I released Teardrop Road on June 23, 2021. I think it was a Thursday. It was pretty devastating to put it out in the world on the big stage. Having your secrets on a blog is one thing. The worldwide stage opens up doubts and fears that I expected but could never prepare myself for. However, this release is a win. It’s a win for me. It’s a win for my family. For mental health in general. And I hope if you’re in pain and you’re going through anything, any kind of abuse, any kind of loss, I hope this book can help you and that you can see it as a win. I’m celebrating the release of Teardrop with another blog blast. These are chapters of the second volume of Reality of the Unreal Mind, called Normal Street. I’m releasing a chapter from that book every two hours and fifteen minutes. This is the story of Hollow Man. This is the story of how I figured out love through a series of heartaches and confusing episodes. Because love is not easy to navigate for anyone, and it’s almost impossible for a shattered mind to prepare for their soulmate. Here is Hollow Man 8: Lip Part 1.
She had great hair. It seemed as effortless as her smile and it made royalty out of her. She was thin and had a kind of sad fuck you attitude that spoke of obedience and punk. She was quiet, but loud when you pissed her off. She was shy, yet she is the one who taught me how to kiss. She was a country girl, but her dress code and her walk said city girl. Lip was, in every way, a contradiction and I am pretty sure she dated me because she was bored, out in her deep-country home.
This was after Destiny, after Hunter had broken my heart and Lip had dated Hunter a year back. They had not talked in a while, and when she came to church out of nowhere, he was excited to see her. But she quickly let him know that she had not come to see him. He watched me walk away with her and in that moment, I hoped he wanted to kill me. I hoped he was as furious with me as I was with him.
Lip didn’t have much to say. She was not much of a talker. We sat in church that day holding hands and when we left, I walked her to her mother’s car and kissed her. It was terrible and I made a fool of myself, but she wiped her chin and said goodbye.
The next weekend I went over to her house after morning service, and Shadow made out with her until evening service, when we were dropped off at church.
When we got to her house, we walked up the road to a cemetery where a few dozen graves stuck out of the ground, white and vivid. There was a tiny house there, and we sat on the steps and kissed for hours.
That first day, Shadow learned how to kiss, and we never looked back. When we took breaks from kissing, we walked the cemetery and read the stones. Artist made up stories about the people buried there and talked about their deaths. He made a circuit around the gravestones before sitting on the porch for a while and kissing again.
She came to our house a few times. Ate lunch and we went to the old ranger tower up the road. We walked the woods behind it and almost got lost. We sat on a picnic table and made out for a while, then back to church. She became the only reason to go to church, and from the sidelines Destiny watched.
Lip and Destiny never spoke a word to each other. They did not shake hands or smile at one another, but both of them knew what the other was to me. They glared at each other from across the church, and whenever she could, Destiny would lock me in that gaze of hers to let me know she was not over me.
When I looked into those eyes, I felt myself echo. I felt like a great hollow man unable to be filled by any girl I found.
Kissing made it better. Holding Lip’s hand in church made it better. But for the most part, that hole in me just kept yawning open. Kept begging to be filled. Kept aching.
One day, I went to her house on a Saturday and we did our cemetery kissing thing, but autumn was coming on and it was cold. We went to her house, to her room, and we were talking when a great diesel engine rolled up, and air brakes hissed and wheezed.
Lip jumped to her feet, her eyes wide, her mouth gaping open and said, “Oh no!” She spun to look at the door. “Holy God, no!”
Her mom burst into the room. “He’s home!”
“You said he would be gone until Sunday night,” Lip said.
“Well, he must have drove through the night to get here.” Her mother looked at me and shook her head. “We gotta get Jesse out of here.”
I was beginning to get scared and I looked at them. “Who is here? What is happening?”
“It’s my dad. If he sees you, he will kill you,” Lip said. “He hates all of my boyfriends.”
“I’m home, get out here! I want kisses and hugs,” a great voice boomed from the living room.
“I want to meet him,” Guardian said.
“No way,” her mother said.
“I want to meet him,” he said again. He was taking on a hard quality. Guardian was getting fired up. He thought of Pristine, and he filled his spine with steel and his mind sharpened.
“Hi, honey,” her mother said as she slipped out of Lip’s room. “You’re home early.”
“Well, I wanted my bed. I wanted my wife. I was a day out, so I decided to put it down and get here tonight,” the man said. “Where is Lip? I want to say hello.”
Lip slipped out the door. “Daddy,” she said. I heard her run to him and he grunted.
“How is my little girl?” he said.
The women both froze. They said nothing. The room went quiet and Guardian stepped out and shut the bedroom door behind him with authority. Not slamming it but letting it be heard.
“Daddy, I have a new boyfriend,” Lip said. “He came to visit me, but we were just about to take him home.”
The man was huge. I know he was big. My mind has him at about ten feet tall and somewhere around five hundred pounds, but we all know that is not right. He was, in truth, no bigger than six eight. Weighed no more than two eighty. He wore a navy-blue fleece lined denim jacket, and Guardian’s eyes snapped instantly on the hunting knife on the man’s belt.
