch Santa Clause in the act. I'm not about to be tricked again.

I laid there for a while longer with these thoughts and then I stopped and fell asleep.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Terror in the Doorway

I'm afraid of my bedroom door. I'm not afraid of it like I'm afraid of snakes. A door poses no real threat to me. The only thing a door can do is stub my toe or slam shut on my fingers. The door can only be in my way where a snake can approach and attack and fuck me up. Either that or make me run in the opposite direction in a manner that is shameful and depraving. Snakes do that to me. Doors do not.

I'm really only afraid of my door during the moments in the early morning when I've awoken with only half-consciousness and maybe turn to look at the alarm clock and silently cheer for the next three hours of sleep I'm allowed to have. And then I turn back over and see a figure standing in my doorway. The only illumination I have comes from the light of my alarm clock and the little green LED light that belongs to my phone charger so the figure is more or less a silhouette. But I could tell that it wore a cloak-type garment. It was the color that blood takes on when it dries. A dark rusty red. The figure stands there or rather hovers there, still and silent. From what I can tell, it has no legs. It has no bottom half at all. It crossed its arms, (if that's what you want to call them,) across its chest. Its stance and demeanor was like that of a monk 12 hours into meditation. Calm and unaware of anything outside itself. Not there to harm nor there to threat but just...there to be there. There to exist in that space in my bedroom...

...but it's a figure standing in my doorway. Figures don't belong in my doorways and when there are, I get scared. And when I get scared I feel outside myself. I feel like this other person that is driven by survival and pushed by the threat of harm and the reluctance to be harmed. I don't like that. The bright side is that I will fall asleep again in just a matter of seconds and wake up three hours later with little to no immediate recollection of being scared.


It's always been preached in our family to re-use towels. The theory was that after a shower, you were clean. Therefore, towels never got dirty. I had the bad habit, however, of using a new towel everyday. After a week, the pile of towels that had accumulated would start to demand my attention. One day, having left the house earlier that morning with the pile of towels, now starting to attain a mustiness, still piled on my floor, I came home and they were gone. The towels were gone and a towel hanger was now stuck to my door. On my bed was a note from my mom. It said something to the degree of, 'hang your towels,' 're-use your towels,' 'your bedroom smells,' and 'p.s. I found your weed. I'm disappointed. Love, Mom' I was to start hanging my towels on this hanger so that when I walk out of my bedroom in the morning it will be right there, in front of my face, begging to be grabbed before proceeding to the bathroom.

The first day, while the hook was still empty, I got to my room after my shower and obediently hung the towel on the hook. That was the same day that the figure started standing in my doorway. As I'm sure it's been pieced together by now, the figure in my doorway is not actually a figure at all. It's my towel hanging on the hook. So I proceeded using the hook, re-using my towels, avoiding towel piles on my floor and prevented any further lectures on towel use from my mother. Therefore, I also awoke in a split second of frightened panic almost every day somewhere between the hours of 4 and 6 a.m. So why not stop using the hook, you might ask. Because, I will answer, when you've only slightly entered consciousness after having slept for a good 4 or 5 hours, those fleeting moments where the eyes are open but the brains still have some catching up to do, shit doesn't bother me. I become the laziest motherfucker to ever occupy a bed.

Once, when my parents' house was being infested by mice, I woke up to scratching and scurrying that came from inside my walls. I turned my bedside lamp on and at the exact moment, one of the mice darted from my closet to underneath my bed. I sat frozen for a minute contemplating my options. I could get up, put on the wood stove gloves and take care of the situation right there or I could simply turn my lamp off, get back under the covers and convince myself that I was just dreaming. I opted for plan B. I always opt for plan B because during the hours of the morning when the drunks are passing out and the graveyard shift employees are counting down their final hours, I simply don't care about anything. Start a fire in my room and I might care. Burst in pointing a gun at my face and I might care. But if my life is not being threatened, it's amazing how much of a fuck I do not give.

So one morning, weeks after the figure started appearing and weeks after piles of towels started accumulating once again due to my newfound negligence of the hanger, I awoke in a haze of whatever inebriation I took part in the night before and my alarm clock told me that it was 4:13. I didn't have to work that day so I, in a voice full of gravel and phlegm, rejoiced with a "Fuck yeah." I then turned over and there I saw the figure. But it wasn't the same figure. This figure had legs and it stood in my doorway and my door was open and I knew after a few moments of confusion that this wasn't a towel. This was an actual person. It stood there, still and calm, and the green light from my phone charger illuminated teeth that were arranged in a smile which made me feel uneasy and scared.

I had always wondered what I would do if I ever encountered a ghost or some paranormal thing to which I had no idea how to interact with. I always assumed I would just regress into a childlike state of mind and hide under the covers until it went away. But this was different. It was not something I could just ignore. It was that smile. What the fuck was it smiling at? So very slowly, I reached over to turn on the lamp that sat on my bedside table. And then the figure sneezed. And then it sneezed again. And again. Suddenly I started thinking about every horror movie I ever saw and every ghost story I ever heard and never once had I seen or heard of a serial killer or monster or troll or ghost do something so human as to sneeze not just once but three times. I wasn't scared anymore. I turned on the light and there in the doorway was my mom wearing her nightgown and wiping her nose on her arm. When she looked back up her eyes stared straight ahead of her at nothing at all.

"Mom?" I asked. "Mom, what are you doing?"

"I don't know," she replied.

"Why are you in my room, you scared me."

"I don't know," she repeated.

There was a pause in which I didn't know what else to do. At this point I figured either my mom had been bitten by a zombie and already eaten my dad and my dog and was now about ready to eat me....or she was sleepwalking. The last I checked zombies neither sneezed nor spoke words so I got out of bed and tried to wake her up.

"Mom, wake up. You're sleepwalking," I said.

"Do you want a fried egg sandwhich," she asked. "I bought some spinach."

"No mom. You need to just go back to bed."

"I think Everybody Loves Raymond is on," she said.

"Ok," I told her.

I walked her upstairs and to her bedroom and she crawled right back into bed and fell back asleep.

I walked back downstairs and tried to go back to sleep myself but I was far too awake. And that pissed me off because I didn't have to work and I couldn't enjoy sleeping in. So I sat there in my bed and tried thinking about what I was going to do that day. I really just wanted to be lazy and do nothing so I decided that's what I would do. And then this scratching sound started coming from inside the walls. Starting with one or two scratches every minute or so and then progressing into persistent scratches that couldn't be ignored. I scratched back. And then I heard some rustling bags from inside my closet and it became clear that we had mice again and I was not asleep and so therefore I had to give a fuck.

I hate having to give a fuck.

Friday, January 7, 2011


It's three in the morning and I still can't get any of the frontmost parking spots. Not that the few extra steps are going to kill me but there's a microscopic part of me that gets let down upon being denied imaginary late night parking privileges. I realize that I am at Wal-Mart at three in the morning but wonder if it is really possible that 11 other people are doing the same thing? I suppose it's possible but what's weird about the whole ordeal is that when you walk in, there doesn't appear to be anyone else in there but you. Sure, it's possible that all 11 people are spread throughout the store but you would think you'd at least see someone at the cash register or in the aisles as you walk past, but they are just nowhere to be seen. Sometimes the employees are nowhere to be found either. It makes you feel like you're in the opening scenes of "28 Days Later," and one edge, waiting for a zombie priest to come barreling out from inside a clothes rack of Faded Glory polo shirts. It's a strange feeling to seemingly be the only customer inside a huge store. It's like standing in a gymnasium by yourself. Both are places that demand to be filled with people and noise. When both elements are missing, something seems off. Something makes me feel like I just shouldn't be there. But for right now, I'm still in the car and I'm checking all the nooks, crannies and crevices for spare change. I manage to find $1.73 in quarters, nickels and pennies and I am really hoping that it will be enough for jar of pickles.

The thing is, I don't even like pickles. In fact, I hate them. They're gross. And it's not one of those foods that I just THINK I don't like such as cole slaw or onion rings, food that I would probably end up enjoying if I just ate it more often, I just straight up want nothing to do with pickles. I've tried to like them. I want to like them. I would like nothing more (I'm sure that's a lie,) than to enhance my sandwiches with a new flavor and a nice little crunch for texture but a pickle will never be that thing. I think it's the crunch that appeals to me most. Anytime I have ever seen anyone eat a pickle, a very small part of me takes great pleasure in the sound of its crunch. It's just absolutely perfect. It's a shame they don't have a taste to match.

So why am I so desperate to buy a jar of pickles?

Well...there are a few reasons.

