Sure, I talk to the mirror sometimes. Don’t you? it’s like waking up to someone you know. like that first moment when you know you’re awake. in that moment you tell yourself that. you don’t speak it aloud. But you tell yourself that. when your sense recalls your memory… I fall in love with myself all over again when it happens. and it happens every morning. when I awake and look at myself. today is no different, but today I want to remember more. I want to remember what I see up to that moment when I turn away and it has already happened. I want to see myself and not forget. and then I will wait until the veil is lifted…
it isn’t arbitrary. those first things unforgotten. first love… my first real memories are after my sister was born. those are the first things I remember. before even an image of myself was formed. from perhaps when I was three years old. I had already seen myself in mirrors on my explorations, but that identity was in glass. a stranger I could not love mimicking my movements. the image in the mirror was me and not me, and I had already made that distinction in my short-term memory and moved on to other things… I have pictures now, of course, to remind me. diaries of words written down that show my past faith, but none of this matters on your wedding day, the hope you feel then invested in another person, when you are in love… sure there are moments it comes back, and I see myself in the past and it’s like that stranger in the mirror again, trying to remind me of something, and for a moment I fear I’m doing it over, whatever it was I was doing before. I fear my mistakes. time folds, and I exist in two places. I remember that night at the Mississippi Bubble and the first boy I loved, when he made his choice… but then I remember the only way out is to forget. I remember to live now and not in the past. I look away from the mirror with a new memory… it isn’t arbitrary. what I choose to remember and what I choose to forget. my yesterdays awake with tomorrow. the yesterdays of myself I want to remember becoming my identity today.
today is no different. I just want to remember more. and for some reason it was playgrounds I remembered when I woke up. playgrounds when my arms and legs were too small for the ladders leading up to the slides. I wasn’t afraid of heights then, as a child. I remembered this and now I wonder if for some reason I’m supposed to remember, that this memory and others I recall because it was spoken to me out of the mirror of my identity, an identity I didn’t choose but that was remembered for me. I didn’t choose, but instead was given these memories, and they have become me and what I want to forget, a center for endless reflections… I remember my father in those playgrounds, not his face, even now as a bride these memories have no face'”I just remember his arms holding me as the centrifugal force of the merry-go-round pushed me outwards, out to a world that kept repeating itself in my view, the wind in my face, my mother passing in sight'”a little girl with pigtails and hair blonde then, like my mother when she was a child, hair that has now darkened with age, darkened into the color of autumn wheat. and maybe I remember this because I choose to hold onto it, for they are my first feelings of being loved, and love is everything really. love is the story of our memories. it is our inheritance, determining who we are in the wind.
sometimes in the parts that I want to remember of my life, the parts that first taught me of love, I imagine what exists in the parts forgotten. sometimes I wonder if I was sleeping, and those times I don’t remember are invested in my dreams, that maybe then I was dreaming, which I is why none of them seem real, why those times don’t seem real because what I want to remember of myself from them has the qualities of a dream, and so only parts of it are remembered, like old reels of home movies cut and pasted together, and I’d like to say I chose the best parts, parts that don’t remind me of my fears, but sometimes faces come back, faces that I’ve inherited, faces that I’m sure to see here again today staring back at me from church pews… it’s hard to remember my childhood when I awaken from it, when I remember the boy, the first boy I loved. it’s hard to remember just like every new fork in the road can make me forget where I came from'”the memories become like past lives, details in odd juxtaposition, and when the people and places from those memories recall them to me, the stranger in the mirror begins playing behind my eyes, and I question what I didn’t in childhood'”it becomes hard to make that distinction and I question which is really living, which is really loved'”what I’ve already seen or what I’ll remember of it moment later, and that’s when I realize my memory is my future. that the future is now. that love creates it. that each new memory formed creates it.
there are all kinds of awakenings, and I guess with each one something always gets left behind, something of myself better left to dreams, but with each awakening something new is also there that wasn’t there before, like when I awoke to my mother’s gift… it is one the home movies I have in my mind, a memory from my childhood, from before I knew a boy’s love, and I can still see myself waking up to find it. she had placed it on my bed late the night before after finishing it, and even now I see the patterns the colors arranged, how all the parts came together to form a breastplate, even now I see how the world looked to me then when I wore it. I see it just as easily as I see myself in the mirror now all dressed in white. because I’m still that same girl. I’m still the same girl as when I wore it for kindergarten.
at first I didn’t understand why they made fun of me. when they surrounded me at recess, that first day in the school’s playground, pointing fingers. my sister was jealous, but she wasn’t in school yet. she hadn’t learned anything yet. at least about other kids. but the strange thing was what I learned that first day of school, what I learned and then forgot'”that day I wore my mother’s gift, the multi-colored sweater vest she crocheted… I forgot what I learned that day, and when I learned it later, learned that I had a choice, a choice on who and what I would love and that it was these choices that defined me and made me who I am, I remembered how I learned it that first day in the school playground and I wondered how I forgot. I’m still that same girl, and I’m still as stubborn as I was to the laughter I heard that day, and I have chosen who I want to marry, who I want to create memories with, but now I wonder how I lost that nobility I once had, that nobility of childhood when I was pure, before I didn’t wonder what other people thought of me.
but now I think maybe you are making fun of me. my wedding day jitters. I can see myself telling you all this, and there’s a hesitation in the reflection. sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just walked away right now. I wonder if you would still be here. after the ceremony. the same as when I left. I hate that I need your assurance. and that you need mine.
