The Value of Remembering

I can’t trust the specifics of my memory. Can you? Do you? When you think of things that happened, how detailed do you remember it and how sure are you that that’s exactly how it went down?

I see my memories as an impression of an event. They’re flawed and fragmented but yet full and complete. The fullness is the feeling of the memory while the memory itself, the details, that’s what’s fragmented. That’s what’s missing.

The closer I look at it, the more I see that the pieces just don’t connect. Like a photograph in a newspaper, just a series of dots. Half tones.

I say this because of the thing I’m struggling to remember now. It’s an unpleasant memory. Does that factor into why it’s difficult to remember? Am I repressing things as a way to protect myself? I don’t know. I doubt it.

Let’s test it. Let me think of a happy time and let’s see how close to real it is.

I’m thinking of a birthday. My parents bought me a cake with Garfield on it. They got me a boombox for a present. It’s maybe the biggest gift I remember them ever getting me as a kid. I’m maybe 7 or 8. I don’t remember any friends being at this party. Just me, my sister, my mom, my dad and my grandmother.

She was married to another man, not my grandfather. I don’t think he ever liked us. He used to tear pieces of white bread and toss them into a glass of milk, like it was cereal. But it wasn’t any ol’ glass. It had a pedestal. Like a milk shake glass you used to see at old soda fountains.

I remember he would watch old westerns on TV while eating his fancy milk shake/bread/cereal.

He wasn’t there that night, even though it was his house.

When I think of this night, I usually see flashes of a photograph. There is an image of me with my dad. We’re holding the cake up towards the camera. My dad is wearing this blue Hawaiian shirt. He has a porn star stache and a fading hairline. He could be drunk. But I don’t think so. He looks like he genuinely wants me to like that cake and to like that night.

I’m grasping. I’m grasping for anything real or exact from that night. It’s just fragments. Pieces of my childhood. So why is my memory betraying me? Why won’t it back me up? Why won’t it transport me back in time as memories should?

All my memories can’t be tainted.

The thing I’m trying to remember involves Her. She’s this thing, this series of events that haunts me. She’s significant and substantial, therefore a capital H. Although capital H pronoun is usually reserved for God, she’s not that Her or Him. She’s just my Her.

For being a Her, a significant and substantial person in my life, I never talk about Her. I try never to think about Her but I do from time to time. Usually, it’s by accident. Usually, it’s something else that triggers it.

Today, I was watching a documentary about a man and he talks about the first time he fucked a woman. That immediately brought Her to mind. He went on to describe his Her. She was large. Obese. He hated the way Her pussy smelled.

Check.

Check.

Check.

He seemed to speak for me. But as I thought about it, like really thought about it, it just didn’t connect. I could smell Her pussy and Her sweat. It was putrid. But was that me latching on to someone else’s memories or was that my memory?

My memories betray me.

Here’s the way I remember it. It might be wrong. There may be gaps and the parts that are full may have once been gaps that I filled in years ago with different impressions or memories of Her. There’s really only so much I know for sure:

1. She was 29.

2. I was 12.

3. It lasted 4 years.

4. I thought I wanted it.

The fourth one is still tough to nail down. Mostly the tense or at least the implication of saying, “I thought I…” Usually when you say something like that, it implies that you’ve since changed your mind.

Have I? Maybe I really did want it. I mean, I never protested. In fact, sometimes I begged for it. Even when she told me we shouldn’t do it again, I begged until she relented. Does that make Her culpable? Or was I convincing? Alluring? Irresistible? Lovable?

What was I to Her?

When I remember it, it’s graphic. It’s always the sex. I feel the weight of Her on top of me. I feel it mostly in my legs because that’s where the weight was concentrated.

She didn’t fuck me a lot when she was on top but for some reason, those few times are the ones that are the most memorable. Maybe it was the physical strain of a 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16 year old heaving the corpulent body of a woman two times his size resting on his legs.

It’s strange though to remember things in your thighs. It’s not a tickle. But a warmth. Then a weight. I see Her on top of me, a purple and black nightie stretching at the seams.

I feel the slime of Her pussy on my dick. That’s all I can really call it. It seemed to be thicker than any fluid I’ve felt since. Like an oil. She always wore too much perfume and makeup.

And from the breasts up, she smelled nice. As you move down, the smell of the oil and slime overtakes my memories.

I can sometimes feel the moisture of Her folds. I can feel the dimples in Her ass. I can feel Her hot breath on my neck and Her little whimpers as she fucked me.

They were subtle and seemed genuine, as if she actually was being aroused by a child. And she must’ve, right? Why else would you fuck a child unless you physically enjoyed it?

I don’t know. Perhaps she was lonely.

She was divorced with two kids. One was a couple years younger than me and the other was just a toddler when this all started.

I remember one time she had to have me. Her toddler was home and barely walking. I was 13. I fucked Her on the floor of the nursery while he cried. I think I watched him more than I watched Her.

I don’t know how I came. But I did.

I think the creepiest thing about all of it is how it started. It sounds like a cliched pedophile story. She worked for a product distribution company in my home town. And she would get damaged toys and comic books and bring them home to Her kids or really any of the neighborhood kids that hung out in the neighborhood.

I latched onto the comic books. I’d read a lot of comics. My favorites were the X-Men. They’re these outcast teenagers with special powers that they have to hide from the world or else face the persecution of that world. Ironically enough, they use the same powers that they will be shunned for to save the people that will shun them.

But I guess in the defense of the shunners, they are defending them from other mutants with special powers. It’s a never-ending cycle.

I related to them. I couldn’t walk through walls or read minds but I thought I was special but that no one had discovered it yet. That my talents were hidden. Even from me.

