There are many things in life that I’m not exactly proud of.
This is one.
It all starts out about as normal as circumstances allow. I am standing in the Newark Airport, waiting patiently to board a plane headed to Brussels, Belgium. Land of waffles, Red Devils, and really great beer.
While I’m standing there, I already feel the first stages of culture shock. For instance. If I face this window with my shoulder in the nook of this corner, then I can barely see The Statue of Liberty which makes me feel very small and very free. Midwestern girl was not prepared for this.
I watch people come and go for hours. Six to be exact. I text people I haven’t spoken to in years. I text people I don’t like. I scroll through Facebook until my eyes are red. For six hours, my heart flutters with the ambiance of new experience. Times are good. Life is exciting.
My plane boards around 9pm. I end up getting an aisle seat (thanks, Dad) next to a mother and her three children who don’t speak much English. We exchange awkward. knowing smiles while her children stare at me. They are sweet.
As a group of five, we work to figure out the technology in the headrest which blows my mind. I can watch movies while staring at the back of some guy’s head. Why don’t they have this in lecture halls? Why can’t they exchange the front of the face for a screen? When will we, as a nation, get to that point? Can’t wait. I’ll look in Sky Mall just to check that we’re not already there.
I help the little boy next to me get his figured out while his mother helps the two little girls closer to her. Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but I could already sense her frustration. She gives me a thankful smile and I nod.
Time goes by. I watch the world get sucked into the blackness of the ocean. I track our little digital plane on the screen. I am supposed to be sleeping so that I don’t have to skip on exploring, but how can you sleep when you’re flying at a really fast speed over an ocean that has no difference from the sky?
Around the sixth hour (I think), a woman comes around with a cart full of dinners. There are two options. I can’t read the menu because it’s in, what I think is, Hindi. So instead, I point. The stewardess smiles and hands me my tray.
I don’t know what it is when I open it. I know I have a pita bread and some plain yogurt. There also seems to be some kind of meat, but I’ve never been too picky so I plan on eating everything.
I’m most excited about the yogurt. Plain, vanilla yogurt. I peel the lid back, stir it around some, and then take a huge bite. The little boy next to me watches in disgust, and I’m not sure why until I realize that maybe plain yogurt does not default to vanilla.
It’s sour cream. I just ate a big mouthful of sour cream.
But now the little boy, his two sisters, and his mother are watching out of the corner of their eye, faces riddled in disgust. What would a normal person do?
I fake it and keep eating the sour cream. It’s awful– right on the verge of being expired. Extra sour. I can feel my eyes begin to water and my gag reflex threatening to let loose especially when the hard edge that was around the lid goes into my mouth. But, I am determined and finish that sour cream, and I even smile afterwards (mostly trying not to puke).
The next item to devour is the pita bread. It’s light and airy and not bad for airline food. Despite my naivety with labels, I don’t understand the airline food jokes because I’m a little impressed. The pita is delicious and they don’t even give peanuts anymore AND the other options also smell amazing.
Next is the meat/vegetable concoction. It’s slightly orange tinted with shots of green broccoli. Smells very spicy. Right up my alley. Again, the family next to me watches as I eat with a fork. I act like I don’t feel their eyes studying my eating habits that seem to say that A. I am from the Midwest B. I have never been to a big city or possibly out of the house alone.
Apparently, these foods are not to be eaten separately or with a fork. Whatever.
I finish the orange food and push my plate away, still impressed and proud of myself for eating Indian food and only crying from the spicy once.
About two hours later, the flight gets bad. It is dead quiet in the cabin or whatever you call it, and everyone is asleep. My stomach goes into a series of low growls. Low, violent, warning growls like a crouching panther. Like a pissed off, cornered cat. I know what these growls mean.
The little boy next to me stirs in his sleep, probably now dreaming of a deadly cat because my stomach is being that loud.
There is only one bathroom for women on this plane. I can hold it off for another ten or so hours. The feeling will go away!
No, I can’t. No, it won’t.
I hop out of my seat as fast as possible, fast walking (dead sprinting) towards the bathroom. I won’t go into details, but you know that scene from Bridesmaids? The one where they’re trying on dresses and then all of a sudden they rush to the bathroom in order to get rid of everything they ate in the last couple hours?
Yeah, that’s me. Only there are a few major differences. For example, pretty sure everyone heard me because when I went into the bathroom, people were asleep, and coming out, they are not. Also, no one was knocking frantically on their door while they got sick.
And oh yeah, they weren’t a thousand miles above the ocean experiencing turbulence. Have you ever been in the bathroom while a flight goes through this? Heckin’ scary. I thanked every sweet angel in the sky for the safety bar by the toilet that day.