Just as much as I hate pickles, Jamie Tilson loves them. I once heard her describe pickles as "God's one and only gift from above,"... and.Jamie Tilson has kids. Now I'm sure she loves her kids more than she loves pickles but there was a moment in one of her days in which she took a bite of a pickle and for just a moment, that pickle was the only thing that existed. It brought her a satisfaction that I can't honestly say I've ever felt. That look she gave and the way she chewed was enough to let me know that it was very possible that I was missing out on something wonderful. It made me realize that true pleasure can be found in something as simple as a jar of pickled cucumbers. I can't honestly say I've ever felt that way about anything in my life. I wish I liked something half as much as Jamie Tilson likes pickles and I'm sure I do, I just haven't found it yet.

Jamie and I know each other from a job I had in high school. We worked in the hospital food department filling meal trays for patients. It was my job to place an entree and a side on the tray and Jamie would do silverware and desert. A guy named Ronnie Silverman did the drinks but he doesn't need to be discussed in great detail but I'll give you the sparknotes. When I started that job, I knew nothing about Ronnie. When I quit a year later, I had learned that he eats eggs for every meal and has some weird skin condition on the top of his head. That's all. Both pieces of information I heard from other employees, never from Ronnie himself. Ronnie never said anything. If he had a question he would do these weird hand gestures that somehow conveyed, quite clearly, the question he was asking. He managed to create his own form of sign language that never really needed to be taught to anyone. Everbody just picked up on it. This may be the most interesting thing about Ronnie Silverman. For all I know, he's still down there not saying a word.

Jamie and I didn't get along at first. She had worked at the hospital a year longer than me and was kind of a bitch for the first few months I worked with her. "Kind of a bitch," is actually an understatement. She was Satan's whore and even he probably got annoyed with her from time to time. Either I wasn't serving the right proportions of lasagna or I was wearing the wrong kind of gloves. I was always doing something wrong and she was the first to let me know. It wouldn't be inaccurate of me to say that I hated her at first. I hated the way she wore her hair. I hated that her shirt was 2 times too big for her, (she was a skinny girl with a nice body but was always afraid to let it be seen.) I hated the way she wore makeup. She was the type of girl who never had anyone show her how to wear it properly and it showed. I hated her taste of music and I hated everything she ever had to talk about. It wasn't long however, after we convinced Harold that she was my mother, that all of that changed. All the sudden she became a very pleasant person to know. I liked her. I like her a lot and I think she liked me too.

Harold was an old man that was either slightly slow in the head or the most naive human being in existence. He was the janitor of the food department and could usually be found with a mop in his hand. If he wasn't mopping, he was wheeling the cart of trays up to the different parts of the hospital. I think the job was created for him because he really never did anything that the rest of us didn't do anyway. I think we was just an old man with nothing to do with his days which is a realization that in retrospect, makes me feel shitty about giving him such a hard time.

It started one day by Jamie telling me how bad a job I did washing a certain plate that I'd accidentally left a particle of food stuck to. She must of been having an especially bad day because although this behavior is typically normal, she was really laying into me about it. Harold happened to be in the vicinity and overheard her. Apparently, to him, the way Jamie always yelled and lectured me seemed to him a motherly thing to do. Later on, we found out he actually believed that Jamie was my mother and that she only yelled at me so much because it was her right, as a mother, to do so. On the day of the plate incident, Harold very shyly tried to stick up for me. He said that anyone could have left such a tiny piece of food on the plate and that if she wanted to get mad at me, she could wait until we got home and not do it at work.

After a bit of confusion we put it all together and figured out what it was he thought our relationship was. Jamie never yelled at me again after that. She never once nitpicked something miniscule and she was happy all of the time. Our days were filled with plots to have mother/son arguments whenever Harold would walk into a room. I, to this day, still don't understand how that worked. How the switch in her personality was flipped with such ease, but it happened and I'm glad it did.

One night after work, while walking out to our cars, Jamie asked if I wanted to hang out for a bit. Normally, after work, everyone walks to their cars not saying a word and we drive our own separate directions home. Seeing as I've never talked to Jamie outside the hospital walls, her invitation to her life outside the hospital caught me off guard and for a moment I didn't know how to respond or even if I wanted to.

"What, like just...hang out?" I asked.

"Yeah, I mean drive around or something. Talk."

My first instinct was to make up an excuse. I had to work on something. I had to go to bed early. I had already made plans with somebody. I just needed some kind of alibi but what came out was, "Sure."

Jamie drove a white Honda something-or-other. I couldn't tell you the year but it definitely had some age to it. She seemed to be a fairly tidy person. Other than a couple receipts crumbled up on the floor and a few books thrown about in the backseat, the car was pretty clean. I noticed a distinct fragrance and guessed it had something to do with pine. I tried to get comfortable but there wasn't a position that could take away the awkwardness I knew was about to take place.

We pulled out of the parking lot and she hadn't said a word yet. I tried desperately to break the silence and found an opportunity when I heard Screamin' Jay Hawkins burst through the speakers.

"Nice," I said. "I've always like this song."

"Really?" she said. "I can't stand it. This was on a mix a friend made for me. I usually just skip over it but I guess if you want to hear it..."

"No, no. Your car, your rules."

She skipped the song and now my only thought was how to get out of this situation as soon as possible.

She started heading outside of town, towards the country roads. Part of me wanted to jump out of the car then and there. I didn't care what injuries I would sustain. As long as I could just break free from this. But then part of me was genuinely curious as to what her plans were. So I sat back and tried to be cool.

"So where are we going?" I asked.

"Could you reach into my glove compartment and hand me the wooden box that's in there."

I opened the glove compartment and found a little rectangular box about 2 in. x 5in. I handed it to her. When she opened it the smell hit me instantly. I couldn't believe it. Of all people. Jamie Tilson.

She ripped a zig zag out of the package and sprinkled a hefty amount of bud in the crevice. She rolled it like a champ, right there, still driving and not missing a beat. In under a minute she handed me the freshly rolled joint and asked, "You smoke?"

"Umm. Yeah. Actually." I said. I took it from her and she handed me a lighter. "You're really good at that."


I lit the joint and pretty soon I had completely lost any sense of the awkwardness I had previously felt. I began to notice how well the moon was lighting up everything around me. The cornfields were glowing a dim white glow. The trees cast faint shadows on the road ahead. The pumpjacks in the middle of bean fields were living silhouettes with their fires forever burning behind them. And Jamie Tilson started to talk.

"You don't like me much do you?" she asked. She said it without looking at me and with a tone that was more matter-of-fact than it was questioning. The question caught me off guard and I wasn't sure how to answer. The truth was that I did like her. I wasn't sure what it was I liked about her but I did.

"Umm. No, I like you. Why?" I replied.

"If you don't like me, that's fine. I just want to know."

I sat there thinking that I might as well be honest with her. She knew I wasn't telling the complete truth so there was no sense in carrying on in the direction I was going.

"I didn't use to like you. I used to hate you, in fact."

She didn't respond. I guessed she was expecting more.

"I like you now though. I mean, you changed at some point. You stopped Unless this is you. I don't know. I wouldn't have gotten in your car if I didn't like you."

"I guess that's true," she said. "Do you work tomorrow?"



She suddenly made a turn onto a dirt road, one that seemingly led nowhere. In fact, it led to the edge of a patch of woods. She turned off the car and got out. She opened to back door and grabbed a backpack. "Come on," she said.

I got out of the car and, against my better judgement, followed her into the woods. If the moon wasn't full I wouldn't have been able to see her ahead of me. Even now she was a faint movement ahead of me. My auditory senses were doing most of the work, following a crunch here and a snap there. Soon we entered a clearing in the woods. I heard her unzip her back pack and pull things out of it. She walked a couple steps one way and a couple steps back and I heard what sounded like logs. Then a squirt of sorts. And then she the yellow glow of her lighter flicked into view and I saw she was building a fire. It caught on the kerosene and flames consumed the pile of logs. The clearing was now illuminated and I could see there were logs made into chairs that circled the firepit. It reminded me of the midnight society on Are You Afraid of the Dark. She sat down on one of the logs and gazed blankly into the fire. I did the same. She pulled out a bottle of Jim Beam and drank straight from the bottle. She handed it over and although I was in no mood to get drunk in the middle of the woods with someone who is only a few degrees above being a stranger, I took a swig if for no other reason than to avoid seeming rude. I handed it back and this routine went on until the bottle was gone.

I wasn't sure how much time had gone by but I was sure that nothing was said between us. We both sat silently staring at the fire, only moving to add wood or to keep from falling over. I wasn't sure what to say but I also wasn't sure I needed to say anything. There was a calmness to it all. There was no need for conversation. It was an experience I had never had before and have never had since. It was the moon, the woods, the fire, the wind, Jamie Tilson and I. Well there was the weed and the whiskey too. I had never felt so at peace with everything as I did then and in that moment, when the fire ceased to be anything but glowing red embers and the whiskey took over my thoughts, I realized Jamie Tilson was never the hateful person I thought she was. She was never mad at me or annoyed with the little things I did wrong. She was mad that she couldn't be here whenever she wanted. She was mad that life demanded she spend most of her day inside buildings among people and their problems and that she have to be something she didn't want to be. She was mad that her life, as well as everyone else's was not what it she felt it was meant to be. Because this was what it was all about. Being out here, cut off from everyone else, just being and nothing more. And I felt for her. I felt bad for anything malicious I ever said or thought about her because Jamie Tilson, I now know, is the most genuine and sincere person I've ever known.

