I came in early yesterday from work. My wife and I had an appointment with our real estate agent to view a handful of homes. Before we left, I checked my messages on Facebook. In my inbox was a message I never expected to read from a mutual friend who now lives in Florida.

“He died a couple of weeks ago,” the message read.

Between the ages of 15-18, I never had a greater friend than Brian. From dawn till dusk, we four were inseparable. Then the house came crumbling down. Rick had a bad trip on acid and did a stint in a psychiatric ward in Petersburg. Ricky was in and out of jail for drug possession, and BBP had returned to New Jersey to be with his family.

After he left, Brian used to call me at all hours of the night. His mind had began deteriorating long before he left, and as it would be later confirmed, he suffered from the disease of paranoid schizophrenia.

He changed his phone number a half dozen times, his number never the same each time he called.

“They are listening,” he would tell me. He believed the government had tapped his phone.

“They are following me,” he said. They being government spies.

He would see friends from Virginia he believed were in New Jersey, visiting.

“I saw Jeremiah,” he would say. “I saw Kelly and Gary.”

But he never really did. They were never in New Jersey.

He saw ghosts of friendship.

He ditched his cell phone and started using calling cards. He would call me from various payphones in Trenton, New Jersey. Then one day he arrived at my doorstep in a beat-up pickup truck. He had no driver’s license and he was supposed to be in court that day in New Jersey for assaulting a police officer. But he was here, in Phenix, Virginia, to visit his friends — one last time.

He arrived around 4 AM and we visited his old home that he had boobytrapped before he left. He believed people were breaking into his house when he was not there.

“Stealing my dope,” he thought.

But they were not.

A string was tied from the front door knob on the backside to the trigger of a loaded shotgun. If someone entered that was not supposed to, it’d be “all she wrote,” he said. But no one ever had their head blown off because no one ever entered his home except him.

After he left Phenix that day years ago, he called me a couple of time using his calling cards. Then I never heard from him again. None of us did. And we had no way of contacting him though I tried numerous times to find a way to get in touch with his sister.

“He died a couple of weeks ago,” the message read.

From what cause, I don’t know just yet. I imagine I will shortly. Maybe. If anyone knows.

It could have been a car wreck. A sickness of some sort like cancer. Drug related. Suicide.

Suicide wouldn’t surprise me, though it saddens me.

“The comfort I take in his death,” I said to my wife, “is that he will have found peace that he no longer could find while alive.”

And I am trying to find a way to reach his sister but will probably fail miserably like I have for the past ten years.

We four were inseparable at the height of our teenage existence.

“He died,” I said to Ricky over the phone. He choked up.

“He died,” I said to Rick.

And we feel so detached from the death of a friend so great. I think in that detachment is the comfort he has finally found peace, as cliche as it may sound. It’s true.

I searched for his obituary but have been unable to find it. His family did not celebrate birthdays and, for all I know, maybe they do not celebrate deaths either.

“An individual person is not important,” he had said of his father’s beliefs which he did not share.


Years ago, in my last seminar while at the University of Virginia, we were given a final project. The class was The Road in American Literature taught by Jennifer Wicke. We had the option of writing a story 10-15 pages in length.

I ended up writing an 80-page story on BBP’s return to Phenix those years ago. I fictionalized it by changing the names. But it was no fiction. Brian’s name was not Ezekiel. My name was not Jackson. Ricky was not Charley. Rick was not Chuck. This is part of what I wrote:


I was lying in bed, a book in hand, my thumb resting on the inside joint of the pages when an old ghost pecked at the window in my room. The floor creaked as I made my way across to investigate the sound. The ghost pecked again. Crunchy wasps and ladybug shells, their souls retreated, were scattered in chipped white paint on the window sill. I drew up the Venetian blinds. Dust fell freely and tickled my nose. The apparition below stood in four sections, divided, suspended on the cross of the pane, glaring up at me. His arms were spread. He let them drop, releasing a pebble from his palm.

The figure motioned with his hand and began to walk toward the front door. I paused from where I stood and glimpsed at the neon light of the alarm clock atop my nightstand: 4:30 a.m. Possessed with the motion of the apparition’s hand, my body responded and drifted wearily down the staircase toward the front door. I began to open it simultaneously reaching up to flick the porch light on from the interior, but the bulb only flickered and fizzled out, the sight outside the door becoming visible only momentarily as if a match’s flame snubbed out. I opened the door. Three invisible Mary’s stood by the ghost in disbelief. None had removed the stone from the tomb but the body had emerged and now stood before me—intact, breathing. He is no Christ figure, I thought, only the criminal who asked for redemption in the final hours.

“It’s been a while Jackson,” the phantom said but ghosts do not speak. I stared into the darkness. The darkness stared back. The figure lifted a cigarette to his mouth and inhaled. The red cherry lit up his face. The face grinned.

****

Quite some time had passed since I had last seen Ezekiel. I never expected to see that sinister face again—the split front lip, the cigarette dangling from it, tobacco smoke pouring out of his nostrils; but now, standing before me, the face beamed. The abandoned orphan had come home in search of his natural family. Dried spittle gathered around his mouth like a rabid dog broken free of its chain. A beat up Ford pickup truck sat in the distance with New Jersey plates. As the two of us began to walk toward the truck in unison, matching one another step for step, the smell of gas fumes too early in the morning nauseated me to the core of my stomach. Ezekiel turned the key. The engine roared in the calm of the otherwise silent morning as sleeping birds nested high atop the limbs.

Painted strokes on a gray-black canvas kept in harmony as Ezekiel and I rode off into the hours before dawn. The crisp morning air drifting from the open windows of the truck wrestled with loose paper in the floorboard as we began to pick up speed.

I looked at Ezekiel.

His hair had grown out, an afro of sorts, jutting into the background like hungry snakes lying wait on the dewy grass of a cornfield in spring time. His mind was ready to bite, spit venom, and then retreat back to the path it slithered its way from prior to our meeting again. Thick glasses like Coca-Cola bottles framed his eyes. These were the same glasses given to him less than a month before his disappearance, now a little scratched on the lens but holding up nevertheless. Ezekiel looked as if a mad scientist or some sort of social deviant unfit to roam the streets freely at will.

Send him back, his father would say.

Send him back.

To the white padded walls of the asylum. Four pills at breakfast. Four pills at dinner. Mouthwash that tastes like toilet bowl water. There you just sit in a room without locks. An eye peeking through the keyhole. Peeking through the pane.

A toilet in the open.

A nurse watching you shit and piss and twiddle your thumbs and color in a coloring book like you are in elementary school.

She knows by now on average the amount of times it takes you to wipe your ass. She watches you like a hawk does prey through the glass pane and counts each wipe out of boredom more than anything. Six good wipes usually and before you wipe she knows you always lift your ass off the seat a little and look back into the bowl to see what you’ve expended.

“Cigarette,” Ezekiel asked tapping the bottom of the pack with his palm. His face lightens up.

“I’ll have one.”

“I thought maybe you had quit.”

“I did.”

****

Two cars were out at this time of morning: Ezekiel’s raggedy pickup the two of us secured in its seats and Kenneth Gold, the local newspaper deliveryman dropping off a fresh batch of the day’s Dispatch. Ezekiel flung his arm into the air, waving. Kenneth reared his head only to nod slightly and in a begrudging manner, and then returned to opening the orange box to place inside the newspapers. Ezekiel turned off the highway and up the dirt driveway to his former residence. The road was weathered and eroded, conduits made so by rain onto the silt and bits of orange clay, nay enough compacted dirt nor rock to keep the road whole and ingot; and as we traveled down it, the truck shook from side to side as the house came into view. He downshifted gears, slowing the engine to a halt. The porch light was on.

The hummingbird moth
Danced into the morning sun
But there was no sun.

Ezekiel took a drag from his cigarette and I heard the crackling of the paper as the cherry ate away toward the filter. He removed his glasses and wiped the corners of his eyes. The whites of his eyes had the appearance of jaundice and the vessels around the iris were burst. The stubby beard on his face looked of four or five days since last seeing a razor. The smell of sweat and an unwashed body seeped through the white shirt he wore, the neck of the shirt yellow and brown. He opened the door and placed his foot to the ground. Ice crystals had formed in clods of orange and brown soil. When Ezekiel’s feet met the earthen floor, a crunching sound was heard as the crystals collapsed into nothing. Standing outside of the vehicle, he crouched down and peered back in to where I still sat. He flicked the cigarette butt to the ground.

“You coming,” he said.

As we made our way on foot up the remainder of the driveway, the white light from the porch grew brighter. The house sat high atop the hill like a poor man’s plantation manor. The windows were non-existent and the panes stared back at us forming hollowed out eyes. Shards of glass had fallen from the metal crosses that were not completely concave as if melting ice-cycles in February stabbing into the ground. The roof was of rusted tin spotted with patched blocks of shiny silver. Black tar used as sealant oozed from the corner of the patches, its tin quilt in dire need of more patterns to sustain the rain whence it came, leaking from the ceiling.

Together the two of us sat down on the front stoop. Ezekiel pulled the pack of cigarettes from out his front pocket and tapped two cigarettes above the rest. He lit one and the other by its cherry, handing it to me. The smell of smoke was thick as we both looked out into the yard. Pipes were scattered about, as were bolts, a porcelain toilet, and kitchen sink. Primordial oak trees that witnessed every life that went inside, that died inside, and that left and never returned stood to the left and right of the tattered home now become of itself with no inhabitants yet another decrepit country house. The limbs reached out like his father’s hands beating the termite infested wood siding and moths flew into the porch light and fell like Icarus back to the wooden planks into a black sea of other dead and decomposed insects.

Ezekiel stood up from the stoop and peered into one of the broken windows at the front of the house. Inside were buckets to relieve the floor of rot. Trails of splotched black mold peppered the rotting floor. He pulled a flashlight out from inside his jacket pocket and shined it at the ceiling. The ceiling was warped and stained tawny and coffee colored, and there too splotches of black mold. A lone light flickered about inside, shorting from the water that had leaked from the roof over time and found its way into its circuits.

****

The sun rose, febrile and hot orange, birthing the start of a new day. Far off, the cockalorum of a rooster could be heard, the shrill of its lungs blowing mightily as was its everyday call. Sleeping birds arose and ruffled their feathers amongst the leaves of the oaks and people all across this sleepy town smacked at their alarm clocks and awoke with deep yawns expelled from their guts . . . .

Written in 2004

THE LADY NEXT DOOR was a thin figure slightly gaunt in stature and form from the years to which her body had accumulated. Her height was nothing profound through the eyes of a small child—the pinnacle to her highest point no greater than 5’4” tall. This comparison may be slightly off for many years have passed since young eyes stared upward to gaze upon the lady next door. Thus, the only contrast to which my childish eyes can relate lay in my great grandfather, Charlie Marion, a man of Native American descent who stood at 6’7” with legs that stretched for miles and miles as if trying to touch eternity with the tip of his boot.

Mrs. Hartness, for that was her name, was a tiny thing indeed. Soaking wet, her weight may have faintly surpassed one-hundred pounds. A curve in the upper portion of her back was exposed through garments, which rested, swathing her delicate build. Her skin was stretched loose and markings of age covered her entire body from head to toe—from her neck all the way down to her swollen pale ankles.

The hair atop her head was thin and fine, the color of faded strawberries and silver and snowflakes like the cap on the peak of the Alps of Cisalpine with small hints of white flowing in between. From her larynx came a soft voice that shook with each word she spoke. Though, I must say, it would only be accurate in this account to mention that within her soft voice was contained a slight scratchiness and congestion. At any given moment, a cough would erupt and it would seem to those around that her lungs had surely failed her.

When this happened, she would stand up, her body as erect as gravity and arthritis would allow, and grasping for the closest solid object to balance herself, a wall or a doorframe, she expelled from within what the cilia had failed to catch.

Reaching upward to cover her mouth, the veins in Mrs. Hartness’s emaciated hands were quite noticeable and plump. Her fingers were thin and long; and much to the mimicry of her voice, her fingers shook with her every movement as if the last leaf in autumn blowing in the wind—quavering yet resilient.

Everyone she knew and loved from infancy to her adult years had by now passed away into the verve of the afterlife except her own flesh and blood: the precious children she weaned many years ago.

Yet, there was one without a drop of kinship that loved her just the same—not as if she were his grandmother or even a relative—but as his best friend.

The young boy was her neighbor. His stature was less than a foot in height shorter compared to his elderly friend with long, skinny arms that seemed out of proportion with the rest of his body. As the years passed, his body would grow into these long extremities, taking away from the disproportionate specter to which he had known for such a protracted period in his childhood. He had deep blue eyes reaching Caribbean depths, dirty blonde hair, and skin the color of fresh homemade biscuits straight out of the oven, painted as if with a blend of russet and taupe acrylics from an Impressionist’s palette.

Everyday, the young boy would scurry across the green grass, past the pale leaf Yucca plant one house over, to his elderly friend’s door. Her face so gentle and kind was the only face other than his immediate family and friends that he remembers distinctly from that age—a mere four years old.

Sometimes, more often times than not, the lady next door could be seen crouched over, the bumps of her vertebrae poking through her shirt, raking leaves that had fallen from the oak tree that adjoined her and her young friend’s residences. Other times, she was to be found hanging wet laundry from the turning wire clothesline that sat beside a leaning cement birdbath in her backyard. When the wind blew its breath against the clothesline, a slow but acute noise would follow.

“Nails on the chalkboard,” the lady next door would whisper under her breath. “Just like nails on a chalkboard,” the loose skin on her neck and underneath her chin all the while jiggling to and fro.

Her young neighbor referred to this loose skin as turkey neck.

“Mama, why does Mrs. Hartnence have a turkey neck?”

“Because she’s not a spring chicken anymore,” his mother would say. “Hartness,” she added.

“What?”

“It’s Hartness.”

“Hart-nence.”

“Hartness, but don’t worry. You’ll get it one day.”

But the young boy loved her turkey neck. He used to pull and stretch the skin as if trying to wrap it around his fingers as he sat on her lap while she rocked back and forth in the wooden chair on the front porch.

Mrs. Hartness let him do this never blinking an eye for a second.

