23:1 The First Story: Web
Version (15 Chapters)
I held the tiny cell phone to my ear. It was far too small for my medium
monkey hands like the technology had surpassed the point of usefulness
and was shooting for the absurd. It was hard to hold, the train was
simply too jumpy, and I was a bit nervous with what Heather was saying
on the other side.
Luckily, she repeated.
"She died. Car accident. I don't know who's going to the funeral,
but Tony needs someone."
There was a pause, but it didn't mean as much as it seemed.
"So, are you thinking of going?" I blurted.
"Nah....no, not really. I didn't know her at all, but I knew Tony.
Know Tony. Whatever. It's been years since I've really talked to him,
so going now might be moot. I was gonna send a card."
"Yeah that'd be good." That'd be GREAT really.
"Sign my name, will ya? I didn't know him, but..."
"I will. Of course."
Now that was good to hear. Still, I'm not sure why she bothered calling
now, seeing as Christian and I will see her in about 6 hours at the
train station. Not that I mind.
"Hey, you okay?" I asked, figuring it was worth a stab.
She paused too long so I fill the gap:
"Yeah...I just. I heard about it ya know and I, uh...thought of
you... I wanted to hear your voice."
Despite the sad circumstance, I smiled. Man I love her.
"Man I love you."
"You do?" She asks in that sweet way, like a kid confirming
that you just offered to by him or her a toy.
"I love you. Pick you up tonight okay?"
Christian stirred from his slumber across the isle but it wasn't enough
to really rouse him.
My thumb tried to push the off button and managed to push 3 tiny buttons
all at once. A second later and the phone was finally off. Two seconds
later and I was staring at the window at the green blur of trees and
reflecting how I could possibly cope if I ever lost Heather. And we
weren't even married. I chewed my lip a bit staring out the window.
A year ago I barely dealt with the death of a friend, I can't imagine
what losing her would do to me.
Best not to think about it.
Best to think of how far we've come.
Best to think of how in one year, everything's different in ways no
one could have ever predicted.
A perfect picture: Incredible mid-summer evening, the light of the
sun barely pin-pricking through the trees, and the uncommonly cool air
sifting through my open fingers. And if you count two of my favorite
people being in the car to boot, then you have a picture to remember.
Riding down Rhodes Parkway next to the river is one of my single favorite
things in the world, doubly so on a nice day. Unfortunately I was exhausted
enough that I couldn't enjoy it fully. Something about travel, even
if it is by train, that just takes it out of me. We left New York's
Penn Station in the early afternoon after a comical bout with the hotel's
management over double charging and a day's travel later we were near
our jewel of the south, Johnshall City. New York was as tangible an
experiment in suffocation as I ever want to feel. As much as I like
staring at those grand buildings and imagine the various spandex-laden
heros blasting, punching, swinging and soaring within, it is almost
spoiled by the total thickness of the place. Sure, it's a special city,
but the true girth of its population can bother someone who prefers
smaller, more intimate cities that have enough room on the sidewalks
for those that walk them.
Christian and I had gone up by train (thanks to Christian's fear of
flying) to see a Toad The Wet Sprocket reunion concert I'd won tickets
to. Christian paid for the whole thing, and didn't blink at the cost.
His newfound wealth was startling, but I had to give the guy credit
that it was truly enhancing him, not changing him. A tricky line to
walk, for sure. I bitched most of the way up that we were making this
relatively sudden trip just a week after MacWorld, which I had decided
not to go to for financial reasons. In fact, I'd made the decision for
us all... all of us in the site's company that is, as I didn't want
to go if we couldn't take everyone and we just couldn't justify that
yet being so new.
Ach. But I'm getting ahead of myself. More on the business stuff later.
So the concert was grand, the evening's sleep barely existent as we
cavorted in a local hotel bar with the band (setlists were written on
hotel stationary- 'natch) and bedded not two hours before the wake up
call would slam into our ears. A day of travel later and we were picked
up by Heather, looking as incredible as ever. She'd gone through the
trouble of picking up a couple bottles of Arrogant Bastard Ale to celebrate
the trip, to which we responded in a deep moan, our stomachs not fully
recovered from our night's escapades.
The car ride was over not much later than it began, and I dragged my
satchel out of the car toward the townhouse Heather and I shared. Poor
planning meant Christian left his car here instead of just meeting us
at the station, so he threw his backpack into the SUV with a thud and
we slapped hands before he gave Heather a hug and zipped home.
Heather fumbled with the keys and opened the door to our vertical but
adequate home, a gleaming (if small) diamond ring catching the dull
glow of the outside light left on.
It was a ring I'd given her not three months ago.
Right after I could finally afford to, and not long after a premonition
I was in business. I was writing. I was with my girl. I was happy.
Four things that I could have never predicted a year ago, as I spent
an evening laying in an empty apartment wondering if my life would ever
be the same, oblivious to a loss that would rip me apart but offer me
the glue I never had to repair myself with; Wandering the not-so crowded
streets of Johnshall city, in a ratty Def Leppard-patch laden jean jacket
that wasn't even mine. Just about a year ago I was just about ready
to cal it quits. I'd hit the reset button on the life before, but ended
up with a far blanker slate than I'd counted on.
And now, my slate is full, but more importantly: I'm not alone.
Sometimes you wake up and sometimes up wakes you. The cat, Phinster,
was excited to see me back in our bed and even a few shoves couldn't
stop the cat from trying to play with me. Finally he pushed the wrong
button by attacking the covers as my hand moved away and under my pillow,
and his back legs landed squarely on top of my neck... a simple shove
would have been enough but I over exerted myself and missed him, and
a roll-over sent me careening off the bed onto the floor.
I'm sure that cat laughed before it took off, scared.
In a drowsy, almost drunk sounding fashion Heather mumbled "Phin,
don't bother daddy" into her pillow and promptly went back to sleep.
I hated that she'd say "daddy" like that. It was one of the
few taglines some guys don't want tacked on until it actually means
something, or at least until they don't feel so creepy about actually
being a father.
Hell I wasn't even responsible enough to clean the cat box regularly.
With the morning coming into focus an hour before my alarm, I woke
The horrible cup of instant coffee settled into the palm of one hand
while the cat settled underneath the other. Like a suburban pariah I
stared from our second floor townhouse spare bedroom in a large leather
chair, out towards the city and hills.
Let it be known that I can over-romanticize a city. Be it my trained
mind to imagine a superhero or villain dancing on rooftops like stiff
rain, or whollopping each other on and through buildings in new and
different ways, the stuff of cities is addictive for me. At the time
my mind was particularly potent, a pleasant offshoot of having a relatively
creative job and a warm cup of coffee and cat in the mornings. But the
biggest help was our view. Just beyond several tree lines rose the sprouts
of the city. Beyond that grew the first of many buildings partially
obscured by the other town homes in the foreground. But it was enough.
Enough that on a misty morning I could daydream. Pulling myself out
of slumber with a slow string.
Our townhouse faced that side, through windows in our first floor dining
area and second floor spare room. The rear of the pad, through a large
bedroom window and sliding glass door in the family room, faced more
mountains than you could paint, severely blocked by the rear end of
other town homes. Luckily a hill dipped some of the community low enough
that a second-floor view like I had now wasn't too interrupted.
Phin wiggled and stood up on all fours to stretch as high as he could,
quickly returning to his curled position once the exercise was done.
He was a good cat that endured my fat jokes and the constant misnaming
by our friends Christian and Jackson. They loved to refer to him as
"Sphincter" instead of Phinster, to which I would laugh and
then get shoved by Heather (shoving me for their joke was worse than
name calling a cat I would argue, which would illicit a second shove).
Christian and Jackson came over as frequently as close friends do, which
is to say with decreasing frequency as you get more and more attached
to a significant other. I'd like to think it was because we all had
such busy lives, which was true but unconnected to their visits. Unfortunately
it was because they saw less and less room for them in our lives. We
saw them once a week, at least. But when you consider the multiple-daily
presence of friends and acquaintances in college, the working relationship
life looks pretty barren. Heather and I were happy, but it was certainly
a different kind of happy, not better or worse as some marriage counselors
would have you assume (in order to persuade you to not reconsider the
life of a bachelor). "Create your own world, someone once
told me, but they failed to include any instructions on how to merge/collide/coexist
when you have two very different and distinct worlds trying to merge.