Anyways, the rest of the flight was fine except for the five other times this happened. I’m pretty sure after that, they called me “The girl who ate sour cream before stink bombing an entire plane and ruining the remaining ten hours for everyone,” because the little boy moved to the other side of his mom, and they didn’t smile when they left.
Thus ends my story of how I entered into another “Mile High Club” also known as my first ever experience with Indian food. It was pleasant until it wasn’t.
The birdsong changed on the night that Sydney Baker was murdered. Their soft, moonlight titters changed in a singular instant to sharp shrieks of alarm that seemed to wake up the surrounding forest of that suburban neighborhood.
Lights from neighboring houses blinked on without bothering to compete with the dull stars overhead as sirens of emergency vehicles began their screaming through purposefully curved streets lined with neat brick mailboxes. The EMTs breathed quietly through their nose, out their mouths, knowing that the call was for the sixth of seven murders that month.
For one unfortunate responder, his first night on the job already appeared to be going down a long dark passage of the rest of his life. His fingers were bone white and his face was bleached in fear of what’s to come.
“You shoulda seen the one before this. Total carnage everywhere. Looks like an explosive was shoved in their poor mouth,” Joe, the man across from him said in a voice that was weighted down by the back streets of New Jersey. His face was indifferent, teetering on bored.
The ambulance rolled to a halt outside of the Baker residence where a congregation of neighbors was already assembled wearing worn-out slippers and threadbare robes, all craning their necks to get a glimpse through the slightly parted curtains that were now splashed in deep crimson.
“I’m not ready for this. I can’t go in,” the new responder says before even glancing out the back door of the now open ambulance. Instead, he looks at his shoes, black and slip-proof with hardly worn soles. Joe looks at him, not sure what to say. He can’t exactly pull him out.
“Whatever you want, Mike,” he says before ducking his head and hopping out to see if there is anyone inside worth saving. Realistically, he knew the answer before stepping inside. There are never survivors.
The rooms of the house are still and the air has already absorbed the putrid smell of blood which always seems to hold the overbearing undertones of permanence. How could one possibly get this smell out of a home? If this was his home, he would bulldoze it right down to the concrete foundation.
The room where the scene had been laid out was the family room which was painted a light blue grey that would melt into the morning sky if the ceiling wasn’t prohibiting it from such an action. A black suede sectional sits in front of a TV mounted on the wall where the news reporters drone on about the weather and the Humane Society and the high school basketball game.
Life goes on even after it stops.
And that’s when Joe saw it, sitting on the table just above Sydney Baker’s body. Sitting just under the nightly news. Concealed in the glare of the light was a family picture, and as Joe adjusts to get a better view, his heart sinks and a cold, wet bile, rises to the top of his throat as two grinning faces stare back at him from behind their gold wrapped portrait.
How will he tell Mike that his wife is on the floor in front of him in the pool of her own blood?
We traded our names in
exchange of: baby, love bug,
Suga, sunshine, and little shit
when we’re feeling extra loving.
At night, we lie awake, our legs
crossed over another’s
singing awful renditions
of High School Musical and ABBA.
When we wake in the morning,
there are bags under our eyes
and our skin sprouts crow’s feet
and laugh lines so deep
that all the oceans trenches
are green with envy.
You make us waffles. And as always,
it’s a mess. We eat breakfast
with our legs crossed under us,
our knees grazing another’s like bored sheep
while your cat flicks his tail in our direction.
Minutes collapse into hours
which fall into days. How long have
we been sitting like this?
Only our tailbones know.
It was the weekend of the great flood if I was being dramatic. It ripped the asphalt off I44 and an over grown river ate its bridge leaving a major disconnect between Waynesville and Springfield. This is my luck, and I only get luckier.
I’ll start at the beginning for you.
I was up in Waynesville, Missouri to see Erin. We were going to go to her sorority dance together, but being in the center of the country, Mother Nature had other plans. Waynesville, if you have never been there, nestled in the tired mountains of the Ozarks in a way that makes it impossible to get anywhere if it rains more than “a little”. This weekend last April, it rained a lot.
“So, all the roads will flood if we go which means we’ll be trapped in Rolla,” Erin says as she perches in front of our usual binge show, Bob’s Burgers.
“Okay,” I reply because I never know what else to say when someone is trying to steer me into a decision.
“So if we get stuck in Rolla, we’ll be stuck in the sorority house,” she eats a handful of popcorn with Annie’s cheddar bunnies while looking to read my response which I carefully hide because can you imagine?