It gave her sagging skin a certain kind of beauty she knew not before; well, that is to say until her young neighbor began visiting regularly; and visit he did.

If ever the boy wanted to find her after school as he stepped off the bus, there she would be, sitting on her front porch, one leg crossed over the other, smoking filter-less Lucky Strike cigarettes, rocking backwards and forwards in her faintly stained wooden chair. On rare occasions, too, it must be added, when the weather forbade her from escaping outside, she was to be found inside her home alone at the kitchen table with an ashtray, a Dr. Pepper, and the day’s newspaper.

Choking smoke danced from the end of her resting cigarette. Ashes un-ashed grew in length by the trice, but the lady next door was not bothered in the least. This was a pattern to which she belonged—the smell of smoke both a friend and foe; and so it was, she would lick the tip of her finger, sip a long sip of Dr. Pepper, and turn to the next page of the local weekly, The Charlotte Gazette.

The chill of the wind.

The downpour of rain.

Whatever condition the Heavens sent down would have to be waited out.

Mrs. Hartness’s young neighbor had much more mobility. He was a rambunctious little fellow. He could never quite keep still no matter what his mind found favor in doing. Because of this surfeit in energy and vigor, his mother allowed him to meet his older cousin, Robbie, early each morning at the basketball court before school. The parents of both families agreed: Exercise was not only necessary for these two but also indispensable if the sanity in their respective homes would continue. Not only that, but it would keep the two out of trouble once the playground was replaced with the school room, their weapons no longer walnuts and sticks, but #2 pencils and writing pads.

The young boy and his cousin were good kids: polite, well-mannered, and reverential to their elders, but a half-pint of chocolate milk at lunch and a chocolate-banana fudge bomb to follow and the very axis to which the universe rested would be tilted, disrupted of its very mellifluous harmony at the local elementary school. The basketball court would at least rid them of this surplus in energy. It was to them itself a sanctuary for the neighborhood kids and was only a hop, skip, and a jump away from the young boy’s front doorstep.

Through this front door and just to his right lay the house of Mrs. Hartness, its gray and black speckled shingles holding on for dear life. As a souvenir of his adoration, the young boy used to bring her a handful of rocks as a gift: the prettiest, most beautiful rocks he could find to give to the little old lady as a gesture of his love and appreciation—for she was his best friend, he knew no other.

Two or three times each week he did this—never missing a step, never faltering the beat. What is more to say is that he never, oh never on his life would he, settle in giving her the dull, colorless rocks of gray and charcoal; no, only the best for the lady next door, only the prettiest and most beautiful in her eyes and his.

They were just ordinary rocks in a driveway to most people; but to the young neighbor they were much more than that. They were a precious token to the little old lady he cared for so deeply, so true and innocently.

To characterize the rocks distinguishing them from the rest in the driveway were the heavenly brushstrokes of color, epidote, and other mineral deposits. Some were speckled with green, others with pink and some the color of sunshine, and even more a light blue like the Heavens above that the lady next door stared at during the day as the young boy sat in Kindergarten class daydreaming.

Day after day, the young boy waited patiently yet with eager volition to get off that big, yellow school bus to go see his friend; and so, as his routine schedule was sentient of, one day after the bus let off, he knelt down in his driveway as he did everyday. Juggling the gravel in his hand, he fished out the most beautiful rocks that he could find from all the rest. Though he only gave her rocks two or three times a week, he would nevertheless collect them each day. In his room at night, he would pour them out like marbles onto his bed; and then again, the young boy would separate the most beautiful from the strictly beautiful.

His mother used to tell him not to dump the rocks out onto his bed sheets because it would cause a given spot on the cotton linen to turn all the beautiful colors of his gifts to the lady next door, but he paid no mind. Thus, when the lights went out and his mother had left his bedside, he would reach under his bed where the rocks lay hidden in a shoebox and repeat his partitioning of gifts. Subsequently, he would wipe away the residue from the consolidated minerals and close his eyes for the night. The dust of the rocks would itch him as he slept like cracker crumb morsels eaten in bed, imprinted in the skin of his back.

This day, as a repetition of previous days, the young boy stepped off Bus 38 and ran from the driveway in front of his home hurrying to his neighbor’s doorstep with his oversized book-bag nearly ripping at the seams. He pushed his tiny, little finger hard against the doorbell because it always took some extra effort for someone his size to make that old thing sound; but it is what he had to do to let Mrs. Hartness know that he was waiting for her; and so, he pushed and pushed in anticipation of seeing her face.

RIIIIIiiiiing! RIIIIIiiiiing!

The noise it made was always so drawn out. It was not a pleasant ring but the doorbell always made that particular clamor. It was a sharp-pitched tone like an antique wind-up clock one can still find at a Pawn Shop or Flea Market if searched for long and hard enough. Nevertheless, the young boy loved the sound that doorbell made. Its significance meant that soon after it was sounded the person he cared so profoundly for with all his heart would soon be on her way to open up the creaking and hinged screen door to ask him how his day went at school.

“I hope you are getting good grades and paying attention,” she would say as the door opened slowly. Then with his two little hands covered as if he were hiding a baby bird that had fallen from an oak tree, the young boy would open them, palms up together in unison, exposing his gift as his face lit up with joy; and there they were: the most beautiful rocks you would ever see.

“Aw, are those for me,” Mrs. Hartness would ask in question, knowing the answer already as she leaned out her fragile, shaking hands.

“They are beautiful,” she continued, giving a wrinkled smile his way and tapping her hand on her lap, and the young boy would hop up and give her a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you so much.”

Mrs. Hartness, with her young neighbor now firmly planted in her lap, would begin rocking back and forth in her chair. He grabbed four fingers of loose skin from her turkey neck and folded the layers over his finger as if a blanket. Not long after, he was sound asleep.

He pushed on the doorbell again and then waited a moment on the concrete slab at the entrance to her home. He jumped one step down and then back up. No one answered.

She might be sleeping, he thought. But she always answered the door. Sometimes she was slow to answer but she nevertheless came within a minute’s time. It had never taken this long all the other times he had come to visit, so he stretched his arm out once more elevating himself on his tippy toes and pressed the white, rectangle doorbell with a faint orange light inside yet again.

RIIIIIiiiiing!

He waited. No one answered.

RIIIIIiiiiing! RIIIIIiiiiing! RIIIIIiiiiing!

Still, she did not come to the door.

The young boy dropped his outstretched arm, cupped his lone, full hand together, and ran across the yard back toward his own home, his book bag smacking back and forth and all. As soon as he opened the door to his house, he asked his mom for a Zip-loc bag to place his rocks in for safe keeping. That way when his friend woke up, he could still give her his present and his beautiful pink and green and yellow and blue speckled rocks would not go to waste. With the Zip-loc bag in hand, the young boy hustled upstairs, jumping one step, then two steps at a time, and threw off his book bag onto the floor and ran directly back outside, grabbing his bike before heading over to the basketball court to wait for his friends, Robbie and Jeremiah.

Later that evening around 5:30 PM when his friends had to leave to get ready for dinner, the boy decided to go back over to his neighbor’s house.

RIIIIIiiiiing!

No answer.

RIIIIIiiiiing.

Still nothing.

She must still be asleep, he figured. It has only been two hours since I got home from school anyway.

The next afternoon upon his arrival back home from Kindergarten, the small boy noticed more cars than usual filling up the driveway next to his: the driveway of the lady next door. The Zip-loc bag full of rocks from the past day was in the small pocket at the front of his book bag with his pencils and crayons just waiting to be delivered. He even took them to school so that once he stepped off Bus 38 he would not have to run back in his house to fetch them.

He slowly edged off the bus this time in a non-haste like pace, unzipping the front pocket of his book bag, and pulling out the plastic bag. His eyes focused on the extra cars he saw in Mrs. Hartness’s driveway and then back toward the entrance to her home.

The wooden door was wide open and the screen door, too, where the top bolt had been locked as to keep it open so that someone could enter, leave, and then re-enter again.

He started to make his way from the road that passed from in front of both of their homes into her front yard, brushing up against the two bushes that had not more than three inches between them that were always connected by a thick spider web that forever had a few drops of moisture waning on top of it; but he went in between the bushes each and everyday regardless even though he was terrified to death of spiders.

The young neighbor made it about halfway through Mrs. Hartness’s yard when the door to the house to his right, his home, where he lived, opened. As he heard the turn of the door handle at his home, he turned his head. His mother appeared. He stopped, was at a standstill, and looked in his mother’s direction. Her mouth shifted downward and her eyes, cat green in color, had a very precise look to them, never blinking, not even for a second.

“Son, come here for a second,” she said with a maternal presence.

At that very moment a figure appeared from the inside of his neighbor’s home while he stood like a fixed statue in the yard, like the cement birdbath out back. The young boy turned back into the direction of Mrs. Hartness’s home, and holding his bag of beautiful rocks in his hand, he noticed how the dust from the gravel had settled on the sides along the bag.

“Hey,” he said kindly to the stranger who looked to be about in his fifties with light gray hair wearing a green sweater and dress slacks.

“Well hi there, young man,” the stranger responded quickly as he continued to walk toward what appeared to be his car in Mrs. Hartness’s driveway.

“Son, come here for a minute,” the boy’s mother said again.

“But I’ve gotta—” he started to reply before his mother interrupted.

“Please come here, Jeff. I need to talk to you.”

Ugh, he thought as he began to trample back toward his yard, his hand running along the two bushes. His little head went under his mother’s arm as she held the door open as he entered, still grasping his beautiful bag of rocks firmly in his hand.

Immediately the door to his home reopened and he appeared grabbing his bike from in front of his house. He pedaled as fast as he could and headed by the basketball court and straight toward the woods and creek that lay down the street from his home. He sniffled and his breathing was heavy now. He wiped his hand across his face as the wind tried in futility to dry the tears that poured from his eyes. His legs kept swiftly pedaling the entire time. Robbie and Jeremiah saw him at a distance and called his name. He heard nothing but the sound of his own whimper and running of his nose.

A few hours later the young boy returned home. His mother awaited him at the door. He laid down his bike and sat on the front steps to his house. His head was buried between his knees and his forehead rested heavily on his arms. You could still hear the young boy sniffling and his breath was hesitant as if he was gasping for air. His right foot moved from side to side as if he were stamping out a lit cigarette. The strange man he had met earlier with gray hair and a green sweater came from his right. The young boy looked up, his eyes painted red, his high cheekbones and face laced with dried tears, salted.

“Would you all like to come into my mother’s home for a few minutes?” the stranger asked.

“Yes we would like that,” the young boy’s mother answered as she motioned to her son for him to get up, but he did not want to.

“Come on, son. This nice man is inviting us into Mrs. Hartness’s house. Let’s not be rude.”

The young boy still did not want to get up but he did eventually just because his mom had asked him.

They made their way through the adjoining lawn and walked casually in the already open door. The little boy’s head was still down. He looked at his feet as he followed behind his mother. There was no reason to ring the doorbell anymore.

The three of them—Mrs. Hartness’s son, the young boy, and his mother—passed through the hallway, its wooden planks much the same as in his own home and into the kitchen where the man asked them to sit down and have a glass of tea. The young boy could smell the aroma of his familiar friend trickling in and out of his nose. A pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes sat beside a more than full ashtray next to the nightstand in Mrs. Hartness’s bedroom as they walked past. Yesterday’s paper was on the tabletop opened as was a Dr. Pepper can beside it.

As the man poured tea into tall glasses, the young boy reached inside the inner pocket of his coat, wondering exactly what that was rubbing up against the left side of his chest. What is that, he thought. As he moved his hand into the already open pocket of his coat, he wiped a tear from his cheek and then noticed something in the corner of his eye. His mother tapped him on the shoulder. The stranger, Mrs. Hartness’s son looked too.

The young boy’s mother pointed upward to the open top shelf that ran horizontally atop the kitchen sink and stove; and in his pocket, the boy pulled out the little plastic bag filled with rocks that had been pressing hard up against his chest. And on the shelf, one by one, hundreds and hundreds of pink and green rocks, and some the color of sunshine and light blue like the Heavens above sat in rows: the most beautiful rocks you would ever see, all lying silently in glass pickle jars, dozens of them.

The boy’s mother lifted him up eye level to the shelf. He stretched out his arm that shook with every movement and gently placed the bag of rocks beside the others that had already found their way into old Ball pickle jars on the shelf top. The stranger, still holding his glass of tea in one hand, stood up beside the young boy and then placed the glass of tea down, letting it rest on the countertop beside the sink. He turned one of the lids counter-clockwise, opening up a jar that was not quite full yet.

“I think those belong in here,” he said to the young boy.

They were just ordinary rocks found in a driveway to most people but not to the lady next door. They were the most beautiful rocks you would ever see and she kept every one.

To read Part I, please click here

Jeremiah balanced himself against the doorframe, his head loose on his neck, swinging from side to side like a pendulum. He motioned for me with his hand. I staggered his way inadvertently colliding with him at the front door.

Gary approached, intervening. He bucked for us to stay put, to crash at his place for the night citing how much alcohol the two of us had consumed over the preceding six hours.

“There’s more than enough room,” he said.

“I’m fine,” Jeremiah replied, exhaling smoke through his nostrils. “I’ve only had two beers.”

“And how many shots, how much wine?” Gary rejoined, “You smell like a damn orchard.”

“Do you mean vineyard?” Jeremiah countered with a wry smile. It was the same smile he gave when he was kicking your ass in Madden. It was the oh-how-do-you-like-that-shit? smile.

Jeremiah reeked of booze. Fumes of beer, liquor, and wine mixed with the nicotine from his breath produced a yeasty, acerbic combination. The inherent problem in Jeremiah taking to the wheel intoxicated—other than the obvious: he was intoxicated—was not so much the absorption of beer and liquor into his veins. The problem was the wine. Jeremiah simply could not handle wine. Never could. It made him off-kilter, a bit askew in his perception of reality and his ability to function in said reality. It was sort of a running joke within our circle that Jeremiah left zigzagging from Sunday services after communion was given just from the sheer tart quality of the grape juice on his palette.