Her son was younger and odd. I never gave him much of a chance. But I tolerated him so that I could get free comic books. Later, I tolerated him so I could have excuses to come over and fuck his mom.

I guess this all begs the question: why would I ever want to remember any of this?

Gacaca

Thomas sits on the bench with his hands folded across his lap, bouncing and swaying as the wheels of the bus seek out every divot, bump and hole on the road. His eyes sit focused on the conspicuous ad of the half-naked man and woman that hang above the seat across him.

“State of the art equipment,” the ad reads, “meet the new you for only $39.95 a month.” He smiles after reading “a month.”

“Is that all?” he thinks sarcastically.

He lowers his head scanning the other passengers as he often does on his long bus ride home from school.

Most faces are familiar. He has seen all of them at one time or another on his route.

In the corner is the man he calls Alfred. Alfred’s an older man with an elitist air about him. His once salt and pepper hair, now all salt, and his bifocals, that stereotypically sit on the end of his nose, made Thomas immediately think of a butler.

Beside Thomas sits the woman he calls Winny. He had decided that she was a retired seamstress who rode the bus into the heart of the city to spend her afternoons in the ten odd museums scattered throughout downtown. She’s young to have already retired, but Thomas has imagined that she was a fine seamstress who had sown the collars and cuffs of royalty and celebrity, and rides the bus so she doesn’t forget where she came from.

Then towards the front there is Becca, short for Rebecca. She’s a single mother of three who works two jobs in the city during the day and goes to school at night. The first job pays for the bills and the second job pays for the baby-sitter and her classes. She never has enough for anything extra, unless by some act of God her children’s dead-beat father sends her some money. On days like that Thomas imagines her taking all three kids out to a movie. Then afterwards, she takes them for a scoop of ice cream. He likes to imagine them getting two scoops even though he knows that Becca would probably only be able to afford one each.

Thomas has never spoken to anyone on the bus and knows that all of his fantasies are likely wrong. But among all of the faces he is sure his is the most familiar. It’s unlikely that anyone would forget about the black man, with the scar, who rode in the back of the bus.

His scar fades-in an inch above his temple and descends down his left cheek and under his chin. Every few inches is the crisscross pattern left from the Red Cross sutures. The scar tissue is a pale white, a stark contrast to the black of his face. That’s why he always sits in the back with his left side facing away from everyone. After nearly ten years Thomas still is unable to answer questions about his scar. And as he knows none of their stories, they too, know nothing of his.

“Next stop Madison St.,” the bus driver yells.

Thomas has only been on the bus for 15 minutes and knows that there are still 23 stops left. The ride has barely begun.

The bus pulls to the side and Thomas registers the hissing sound of the hydraulics as the doors open.

“Goodbye Alfred,” Thomas says to himself without looking over. The snooty old man makes his way out as a new passenger gets on.

The bus waits as the tall well-dressed black man stops to drop his change in the receptacle and makes his way to a seat, but never once does his attention waiver from the cell phone in his hand.

“Je ne sais pas ce qui s’est produit, ce ne marches pas,” the man says into the phone, immediately drawing Thomas’ and the other passenger’s attention, Thomas being the only one who understands what he’s saying.

Thomas stares at the top of the man’s lowered head. The man’s right index finger jammed into his right ear and his left hand forcing the phone against his left ear. He struggles to hear the voice on the other end as his own voice rises above the hum of the bus. He shows little concern for the solitude of any of the other passengers.

Thomas becomes all at once agitated and excited. The other passengers attempt to eavesdrop on the man’s conversation, even though they don’t understand anything he’s saying. They stare at him out of the edges of their eyes. It’s not often that they see a French speaking black man in an Armani suit.

Thomas himself hasn’t heard that French accent since he left Rwanda ten years ago.

“N’oubliez pas de me prendre,” the man continues. “A tout a l’heure.” He hangs up the phone and leans back in his seat pausing midway to look back to make sure he’s not about to rub against something disgusting and ruin his suit.

Thomas, never once allowing his eyes to leave the black man, stops as his body flexes and tightens. The once excited Thomas now begins to tremble and his temples begin to throb as the rapid beat of his heart intensifies. He wants to scratch his scar even though there is no irritation. He recognizes the man, as does every inch of the white tissue that covers the side of his face.

“Next stop Belmont St.,” the bus driver yells.

Sixteen more stops and Thomas will be home.

For the first time ever Thomas knows the name of one of the passengers and for the first time someone on the bus knows Thomas’s story.

The man in the suit looks around the bus sizing up the crowd. He pauses for a moment on Thomas as their eyes meet and quickly he moves on to someone else. Thomas knows that the man doesn’t recognize him. How would he? The last time the man had seen Thomas he was unconscious with a machete sticking out of side of his face. For all the man knew Thomas had died ten years ago in the Kigali church. Plus how would this man ever be able to remember a specific face among the faces of all his victims.

The man raises his arms up in a yawning motion and lays them across the back of the bench. His head darts back and forth hoping to find someone staring at him. He obviously isn’t use to so many people ignoring him. All the eyes that once sat in the edges now look away from the black man hoping that he doesn’t try to speak to them. But Thomas still in shock can’t stop staring at him.

“What are you looking at?” the man in the Armani suit yells towards Thomas. His strong accent makes the words seem almost dirty.

“Rien,” Thomas says as he lowers his head down to his overlapped hands lying in his lap.

“Tu parles Français?” the man fires back.

“Un peu,” Thomas says, a lie, he of course speaks more than a little.