The trip back to the hospital parking lot was short. It took the same amount of time as it took to get out there but because I didn't want it to end, it came faster than ever. I wanted to say something. I wanted to extend some form of gratitude to her, to thank her for what she had just given me. But I didn't say anything and neither did she other than that she was hungry.

"Hungry for what?" I asked.

"Pickles. I would kill for pickles."

The answer came to me as kind of a shock. "Really? Pickles?"

"Fuck yes, pickles. What? Are you saying you don't like pickles?"

It struck me then that this was the most Jamie had said all night. She said nothing about her life. Nothing about her problems. Really, nothing at all. But when someone came to the table and started talking shit about pickles, she had plenty to say.

"No. Not really. Never have."

"You're absolutely insane. How can you not love pickles?"

I went on to explain why I didn't love pickles and she went on to tell why she loved them. She told me with with rigor and passion. Jamie Tilson fucking loves pickles. However, it was going on 10 p.m. and Jamie had to get home to relieve her babysitter and regretted to inform me that she had finished her last jar of pickles that morning and had not yet had an opportunity to re-stock.

"Oh well," she said. "I guess I'll settle for some toast or something."

She dropped me off at my car and drove off. I noticed her muffler spitting out white puffs of exhaust and made me realize that it was actually getting pretty cold out. I got into my car and drove off.

I walk through the automatic doors with the $1.73 jangling around in my pocket. It's three in the morning now and I haven't seen Jamie in over 5 hours. I'd spent that time driving around listening to music, smoking cigarettes and thinking about the night. I went and parked at Miller's Grove along the lake and actually fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I awoke I had the sole ambition to enjoy a goddamned pickle. I made my way to where I expected the pickles to be, looking down every aisle I passed for a sign of human life. I found none. Some random country singer was faintly playing on the speakers and along with the bright fluorescence I was feeling the urge to leave as soon as possible.

I found the pickles. Prior to this moment, having never shopped for pickles before, I never knew how many variations pickles came in. Dill pickles, Gherkins pickles, Bread and Butter pickles, Sweet pickles, Sour pickles, Pickle chips, Pickle spears, little mini pickles and on and on. I went with the pickle spears because I remember getting them on my lunch tray in grade school. I believe they were served on Chili day. Anyway, I checked out in the one open lane and found that $1.73 is, in fact, enough money for pickles.

I got in my car and decided I didn't want the pickles.

The next day, I waited until noon to drive to the hospital. I hate going to my job on my days off but this seemed important. I needed to get pickles to Jamie. It was the same as when I was 14 and got up an hour early so that I could buy a pack of gum before school for a girl I was seeing simply because the night before she had mentioned needing some gum and hadn't the means to go get it herself. I didn't bother going to the cafeteria because I knew that Jamie ate lunch by herself in the stairwell outside the kitchen everyday. When I got there however, she had not yet made it. I took a seat and waited.

After 5 minutes or so, she exited the kitchen door into the stairwell with a bag of food and jumped slightly when she noticed me sitting there.

"What're you doing here?" she asked just before glancing down to see the jar of pickles in my hand.

"I figured you might need some of these to get you through the rest of the day."

I opened the jar and held it out to her. She did nothing but stare for the next few seconds as if not understanding a word I'd said. And then she went for them.

"You didn't have to do that." she said.

"I know."

She sat down next to me and ate her pickle. I took notice of the crunch. Such a pleasant crunch. She took another.

"Eat one," she said. "Just try it."

"No thanks," I replied. "I've tried them. They're not for me."

"Maybe something's changed," she said.

I took a moment to think about that. I stared down into the murky pickle juice wondering if something, in fact, had changed. I couldn't remember the last time I ate a pickle really. Who knows? I might end up liking them. And then I looked at Jamie and thought about how only a month or so prior I hated this woman who sat beside me. Now I'm bringing her pickles on my day off. I guess it was safe to say that something had changed. I didn't know where any of this would lead but it felt good. Refreshing even. I reached into the jar grabbed a pickle. I bit down on it and chewed. I heard the crunch but it's never the same sound when it's your own crunch. I chewed that goddamned pickle until it was gone and tried my hardest to remain unbiased during the whole ordeal. I swallowed and took notice of the lingering taste that remained in my mouth. Jamie looked at me, waiting for a verdict.

"So what do you think?" she asked.

Some things might change. Some for the better and some for the worse. But I still hate fucking pickles.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strawberry Basketball

I haven't written in a while. This I know. And really, this post hardly counts but I had to share. This evening I was digging through an old memory box with a bunch of things from my childhood. Laying underneath a 1993 year book from St. Joe, I found this:

In third grade we had what was known as "Author's Tea." Why it was given this name, I do not know. What it was though, was a project for which each of us had to write a 5 page story based on the design of the small book that we were each given at random.
The cover designs ranged from soccer balls to princess' to strawberries and flowers. As you can see, I was given the latter. So naturally I was going to write a story about strawberries that played basketball. . .because I fucking loved basketball. The following is what resulted. I have not edited anything. Enjoy.

Page 1:
Dedicated to my favorite basketball player. DAMON STOUDAMIRE.

Page 2:
One day there was a strawberry basketball game starring the strawberries. It was Toronto Raptors against Utah Jazz. On the Raptors, it was Damon Stoudamire and Marcus Camby. On the Jazz, it was John Stockton and Karl Malone. They didn't like a crowd watching them because they'd get eaten! The score was 51 to 28. The Raptors were winning. It was half time and for drinks they had strawberry punch.

Page 3:
Half time was over and the Jazz caught up with the score. Raptors were losing. The score was 158 to 150. The Toronto crowd was saying "Go Raptors!" The Utah crowd was saying "Go Jazz!" The coach from the Jazz took out John Stockton. The Raptors coach took out Marcus Camby. So it was Damon Stoudamire and Karl Malone. It was a jump ball.

Page 4:
Damon Stoudamire got the ball. He made a slam dunk. The score was 160 to 152. Karl Malone and Damon Stoudamire were about to fall because they have skinny legs. So the coaches put in Marcus Camby and John Stockton. John Stockton wasn't doing good but Marcus Camby was doing good. They were breathing hard. It was 166 to 164. It was the fourth quarter. This time it was two on two. The players were so knocked out they couldn't breathe! Raptors had a plan but first they got new jerseys because the other ones had strawberry stains in them. So did the Jazz. The Raptors idea was they'd keep passing the ball back and forth until the Jazz got tired. Then they'd shoot.

Page 5:
Then they tried it and it worked. The players yelled, "Yes!" The scoreboard had three minutes left. Some people in the crowed yelled, "This game lasts forever!" In strawberry basketball they have six quarters. The Jazz weren't doing good or playing hard. The Raptors were playing good and hard. They weren't tired. They had so much energy that they could run to one side of the court to the other (?) in six seconds! The score was better than any of Larry Birds' games. The score was 499 to 166. The Raptors did a test on Karl Malone. They passed the ball to Karl and it knocked him down.

Page 6: (This is where it gets REALLY good.)
Then suddenly, the ground shook. Some people in the crowd yelled, "Earthquake!" Then it cracked open. When it came out everyone yelled, "It's Michael Jordan!" He said to the Jazz, "Need some help?" The Jazz said yes. Michael Jordan said, "Ok." So he got them in the lead. It was 500 to 400. This time it was the opposite. The Jazz were winning. The clock had 20 seconds left. The only way the Raptors could win is if they scored 100 points in 20 seconds. The Jazz didn't score anymore points but the Raptors scored 102 points in 20 seconds. The game was over. Some people call it a legend. Until they discovered the scoreboard didn't work.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Big Hairy C***

There's a bridge in Richland County that can only be found if you're really looking for it. There's an intersection at Chapel Hill Road and Deer Farm Lane that allows you to either go east and west on Deer Farm and only south on Chapel Hill. The north route of Chapel Hill is blocked off at this intersection due to poor road conditions that have resulted from years of inadequate ditch work and general negligence from the township. If one had a need to drive on this road, they would need a tractor; and even that would be an annoyingly bumpy ride. The road is littered with ankle deep potholes and contains areas where sections of it are literally missing due to water running across it during heavy rains.

