This is Jeremy’s part.

Jeremy entered our lives once Mom took on a job at the high school. They needed someone to take him from class to class, because he wasn’t able to maneuver his wheelchair very well. Someone had to be there to receive information from him and write it down, because his hands didn’t function like mine do. After graduation, we saw less and less of him until our lives didn’t involve him, anymore. I guess that’s the surface story. Those are a few of the basic facts.

I don’t remember it only like that, though.

In my mind, there are scenes at the kitchen table where Mom sat in front of more opened text books than I’d ever crack. Why Jeremy was going through the system is beyond me, because he couldn’t do the work. Certainly, he was in there, behind his eyes…but to get him to focus and then be able to communicate problem after problem? It could have taken hours to complete a single paper. So Mom just did some of the work. It was easier than the absolute mess of troubling someone who had exceeded his life expectation at a price. When your own spine is curling up and disappearing on you, you probably give a fuck of a lot less about algebra than the typical person doesn’t.

You know? Why the fuck. Yellow lockers and red carpet? That’s not what you’d choose the longest part of your life to look like.

Mom talked about him a lot, so I learned that the family situation was no pretty picture. If I remember correctly, the father wanted nothing to do with the family and the mother lost her privileges when Jeremy was relatively young. While we knew him, he was staying in a small house out in the country with his grandma. You walked up a ramp, though the door that led right to Jeremy’s room, which was decorated in every single Little Mermaid product ever manufactured by Disney. This, I understand, needs brief explanation.

First I learned that Jeremy had an Ariel tattoo on his arm. Over the computer, Mom exchanged letters with him while he could still type fairly well. Sometimes I’d go into her inbox and read the fanfiction that involved Jeremy’s fantasy world – and involved Ariel as a real person. Standing in his room, you could see her looking out from boxes on his shelves…sometimes with legs, sometimes with fins. Always smiling. Stoplight red hair. I thought it was obtuse fanaticism until I looked more closely around the room and spotted the jewels. The women’s necklaces. The most beautiful gifts…

He picked them out and brought them all back for Ariel.

I don’t think he thought she was real. I think he…figured it was perfectly okay to behave as though she existed. Do you know what I mean? I think he thought it was okay for other people to go along with what he felt was the greatest thing.

We ate together at Sir Pizza a few times. I can’t recall how he got there, though. I can’t remember helping him into the van, or folding up his wheelchair. All that’s left in my mind is being right there at the table. I can see him struggling to put his straw into the glass…there was this horrible feeling that came over me whenever he tried. I’d be smiling, acting like I was enjoying my time out. I was thinking about how that was the best his effort would ever produce…I was wondering how many more years until he couldn’t manage that anymore. How frustrating it must be, to know that.

He called the house an awful lot, to talk to Mom. I got used to recognizing his voice and handing the receiver over. One Christmas, she made a Little Mermaid tree…we’d go through the Disney store while she tried to find something he didn’t already have. Mom would explain over and over again, that he wasn’t expected to live much longer. Something horrible was going to happen, but I don’t remember exactly how his body was supposed to give out on him. The reality was so hard for me to deal with. I couldn’t think about it. I tried not to.

“Jeremy died,” was all she said. Read it in the paper a few days ago. I gave some, “Wow he certainly lived a lot longer” to which she might have uttered a “yup” and a nod, but that was it. She attended the funeral…I stayed home. Haven’t thought about it until now. We missed the entire degeneration process. We didn’t see him in the hospital bed…we weren’t there. 28 or 29 years old, I think.

I just can’t help but picture her. Standing off to the side under a black hat and sunglasses, so as to not cause alarm. Anyone with half a brain would catch a glimpse of that flaming red hair and begin to question their sanity, but we’re the only ones who noticed this. The special impact he had on me to imagine such a scenario, makes Ariel real enough, for me. All of those carefully-arranged posters and dolls with diamonds set before them…waiting to be worn. You could almost hear her “thank you”.

This is how Jeremy’s part ends.

Shaken

Until I’m sound asleep, everything around me plays into the dark, liquidy trance just under the surface of consciousness. Christopher’s best friend Roy had called for a ride home because we fell asleep on him, on a Saturday Night. Someone pulled into the driveway. With his pink mohawk, dangling a broken, unlit cigarette from his mouth, Roy unknowingly opened the door to come face-to-face with someone who wasn’t his ride.