The man lifts himself from his seat and makes his way toward Thomas and Winny. He stands above them implying they make room for him. Thomas never budges, but Winny on the other hand has always avoided conflict and replaces him at his old bench.

His long legs stand above Thomas’s head, even after sitting the man towers over Thomas.

“Where are you from?” he says to Thomas in English. “I am from Rwanda,” he says without Thomas asking.

“I’m from Kigali.”

“That is where I was born,” the man says, ”what a strange world.”

Thomas knows everything about the man before he speaks. “Were you born in Kigali?” the man asks Thomas.

Thomas doesn’t say a word.

“What is your problem? I am your brother,” the man says, “Do not treat me this way.”

Thomas lifts his face and turns to the man and his scar becomes visible for all to see.

“You are Tutsi,” he says to Thomas

“Yes,” Thomas replies.

The man in the suit lets out a sigh of frustration, and all at once his tone changes from “homesick traveler” to “disgruntled police interrogator.”

“How do you come here?” the man says in broken English. Thomas sits silent. The man shakes his head back and forth. “I am not going to hurt you,” he says.

“I was born in Kigali.”

“When did you get out?”

Thomas can’t make up his mind where to look. His eyes dart back and forth from the man’s cold brown eyes to his smooth dark lips.

“I left after this,” Thomas says pointing to his face.

The man leans over taking a closer look. He examines it as if to verify its authenticity.

“Red Cross?”

“Yes,” Thomas answers.

“Did you catch the man who did this?”

“No.”

“Home was an ugly place. I left as soon as I could. The violence was too much. All the death and…” he trails off.

“Yes,” Thomas says.

“And your family?”

“All dead,” Thomas says looking into his eyes.

“I was fortunate, I was able to get my family out before it was too late.”

“Lucky you,” Thomas says looking at his lips.

“How long have you been here?”

“Ten years.”

“Ten years for me. How do you come here?” he asks again.

“I was 14 when I was taken to the Red Cross and one of the volunteers adopted-”

“They just want to take you from your home. It is cultural imperialism,” the man interrupts.

“Don’t you recognize me?” Thomas asks tiring of the interrogation.

“I am sorry, should I?”

“Yes, you should.”

“You do not talk to me like that. Show respect for your elders”

Thomas stares back into his eyes.

“Stop looking at me with your disgusting face,“ he says, “I do not know you.”

Thomas continues to stare at him, hoping to force him to remember.

“I do not know you,” he says and spits in Thomas’s face.

The warm saliva rolls down the middle of Thomas’s face and makes its way to the tip of his nose and some drips over the edge onto his jeans while the rest trickles under the bridge and down to his lip.

“You should have died there,” the man says. His eyes begin to dart around in his head as he attempts to evaluate everything he says before he says it. “You do not deserve to breath the same air as me. Stop this bus,” he yells towards the driver in the front. “I am not a killer. I am not.”

It seems almost mechanical as if it has been his mantra for ten years. His breathing intensifies as Thomas’s slows. For the first time Thomas is in control and this calm cool African is fidgeting and scared.

The man knows he has no government connections to hide behind here and no machete under his jacket. Thomas’s eyes become ice. He doesn’t move, he doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t falter. He only stares back at the tall man in the Armani suit.

The driver looks in his mirror at the reflection of the man. His erratic gestures and

ecstatic screams of denial convince the driver to pull over.

The man lifts Thomas by the collar of his shirt, “get up,” he yells in Thomas’s face dragging him towards the doors on the side of the bus. The rest of the passengers just stare at the spectacle. The driver rises from his seat.

“Hey,” the driver says, “what’s going on?”

“Open the doors,” the man says.

“Get your hands off that boy,” the driver says.

Thomas follows the verbal volley between the two men never looking away from the man.

“Take your hands off the boy,” the driver says slower this time.

Thomas regains his footing on the perforated metal grate that serves as a floor for the now silent bus. The man in the suit steps away from Thomas as the driver stares him down. The driver makes his way to the front to open the side exits. The doors pause as the hiss builds up and the doors spread open allowing the polluted air from the exhaust to penetrate the once isolated environment.

“Now get off,” the driver says.

The man stumbles off the bus backwards, expecting Thomas to follow. He lifts his chin toward the sky looking at Thomas with his downcast eyes. He refuses to lower his head as he stands outside the threshold of the door at a wide berth from Thomas. Thomas stares back as the hiss builds up again and the doors glide shut. The hum of the bus begins and Thomas watches the figure of the man as stands on the street, his body turning to follow the bus as it rolls away.

Thomas’s lips glisten with the moisture of the spit. Winny hands him a tissue and he wipes at his face, removing the only evidence that the man was ever there.

The Importance of Acrophobia for Trapeze Artists

If you ever want to be successful as a trapeze artist, a healthy fear of heights is necessary. It was my fear of heights that pushed me to become the best. It was that same fear of heights that kept me from falling.

I was a tall woman at six feet, one inch. Much taller than most trapeze artists and a little heftier. Lucky for me there was Albert Minkin. He auditioned the same time as me. He was quite short. A Jewish fellow. (They’re not known for their athleticism.)

It was 1947. Albert was a veteran who fought in Europe. He raided a few camps. He had scars. He always wore full sleeve shirts. That made it difficult to really get an idea of the kind of physique he had but he was shy about the scars. Always made sure that no one could see them feared they might ask what he’d done. As if scars like that are something you choose to get.

He told me it was because they were so ugly and we were in showbiz. Showbiz people always had to be beautiful. That’s why he had me for his partner. Those were his words, not mine. I never thought I was much of a looker. But I also know there was more to his scars. I never asked. I’m sure he would’ve told me. I guess I never wanted him to think about the whys of painful things.