The road eventually leads to a dead end and within that two mile stretch there are no outlets, making the intersection at Deer Farm Lane the only way to reach N. Chapel Hill Road. If one were so inclined to meander down the road on foot, a mile long walk would bring you to the bridge. It is suspended over what was once a creek deemed "Chapel Creek," which is now dried up and overtaken with weeds.

The dead end of the road used to be the site of a church and the creek wound it's way right next to it; hence the names Chapel Creek and Chapel Hill. The church burnt down in the late 70's and it is for that reason that the road stopped seeing traffic and why the township stopped concerning itself with its upkeep.

By the time I came to be in the world, the road had been blocked off for more than 15 years. It's existence came to my attention when I was around 10 years old. My dad would take my sister and I mushroom hunting in a patch of woods that bordered Chapel Hill. He always said you could find them in other spots but for some reason this patch of woods produced mushrooms twice as tall as the rest. He also claimed that they had a very specific taste although I could never tell the difference. I remember it always being a very 'hush, hush' operation. My dad was under the impression that we were the only ones who knew about the mutant mushrooms and he intended to keep it that way. I never particularly liked hunting for mushrooms. Truth be told I didn't even care to eat them at the time. The thing that I always looked forward to when it came time to hunt mushrooms was the bridge.

The patch of woods we frequented was about 30 ft. past the bridge so we always had to cross it to get where we were going. On a few of these occasions, I would let my dad and sister go on without me and I would hang out on the bridge by myself. When I was little, the creek beneath it still contained a considerable amount of water. I would always try to skip stones on the surface from the top of the bridge but was never level enough to make it work. I'd get bored with that and then I would lean over the edge and spit. I'd watch as my wads of saliva fell and it always surprised me how long it took to finally reach the water. Sometimes, if enough spit was involved, the wad would split into two and would take on a sort of amoebic shape. It was weirdly fascinating at the time. Hell, even today if I'm suspended in the air high enough and no one is watching, I'll spit. And I'll be just as fascinated with it as I was then.

Aside from mushroom hunting trips, I began to frequent the bridge often. Sometimes by myself and sometimes with other people. My sister and I once climbed down underneath the bridge where we found a lot of evidence that we weren't the only ones who found pleasure in simply hanging out there. On the underside of it, in large spray paint letters, someone had written "Mary is a big hairy cunt!" I didn't know what a cunt was so the message never had much of an effect on me. There were also broken beer bottles and smashed beer cans spread out all over the banks of the creek and there was a collection of cigarette butts in an old Foldger's coffee can. I remember thinking it was weird that they had no problem littering the ground with broken glass and aluminum but when it came to cigarette butts, they went through the trouble of bringing their own coffee can to dispose of them in.

I once even found a bra draped over a rock when I was with a couple of my cousins. I remember us laughing hysterically about it for the same reason a 10 year old boy laughs when someone says the word "penis"or "vagina." More times than not, however, I would visit the bridge by myself. My trips became more frequent the older I got and the bridge proved to be a very important factor of my high school years.

When some people get bored or get depressed they have nowhere to go and so they sulk at home and they just stay that way. Luckily, I always had the bridge. It served as the perfect venue for me to just lay back and be reminded that there are stars in the sky and nature all around me. That an insult by a peer or a rejection from a girl or a fight with the parents was nothing when put into this kind of perspective. When you realize that each of those tiny sparkling dots in the sky represents a galaxy full of planets that for all we know are just like this one, the petty shit just kind of dissolves.

The point to all of this being that the bridge served as a sort of sounding board for me. Although I never literally talked to it, it served the same purpose. I also took comfort in the fact that I didn't feel like I had to share it with anyone. It was mine and only mine whenever I needed it.

A week before I was set to graduate high school, my girlfriend of 2 1/2 years broke up with me. It was the whole, "I'm going to college and I really just want to whore it up for my first couple of years," excuse. Or something like that. In the back of my mind...and I mean the VERY back of my mind, I think I knew that this was for the best. In all honesty I wanted to start college as a single guy too but I wanted to be mad first. I did love the girl and the thought of some scum-bag, frat boy, college freshman wearing a backwards baseball cap and a diamond stud in his ear sticking his tongue in her mouth and reaching his hands down her pants...well it didn't sit right with me.

The night of our graduation, James Blackwell had planned a post-grad party in the woods behind his parent's house. It was rumored to be an enormous, drunken extravaganza. Graduating classes from three other surrounding counties were said to be there. We were no longer high school students and we had every intention to go out with a bang. With the recent break-up still hanging over my head, I was set to get sloppy drunk and just have as good of a time as possible. Little did I know miss whorey-McWhorestein, (my ex) was going to show up, coincidentally, with the epitome of the backwards hat, frat boy douche I had previously envisioned her with. I saw this happening a few weeks into the first semester of college but not now. We literally graduated hours ago and she's already replaced me? With this guy?

My original order from the 21 year olds that we knew was a 12 pack of Rolling Rock which in those days was plenty to get me hammered. But with this breaking news, however, I decided I should upgrade to Southern Comfort.

I found it extremely difficult to have a good time. There were, what seemed to be, hundreds of people all spread out in the clearing made for the party. Three campfires burned throughout the night and each was surrounded by a circle of hay bails for seating. Upon arriving, most of the hay bails were vacant so I picked one and sat there for a good hour. This particular hay bail gave me a clear vantage point of my ex and her date who occupied a hay bail in front of a separate fire. I sat there taking small swigs of Southern Comfort as I watched him put his filthy arm around her. She began shivering at some point and he took off his jacket and put it around her shoulders. She smiled at this act of chivalry and kissed him on the cheek to express her gratitude. But I knew it was all an act. He didn't care that she was cold. He only cared that he was keeping her happy so that he could have his way with her when she was too drunk to care. I wasn't going to have it, though. I needed to put a stop to it but without making a scene. At that point, she spotted me looking at her and I averted my gaze elsewhere in an attempt to look like I didn't notice. I wasn't sure if it worked or not but I stood up regardless to go take a piss. Upon standing, however, the world spun a little bit and I took notice that half of the Southern Comfort was gone. I hadn't realized I'd drank so much already so I decided to take a little bit of a break to sober up before working at achieving another buzz.

I was pissing on a tree and aiming the stream at a hole in the trunk. I had to use my left hand to support myself against the tree or else I would have for sure been unable to stand upright. I'd walked a fair distance so that the yells and chatter amongst the party-goers seemed distant. Other than the sound of streaming piss, the forest noises seemed especially loud. Crickets and bullfrogs and locusts and other players in the nighttime orchestra were building to a crescendo when I heard some leaves crunching nearby. My first instinct was that it was a coon or a possum but upon looking around I saw that it was a girl. I must have startled her because when I spoke to apologize for my indecent exposure she gasped.

"Holy shit!" she said. "You scared the hell out of me."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I responded as I zipped up my pants. "I thought you could see me."

As I stepped away from the tree however, I noticed that the area in which I was standing had been completely cast in shadow, so much so that even the tree was now hard to see. I thought we were going to have more of a conversation but as soon as she caught her breath I noticed that she seemed upset by something other than me.

"It's Ok," she said as she continued walking in the opposite direction of the party.

"Are you sure you're alright?" I asked.

"Yeah it's fine," she said without turning around. "I'm fine."

She seemed like she just wanted to be left alone so I did just that and joined the party once again. My ex was no longer where she was previously sitting. I did a quick scan of the party and couldn't immediately see her. I continued searching but was held back by a group of people who brought me into their conversation. I didn't know any of them.

"Hey bro! Hey man, if you could fuck ANY girl...any girl in the world, who would it be?"

I had no interest in socializing but I also didn't want to be rude so I obliged. My first instinct upon being asked the question was to say my ex. Not because I was used to saying it while we were dating in fear that she would find out otherwise but because I really meant it. Obviously though, that isn't what I said.

"Rachel McAdams," I said off the top of my head.

They all looked at me with confusion. Upon actually looking at who I was talking to, I realized these aren't the kind of people I would usually find myself enjoying a conversation with. Three of them wore backwards baseball caps and it reminded me that I was on the hunt.

"The Notebook," I said as I turned to exit the circle.

I heard one of them say, "That movie's for chicks and fags." They all laughed in agreement at this ignorant statement which just confirmed that it was a circle I had no business in.

I was searching a little while longer and walking a little bit straighter so I decided it was okay to continue drinking. I became a little concerned after scouring the entire place and being unable to find her but at that point I heard a crowd of people yelling and cheering near the circle of douche from earlier. It seemed to be catching the attention of everyone at the party as all of the hay bails were once again vacant and people not already part of the crowd were scurrying towards the commotion.

I joined the crowd myself but was unable to see what the fuss was about. Everyone seemed to have formed a circle and they were all giving their attention to the center. I saw that some of the other people joining me in the back ranks of the circle had stolen some hay bails to stand on, giving them a better view. I did the same but immediately upon seeing what everyone was staring at, I wished I hadn't.