My world at the time was influenced heavily by the events of the last
year. Jobs flying by and changing like the appearance of kites on the
beach. Some dove and swooped at times, and others crashed or found no
wind despite their merit. Heather had gotten me a number of the jobs
in order to get me back on my feet.
"Back on my feet from what?" Would be a good question to
answer right now. A bird sailed by the window about that moment and
Phin's back claws dug through my boxers long enough to get an "ouch"
from me. He dismounted and paced the ledge long after it was gone and
returned to my lap in time for me to reflect on my recent history.
Suffice it to say after college I encountered the "real world"
with all the ambivalence a slightly spoiled white kid from Virginia
could. The last college girlfriend I would have set me up with a job,
a place to live and a cushy environment with which to slowly (or not
so slowly) succumb to the idea that I ought to do what she wants me
to do, and more significantly, be who she wants me to be. It was a bit
of a trap that I gladly walked into because I couldn't think of anything
better to do. And once I really awoke to find out I hadn't bothered
to tether myself to anything outside this new world, I left. Took off.
Ran. Escaped. Detached. Having sacrificed a good deal (that I never
really owned or had, so "sacrifice" is probably too strong)
I landed back in Johnshall airport with not a thing to my name except
some old phone numbers.
I hung out at the old apartment of a friend as she moved out, leeching
off the tail end of her lease, borrowing neighbor's phones and considering
my whole life from the bare hardwood floor of a city dwelling. I found
my old college friends in a heap of burnt bridges I forgot I had torched
when I last ran away from this place. Only Christian welcomed me back,
mostly because I hadn't screwed him or any of his girlfriends over,
and through him I met Heather. Over a series of painful but helpful
days my life somersaulted as I confronted, a year late, the death of
a true friend and realized that I was drifting. Lisa entered the picture;
she was an ex who I would learn was also an ex of my dead-but-not-forgotten
friend Allen. With the help of Lisa, Christian and most of all Heather,
I completed a phase in my life that took me from ungrateful ruin to
hope and understanding. If I could bottle it, I wouldn't sell it. Suffice
to say, I learned not to run. And as months passed from that point on
I could feel myself actually growing as a person. And here I thought
those nerves were dead. The help I'd received couldn't have been less
deserved but it was there.
Phin stirred again, and across the room I noticed it was time for me
to finish waking up and get to work. I shook my head to clear it a bit
and sipped the last of the cold coffee. Hunched over once Phin dashed
off, I took one long look and breath out at the city. Change was back
in the air, and I wondered what made me take this note of my life and
surroundings. No matter what the reason I finally felt able to handle
it. I didn't fear nor rely on change to make me happy. Turning my head
inside I looked across the room, through the doorway, down the hall,
through the open door and at the corner of the bed whose sheet slowly
and slightly heaved with Heather's breath. I thought:
"There's my reason. There's why I'm okay right now."
I never dreamed of it being challenged.
Occupationally, I just wanted to be the Ed Lover of a vocation.
Sure, I wanted to be well versed to a certain point on the subject at
hand, but more than anything I just wanted to dance the way I wanted
and feel okay being myself. Try being the Ed Lover of Burger King and
you start to see my problem with the modern concept of employment. If
it was a paper hat, a cell phone or a tie, I really wasn't keen on it-
I couldn't grasp the notion that to make a living meant changing mine.
This meant I wasn't the easiest to find a job for.
"Alex. You need to get a damn job. A real one."
Heather would use that emphasis to distinguish the word "job"
from the extra few bucks I was getting under the table helping Christian.
See, Christian had been hired for months by a wealthy elderly lady who
needed, well, someone to do odd jobs. He was paid an obscene amount
of money to do virtually nothing, but every now and then her senility
caught up with her expectations of Christian's performance and he'd
have to actually do something like mow a giant lawn when the gardener
couldn't make it in. That's when he'd call me and we'd get it done while
Two things happened the end of that November that kicked over some of
#1) Heather brought home an iBook from her new job, and immediately
I had an outlet for some restless energy. I devoured that little green
and white monster, hunched over its clamshell case like that Schroder
kid in Peanuts with his piano. I suddenly immersed myself in the Mac
world: pretending I knew what I was talking about on message boards,
trying to figure out how to add RAM, beat Diablo 2 and reading reviews
of software and hardware we'd never afford. Most internet sites were
easy enough to get into but usually I got bored or frustrated with some
tactics and moved on. Some reviews were so blatantly biased I could
practically see the author excited like a kid on Christmas going to
his or her mailbox to get whatever free stuff a company would send him,
eager and happy to write the next glowing review. Essentially I had
that knee-jerk reaction we all have at some point, "hey, I could
do that" and I meant it.
#2) Christian's sugar-momma died over the Thanksgiving holiday. Her
family was in town so at least she was surrounded by those she cared
for. Christian was paid handsomely to essentially thank him for all
his hard work (haha) and to essentially go away which he gladly did.
A week later a lawyer called him at his unpleasantly cold flat downtown
to inform him that Mrs. Almondrode had left him something. Soon enough
he'd learn that she owned several houses (which was no shock given the
size of her own) and because Christian always complained about his own
living situation she simply gave him one. He was amazed she was even
listening to him, which fits in nicely with how we tend to deal with
Christian. But Mrs. Almondrode had essential found a friend in Christian
of some sort, and thankfully the house was the smallest of them all
so as to not totally upset the remaining family, who certainly received
enough money and possessions between them.
By January Christian had moved in to the second floor of a large Cape
Cod on Outreach Road at least twenty minutes from Johnshall City proper.
It had a large backyard, and the breezeway-connected garage had a second
floor two-bedroom apartment he could (and did) rent out to cute earthy
college women who commuted to a community college nearby. The house
was obviously too big for Christian, but he had no intention of selling
it. On his back porch one frigid January evening we sipped beer out
of his favorite glasses and talked about the future. Through small internet
reviews and an "everyman" opinion article or two I was making
exactly the same meager amount of money I had made helping Christian
(very little). Christian was still living off the pink slip money the
Almondrode family had given him (before they knew of the house) but
was getting restless.
"What do you want to do Alex? I mean for real man." He put
the emphasis on "real" as if I'd tell him I wanted to shine
shoes before breaking into honesty.
"Well...I dunno. I like writing this stuff but it doesn't pay.
I do like the outlet tho..."
"Okay, okay.." Christian tried to sound business like, or
"But I always liked just writing. Ya know like we did that one
time at school? Writing in rebuttals for the newspaper?" I pulled
my jacket tighter as a wind kicked in and sipped the beer between questions.
We sat in a second of silence, which seemed to freeze and hold in the
air. My answer wasn't really the issue here, and the call for me to
ask the same question back was as obvious as the air was dry.
"Well, I'm glad you asked..."
Christian proceeded to tell me how he always wanted to go into advertising,
or at least be a part of a team. He'd met some freelancers from the
city and desperately wanted to just jump in but hadn't a clue, or an
education for it.
"No, not cool. So I've decided to do something."
I looked out into the dark backyard, a single tree partially lit by
the hanging red-pepper-lights from the apartment-above-the-garage. I
waited a moment. Did I hear him say he was going to do something?
"What? Like what?"
"I'm gonna ask the guys I know to group together, work together.
All of us. Here. Make an office out of the downstairs and bring everyone
in one place. And I'm gonna let you be a writer or something, but you'll
be on the payroll. And you can grab a dot com and write for it too-
on company time 'cause that's like sharpening your skills....and..."
My mind reeled and I had to look away- at the slight glow from those
plastic lights on the tree. What Christian said didn't make any sense
coming out of his mouth. I mean, it made sense as a neat thought or
dream, but he was so determined with his words. Not wanting to pop his
bubble the second begged question had to be asked and as he spoke I
interrupted and asked it:
"Christian- sorry, but... What the hell? Where are you gonna get
the money for all this?"
I'll never forget what happened next. In what was quite possibly the
smoothest move Christian has ever made, he reached into the inside of
his tattered Chicago Bears puffy-jacket and pulled out an oversized
yellow coin. It almost looked like a carnival or Chuck E. Cheese token.
He casually flipped it my way and I fumbled to look half as cool catching
it. It was brilliant. Clearly old. Clearly worth a whole lot of money.
I stared in disbelief, setting my beer on the porch beside the lawn
chair and bent over studying it.