I was a cheap drunk and hence stuck with my preferred Friday night beverage of choice, Hurricane. Hurricane is a malt liquor with 8.10% ABV and part of the Anheuser-Busch family of beers. BeerAdvocate.com gives Hurricane a resounding grade of D+ with a further comment for beer drinkers the world over to “avoid.”

I find this rating a bit unfair, particularly from the perspective of a teenager in the 1990’s with limited income save for the greenbacks earned by way of cutting grass in the summer time and chopping wood in winter.

The Three Pros of Hurricane:

  1. Extremely economical: Spend less. Drink less. Get drunk quicker. Have leftovers for next week’s shindig.
  2. Extremely potent compared to popular American lagers: Once again, drink less, get drunk quicker. I didn’t drink for the taste. Not to mention, easily the biggest con of Hurricane was that, like OE800, it smells like bottled and capped skunk piss. Pop it open, turn it up, don’t think twice, it’s alright.
  3. Never lifted at parties: The fact of the matter is people do not see a black, orange, and green case of Hurricane in the refrigerator and rogue one. They think, “Who in God’s name brought that?” move the case to the side so as to retrieve a can from someone else’s stash thus leaving my alcohol to keep cold and ready when the time was right to crack open another.

The latter was ultimately the deciding factor from my teenage perspective. Hurricane, Black Label, and King Cobra were my Big Three in those days. The lineup rotated as to which one I drank on a designated weekend. Unlike most, if not all of my friends, I never found myself in one of those “where the fuck is my beer?” moments at parties. My beer was always on the bottom shelf, untouched, except by me.

The only time anyone ever even touched one of my malts was when Brandon Shepherd grabbed one, held it up to his mouth like a microphone, and began singing, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions. Then, in the same motion, he passed out on the couch.

On days when the income was feeling a bit expendable and I was feeling grandiose and luxurious, I would step my game up and purchase a Mickey’s but those days were rare and few and far between. Not to mention, I loathed Natural Light for its redneck-specific designation on the drinking scene and avoided it at all costs, buying malt liquor instead. But I digress.

Other than Hurricane and a single can of Budweiser—whose slogan I unremittingly recited throughout the course of the night much to the protest of my cousin Gary—I downed a single mixed drink Gary had concocted.

Bleeding Liver

100 mL Vodka
15 oz. Fruit Punch Gatorade

Mix together. Shake very well. Add ice. Serve.



Gary in the middle, me on the right

Character Profile
Gary was my first cousin (standing in the middle in the picture to your left. That’s me on the right. My cousin Robbie on the left) and Jeremiah’s fellow classmate at Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte Court House, Virginia—Graduating class: 1997.

As a young child, the third Hyde of the family, Garland Hyde Hamlett III, to be exact, had this intense fascination with WWF and WCW action figures and collectibles. Each year when Christmas rolled around and Santa Claus slid his morbidly obese, cherry red ass down the clay brick chimney, he would place under Gary’s Christmas tree some new wrestling action figurine.

By the time my aunt Julie, uncle Butch, and cousin Tiffany arrived at our home in Phenix for breakfast on Christmas morning, Gary was itching like a dog with mange to pull out his plastic men and toss them into the roped ring he had been given the prior Christmas. In turn, the Steiner Brothers—Rick and Scott—would gang up on an aging yet still shirtless Rick Flair or involve themselves in an illusory confrontation with the tag team duo of the Road Warriors.

This background is important for at times this imaginary play world of wrestling was implemented in the real world and my skinny self doomed from the start no matter how much milk I drank or Spinach I ate. (Yes, I arduously bought into the Popeye philosophy that a helping of spinacia oleracea would sprout Sherman tanks on my biceps and in turn help me bring down my own real life Bluto, Gary.)

Gary was my elder by two years, might as well have been ten, and was much bigger than I was then and still so even today. He does not recall putting me through the torture I am about to describe to you the reader. When you are on the giving end (as Gary was), I imagine it is but a faint memory pushed to the back of your mind with no resounding quality—just an ordinary day in an ordinary week. On the receiving end (as I was), however, it becomes burnt into one’s memory as if a fiery orange cigarette cherry snubbed out on the backside of one’s hand.

When I visited my Granny and Papa Hamlett in Drakes Branch, Gary, as sneaky and vengeful as ever, somehow found a constant lure and always managed to trap me in our grandpa’s bedroom. My cries for help were quickly silenced by the threat of pain I was soon to endure being even more painful if I called out for aid. He was also pompous to the fact that unlike other kids his age he already had underarm hair—and a jungle of it at that. As consequence, he jerked me immediately and without delay into a headlock and buried my pre-pubescent face in his armpits.

“Smell it,” he would cry out, squeezing my neck tighter as if to pop my head off like a grape. “Smell it!”

I refused to smell it.

He squeezed my neck tighter.

There was sweat on my nose and cheekbones from his pits. Thick white chunks of deodorant on my lips tasted bitter. Underarm hair tickled my nose.

“I want you to smell it. I want to hear you sniff,” he growled.

Then my nostrils would flare in and out.

* Sniff, sniff *

Enduring these moments of agony, I knew that nothing could be done but appeal to the Lord above for strength in a prayer that one day all those gallons of milk I had poured into my belly since weaning from the teat would jumpstart a growth spurt in my body and all that spinach I consumed would swell my biceps like it had done Popeye before he liberated Olive Oil from the masculine and obstinate grips of Bluto’s hands.

Then I would have my revenge.

Unfortunately, this petition to the Big Man in the Sky has yet to be answered and unless I dial up BALCO or Mark McGwire and get my hands on some Human Growth Hormone, my thirst for retribution may never be quenched.

Or will it?

In a metonymic adage originating in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 play, Richelieu, Cardinal Richelieu says and I quote, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

And so with this axiom clearly portraying wit over might, the power of the written word over the physical headlock, I will thus write with my pen a very significant and hopefully embarrassing little known fact about my Blutonian cousin Gary’s musical tastes.

Gary owned and purposely bought and listened to albums by Shaq Diesel, also known as Shaquille O’Neal, The Big Aristotle, and/or Shaq Fu. If my memory serves me correctly, his favorite song was “(I Know I Got) Skillz.”

Quiz him on this.

From the actual song, begin rapping these lyrics:

Yo Jef, why don’t you give me a hoopa beat or something,
Something I can go to the park to.
Yeah, there you go, alright, I like that, I like that,
It sound dope.

Just give him a minute for the full effect to take hold, to possess his body. Then like an uncontrollable instinct or an Episcopalian speaking in tongues, Gary will begin tapping his right foot and spitting the rhyme with prepositions incorrectly ending the sentence and all:

Knick-knack Shaq-attack, give a dog a bone,
Rhymin is like hoopin’, I’m already a legend,
Back in the days in the Fush-camp section,
Used to kick rhymes like baby, baby, baby,
Every once, every twice, three times a lady,
Is what I listened to, riding with my moms,
How you like me now? I drop bombs,
When you see me, please tap my hands,
I know I got skills man, I know I got skills man…

If that does not work, if he refuses to acknowledge this reality in regards to his music selection, simply ask to see his record collection. Inside a dusty cardboard box, you are sure to find a copy of Shaq Diesel’s debut album, and to top it off, nearly every cassette ever put out by the Fat Boys. True, there is nothing really to laugh about here. The Fat Boys had rhymes so sweet they would knock anyone into a diabetic coma.

Back in the day, I liked the Fat Boys too, used to beat box with my mouth at Gary’s on Saturday mornings while my uncle Butch sucked down a raw egg for breakfast. The two of us would venture out underneath the attached garage and toss lyrical heat into the fire. I would morph into Kool Rock Ski and him into Prince Markie D:

(Prince Markie D): $3.99 for all you can eat?
Well, I’m-a stuff my face to a funky beat!
(Kool Rock Ski): We’re gonna walk inside, and guess what’s up:
Put some food in my plate and some Coke in my cup
(Prince Markie D): Give me some chicken, franks, and fries
And you can pass me a lettuce. I’m-a pass it by.

And then Gary would pause for a moment, do the Robot, position his feet on his Max Headroom skateboard, pop an Ollie, and run his fingers through his hair like a 1988 James Dean. Peanut would call from the neighboring yard, “Yes, t-t-t-t-tune into Network 23! The network is a *real* mind-blower!”

Or at least this is how I like to remember the past.

And that was Gary.



Now he stood before Jeremiah and me, interrogating the man with the keys in his hand. Jeremiah opened the screen door, flicked his cigarette, and reached into his oh so smooth black leather jacket to retrieve a fresh smoke.

“Just a glass or two,” Jeremiah said of how much wine he’d had.

Gary hmphed. “More than that.”

“I’m fine man. I’ll drive slow. We’ll hit the back roads to be on the safe side. I pay more attention after I’ve had a few in me anyway.”

“Well if you don’t think you can drive, feel free to turn back around. Like I said, you can crash here for the night. It’s fine by me. Plenty of blankets and places to sleep.”

“Let me take one last leak before we hit the road,” I said to Jeremiah, knowing he would appreciate my common decency. I tend to urinate frequently, a result of what I suppose relates back to my recurrent bouts with kidney stones as a child. Jeremiah knew this.



Once on a short road trip the two of us took, Jeremiah was forced to stop every twenty minutes in order for me to empty my beans. I marked my territory more than a stray dog that evening.

Behind dumpsters.

On trees.

At a laundry mat.

In a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle.

In a 20-ounce Coca-Cola bottle.



Years later, I would earn the nickname “PP” by Jay Taylor, a co-worker of mine in construction. We used to carpool together. He drove. I sat in the passenger seat and read Noam Chomsky books.

In the late 1980’s/early 90’s, Jay used to play drums in a heavy metal band named Uncle Screwtape and had long, stringy hair down to his ass and was skinny as a toothpick. In promotional photos of the band, Jay wears black leather pants secured tightly by white laces running up the leg. Presently, he sports a reluctant comb-over and carries a few doughnuts in the mid-section.

Uncle Screwtape opened for Ugly Kid Joe in Texas back when Ugly Kid Joe was cool which took place during a window between June and November of 1992. They were on their America’s Least Wanted tour. The bass player for Uncle Screwtape named the band. As Uncle Screwtape’s star was on the rise, the bass player quit to enroll in college. He wanted to be an English teacher. Uncle Screwtape is a reference to a C.S. Lewis novel in which the demon uncle, Screwtape, writes a series of letters to his nephew in efforts to convince his nephew to help bring damnation to a man known as “The Patient.”

Jay used to get annoyed by how much I made him stop so that I could take a leak. We stopped at nearly every store we came upon on our way home from Buggs Island to Phenix.

I hated using a store’s bathroom without buying anything. I felt it was rude so I made a point to always buy an item. I loved Peppermint Patties so I bought one at each of my stops. I didn’t think anything of it, the abbreviation and all. The irony. Jay picked up on it.

“PP,” Jay said. “I think I’m going to call you ‘PP’ from here on out.”

“I hope the gods curse you with kidney stones one day so you’ll see what it feels like. Or an enlarged prostate.”

They never did. But they did curse him with the most awful foot fungus I have ever seen in my life during the summer of 2003. He had to change socks once every hour while at work. Doctor recommended. His feet looked gangrenous. Seriously. And they stunk like a rotting carcass.



It was cold that day and rainy, the evening Jeremiah and I were returning from our road trip down I-81.

“I’m not stopping again,” he said to me as I got back into the car. I had just pissed on a yellow brick wall at a laundry mat on the outskirts of Radford.

Twenty minutes later.

“Hey man, I know you said you weren’t stopping again but I really have to go. I might very well piss myself. I’ve been holding it for ten minutes now and my bladder is about to rupture. I’m pretty sure this isn’t healthy.”

“You’ve been holding it for ten minutes?” he questioned. “We just stopped ten minutes ago. Didn’t you piss?”

“I did. It was wonderful.”

“Then why do you have to go again?”

“I don’t know but I swear I do. I think it has something to do with the rain. Rain. Urine. Both are liquids. And your car idles rather fast. I think it is shaking my kidneys. I know Josh Holt had a similar problem once riding in my mom’s Corolla. It idled badly.”

“You’re not going to piss yourself,” Jeremiah responded matter-of-factly.

“I’m not so sure about that. This may be genetic. My mom gets the dribbles.”

“The dribbles?”

“The dribbles. She can’t do jumping jacks.”



I walked down the narrow hallway and into Gary’s bathroom. A Playboy magazine lay open in a wicker basket to the left of the toilet. An exposed woman stared back at me. She was on all fours stark nude. The sheets were red. Satin sheets I suppose. Rose petals were strewn across the sheets. You know, the way most naked women wait for you.

On all fours.

Stark nude.

Ass in the air.

On red, satin sheets with roses strewn across.

“You are not getting laid tonight,” she reminded me. I thanked her for her kindness and honesty. I wondered what her dad thought. I thought about how I was a hypocrite for enjoying seeing her looking this way, naked, and how I’d never in a million years let my daughter shed clothes for money whenever I had a daughter one day.

I thought about how it wouldn’t be up to me to “let” her do anything. I would have to hope I raised her properly so that she wouldn’t strip nude for money. Then I thought about how I had paid someone to strip nude for money before. She was a friend of mine. She said she’d get naked for gas money. I had gas money.

I was 16. She was 20.

I thought about how I was thinking too much. I thought about how drinking a lot always made me think too much when I already thought too much as it was.

I focused my attention away from the girl in the magazine.

The tank lid was open, pushed off to the side. The ballcock and float were visible. The water was running and the sound sensitive to my ears. I jiggled the handle.

“Don’t be the phantom shitter,” Gary called from the front.

I pissed the most glorious piss I had ever pissed in my existence all the while my stomach flipped, sat upright, turned. Through the pangs, I determined my stomach was essentially eating itself.

Hunger had taken over and the Wu Tang album wasn’t helping the cause. The martial arts samples dubbed into the mix began to remind me of sweet & sour chicken and orange chicken and fried rice with little chunks of egg and…

When I entered back into the kitchen, I grabbed a slice of white bread in my fist and crammed it down my gullet in a matter of seconds. I proceeded to the front door.

Jeremiah turned the handle and we made our exit.

Curtains for the night.

We each walked out with a beer in our hands. Gary stood at the door shaking his head as we made our way down the front steps.

“This is the famous Budweiser beer—” I began.