While I have only been into one sorority house my entire life, Kappa Delta at S&T, I can’t help but imagine this as one of my nightmares. An overnight stay at somewhere where I feel extremely out of place while pictures of “sisters past” stare at me as if I was the girl that peed in the corner and was waiting for someone to notice. The elephant in a China shop. The farter in an elevator. They have jobs there. Jobs that involved shining bannisters and dusting and smiling when greeted. They engage freely in small talk and since I would be a stranger, I would be the first victim. I loathe small talk.
For these reasons, I hide my disgust at the mere mention of the possibility and respond with my previous reply.
She puts her bowl down, little orange bunnies swimming in processed butter. “So, I’m saying that we probably shouldn’t go because we would never leave. When this place floods, it floods.”
So we don’t go. We stay home and watch scary movies and eat the bunnies that have now soaked up all the butter. They are velvety smooth and too delicious (but not if you think about it). We drink a bottle of wine and face glorious headaches after a full nights sleep with no sorority sisters staring into our sleeping souls.
When we wake up the next morning, she reads off the traffic alerts and road closures which, to no surprise, includes half the town. The shocker, however, was that some river that starts with a G, I think, got really hacked off, hulked out, and ate a piece of the road. This road happens to be the only way home without major detours. I have school the next day. I cannot wait until things “clear up”. So now I have to leave early.
I hit the road. I fill up Nina’s tank. Nina is a 2008 Chevy Impala who likes to test me. Unlike Ethel who you met in my previous post, Nina has no sentimental slack so when shit goes wrong, I take it personally. She also does not have a working gas gauge and hardly ever has windshield fluid. Where does it go? Only the pollen knows.
I fill her up because if I don’t then I have no idea how far I will get because it will involve math like adding and subtracting and “If I’m traveling at this speed with this many gallons of gas, how long can I drive until I’m stranded on the side of the road?” Better known as the math problems I always skipped doing on my own. Ask my dad and how many times he has brought me gas.
When I get out of Waynesville, the interstate traffic is directed through some redneck town full of windy roads, wild green grass, and terrible congestion due to the onslaught of extra cars following double lane tractors. This takes me two hours which should be the drive from Waynesville to Joplin. No. This is just a detour. I fill up when I get to Lebanon and don’t buy snacks.
I messed up.
It happens next.
I pull on to the interstate. Minding my own business, changing the song from Backstreet Boys to Gaga, when it happens. Mile marker 115.3. While I’m looking down for three seconds., I hit a pot hole.
If only pot holes were the size of a three foot long hole. And right as I hit it at 75MPH, my heart jumps and one singular word escapes from my lips.
“Shit,” and my steering wheel jerks to the right while my foot finds the brakes on instinct. Something inside me, that damn bird that Emily Dickinson calls Hope, says maybe my tire isn’t flat. Maybe I just, you know, did something cool or whatever.
I push on my hazards, wait for traffic to leave, and get out to see.
Flat. Flatter than my pre-crossfit butt.
“SHIT,” I yell at the cars whizzing by. “Shit, shit, double shit, freaking shit. Shit,” but also thank you baby Jesus for not letting me die because that’s a big ol’ ditch by the shoulder.
I text my dad. “Got a flat. Help.” And then I sit back in my car which is still on, lay my head on my steering wheel and cry to the soothing voice of Ke$ha during her party years.
I don’t know how to fix a flat tire. I just bought these tires. I can’t even make a good cup of coffee. Does this car even have another tire? I’ve never seen one. How do you get the tire off? How do you do anything that isn’t on the internet? WHY DO I NOT HAVE A PHONE CHARGER? SHIT.
Dad texts back. “Spare tire in trunk under mat. Directions on jack. Call if you need help.”
Deep breaths in. I can do it. Deep breaths out. DO OR DIE BAILEY LETS GO.
I turn my car off but leave the keys in. Pop the trunk, and look under my gray, gross feeling mat. A little baby tire! How cute. And something underneath that is black and compressed and heavy as heck.
I pull it all out and tote it to the passenger side of my car. Wiping my hands together, I look at the directions on the jack. Only pictures. Very vague pictures.
First, I try to peel the rim off my car. It doesn’t work. The thing is really stuck in there. I shove it between the rim and tire as best as I can and then force all my body weight onto it which results in my face smashing against my car. I do this a few times and each time, my anger flares up. I text my dad.
Turns out the rim doesn’t come off.
The jack doesn’t seem to work either. There is no crank to get it up. I look for one that might be hidden. Nothing. I go back to my trunk. There is a metal stick thing. I look at the stick thing with the jack. How does this go in this? I don’t know? How am I supposed to know these things? How am I supposed to see a picture and assume the directions? How do I get the wheel cover off with a tiny little spatula?
Panic rises. I do what any sensible person would.