Onced he started his audition, everyone knew that he was the real deal.

Hocks off.

Whip.

Bird’s Nest.

Even a double somersault.

He could do it all. The circus, some two bit swindlers, but a circus nonetheless, tried to convince me to do dance trapeze. That’s what women did then and besides, no one was strong enough to hold me. The flying trapeze wasn’t for me. It was dance or nothing, they said.

Then little Alby butt in and told them swindlers he could hold me. Just like that. Like it was no big deal.

“I can hold her.”

I had at least six inches on him. I probably even weighed as much, if not more. They put the net up for me. It was ratty and barely holding on by a few threads. Had I fallen, I’m not sure it would’ve held. I wanted to tell them to tear it down. Say something bold like, “I don’t need no damn net!” But I did.

As I climbed up the ladder to the platform, I became more and more fearful. Each step got me closer to the platform but further from the ground. Alby told me not to look down. Which was easy to say now but what about when I’m up there and I’m hanging upside down and the only thing keeping me from meeting my make is a stick, two ropes and a little Jewish fellow?

“Have you ever been on a trapeze,” he asked.

“Of course.”

As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, that was a bit of a half truth. Not quite a lie, but definitely not the truth. I’d done gymnastics. Played around on the make shift platform my father built for me back on our farm in Palmer, Iowa. He made me a harness with a pretty sophisticated pulley and rope system that insured I would never touch the ground.

My father was like Alby, a good man. If I wanted something, I’d get it. Let me correct that, I don’t want to sound like a spoiled little girl. If I NEEDED something, I’d get it. And I needed a trapeze at home.

My dad knew the trouble he’d gotten himself in after the Pocahontas County Fair had come and gone. There was a couple, a trapeze couple, that performed. Not to be cliché here but my socks got knocked right off. I knew at fifteen that I wanted to be like that woman. So beautiful. So slender. So strong as she flew through the air like a bird.

I was already approaching six feet. I was stout for a girl my age. Really for a girl of any age. But it didn’t stop me from chewing my dad’s ear the whole ride back telling him all about what I’d do if I were her.

“I’d do five flips. No eight flips all at once and then instead of the man catching me, I’d reach out, grab the bar thing and swing back over to take him by the wrists.”

My dad listened as I followed him around the house for a week. I’m not even sure I asked him to build it for me, now that I think of it. You know, he just might’ve done it to shut me up.

Once he was done, he said, “Alright, let’s see what you got.”

He put me on the spot. It wasn’t as tall as a normal trapeze setup. It was about ten feet. High enough I could get a decent swing.

I looked at the ladded. Then back at my dad. I climbed the first rung of the ladder. Then another. And another. I got about halfway up before looking down. It took about two point five seconds for my supper to come right up too.

I was glad Momma wasn’t there. She’d have laid into me for wasting her fried chicken and mashed potatoes like that.

I jumped off the ladder and ran inside, too embarrassed to face my father. He was nice enough not to say anything. Every day after he’d ask me if I wanted to go on the trapeze. I’d say no. He’d leave it alone and then ask again the next day.

After two weeks, he asked, “What’re you scared of?”

“I’m afraid I’ll fall.”

“Then don’t fall.”

Now, as a fifteen-year old, that’s a profound response to a simple statement. As an adult you understand the falacy of simply saying don’t do something, especially something you see as out of your control. But I think that was my dad’s point, it wasn’t out of my control. I was the one that made sure I didn’t fall. If I did fall, it’s because I failed to catch the bar or to hold on.

I went to the trapeze. I climbed the ladder. I tied on the harness. Connected the rope. I grabbed the bar. Then…

I took a leap.

I made it across to the other side without a hitch. It was exhilirating. When I looked down, my stomach would turn and grumble. So I didn’t look down and over the years, my skills began to improve. Of course, I never credited my father’s intricate safety protocols for any of it. I just assumed, as most children do, that I was magnificent.

At nineteen, I was climbing my first real trapeze with Alby just below me. It was fifty feet in the air. It was far more stomach churning than the little ol’ contraption my father built for me. With each rung of the ladder, it sank in deeper and deeper that I didn’t know what I was doing.

“Have you ever been on a trapeze,” Alby asked.

“Of course.”

“You’re lying.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Cuz you’re shaking.”

The entire ladder trembled below me. Alby could feel the vibrations.

“Don’t tell anyone,” I said.

“Just do me a favor and try not to shake when I’m holding you.”

We stood on the platform together. I never looked down. Never.

Alby grabbed the bar without even looking at me he says, “Hocks to legs.” Then he stepped off the edge, swinging away from me. He pulls up onto the bar in the seated position. Then falls back, legs holding the bar, hands free. Dangling. Waiting for me. He looks at me like I should know what Hocks to Legs meant.

I rolled through my mind all the different tricks. All the catches. The somersaults. Pullovers. Swings. In hindsight, it’s pretty clear what the move was.

I took a deep breath. Grabbed my bar then I went for it. We had a couple swings to get the timing down, then I let go. I flipped once and just hoped he catch me.

And he did. Right by my ankles. I had nowhere to look but down and my breakfast had nowhere to go but out or down I guess depending on your angle.

But Alby never let go. He held me tightly while I let it all out.

We were trapeze partners for twenty years and married for over sixty. We lived without a net in more ways than I can recount here. Last month, after battling colon cancer for two years, my dear Alby passed.

He was survived by me, our four daughters and seventeen grandchildren. Sometimes I can still feel the grasp of his hands around my wrists.

In the Pasture

“Bailey, you son of a bitch,” Laci says. “Mason, come look at what your fucking dog did.”