"It's worth close to five thousand dollars. And there are six of
these. They used to be Mr. Almondrode's"
"Did you take these? I mean, did she will this shit to you or did
you take these from..." I could hardly believe what I was saying
much less the topic at hand. I was a guy full of questionable flaws
but the idea that Christian just took these from some old lady that
wouldn't miss them was pretty incredible and disgusting.
The look on Christian's face was enough to make me wonder if I was a
part of his plan anymore. He was truly offended I'd even suggest he'd
take them. Luckily, he decided to explain despite his anger with me.
"She said in the will that I could have the furnished house on
Outreach. Of course, when I got here most everything was gone except
a few old couches and random ugly furniture. I assumed the family had
gutted it and I wasn't gonna say anything. But the other night I was
in the basement- "
"This place has a basement too?" Christ, this place was like
the damn Winchester Mansion all of a sudden.
"Are you gonna let me finish?"
"Yeah, sorry." And I was.
"And pulling up some of the floorboards I found his old coin box.
Six of these and some other stuff. I had it appraised and went straight
to the library to put them on Ebay."
A dumb silence swept in at that moment. And I do mean dumb. I couldn't
believe the tale, much less this ending with him haphazardly throwing
these things on Ebay as soon as he checks them out.
"Um. Okay. So, what are they at?"
"Well the one auction of these is at...I think it was thirty-six
thousand last I checked, and the rest of the collection was like at
"Yes. Yes. Isn't that kick ass? Can you believe it? Can you fucking
A question bubbled up during the whole legendary conversation:
"Chris- what were you doing pulling up floorboards in the basement?"
And an answer floated back:
"I was looking for a place to hide my weed..."
When we saw our first robin, and had played our first lively, if chilly,
game of whiffle ball with the whole crew, it was late March. The whole
downstairs was a living breathing creature of beauty. The freelance
buddies had all come together happily, and while there wasn't any insurance
or other normal benefits to speak of, the idea of not scrounging alone
in their home offices and instead buy into Christian's insanely great
and lucky venture was too good to pass up. Plus, he had promise of a
regular paycheck, at least for a month or two, and new computers for
the house (no laptops, to encourage them to do work where we could all
hang out). Christian was bizarrely adept at containing the crew and
making them happy. The cash of course helped, but so did his sincere
need to make everyone as comfortable as possible. It wasn't without
its quirks; Christian had mandatory participation rules in bathroom
cleaning and his Madden Playstation football tourney. He hired the renter
co-eds to come in and play courier so he could avoid paying fed ex costs
to local businesses they did work for. But aside from this boy-king
brainstorming he let the group run itself with an acknowledged ruler
in Cary Shamus, the elder and most effective of the freelancers (who
probably took a risk and cut in pay to even join this ragtag team, but
wanted the adventure) who was named Director. Five others worked on
various aspects. Jason, Tom and Ryan were all the graphic designers
with enough layout experience to justify the experience. Jackson was
already a friend of ours and kept a side accounting job as he joined
up here, handling the books and Christian's pricey whims. Penny was
the only woman in the bunch, but she could handle her own just fine,
especially since she was the most talented and savvy of them all in
all aspects of the ad business (besides Cary).
I had the coveted position of Copy Reviewer and Assistant Director which
meant I essentially proofed what went out and got to help make Christian
make fun decisions when we were doing well and making money, and help
Cary keep everyone on task when we weren't. But most of the time I got
to be in my office. My own office. Christian gave me a great, if not
a little small, office nook facing the backyard with lanky windows.
He got me a G4 to play on so I could write my own articles, and soon
I grabbed my own website so I could rant under my own power, volition
and timeframe. Ghostmac.com was born and all was right in the world.
I had an outlet, and so did Christian as he liked to write reviews of
the games we would get. It was fun, and it was pretty harmonious. The
whole getting started bit cost us some money, and after agreeing that
we'd all go next year, Jackson and I had convinced our totally Mac-loyal
crew that we could all skip MacWorld this year (we needed some sort
of stopping point to the cash-flashing so we could perpetuate the little
experiment). Surprisingly it worked.
Everyone was happy. Heather was more than sated with my new job, even
if she picked on Christian as my pimp while she left for work each morning
for her YWCA battered women's shelter job. Needless to say she didn't
play as much Madden NFL videogames as we did, but she too was doing
what she wanted to do, and with me pulling in real money she could stop
stressing about whether her passion was paying all the bills. In April
we got engaged. We relaxed. Things were good.
It brings us to that day after I got up so early, awaked by Phin, and
thought so hard about my life in my cushy chair before my cushy day
Without waking Heather I left her a post-it note about love and her
and gave her a kiss after showering and dressing into cords and a Travis
tee-shirt. She'd go into work by noon but not get out until 9pm if she
was lucky. She had about three of those days a week. We were meeting
Lisa, an old friend (long story) for lunch so I'd see her soon enough.
I climbed into the little red Escort we got from Heather's parents for
me. Heather's old car finally died and we splurged for her new gas-guzzling
SUV despite my protests. I was more than satisfied with the extended-loan
Escort, especially since I had tarted it up with a bunch of "gawd-awful
stickers" as Heather would say (in reference to my classic and
ugly Alice in Chains and Jane's Addiction montage).
The drive to the house on Outreach Rd. was a little long, but worth
it. That day was strangely not as warm as it had been, being early September
we all figured it was just an early Fall smacking us around after a
Pulling into the oversized driveway and parking behind Cary's car, I
waved to Amanda, one of the over-garage co-eds who was wearing a cute
tight white top with her tapestry-esque skirt. She bounced down the
narrow stairs beside the garage and headed for the shared VW bug parked
on the street.
"Hey Alex!" she beamed.
"Hey Amanda...How's class going?"
"Sucks. But good." She smiled back a toothy grin and somehow
contorted herself into the green automobile in the same way a cat might
lithely disappear inside an open iMac. Away she drove, the din of her
muffler sinking as the bass from inside the dark blue Cape Cod began
to pick up. I skipped up the steps and noticed it was Public Enemy's
"He Got Game" chosen by Christian, no doubt, for the morning
music. It was much to Cary's irritation I could tell as I opened the
door to find him fleeing to the large parlor room-cum-design-headquarters,
away from the kitchen area where Christian was singing along.
"What is game, WHOOO got game?....The GAME of LIFE BEHIND THE GAME..."
He tackled and butchered the lyrics like a drunk shark. But he was into
it, and as I passed the staircase I nearly ran into him jamming his
way around the kitchen, slamming an air guitar to a song which contained
very little guitar to air-to. Christian was wearing a "Phuck Photoshop"
tee some website had sent him after MacWorld.
"Whooo bothered to get coffee?" I pleaded in style, and Christian
stopped in his tracks.
"That was my job, wasn't it?"
"Well you said you were going to."
"DON'T WORRY I'LL GET JACKSON TO PICK SOME UP" Cary yelled
from the parlor and quickly began to flee from the loud music, out the
front with his cell phone. I smiled and laughed to myself at Cary's
bothered attitude, or maybe it was Christian's obvious playfulness,
I forget which. Christian bopped around to the song some more and raced
back upstairs to catch and change the disc before the next track dare
Half an hour passed.
The time was sometime after 9am. We were meeting in what was a sort-of
dining room-cum-board-roomstrewn with papers and designs and coffee
stains on a heavily abused long table. Chairs from all walks of life
gathered to hold our mostly mid-twenties suburban crew, all but Jackson
who was presumably still out getting coffee. In fact, without said coffee
the whole meeting went rather sluggishly and the late summer/early fall
day seemed to bookmark the official end of fun, even compared to the
previous day (being a Monday it would have been worse, but without Christian
and I there the rest took it upon themselves to arrive late and leave
early, we would learn later).
Halfway through a tired argument over .Png versus .Tiff (which had interested
me none) Jackson burst into the room.
"THANK GOD." Most of us exclaimed and started to simultaneously
get out of or chairs.
Cary noticed first, mainly because he had been talking and was still
"What's wrong Jackson?"
He was frozen. The bag of coffee, along with his keys, had already been
tossed on the table to free is hands to lead him into the next room.
"No time to explain- just you...you won't fucking believe this."
Jackson, unlike Christian, rarely cursed and the weight of his words
just didn't hit us like it should have. We barely made it in behind
him before we started digesting the words of the TV newscaster. The
announcer looked stern. Grim, even. And then a picture was shown. Live.
Of a smoking building. Then, two.
We all drew quick, full breaths.
Christian and I were just there.