I pick up the jack, and I launch that heavy piece of shit while calling it a heavy piece of shit into the ditch. Fingers pull at my hair, someone is yelling. It’s me.
I don’t want to call my dad. I can do this. But I call my dad.
“How do you do the jack?”
“What do you mean?”
“I threw the jack in the ditch because it doesn’t work, Dad. Nothing makes sense. My tire wont come off. The directions are not in words. They’re in pictures, Dad. Pictures.”
He laughs and tells me to read the book in my secret door in the wall that holds important things like insurance and knives with dried pumpkin guts on it. I read the book if you can call it that.
Makes no sense. But I trek down the ditch cliff and pull the jack up from the weeds. “Piece of shit,” because when things don’t work, you blame things and not yourself. Never yourself.
I do what the directions say and carefully put the jack under my car and place the eight sided stick end into the eight sided hole (who would’ve thought). And I crank that bad boy up like there is no tomorrow because at this rate, there won’t be.
And then it crunches against the siding. A nice, solid crunch that one might hear when they, oh I don’t know, jack the wrong part of their car.
“Dad, is my car supposed to sound crunchy when the jack is on it?”
“What? No. No, you need to put it under the frame.”
“The frame?” I say as I grope around the bottom of my car.
“It’s metal. It feels flat…like metal,” my hands search frantically until, oh yes. Yes. This is the metal. I adjust jack.
Two hours have passed. The wheel comes off. I am a magician.
And as I am bolting the wheel back onto the wheel holder, a van pulls ahead of me, and backs up.
“Oh great, thank you for your help, but I have it covered,” I say to myself which makes me laugh until I start crying again because let’s be honest. I don’t. I never did. Zero control of this situation.
A man comes out of the van. There is a pumpkin knife in my hidey hole of my car. All I have to do is open the door, get the knife, and then this poor guy will have one nasty infection.
“Hey, need any help?” He’s old. He reminds me of a seagull with his white fluffy hair and unusually tight skin for a man of his age. I look in his van and see a woman turned around. Unless they’re into weird stuff, I would say today is not the day that I am kidnapped. Or adultnapped.
“Uhm, I think I got it!” I say, but he comes over anyway. He squats down near me. Circular lensed glasses perch on top of a straight nose where wrinkles from squinting into the sun dance off the little rubber stoppers. Now that he’s closer, I can tell that he’s old. He grabs my tool from my hand.
Is this how the first caveman felt when another caveman wanted to borrow fire? I’m a little annoyed. I was so close to doing this one thing. This huge thing all on my own. A true test of adulthood and this old man is ruining it.
“You have to tighten the bolts a certain way,” he says as if my dad didn’t already tell me, and I didn’t already forget to do that because now he is loosening all my work and redoing it in the correct order.
He continues to tell me why, but I get lost in how hairy his ears are.
“Is there anything else you need? I have a daughter about your age, and we just thought you could use help,” there is no way he has a daughter my age. He has hair protruding from his ear and not just one either.
“No, no, thank you so much. I wish I could repay you,” I say, but he waves me off before getting back into his car with his wife who probably congratulates him on his chivalry. I was thankful for this old man. Don’t get me wrong. But resentful because I was so close to having done this incorrectly.
Regardless, I am happy that I can get back on the road. I plop my happy ass down onto my leather seats, put the key into the ignition, and text my dad that I–
am now sitting in a car that is dead. And the old man is gone. And my car is dead. The battery is dead. I don’t know how this happened. Why did this happen? Who up in that big sky wants to laugh at me? My car is dead and I have to pee.
“My car is dead and the old man is gone,” I tell my dad on the phone. By now, he seems just as annoyed as me although his annoyance stems, most likely, from not being able to help.
“What old man?”
“It doesn’t matter, Dad. He’s gone.”
“Where are you?”
“I don’t know? Missouri? The highway? Where the curvy part ends and the straight part begins?”
He sighs. “There are mile markers every tenth of a mile. Go look,” so I crawl out of my car, defeated yet again, and trudge the grueling ten feet to stand nose to nose with the mile marker.
“And where is that?” I tell him it’s outside Lebanon. So he calls a tow truck which will take an hour to get here. I shove the old flat tire into my trunk along with the stupid jack. And the sun is starting to go down, and despite my record in pee holding, I have to pee.
Time to burn, battery on 20%, I go to nature’s toilet and don’t care who sees.
Then, I count bugs that have been splattered on my windshield.
Then, I clean my car.
Then, I find a barbecue corn nut on the floor and eat it while I sob about how sad my current situation is.
Then, I see a tow truck which passes me.
Then, a Jeep pulls in front of me and backs up an hour later. I want to hug this man. I want to cry and hold his hand for one second in a quiet thank you.