The spectacle reminded me of a porno I once watched and it took me a moment to register that this was actually happening. There was my ex, lying on a bed of hay with baseball hat guy on top of her and all of these people watching and cheering them on. His hand eased its way up her legs, hiking up her skirt along the way and revealing the thumb-sized birth mark on her inner thigh that I used to kiss in attempts to relieve her self-consciousness about it. His other hand had found its way inside her sweater and I noticed it was a sweater my mom had bought for her last Christmas. Their faces smashed into each others repeatedly with a ferocity I'd only seen in movies. She had raised her hands to his belt buckle but before she had it completely undone, I had already pushed my way to the center of the circle. My first instinct was to kick the guy in the face, and because the southern comfort had stolen any form of restraint I may have previously had, that's exactly what I did. I may have broken his nose because as my foot made contact with his face, I heard a sound similar to that of knuckles popping. As he rolled off of her, clutching his face, I pulled her up, grabbed her around the waist and led her out of the circle. She kicked, squirmed and screamed in protest but I held on to her tight and put my hand over her mouth making me feel like a kidnapper or something. In the heat of the moment though, I felt I was doing the right thing.

I made a quick glance over my shoulder and saw a posse of backwards baseball hat wearing dudes walking angrily in my direction. I realized this had now turned into a chase so I headed deeper into the woods. I swear one of them had lit a torch on one of the fires making this now seem like some kind of 18th century witch hunt. Luckily for me, it wasn't difficult to outrun a gang of drunken idiots.

Eventually we came across the tree from before that was ideally cast in shadow and I decided to hide there for a bit until the angry mob had passed. Upon sitting down I realized there was a good chance I was sitting in my own piss but at the moment I didn't really care. My hand was still held tight against her mouth and I could feel that she was now biting me. When I finally saw the orange flame of the torch getting smaller in the opposite direction I decided to let go. She was clearly not thrilled about the situation.

"What the fuck is your problem?"

"My problem? I wasn't the one who was just about to fuck some dude in front of our entire graduating class!"

"I wasn't going to fuck him!"

"Oh no? Well it sure fucking looked like you were."

"Either way, what fucking business is it of yours? We are not together. You have no right to intervene!"

"Excuse me for trying to protect you! I thought I was doing you a favor in preventing you from being referred to as 'that girl who got fucked on the haystack' for the rest of your life!"

"Well the next time you think you're doing me a favor, don't."

"Whatever. You're drunk. You won't remember any of this tomorrow anyway and if you do, I'll be the first person you call in the morning and you'll thank me."

"Oh please! Don't flatter yourself. I haven't had a drop of alcohol tonight."

Upon hearing this confession, I realized that she really hadn't seemed drunk at all. She was standing with perfect posture and speaking fluently.

"What? Then why... how did... what the fuck were you doing?"

"Fuck you," she said as she started walking back towards the party which seemed to have been resurrected at this point.

I stuck out my arm to stop her.

"Seriously. Hold on. What's the deal? I mean...a week ago you were with me and now yo..."

She cut me off.

"Jared. Things change. I'm not having this sappy, revelatory conversation with you because I can sum it up in those two words. Things change. I've changed, you've changed, we've changed. Just accept that and get over it. If you can't then that's your problem but don't keep dragging me into it with you, okay?"

"So your excuse for being a complete whore is because you've changed? And I'm supposed to accept that as a legitimate excuse?"

She stared at me with a stone cold gaze and walked closer. She was inches from my face. I almost kissed her but thought better of it.

"I admit, while my actions weren't the most admirable tonight, they were my decisions and I have my reasons."

"What? What were your reasons?"

And like a bomb, she let me have it.

"Because after two and a half years of "love-making" and sensual, romantic, high school bullshit, I wanted to be FUCKED for once. It's as plain and simple as that. And yeah, I could have done that in a bedroom. I get it. But you think I give a fuck what all of these people think of me after tonight? I'm going to college in a month and I probably won't see any of these people for the rest of my life. I'm a whore, fine. If that's what you want to call me now, I don't care. If what I just said makes me a whore, then I accept that. Because ten years from now it won't matter. If anything it'll be a story to tell of a time when I was a stupid little girl. Because in ten years, you, this party, all of these people, all of it will be a memory of another time. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. That's the truth of it."

We stared at each other for a moment in silence. I had a lot more to say. I had a lot of questions that I wanted answered but there was a pleading in her eyes that begged me not to ask them. I felt like I knew the answers anyway so all that came out of my mouth was, "Okay."

I think she expected, and partially wanted me to say more but she turned around regardless. I'm pretty sure I head her cry as she walked away and it brought me a vague feeling of comfort. Not for malicious reasons but because it confirmed that she was still human and not the stone cold bitch, void of any compassion that she had just presented herself as. I watched her walking towards the party but before she made it to the clearing, she turned towards the area where all of the cars were parked. I could see her car from where I was standing and saw that baseball cap guy was sitting on her hood seemingly passed out. As she approached her car I expected her to wake him up and help him into her passenger seat but she instead just pushed him off onto the ground, got in the car and drove away.

Maybe she had a point. Things do change. But not like that. Not that abruptly. And what kind of excuse is that? She just wanted to get fucked? In front of a large group of people? I admit I was never the "fucking" type. I was always a fairly reserved guy when it came to the bedroom. Not very aggressive. But if it were a problem she could have talked with me about it. I don't know. Maybe there was more to it. Maybe there wasn't. I decided I didn't care anymore. And the night went on.

I couldn't re-join the party and I couldn't drive home so I pulled out the SoCo from my back pocket and began polishing it off as I wandered around the woods. Soon enough, the party was completely out of sight and I could no longer hear the yelling and screaming. Technically I was lost because I didn't have the slightest idea of where I was but the alcohol had drowned out any inkling to care. I looked up at the sky and for the first time noticed that there was a full moon out. A beam of its light shone down through the trees and landed on the ground in a sort of spotlight fashion, illuminating what looked like a very small tree. Upon closer investigation however, I discovered it was a mushroom. A very large one. It then dawned on me where I was. The Blackwells lived nearby my house, this I knew, but I didn't realize that the woods behind their house connected with the woods on Chapel Hill. I began walking with purpose, in search of the woods' edge and for the bridge. If there was ever a good time to get some petty shit off of my shoulders, now was the time.

What seemed to be 15-20 minutes later, I stumbled past the last row of trees that bordered the woods and found myself on a dirt road. With the first step I took, I caught my foot in a pothole and fell on my face. It's possible that I sprained my ankle but I didn't care because I knew I was on Chapel Hill road which meant the bridge was near. Despite the pain in my ankle, I stood up and kept walking and for no reason at all I started laughing and singing "Hit the Road Jack," by Ray Charles.

The full moon brightened the landscape more than the average night. I saw the bridge about 30ft ahead of me and took notice of what looked like a person sitting on its railing. I controlled my laughter and stopped singing and attempted to approach the bridge without being noticed. I'd succeeded in doing so up until I reached the edge of the bridge where I realized the person sitting on the railing was the girl who had seen me pissing earlier. It sounded like she was maybe crying. I was about to say something but realized there was no way to announce my presence without scaring her which I felt was a bad idea seeing as she could easily fall over the edge from where she was perched. I began to back track so that I could re-approach the bridge and make noise along the way, alerting her to my presence from a distance but once again, I stepped in a pothole, only this time, it sent me falling backwards off the side of the road and down the bank of the creek.

Nothing hurt other than my ankle but instead of getting up, I just decided to stay. The moon light reflected off the ground just enough to illuminate the underside of the bridge making the words, "Mary Is A Big Hairy Cunt," fairly legible. It made me laugh. I had fallen on the opposite side of the bridge from where the girl had been sitting but soon enough, I saw her head peek over the railing of the side on which I had fallen.

"Holy shit, are you okay? What the hell are you doing? You scared me."

"That's twice now tonight."

"Are you the piss guy?"

"I am."

She made her way down the creek bank and helped me up.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I think so. Nothing hurts."

I wiped some dirt of off my clothes and gathered my bearings and noticed the moonlight reflecting off of her wet cheeks. She saw me notice and wiped her face with her own sleeves as she turned from me.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"I'm fine," she replied. "I just get emotional with things like this."


"No, not parties," she said. "Moving on. Transition. Change."

"You mean, like, graduating? Going to college?"

"Yeah, ya know. Leaving what you've gotten comfortable with. Same thing happened when I switched dentists. I don't know. It's a thing."

We continued talking for a while. I found out she was from Jasper County and she knew some friends of mine. I discussed how my evening had went and she explained that she'd been at the bridge almost the whole night. I told her how I've been coming there for years and told her how therapeutic it can be. We ended up talking long enough for the sky to turn that morning shade of gray and with it came a very thin layer of fog.