“Jeez,” Gary interrupted, “Drive safe. And make that moron shut up.”

I opened the passenger’s side door of Jeremiah’s black Thunderbird and slid in. Jeremiah buckled his seatbelt, as did I.

“We are really going down the back roads, right?” I asked Jeremiah.

“Definitely. Not trying to roll into a road check this time of night. Lawson can. Kiss. My. Ass.”

“Country Road?”

“Country Road.”

“I’d say that’s a good call, our safest route.”

“And I would second that notion. You ready? Buckled up?”

“Yep. Ready to roll.”

I had ridden with Jeremiah numerous times when neither he nor I were sober so I trusted him behind the wheel. (Trusted him with my life you could say) The reasoning on my behalf had more to do with the fact that when you are wasted beyond belief anyone’s driving looks pretty good as long as you get to your destination in one piece. It was a youthful decision on both our accounts. Not very wise no matter how you slice it. “Young and dumb” isn’t a popular phrase without reason, and when you are that age, you believe yourself as well as your friends are invincible.

We knew no krypton, could not be taken down with an arrow in our Achilles heel. To boot, hardly anyone traveled down Country Road, particularly at this time of the night.

I pulled out my pack of Marlboros and lit one. Jeremiah followed, asking for a light. I lit it while he edged his way from Gary’s driveway. The outside light on Gary’s front porch turned off.

“And you’re sure you’re okay to drive?” I asked just to double-check.

I was beginning to wonder if this time maybe Jeremiah had had a little too much to drink. His body swayed as if he was without a spine or bones. Under the surface, a sense of worry had presented itself to me.

“Oh yeah, I’m good,” he answered matter-of-factly.

About a mile up the road, Jeremiah hit his left turn signal.

“We’re turning right,” I told him.

Jeremiah hit his right turn signal. “I knew that.”

Country Road was now in sight. The car inched its way closer to the turn. The two of us were laughing it up, babbling about what the night had done to us.

“I’ll tell you, that wine did a number on me this time,” Jeremiah said, his beady eyes glassy.

“That wine does a number on you every time. Did you drink one of those Bleeding Livers Gary mixed up? I think it sent me overboard into the deep. Not a good mix with Hurricane. I feel sick as shit.”

“Nah. Only some shots, some wine, and a few baa-rewskies. If I added anything else, I’d be spewing for sure and you’d be driving.”

“We wouldn’t be driving. We’d be sitting. I’m definitely not in the shape to drive.”

“True. I don’t see how you drink that malt liquor week in and week out. Shit.”

“Cheap buzz.”

Snoop Dogg interjected on the stereo, singing. Jeremiah turned up the volume and veered toward the turn.

The only problem with this was that we had not actually made it to the turn quite yet. We still had a ways to go, roughly one-hundred yards or so; and granted, though we were not flying down the highway by any means, we also were not giving the turtle a run for his money on who was the slowest specimen on the roadside this time of night.

Jeremiah looked in my direction still talking, a grin etched on his face. The cigarette hung out of his mouth and the smoke danced off the end toward the ceiling of the car.

We were driving through the gravel parking lot of a closed convenience store.

And I was fully aware we were driving through the gravel parking lot of a closed convenience store.

For some reason, what reason I couldn’t tell you then, couldn’t tell you now, I thought maybe Jeremiah had decided to stop and get a drink, get a little sugar in his system to caffeinate him properly for the thirty minute drive we were making toward home in Phenix.

That’s what I told myself at least.

As a hypoglycemic in my own right, I tend to keep a stash of foods pertinent to the glycemic index close by to hold me over when my blood sugar begins to plummet.

In an article by Charles Q. Choi, “Why Time Seems to Slow Down in Emergencies,” researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, discovered that an individual’s memory plays a certain kind of mind game and tricks us in emergency situations. The amygdala, an almond-shaped mass of gray matter, one in each hemisphere of the brain, is associated with feelings of fear and aggression and is important for visual learning and memory. When one’s nerves tense up and the sense of danger near, the amygdala lays down an additional deposit of memories that go along with the memories typically taken care of by other parts of the brain.

Therefore, individuals tend to remember emergencies much more keenly than normal circumstances. Our senses become, in a way, pronounced and our attention level expands and takes in the scenery and sounds and smells of the moment, among other things. I bring this up because when Jeremiah hit the turn signal and began trekking through the gravel parking lot of the store, reality is this: it happened instantaneously and within a matter of seconds.

I was fully conscious of the situation. It was as if time stood still, the pendulum paused in mid-air, and everything was taking place in slow motion; that Jeremiah had a beer still in between his legs just as I did should have hinted something out to me that perhaps, just perhaps, Jeremiah was not thirsty and not stopping for a Coca-Cola.

Having sensed what I sensed, I created a reasonable explanation to make sense of those senses and did not say anything to Jeremiah at first.

Jeremiah was laughing and so was I. I figured, screw it. He was in control. He has done this a million times before and I have been the passenger of those million times myself and we had always been okay, always gotten where we were going in one piece.

False alarm, I told my amygdala.

You’re totally overreacting Amy so calm the hell down.

Now I know, just as any resident of Charlotte County knows, that our African shaped county in south-central Virginia is pretty dag gone country. Some kids across the United States like to claim that their hometown or home county is small.

“All we have is a Wal-Mart and a KFC,” they say.

Well, that’s nothing.

There is not a single stoplight—not one—in all of Charlotte County.

And Wal-Mart?

Well, if you want to hit up Wally World and support sweatshop labor and American jobs being sent overseas by the thousands all for the sake of a low price, Wal-Mart is a good 45-minute-to-an-hour drive away depending on where you live in the county.

The truth of the matter is that the road we were supposed to take, even if it is called Country Road (quite literally), is paved; and the path we were currently traveling down was nothing but gray dust and rocks.

It wasn’t even a road.

It was the near half-acre parking lot of a store that closed at 8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Like I said, this all happened in a matter of seconds; and ten years ago the Baylor College of Medicine did not even exist to me nor did their study of “Why Time Seems to Slow Down in Emergencies.”

I could have given them that answer and saved some taxpayers’ money.

Conclusion: Time appears to slow down because your senses freak and your adrenaline begins to pump and you’re alert to the belief that you’re going to die and that you never accomplished anything in life and when my mom cleans out my room and starts to cry because I’m no longer here, she’s going to discover my porn stash and she’s going to think I’m a pervert but I’m not going to be able to explain to her that it’s completely natural for someone my age to be looking at porn; at least I’m not a Trekky I would say to her, at least I didn’t waste my life collecting stamps though I did collect matchbooks once and I’m really sorry about almost catching the house on fire. I could have told Baylor College that much.

But right now God had his finger on the pause button and I got to thinking, got to convincing myself that Jeremiah had taken a mini shortcut and was simply going to cut back through on to Country Road when we got to the end of the store parking lot.

We’ll get home one-hundred yards quicker, I told Amy Amygdala, so quit your stinking pestering. I got this. Jeremiah’s got this.

Then Ms. Amy Amygdala wagged her invisible index finger at me.

Should have listened to me, she said. I was trying to tell you something, trying to warn you. Now it’s too late.

Jeremiah wasn’t slowing down. It became very apparent to me and Amy Amygdala who kept saying, I told you so, I told you so, that Jeremiah had made a rather grave error. He thought we had already made it to the right turn on to Country Road and had no idea that this was not a road but a gravel parking lot.

Fuck. I’m going to die.

Stones bounced underneath the black Thunderbird, clanging against the oil pan. A cloud of dust trailed behind our car like the last scene in Thelma and Louise when the helicopter zooms overhead and the car jolts airily into the pit of the Grand Canyon, a photograph of the two friends turning and turning and falling like a feather from the sky.

Click to view Thelma and Louise – Ending Scene

[with a ditch line in front of them and cops behind them]
Thelma Dickerson: OK, then listen; let’s not get caught.
Louise Sawyer: What’re you talkin’ about?
Thelma Dickerson: Let’s keep goin’!
Louise Sawyer: What d’you mean?
Thelma Dickerson: …Go.
Thelma Dickerson: [Thelma nods ahead of them]
Louise Sawyer: You sure?
Thelma Dickerson: Yeah.

I reached for my seatbelt to double check it was securely fastened. The radio was blaring, the cigarette smoke dancing, and Jeremiah was singing:

Hey, now ya’ know
Inhale, exhale with my flow
One for the money, two for the…

And then I noticed a huge ditch line at the back of the parking lot that casually adjoined an embankment. I thought to myself, Oh shit!

I looked at Jeremiah and to let him know that we were about to go jetting through a ditch line at fifty-miles-per-hour, I said, “Jeremiah.”

Yes, I know. Something more immediate should have spilt from my lips. It probably was not the best first thing to say in order to aware someone that you are about to be involved in a car accident, but God had pressed the play button and we were no longer on pause. Time was moving at its normal pace. And then in fast forward. And “Jeremiah” was about all I had time to blurt out.

Jeremiah looked at me and said, “Wh—” and at that very moment before he got the “-at” out to end his reply, I think he honest-to-goodness realized he had put the turn signal on prematurely.

SLAM!

WHOP!

CRASH!

Just like the colorful callouts in the original Batman episodes with Adam West.

We collided with the ditch. The airbags deployed. We smashed into the hill that adjoined the stacked mound of grass and dirt. Hubcaps retreated. Our car crippled, we flung our metal carriage through the last ditch and then managed to land back on the road, Country Road, the same road we were supposed to be driving down in the first place.

“Are you okay, man? Are you okay,” I said to Jeremiah in panic.

A cloud of powder from the airbags circulated throughout the car. On the driver’s side floorboard a cigarette glowed orange.

My left arm had slammed against the windshield and slightly cut open my left elbow and scraped my forearm. My scar from the Gilliam shed window I had broken out as a kid began to bleed and a small amount of blood trickled down toward my wrist. The car was the scene of what looked to be a baby powder fight. The powder from the airbags was suffocating.

I was coughing.

Jeremiah was coughing.

And Snoop Dogg was singing, “It Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None).”

The airbags had chalked up both of our faces. If I had to throw out a combination of words as to what Jeremiah and I looked like when Jeremiah hit the interior light then I would have to say—and this is because of the airbag powder on our faces I may add—that we looked like drag queen circus clowns with a bad coke habit and a bad aim at putting the coke up our nostrils.

I felt like I should be panning for change outside of a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus act come to town. I felt like Jeremiah ought to be right beside me juggling with a monkey resting atop his shoulder—a white-fronted Capuchin monkey named Larry with an asparagus stalk dangling from his bottom lip. I’m sure some animal rights protester would object; but Jeremiah and I would tell them that Larry loves our traveling circus act; and then, without notice, Larry would poo in his hand and throw it at the protester and giggle…

The two of us stepped out of Jeremiah’s black Thunderbird, dazed. Jeremiah looked at me and said, apparently gazing in the direction of an imaginary car and not the one that stood before us, “You think we can make it home alright still?”

I thought airbag powder must have been clogging my ears.

The black Thunderbird, once a fierce machine on the Charlotte County highway, its-terrifying-to-spectators pink racing stripe down the side, though it had now been in a wreck, still had a believer in its capabilities. His name was Jeremiah and he had lost his damn mind.

Or at least banged his head against the steering wheel when we hit the ditch to jar his intellectual capabilities.

I cannot remember my exact words but I believe they were somewhere along the line of, “I think we should probably go back to Gary’s and call someone,” which was immediately followed by a sense of panic that the cops were going to come, tow Jeremiah’s car, and arrest Jeremiah for drinking and driving, reckless endangerment, and me for underage drinking.

The wreck had miraculously sobered me—at least mentally. I could have passed an Algebra II test at that moment and it took me three years in high school to pass an Algebra II test.

Then Jeremiah replies with something else I will never forget: “Nah, I’m good. I can make it home if we just go slow.”

It was a common reply on a trashy talk show like Ricki Lake or Jerry Springer for a guest to come back with, “Oh no you didn’t” and that is exactly what went through my head as if on cue from the producer of one of these trashy talk shows.

Jeremiah tried to plead his case. He tried to tell me that he was okay to drive and his car fine but my mind was made up. Driving back home was no longer a good idea, not an option for this passenger.

Jeremiah looked at the car, looked at me, breathed in the last of his cigarette, exhaled the smoke, and then flicked the butt into the road.

“You’re right. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea. Let’s go back to Gary’s.”

So, the two of us got back into the Thunderbird, buckled our seatbelts, and putted and bounced and hopped our way back to my cousin Gary’s house. It was like riding in a horse and carriage on a road made of seashells. My window was down and I could hear the hubcap on the passenger side attempting to fall off into the road and roll away into the tree line.

Please don’t let a cop pass us. Please don’t let a cop pass us.

My dad is going to kick my ass. My dad is going to kick my ass.

When we arrived at Gary’s minutes later, I called my sister, Jennifer, at my parent’s house. She was in from college for the weekend and most likely asleep and in bed. It was 2:45 AM, after all.

Naturally, since I prayed with all my heart for my sister to pick up the telephone and not my mom, my mom indeed answered the phone.

My mom sounded alert as ever.

She has a freakish ability to do this, no matter the time. Honestly, it is weird. She never sounds groggy and she was definitely asleep when the phone rang and probably had been since 8:00 PM.

I asked my mom to give my sister the phone because I needed to talk to her. I didn’t tell my sister what had happened—the wreck and all. I just made it clear that Jeremiah and I needed a ride home. My sister came and picked both of us up. The next day, Jeremiah had his car towed from Gary’s place. Granted, it isn’t until now that I ever considered what Gary must have thought when he woke up and looked out of his window, only to see Jeremiah’s car busted to pieces and us nowhere in sight.

I believe Jeremiah’s dad, Johnnie, was onto our “someone ran us out of the road” story, as was my dad; but I am not sure still to this day that Jeremiah’s mom, Maryann, or my mom, have the faintest idea of what happened that night. I would like to think Maryann figured it out eventually, but my mom has not a clue of the truth, nor will she ever because even if I let her read this one day, this part will be edited from her copy.

Censored.

Absentis.