“You Bailey?” a slit of a mouth asks through a well-kept beard. I nod, choking back snot and tears and defeat.
“Let me check your tire, then I’ll get you jumped so you can get on home,” and he does just that. The old man that tightened my bolts apparently was a lot stronger than a seagull and hardly needed any work. But my battery.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
“If you stop, it’ll die again. Just so you know, so keep on going,” I’m glad I peed before he got here. He charges it to my card, and now, I get into my car.
And it works, but it’s 8:00. I have an hour and a half in my trip and can’t exceed 60 miles an hour.
Do I care at this point? Nope because look at this! I can drive a car. I can fix a flat with only a few major breakdowns, and, on top of that, I only called my dad less than ten times. A new record.
Side note: I took my car to Walmart since I luckily insured them all, and the man said that several people hit that exact same pot hole. And, I got a free new tire.
I had known her for six years and would know her for eight total before we would have a tearful departure that would end the life of one of us. Three of those early years were spent driving to and from school to the soundtracks of Blink182, AFI, and Hinder, racing over tops of hills and the one S curve as fast as my sister dared to drive (which was very fast). Ethel, named after our grandma, was four wheels of baby blue fury. She was a 1996 Sierra Cutlass Oldsmobile, the same age as my brother, the picture of freedom. At the age of sixteen, she left my sister’s possession and was all mine.
Ethel did everything you would expect of a first timer’s car. She could drift around corners (accidentally). She could give whiplash better than any new car. She could rocket through yellow (red) lights. She could ramp a set of train tracks at 60 miles an hour without hesitating. She held all my secrets and memories that were too irrelevant and pointless to share with anyone else. She was the greatest. We went everywhere together. Every memory from sixteen to twenty-one could be drawn back to this car and her light blue interior. When people thought of me, they thought of Ethel who would allow us to lay on top of her hood and watch the world slip around us on good days and bad days and all the days in-between.
The eighteenth and nineteenth years of my life were spent in Independence, Kansas which was about an hour and a half from Joplin. I lived in a dorm with some soccer girls who became extremely close friends. We would find and keep stray dogs in our rooms despite threats of fines. There was one time where we snuck a dog around campus inside a suitcase. But all of these are later stories.
Inside Independence, there was a quaint zoo that had some rams, a very sad donkey, and an island full of monkeys. It was here that I received a call from my mom. My grandpa was in hospice. I needed to go home immediately. So I went to my room, packed my bags, and jumped into Ethel.
I was about thirty minutes down the rood and feeling okay. Feeling hopeful. And then things started to go south. My temperature gauge was rising, headed up past the halfway mark, up past the red H. There were also some wicked sounds coming from Ethel’s engine. And then I couldn’t steer. And then I couldn’t press the gas or the break or feel the cool air conditioner. I called my dad while all this was happening.
Let me give you a brief history of calls with my dad.
- “Dad, I’m in Oklahoma. I don’t know how I got here,” a call on my way to school after missing one out of three turns. I was crying; he was laughing and gave me directions back to Independence.
- “Dad, my car won’t steer. I had to drive to Sonic and jump a curb. I don’t know what happened,” a call after my power steering went out, again, message spoken through tears. He came to the rescue as always and fixed my belt.
- “Dad, this guy tried to jump over my car and his leg broke my mirror,” a call after someone tried to jump over my car in a parking lot where I had clipped their legs, and they went flying over the hood of my car. Apparently, the security for the school kept the footage and showed everyone. We glued my mirror back on, but the shin print under my passenger side mirror lasted forever.
“Dad, something is wrong with Ethel,” I gave him her symptoms. High fever, reluctance to move, bad attitude.
“Pull over immediately. You should have stopped right when the temperature went up,” but I didn’t I had driven probably five miles with it in the red zone. “I’m going to come pick you up, and then we have to go to KC. Pull over, turn everything off.”
I did as he said. By this point, I was sobbing because everything was morphing from that weird dream state when things go bad back to reality. I opened Ethel’s hood to be greeted with smoke. We have escalated to choking sobs. By the side of the road. By my dead best inanimate object friend.
I crawled back into my drivers side, flipped up the middle console, and laid across the front seat. “Ethel, I killed you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” I pet her blue fabric seats. Cars flew past me, shaking me with their wind, judging me as I cried.
I always think back to this moment in time. My car died, my grandpa would die. Cruel foreshadowing. I knew it while I was living it. This is a sign from God if he cared enough to let me know. After I recognized that Ethel was dead, I cried for my grandpa until I felt nauseous. And then a car pulled up behind me.
Act normal. Act normal. Damsel in distress normal. Still normal.