We'd do this for the next hour for the most part. By 10:30am Heather
was scrambling and alerting me that there wouldn't be a lunch with Lisa,
she's already at work, and 9pm would be incredibly optimistic for her
to come home by. She was doing fine, as was I, and we listed those we
might be worried about. The phone call was entirely too short and by
the time I received it, everyone but Christian and Jackson was gone
already from the house/office on Outreach road. Most had just left,
only staying after our unspoken announcement to go home and call family
out of a duty to not leave the TV unwatched for fear of missing more
The facts replayed like a broken Hall of Presidents, and stung in our
ears and hearts. Two planes had rammed into the World Trade Center,
and a third had cut a notch into our Pentagon. We heard reports that
some or all of the 3 had been hijacked. Later we'd hear about the fourth
that crashed in Pennsylvania, but at the time it was hard enough to
swallow one, much less 4. The video rolled and re-rolled and even new
footage was hard to distinguish. By 1pm the three of us had eaten the
leftover pizza hidden in the fridge so we didn't have to go out or call
for lunch. The couch contained us in various positions of interest and
concern and almost always one of the three of us paced behind or near
the sofa on a phone. We called our parents, lovers twice (in Christian's
case he called his mother twice) and scores of friends.
We were just there. Just. As in a day. Just.
The internet let us down for awhile, being either coy to even load most
pages or behind the TV stream of information by a full ten minutes,
which felt like several lifetimes. When we ventured into the other rooms
to use a computer it was mostly to send/receive emails on the incidents,
but the real reason became to cry alone. Hardly speaking at all, we
spent 6 hours with each other held together by the thin glue of communal
experience and growing anxiety. Each moment seethed like a wound.
By 3pm we were joined by Amanda and Julie, the renter co-eds. They had
their own TV and cable, but thankfully wanted some sort of human contact
like we now needed (our own company was growing stale- we knew each
other so well it was almost like being comfortably alone when we were
together and silent- a feature that was a drawback in that day's need).
Their classes had been canceled and they relayed their stories of "finding
out" and who they might know that would be affected.
By 6pm it was clear to me that the whole world had changed. In less
than 10 hours everything regarded as a success in my life meant nothing
save my relationship with Heather and that of my friends. Maybe that's
all it meant before, but it was clear and without obstruction now. In
that 10 hours two buildings we took for granted, that Christian and
I can't even say we remembered seeing just a day ago, were gone. And
with them the souls of those inside who we also took for granted. Scenes
from the ground sometimes flashed psuedo-familiar street corners so
fresh in our minds Christian and I exchanged heavy looks. The orchestration
of the horrible acts overwhelmed the need to discuss anything between
the 5 people that crowded around the television set.
The phone didn't ring much in the house, primarily because we were doing
all the calling and no one had the number. At 7pm I was in the doorway
saying goodbye, trying to muster the clarity to pick up dinner and take
it to Heather at work. The phone rang, and I waited to see who it was
since Heather often called.
Door still open, I didn't get an answer when I yelled out to Christian
in the kitchen, so I tried again.
"Who is it? Christian! Who is it? I have to go..."
He walked out with a strange look on his face. It was different than
the one of total sadness and disbelief, so I was interested but not
concerned. He held the phone in one hand, covering the mouthpiece.
"Is it Heather?" I inquired more earnestly. If it wasn't,
I had to get out of here and get dinner, I was pleading.
"No-" He began, and it was almost enough to make me leave.
For a second, less palatable reason, my heart sank. Tammy, whom I'd
left in Ohio more than a year ago. Tammy, who I hadn't spoken to in
that same amount of time. Tammy- did she have family in NYC or at the
Pentagon I wonder? Was I ready to pick up that phone and hear her voice?
Did I have choice?
"I told her you were just going out the door and I'd try to catch
you..." he explained, giving me an out. I stared at him for a moment.
"Is she okay? Is she sad- I mean did she lose-"
"No...I mean, she sounds serious but not crying or anything but-"
"But she's not in Ohio."
Shit. Was she in New York? Did she see any of this? Is she calling because
she needs an emotional crutch? Is that okay? What the hell?
Christian berated me like my answer had been ridiculous. Then he hit
me with the news.
"Here." And he didn't mean "here" like "and
here's the phone" or "hear for yourself", he meant "here"
as in the "Tammy is in town damn it and now we have a mini-disaster
to top off the whole god-forsaken day, please don't drag me into it
I'm sad enough" kind.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me."
The air was colder that the temperature read during the day on September
11, 2001. By that evening, it was colder still. If sitting in front
of a T.V. taking in the succession of replayed information and video
conveyed any message as to what was really going on, then surely sitting
in an Escort with the radio off at a stoplight was the furthest from
I distinctly remember that I couldn't stop shivering.
I had left the house on Outreach Road to pick up dinner and drop it
off with Heather at the YWCA- she wasn't even available and I left it
with whoever I thought the secretary was- I didn't recognize her. The
place was a-buzz setting up a blood donation site to back up those in
the city that were getting furious calls. This combined with the general
counseling going on by those who wandered into the YWCA just wanting
to talk and having no one to go to. Within the constant movement of
people and souls and chatter and tears I couldn't find her, and I thought
I'd at least get her meal left for her with the first competent person
Setting the styrofoam container on the secretary's ridiculously overpiled
desktop, I wrote Heather's name on the top with a Sharpie and mimed
instructions to the woman behind the desk, on the phone. She seemed
to understand and I got out of there as soon as I could. Jogging down
the large stone steps, closing my extra shirt in the cold I walked to
my car with the now overpaid meter and left.
The streets were strangely empty. Businesses closed, cars few and far
between. I felt a huge anxiety hanging in my chest like lump of solid
rock. Heather's YWCA was in the heart of Johnshall City, and while the
city itself was small if you looked at its pitiful skyline from afar,
or glanced at it in an atlas, from the inside it looked like any city
at all. Even New York.
My overactive imagination did not come save me that night. I couldn't
bring myself to even conjure a superhero as I drove, pretending he or
she was leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Actually, there was a very
specific denial in my mind as to the existence of such "super"
people. There were no flying heros to stop any planes from hitting any
buildings. What would they have done? The question couldn't even be
answered in those moments, and there was a feeling that my imagination
may have amputated those kinds of questions from ever being answered.
The beings that were in my daydreams and comic books were so absurdly
not real that I was ashamed to even share my mind with them in those
The city was cold and dark, despite lamps. Every noise of my car and
the pavement and the wind was amplified and the thought of any one of
these buildings and the hundreds, nay, thousands who simply resided
in and around them were suddenly lit with the horrible light that many
like them were killed without say.
My head hurt. My body shivered. My eyes were empty.
The knowledge that Tammy was in town hardly entered my mind. I had escaped
the house without taking her phone call, and for a split second I assumed
that bought me time. It did, I would learn in the next days. It wasn't
appropriate to think of her, or my mistakes, or my abandonment of her
more than a year ago. Anything personal had spilled out of my soul that
morning along with my smugness, my cynicism, and the comfortable, satisfied
feeling I'd gotten from that sunrise with Phin on my lap. That moment
in the window felt distant. Peace was broken. In fact, the only personal
feeling I had was that of Heather. Impressions of her and the idea of
losing her (or, despite distance, my family) held at the forefront of
my mind for a moment as the day spun. It would return, and I'd think
of what could have been my loss, I'd think that I spoke to them all
today and they are fine, and then the cycle would continue and that
small chunk of personal reflection would spin to the back of my mind,
the horror hundreds of miles away suddenly taking the majority of my
I couldn't think of writing an article for any Mac publication.
I couldn't think of whether I ate dinner.
I couldn't think of anything but that which brought tears.
Sitting in my car, waiting for a light to turn green at an intersection
with no other automobiles, I was shivering.
That was September 11 for me.
September 12 was relatively similar, but I noticed the sunset and I
got to see Heather briefly.
September 13 I gave blood, saw Heather slightly more, and watched the
sun rise with Phin on the leather chair in our front room.
By Friday, Tammy called me.
The Opposite of Hero
It is probably no secret given the way that I've told my tales that
I've always longed to tell a story of heros and villains; to spin yarns
for an artist where the impossible myths that lay in my head have chance
to breath and seethe. Unfortunately the combination of friends' waning
interest in comic books as they aged, and a total lack of an artist
to prop the words had muted any encouragement my creativity might have
conjured. The events of September 11 and the paralyzing fear of more
to come in surrounding days froze my impetus in a thick cube of ice.