“What?” Mason says.

“Look,” she says.

“Shit. Bailey. Get in here.”

Bailey crouches in the corner. Her chocolate brown body spread out along the carpet. Her brown eyes look away from him.

“I said get over here.”

He grabs her by the collar and Bailey lets out a yelp as he drags her across the carpet towards the living room.

“You see this?” he says forcing her face into the screen door she ripped apart. “No, no, no.”

Bailey yelps again as Mason pounds against her body. The strikes aren’t confined to one area. He just swings and where they land, they land. He grabs her by the collar again and drags her choking to another part of the room.

“You see that, you little shit?”

Bailey yelps again.

“Oh, what the hell?” Laci says. “These were my favorite shoes. Bad dog.”

Bailey yelps again.

“Now get out of here,” Mason says kicking Bailey as she runs to another part of the house.

“We can’t keep doing this,” Laci says. “She aint’ gonna stop. You have to get rid of her. Take her out back.”

Mason walks to his office without protest. The carpet beneath his feet is frayed where Bailey chewed on it yesterday. The stuffing of his chair is spread out along the floor. Pieces of his model cars from when he was a kid are covered in dog spit.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a set of keys. He maneuvers one into the lock of the gun case. He stands there for a minute staring at his collection, deciding which to use. He wants to try his new gun but it is a little too much for this job. He decides on the .22 he got from his dad when he was twelve. Gun in hand he shuts the cabinet and locks it back.

Bailey hides in the corner of the den behind a chair as Mason walks in with a treat and leash in one hand and a gun in the other. Bailey is hesitant. Mason moves in slowly trying not to scare her. Bailey tries to move back, away from him but she is stuck in the corner with nowhere to go.

“Come here you little fucker,” Mason says. “I got something for you.”

He opens his hand, revealing the treat. Bailey’s nose sniffs towards his hand, licks his fingers first then grabs the small biscuit with her teeth. Mason rubs her head and with one hand attaches the leash to her collar.

“Now come on,” Mason says.

He tugs on the leash and Bailey drops the biscuit. Her eyes and body try to pull away but her small frame isn’t enough to resist Mason’s 230-pound body. Her claws try to dig into the carpet but Mason pulls hard. The sound of ripping carpet fibers follows behind him.

Bailey yelps. Maybe asking Laci for help but she ignores her. She looks at the whole transaction as necessary. She ate her shoes, what else was she suppose to do?

“Will you get the door?” Mason says to Laci.

The pasture is immense. Some place a dog could easily run free. The brush is now knee high and a light brown. Mason walks as he has for years: long, high steps while simultaneously peering around the ground for snakes.

Bailey has taken to walking beside him now, no longer resisting. She prances. Finally outside just as she wanted. Mason stops and looks back towards the house making sure he is far enough out. He doesn’t want the smell to come back to the house.

“Alright girl, here we are,” Mason says. “If you would have just done as you were told, I wouldn’t have to do this.”

He scratches around her snout and Bailey licks his hand.

“Sit,” Mason says. Bailey leans back and rests on her back legs. He removes her collar and leash and she is free.

“Stay.”

Mason steps back a few feet towards the house. He drops her leash and collar. He lifts the small rifle towards his shoulder as Bailey walks towards him.

“Goddamn it. I said stay.”

Bailey steps back a little recognizing that tone. She stares at Mason as he lifts the gun to his shoulder.

He fires one shot and walks back to the house. Alone.

The Guy From Last Night

Hi. How are you?

Who is this?

The guy from last night.

Which one?

Which one? You’re popular.

I’m beautiful.

And very humble I can see.

Dave?

No, Tom. It’s on the chat window. I told you the joke about the pilot.

Oh yeah, the racist.

I’m not racist. It was a joke.

Says the racist.

I think we’re starting off on the wrong foot.

I’m not. I wasn’t a racist last night.

Okay, I’m starting off on the wrong foot. Can I start again?

Sure.

Hi. How are you?

Who is this?

Seriously?

You said we were starting over. That’s how this started.

Okay… Hi, it’s Tom. The guy from last night. How are you?

Good.

What’re you up to?

Trying to figure out if I should take my dress from last night to the dry cleaners or wait.

Wait.

Then the smells might set in.

What smells?

Smells of men.

What men?

The men that grinded up against me.

I feel like I’m catching you at a bad time. Not sure I want to hear this.

Don’t act shocked. I danced. Men danced against me. They weren’t invited. No one ever invites men to dance on them. They just do it. They get close and just rub their crotches against you. Why do you do that?

I don’t do that.

Yes you do.

I don’t.

I saw you.

Oh.

Yeah, oh.

Why are you chatting me?

Why did you accept my friend request?

Habit.

Ouch.

It’s true. I don’t think I ever turn down a friend request.

How many friends do you have?

1600.

All guys that have grinded against you?

Funny.

I try.

Should’ve tried harder last night.

Oh come on, that was funny.

It was funny but it was also extremely racist.

But I’m black.

Oh, so it’s okay to tell black jokes if you’re black?

I think so. I always do.

Does it always work?

Work?

Yeah, do racist jokes work on ladies.

No, but messing up and getting lectured and then acting like I didn’t think it was racist does.

???

Here’s how you do it:

Do what?

Pick up a girl. Here is my process. Ready?

Hit me.

  1. Go up to her, introduce yourself.
  2. Do something inappropriate. Examples: Tell a racist joke. Sexually harass her.
  3. Give a big grin that says, “Is that not okay?”
  4. Wait to be chastised, giving the girl the power.
  5. Pretend like you don’t get it.
  6. Try to win her affections after royally screwing up in step 2.

