On stunned legs I wobbled up to the front of the class. I didn’t trust my voice, but to my professor I said with a croak, “You meant upper classmen, right?”
He turned to me with a broad smile. He was a powerful, if not rotund, man with a full head of salt and pepper hair, a small but wild beard, and the kind of loose rumpled-but-fancy clothes you always see in the movies. He looked at me for a moment before smiling and stuffing books into a leather bag briefcase.
“When I said what, sir?”
“You meant upper classmen when you said that anyone could come. You meant upper classmen, right?”
“The trip? No, sir, I meant anyone. If I had not meant anyone, I would never have said ‘anyone’. What I meant was anyone, even you, could come with me. You look strong. I would love to have you. Take this.“ He handed me a business card. “Take it to the administrative building and see about funding.”
Now, I’m going to back up and get a run at this real good so that you can see what is happening to me in this scene. It’s going to take a while. But the entire breakdown is in this moment. This is why she threw the ring back at me. This is why I broke the wedding off. And this is why Shadow lost his mind when he got to college.
I was born in Milwaukee to poor parents. I ran streets that were filthy and gang-infested. I skated through school barely making it out of high school. And by graduating high school, had wildly overmatched any dreams my family had ever built me for.
From the moment I have been able to walk, my destination has been a factory. This is the gambit. This is the big time in my family.
You get out fast. Out of school and hit the job force. You get a factory job. It will be loud, I know. It will be hard hours. There will be horrible days and you will have to work sick, sore and worse. But after twenty years of chopping every day, all day, you can retire. You get your pension.
Now, this is a thing talked about with hushed tones in my family. This is the only thing that matters. Get your pension. My grandmother and grandfather got theirs. It is the crowning achievement of the working class. After you earn your pension, you have it made. You can get a cushy part-time job and live out the rest of your life with no issues. You work twenty hours a week, baby! This is the big time.
By Uncle Ball’s calculations I get out of school at eighteen, I have my pension by thirty-eight. Thirty-eight, and all I’d have to do is greet people at Walmart for the rest of my life and I am set. The magnitude of it is beyond reason.
Try to wrap your mind around that. Try to imagine that is all that is talked about around the kitchen table. That is all that is talked about at family functions. Pension this. Work your ass off and get your pension. One job. Twenty years. Manual menial hard work for the first twenty on the job force then you are home free.
This is my expectation of life, from birth to the moment I sit in this class. It’s my first class. It’s Literature of the Old Testament. Servant took it to please Rose, but it only infuriated her. She was furious that a person who was not a preacher would be teaching me about God and his word. But let’s not look at that. That is for another time, maybe. Let’s talk about this guy, and the first words out of his mouth.
I sit in my first class in college, first day, and the first words that come out of this guy’s mouth is this right here: “I am taking an archeology trip to Jerusalem this summer. You’re all invited. I’m sure you can even get financial aid for it. Let me know. And now, let’s talk about the reading.”
Try to imagine what that did to us. From factory thinking to Jerusalem in the span of a breath. The span of one breath. The mind is blown when you think about that kid in the street. When you think about Cage and you think about Billy Badass, then your mind comes back to the possibility of an archeological dig.
No one person’s mind should have to go through that, anyway, let alone a bipolar mind. The effect was instant mania. Suddenly, everything is possible. I could set my major as history and be an archeologist. I could major in film and make movies. I could be a teacher in Bosnia. I could be an architect. My dream of being a school teacher has just been challenged. It was the only thing I could think of before, but now as I sit in this class getting his introduction to the topic and our first assignments, I am exploding over and over again.
My future never looked like this. It hits me that I am in the one place where I can literally go anywhere or do anything. From this spot, I can go anywhere in the world. For a working-class boy, that is the very notion of insanity.
As I walk to my next class, it overwhelms me in waves. The possibilities are never ending. If I can dig in Jerusalem, then I can do anything. And that kicks in now. Manic thoughts are running through my mind of all the wild things I have never even dreamt of and the true magnitude of the world’s potential.
Now, we are here. We are in college at SMSU, what is now called MSU. Let’s look around for a while. Let’s look for Bekah.
First of all, we live in different dorms. She lives in Freddy; I live in Wells. Wells is the slum. Freddy much nicer. Neither allows the opposite sex to spend the night on a school night. Only on weekends can you have a partner over. So, we don’t get to sleep in each other’s arms.
She has class early in the day. Me late in the afternoon. So, I am up late like I like it. She is going to bed early. We don’t have a place to ourselves. We both have roommates. We can’t just hang out together without a witness. We have no common area, except public.
Think about that.
We can’t be in our pajamas together. I can’t get her a cup of coffee. We can’t cook for each other. We can’t cuddle up and make out. We have no couch. We have no TV. We are without any way of just being with each other beyond the idea of eating at the same cafeteria. When she gets tired, she goes her way and I go off and have a completely different life.
I know people she doesn’t. I have activities that I do that she is not invited to. I have an entire life she is not a party to.