Those pages of my book of dreams were unceremoniously torn out, exposing
only the semi-satisfied career of project manager with Christian and
part time Mac-journalist as the ideal places of my skills. Certainly
not inventing heros. And even more certainly not inventing villains.
We had a surplus of both in those harsh September days. And it looked
to last us many more.
And as always, even a soap opera couldn't top how weird our lives felt
Heather and I were enjoying a mentally healthy meal, the first all
week as our meals went. It was a lunch of tuna fish and tea, nothing
special. But to us it meant a lot in the hectic week. I'd gone in and
worked in the morning with Jackson, trying to finish up some of our
ad jobs that our clients would no doubt need to start cracking on my
Monday. A few of the designers came in, some worked from home. It had
been a loose week to say the least. I was taking the afternoon off.
Lunch with Heather before she went back to work, then I'd either write
or drum. Drumming was my new past time to let out aggression. Londoun,
a buddy who worked at a nearby storage lot, let me keep a set of drums
in an empty unit and come in and beat to my heart's content. I finally
felt up to taking some moments out on the skins. Thinking about that,
I stared out into space a bit.
"Wha- ? Oh, sorry. Just...spacey."
Heather smiled between bites.
"Me too. Yesterday I accidently made 42 copies of my work phone
bill. I was just so out of it, leaning on the machine, and around about
37 I realized what in the hell I was doing..."
We both laughed. Sipped tea. Ate some tuna. The most normal movements
"So, I hear Tammy called on Tuesday."
My tea nearly came out of my nose, tuna nearly shot across the table,
and no movements felt in any way good.
"What? I mean, yeah...but....Um...Who-"
"Christian. Were you gonna tell me?"
"Yeah...I just...I honestly forgot about it some....Everything
And I had forgotten it. Some.
"I know. I know that. Christian told me yesterday when I called
you at work. I figured you would say something, but I thought I'd just
bring it up."
I sighed. Hard.
"So. Um. Christain say anything else? He and I haven't even talked
"He said that too. But he mentioned she was in town."
"Was in town. That was Tuesday-"
"She's still in town. Staying at a cousin's. Her flight was cancelled."
I was disturbed. Not only did Heather know more than I did, she seemed
so savvy with the whole thing. My building nervousness was becoming
more obvious, I was sure, but the very thought that the woman I love
and the woman I loved were any closer in proximity than was normally
possible was devastating. It's not like I was worried they'd get together
and share how I was lousy in bed (an unlikely subject, haha- I hope)
or even what a giant jerk I was at any given time. That kind of thing
had happened once and while my ego was bruised, I survived and learned
how much more important who I wanted to be was over who I've been. That
being said there was something nagging in the air. Something amiss.
Certainly things left unsaid from the relationship long gone between
Tammy and I, and since they would mainly be choice words for my dumb
ass I'd just as soon not hear them now that my lesson was learned. I
could deal with it should it happen, for sure, but if it could be avoided
I'd be a happier guy.
"Then Tammy called here."
I had been spacing again. The back-up bite of tuna nearly shot across
the table in a would-be repeat performance.
"Before you got home, about an hour ago. She seems nice."
"Well...yeah...I.. Oh Jesus...."
What was I supposed to say? I could try and demonize her, but I left
her... The faults of the relationship I had with her had more to do
with my complacency, letting her set everything up for me and taking
no initiative on my own. I could say she was bossy, but I was content
enough to have stayed with her a year. I could say she was mean, but
I never really called her on it the whole time. I could say she didn't
expect much from me, and that'd be very true, but not the most horrible
accusation you can make about someone. And here was Heather, incredibly
cool and understanding about all this, just looking at me twitch from
across the lunch table.
"Don't worry, it was cool. We just talked for a few minutes. She
ah, didn't have many nice things to say about you though."
"I can imagine."
"She wasn't too wordy, but she just said one bit over and over..."
I literally couldn't imagine what it was. Surely some line she's been
thinking of, probably dwelling on.
"Yeah?" I tried to say as un-curiously as possible.
"She said, 'So has he left you yet? He will.' and it's the 'he
will' bit she repeated a few times."
I gulped. It was loud.
"I told her it was none of her business. I told her if she was
going to cross-examine me for mistakes made to her she could just stop
now. And I asked her if she calls up all her ex-boyfriend's girlfriends
for fun all the time."
Laughing a bit, as un-nervously as I could, I noticed a sly smile on
Heather's face. She was in a smart position telling Tammy off, but also
keeping me in the "you better not leave me you little shit"
"Good for you."
"But, then she apologized and we talked a bit longer and-"
Heather spoke quickly now and I my faith in this blowing over quietly
fell to the floor.
"-And so I invited her to stop over tonight after dinner time."
"Just for a bit. I told her that to be honest I didn't want to
hang out, that I didn't think any of us would be comfortable at a dinner
or anything, but that'd it'd probably do you good to see her."
My heart was pounding.
"Why do I need to see her again?" It was an honest, terrifying
question I've been avoiding since I got on a plane to this city in an
all-out run-away from Tammy and the life she'd made for me.
"Because I want her to see that you're happy."
Heather got out of her seat and kneeled down next to me, a soft hand
on my chest and the other on my shoulder.
"I am happy. I d-don't need to prove that to her."
"I know." She did know. "But I can see why she needs
to see you in some form. And if she starts blowing up, she's out, I'll
kick her ass."
"Okay." Feeling not at all better.
"I need you to see her because I need you to face the mess you
She said it in the same voice, the same tone she said the other words.
She meant it. Her being incredibly cool wasn't just because she accepted
me, but because she saw through all the bullshit. She was calling my
bluff, if it was a bluff, that I've been reformed in any way.
"I. I um. I know. Okay. You know I'm never going to leave you,
"Yeah. I know. But if you were some asshole that felt the need
to, I'd think you were even less of a man if you couldn't face me after
you did. Don't be that guy Alex."
We sat in silence. The digital clock did not tick, but it might as well
have. Soon it was time for Heather to go back to work. We cleaned up,
kissed and hugged hard and she left.
And I stood watching her leave from the window, the water in the kitchen
sink running far longer than it should as my mind drifted away.
Londoun was ready for me. I pulled into the storage lot's entrance and
shut the car off a few feet from the tiny booth where Londoun munched
on a sandwich, looking up from what was assuredly a long day of watching
a small black-&-white TV and doing cross-word puzzles. I'd met Londoun
in a bar, and our love for a few select music groups, a good beer and
the old Transformers cartoon made us fast friends. Finding out we both
were horrible but excited musicians only cemented the bond. We were
quite a pair to behold. My lanky, alternative WASP-ish form obviously
using the drums as my replacement work out, and him a largely in-shape
English fellow with broad shoulders, draped in jean-anything and leather.
He was probably a half-foot taller than me, with the frames of his glasses
partially hidden by long, knotted black hair.
We never talked about much, certainly not our personal lives and particularly
not ones dealing with ex-girlfriends, but we could tell our moods pretty
quickly and shared a smile over our particularly visceral jam sessions.
My tone on the phone must have been revealing, since he held up an od
Faith No More CD as I approached.
He climbed out of his booth, flipped the "Out To Lunch" sign
over for the viewing public, locked his door began walking to the gate.
"Dude, what's up, mate...?" He asked, mostly rhetorically
and in his British accent tainted by American slang.
I had my backpack slung over my shoulder and I adjusted it as he fumbled
with the keypad and lock.
"Nothing much man, just itchin' to play. Got some demons to beat
This was me pretending to share lingo of any sort. Then again, Londoun
had plenty of British phrases I aped in totally inappropriate fashions.
I was good for a laugh every now and then when I used "bloody"
or "arse" in casual conversation. Ah, but I meant well and
it entertained the patient Londoun.
The gate open long enough for us to get through, we began the ritualistic
walk to 185, the unit that bore our sanctuary. Strategically set in
the center of the lot, between units he knew were filled with mattresses
on one side and wicker in the other. The sound did carry, but it traveled
mostly within the storage lot's land. We walked like Reservoir Dogs
to it, silent and thinking we looked cool.
Jangling keys, and a loud metal door sliding broke the silence as a
primer to the noise we'd soon make. Inside, our Mecca. Londoun had an
extension cord hooked up inside and we started to unravel it and the
gear we normally set up just outside the door. I'd gotten an old iMac
from a nearby university's fire sale and hooked it up as a stereo inside.