A few days passed. Jeremiah’s car sat in the shop being looked over by a local grease monkey in Charlotte Court House. Upon final inspection, the garage gave Jeremiah’s residence a ring on the telephone to give the full report of the damage done. (Let us keep in mind again that night Jeremiah still wanted to drive home after the wreck)

What was the damage?

Two broken axles and the car was completely totaled.

The mechanic told Johnnie the car was caput and he would haul it to the junkyard for him. Johnnie asked to have the car towed back to their house first.

When the wrecker brought Jeremiah’s car back to his house a few days later, I met Jeremiah in his front yard. We inspected the black Thunderbird and attempted to take in fully all of what we saw: our invincibility tested, our lives salvaged.

The rims on the wheels were busted. Two wheels were sunken. Because of the broken axles and two flat tires, the car drooped to one side, slouched as if an elderly man with bad posture or scoliosis. That or somebody born with a short leg. I knew a kid like that once. The front windshield was a spider web of cracks (which is why, when driving back to Gary’s, Jeremiah navigated the road by poking his head out of the driver’s side window).

The two of us peered inside the car for a closer look. The black seats were covered in a haze of white powder from the airbags, which lay deflated over the steering wheel and in the passenger’s seat. The furious Ford appeared as if it had been used in the Battle of Kursk, July 1943.

The Red Army victorious!

In the distance of Belgorod smoked a faithful battering ram with a badge of honor now headed to an aluminum and alloy grave.

“I’m glad you told me not to drive home,” Jeremiah said, his eyes still fixed on the black Thunderbird.

“Yeah, me too. Say, why did your dad have the car towed back here?”

“I think he wants me to take it all in. My piss poor decision. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t buy the story.”

“My dad either.”


[This story is broken up into two parts. Part II will appear nearing January’s end. A couple of names were changed to conceal identities.]

An unclad young woman stared at me from across the room. A straight line ran from her pointed breasts to my line of vision. I took a sip from my beer. Topless, unabashed, she positioned herself against the wall in a rather somber pose, half sobering considering the atmosphere. I took a drag from my cigarette, another sip from my beer. I wiped the froth from my lip. She had yet to blink, kept looking in my direction. Some specimen she was, I thought silently.

I exhaled a cloud of smoke and it hung heavy overhead like empty time. I walked her way. As I approached, she titled forward falling. I caught her, stood her back on the wall, and secured the loose piece of scotch tape that kept her shoulders square, her posture in perfect alignment.

Her name was Amanda. She was a sucker for the shy type. She was a late bloomer, she said.

She straddled a Harley Davidson motorcycle and wore a pair of black leather assless chaps. Amanda was one of various nude women, which served as wallpaper in my cousin Gary’s home.

He was a bachelor.

He drank whiskey.

He wore a leather beret.

He listened to Willie Nelson.

He once traded hats with Willie Nelson after a Willie Nelson concert.

They didn’t smoke marijuana together afterward.


It was getting late. The wee hours of the night tugged at my eyelids. My nostrils widened. Blood shot and dry, irritated by the cigarette smoke lingering in the air, my burning eyes did their best to water. I brought my hand to my mouth and let out a deep yawn. Jeremiah looked my way. His eyes closed. His nostrils widened. His mouth opened and springing from the pit of his stomach a deep yawn arose.

“I guess…. it’s like…. they say—” I said to him, finishing my yawn.

“Contagious is right,” he responded.

I dropped my hands to my side.

Wu Tang entered the speakers. The RZA, the GZA, Raekwon, and the rest of the Clan verbally assaulted us spitting more heat than a woodstove in winter….

You can’t party your life away
Drink your life away
Smoke your life away…

One by one, drunken teenagers and young twenty-somethings saturated in wildly wandering hormonal distress stood in a single file line down the hallway guzzling cheap American beer. With all their shouting, grunting, and vocal might they attempted to revive the once vibrant game of Waterfall that had so consumed them an hour earlier.

Their calls were moot at this conjecture in the night. Cal Adams stood tipsy on the tips of his toes, chugging a beer.

One cold can after the next, participants dropped like flies—beer foam all the while dripping from their lips and chins, giving them the impression of rabid raccoons rocking steady to the beat across the room.

I looked in Jeremiah’s direction and noticed him wobbling. His head bobbed from side to side. His hips swayed. His bones danced a jiggly, gelatinous dance. His body swayed like a drunken vessel….

He belched.

He opened the front door. We both trailed out, lit our respective cigarettes, and surveyed the scene.

Numerous friends of ours lay before us in Gary’s front yard. Some were curled up in the fetal position. Others were slumped over the rail on the stoop blowing chunks of Natty Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon from their jowls.

In spit-filled slurs slung sideways, they promised empty promises: “I’ll never drink this much again,” only to drink that much and more the following Friday down in the boonies of southern Virginia.

Phenix.

Drakes Branch.

Red Oak.

Red House.

Aspen.

Keysville.

Charlotte Court House.

We all were born and raised in a county without a single stoplight. We celebrated our boredom the same way every weekend. We had no music venues. We had no bars. No clubs. No movie theater save the drive-in.

We celebrated our existence, our invincibility at Gary’s on Scott Rd.

“This is the famous Budweiser beer,” I said flicking my cigarette, walking back into the house. “We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive beechwood aging produces a taste, smoothness, and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.”

“Get this bumbling idiot some water,” Gary said.

“Who me?”

“Yes, you. And tell your buddy, what’s his name—” He pointed in the direction of my friend Derek who was passed out on the couch with a cigarette still in his mouth. It had burned its way down to the filter.

“Derek?”

“Yes, Derek. Derek Smith. Tell him not to come over to my house again unless he’s wearing a shirt. Do I need to post a sign on my front door that reads, ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service;’ huh, do I?”


Derek rarely wore a shirt anywhere. He wasn’t some macho asshole. He just didn’t like to wear a shirt. Half the time he didn’t wear pants. That night at Gary’s he had on pants: camouflage cargo pants. Derek had signed up for the National Guard. He was due to leave for boot camp in a few weeks.

Derek used to sit in the parking lot at B&D Mart in our hometown of Phenix, Virginia, in the broad daylight in his tighty-whitey boxer-briefs with a Camel unfiltered hanging off his bottom lip, shaving his face with the Norelco electric razor his parents had given him. He shaved his face everyday with that razor. He kept it charged in the A/C adapter, this all despite having minimal facial hair at the time. The type of facial hair you have when you’re in high-school.

Unless you were Dwayne Davis.

Or Jimmy Lovelace. Also known as Paco. Or Mustapha. Whether he looked Mexican or Arab depended on the season.

If it was summer or fall, Jimmy looked Arab. If it was winter or spring then Mexican.


Jimmy got the nickname Paco when the two of us enrolled in summer school after 9th grade. We both had flunked Algebra II.

There was a kid named Deron that used to always ask him for lunch money. He hassled Jimmy a lot. Gave him a lot of shit.

Then one day Deron walks up to Jimmy, sort of nudges him. They were serving tacos that day.

“Yo Paco. Let me hold a dollar. I need a Taco, Paco.”

It’s been fifteen years. I still call Jimmy, Paco. He passed Algebra II that summer. I didn’t. I took it once again in 10th grade. Third time’s a charm.

The year before, we pleaded with Jimmy for nearly an entire semester in 8th grade to shave the Superman logo in his chest hair.

“My mom would kill me.”

“How the fuck is your mom going to know,” I asked him. I was pissed. Jimmy used to do anything I’d tell him like bark for a piece of chewing gum in 7th grade. Now he protested.

“Bark for a piece of gum and I’ll give you a piece. It’s Teaberry. Teaberry is fucking awesome,” I said chewing. “Man, this is some good ass gum.”

“I’m not barking for a piece of gum,” Jimmy whispered back. Our teacher had her back to us.

“Guess you won’t be getting any gum then. By the way, your breath smells like dog shit. Did you eat a turd for lunch?”

A few minutes passed. I had swallowed my gum by that point. I used to always swallow my gum despite my mom telling me it would take seven years to come out the other end.

That was bullshit. I remember seeing chewing gum in my shit when I was six years old.

“Ruff!”

“What was that,” Mrs. Clark said.

When Jimmy barked, I had switched over to Sugar Babies and had crammed my mouth with a handful of the caramel and chocolate treats developed in 1935 by the James O. Welch Co.

I began choking on my own saliva.

The saliva was thick and sugary.

It tickled my throat.

“Who just barked,” Mrs. Clark demanded.

I started to laugh. My eyes watered. I had too many Sugar Babies in my mouth.

Jimmy was shaking with laughter. I was shaking with laughter.

Old, fat women in bikinis, I thought to myself. I was trying to think of something not funny. It wasn’t working. I could hear Jimmy barking over and over in my head.

I started to cough. I thought my eyes were going to burst out my head.

Then I threw up on my desk. It looked like cat shit, kind of. I thought Jimmy was going to throw up too. Jimmy used to always throw up when other people threw up. I used to always throw up when other people threw up too. I remember once in 1st grade when Larry Wade poured milk over his tuna ball that sat on top a piece of lettuce in his lunch tray. Someone had dared Larry an orange push-up he wouldn’t eat the milk, lettuce, and tuna mixture.

Larry did.

This overweight kid I used to call Skipper threw up watching Larry eat. He called me Little Buddy. His mom worked at a chocolate factory. Every Valentine’s Day she would come to our class for Show and Tell. The Skipper’s real name was Chad.

When Chad threw up, I threw up. Then other kids started throwing up all the way down the table. My cousin Brandon threw up. He was in the middle of an argument telling all the other kids that Santa Claus didn’t exist when he stopped to throw up. He had a rat-tail. So did Erik Ragsdale. I’m not sure if Erik threw up.


Jimmy’s mom knew everything her children did. He was terrified to go against her or do anything he thought would upset her in the slightest. His older sister would later become pregnant out-of-wedlock, carry the baby the entire length of the pregnancy having never been to the doctor for a single check-up, and go into labor one day at the high school. She was a teacher.

She had graduated college, had a salary job, and was still terrified of her mother.

Jimmy would later tell me about the situation. He prefaced it by saying, “Man you aren’t going to believe this shit.” The conversation went sort of like this.

JIMMY: By the time I get off work, get to my locker, and check my phone I have like ten missed calls from my mom. One missed call after the next. One new voicemail.

“Jimmy,” my mom said. “Please call me when you get this. Call me as soon as you get this.”

She was extremely upset.

Crying. Fucking delirious sounding, man.

Naturally, I’m thinking someone has died. Somebody has definitely died. I start to panic a little. I’m almost scared to call her back. What if something happened to my dad or sister? I’m a little fidgety, antsy about returning the call. I’m going to do it. I just need to calm down first. I light a cigarette. I’m shaking. I’m hot-boxing that bitch. Then my phone rings. I look down at caller ID. It’s my mom.

She’s sucking back snot.

“What’s the matter I ask her? Mom, what’s the matter?”

“Melissa had a baby,” she says.

(Jimmy pauses, looks at me, eyes big as saucers, and laughs)

ME: Yeah man, that shit came through the grapevine. I heard about it all the way in Charlottesville. I didn’t even know she was pregnant.

JIMMY: Neither did I.

ME: What did you say?

JIMMY: The first thing that came to mind: “Are you fucking kidding me?”

That triggers my mom to bawl more.

“When the hell did she get pregnant,” I asked her.

I was floored. Dude I was fucking floored. My sister had a baby. Do you believe that shit? She was fucking pregnant for nine months and never told anybody. I mean shit. How do you pull that shit off? Thing is, you couldn’t even tell she was pregnant. You know my sister. She doesn’t exactly win the gold medal for most physically fit but still—pregnant? Nine months? Had a baby? Fuck!

(laughs)

Suddenly me dating a black chick isn’t the worst thing in the world for my parents.

(laughs)

ME: How’s that situation going?

JIMMY: Same ole, same ole. Don’t come home unless you’re single or got a white girl on your arm.

(He pulls on a cigarette)

ME: Your folks need to be more understanding. Do they realize you don’t even look white? You look like you’re from the United Arab Emirates. And you’re balding prematurely.

JIMMMY: Hey, fuck you.


Finally, the owner of B&D confronted Derek about his lack of outerwear. He was shirtless and had on no pants. He wore army boots and white boxer briefs. He had been polishing his boots since we got off from school.

He was standing at the Coca-Cola machine, trying to straighten a dollar bill on the side of the machine. I sat at the picnic table with some other friends: Rick, Ricky, and Brian.

Brian had a stuttering problem. If we were all having a down day, we used to get Brian to sing “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive for kicks.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Here’s something that you never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet

Brenda, the co-owner of B&D Mart (the “B” stood for “Brenda”), knocked hard with her knuckles against the drive-up window that was duct-taped shut. Derek looked her way. I looked her way. She had a mean snarl on her face and pointed at Derek.

“You stay right there,” she said. You couldn’t hear her but you could read her lips. She was fuming. Then she proceeded out the front door and began berating Derek.

She finished, turned around, walked back inside. She stood at the window looking outside at us.

Derek looked at me and said, “Shit. What’s her problem?”

“You don’t have on pants,” I said.


Gary turned his attention back to the fizzled out game of Waterfall. Then Jeremiah stumbled back into the picture, wobbling across the carpet like a pregnant woman, her water about to burst.

He squinted.

“Are you alright,” I asked Jeremiah.

No response.

He narrowed his eyes even more trying to fix his pupils on one of the three of me he saw. Assuming he was staring into the image of me located in the middle of the other two blurred images of my form, he asked if I was ready to leave.

“Are you ready to leave,” he asked.

I was.


To read Part II, please click here

A while back I drove to Texas and attended a high school reunion. Events like these are surreal for most everyone, but as I approached Wichita Falls on a cold and still Friday evening, the intensity of it all was overwhelming—the color of the sky, the emptiness of the prairie, the quiet roar of my tires on interstate asphalt. I felt like I was driving into someone else’s dream. I’d lived in this area for less than three years, and many more years had passed since I’d had contact with anyone I had known there. Hell, I didn’t even graduate high school in Wichita Falls because my family moved to Corpus Christi the summer before my senior year. The only way I’d known about the reunion at all is because I saw something about it on MySpace, and I wasn’t sure I should go since I wasn’t on the alumni list.