It’s an old man wearing overalls. He has an unshaven face and a pot belly. There is a person in the passenger seat who I never really looked at, but as you know me, I assumed the worst. I got out of my car, fingers wrapped strategically around my keys, you know, for stabbing (just in case).
“You need some help?” The first man had the standard voice of blue-collar America. Thick with smoke but means no harm.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said because I didn’t.
“Let’s see,” he walks over to look inside my engine, muttering to the man. Is this how I die? Are they making plans to kill me?
“Looks like your engine is hot,” he says, and then gives some mechanical reason as to why. I feel my eyes glaze over. “We’ll come back and poor some cool water on here,” I smile like I know that’ll help, and they leave.
I call my dad. The men return. They pour water on my engine. It evaporates on impact. They also pour it into some cap. I thank them again, and they move on their way.
My dad is an hour away now with a trailer to pick us up. An hour on the side of the road is forever. I use the natural bathroom. I pick up trash. I read my book. And then the sun slips right next to the horizon, and the light leaks from the sky. Darkness.
My phone is dying. I can’t read. I thank God that there are no bugs, and it’s a nice day. Then I see headlights go past, turn around. My dad has come to save me!
I jump out of the car. I would be crying, but I think I used all the water in my body for the previous melt down. He was emitting a glow as if he knew before he knew that he would get to say “I told you so,” but it also could have been the suburban’s headlights reflecting off his head. I retell the symptoms. He nods and says there’s nothing he can do in the dark. There may be nothing we can do at all.
We load Ethel onto the ramp and secure her to the trailer with chains. Well he does. I mostly just watch and kick rocks. I retell him the story about how once I went over some railroad tracks, my temperature went up. Why didn’t I stop? Well. What’s the worst that could happen if I didn’t?
This. The rest of the night was a blur. We went to KC with Brian to meet up with the family at the hospice center that smelled like shit and dust covered with flowers. We ate QuickTrip for dinner. And my grandpa died the next morning on April 27th after everyone in my thirty member family was able to say goodbye. I would go onto play soccer at his Alma Mater, Central Methodist University, where I would hear his favorite church song played over on the chapel bells, ringing over the hills, and would either smile or cry. I would know then, that he was there as he said he would be.
My dad replaced Ethel’s engine with a 2008 Chevy Impala engine, also foreshadowing for my next car. She was reborn, growly, and glorious. Two years later, she would the second half of my brother’s secret keeper. I would be an aunt.
And I would be an aunt to a boy who would be born on the exact same day that my grandfather had died three years earlier.
The universe is weird in the way that it chooses to teach its lessons.
Ethel was my car. My go to on a bad day. She knew the backroads to all my college towns. She knew the songs I needed to hear. She knew. Had I been a thinking person back then as I am now, I might’ve taken notes. She had known the ways to prepare me for harder things to come. What a damn car.
What was wrong with Ethel? I didn’t say, but…
I had forgotten to put in oil.
“So how’s your day been?” The woman across from me asks.
“Oh you know, not so good. I’ve been here,” I say with a smile because it’s not her fault I’m sitting on the toilet, shorts around my ankles, talking to a total stranger. That’s right. I’m the lucky one. The selected few for collegiate drug testing which would be fine if 1.) I actually played instead of sitting the bench on JV 2.) I didn’t have a shy bladder 3.) no one had to watch.
For those of you that don’t know, pee tests are all fun and games until college. Random drug testing was my forte after being picked three separate times in high school and twice in junior college. Those times were different. Those times didn’t require someone watching intently.
I had gotten an email the night before. “Come immediately to the athletic training room at 7am sharp. Do not pee before arriving.” In my morning fog, I had disregarded the “do not pee” note and showed up at least twenty minutes late.
There were ten of us in a cement walled locker room. A few football players, couple softball, golf, soccer, basketball. For some reason, the use of a phone was prohibited so we busied ourselves with small talk. One by one, they would call us back. Some would come back. Some would get to leave.
A softball player who’s fictional name is Laura had just failed to do the deed and sat down beside me. I gave her that arched eyebrow look that often makes me look deranged especially before 9am.
“She watches you,” she says under her breath.
“She watches you pee,” I am afraid of weird things. Escalators, butterflies, loft-type areas. But never have I ever been afraid to pee until now. My name gets called. It is time.
She is a short, stocky black woman with possibly a glass eye or a very slow eye lid. Either way, her stare at my private area is unwavering. She stands as if she’s watching a sporting event, hands on her lower thighs, leaned forward, and focused right where one would normally punch someone for just glancing. While I’m trying to pee with my hand between my legs (which is not a normal way to pee for anyone) she asks me about my major and I answer. We make eye contact throughout the conversation as if eye contact with a stranger while peeing would help anyone pee. I mean, unless you’re into that. Whatever.