I also knew Londoun used it at night to play games and, I would discover,
write poetry. I never told him I found his poetry, for fear it'd vanquish
our friendship. But, to be honest for this account, know that it was
surprisingly good and delicate.
We had two long headphone cords which we plugged into the iMac's dual
jacks once it was on. Londoun placed the CD onto the tray and in minutes
we were already hearing "Midlife Crisis" faintly playing on
the ear-pieces that hung on our necks.
Everything was propped or assisted by milk crates in typical garage-band
fashion. Even the iMac (which we had named "Optimus"). His
amp sat outside and my set lived essentially where it always lay, in
the center of the unit. Beside me was a milk-crate of snacks, mostly
half-eaten Pringles cans and warm plastic water bottles. I undid my
backpack and added two bags of Fritos to the collection, and set two
CDs on a crate near Optimus. Londoun retrieved his bass from its case,
and started the tuning and plugging as it hung from his perfect strap-bearing
From car to actual performance ran about an hour. Between the time it
took to set up, chat some small talk, and fiddle with our respective
instruments the CD had nearly played its course.
I leaned over from my double milk-crate seat (padded with an ugly pillow)
and reset it with a mouse-click. Londoun and I exchanged a very serious
rock-band glance and put our headphones on. And the playing began.
For the record, we weren't bad. We weren't good either, however, and
I'm positive outside of the headphones we were just a notch below listenable.
Londoun wasn't fantastic on bass, but he was fun. I had a tendency to
get caught up and ignore certain paths to a song, but had a great time.
I drummed like I would die if I stopped. Neither of us would probably
ever get any better, but to our delight we never got any worse. The
bag I brought had a towel which I used frequently. Londoun chugged water.
The sound slapped and careened around the storage facility like a cave
collapsing. And even more like a cave, we were entrenched in some sort
of primal therapy...we'd be talentless alone, but together we channeled
some Mammoth-killing champion who'd walked the Neanderthal-filled valleys
where this Rent-4-U storage lot once stood. I'm positive we'd both be
mortified on a stage anywhere. I'm doubly positive we'd suck even if
we weren't. We'd found our niche, and every week-or-so we filled it
with such a cacophony it's a wonder God didn't tell us to turn it down.
It definitely got my mind off of things, even as big as Tammy's appointment
for destruction happening later that night. It even, however briefly,
got my mind off of the September 11 attacks (which Londoun and I never
directly spoke of, which was actually pretty refreshing). Select tracks
from three CD's and some improvisational jamming later, we were spent.
Londoun had to get back to work, and I had to- well, just get home I
suppose. Londoun's boss was the coolest for letting us keep all of this
stuff here, and Londoun repaid him by being one of his most loyal employees
that would take the night shifts without whining, but we had to watch
our time. The iMac's beep of an alarm went off inside a 3-song set of
"Gorillaz" and we sighed hard, removed the headphones and
lazily started to pack up. I brought a change of shirt and a hat for
my untamed sweat glands and hair. Londoun had a towel and more water
back at the booth, but swiped one of the new bags of Fritos for his
evening snack with a nod to me for having brought them.
Actually, it was Heather's idea to pick up more snacks; She'd never
met Londoun, but knew how much I liked our playing time. Just another
thing that made me pause and think of her, and in an instant as I imagined
Tammy and her and I in the same room, all the therapy provided by my
music session was almost obliterated.
Londoun walked me to my car and we exchanged some "hell yeah"s
and a handshake before I climbed in. The car turned out of the lot and
I was immediately out of my cave, and into the scary outside world of
ex-girlfriends and terrorists.
It was very near all I could muster. In the previous hour I chatted
it up on the phone with Christian while I waited for Heather to get
home with dinner. She did, and we ate and talked more about the 11th,
her job, and the new Everything CD. In fact, when the doorbell rang
I honestly wondered who it could be. On my way to the door my heart
dropped when I realized who was probably on the other side. Without
looking through the peephole, I cavalierly opened the door. And my fears.
Tammy stood the filling the same 58 140-something-pound
space she had a year ago, but with far more confidence and smug demeanor
than I remembered. She was always a confident girl, (I mean woman) but
there was an air of supremecy to her stance knowing shes barged
in on my life, in probably a similar way that I bailed out of hers.
To be honest, she looked great. Her shoulder length blonde hair curled
to frame her lean facial features (punctuated with an all-too-red lipstick).
Her thin arms and legs were clad in an all-new set of fall colors and
clothes I hadnt seen before, certainly deliberately chosen for
I contemplated hugging her, but itd be seen as awfully presumptious.
Not that it wasnt thought of. Not that I didnt think of
how my hand would surely linger down the small of her back as Id
Did all of this occur to me as I stood at the door? Of course not. But
hindsight is not only 20/20, its X-Ray and the thoughts are dissected
with the knife of imagination and the possibility of impulse. At the
time tho, all those combined feelings unraveled into an unceremonious:
My stomach clutched itself up into my chest and met my heart, trying
to hide in the same nook under my ribs.
Hey yourself. She said calmly. Surprsingly, in fact. I stepped
away and invited her in.
Theres a bit of a strange, somethings-not-right feeling
about two very different parts of your life converging. And the very
thought of Tammy strolling into the home Heather and I have created,
however quickly, never crossed my mind. She was cautious as she stepped
in, and Heather met her in the hallway.
Hi. Im..um, Tammy. Tammy offered in a far more awkward
than her stance at the door suggested shed be. But then again,
she had two opinions to pitch here: One, that I was the asshole shes
been itching to confront for a year, and two, shes having to inconvienece
a very nice (although misled, Im sure she feels) woman in the
Heather. Come in, have a seat. They disappeared from view
and it wasnt until Phinster made a break for the still-open front
door that I snapped out of the daze. Bending down to stop him with one
hand I shut the door with the other and could hear a conversation start
without me and decided I should get the hell in there.
Briskly, I moved in from the hallway to find the two of them on the
couch, sitting at the furthest ends they could be at. Tammy sat squarely
at the corner, definitely facing Heather but enough at the edge to spring
to her feet and run away if she had to. She essentially sat like she
was about to leave, which was fine by me. Heather was more relaxed,
but still resided at an extreme enough position on the couch to leave
a large gap between them. Like I was going to sit there. Haha. I went
for the recliner. It was the place Id hoped Tammy would sit in,
so Heather and I could do that nice couple motif on the couch and Tammy
would be more the third-wheel, hopefully inducing her to leave sooner.
Now I was there, making the situation strangely dream-like, floating
on the outside, observing two incongruous characters from my life.
Tammy and Heather. It was like peanut butter and arsenic. Tammy (short
for Tamara, but there was nothing warm and round about her personality
to warrant using that name) was a cynical, flippant person who needed
Daddys wallet as much as she needed his encouragement. Our entire
relationship felt like an extra-curricular activity from real life,
skating past true responsibility and depth because, hey, who needed
it when you could sleep-walk through job interviews, graduations and
weddings? It was the latter that spelled doom for us eventually (insomuch
as I hit the road when it got to be a hot subject). Boyfriends of the
world beware: Attending more than 3 weddings in a single year with a
woman suggests something. Im not sure exactly what it suggests,
or even what language its in, but the thoughts float around by
that third one, and some girls get the notions as they plan to attend
the first. Its not a bad thing. Its just a thing. You see,
our relationship was so flippant I dont even have clear definitions
for what went on. It was the Swatch version of going steady
that happened to last awhile. Sure, our hearts were in it, and Im
sure (positive) I broke hers in leaving, but for goodness sake our song
was Bon Jovis Shot Through The Heart for the first
few years. It was a huge joke that precluded its appearance on all our
mix Cds for months. (This was entertaining by my count; My mom made
me return my record of Slippery When Wet back to Roses when she read
the lyrics.) After seeing the movie My Best Friends Wedding umpteen
times Tammy insisted we pick a more meaningful song and settled on something
by Phil Collins, I think. It didnt appear on any mixes.
Heather was the total opposite in demeanor, but not in looks. If I was
to gain any smile from the situation of them both being in the same
room it was from the simple observation that they were both attractive.