And Shadow has girls to flirt with. He develops a crush.
Bekah and I can’t sleep with each other. We can’t have sex without asking our roommate for the room. There are weekends where we just can’t have sex. When she comes to my dorm room, she is a guest. When I go to hers, I am. And my mind is being blown by the possibilities of my new life.
I took a job. It felt wrong not to. It hurt my teeth not to have a place to work. So, I took a job at Pizza Hut in town. I was a rockstar. I had worked in a high traffic store in St. Robert. If they wanted good pizza, everyone in the entire area came to us. I could get a pizza from order to oven in less than two minutes.
This store had nothing close to that. So, I could run the kitchen, and the dish room at the same time and still have time to prep for the next day. I could do four people’s jobs and still have time to sit around. I was worshipped at The Hut.
And Bekah was not there.
Within a few weeks I had two circles of friends she did not belong to. Guardian was frantically fighting to hold on to a girl who was disappearing from his life.
What would our life have looked like had we gotten a house together?
We would be gone a lot. We would still sleep different hours. But we would have dinner, we would have a TV. We would be able to cuddle, to dance, to tell jokes and to spontaneously make love when we were grabbed by it. We would have a home base for our affections for each other. We would be with each other. Friends we made would be brought back to the house for the other to meet. No outer circles. We would be living together.
When I mentioned the dig, she went crazy. She started crying, saying I didn’t want to marry her anymore. She started saying more. Shadow just got up and walked away. He just fucked off. He walked to his dorm and he shut the door and there was nothing she could do about it. She could knock, and she did, but he didn’t have to unlock the door and within a few minutes she was gone.
They didn’t see each other for a day. When they did get back Bekah had learned Shadow’s lesson.
He had a life without her. One she could not force herself into. They did not live together where it would be impossible for him to shut her out. At any moment, if she said the wrong thing he could just get up and walk away and she was left alone and aching for the one she loved.
Having separate living spaces, me seeing the world open up in front of me, and Shadow’s driving hate for her made it inevitable. My new friends got to the point where they were watching the ship go down from the shore.
We met one night right before a rain. We had taken to meeting places instead of going to pick each other up. It was a Taco Bell, and it was busy. We met to talk about the dig thing and everything else. It was falling apart; you guys can see that. All the love was drying up. Guardian was getting crushed every day. She was alone all the time. Shadow was just waiting to get himself free.
That night at Taco Bell, Guardian’s plan was to talk about getting a place together. It didn’t matter where; it didn’t matter how shitty. It didn’t even matter if they had furniture or ate on the floor. He wanted a place for them, a place where he could be her man again. He wanted to drop out for the rest of the semester, work more hours at Pizza Hut, get an apartment and be together.
Shadow’s plan was… Well, you will see Shadow’s plan.
See, it was all hanging on a flip of the coin. Whoever was in charge of the body when the question came up got to answer it. Guardian wasn’t hungry so he stepped back to let Shadow order. Bekah came in a few seconds later.
Everything would be different if Guardian had ordered his food, but he didn’t.
They sat. Shadow didn’t even open his burritos. He knew this would not take long. He was going to eat them at Wells.
“We need to talk about this summer,” he said. He meant the wedding. He knew he meant the wedding, but he would let her think other things until he had to clarify.
She had a kind of hope to her. She had come to a conclusion. Suddenly, Shadow was nervous. Maybe this wouldn’t go the way he wanted it to.
“I want you to know that if my husband wanted to go on an archeological dig for a month after we were married, it would not be a problem for me.” She smiled. That smile haunts me. I would see that same clinging-to-hope smile over and over again for the next five years.
Shadow had no mercy. He saw his opening and he took it. “What if your husband wanted to join the Peace Corps for two years?”
She snarled. She snatched the ring off her finger and threw it at him. “Give this back to me when you want to marry me!” she yelled. She spun, and was gone.
Shadow came back to the dorm, grinning. His friends met him there and asked how things went. He flipped the ring like a quarter and snatched it out of the air.
That night it rained. It was torrential and Guardian walked the winding paths of campus in the rain howling her name and weeping.
The rest was just cutting. I’m going to show it. I’m going to show it all. But from here on, it is all darkness, all the time.
At least for a few years. But in the reality tonight in my office, here and now, I am waiting for her to wake up.
She is going to get up and get the kids ready for school. Well, Rayph came home with a low-grade fever yesterday afternoon so he will stay in bed. However, Tobin will get up. He will be dressed and ready in moments. One of us will make coffee and we will talk. We will read this, and we will cry about the horrors we survived. We will go for a ride around town and we will see each other all day.
Because in the end, I got my dream girl. She is upstairs right now. She is my life. She is the only reason for life. We will spend all day together because I am up for a while. I can’t sleep now. We are in hell now and I have to see this thing through to the end. I have to show you the horror of what came next. I need resolution.
Then, I will hold my wife as I sleep. But first you and I have the rest of the night and tomorrow in hell.
We better get to it.