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” I say after five minutes of trying. She nods. This marks my first of many walks of shame. My roommate, Jamie, and I are disgustingly close and even at this point, we don’t stare while the other pees. We don’t even look in the same direction. Pieces of me feel bad for this woman whose name I won’t remember. Is this her dream? To watch college athletes pee? I join Laura on the bench where we will sit together for a really long time. In fact, after this experience, we add each other on Facebook and smile when we see the other. It’s like a secret. Our hours in hell, bonded for life. Peesoners of Sport.
Every hour on the hour we are encouraged to run laps around the gym while the basketball and volleyball players watch us. Laura and I run together in very stiff forms. We have to pee. We have to pee but can’t because Glass Eye watches us. During one run, we run dizzying laps for twenty minutes. The pee watchers said that exercise encourages the bladder to relax which may be true but after we’re cattle-herded to the bathrooms or sitting before the great glass eye, the feeling is lost. When we’re not running, we sip water from paper cups. “Do not chug the water,” Pee Tester tells us. “Chugging the water dilutes the results,” which is why we have to keep running.
Around lunch, the athletic director comes to talk to us. “It would be easier to just accept the fail than to make us find out you have failed,” Laura, who I’ve come to know as a straight-laced beer enthusiast shakes her head, no. I don’t know how she can shake her head so fast because when I blink, I fear that my bladder control will be lost.
“But we don’t do drugs,” I say, growing irritated. We are the only two left.
“But you won’t pee in the cup and time is up,” he responds.
“But have you ever had someone watch you try to pee?” He looks at me with tight lips. I can feel tears in my eyes. To fail a test is to go before the board which could result in my scholarship going down the drain without my pee which, again, is now affecting my emotional state.
“Can I call my dad?” I ask. He waves me off. I have to use the phone in the athletic trainer’s office since my phone is on the desk next to the pee testing device.
“Dad,” my voice turns into the voice last used when I forgot to put oil in my car for ten months which resulted in my engine overheating (but that story is for later). “They’re trying to drug test me, but this lady watches me pee, and I can’t do it. I can’t pee and I’ll lose my scholarship,” I can hear him sighing on the phone as if this is totally normal. “I don’t do drugs!” I have snot running down my face mixing now with my tears. He says he’ll handle it and to go wait.
In thirty minutes, the athletic director comes back looking pissed. “Go to lunch. You have half an hour. Don’t go pee.”
I go to lunch. I tell my friend what has happened and also ask her to tell our professors where I am because at this point, I’ve missed three classes. I eat my chicken tenders and force myself to drink some soda. I have to pee so badly that I no longer have to pee.
Upon returning, I try again. I sit on the toilet. And nothing. Laura also hasn’t gone. We continue to run. Six hours of having to pee and not being able to pee.
On the eighth hour, Laura goes pee, and I try a different bathroom.
On the ninth hour, I ask Glass Eye if she likes her job. She says she does. I ask if she likes staring at privates all day. She says it’s just part of the job, and she’s seen so many that she doesn’t even notice.
On the tenth hour, Glass Eye tells me I should try to take a shower because apparently that helps. So, I undress and get into a concrete floored shower. I cry. She stands just outside the curtain that does not close all the way. I think it’s on her bad eye side, so I’m not worried about her watching. But the shower doesn’t do anything besides wash all residual pride down into the drain.
On the way back to my waiting room, I see my basketball friend who looks at me as if I am the most pitiful person she has ever seen. “What’s wrong?” Her eyes are big and searching.
“I can’t pee,” I say before getting moved along.
On the 11th hour, I try every bathroom in the athletic facility. None work up the right peeing ambiance. The lighting is off. The smell is weird. The toilet has been sat on recently. The male pee proctor with a push-broom mustache orders pizza and doesn’t let me have any. He talks about how much of his day I have wasted.
“You watch people pee for a living. I missed a hundred dollars worth of class today.”
“Just go pee,” he practically yells. I hate him.
It is seven at night. SEVEN. It has been twelve hours since I got here. Twelve hours of holding my pee, running, showering, and water sipping. My roommates don’t know where I am. Push-Broom eats pizza slowly in front of me as if that’ll help me pee. Glass Eye watches him. I wonder if there’s something romantic happening between the two.
“I HAVE TO GO,” Glass Eye startles. “Do you?” I nod. We rush to the bathroom.
“Please don’t talk to me this time,” I say right as I push open the stall of my favored bathroom. It is a set under the bleachers in the basketball court. It’s the one I frequented most. It is familiar. Like an old friend. She gets in her urine-gazing stance. I stick the cup under me.