Anyone in their right mind would note I was the lucky one in either
situation. But Heathers good looks shone through regardless of
what she wore, and she rarely seemed to spend any time worrying about
her appearance. She had no reason to worry, but I suspect she didnt
worry because she didnt care, not because she was overly confident
in her natural beauty. Her spontenaity decorated entire days on long
hiking trips and picnics, but never cheapened them. She had good, nay,
great parents who didnt seem to spoil her. Her favorite song changed
by the day, but any reprisal could spark nostalgic returns to a particular
moment like a summoned slide show. Her attention to detail was rivaled
only by her patience with words and people. This combination made her
a natural healer, and an incredible partner to my goofy but meaningful
exploration of life.
And there they sat. And chatted. Topics trailed from current job positions
to finally an air-clearing announcement by Tammy that finally made me
break my daze and silence.
Look, I came by here to say hi. I dont want to stay long,
but I just want to say that Heather you seem like a nice girl- and
She trailed off. A hand took off towards her nose. Aw shit, she was
Sorry. Sorry. I told myself in the car I wasnt going to
Its okay. Who said that?!? I wondered
of course. Tammy had roped an audience in her and suddenly the Bitch-aint-gonna-push-me
attitude from the phone call gave way to sympathy for the devil. Of
course its debatable who the devil was in this situation, but
Ill leave that internal discussion alone.
Look, its just hard to
hard to see him again.
She was crying full-on. Heather slid over from her opposing end of the
couch to the center and touched Tammys shoulder. With that line
I was officially a spectator in what had now become a sick improv-performance
of This Is Your Life.
Its okay. Youre right to be angry.
I would have rolled my eyes if I didnt think itd get them
gouged out by these two.
Dont get too close. Not unless youre REALLY, REALLY
He can be so sweet some times, and then be such a bastard
he left me he can leave you and suddenly youre left with nothing,
tossed to the street
There were some even more lurid references to being left out in the
e.t.c. but I frankly didnt catch them all between her
sobs. I was sorry, yes, but not stupid. The rich girl who was left
had no expenses, tons of rich friends, (all hers, none mine) was in
a job where she essentially did nothing for a free paycheck, and held
the keys to a BMW and a $2,000 apartment all paid for by Daddy. I admit,
I broke her heart. But given our depth she could have bought a new one
made by Sony and had it FedExed.
its okay Heather interjected as
a soothing mantra, careful to not agree with her, but leaving her real
take on the situation a mystery enough that I couldnt feel confident.
Eventually there was a sort-of silence, punctuated by sobbing, that
cleared unnaturally quickly as Tammy composed herself. I couldnt
tell if she thought she caused the damage she wanted to cause, actually
felt personally better by saying what she did, or just was terribly
confused and now a bit embarrassed.
Um. I- I should go.
Heather cut in with a razor-line nobody expected:
Yes. Yes you should.
Tammy looked startled. She sobered up very quickly and stood.
Sorry for crying, thank you for being there
line was drawn between her and Heather with her eyes and Heather didnt
bite, she looked at me instead. Looking at me was something Tammy had
refused to do since the doorway, and she didnt seemed inclined
to start then.
Heather walked her to the hallway and like an emotional baton passed
her to me. Heather, who had no problem looking right at me, coldly nodded
the full instruction for me to walk Tammy to the door, maybe even her
car, and do it alone. I reluctantly nodded. Tammy just headed for the
I followed her there, and since she didnt turn around to address
me in any way, I followed her out to her car.
Imagine how surprised I was to find it still running. With a giant guy
behind the wheel. Who didnt look happy that Tammy came out crying,
much less with me behind her. Eight steps outside the door I stopped
following and Tammy got to her car door, dramatically paused, then turned
back around and walked toward me.
In the movies, this was normally when the guy got slapped.
Then Tammy slapped me.
Fuck you, you little jerk. I never wanted you anyway you loser
She muttered very clearly under her breath. I heard the big guy open
his car door.
Tammy looked behind me and whirled back to the car, which seemed to
jerk backwards and out of the parking lot with the urgency of a bank
robbery. I stood mainly motionless, nursing my physical bruise as much
as the light emotional ones. Actually, I almost smiled, thinking I got
off pretty light compared to what could have happened. Of course, Im
not sure what the alternatives were except for maybe a Stinger missle
through my gut, but I am glad she opted for slapping me over a knee-to-the-groin
If this were a movie, the foreground of me rubbing my face would be
suddenly refocused to highlight Heather in the doorjam in the background
in a quick motion. She was holding Phinster and a wicked smirk.
You deserved that, you know. She said loud enough before
turning around and heading inside.
What does healing look like? I suppose it depends on the wound. Funny
how you don't really feel healing, not directly, or at least not as
directly as you feel pain.
All this tumbled in my head as I stood outside my apartment, my current
and former loves gone (one in a car with her burly new boyfriend, and
one inside our home with our cat). My face was still sore from the first-rate
slap Tammy had given me. And maybe worse yet, the strange lull between
Heather and I had gotten more enigmatic.
I turned around and strolled inside the house. Heather was taking a
drink back into the family room, where she promptly plopped down on
the couch and flipped through a magazine she wasn't interested in. I
came in, arms crossed and preoccupied with looking at my feet, and sat
on the edge of the same recliner I was in for the horrible conference.
"So.." Heather started to say and then stopped. She shook
her head between page flips and started again a moment later.
"So why the hell were you so quiet? Why'd you let me just talk
to her? I don't even know her and here she is crying and-"
"Look I didn't know what to say, but I didn't think you'd start
"Don't get shitty with me Alex- what was I supposed to do, let
this complete stranger break down on our couch and just watch her like
a zoo animal?"
This went on for a bit. It was not unlike some fights we had, at least
after awhile, because we were arguing in circles. The room broke its
momentum, however, when Heather got off the couch.
"I'm going upstairs, just leave me a lone for a bit."
And she did, and I did. And that was very, very different than normal.
I sat on the edge of the recliner, fingers entwined, looking straight
ahead for half an hour. Thinking nothing. Then everything.
Had we begun all too fast? In one year were we ready to act like we
were something we truly weren't?
Was this relationship just as shallow as the one Tammy and I had, just
on a different level? Were we fooling ourselves?
Or did I ask all these questions because it helped feed the Soap Opera?
Now that stuck with me. Our life was nothing extraordinary in practice,
but it was an evolving, lucky mess of great things. My job(s) aided
by Christian's windfall allowed me to do essentially what I want to
do right now. Zero to hero in 12 months. Heather's great and I haven't
even the slightest desire to date; there is no little devil making me
miss the rat race of the single life. And I'm here to over-think everything
It was difficult for me to point at and determine what all this meant.
Heather and I just survived one of the more nightmarish scenarios of
a relationship. So why didn't I feel very triumphant in the moments
afterward? This slice of my life didn't feel very fresh or healthy.
I could have used a hug from Heather, but she needed her own time to
digest all this. Maybe make some decisions. Maybe decide how to break
my heart, I thought.
Things seemed doubly melodramatic because of the attacks. Everything
was charged with a strange energy, especially if you bothered to listen
to the news. So events in your life which were meaningful but not horrible
were quickly thrust to hyper-real for what felt like no apparent reason.
Then again, maybe they should have always been treated as such, and
the attacks just helped us not take everything for granted. Some had
taken to calling the effects the death of irony, which I though was
stupid (akin to saying "the death of metaphor"). If it was
anything it was the death of comfort. at least for awhile. The maiming
of comfort. That was my new branding. I pretended it helped understand
the situation at the time and stood up.
I strolled to the fridge and noticed two beers left. Drinking by myself
seemed a bad idea. I called Christian.
It was time for that bar scene in the soap opera, where the main character
hops on a stool and stares into
his glass in a far more broken way than he really is. It's time for
that buddy pat on the back, that reassurance tinged with the wrong,
incomplete perspective which somehow makes sense. It was time to get
my mind off everything, which was quite possibly the wrong thing to
Christian came by to pick me up. Literally and figuratively.
I met Christian in the parking lot of the townhouse complex, not wanting
to chance him coming in and saying anything goofy in front of Heather
and I. From my tone on the phone earlier he probably gathered that we
had an argument, but he's not the most emotionally aware person. Or
armed with many weapons of tact, for that matter.
When I hopped into his car he was turning off a cell phone he'd no doubt
been chatting on while driving poorly on the way here. He tossed it
into the backseat cavalierly and clapped me on my knee.
"How are ya. You sound down."
"Gettin' there. Tryin to get up. Beers?"
His car ripped itself backward from the parking space and he switched
gears to start us forward. That's about when I noticed Heather.