But I wanted to go. For a bit of nostalgia, sure, but also because I wondered if anyone would remember me. My family moved seven times before I left for college, and I hadn’t kept in contact with any of my childhood friends. Because of this I had romanticized these short-term friendships, imagined they were more meaningful than they probably were, and I assumed I was missing out on some essential quality of childhood that less-nomadic kids took for granted. I felt impermanent; if no one from those years remembered me, had I actually lived them? Were the memories real? Did the past exist anywhere else besides my own mind?

And of course there was a girl. There’s always a girl.

* * *

Relationships are mostly about geography.

Your childhood friends are the other kids who live on your block. Or you meet them in homeroom, or they play on your little league baseball team. You don’t choose these friends so much as you happen across them. Often you barely have anything in common at all.

As you get older, the schools get bigger, and it’s easier to meet people like yourself. In college you enroll in certain classes, you join certain clubs, you’re invited to certain parties. You aggregate and congregate and build relationships based on shared interests and attitudes instead of coincidence.

But in adulthood your world social world tends to shrink again. You work in this office and live in that apartment building. You pick up friends here and there, at work or at church or on your flag football team, and maybe you don’t realize the best friend you never had lives three blocks away. You both shop at the same grocery store and play the same golf course, but for nothing more than probability, you’ll never meet.

Now think about your very best friends—the few who understand you better than anyone else, the ones you practically share a brain with—and consider the astronomical odds you overcame to even meet them in the first place.

* * *

I wasn’t driving to Wichita Falls completely blind. I’d chatted on Facebook and MySpace with a few people who planned to be there. At the first event, a Friday night football game, the organizer of the reunion recognized me. I hadn’t known her in school, but that evening she smiled at me and made me feel welcome.

Inside the stadium, the night was bright and cold. Fans, thousands of them, were huddled under red and black blankets. I was expecting some kind of fanfare, a whole section of cheering alumni impossible to miss, but it turned out there was only a handful of us. Eventually I found another familiar face, an online friend, and sat next to him. I had known of him in school, but only vaguely. I’m not sure he remembered me.

Only a fraction of the graduating class made it to the game. The girl wasn’t one of them. And if she had been there, I probably wouldn’t have spoken to her. Not only because it was cold and everyone was rooted to their seats, but because I was mortified she wouldn’t remember me. She had been one of the most popular girls in school, and certainly among the most beautiful. I was awkward and painfully shy, my face burned with acne, a kid who appeared in the middle of ninth grade and disappeared before graduation. I knew her peripherally for a couple of years, and then, during my last semester before moving away, we sat next to each other in English class. She was the only pretty girl I’d ever found the courage to speak to, and every day I made her laugh. In my yearbook she wrote how nice it was to finally to get to know me, and thanked me for being so sweet to her. I allowed myself to believe, had I found the courage to ask her out, that she would have said yes.

* * *

Social networking sites recognize the problem of geography. Not only can you meet people of like interests, but you find them all over the world. The larger population makes it more likely you might meet a best friend or even a soul mate…at least in theory. The reality is a bit different because online personas don’t always match up with their real world counterparts. Often the qualities you imagined made the two of you so perfect for each other turn out to not really exist, or at least not the way you hoped. And since attraction is fickle, your online friend might be no more of a match than someone you stumbled across by chance in the real world.

And so we’re back to that random encounter, the probability-defying instance where you meet a person that, friend or lover, is the missing piece of the puzzle that is you. It’s not difficult to recognize a person like this. All it takes is a single conversation. And it’s the same where romance is concerned. Love isn’t a look across a room. Lust is a component of love, yes, but if that’s all you’re working with, you’re missing the real magic.

Because of the sheer math involved, we don’t meet these puzzle pieces often. You never know how or when it might happen. And when it comes to love, we often aren’t willing to wait. Circumstances trick us into assigning greater meaning to most of our romantic relationships than what is really there. This may be why friendships often last a lifetime, but marriages don’t fare as well. There isn’t as much pressure to force friendship as there is love. Your biological clock doesn’t care much about your friends. It wants you to find a mate, and the sooner the better.

* * *

I was only sixteen years old when I sat next to the girl in English class, but if she had wanted to get married I probably would have asked her. I couldn’t imagine being drawn to a person more than I was to her. But of course I was too young to understand that a pretty face and a kind smile don’t equal a match. In fact, it was a long, long time before I finally figured this out.

The day after the football game, Saturday, lunch was held in the high school cafeteria. Many more alumni showed up, and I saw plenty of recognizable faces. A guy I played basketball with. A guy who had lived in my neighborhood. Both of these men recognized me, and though they seemed more surprised than pleased to see me, I was nevertheless relieved. Their acknowledgment meant I really had gone to school with these people, that my memories weren’t built from illusion after all. The long hallways and institutional staircases and antiseptic smells were all familiar. These people and this place were my past, and they were real.

And then I saw her. Actually I first noticed her voice. The tone was a little deeper than I remembered, but unmistakable nonetheless. After a moment I made eye contact with her, and I thought her gaze lingered a bit, but maybe I only imagined it. She was as popular as ever. It seemed as though people were lining up to talk to her. I assumed at some point she might be left alone, a tiny window where I could approach her, but it never happened. She was in constant conversation the entire lunch, and even during the mingling period that followed.

One thing I should make clear: I wasn’t there to meet this girl in a romantic way. Far from it. But I couldn’t imagine leaving the reunion without speaking to her, not before I could compare my memories of her to the reality of the woman she had become. As the afternoon wore on, however, doing so became less and less likely. She was never alone, not even for a moment. What could I do? Walk up while she was talking to someone else and wait for them to stop? The past pulled on me like gravity, weighing me down, rooting me to where I stood. Not once during my nearly three years in this school had I asked any girl on a date.

I thought about giving up, walking away, but instead I summoned all the confidence I could muster and approached her. She glanced at me and then continued her conversation with this other person. Seconds ticked by, maybe minutes, and my skin began to crawl. Had I made a mistake? Did she recognize me at all?

Finally, she was free. She smiled the same smile I remembered and extended her hand. I shook with her and introduced myself, watching for recognition to flicker in her eyes the way it had with the other friends I had discovered here.

But no recognition appeared. She didn’t remember me. She even apologized for not remembering.

We talked for a while afterward, close to a half hour, about various political and cultural topics. It was a fine conversation, but we didn’t share similar views on very many things. Eventually we climbed into our cars and drove our separate ways, and that night, when dinner and drinks were served, when tables were cleared to make room for a dance floor, I made no effort to speak to her again.

* * *

I’m not sure I learned anything intellectually by attending the reunion, because what occurred there is pretty much what I expected. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It’s one thing to tell yourself how you should feel about a situation, but something else altogether to live it.

Because while it’s true that reality for each of us exists only in our own minds, the magic of being human are the odd and daily experiences you share with someone else.

I grew up in a small village on the Connecticut River in northern New Hampshire. There were more trees and cows than there were people and up until I was a surly teenager, I loved it.

Then puberty hit and I despised my little hamlet. Outside of my family, there wasn’t a single reason to stay and every day brought me closer to college and escape.

Now I’m 10 years past that day and 4 years past the day I left New England completely behind and every fall my heart hurts. It’s like the ache you associate with an old injury, the kind of pain cold weather and rainy days bring.

Leaving New England was like breaking up with a childhood romance.

I often wonder if I’ll ever get over it completely.


* * *

I love the fall. I love the colors and the smells and the cold air that insinuates itself into the shadows, lengthening everything, changing the way the sun filters through windows. I’d love to live in a place that experiences fall weather year round.

Maryland is not that place. The summers are long and hot, lasting well into October. Winter is basically non-existent. Only spring obeys the rules and brings warming temperatures and bright green leaves with it. But fall in Maryland is a strange bird, arriving late in October and staying through early November. It doesn’t coordinate itself with my New England calendar. I find myself often angry with it for taking so long to arrive, but then forgive it for staying so late.

I’ve never craved a New England fall like I have this year. From late August right up until this very second all I’ve wanted is to walk through the White Mountains and listen to the leaves fall down around me. I want apple cider from Ellie’s in Northfield, Vermont and warm donuts from Cold Hollow in Stowe. I want to watch a Norwich football game, bundled up in sweaters and scarves and spend a day outside when it’s so cold I can see my breath well into the afternoon.

I want these things like I want to breathe and right now that terrifies me.

* * *

Jilly and I recently moved, packed up and ventured forth into the great unknown of southern Columbia to test the waters once again as dual roommates. We haven’t lived together, just the two of us, since we left Vermont 4 years ago and part of me worries that too much has changed for that dynamic to work again.

I’m needier. She’s busier. And let’s face it – we’re 4 years older. I don’t know why that matters, but it sounds important.

This is why my sudden need for New England scares me. Do I miss New England in fall because of the memories I have or do I miss it because of the person I used to be when I last experienced it?

Is it possible to miss a previous version of yourself?

There’s been a lot of change – personal and professional – for Jilly and me in the last month or so. She’s handling it like a champ, moving with it instead of against it and relishing the feel of a new current against her. It’s one of her strengths, that she adapts so well to new things.

Me?

Not so much.

I’ve become static, introspective, and hard to live with, I’m sure. She’d deny it, because she’s my best friend, but I know it’s true. I’m not myself…perhaps because I’ve changed so much in a month that I don’t know who I am anymore. My birthday seems like it was years ago instead of a month and a half and I’ve already broken all those promises I made to myself.

For shame.

* * *

I miss my streams, my fall in New England.

I miss early snows and mountains and steaming cups of coffee placed precariously on porch ledges while leaves are raked and preparations are made.

I miss my family.

Most of all, though, I miss myself…

Maybe it’s time to change that.

We recently went on a trip to Africa.  Plane one:  three and a half hours to New York.  Plane two:  fourteen hours to Dubai.  Plane three:  ten hours to Johannesburg.  This does not include the waiting times between planes.  We all hoped to get some sleep, but it is not easy to sleep when your body says that it is daytime.  Victor decided that for the last flight, the ten hours to Johannesburg, he would insure his rest by taking a sleeping pill.  Victor had never taken a sleeping pill before, in fact, he rarely takes any medication except the very little prescribed by his doctor.

We were served a meal. (On these kinds of flights you are served meals on a regular basis. You eat these meals because they are right there in front of you. They taste like airplane food.)  Victor and I were sitting in the middle of the cabin in the middle of the plane in a four-seat row with our friends, Ken and Cindy.

“I’m going to take an Ambien,” Victor announced.

“Why?” I asked.  Victor is known by all who know him as a person who can sleep anywhere at any time under any conditions.

Here is some convincing photographic evidence of Victor’s aforementioned abilities:

Victor on the bed, before peeing, after work and before dinner

Again

Victor asleep on the dog crate, after work, before peeing and before dinner

Again

Victor in the airport in Bhutan

Victor on Safari at Kruger National Park

Please understand that there were lions and rhinos and hippos and warthogs and springboks and zebras and giraffes and, well, you get the idea….

Here is Victor on the bus traveling through the bush in Africa, where we passed ostriches and elephants and wild dogs and leopards and cape buffalo and hyenas and all flavor of monkeys….

I think it may be genetic.

Poor Benjamin!

“Because I want to be sure to be rested so I don’t miss anything,” he said.  “In fact, I’m going to take it with my meal.” He also had a glass of wine with his meal.  You don’t have to pay for wine on long flights, even back in steerage where we were.  Victor does not like to pass up anything that is free.  Another thing you should know about Victor is that he is virtually never publicly affectionate.  Our kids have named the hug they try to give him after not seeing him for a long time: “The Hug and Shove.”

On Emirates Airlines, there is a screen in front of each seat with hours of movies, TV shows, music and computer games. The lights had been dimmed to simulate nighttime.
I was watching a movie. Victor began poking me.  I used hand gestures to indicate I was watching a movie.  He continued to poke me.  I told him that I was watching a movie.  He poked me some more.  I took off my earphones and looked at him.  He was grinning.

“Let’s cuddle,” he said.

“Cuddle?” I asked.

We usually reserve our cuddling to the bedroom.  We were on an airbus with four to five hundred people.

Victor became quite insistent.  There began a tussle whereby I tried to hold his hands down while he made it quite clear that he needed his hands free to pursue certain maneuvers familiar to me, but only in the bedroom. Victor was amorous. The struggle went on for quite some time. It was a heated grappling. Spectators started gathering.  Our group assembled in the aisle.  More onlookers appeared.
We were quite the hit on a boring flight.  Finally I suggested that he put his blanket over his head, which is a trick he uses to breathe carbon dioxide and become sleepy.  Oddly, he reacted immediately by covering up his head. Ken and Cindy, both medical professionals, told me that he was actually quite asleep and to watch him carefully because there was no telling what he might do.  Ken and Cindy and I all stayed awake to watch him.

He took off the blanket and shouted: “Argentina!” He pulled his blanket back over his head. He took the blanket off several times to meticulously bite his nails and then covered himself back up.  He removed the blanket again saying: “Get in touch with Ken and Cindy and tell them it will be Wednesday, if that works for them.”  Back under the blanket he went.  Frequently, he would remove the blanket and either utter some gibberish or grin and wave giddily at the three of us with him in the row, eyes wide open.

After he had been quiet for awhile, I began to let my guard down and went back to my movie.  Ken pulled my sleeve.

“Victor has to stop that!  It isn’t safe.”

I looked at Victor. He had taken out all the cash for our vacation, which had been in the “secret” pouch around his neck, and was counting it out loud in his seat.

“Victor, stop that!”  I exclaimed.

“You are not the boss of me;” he replied, “you can’t tell me what to do.”

“I may not be your boss, but you need to put our money away now.”  I said.  He continued to count the money.  Out loud.

Ken said: “Victor!  Put that away now!”  Victor quietly put the money back in his “secret” neck wallet and went under the blanket again. Apparently, Ken’s advice was given more credence than mine.

This had been going on for hours.  It seemed a good time for me to get up and take a bathroom break.  Ken and Cindy got up and I exited that way, so as not to disturb Victor.  They took up watch.  I just made the turn to the bathroom when I heard Ken yell.

“’HE’S ON THE MOVE, IRENE!”

I hurried to the other aisle and found him wandering about.