You’re an idiot.

Am I?

I think so. That could never work.

You’d think it couldn’t but it does.

How could that possibly work? What about that would make me want to go out with you?

Women are stupid.

Excuse me?

They’re easy to manipulate.

You’re outta your fucking mind. You can’t say shit like that to me. To women. We aren’t stupid. We’re over 50% of the population. The 50% that does something for this fucking earth. How can you say shit like that?

= D     Is that not okay?

Oh I see. You’re a funny guy. Trying to pick me up right now?

Trying.

Well, it won’t work.

You sure?

Yes.

So what did you decide?

About what?

The dress. Taking it in?

I think I will. I like the dress. Don’t want it to smell like gross boys forever.

Wanna meet?

No.

Just for coffee.

No.

A brief handshake on the street?

No.

A slap to the face? You slapping me of course.

Definitely no. You’d like it too much.

How’d you know?

Lol.

Aha! It’s working.

No it’s not…

; )    You’re in love with me.

WHAT?!

Yep. You went from loathing to love. All stemming from a racist joke that I stole from a TV show.

I got a racist joke for you.

Lol. Shoot.

Why do white people own so many pets?

Ha. Why?

Because we’re not allowed to own people anymore.

LMAO. You’re such a racist.

No, I’m not. I’m white.

Synonyms.

That’s racist.

It probably is.

Okay, I’m leaving. Have a good night.

Wait.

What?

Coffee?

I don’t drink coffee.

Dinner?

I don’t eat.

What do you do?

I go to dry cleaners.

Alright, then let me pay for your dry cleaner.

That’s a cheap date.

I’ll put $100 on a dry cleaning tab. Then you can go whenever.

That’s interesting. Keep talking.

I could buy you a dress that you will later have to get clean after I grind up against you.

WHOA.

Too far?

Nah. I kind of like it. Meet me at Mel’s on 4th.

Leaving now.

Sean Patrick Henry

I hope you find this.

One of the men at the shop said I should Google you. He says that’s what his son always says, “Just Google it.” Apparently if you know what you’re doing you can find just about anything on these computers.

So I did. I Googled you but there are a million pages of Sean Patrick Henrys on Google. I don’t know which one is you.

Another guy said I should try Facebook but that was even more confusing. I reached out to a few of the ones born in 1972, like you. They were nice. They said things like, “I hope you find your son” and “I’m sure he’d love to know you’re thinking of him.”

But I don’t know if that’s true.

It all started because of this kid. He comes into the shop looking for a hammer. Kid was in his twenties and he never owned a hammer before. He says he wants to hang a picture. Says he took it. He shows it to me on his phone.

In the picture is a boy. He’s got this scar across his face from a burn. The kid tells me that his father did it to him. He was high on some kind of drugs. Meth is all I could think of that might make people crazy. That’s what I’m always hearing about on the news. They say it’s an epidemic.

Kid says the dad got so high he thought his son had some kind of demon in him and he thought the only way to save his son was to force the demon out of him. He tried drowning his son. Now keep in mind his son is about six. So he drowns the kid and that doesn’t work. The demon is still in him. Fortunately the kid didn’t die.

So then the dad thinks fire. He pours a little gas on the boy. He’s crying. And the dad lights him up. The boy is screaming and the dad is scared. He’s terrified because the last thing he wants to do is hurt his kid. He’s doing this because he thinks the demon that’s inside of his son is going to hurt his kid.

At the exact moment the demon is expelled, the dad throws a blanket over his son. Puts out the flames.

The police find the man cradling his son. He’s rocking him back and forth. He doesn’t fight the police, he just hands him over. Tells the cops he got the demon out. He confesses to everything and says he’d do it again. He’d do anything to protect his son and he’ll accept his punishment. Gladly live out his life in jail knowing that his son is alive because of him.

I was blown away by this story. This kid in the shop says he’s a photojournalist and says the picture was in Time magazine or something. He was proud of it and wanted to hang it in his studio.

I ask him how’s it gonna feel to see that kind of pain on a daily basis. He tells me I’m looking at it all wrong. He tells me it’s love.

Love, I say. That ain’t my idea of love. Then he looks at me and you know what he says? He says, sometimes love is hurting someone if you think it’ll save them.

I called bullshit in this case. Man was a junkie who hurt his kid. But there was some truth to what he said. I couldn’t help but think about you and how I left you.

I told myself at the time that it was the right thing. That it was the best thing for you but I can’t help but wonder if it was.

I thought this computer could tell me something. Maybe tell me you were alright. Maybe tell me about your life. I see all them stories on the TV about families being reunited through the Facebook or Twitters. I thought maybe I could be one of them stories. Well, you and me.

But this ain’t as easy as they make it out to be, especially if somebody don’t wanna be found.

I’m thinking you don’t wanna be found. Maybe you changed your name. Sean Patrick was your mother’s doing. She wanted something Irish. Henry’s about all you got from me. Unless it’s true what they say about boozing being genetic. Maybe you got that from me too.

I hope not.

I don’t know if this will find you. Sonny’s daughter, she says sometimes things go viral online. Sometimes people pick up a story and they share it with some friends and those friends keep on sharing until a whole bunch of people have read it. I imagine that happening with this. I imagine you open up your emails and you see something from a friend telling you about this story they read and how they thought you might find it interesting. Maybe you’ll read it. Maybe you’ll recognize that I’m your dad and that I’m trying to find you and just maybe you’ll reach out.

I imagine a lot of things. Most of them are about you.

Anyway, I’m rambling. I could go all night when I start thinking about you. Start typing like I’m talking to you.