She was standing in the upstairs window, in front of the leather chair
I often sat in. She was looking down at us leaving. I felt like a heel.
It was perfectly fine in the scheme of things to go out for a beer with
Christian, but I couldn't help feel like I'd totally boggled the conversation
with Heather. Is this the part of the movie of my life where I leap
out of the car, run up the stairs and embrace her? Is this where I wisen
up? Or is this where I cut my losses in our evening's argument and be
thankful I didn't piss her off more than I'd already had? I know she
needs space when we fight, usually I pressed the issues so hard before
she had a chance to regroup that it made everything worse. This was
I dorkily smiled and waved to her. The glow from the light in our bedroom
barely reached the window to outline her. In the evening sky the slight
light seemed to halo around her. She uncrossed her arms and slightly
waved back to me.
I nearly jumped out of the car. Nearly. By the time I realized I should
have, we were at the bottom of the hill and making turns at traffic
lights. I officially felt like an asshole about three blocks from our
We pulled up to Humphery's and scored an unusually close parking space.
Inside, we sought our way to the bar and promptly got a couple of local
brews and an order of nachos under way. Christian disappeared to the
bathroom for a moment, and in that time I realized I was sulking.
Sulking, hunched, in a bar, alone, over a beer. Exactly what I hoped
I wouldn't be doing. Not just this evening, but with my life.
Christian emerged from the bathroom. I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable
with my station. The nachos arrived. We ate.
If it doesn't sound exciting, it's because it wasn't. We were pretty
quiet. Christian was a great friend, but not in a terribly serious way.
I had no idea how to talk to him in "dude-speak" about Tammy,
or Heather, or the fragile emotional situation I'm afraid I just busted
open at home. He couldn't possibly understand or even begin to comprehend
the complexities involved. Could he?
I stared into my beer long enough that when Christian finally said something,
I didn't hear him.
"Huh?" I asked my beer.
"Time for me to give up my seat."
"What? Why?" I looked away from my glass in confusion as he
hopped off his stool and turned at enough of an angle to let someone
by... Heather. She crawled up on the stool, handed Christian his beer
and ordered a water. Christian started to shrink away, over to an empty
seat at the end of the bar, several seats down. I was agape with brow
"She needs to tell you something." Christian enigmatically
mouthed to me with an exaggerated finger pointing. He mounted the stool
at the end and effectively vanished into the bar crowd. I finally turned
to Heather, who was already staring at me.
She looked good, at least more composed than I expected. Not that I
expected to see her. She looked down at her hands a lot and infrequently
slung her eyes up at mine to see if I was still paying attention. This
lasted awhile as she said "um" a few times.
"What is it?"
"Just...just shut up for a second."
The lights inside my head turned off and the upright, defensive posture
I'd taken fell to one of a slayed dragon. It was not horrible news and
I didn't mean to react as such; the weight was one difficult to hold
with one emotional hand.
It sunk in.
Heather started to cry, misinterpreting my initial reaction. But to
my discredit, I didn't really notice this right away (I was a bit self-absorbed).
I started to smile.
"Oh my god..." I began to repeat, each one subsequently louder
and happier than the last.
"That's so perfect, so wonderful..."
Heather looked up from her hands, tears in her eyes, and finally saw
how happy I was. I kissed her, hugged her, and stared at her.
She started crying a second time, but for better reasons.
Christian was almost falling over in his seat trying to lean back far
enough to see my reaction. When he saw me look for him, he slingshot
forward and almost knocked his beer over.
"Get over here you goof!" I called to him. He happily started
to come over, stopped, went back for his beer, and started back over
"I just couldn't believe it when it dawned on me somebody had
sex with you..." he congratulated.
Heather smirked into a laugh and popped him upside his head (and he
instinctively covered his beer glass so none would escape in the fray).
There was a moment of silence as the three of us smiled to eachother.
Heather and I were incredibly distracted with our hands intertwined,
and she broke the quiet and asked a question:
She looked to me, then to Christian.
We started for the car.
If there was ever a distinct second chapter of my life beginning, or
at least the definitive closing of the first, it was that moment in
the bar. I wondered how many epiphanies passed through saloon doors
that truly panned out. How many names of suddenly legitimate children
had been chosen over a bad pint of lager. The world suddenly seemed
less full of rain, and the thought that the first 25 years of my life
had been full of anything worth chatting about, much less fretting publicly
over was repulsive.
It didnt feel like a waste, it just didnt compare.
Without batting an eye, the decision to leave the bar was accepted unanimously
and we made our way to the cars. Heather got into hers, which Christian
and I nearly protested. We didnt think she wasnt capable
of driving, and its possible the instinct was chauvinistic, but we bore
the full weight of her being pregnancy with the clumsy thoughts of two
non-dad-ish figures. We simply didnt want her to drive. Or do
anything. But her instinct was just the opposite at the time and, in
fact, the metaphorical appropriateness of her driving for our late night
visit to the beach was sharp.
I sat in the passengers seat. Staring mostly straight ahead into
the blackness that the headlights spilt. When I looked at Heather, every
single time, I fell in love again. And in a strange twist on a males
usual attention, whenever I looked at her my eyes drifted down
to her abdomen where my son or daughter was beginning.
In fact, the more I looked to Heather, the more I found myself looking
Chris fell asleep at one point and it felt more like Heather and I were
alone. She rested a hand on my knee and patted lightly as if I was ill.
Maybe I was before that night in some way. Before then, Id been
blissfully confident that newfound career, romance, direction and home
meant happiness. And in an effort to not sound ungrateful, they mostly
do (they come dangerously close). But not truly knowing why means a
gap in that appreciation. And my young heart combined with my young
head could not have seen far enough ahead to know what really matters.
But to have some of that magic stuff so early is almost too lucky for
a young WASP lad like me. It would be months before Id legitimately
wonder if I deserved everything I had handed to me, and the answer lay
in the fact that I could answer those questions better through an example
as a father. But, that still never answered the question. It may never.
The car ride was over far shorter than I remember the trip being. Chris
awoke with a jolt as we parked, and inexplicably we were all fresh and
awake to stumble down to the beach.
It was cold, so we pulled our jackets tight like our mothers told us
to. Christians wouldnt zip up since he broke it the second
day he owned it, but his sudden running about in the sand wasnt
conducive to restrictive clothing anyway. I stood staring for awhile,
as Id taken a liking to doing as of late.
The water was feverishly iridescent. Christian made several comments
from afar that it was broken and here he had come all this
way. It was beautiful though. Through the first tens of yards an eerie
green and oddly white shifted within the sounds of waves approaching.
My ears were battered by the same winds that carried a bit of dry brush
across the sand in front of me.
Heather almost scared me out of my skin when she came up behind me.
I tried to act like she didnt, but it was no use. She hugged an
arm and nestled into my shoulder and side.
Are you okay?
She asked me. She actually asked me this, I would repeat to myself.
I was fine
how was she?
Oh- yeah. Of course. You?
We stood in the silence for awhile.
Then awhile longer.
Christian could be heard falling down about a hundred yards off.
Heather and I both smiled and laughed to each other, knowing full well
that this doofus was to play a large avuncular role in our new family
like it or not. It was like a sitcom was being planned as we stood there.
Eventually, Christian came bounding toward us, obviously having given
us enough time alone by his clock.
I figured I gave you two enough time alone- I mean, you certainly
dont need to have sex again for awhile. He smiled, and thankfully
Heather did too, so I felt okay in laughing along.
Cool waves, all lit up like that, huh? I nodded out to
the beautiful night ocean.
Awesome. I couldnt have done it better in Bryce myself.
I laughed. Heather didnt get it, but probably assumed correctly
that it was a corny joke on some level.
We all sighed and the winds blew the evenings hour into us. Christian
made his way to the car with a yawn and fell quickly asleep in the back
Heather and I stood for what felt like an hour. Together. Not as two
people, and not even in the campy assertion of three people, but as
one warm being on the edge of the ocean. Way too young to be confidently
shopping for a new T.V. much less raising a child.
But there we were.
And maybe it was in the calm
maybe it was in the strange waves
it wasnt there at all
but we felt someone smile at us from
someplace. We both confirmed later that we felt something. There at
the beach we would decide that we were right. And it seemed that the
rest of creation agreed, not because the question was perfect, but because
we finally asked.
23 : Season 2
Hopefully Ill see you back in the Spring
23:1 The First Story: Web
Version (15 Chapters)