I heard the angry tone, “I want Bill” and began to wake up.
Muffled sound. Stranger.
“Where’s Bill!” and I thought “It’s too late – something’s wrong.”

3 A.M.

Alarmed, I was waking up while Chris stepped out.
Alarmed, I was waking up while Dad came out.
Alarmed, I heard the front door slam like someone had hit it.

Someone had his arms around my dad’s neck.

I screamed so blood-curdlingly loud that Roy ran into Christopher’s dark room. I passed him in the hall, not yet knowing the situation. I could tell he was hiding from whatever was going on around the corner.

“You like to molest little girls?!?”

He was the new husband of some daughter who belonged to very stereotypically-poor, old friends of my mother. No one had met him before. Red eyes, intoxicated. Yelling that his wife had been molested by my dad when she was really young. Daughters. I remembered them. Flashbacks of a few girls many many years ago, when we were more involved. These were the facts I was processing on my way onto the front porch. Listening, eyes wide open.

I can’t tell the story, because I was so afraid he was going to pull out a gun. Drunk hicks who just jump out from the driver’s side of their pickup trucks are dangerous. All I can say…is that there was a good strong minute where we tried to talk to him. I couldn’t…get around anyone’s shoulders. I was on my toes, moving back and forth, trying to get a look at the man while I shouted how insane he was. I heard Mom from inside phoning 911. I kept trying to reach out for my dad’s arm and tell him to get inside the house…

I remember Chris standing over him, about ready to kill. Silent. In front of Dad, in front of me. The drunk said something about not being afraid of him, and Chris shook his head.

I know I said something to Chris. Not to touch him. Not to do anything.

We didn’t feel the cold.

He speaks more of this in such a strange tongue. All of us are now standing on the porch, listening to the wild insanities that make us realize we haven’t known crazy until now. Ducking in the house…Of course we don’t know his name. Of course the police arrive after he’s gone. The cops liked Lacy very much.

Every door is locked.

I’m wide awake.

Someone tell me what the fuck just happened and that I can go to sleep now.

Rhymelines

Recovered from scribbled napkins, notebook paper and loose TXT files, a small deposit of poetry.

Matrimnee
Caught in between the art of words
without reason to move
whatever happened to the points
we all had left to prove
holy books and mother goose
leave questions in my mind
and every Shakespeare play declares
morality refined

Who are you, now that
the past is said and done
and how will you chase a dream
without the room to run?

I told your boss that you quit
I have planned your life online
You can have my sweepstakes ticket
You can draw a new design

***

***

I am drifting through that place
of icy depths and heartache
and the love I can’t erase
there’s a memory resting there
I’ve forgotten how it broke but I still
feel it in the air

***

How many ProFem tracks does it take, you think
To always be compared to the overproduced Pink
Who by the way said that Brit was a real nice girl
Then gave her own PopRockHipCRap a whirl

To CrissyBitchTina and the dirty dark days
Leaving one fake image for another dumb phase
Giving up on her talent to make it through
It’s the makeup, not the hater that has left her bruised

I don’t need the spotlight to feel at home
I’m not scantily clad on a Rolling Stone
I’m not like Sugar Mark or Limpin’Freddy-front men
Why don’t they nix the chick and call it No Gwen?

***

Late on an autumn night and its still enough to disappear
find just the right place inside my mind
and suddenly everything is clear
Everyone’s falling asleep, mister,
why is nobody dreaming?
Going through places that tear down a soul,
what is it supposed to be meaning?

I can’t ever stay for long
and I can’t stay alone
Hell I’ve realized that I can’t lookout for my own

Last night I dreampt I reached way down
and pulled out everything I’ve lost
and fate erased the time i’d spent
learning to pay the cost

i’d gone to sleep
an unforgiving, proud side of myself
fell asleep on the way home from Cleveland…
woke up as someone else.

***

Caleb

We dressed in what our parents wanted for us and the social game was Open. All access to all areas. I knew Caleb as the bully who seemed worldly even back then (talking to the teachers during social studies when most kids tuned out). The family didn’t have much money, and he was already being singled out by that fact. His pushy behavior did not help win any hearts, either.

I remember trying to walk down to the bathroom in 4th grade and Caleb going out into the hall at the same time, yelling, “PINBALL!” and proceeding to smash me into both walls of lockers all the way down. When he’d crush me he made mashing sounds and we’d crack up, no matter how much it hurt. When I exited the bathroom, it was the same all the way back to class.

