One night in early September, there’s a crab feast in the cafeteria for dinner. Everyone’s so excited, especially the students from Maryland. I’ve never had crab before. John, sitting next to me, demonstrates for all of us. He whacks his crab a few times with a mallot, and then pulls the crab apart. I watch closely but can’t see how he knows what’s the meat and what’s pieces of bone or innards. It looks like brain surgery.
We go back to the outdoor school for dinner, then they drive us all to the beach for the evening. I hang out on a towel on the sand and watch a fiery, cloud-filled sunset with Jen and Christina, two writers who live in a dorm by the Lit House. The Lit House is a special building on campus for all the English majors to have meetings, workshops and readings. Most of our Sophie Kerr weekend events took place there.
“Are either of you taking the freshman creative writing class?” I ask.
“I am,“ says Christina. She has long straight dark blond hair, and wears a beanie. She’s small, one of those small people like my mother who carries a big voice.
“Cool,” I say, flexing my toes and watching a cloud fill with red like a pen burst inside it. “Me too.”
I was eleven. I loved things that not everybody loved, like thunderstorms and rainy days, winter, outer space, darkness and the feeling of mystery. I thought about things I read, either for school or for fun, and pondered them long after I’d finished the book. I thought over events in my life the same way. I looked for meanings, for connections, reasons, patterns, philosophies. I had a lot of thoughts and a lot of feelings and I was always exploring them, taking them deeper, writing them down. On Saturday mornings I woke up early and sat in bed writing stories. I was just starting to figure out who I was. I felt vivid, like a full moon in a sky full of identical stars.
Our counselors tell us to go to bed, so Leah, Monica, Eva and I have to return to our room. Monica wants to go to bed and keeps telling us to shut up. We try to talk quietly until she falls asleep. Eva and I tell Leah about my first year when we went on an overnight campout in tents and I stepped in a huge pile of dog shit and didn’t know it and they made me throw my shoes outside.
After we all stop laughing, Leah says, “So hey, where do albinos come from?”
“I miss just how it feels to wish for someone to call, you know? I miss how special it would make me feel every time a guy I liked talked to me. I can’t really explain the feeling. It’s kinda just like how great it would be every time Andy and I would kid around and play practical jokes on each other, even the times when all those girls came to see him at work. That hurt, but I don’t know, I just feel like I don’t feel anything deeply anymore. My life is just like a dull ache or something. I need some of…something.”
“I have an idea,” Steve says. He looks at me and it suddenly flashes in my mind, exactly what he’s thinking.
“The bushes?” I ask. He nods. I get the CD player going, Steve double checks that Mom and Dad’s car isn’t in the driveway. We hold hands. It’s all about the euphoria of the music.
And there you have it. The End.
Next Week: Something Completely Different.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Everything’s turned to sour milk, it seems. Everything used to have a shine that has somehow disappeared. I mean, look how I used to whine about how no one would ever date me, almost every day of ninth grade.”
“Even though you knew that wasn’t true.”
“Well I believed it at the time. But now, now that I’ve been in a few relationships and found out that they’re not all they’re cracked up to be, I feel like I’m too jaded to even believe in love anymore.” I return to the couch and slouch down, hiding my face.
“That’s sad. But I see what you’re saying. Once I caught my girlfriend cheating on me, I just, well I felt like something died inside of me. I never really thought of it the way you described, but I haven’t even flirted with anyone ever since. Wow.”
“Wow is right,” I say, laughing. “I remember when that whole group of girls used to bug me every day to find out who you liked. They were each convinced they were your one and only because you flirted so much with all of ’em!”
“Yeah.” His smile is wistful. “I miss my girls.”
You can think of this penultimate installment in this story like the title track of an album.
Next Installment: Crowdsurfing (Reprise)
“It’s sad, yeah.” I said. “And then, just before graduation, Stacy had to go and run away from home. I don’t understand, she was going to be graduating seventh in our class. She was going to MIT, she had everything going for her. Have you heard from her at all? Has anyone?”