I found the SoCo bottle lying on the ground where it must have slipped out of my pocket during my fall. There was about a quarter left of it and I split it with the girl. I realized that for both of us, what began as a very shitty night had abruptly and unexpectedly changed into a very pleasurable one. We were moving from high school to college and that was okay. My ex had moved on from being a lover to a dirty whore, and that was okay too. But the bridge was still the same and while this girl and I watched the sun creep into the sky, I took comfort in the fact that, as far as I was concerned, Mary, whoever she was, would always and forever be a big hairy cunt.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Left Cheek Dimple

You're leaning on the bar patiently waiting for the drink you just ordered. The person next to you gets up and leaves. Seconds later, the spot is filled with a girl. You never look at her directly but you pick up characteristics with the corner of your eye.
She's brunette.
She's wearing something that shows a little cleavage.
She's not with a group of friends.
And then you do the casual look around the shoulder as if you're innocently scoping out the rest of the patrons but you pause for just a moment on her before completing the full neck turn. You now have as good of an impression as you can get in a darkly lit bar.
She's cute.
Maybe a little older than you.
And she may have noticed you looking at her.
She then orders her drink and you can hear that she has a sweet voice. She places her purse on the bar. She pulls out a debit card and joins you in the wait for your drinks. There's this invisible pull that makes you feel you should turn around and say something and you think you see her attempting to make eye contact. And maybe you'll do something and maybe you won't.

SCENARIO #1: You Talk To Her
You try and figure out a way to smoothly work your way into her bubble. You notice a tattoo of an owl on her wrist. It's more of an abstract owl, drawn in the same style as the sky in 'Starry Night.'

"Owls, huh?"

She doesn't notice you've said anything to her until your persistent gaze burns a hole in her peripheral. She turns to you and she looks a little confused.

"I'm sorry, what?"


You point to her wrist and she laughs. Not a laugh that indicates you've said anything funny but rather a laugh that confirms you've officially made your 'in.' She tells you some story about how when she was little, this owl would always perch outside her bedroom window and often stay there all night. She always thought of it as her guardian. When she moved from her home at 18, she moved away from the owl as well. So she got the tattoo to serve as a reminder of her "guardian." You think it's kind of cheesy but you feign general interest. You talk throughout the night. Maybe you hop over to another bar and then a million different scenarios could play out from there.

SCENARIO #2: You Don't Talk To Her
You wait patiently, fighting the voice in your head that is pleading for you to say something but your other voice is making excuses as to why you shouldn't. There's a break between songs that is momentarily replaced by the voices of people talking all around you. You sneak a look over and make awkward eye contact with her. You smile it off as you shamefully turn your attention to the part of the wall that's directly in front of you. You're voice starts in again saying you've already made contact and that all systems are a go. But the longer you think about it you're other voice is convincing you that too much time has passed. At this point there's no way to avoid an even more awkward moment. Your drinks finally come. Except you don't remember ordering a vodka tonic. And she doesn't remember ordering a whiskey and coke. You seem to notice the error at the same time.

"I think this is yours," you'll say.

"And I think this belongs to you," she'll reply.

You apologize for no reason and she smiles and says not to worry about it. You both take your initial first sips without walking from the bar, giving this moment one last chance, both possibly waiting on the other to do or say something. Neither of you does and you walk away in opposite directions never to see each other for the rest of your lives.


Scenario #1 allows you to potentially change your life forever.
Scenario #2 allows you to drink by yourself and go home by yourself and go to sleep by yourself knowing that your life is exactly the same as it was before you left.

Scenario number one is obviously a better scenario. However I find myself in scenario number two more times than I'd like to admit. This isn't only at bars. This is in elevators, book stores, the DMV, your apartment complex, work, concerts, the bus, etc. Most recently, it happened at the airport.

After having spent two weeks in Illinois for Summer break, I'd grown accustomed to lots of grass, trees, pastures, fields and everything else that makes a landscape green. Even taking off on the airplane out of St. Louis, the ground beneath us was green for as far as I could see and it stayed that way until I got tired of looking out the window. Three and a half hours later the captain announced that we were beginning our descent into Los Angeles. Looking out the window now, everything was brown and ugly. The landscape, as far as I could see, was now littered with buildings and freeways. I used to welcome this scene with excitement but I'm not so sure anymore. Pros and Cons. Just like everything else.

We land and I am surprised at how quickly we're able to depart. As the rows in front of me file out of the plane, the woman sitting next to me leans in and asks If I'm staying long . . . which I remember thinking was an odd question.

"I actually live here," I told her.

"Oh really? Huh. You don't look the type."

"Yeah? What am I missing?"

She takes a moment to look me over before responding with:

"I'm not sure. But it's something."

As soon as I walked into the airport through the little hallway thing that connects with the plane itself, I called my friend Erica to confirm that she was on her way to pick me up. She let me know that she was on her way but she was stuck in a considerable amount of traffic. I decided that since I was more than likely going to be waiting for a while I would buy a pack of smokes before I left the terminal. Little did I know airport cigarettes cost $11 but I convinced myself that it would be worth it.

I really just wanted to smoke my cigarette in peace but this monk with books was really pushing his product. He had these DVD's and books on Buddhism and the way of the monk and he was trying his hardest to convince me that I needed to have these things. He even let me hold one and flip through it, making me think it was mine before taking it from me and telling me how much it cost. Turns out it cost however much I wanted it to. He was collecting donations. So if I were an asshole I could have given him a penny for it. I had nothing to spare and I apologized. I said that if I had some cash on me I would gladly make a donation but that just wasn't the case. And then the fucker pulls out a credit card swiper and says,

"It's Ok. I take credit."

I begrudgingly swiped my card and gave him three dollars. He handed me a book and a DVD that I had no intention to watch or read. By the time the monk had left my cigarette had burned out so I began to fish out another. Before I could do so, however, I heard a pleasant laugh coming from the other side of the bench I was sitting on.

Her hair was blonde and put up in a style that, for lack of proper hair style vocabulary, I would call interesting. She wore a dress that was reminiscent of 60's fashion and brown leather boots that went up to her kneecaps. She wasn't looking at me but she kept on laughing. Seeing as there was nobody near her nor anything that could possibly make a person laugh for no reason, I decided either she was thinking of something funny that had once happened to her or she was laughing at my exchange of words with the monk. Because of my uncertainty of the source of her laughter, I didn't say anything.

I returned my gaze to the frantic travelers that were concentrating so hard on getting where they needed to go and the two of us sat patiently on the bench awaiting our rides. I knew I should have said something. A normal person would be at least 300 words deep into a conversation with her by now. I sat thinking of something to say, some way to break the ice, but everything I pictured myself saying made the mental image of me saying it look like every other Joe Shmoe that has ever hit on a girl like that. I wanted to be unique. I wanted to say something she could admire. Something that, upon hearing, she would genuinely think, "Wow. That was good." But nothing came.

I'd say at least 15 minutes had now passed and neither of our rides had shown up. At this point however, a man of asian descent sat down next to me and in broken english asked where he could find Terminal 4. I tried to explain that we were already at Terminal 4 but my explanation was lost on him. I even pointed to the sign that we sat underneath that clearly read, 'Terminal 4.' Even still he kept asking, "You know Terminal 4?" Eventually I decided someone else could probably help him better than I so I just told him I didn't know where it was . . . which he seemed to understand just fine. When he stood up I saw that on the other side of him, some dude with a pair of Ray Bans and a leather jacket had sat down next to the girl and was in, what seemed to be, a fairly successful conversation with her. She was laughing and he was laughing and I hated him. Him and his fancy haircut and his $150 dollar sunglasses.

My phone rang and it was Erica updating me on the traffic situation. She informed that it had let up a little bit but that she might still be another 10-15 minutes. I asked if she wanted me to keep her company on the phone but apparently there was a cop in the next lane about four cars away from her and she was on speaker with the phone in her lap so she had a hard time hearing me anyway. I hung up the phone. At about that time a blue car pulled up to the curb that was driven by a tall beautiful woman. Upon seeing it, Ray Bans ended his conversation and met the woman by the blue car. They embraced each other in a hug that lasted five seconds longer than a 'friend hug,' and upon release, they kissed.

I wasn't sure, but upon averting my attention back to the girl, it seemed she had moved closer to me. Was it intentional? Why would she do that if not to get my attention? At this point she had pulled out a book that I had recognized. I'd actually read it. "The Sun Also Rises" by Hemmingway. At first I thought this was the perfect way to get in. Just as I was about to make a move, my inner monologue once again intervened.

"She's reading. It would be rude to interrupt her," I thought.

"Yeah, but she clearly wants you to talk to her so it's doubtful that she would be upset," my other voice retorted.