There were family dilemmas that served as breeding grounds for a nasty infection of anger, depression, and what have you. My mother was still ill and physically abusive with an alcoholic father in the mix. So you have a hard marriage there plus the impact it had on me and my little brother, me dealing, etc. Well, Caleb’s older brother was killed and so growing up with his own unfair circumstances.

Field days were always tons of fun because I was picked to be on Caleb’s winning tug-of-war team every time. Every year we had our class shirts on, finding our spot at that rope, digging and digging. Caleb would put the loop at the end right around him, and the boys at the back dug into the ground before it began. Whistle sounds. Our teacher would bend down, screaming at Caleb, “COME ON! PULL” and we’d conquer the final event. Yeah, I remember Caleb back then and I know he acknowledged me. Later on, I would discover that he had been watching a little closer than I ever knew.

Junior high was tricky, a blast, and then tricky again. I had missed the big presidential academic award in fifth grade by a few bad math points and so my mind had created a blockade between the scholars – strugglers – slackers. I figured, why struggle if I wasn’t going to make it into the classes I wanted? So for the rest of my school career, I coasted. Sounds stupid, I know. But that was the moment I decided to give up, way back when.

Suddenly, you couldn’t be friends with guys anymore. If you liked them, you should “go out” with them. The preppies were no longer uppity class fools to laugh at – they were preparing for college. People found out they weren’t who they had been, and team after team segregated into tight, specific cliques. After my favorite boys put their hemp and flannels away for Champion and other ridiculous wear, my heart broke a little. At this time it was clear that Caleb’s bad rep was about to be made permanent if something didn’t change.

Me and the girls made our moms swipe their credit cards. Caleb’s mom had sued over her son’s death and it was the equivalent to 3 golden eagles at the casino slot machine. A new home, a new life. To make this story much shorter, we turned the tables with the help of cold –and I mean cold- cash and a thorough understanding of The Game. The races were on and we both wanted desperately to play. However, there were consequences to thinking this way…

Not one conversation was real, for me. I made strategic moves and tallied points in my head. Caleb would be used for his money and be perfectly okay with this. If the student body was going to run, they needed people to run them. And the absolute worst was how our power corrupted us…I took the confusion and sadness out on the pawns as Caleb could also now turn around and deal the same nasty comments and harassment he had once had to take. During this height of our education we were in music theory and choir together. Both advanced students, we reached as high as we could. We entertained with our vocal tests, solo performances. It was a fun time. I consciously thought that this was our only real connection, until one day, he turned to me in class.

“You and I are the same. Sometimes when I’m going past your house, I wonder if you’re in there, thinking about something. I know that you do that a lot. I can see who you really are when you’re singing…you’re so much different…”

As times got harder, so did I. Lashing out and chasing off the ones closest to me, I put one dress away after another. I didn’t go to every dance. Then I didn’t go to every game, slowly but steadily, I morphed back into something of what I used to be, only empty and at a loss. Had I been empty before? I can’t remember. Why would I have gone chasing after them, had I not been?

But Caleb never gave up on me. When I wanted to fade away, he still saw me. And he actually congratulated me on what I counted as minus points, with, “What I do is pretty good, but what you do can’t be topped. I harass them, I can hurt them physically, sexually. But you, Autumn. You’re the best. I’ve seen you draw them in and destroy their minds. I’ve watched you turn, and I’m blown away.”

Well thank you, Caleb. Thank you for pointing out to me that I am a horrible demon deserving of death. That’s when we started to write each other in music class… that’s when it really started to get good. Or bad.

We compared plays. We drew out elaborate sketches of our past accomplishments. We classified certain damages, we came up with scores. Caleb was by now either adored or despised. I had a lot of scorned pawns declaring that I was the devil.

“She made my boyfriend leave me, then she turned my friends against me, then I tried to kill myself…” yadda yadda yadda. That shit wasn’t easy. Hiring hoes to show their skin. Acting like I gave a shit. Bailing out without leaving proof that I was ever there…

When he revealed to me his current operation, I was impressed. He was prepared to destroy a pretty girl. Bimbo, but still a human being. He knew exactly how she needed to be kissed. He told me everything, slowly, excitedly. That was before the most dangerous creature in the world took action.

The woman.

I exploited his ideas and ruined his chances.