“We will just run him home and then we can—” her mother began before going quiet as she watched her husband in fear.
The man took his coat off without turning his eyes from me. He peeled the jacket off while staring at me and Guardian had never been so alive. He was equally ready to meet this man in the middle of the living room and fight him as he was to sit down and talk to him.
“You want to shake my hand first?” Guardian said.
“Before what?” the man grunted.
“Before you do whatever you are preparing to do,” Guardian said. He slipped his hand to his pocket and let the man see that he had a knife there.
The man’s eyebrow lifted.
“Rather just shake hands, but your house, your rules,” Guardian said.
The man looked run through with rage. Riddled with it. He took half a step forward. Guardian stood his ground. Then, without warning, the man sighed and chuckled to himself. “What’s your name?” He was just talking but it sounded like a bellow coming from his gut, a deep sound like distant artillery.
“Jesse Teller. What’s yours?”
“Well, I would say nice to meet you but that remains to be seen,” Guardian said.
Her mother stepped back.
“Let me get a cup of coffee, then I’ll take you home.” He sat at his table and a coffee mug appeared at his hand. His wife scurried away. I stepped into the kitchen and stared down at him as he picked up a deck of cards and shuffled. His hands moved well. They were big and thick but agile, and while he dealt a game of solitaire he spoke. “You staring at me?”
“Depends,” Guardian said. “You play poker?”
Lip gasped and grabbed my arm. Her mother had been drinking and she coughed, spitting it out.
The man stopped playing and his gaze stayed on the table. He paused, staring for a long time before looking up at Guardian and saying, “What did you just say?”
“Poker? Do you play?”
“You want to play poker with me?” He grunted.
“Not for money; I’m broke. But we could play for—” I looked around until I saw a big bag of pecans. “We could play for those. Divvy them up, half to half, and we play poker.”
He laughed. “What kind of poker do you play?”
“All kinds, but I think men play Five Card Stud,” Guardian sat. “You call wild.”
Trucks leaned back and pointed at me. He looked at his wife. “Can you believe this guy?” He laughed and looked at Lip. “Where did you get this guy?”
“I gave her a bite of my Three Musketeers Bar, and she decided to keep me,” Guardian said. Now, this was way before the whole Three Musketeers Incident. But it was true. I had been at church camp, had bought a candy bar, and I had shared it with her.
Okay, look, I checked my watch and I think we have time, so I will get into the Musketeer Incident real fast, but I’m only doing this so you can understand a thing about Shadow. Let’s step away from this angry man and his solitaire and step forward about two years.
When I was a senior in high school, I got about ten dollars. Worked it off my grandma by moving a heavy piece of furniture, or cleaned out my uncle’s gutters, or any number of other ways to earn a ten spot. So, I went to the nearby gas station and saw the Three Musketeers Bars. They were by far, far and away, my favorite candy bar, so I spent all ten dollars and bought eleven of them.
I stuck them in my dresser and told myself they were mine; I could have one any time I wanted. I got halfway to the door before turning back and unwrapping the first one. They were mine, after all. I could do anything with them I wanted to.
It was Shadow who had done the buying, Shadow who was walking back to the living room to watch some such shit before he decided to head back and grab another. They were his. They could be eaten whenever he chose. One more wouldn’t hurt.
Before the first commercial, he was getting a third.
I think we know where this is going. He ate all eleven in the span of about two hours. That is a pretty good clip. Well, when he was done with that, he needed a break from Three Musketeers Bars. We did not eat another one for over twenty years. The moral of the story is, Shadow has no restraint and no discipline. He cannot hold himself back. He cannot control himself.
Okay, back to the cards and the man laughing at me. He looked up at me and nodded. “Five Card it is. Jokers wild.”
He won the first two hands, but by then, I had his tell. I won’t tell it to you. First of all, it is none of your business and I don’t want to give this man’s tell to anyone who reads this. It would be dishonorable, and I won’t do that. Second, Guardian never told me Trucks’ tell because it would be dishonorable and he would never do that.
I started picking up steam by the third hand and, within an hour, I had all his pecans. He leaned back in his chair and smiled at me. He slapped the table and pointed. “Like you,” he said. “You can date my daughter.”
“Then, bag up my pecans and I can go home,” I said.
“Oh, no,” he said with a chuckle. “Those are for my pie.”
“Then you better save me a slice.”
He laughed again, a great booming thing and nodded. “Done.”
He gave me a ride home. He could barely fit in his wife’s car and he started to take his rig but thought better of it. It was raining and he drove the road with precision and aggression. He took to the road like he owned it. He flashed over every big rig that passed him and said nothing to me at all.
That is, until we got to my house. When we got there, he stopped me and said, “Hey Jesse, you can come over any time you want. You take care of my daughter and don’t let her get in her own way. Watch out for her, will you?”
“You bet,” Guardian said. “It was great to meet you.”
He shook my hand with his mighty mitt, and I walked out of his life. Never saw the man again, but I would a few months later, talk to him on the phone.
But you will have to wait for that story.