I close my eyes and imagine the toilet in my apartment instead of staring her down. If I lean forward enough, I can see it raining against my window. Lots of rain. Rain and oh look, it’s raining beer now. Beer. Beer. Beer. Push. Beer. Elsa, let it go!
One drop. Two. Threefour. And then it stops. I have a full bladder. I had to pull down my sweatpants to the top of my hips for the past five hours and I can only get out four drops.
“Is this enough?” I half yell, pulling up the cup to show her.
“Oh, honey, it’s close. We’ll go see,” Glass Eye pats me on the back. I think we’re almost friends in a really weird way. We walk very slowly because what little pee we have might splash out of the cup. It feels as if we’re walking an art project or a small child through the gym. I am so proud. Look at this cup. This is hard work and dedication.
“I did it! I went pee!” I announce to Push-Broom and the Pee Tester. Push-Broom mutters under his breath while I fantasize about kicking him. Glass Eye hands my pee to Pee Tester.
“It’s barely enough,” he says as drops one drop into some balance thing. “And it’s at the minimum clarity level. So. You just barely had enough pee,” he said. “Congratulations. You may leave,” Glass Eye hands me my phone.
“I told you that I don’t do drugs,” I announce to Push Broom. He rolls his eyes. I take off. I try to run, but now that I can pee in peace, I can feel my control fading away.
I fast walk to the bathroom that is the only bathroom in this whole building that we did not try. And I can’t. I still can’t pee. Until–
Yes. YES. I pee for five whole minutes. I cry while I pee. I scream with joy while I pee. I held it for twelve hours. And here it is. I text my dad. I text my roommate. I am free.
Resolution: Sometimes, I see Glass Eye across from me and have to focus really hard so that I can pee. In fact, I go pee every chance I get so that I never have to pee that badly again. But, on a positive note, I became a legend in athletic training classes the next day because apparently shy bladders don’t exist, AND the school couldn’t afford to test anyone for the rest of the year.
There are books all over my floor that I haven’t read yet. They range from WWII historical fiction novels to Harry Potter to biographies over a collection of random people. My suspended shelves are stuffed with novels stacked on top of novels with novels behind them. I feel as if the mass amount of words around me can help feed my motivation as I write my own.
Reading while writing a novel is weird so I have to be selective. Generally, I stick to thriller novels or YA. Thriller novels are often not written in a way that is beautiful. They tell the story without all the frills. Young Adult novels give me a benchmark as to where I need to shoot. I refrain from well-written books which breaks my heart, but when I’m really getting into writing, I don’t want that to leak into my own project.
Which, let me tell you, we’re about to hit the climax. I am sitting between 200 and 280 novel pages depending on the word count and waiting patiently for a weekend that I can hash out the good stuff. The stuff I have been waiting to write since I began. I get excited while I write with where the plot is going and hope to be done at least before the end of summer.
Writing a book is weird because it’s more or less writing itself. I always try to push it one way in my head, but the characters fight back. I’ve given them complete control which makes me sound insane, but I’m serious. My grandma often asks (because she is the ONLY one who is allowed to read it) where I’m going to go next or what I’m going to do with this character or how the book will end and the only answer I can honestly give is, “I don’t know yet.”
She hates that answer, but it’s the truth.
I do, however, know the goals for my book. I know that I want to set an example. I want young people to see that you don’t have to have any romantic relationship to be strong and validated. I want them to be able to relate to a character who is more concerned with her well being than she is with kissing anyone. I want them to see real world issues that swim at the surface of this. I want to them to see so much that I often feel is lacking in YA Dystopian Lit.
I can tell you three things about my book if you’re still there and interested. I’m fairly private when it comes to this because I believe so heavily in all the themes (I also don’t want someone to steal it). Writing, for me, often makes me feel exposed and vulnerable which is not a feeling that I like. Poems that I have shared in the past barely scratched the surface of this nakedness. This book is my child that I do not want to share unless forced. I feel like when I get it published, it’ll be similar to the emotions I felt while running a marathon. Crying, snot, thanking my mom and dad, smiling at the cool shit I did (but damn it! No free shirt), collapsing into happy, proud arms. The usual.
Anyways. Three things. First, the title has been simply Red ever since I thought about it some three years ago. I like simple titles. I am a SUCKER for one word titles. Second, the main character’s name is Kole. She is fiery and average which is another pet peeve I have about YA. Not all characters can be perfectly flawed. Some are just flawed. Kole is a jerk, but she is head strong. And third, my grandma loves it. She’s read ninety-some years worth of books and can’t stop reading this one. I find myself trusting her opinion more than my own in regards to this. She knows.
This weekend and next weekend, it’s on.