“No, I don’t think anyone has.” He again stares out the window, and I doubt he can see much of anything through the layer of dust. “Please, I really don’t even want to think about that. None of this makes any sense. How did it all go so wrong?”
This one’s named after a song by one of my faves. We’re almost at the end of this short story from when I was eighteen and thought I knew shit.
Know what I love? When I tried to find an image for this segment, I just wanted the word “MISSING.” So I put that word into google image search and the FIRST thing that popped up was the missing poster for Walter White. Made my day. And that reminds me, I have one of those babies, signed by the man himself, and I should go hang that up or something.
Next Installment: Sour Milk
I remain silent, trying to hold back the tears that are starting to form. Never do I cry in front of my brother. But it’s sad, and there’s nothing I can do about anything anymore except watch the tragedies unfold. I resort to looking at the picture again. I sit behind May with a helpless, forlorn look on my face. I was always looking for attention, I think to myself with disgust. Steve on the other hand, looks unusually happy compared with the rest of the group. His smile looks genuine as he taps the floor with his favorite drumstick. It’s been awhile since he’s smiled like that.
“And even senior year was tough,” Steve continues. “Remember how at the beginning of the year, that girl committed suicide? I didn’t really know her, I don’t suppose anyone did, but it still scared the shit out of me that someone in our senior class, some girl who’d been in one of my math classes, would think to kill herself. I mean, it makes you wonder what goes on inside her head, why she would do, what could be so wrong in her life.”
Okay, points time! This title comes from a line of dialogue from a TV show that I have blogged about on this very blog. It is from the last episode of the first season. The conversation that contains this line takes place on a roof.
Next Installment: Girl Disappearing
“I was on the phone with her almost every night during the whole ordeal. She asked me to come home and help her, and I felt really selfish, but I couldn’t. I had my classes and stuff. Sometimes I hate myself for it, especially now that I haven’t heard from her in awhile. Her dad wanted her to get an abortion and she didn’t want to. Then the guy’s parents forbid him to speak to her or see her. They called her up screaming one night, telling her it was all her fault. I just didn’t know what to do when she called me afterward, what to say. I feel like an idiot trying to help her with this stuff and then worrying about, say, my physics grade.”
“I know how you feel,” Steve says, turning to look out the window. “I felt lost that day when I found out about Brad. I mean, I’ve told him everything since I was ten or so, you know? He was always the little angel child, the one everyone thought could do no wrong. His parents, they always said he was just going through a rough time, acting out they called it. But we all thought, especially me, that deep down he had a heart of gold. I mean, he was so sensitive, so concerned about everyone, even when he pretended not to care. I don’t get it. How could he have gotten mixed in all that? The papers said he was dealing coke.”
And the story goes on. Another installment from a story I wrote in 1999. Funny, I just realized I’m working on a fiction/non-fiction/hybrid/story/fantasy/clusterfuck right now that centers almost entirely on a conversation, and so does this story.
Next Installment: Something Always Changes
“Tell me about it! I mean, everything was a joke way back when, even when you thought it was important. I mean, would you ever have thought of having to see your friend get arrested for drugs?”
“I still can’t believe that happened. What was it, a week before you left that Brad got busted? We never even knew he was dealing.” Again I studied that subtle defiance he wore on his face. It still didn’t seem real.
“I think it was before that, but whatever, yeah I had no idea and the dude was supposed to be my best friend.”
“And then May got pregnant a few months back. I feel like all I do is worry about her. She got kicked out of her house when she told her dad, did I tell you that?”
“No, I didn’t know that. God, what happened to everyone?”
More points if you know where I got this title from. It’s a common expression but I specifically got it from an episode title for a TV show. Said episode, from the first season of said show, aired in 2004. Some great shows started that year.
Next Installment: The Kids Aren’t All Right