The next day and forever on he would comment on the knife that had been plunged into his back. “It hurts a little today, like a light sting. I better make sure to face you this whole hour in case you’re thinking of coming up behind me to twist it…” He made it clear, how he wished I could be trusted, if only by him.

Near the end, Caleb was caught. He had hit some kid with his car. Twice. He had been dealing. He had sexual harassment charges. He told me, “I can’t believe it when I think about it. You’re the worst of all, and you can’t get caught. If anyone deserves to leave it’s you.”

He was just making a point.

Everyone forgot the little roly-poly Caleb who wore snoopy shirts with holes in them. He was officially a Big Shot. But he had to leave the last day of our 11th year together.

He said to me, before the summer, “I told myself I would let you know, our last day. I remember you… I can still see you at Elsa Meyer, with a red ponytail down to your ass, playing with bubble blow. I’ve always thought you were one of the most beautiful girls in the entire school. You don’t have to believe me, but I loved you. I always have. It’s been amazing.” The bell rang, and he disappeared.

My senior year went on without him, and without The Game. I channeled my energy into portrait work as part of my new challenges. I can recall feeling sad that he missed out on my big blue ribbon day. He missed a lot of solo performances. His photo was missing in my yearbook and from my senior shirt. 11 years and nothing.

I’ve always wanted to make something good of myself, and go show Caleb. I’ve always expected to have that chapter in my life where I go and prove to him that I beat the curse. We’d be able to talk about the things in between, what each of us saw in the gap.

He had since been fighting so hard, to make it. That free ride to Michigan U never made it and I heard rumors about jail time. So he was selling vacuums for a while, with his own office and district manager, all of that shit. I know how that game goes. You take a lot of losses with those machines. And I guess there were girls he saw. He had been thrown from his car one night, through the windshield to have the car land on top of him. His heart was bruised, his head crushed, but he made a full recovery.

He had lost 60 lbs, mainly from the cocaine. He was driving mad as hell and playing the game at a rapid speed I couldn’t fathom. I only heard aftermath because our paths never crossed and for the reason that is life, neither one of us ever made that effort. It was safe, there in my future plans.

This past Monday, Caleb was found motionless and blue in his bed from a drug overdose.

I sat in the waiting room with his mother for a long time. A day later, they let me in to see him.

***
1 year later…

Dan had stopped by and taken us to the gas station so he could speak with a friend working there. As I was standing in line sipping my 10-shot slushee and gripping some kind of candy, I heard…that voice.

Behind me. Scared me to death.

“Hanging out with a fag, I see.”

Caleb.

I didn’t turn around. I took another sip.
“Yeah.”
Laughter. “You heard that, huh.”
“I heard it,” I said, looking ahead and speaking with a mouth full of slush.
More laughter. He walked up beside me and asked how I was.

“So-so.”
“Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good.” He watched me pay for my candy.
“Carrying a wallet in your pocket. Where’s your purse?”
What am I supposed to say?
“I don’t…carry a purse.” Eyes on the counter.
“You out of the closet, too?” he asked. Finally looking at him, I saw the scar on his face. I remembered seeing him half dead on his hospital bed last year. I caught him smile and wink to his mean joke before I had to look away.

My dad gave me my wallet. I don’t have a purse because I don’t carry things around with me. I don’t have a foundation compact or lipstick that I reapply throughout the day. I don’t have a lot of papers, condoms, spare tires or whatever else women carry around in their purses. I think I look stupid in pants, a tee-shirt, tennies and a purse.

Dan had heard the insult as a few things were crossing my mind. Caleb continued to shout nasty things at him and his friend. I was paralyzed. Unable to do…anything. How do you explain to the friend a few feet away that someone who shares a dark past with you has just brought back everything with their voice?

“You know him?” I asked, hoping to save time. Dan shook his head.
“You don’t wanna.” Caleb said. “I’m not a good guy.”

“Dan, this is Caleb. Remember that time you were walking down the dark hall and someone slammed you in the back? Your books went flying, he threw them farther and you thought he was going to kill you? This is your killer.”

Seeing him again was like being confronted by an enemy you thought you’d overcome and left for dead, only to find that he’s back.

I stopped talking. Dan hesitated to start the car.
“Are you okay?” He took me home.
“Don’t you want your candy?”
I threw my drink in the trash.

For a second, I wanted to pull you aside and be sworn back into our conquest. You caught me with no souls collected; your points oozed over the top.

But you haven’t won yet, Caleb.