"Ok. Ok. But if I mention Hemmingway, what if she's a die hard Hemmingway fan and she wants to keep on the subject of his books. I've only read two. She would think I'm a fraud. I can't go in talking about Hemmingway."

This argument between me and myself carried on but I noticed that she had never turned the page. Enough time had passed for her to easily read at least four, even if she was a slow reader. Having had enough of my own cowardice, I decided to just go for it. There was enough evidence now of her intentions that I would be a fool to just sit here a second longer without saying something. I opened my mouth to say something however what I was about to say was lost on me. I was just going to come out with it. Whatever it was. I had barely uttered a consonant when her own phone rang. Her ringtone was of a Mississippi John Hurt song; 'Candyman Blues.' If I was infatuated before, the attraction I had for her now had no definition.

"No, I'm still at the airport," I overheard her say.

"I'll probably be there in a couple of hours. I want to go home first and kind of settle in, maybe take a nap or something."

"Alright girl, I'll call you in a little while."

She hung up the phone and seeing that she was stowing her book back in her luggage she had apparently grown bored with "reading." She pulled out what looked to be a small journal and began writing something in it with a black sharpie. A few moments went by and I was counting the little blackened patches of gum on the ground around my feet that had accumulated over the years when she spoke.

"Excuse me?" she said.

I turned and saw that she was now sitting right next to me. For the first time I noticed that her eyes were brown and she had just one dimple on her left cheek. I'd never noticed dimples before but hers really stood out to me. It really completed her smile. She also wore lipstick which is something you don't see all that much. I liked it.

"Yeah?" I replied.

"You don't have a cigarette I could bum off of you do ya?"

"Of course," I said.

I pulled out the pack and handed it to her while I searched for my lighter. It was caught in my pocket between my phone and my keys and I struggled to get my fingering around it. I eventually worked it out. She handed me back the pack having pulled one out. I lit it for her.

"Thanks," she said.

"No problem."

She did not retreat back to her original position but rather remained right where she was in my bubble.

"Waiting on a ride?" she asked.

"Yeah, I guess she's stuck in traffic or something."


"No, no. Just a friend who happens to be a girl."

She nodded.

"Do you live here or just visiting?" she asked.

"I live here."

"Really?" she said with what seemed to be genuine shock.

"Does that come as a surprise to you?" I asked.

"Sort of. Yeah."

"That's the second time I've heard that today. I'm starting to get a little concerned."

"Oh no. Don't be concerned. If anything it's a compliment."

"Well in that case, thank you."

"You're very welcome. I guess I'm just used to people being more forward around here. Like that guy that was talking to me a second ago. Did you see him?"

"Oh you mean Ray Bans? Yeah I saw him."

"Yeah well he was definitely from around here."

"Ok. I think I'm getting it now."

"My name is Dahlia by the way."

She extended her hand to me and I met it with my own.

"Jared. Very nice to meet you Dahlia."

"Well you almost didn't, huh?"

"I'm sorry?"

"I kept scooting closer." she said. "I was trying to get your attention. I assumed you weren't going to talk to me unless I forced you to. Do I smell or something?"

Having been called out, I laughed an uncomfortable laugh and then attempted to preserve my dignity the best I could.

"No. You actually smell kind of nice. And I mean that in the least creepy way possible. But I saw you. I wanted to say something. I just . . . didn't know what to say. I don't know. I'm weird like that. But thank you for being the man here."

Just then a black SUV pulled up to the curb and caught her attention. She stood and as she threw down her cigarette I took notice of the pink blotch of lipstick she'd left at the tip. With her luggage in tow she extended her hand once more.

"That's my ride. Good talk."

I wanted to say more. To suggest maybe we hang out sometime but I was unsure of whether or not that would be too forward. So I decided to just let this be one of those chance encounters that will become a story to tell and something to think about on those days when I get caught up thinking about all of the things that could have been.

"Definitely. Take care." I replied.

I had my cigarettes in my hand and I saw her glance at them ever so slightly. I guessed that maybe she wanted another. I extended them out to her.

"Cigarette for the road?"

She smiled and said, "No thanks. I don't usually smoke." Her stare lasted a moment longer than normal, as if something were being conveyed that I was simply just not picking up on.

"Maybe you should have another, though," she said. "Sounds like you still have a while to wait."

I watched her as she loaded her luggage into the back of the SUV and continued watching as the SUV merged into the chaos that is LAX. And then she was gone. I sat back down on the bench and noticed I had gotten a text from Erica that read, "Exiting the freeway. Be there in ten." I noticed, however, that the message was sent six minutes ago. She would now be here in four minutes and I decided that was just enough time to squeeze in another cigarette.

I pulled out the pack and upon opening it, I noticed the corner of a little piece of paper slightly protruding out of the top. I pulled it out and unfolded it. In black Sharpie it read:

If you decide to stop being a pussy, give me a call. . .

I read it over and over again as if there was something to decipher. I determined that I liked her handwriting. It wasn't girlish. In fact, it was kind of sloppy.

I found it difficult to stop smiling. I looked up half expecting to see her standing there, as if this moment were part of a movie and we were reaching a heartwarming climax where the jilted lover arrives at the airport in the nick of time to stop me from getting on that plane to Amsterdam, but I was instead greeted by the sight of Erica waving enthusiastically from the driver side of her Jeep which had just pulled up. I folded up the note, shoved it in my pocket and made my way towards the car.

On the 405 going south there was hardly any traffic at all. The northbound lanes, however, were a complete shit show and It put into perspective just how much of a pain in the ass it can be to pick someone up from the airport. Despite this, Erica seemed very energetic as if she'd drank a case of red bull on the way to get me.

"So how was the flight?" she asked.

"It was fine I said. Pretty typical."

"Did they show a movie?"

"No. I don't think my airline does that."

"Lame. . . So what are you doing tonight, you wanna do something?"

"What did you have in mind."

"I don't know I'm just kind of in one of those 'don't care what I do just want to get hammered' type of moods. We could go to the bar. Maybe Short Stop. I could definitely dance tonight. You wouldn't have to dance but I would dance. Dancing bars are good places to meet girls. It usually helps if you're dancing but you could work your game at the bar I suppose. Oh but I guess you don't really have game, huh?"

Dahlia suddenly popped in my head. Those brown eyes. The boyish handwriting. That left-cheek dimple.

"No. Not really. But I don't know I guess I'm kind of tired. Jet-lag, you know?"

"Oh come on," she pleaded. "I don't have any other friends. Please, please, please, please, please. I swear I won't make you dance."

"Well yeah but drinking by myself doesn't sound all that fun either."

"Well shit, call somebody then. It doesn't have to just be you and me. Let's make a thing out of it. You have friends. There's gotta be someone you can call."

I really was tired. I wasn't lying. And the idea of going home, taking off my pants and watching a movie was very appealing. But alas, I agreed. Partially because I knew she would have talked me into it anyway and partially because I did in fact have someone to call.

Deer In Headlights

When a person is killed, people mourn. There are people who are sad that they will never be in your presence again. People who grieve because they have to go on living without you. And almost every person, no matter if they are good people or bad people, will meet death with tears on their grave. We all have mothers and we all have fathers. Some of us have siblings and most of us have friends. People that love us unconditionally. And that's nice. I guess it's one of those perks of being human that can be easily overlooked. From human to human life is a precious thing.

But what about animals?

Yeah, sure. I have cried my eyes out every time I've had a pet that has died. Of course. Who doesn't? I'm talking more about animals that we don't directly have a relationship with. (PETA people and people who strive to be just like PETA people are excluded.) There are things like hunting season where it's in good sport to shoot, kill and eat various animals. Fishing is a sport. Roadkill is looked upon with a sympathy that lasts until it's out of sight in the rearview mirror. So far in my life I have killed four animals with my car. A rabbit, a squirrel, a cat and a bird. All of them either ran or flew out in front of my car and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. Did I feel bad? Yes. Of course I felt bad. I just ended something's life. But did I go home and weep about it for days? Did I hold a funeral for it? Did I turn around and give a good christian burial? I sure did not. In a way, I feel it is weird that we don't. Because life is life right? Whether it belongs to a human or not. I mean I guess you can argue that plants fall into the same category and ask me if I feel the same way about plants. And I say sure. However I know that we must eat. And I know in order to do that, we have to kill some form of life be it plant or animal. And that is nature. So I understand that things must die but am unsure of why we feel that we're allowed to make our own standards for life. What life is important and what life is dispensable? What life is protected by law and what life is taken with a pat on the back?

The only reason I'm even talking about it is because my mind was stimulated, one day, after I'd found this deer in the middle of one of my father's corn fields. It was on the ground and kicking it's legs as I approached it. It tried, with everything inside of it, to get away but the bullet wound in its neck was slowly bleeding it out and making escape futile.