“Where are you going?” I asked him.

“Nowhere.  Why are you following me? he asked.

“Do you have to go to the bathroom?”  I asked.

“Could be,” he replied.

I walked him to the bathroom and stood outside.  He was inside for a very long time.  The toilet never flushed.  I was beginning to think that I would have to send Ken or Cindy to get a cabin attendant to free him from the bathroom.  At long last, Victor emerged from the bathroom.  I was relieved to see that he was fully dressed, since one of the scenarios our friends and I had discussed was that he might just disrobe in the bathroom and come out buck-naked.  He had not used the toilet.  I can only assume he was making faces in the mirror.

When he saw me outside waiting for him, he asked:

“Why are you here?  You are always spying on me!”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that, honey,” I said, “I’ll try not to bother you.”

I maneuvered him back to his seat and told him to sit down. He was eerily compliant. He explained that he didn’t want to sit.  He wanted to take a walk.  I used my ace-in-the-hole and said:

“If you sit down, I’ll rub your head until you go to sleep.”

Victor will do close to anything to get his head rubbed, evidently even while asleep.  He sat down and I covered him with the blanket again.  He took it off and asked:

“Why are you covering me up?”

“Head rubs are better under the blanket,” I declared.

“Oh.  Okay,” he said, and settled into his seat.  I buckled him in, wishing I had handcuffs, and covered him with the blanket.  I stood in the aisle and rubbed his head continuously until I saw that he had finally stopped fidgeting.  Then I walked around to the other aisle and Ken and Cindy let me through to my seat.

After an endless wait, the lights came up slowly in the cabin and the cabin attendants came around with another meal.  Victor pulled off his blanket and proclaimed his vast hunger.

“I feel really rested,” he noted.

“Are you awake?” I asked.

“Of course I’m awake.  You are ridiculous,” he answered.

He had no memory of anything he had said or done, except, oddly, the counting of his money.

It is my heart-felt advice that you should not take your first Ambien on a plane.  First take it in bed, with someone carefully watching.


109 Comments »

2009-03-04 16:57:45

Tears of laughter.

I want Ambien.

I read ”all flavour of monkeys” and thought it quite amusing. It did not adequately prepare me….

just awesome…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 17:39:05

Thanks, James D., There WERE all flavors. Many with swollen underparts.

Comment by josie |Edit This
2009-03-04 17:52:46

“swollen underparts” Heehee. That’s what I’d have after 28 hours of sitting on a plane!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 17:58:12

Josie, are they surprisingly red, also?

2009-03-04 17:25:18

Oh Irene, how I have missed you so!

I think you and Victor should perform a reenactment and put it up on YouTube. Seriously. That would rule.

2009-03-04 17:26:40

Also, what is with that “face-down-flop”? That’s friggin’ HILARIOUS!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 17:42:29

Kimberly, I am VERY afraid that this is an inherited trait. As you can see, Benjamin shows the same tendencies. Genes will out, I’m afraid.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 17:40:58

Oh, Kimberly, we would if we could, but Victor remembers nothing but the money. If only we knew to have a movie camera at hand….
(I DO have LOTS of witnesses, though!)

Comment by Irene Zion elsewhere in the states |Edit This
2009-05-09 16:01:09

Sorry, Kimberly,
Victor remembers nothing about this except that he thinks he had a dream about counting money. Couldn’t reinact it. Impossibile.

Comment by josie |Edit This
2009-03-04 17:46:32

Victory on safari… wow – guess I could close my eyes and save myself the trip. lol

Oh gosh, I’m with Kimberly – why oh why isn’t there video? I think you’ve stumbled onto a brilliant new form of international flight entertainment. One or two passengers can just gobble an Ambien, wash it down with a glass of wine and… Voila! instant entertainment.

But until then blogs with photos will suffice.
Welcome home Irene )

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 18:04:19

Josie,
I have really missed you guys!
(I DO think that the wine had a part in the reaction, but what do I know?)

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-03-04 17:46:42

Once again you have me hysterical laughing. I take Ambien every night. Wonder what I might be doing in the middle of the night? Hmmmm. So far the dogs are keeping quiet.

Melissa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 18:00:28

Melissa,
If you sleep at night and no one complains, what’s the harm?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 18:01:40

Melissa, I was typing away forever and nothing but the first sentence showed up. Now I’m too jet-lagged to remember what I was saying. Maybe tomorrow….

Comment by melissa (irene’s friend) |Edit This
2009-03-04 21:36:10

Irene, you know I have jet lag and I do not go anyplace but Publix. You must come back soon. Or I may be stuck in the elevator forgetting to push the floor number.

Melissa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:10:05

Melissa, Remember. It’s the other floor. Just repeat that as if it were a mantra.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

2009-03-04 18:25:41

I’m headed to South Africa this May for six weeks– a 22-hour layover in Madrid. Thanks for the medicinal cautionary tale…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 18:48:57

Matthew Gavin,
The 22 hour layover will save you. Get a hotel and sleep. I promise you will be the better for it in the end. The trip is grueling without a break. It’s well worth it, though. Africa is amazing!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:11:45

On the other hand, Matthew Gavin, you could bring a pair of handcuffs and give the key to the cabin steward after you attach yourself to your seat. Be sure to use the bathroom first.

Comment by George |Edit This
2009-03-04 18:30:13

I want some Ambien — it’s the new Viagra.

Frankly, I don’t know if Irene is an unusually clever writer, or just surrounded by absolutely insane people who give her wonderful material.

I do think that the safest place to take Ambien is on a plane. There is a limit to how far you can go with sleepwalking.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 18:50:45

But George, there are doors that can be opened by civilians if there is an emergency. What if a sleepwalker decides to take a walk…outside?

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-03-04 18:57:52

oh my sweet jesus. that was the funniest thing ever. i was cracking up reading it. lisa and matt are here and they are desperate to read it next.

i so wish i’d have been there.
or maybe not for the part were he wanted to get it on with you, cause that’s weird.
but for the other stuff.

we’ll never know what he was doing in the bathroom. god, i wish we could know.

i love dad. he is my hero. i can’t wait to get a hug-and-shove from him.

see you in TWO WEEKS!

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-03-05 15:19:38

Like father, like daughter . . .

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-03-04 19:02:10

also, you are SO totally not the boss of dad.

i am the boss of dad.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 19:03:05

Oh Lenore, my pet, there is so much more that cannot be put into print. I’ll never say.
(Maybe you’ll be lucky and I’ll get demented and tell you one day.)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 19:05:13

Lenore, was not that the strangest thing for him to say? That is a KID’S thing to say, not a grown-up’s. I still cannot get over that.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-03-04 19:07:49

well, it’s not that strange. like i said, you aren’t the boss of him. i am. he wouldn’t have said it to me.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 19:10:27

You are a piece of work, chickenheart of my soul.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-03-04 19:27:36

When Ben and I went to France and to England, he just took Vicodin and went to sleep. I think that was probably for the best. When I went to Sweden, I drank a ton of free wine and just felt sick. That was not for the best.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-04 19:39:17

Kate, when you drink alcohol in an airplane for some reason it is as though you drank three times as much. I don’t understand why, but I know that it is so.
Where did he get vicodin? He should save that for real pain. Most people sleep when they take a sleeping pill. I’d recommend that instead. (But, I’d watch him….)

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-03-05 13:21:29

I got it for my wisdom teeth surgery, but I apparently am sensitive to it. It just made me vomit a lot. So we saved it for the plane trip.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-12 04:10:25

Kate, My doc gave me some oxycodone for my restless legs on the plane. I spent the whole trip in the bathroom vomiting. On the other hand, my restless legs went away. I can’t believe people take that for fun!

Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-03-04 20:15:56

The face down sleeping is unreal. Will Dr. Zion teach me how to do it? You know how many people could sleep in a suite in Vegas like that? I must know the secret.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:14:34

Phat B, Do you see that most of the time his face is in a down comforter? How he didn’t smother is beyond me. The genetic code for this only runs on the boy’s side of the family.

Comment by the kayak lady |Edit This
2009-03-04 20:19:05

too funny! totally believable! i saw part of this! it is a tru tale! glad it was irene and not me! anything to pass a looong flight.

victor can sleep anywhere. a talent i wish i could pick up from him.

write more! it made me smile.

the kayak lady )

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:18:48

Sure, Kayak Lady, YOU SPECTATORS were having fun. I was working hard there. He is a persistent bugger, even in his sleep, apparently.
I am his complete opposite. I can’t sleep anywhere. The drugs work on me as they are supposed to but only in a good bed in a cool room in the complete darkness. Even a nightlight keeps me up. I would’ve been good in a submarine like Timothy. He takes after me. (Or in one of those underground houses dug out of rock or earth.) Don’t need window treatments if you don’t have windows.

Comment by Jim |Edit This
2009-03-04 20:22:34

Why “Argentina!”?

This is the best travel story I’ve ever read. The photos added to the hilarity.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:20:22

Exactly, Jim. Why ANY of this. He was the only totally rested person when we got to Johannesburg. Ready for bear, he was.

Comment by Marlene |Edit This
2009-03-04 20:55:23

we missed you so much! looking forward to seeing the pics of the trip…
What an entertaining and hilarious story! The face down sleeping pictures of Victor are a plus. I should learn how to fall sleep like that -the only problem would be my boyfriend not letting me get the needy rest…
The Ambien industry won’t appreciate the negative advertisement -or positive? The story sounds good for a movie script.
Can’t wait to see you and Brooklyn

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:24:16

You know, Marlene, I had heard about these things happening from time to time, but never thought they would happen in my family.

I guess as a periodic side effect is not up there with bleeding from the eyes or loss of bowel control.

Comment by Adam |Edit This
2009-03-04 20:58:47

You’ve alluded to Victor’s uncanny ability to sleep before, but the Bhutan photo didn’t really make the case.

Now, seeing him standing hunched over the dog cage, I can truly appreciate what it is you intended to share.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:27:35

The problem with that photo, Adam, is that you can’t HEAR the airport “lounge” in Bhutan. It was very very noisy. Also you can’t FEEL how cold it is. Remember, the temperature OUTSIDE is the same as the temperature INSIDE a dwelling there. We learned that fact the hard way. We slept wearing everything in our suitcases every night.

Comment by keiko |Edit This
2009-03-04 21:12:40

i had to read this twice because i laughed so much the first time. see you tomorrow. woo hoo.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:29:27

Yeah, Keiko. Just remember you promised not to lick us or shoot snot rockets.

Also when you land I will be long asleep. Victor will stay up, but I’m just not able to yet. I’ll see you in the morning. About 3 AM.

Comment by bill |Edit This
2009-03-04 21:41:00

thank you for sharing your story….very entertaining. I suggest you keep some Ambien around the house for those quiet nights alone with nothing much to do…instant entertainment.

Comment by Adam |Edit This
2009-03-04 21:48:08

…including, but not limited to, instant amorousness.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:32:04

Bill, I think you’ve got something there. They could market Ambien as an aphrodisiac!

I’ll have to write them a letter. Maybe I can get a percentage of the profits. (Be getting on the bread line soon.)

Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-03-04 21:42:32

Great story Irene. Maybe I need ambien because I’m an insomniac. Then i will perhaps do crazy things in the middle of the night that creep Lenore out. Although, Hege and Wetzel already do their jobs of distracting our sleep with their antics, so Lenore would probably go crazy if i were also adding to the mix.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:36:46

Matt, driving Lenore crazy is one of my purposes in life.

You should absolutely get a prescription. If it works on you the way it worked on Victor, you’ll be dancing on the table and cooking with kleenex.

Hege and Wetzel need the entertainment, anyway. They are just bored.

Besides, Lenore could take pictures and feature you on TNB as I did Victor.

It’s too bad Victor never reads it. I bullied him into reading the very first one and that was it. Doesn’t even want to hear about it.

Comment by Dan |Edit This
2009-03-04 21:49:49

Brilliant. This had me weeping with laughter. The next time I’m on a plane, I hope to hear someone cry out, “HE’S ON THE MOVE, IRENE!”

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:38:34

Dan, you just have to have a very very good friend or two, like Ken and Cindy, who will stay up and be watchers even though they are so very tired.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-03-04 22:42:11

Ah Ambien.

I wrote my ode to Ambien Zombies back in the old TNB days.
It’s a hoot…

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-03-04 22:44:02

LINK

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:40:51

Your link doesn’t work, Lenore.

HA! “Ambien Zombies!” Got to love jmb!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Adam |Edit This
2009-03-05 10:50:05

I think the “LINK” is a demand.

Not a supply.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 11:47:29

OOOHHHH. Thanks, Adam, I’m clueless here.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 12:00:02

Folks, this was NOT at all easy. jmb has written at least a trillion posts on TNB. In any case, here is the zombie post:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/1159/2006/12/ice-cream-in-your-nightpants-onward-ambien-zombies-to-the-god-shaped-hole-in-my-tooth/

He tries to fool you by using “zombie” in other posts, but, hey! I’ve got time on my hands.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:39:35

Oh! I will go searching for it. I’d love to see jmb’s take on this drug.

Comment by Christine W. |Edit This
2009-03-04 23:59:12

I am printing this and keeping it for handy reference. Apparently, you Zions have some sort of weird relationship with Ambien.

Give him some more and report back to us.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:43:34

Christine, he doesn’t do what I tell him to do. As you saw, even in his sleep this is true.

Perhaps if Ken tells him, he will.

I can sleep a good three hours with two, (at night, in a good bed, with no ambient sound, and in total darkness.)

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-03-05 00:40:21

“’Do you have to go to the bathroom?’ I asked.

‘Could be,’ he replied”

I laughed so hard. The intrigue! He may have had to go to the bathroom. He may not have. But he certainly wasn’t telling you, Irene, because you’re not the boss of him.

My father just completed a 12-hour flight to Tel Aviv but the only story I got out of him involved legal briefs and a mini book light.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:45:33

Aha, Marni, but was he alone? If he were, you wouldn’t really know WHAT happened, would you? Remember Victor recalled nothing but counting the money. (And if you knew Victor that would make total sense.)