I just want to say I’m sorry. Even if you read this and you decide you don’t want to talk to me, just know that. Just know that I’m sorry.

There was a demon in me that needed to be expelled. After all these years, I think I finally got it. It’s safe to be around daddy now.

I love you.

University of Texas Commencement Speech – 2010

The collective voice of the Internet generation had spoken. Somehow they had conspired, without even speaking, to label my very public meltdown behind that podium as “epic.” Videos were posted. Facebook posts written and Liked. Tweets were sent, but no one read tweets then like they do now.

It spread.

I was a celebrity of sorts.

“Did you see that guy give that speech at that school?”

“Holy shit, this dude fucking bit it!”

“I think he kind of made sense.”

I liked that one. Saw it in the comments section of a HuffPo article. Some even agreed. No one upvoted or starred it. It faded into the oblivion of the millions of haters enjoying my “epic” collapse.

But there was a small but vocal minority that thought I was onto something. Sometimes though, those people aren’t really the ones you want on your side.

No one knew what it was. Exhaustion. Fatigue. Those are the same thing. Perhaps it was the alcohol. Nope. Didn’t drink that day. Drugs? I wish.

A doctor tried his best to explain it. My school insisted I see a doctor. They didn’t want me back in the classroom until someone said that the things I said were not my own words. I sat in the doctor’s office as he looked into my ears. Down my throat. Even up my nose.

Then he warmed the cold metal of his stethoscope before pressing it against my chest to listen to my heart and lungs. But he found nothing to explain. He was dissappointed actually.

He thought there had to be a medical explanation for what I said. It couldn’t be that maybe I believed it. He approached it like any great scientist.

He observed me. Meaning he watched the video on YouTube. His glasses sat on the edge of his nose as he held his iPhone in his hand. He didn’t laugh, which was a relief considering everyone else that I had seen watch the video did.

They were always kind though. They would say things like, “Oh, I don’t mean to laugh. I’m so sorry.” Then they’d turn back to the video and laugh some more.

After the video finished, the doctor formed a hypothesis. He said, and in a German accent no less, “Fatigue is a tricky thing when it comes upon you suddenly. You will be flying high on life and then, all of a sudden. BOOM!”

He clapped his hands. It was very dramatic. I jumped a little.

“You crash. And watching this. I think you were crashing. Tell me more about the days before.”

I tried to think back to the days before. I remember watching TV. I read a couple of reports. Some new data on glacial shifts or something. I remember writing my speech not long after. Going to a movie. I had a date. But it was cancelled at the last minute. You know, all in all, it was a relatively uneventful few days prior. I was almost embarrassed to tell him. He seemed embarrassed to hear it. There was something about his look that said, “Jesus, man. Your life is bullshit.”

I know it is.

“Why did they ask you to give the speech?” he asked me.

“I’m an authority on a few things. I mean I can speak as an authority on a few things. Some call me a futurist. I predict things. The powers that be thought that my clairvoyance, if you will, would inspire these bright young minds. Or something.”

“I see.” He nodded his head. Pondering a new hypothesis to replace fatigue. Which I killed with my boring life. “Did giving the speech make you nervous? Scared?”

I thought about it. I knew he wanted to hear yes. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to have another reason why I said what I said. Something other than because I believe it’s the truth. But yes wouldn’t have been true. So I said no.

It actually angered him when I said no. I don’t know why. I’d only been in his office for about ten minutes. Not long enough for him to be exhausted by me.

I don’t think he was a good doctor.

After him I saw a therapist. Another requirement of my school. It was nice of them actually, to be this patient. But they didn’t want to lose me, despite the outcry.

The therapist was a sweet woman with a mousy voice named Belinda. She was painfully shy. Which I felt was an odd characteristic for a therapist. Our first session she told me about how becoming a therapist helped her get out of her shell.

She explained to me all the hardships she had to overcome to accomplish this feat. She had a very serious form of social anxiety. It was obvious. During the first session she had to take several breaks to compose herself.

At the end of the session she thanked me for listening to her. She confessed to me that I was her first client and this was her first official session. Somehow it made me feel better.

We continued to see each other once a week. I learned a lot about her family. She had two cats that were actually conjoined when they were born. Nothing serious, just a few inches of skin at the hips.

They were dropped off at a no kill shelter. They weren’t siamese cats if that’s what you’re thinking. They weren’t. She made that clear. She said a lot of people made that joke and she found it offensive. I felt bad because it was the first thing that popped into my head.

Once she adopted them, she took them to a vet. They were about 4 months old at the time. It wasn’t much of a surgery. The connection was mainly external tissue. A few cuts and then stitches on each of their little hips and they were ready for the world.

She told me that after the surgery they would continue to walk next to each other. When they sat down, they seemed to make sure that their hips were touching. Although free to live their own lives, they couldn’t imagine being without the other.

It was beautiful to her. The idea that even without an actual physical connection, as in literally attached, they still had to be figuratively attached. I’m not sure if I’m explaining it well. She apparently wrote her graduate thesis on them.

“The Long-term Emotional Effects of Medical Separation on Conjoined Felines.”

That was what the paper was called. It was a popular read amongst veterinarian students and even a small group of clinical psychologists in Bangladesh.

These psychologists even went so far as to invite her out to Bangladesh to give a speech. She was touched but terrified. All of the attention that paper brought upon her became overwhelming.

Her social anxiety became uncontrollable. She had also started to develop some deep rooted feelings of guilt over separating the cats. They were so “connected at the hip” figuratively that she thought she had perhaps destroyed their relationship by literally disconnecting them, although figuratively allow them to stay conjoined.