It was a Saturday morning. At around 6:00 a.m. I receive a wake-up call from my father. My dad isn't exactly the ideal person to wake up to. His every action is accompanied with something that makes noise. He wakes up in the morning, and turns all of the lights on. He clicks on the TV in the kitchen which has the volume set on ultra blast super sound which is a big old "fuck you" to anyone who had any intentions of sleeping in. He stomps from the kitchen to the bathroom and throws opens all of the drawers and slams shut all of the doors. (There are some details during this portion that I will omit for the sake anyone reading but just know that sounds were made.) He makes his way into the kitchen and either makes a bowl of cereal or fries an egg and slurps up his coffee. If you were lucky enough to get through this routine without waking up, you would soon hear stomping that grew louder and louder until it stopped just outside of your bedroom. The door would then swing wide open and in a voice that is bigger than God's at that time in the morning he says,

"Jared! It's time to get up. We've got a lot of work to do today."

Something about the way he said "We've got a lot of work to do today," never failed to piss me off. I didn't care that there was work to be done. If I needed to do something, fine, but I don't need to know the amount of work I'm in for before I even get out of bed. Just let me find out as it comes.

I don't know.

I've tried over the years to work out why this bothered me and that's the best I could come up with. Maybe a psychiatrist will explain it better to me some day.

I got up and took my time eating breakfast. Dad would usually have gone outside before I got around to getting up so I would often decide to make something that took the longest time to prepare and in doing so I was able to prolong the amount of time before having to go outside and see what needed to be done. I would then brush my teeth, put on some clothes, pretend I had to poop, put on some shoes, pretend I had to pee and then finally making my way outside to the shed where my dad was working on getting ready to rid his combine of all the dirt that it had accumulated during harvest.

I always approached with such disdain which is something I regretted later in life. I wish I would have been more excited to be working alongside my dad. I wish I could have been a little more supportive of what he did to help keep our family afloat. But I was a little shithead who felt he had something to complain about.

My dad sent me out on the four wheeler with the sprayer to kill some weeds where his fields bordered the creek. I'd went with him to do this on multiple occasions so I had a pretty strong grasp on what weeds and plants I was intended to get rid of. Honestly, I think if you sent me out there today I'd still have a pretty good idea.

So I rode out to "Grandpa's Place," the name given to a patch of land that sat on a piece of property once owned and lived on by my great-grandfather, Frank. His barn was still standing until a couple of years ago when my dad decided, after noticing all of its rotted wood, that it could be a safety hazard. At this point however, the barn was still standing. When going their as a kid I would play on the haystacks inside. The hay had to have been there for probably 30+ years so there was a healthy accumulation of raccoon and possum shit everywhere but that, oddly enough, was not the reason I vowed to never go inside there again.

Once, I'd been playing in the haystack and my foot got stuck in a hidden hay hole. (Anyone who grew up playing on stacks of hay bails knows exactly what I'm talking about.) Conveniently, right at that moment, a snake began slithering towards me and I was unable to get my leg unstuck. Luckily, just within reach was a pitchfork stuck in a hay bail. It was my only defense and on the first try, I speared him right through the top of it's head. It's body was active for a surprisingly long time after that. It flipped and flopped around all over the place but because the pitchfork was pinning it to the hay bail, it didn't move anywhere. I was finally able to get my leg unstuck and once I had cleared the threshold of the barn, I swore I would never go back inside.

Just as I was approaching the field, I was passed by a truck-full of men wearing bright, neon orange and camouflage vests. Three of them rode in the cab and four of them rode in the bed. The ones in the back held guns in between their legs and they were all laughing as if someone had just told a joke. The man in the far passenger seat held a pair of binoculars to his eyes and looked out his passenger window as if looking for something specific. I imagined them listening to Kenny Chesney or Alan Travis or some other bullshit country singer that was currently set to their FM radio station.

As I pulled into the driveway of what used to be my great grandfather's house I made my way to where the field and the creek met borders. Immediately I could spot at least six weeds that had almost grown to the size of small trees. One specific tree that I remember would always grow back within the year to the size it was when it was last sprayed. I believe it was called a locust tree and the reason we killed them is because they grew these long, thick and sturdy thorns that if not killed, would pierce the tires of tractors, combines, four-wheelers or what have you.

I got to spraying and the sun started its ascent into a humid and muggy sky. Many of the plants I had to spray were deep enough in the creek that I had to walk down the bank into the tall grass in order to reach them. I'd made the mistake of wearing shorts and could immediately feel the chiggers and the tiny insects having their way with my legs and arms. I'd gone along for about an hour when my path was all of a sudden blocked by the struggling pile of fur.

From the looks of it, the deer had been there for a little while. My judgement was based on the blood that had pooled underneath it's body and the trail of it that led to where it was. I turned off the four-wheeler and approached it with a curiosity that initially blinded my need to help it. I hovered over the creature and could feel its fear. It kicked it's legs with a ferocity that slowly began to unravel my sympathies. The more it struggled the stronger the blood seeped from its wound. The thing that shook me out of my state of shock was the way it looked at me with its mute eyes. The deer made no noise at all but its eyes seemed to plead with me as If I was simultaneously its enemy and its savior.

In reality it took me about 15 minutes to drive the four-wheeler home but in my head it felt like an hour. As I pulled up to the machine shed I noticed that my uncle was there and he was discussing, with my father, the impending rain storm that the weather man had predicted that morning. I met my dad's confused glance with news of the deer. He didn't react as quickly as I had hoped but we eventually piled into his truck and made our way to the field. My uncle followed in his own truck.

As we approached the deer I'd noticed it had stopped kicking. I thought we were too late. It had died already. But when my dad gave it a gentle kick to the side, it jolted back to life but with much less energy than it had half an hour ago. At first we all just hovered over it just as I did when I originally stumbled upon it. The whole reason I went home to tell somebody was that I wanted to help it but as we stood over it, watching it lose energy with ever moment, I realized that there was nothing we could really do. My uncle walked to his truck and fidgeted around with a box behind the seat. He re-entered the huddle around the deer with a pistol in his hand.

The shot rang out much louder than I had expected and when I saw a flock of black birds scurry off of a power line along the road, I wondered just how far the sound had traveled. The color of blood that now seeped from it's head was a much brighter red than the blood that had pooled below it. With the last bit of energy it had left inside of it, it kicked its legs for a moment longer before succumbing to its fate. The now lifeless body of the animal laid there with a stillness that struck me as peaceful. Although we were unable to save its life, putting it out of its misery seemed to bring some serenity to the whole situation.

When we got back home, my dad went back to cleaning the combine and my uncle went to go do whatever he went to go do. Despite the dark clouds in the west that usually indicated rain, I hopped back on the four-wheeler and headed back to the field. Before leaving this time, however, I grabbed a shovel from the shed and brought it with me.

Subtle rain drops started to sting my face halfway to the field and by the time I had reached the deer the rainfall had turned into a full-fledged downpour which made the dirt softer and easier to penetrate with the shovel. By the time I had dug a hole large enough to accommodate the size of the deer every inch of me was soaked and most of me was covered with mud. The deer was already heavy enough to make the task of pulling it into the grave difficult but the mud and water-soaked fur made it that much more straining. By the time I had shoveled all of the dirt back into the hole, the rain was still coming down strong and there was no indication that it would let up anytime soon. I determined that this would suffice as an excuse to go home without spraying anymore weeds.

By the time I had gotten home, the rain had washed most of the mud and blood off of me but I found myself shivering from the wet clothes I had been in for the past hour. My dad was inside the house eating lunch and when I walked in he made a comment about how I should take a warm shower to avoid catching a cold.

The warm water took away any notion that a cold was upon me and by the time I'd gotten out my dad had already went back outside. I got dressed and heated up some left over lasagna for my own lunch. The daily paper was spread out over the kitchen table where my dad had been reading it earlier and I began flipping through pages while the lasagna was rotating in the microwave. I came across the obituaries where I read about four people that had died the day before. I didn't know any of them. All of them were between the ages of 70 and 93. The pictures that their families had submitted to the paper were all professionally taken photographs in which they were dressed in their Sunday's best and posing with their arms strategically crossed in front of them. The thing that struck me as odd is that none of them were smiling. It looked as if they had attempted a smile but that there was something that kept them from fully committing to their grins. And there was something in their eyes. Something that hinted their acknowledgment that their time was almost up. A muteness that pleaded for my help and an apathy that knew there was nothing I could do.

The microwave buzzer alerted me back to reality and as I looked out the kitchen window I noticed the rain had stopped and rays of sunshine were fighting their way through the clouds. I then saw my dad walk out of the shed and make his way towards the house and it was only a matter of seconds before he walked in the house and informed me that the rain had stopped and there was more work to be done.