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:30:31

nice recitation. you forgot that when he exited the bathroom his pants were at a strange angle and one of his shirt tails was out. it give one pause to consider the 8 ball in the corner pocket (or if you prefer taking the one eyed bald man to the optometrist)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 04:49:05

KEN! He did? I didn’t notice anything awry. I guess I was just so happy he finally emerged. The I covered him all up. Now that I know he was in disarray, that turned out to be a lucky move!

I know I should understand the rest of your comment. I know what the one eyed bald man is, but not the rest. My parents never taught me any sex education!

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-03-05 08:23:14

This may be the funniest thing you have ever written! It’s even funnier if you know Victor. (For those who don’t know him, think Alan Arkin or anyone else who is easily embarrassed.) Also great that you had witnesses because, of course, he would deny everything even if he could remember it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 09:30:02

Oh Marcia, you are so right! I have approximately 400 – 500 witnesses! (And several who know him personally!) He would be SOOOO embarrassed if he would only read this!

2009-03-05 12:30:34

Irene, I was cackling aloud the whole time reading this.
I have a friend who was actually arrested for shoplifting on Ambien. She did not even know she was in the store. It was the middle of the night. She had left her house and gone to the store and was walking up and down the aisles just obnoxiously and blatantly throwing things into her bag with no effort to hide it. I thought this sounded like a “likely excuse” for being busted stealing, but it turns out I guess that this sort of behavior isn’t uncommon on Ambien and she was actually let go once a doctor got involved.
Yeah, for long plane rides, try Valium. I am deeply suspicious of sleeping pills.
My husband David can also sleep anywhere. He once fell asleep at a rave while the police were busting up the place. He also once slept through a film while sitting in a seat with a spring poking out of it and boring into his ass cheek so violently that when he stood up he had a big blot of blood on the back pocket of his jeans and a hole in the fabric. He had not noticed. He was asleep.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 15:42:32

Gina, I also was leery of claims of “sleep eating” or “sleep driving” until this happened to the most staid of all men: Victor. I guess since Ambien has little or no effect on me, I sort of thought that I was the bellwether. But it appears I was wrong. (How can I NOT be the bellweather?)

I hope your friend got cleared of all charges. I will attempt to be more humble in the future. (Humble is not my natural state, so this is a real effort here.)

I don’t think you can get valium anymore. Isn’t that a drug from the 60’s? My mother-in-law used valium like candy.

Do you have any pictures of David sleeping in unlikely places? No one believes you if you don’t have proof. I (underlined, if I knew how to do that,) believe you, but I have found that the majority of people are disbelievers! I hope you put neosporin on his booboo and a bandaid. These poor men. They have to be taken care of, don’t they?

Comment by Ben |Edit This
2009-03-05 13:23:56

Man… Why does Dad only do embarrassing things when we’re not around? We need to sneak him some Ambien next time we’re all together.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 15:47:14

So let me get this straight. You all want to catch him doing embarrassing things? Sorry to say, but you are just not around enough. I am here 24/7 and I see all. That is why I have access to embarrassing material.

You will be able to get great stuff when we are both demented. I hope you don’t waste the material when it’s handed to you. Seriously.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-03-05 15:18:16

Airplanes suck. Fat people, sick people, babies, it’s always way too hot, the food tastes like shit. I’d rather get punched in the face than get on a damn plane. The only thing you can hope for is to pass the hell out and forget it’s happening to you. Alcohol and ambien are the only tools we have. Too bad ambien makes you all batty and out of control.
I agree with The Worm. We can grind some up and tell him that it’s part of a dryrub for a steak or something.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 15:52:00

You know, Tim, I believe that would actually work. We would all have to be careful that he ate the right pieces, though. What if WE ate the pieces and went bonkers for several hours and didn’t remember? Too bad Lonny won’t be there to film it for proof. I can take stills, but what if I go bonkers? It will have to be up to the last man standing to take the photos.
There. All figured out. I am so GOOD when I get on a problem!

Comment by Autumn |Edit This
2009-03-05 16:03:26

Irene,

I’m already so excited and you haven’t really even gotten into any details about the actual trip as far as arrival and ensuing occurrences. I believe that I too have the ability to sleep anywhere. At my sister’s in the middle of the living room amongst screaming toddlers. Just today in my grandmother’s hospital room. On a train, on a bus, etc.

Anyway, glad your back and hope you had a great trip. I can’t wait to read more about it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 16:18:43

Autumn, I cannot tell you how much I envy you! Sleeping is the hardest thing for me.
The trip was amazing in so many ways.
I’ll getto it, but I’m pretty jet-lagged now. (and company is coming.)

Comment by Cecile |Edit This
2009-03-05 16:06:40

This is indeed one of the funniest real life stories I have ever read. Victor was so out of character it sounds like fiction. You know you could have become a member Mile High Club with maybe just one more Ambien. Well you (he) made a memory!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 16:20:18

Cecile, we absolutely could have joined that club if I had no sense of propriety. Luckily for me, only Victor was loose and free. I was my usual buttoned-up self. It takes two to tango….

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-03-05 19:03:24

slut

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-06 04:51:14

whore

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-03-05 17:05:17

What a story. Victor who always seems so much in control. Your way of telling it is truly funny. Was he back to his old self when you landed, or did he think he had arrived in Argentina!! Glad you are back and looking forward to hearing more about your experience.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-05 18:13:10

Ursula, as soon as the next meal was served he was back in the land of reality. He was in Oz for hours before that. I think that’s what makes it so funny. Here’s this uptight guy who is always in control and he’s acting like he is controlled by Martians. It certainly came as a surprise to me!

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-03-05 19:34:59

What are all of these pictures of him sleeping face down at a 90 degree angle??? This has to be some kind of crazy sleeping disease. And here I am laughing my head off at him. Poor Victor. (And I can’t seem to stop laughing) This was just too funny.

Also, does the fact that it is “before peeing” have anything to do with the position? Is it that he can’t get comfortable enough to lie flat?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-06 04:44:01

No Erika Rae,
He would come home from work exhausted and on the way to changing his clothes and peeing to get ready for dinner, he would just fall asleep wherever he was. It happened all the time. I guess it was good to get a nap in before dinner and homework warden duties.

The 90 degree angle is ridiculous, but he managed to pass it along to Benjamin, who also can do the same thing.

Timothy fell asleep while marching in boot camp. Lots of people sleep standing up, but I was impressed with Timothy being able to do it while marching. My kids are so special!

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2009-03-05 20:01:31

Did he believe you when you told him that story? He is the only one who got rest, maybe you all should have taken it (he he).

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-06 04:47:02

Amy, he HAD to believe it. Everyone around him told him about it, plus some that had traelled the plane to watch him with his shenanigans. Plus he did recall the one fact of counting his money.

If we had gone to sleep, there is no telling who he would have accosted, or where he would have gone and what he would have done. I shudder at the thought!

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-03-06 03:23:03

That’s hysterical, ma.
I love that we now have a free sneak preview of what Dad will act like when he’s old and demented: stubborn but re-directable, and still a horny old goat.

(Someday you ought to write about your Thanksgiving visit when I walked in on you and Dad at SIX THIRTY IN THE MORNING IN MY GUEST BEDROOM while you were *busy*…)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-06 04:49:04

Sara, it is one thing to humiliate your father and a totally different thing to humiliate myself. Duh.
You need a lock on that door!

Comment by lonny zion |Edit This
2009-03-07 21:18:20

ew
we are sleeping in that same bed tonight

hopefully sara changes her sheets at least once every 3 years

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-08 06:28:38

Sorry, Lonny, Sara’s a chip of the old block. She doesn’t KNOW how to change sheets. The old ones will do fine. Don’t fret, we showered.

Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-03-06 13:33:09

I have to join this family. How many goats for the hand of one of your daughters in marriage? I have lots of goats.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-03-06 18:38:36

i’ll marry you for a goat.
i’m not worth much more.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-06 19:05:58

Phat B, Sara is way too complicated, what with the husband and the two kids and a potential dog. You can’t have the number of goats necessary.
Lenore, on the other hand, is way unincumbered. Just two cats. She’s selling herself too cheap though. I’d ask for three goats.

Comment by Sara |Edit This
2009-03-07 08:46:46

Hilarious! That thing about being able to sleep anywhere, anytime – it’s a surgeon thing. I have it too.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-07 15:37:31

You know, Sara, that is the problem with TNB. Too many artsy types and not enough scientist types. As I said before, in an entirely different context, it takes two to tango.

Comment by lonny zion |Edit This
2009-03-07 21:16:33

i am no expert, mother, but it kinda sounds like dad was on something stronger than ambien

i have not taken ambien but this story kinda makes me want to
seeing that i will be on a measly 8 hour flight to paris in a few days it might even be appropriate

i really dont have a problem sleeping unless you count sleeping too much as a sleeping problem
and i must point out that i am not a doctor yet i have in the past fallen asleep before take off and been awakened by the plane landing – woohoo 10 minute flight across country!

is it hard for you to sleep on planes cuz of rls (restless leg syndrome)?
i am clearly a child of both of you because i can sleep anywhere but i wake up with crazy legs
which often bothers others a heck of a lot more than it does me

i guess that is about it – mom, you are funny – dad, you are a perv
not that i am judging you understand
go family!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-08 06:35:53

Lonny, if you sleep that easily you should REALLY not take a sleeping pill. What time of day are you flying? If it’s overnight, you’ll have no problem. If it’s daytime, you might.

Yes. I virtually never get any sleep on planes because of rls-plmd. I wander the aisles and dance at the bathrooms. If you go all the way to where the cabin attendants are, you can dance while talking to them. They are always interesting and they HAVE to stay awake, so they don’t mind the diversion. I always suggest to them that they should put a stair-climber in at the end of the plane for people like me. I don’t think it will happen, even though it is a really good idea.

Dad’s always been a perv. Duh.

Comment by Marty KC |Edit This
2009-03-08 09:54:13

Ah, to ‘get off’ so well on a legal over the counter drug.

I’m jealous.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-08 18:04:16

But Marty, is it really “getting off” if you don’t remember any of it? Granted, it was good fun for the audience, but for him, well, he thinks he just got a good night’s rest.

Comment by Sheree |Edit This
2009-03-08 11:00:23

I’m a sleep talker. I will tell you anything in a dead sleep. My husband finds this hilarious and uses it to bemuse his boredom. (we have different sleep patterns) He will have me say things like, Paw the well needs a fixin’. He’ll ask me nonsense questions like, Do you want some soupy salad, to which I apparently become unglued and give a good rant.

He can sleep through anything, anywhere, anytime. I do not have documentation to prove it though, but after reading your hilarious post I am definately investing in a good camera!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-08 18:11:56

Sheree, you have to get something to record what you say! I’ll bet it’ll be fun.
Victor says I talk in my sleep all the time. After I read your comment, I asked him what I say and he said that last night I said “what good is it to have something that is supposed to be Grandmother when it’s all in code and you can’t see it?” No clue what that was about. I’m going to start asking him more often. We need to get something to tape with also. We need our husbands to at least write down what we say. Maybe if we hear it all, and not just snippets, it will make sense.

Comment by Jack |Edit This
2009-03-09 07:44:26

When I take Ambien I just sleep!!!. What did he take it with?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-10 11:17:11

I think the TNB server is gummed up. Either that, or my computer is, and that would be worse for me. Anyway, I’ll try to answer this again.
Jack, I know! I take a double dose of Ambien and I might get three hours under perfect circumstances!
I think the thing that might have pushed him over the edge was the little mini bottle of airplane wine. It’s all I can think of for his idiosyncratic reaction.

Comment by reno |Edit This
2009-03-11 07:30:04

lord.

that was probably the funniest thing i read in a long time.

i love you irene.

but i may love your husband more.

but WHAT IS UP w/ that man sleeping while standing up? i have never, NEVER, in my life seen anything like that. too funny. a grown man bent over a dog crate snoozing.

oh, lord. this story is a keeper.

“you’re not the boss of me.”

ha! double ha!

oh, god. thanks, pal. that was great.

always,
reno

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-11 16:50:54

Oh Reno, I’m so glad you came to visit.

I always thought victor’s sleeping while standing was a bit off, but I tried to believe it was normal when my very fabulous son, Benjamin, started doing it. I think they were both really, really tired. People get really, really tired, right?

My kids used to use that phrase on each other, but that Victor used it under the influence was hysterical to me. Especially because I had to play along and actually address that claim. This was a very unusual experience.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-03-11 17:51:21

Fist, I am sure we could have sold tickets for the second hour . Second, THANK GOD for my extra blanket( since yours was covering the north pole and not the south!. And last but not least you forgot the part about Victor proclaiming you promising to not wear underpants— I thought the lady across from Victor was going to wet herself. caw P.S. who knew victor had such a long wing span!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-12 04:24:23

ksw!

Some things I was not going to include here. Like the parts related to me and not wearing underpants and stuff. By the way, I NEVER promised not to wear underpants. That was part of his delusion! I love embarrassing Victor, but I can’t take it myself. You know how it is. Give it but not take it.
I am so glad that there is one thing he said that I am pretty sure you didn’t hear. You would obviously broadcast it!

The lady across the aisle was a big help when we were trying to lay him back, remember? It took the three of us. I am sincerely grateful for the use of your blanket for his southern regions, since I needed mine to cover my southern regions too.

What a ride!

Comment by the kayak lady |Edit This
2009-03-12 14:39:06

still funny and entertaining after i have read it twice. and i was there to watch this real live performance………

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-03-13 03:41:12

Dear the kayak lady,
This was before we got to know each other. It was really embarrassing in front of four to five hundred strangers! Embarrassing makes good material, though, eh?

Comment by Ruthie |Edit This
2009-03-17 16:45:58

This is hilarious. Where was the video camera when you needed it most? Oh, life is just one missed opportunity after another. Keep up the great writing.
Love,
Ruthie

Comment by Irene Zion on the road again |Edit This
2009-03-18 17:07:48

My camera has a video setting, Ruthie, but I never did learn how to use it.
I’m so lazy. I have no excuse.

Blessing Lost

By Erika Rae

Memoir

She was unapologetically beautiful with ocean damp hair and breasts that pressed two dark spots into her pink camisole.Light freckles on her nose matched her sand crusted toes and she walked the leaf-shadowed path as if she bore the weight of a hidden royal past.