Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Trust and Devotion
You're not supposed to go to a funeral looking like shit, but that's what I did. I had been working in the woods for a month and living out of a backpack, blah blah, Atlantic, sunburn, sea water, sweat, all that. My clothes, as you can imagine, were so filthy that I shoved them in a trash bag and stopped at a Walmart in some down and out town in Massachusetts. I bought black shoes and a new black dress and underwear, the cheap kind off the rack designed by some celebrity tween. There were little rhinestones in the shape of a guitar on the ass. Then I went into the bathroom and put the clothes on and tried to scrub the dirt off of my face and shoulders.
That was a joke. I had used this cheap spray on sunscreen a few days before which had gone on like glue, and all the dirt had adhered to where I'd sprayed the stuff like some kind of skin graft. It wouldn't come off in the Walmart bathroom, it wouldn't come off in the rest area bathroom, or the Burger King bathroom, not even with industrial strength soap or stacks of hard, bleached white paper towels. Every where I stopped on that eight hour drive to Connecticut, I'd grip the porcelain sink and lean forward, studying my face in the mirror, hoping that somewhere along the highway I'd gotten cleaner or prettier or become a different person entirely.
It's okay, I reasoned with myself. It's alright. You go to a funeral to show support to the family. No one will notice you and no one will notice that you look like hell.
In fact, this was about the only thing they noticed. My friends, anyway. When I got to the house and first saw the boys I'd worked with at New River through the kitchen window, I felt a stab of love and relief and my face got wet with tears and sweat. I wanted it to be just us. I did. Like I wanted to go to the basement and sit on the futon between them and talk about Stephen and our days in South America and how we were doing with this and what it meant and all that. I wanted them to put an arm around me and push my face against their chest and say shhh we're in this together.
But our reunion did not play out exactly how it had been in my head. Which is fine, it never does.
But actually it was really far from what I'd been hoping for. They looked at me and said You are so fucking dirty.
I know, I said.
Them: What did you do, sleep in a bed of shit?
Me: ha ha. Stop that. I've been in the woods for the last month. My job.
Me: I literally left the trail-head this morning and drove all day to get here.
I realized, They really don't give a fuck about any of this.
Them: Couldn't you have taken a shower?
Me: Where would I have done that.
Them: I would have figured something out.
This was not teasing, exactly. Or even approximately. This was something hard and residual between us, something broken, or even worse, evidence that nothing had ever been there at all. This was I am no longer an interesting person to them. But in terms of reunion and solidarity and comfort this is pretty much what I got. So I took it.
I made my way to the family room and I sat there and watched a photo montage of Stephen play on a loop on the TV, wearing my black shoes and my new Rocker underwear. I cried in the snot nosed swollen eyed way that nobody wanted to be around. I made strangled sounds. At one point I got up and took a shower and washed my hair but the dirt stayed glued on me. I actually had this layer of scum on me, and I could peel strips of it off with my fingernail. Back on the couch, I started to get really angry at myself. Maybe if I hadn't used that cheap ass sunscreen I wouldn't look like this and the boys wouldn't be such dicks to me. Then I started getting furious at the boys for being such assholes even though I knew in my head people deal with grief in different ways blah di blah.
Suddenly I was blazing hot with anger at everyone. Everyone- all of the people out there telling stories about kayaking and charging and nobody having the balls or the brains to say Yeah but really, if little Steve had known he was going to drown on that rapid he probably would have walked, and don't you think him being dead at 19 is a fucking waste.
Three girls wandered into the living room. They were young Virgina Tech girls, very pretty. Straight hair and mascara. A photo of Stephen and I came on the TV, taken outside the house in West Virginia. His arm around my shoulders, both of us grinning. The girls leaned in behind curtains of hair and whispered to each other.
Excuse me, said one. Was he your brother?
No. I say. His little sister is Elizabeth. She's out there in the kitchen. She looks like him, they could be twins.
Later on, one of those girls reappeared in the doorway. She looked at me and said in a confiding manner,
I know you aren't Stephen's sister. I looked at you on Facebook a few days ago.
Eventually I picked up a beer and went into the back yard, where the 19 year old gunners from the Ottawa river were sitting around a gas flame and talking about kayaking. I drank a lot of beer and let the bottles pile at my feet. I used to sort of belong to this world, I could tell a few stories of my own if I wanted to:
Hey let me tell you about the kayak school that I went to when I was in high school. The guy who started the place was a child molester who bribed the kids with sponsorships and races. Those kids died, too. Or let's talk about my ex-boyfriend churning beneath a waterfall in Chile and shoring up blue and unconscious at the feet of the students. Or my other ex boyfriend running away from me (can you blame him?) and living on the North Fork of the Payette. How prescient, since that river is why we're all here right now.
Yeah I never was a little young gun like you guys but I had a few close calls. Once I dropped into this canyon in Chile, everyone swore up and down it was safe even though no one knew a thing about it. Stephen was there with me. In fact Stephen was wearing my broken, way too small dry top and I was wearing his. It was alright down there, cold and tight, but then we ran into a terminal rapid, hey, whatdaya know, we hadn't known about that rapid! Now we're stuck at the bottom of this canyon trying not to go over the thing. Lucky for us there was a tiny eddy and we could crawl out of our boats and balance on the rock edge wondering now what do we do. We managed to rescue ourselves and it took a long, long time and a lot of sketchy ass maneuvering but all the kids thought it was a big exciting adventure. Which it always is, isn't it, until your luck runs out.
Don't worry though, I didn't say any of this stuff. I'm not a total bitch. I tuned out. I played a song in my head over and over. It was a Zero 7 and DJ Danger Mouse song I'd played for Stephen at school and he'd said yeah, best hip hop song I've ever heard in my life, Melina, and it was a nice moment of connection for us because Stephen was a moody kid and I had my own problems and we didn't always get along:
She wondered would it hurt again a scary new setting/ a Mary Lou Renton perfect ten /was it worth it then/Aah -- the stench of first love/ The quench of the thirst made it worse/ truly the burst of upward-thrust motion/ trust, devotion/ lust is like the sand where the beach meets the ocean/ soaking, felt joy in the whirwind/never ever did he mention boyfriend girlfriend/demanded her respect/then ran and did a handspring almost landed on her neck-