For a while, she considered having them reattached. But her friend Dev in Bangladesh convinced her not to.

She gave the speech and she never felt more alive, she said. In one of our sessions she even recited it for me. It was amazing to watch this woman come out of her shell. Somehow the idea of imparting wisdom onto others make her less socially awkward. She was empowered by the idea that her experiences could help others.

And so, the speech was perfect. She was a hit.

After about three weeks of talking about her life we started discussing that day. She had never seen the video, so she asked me to reinact it. To give the speech. I told her I didn’t want to.

She told me she couldn’t help me if I didn’t open up. She was offended that she had shared so much with me and I wouldn’t share anything with her.

I felt terrible.

After doing a quick search on Google, I was able to find a transcript of the speech in a Buzzfeed post. So I asked her to read it. To look over it without seeing the video. Just the words. And then, once I felt this was a safe, no judgement zone, I’d open up. I’d talk about it.

So I ask you to do the same. I ask you to read the following transcript with an open heart and mind and tell me your thoughts. Maybe if you believe it too, we can make a change.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, COLLEGE OF SCIENCE, COMMENCEMENT SPEECH. May 23rd, 2010.

Thank you, Chancellor. Great hat by the way.

[STEPS TO THE PODIUM. TAKES A DEEP BREATH]

Explorers. Explorers of the air. Explorers of the sea. Explorers of the earth. Take flight. Dive. Dig. You are the future of Mars colonization.

The future of our people is amongst the stars. For billions of years, the universe has been conspiring against us. A domino effect of incident after incident leading to this inevitable moment.

The moment when we must take to our ships and escape the desolation of our planet.

I look out at all of your faces. I see the shock of my revelations. I look behind me and I see the regret of the staff and faculty that chose me for this moment.

I want you to look to them. I want you to thank them for saving your lives because today ladies and gentlemen, I am going to tell you how we can save our species.

Not the planet but our species. The earth is dying and will not live past the turn of the century. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we will be able to move forward. Because, I hate to break it to you, but we only have 90 years to create the vessels that will carry our children into space.

You may be graduating today but your education isn’t over.

First, we must decide who and what we should save. I’ve burned a list into my mind of the most important things on this planet. The things that must be included in our arks if we are to replenish the species.

One, men and women. The ratio must be such that men are outnumbered by women at a ratio of one to eight. Men should be seen simply as sperm donors. We should not be allowed in roles of power disproportionate to our ratio. Too many men leads to war and sexual assault.

With eight women for every man, all men will be sexually satisfied. Again, eliminating a common problem in our society: male aggression.

Two, the seeds of life. This refers not just to our own human seed but to the seeds that are the prelude to crops. We shall create a exhaustive catalog of the earth’s crops. Until Mars is terraformed, our crop options will be limited. We must build greenhouses and other facilities for substantial vegetative growth.

But once terraforming is complete, we can recreate the crops of our ancestors. Corn. Carrots. Squash. Asparagus. All of it.

On Mars.

Three.

Water.

Water.

Water.

There is no water on Mars. We’ll have to bring it. From this day forth, we must conserve water. We must preserve it from consumption by undesirables.

Yes, I said it. Someone has to be brave enough to say that there will be a horde of people that are unable to go on this journey.

BUT they may contribute in more valuable ways. With these.

[HOLDS UP HIS HANDS.]

With these hands, they can build. They can build the ark that will carry the chosen to the New World. For those that can work, they will receive water. For those that are to make the journey, they will receive water. For those that can’t do either, they will be cut off.

We must cull the herd now. The survival of our species depends on it.

Look around you. Make a mental list. You know which of you can be culled. You know which of you are builders. And you know which of you are the chosen.

Show of hands. How many of you believe you would be amongst the chosen.

[ALMOST EVERYONE RAISES THEIR HANDS.]

Wrong. Our arks will only be able to carry two percent of the population. There are 600 of you today. Only twelve of you would make it aboard the ship.

The rest of you will be builders. You’re college graduates. You have your heads on your shoulders. You would have value as a builder.

I’m not knocking it. I’m a builder. I know it. I know my place. The sooner you realize your place, the sooner we can move forward. If there is one thing you must learn today it’s that time is wasted in our refusal to accept reality.

Now, what don’t we need for the survival of our species.

One, culture. Some may argue that art, literature, films, and other trappings of our culture will be the backbone of our future society. It’s a connection to our past. It is the collected examination of where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Well, we don’t need it. Our culture is what has forced us to Mars. Our culture is a breeding ground for complacency. A painting will not save the world. I argue that it has destroyed our world. So all remnants of our culture must stay.

Two, love. No couples or families should be allowed. Only people who are committed to the goal should be allowed. By including families or lovers, we’re starting off our new society with selfish desires. We’ll do anything for someone we love. Well, that’s not what we’ll need in Mars. We need people who will do anything for anyone. We shall remove the cloud of bias by placing everyone on level emotional ground. No one shall be more or less special to someone else. They simply will be.

And so completes my list.

Today I’ve shared some frightening realities with you. Some of you may not want to accept them. You may not want to belive that the world is ending. You may not want to believe that you are destined to build a spaceship that will carry you’re classmates to a new life on Mars without you.

But it’s true. That is your life. So take your diploma and throw it away. Instead go to your garage. Take out your hammers. Take out your nails. And come to the fields where we will build the future. Where we will save the species.

Join me.

[HE TAKES OUT A HAMMER.]

Help me build the future.

[HE SLAMS THE HAMMER AGAINST THE PODIUM. OVER AND OVER UNTIL HE’S TAKEN AWAY]

********************************************

I hope I’m wrong and things start to change.