Eliza reaches for her hairbrush again. She had set it down on her vanity when she paused to think about playgrounds. That seems like just a moment ago, and it was, but when she picks up the brush to run it through her hair, her head tilts slightly downward with the movements of her hands, and she doesn’t look the same when her gaze falls back on the mirror. She isn’t bad to look at as she watches her brown eyes. She is young with that beauty of youth, and she does look good in white. The shadows in her features just look different now in the light because she has changed. She has moved in the mirror. Her position is different. And as her hands move in the mirror the bracelet on her right wrist falls. It catches her attention.
It is worn now for she has worn it for years, from when she was in high school, when he gave it to her. The first boy she loved. Her future husband has never questioned her about it, never asked how she got it, and she is glad he has never asked. It is one of the reasons she loves him.
Though she does not know it fully yet, she also loves him for his music. The music they listen to when they’re together. The music reminds her of something, and though she does not know it fully, she knows it is music from her childhood, music her father played before she even knew words. Old country music. A song by Johnny Cash she hears now in his arms, on old LP’s he kept from his father. “Folsom Prison Blues”. The voice is scratched by the needle on the record, but haunting and familiar, and even though she doesn’t know it fully she remembers it in part, wondering if these forgotten sounds and images are even before memories, before she could form such things and understand time. And in part she knows this music does come from before, from before her memories, and in those moments being held in his arms she almost sees it, that time before she knew time, before her memories told her what her future was, the process of it without language. She almost sees that this is her true identity, this child that is her untouched by the world as yet, it is her but still seeking that same response she feels there in his arms, reflecting on the music and what she knows.
And the bracelet is there on his chest where her hand rests, and she looking at as her head rests in the nook of his shoulder, looking at it rise and fall with his breath, the music from the next room coming into their bed, and these memories she sees in it more than just sounds and images for there are words to them, a process of time, and that is why it is worn now, worn with her use.
he gave it to me in the Garden of the Gods. his name was Peter, and that’s the first time I really talked to him. it was senior year and I had seen him before in the hallways. we might have even had a few classes together. I’m not sure. all I remember is at first I felt sorry for him, and I wasn’t even sure if he knew the other kids were laughing at him, and then when he gave it to me, after I shared my lunch with him, I liked it, I liked it when he explained what it meant, what the letters on the bracelet meant. He had braided it himself, with different colored thread, and I liked that he had given me something he had made, and when he explained what the letters meant, I didn’t feel disconcerted even though I hadn’t been to church much, because he was a preacher’s son, and I kind of liked the look in his blue eyes when he explained what the letters meant and how they sold the same bracelets in stores but that he had made this one himself to remind him better: WWJD?'”What Would Jesus Do?
I suppose I liked it that he didn’t care if other people made fun of him. I knew he did care, but I liked how he responded to it. that day in the Garden of the Gods he acted like he was a victim, but not like most victims I know. he seemed almost righteous about it. the truth was he had no one to blame but himself, and I think deep down he knew that, which is why he acted so righteous, like we had no reason to laugh at him. we knew he was hungry. he had to be. we’d be on the road for nearly three hours, on old farm roads heading east and south into the Shawnee National Forest of Southern Illinois, and the teachers had told us to bring sack lunches, but I suppose since he didn’t want to go that was his excuse not to bring one. it was the curiosity of it that we were laughing at, maybe even because we’d done it ourselves sometimes, being teenagers, that inclination to make everything miserable when we think we’re not getting our way'”maybe we saw how ridiculous it looked, and it wasn’t really him we were laughing at, we were laughing at what we saw of ourselves, and we could because it was from a distance, outside the light of our desires and fears, and we saw how irrational it was, and that’s what we were really laughing at'”that reflection he allowed us to see… but he couldn’t see that. he thought we were laughing at him, and so he played the victim, as we sat there with our lunches (we’d found a big table rock not far from where the bus could stop, partly in the early afternoon shade). he sat with us, but a little outside, his back to us as his feet dangled over the edge, and we knew he was listening to us talk, that he was sneaking glances at our food, and it was just funny how he put himself up on exhibition like that, because if he really wasn’t hungry he wouldn’t have been on that rock with us. he could have taken a walk.
I suppose he wasn’t something to compete for with the other girls. at least not in high school. he was so quiet most of the time, and when he made me feel sorry for him that day, I wondered for a moment if he had gone hungry just so people would notice him. before I shared my lunch with him I didn’t even know he was on the bus… I noticed later after we were together how he could walk into a room, into a crowded place, and sometimes he would have to tap people on the shoulder to get their attention, so that they would move out of his way, and now I wonder if he did what he did because he thought that wouldn’t happen anymore. maybe he thought that was love somehow. that it would change him, change how people looked at him, but I could have told him love never plays the victim. I suppose that’s the problem in getting love'”it spoils us to that fact, spoils us into forgetting that giving love doesn’t feel sorry for itself.
it was different that first day of school in the playground, when they laughed at my crocheted vest, but it’s hard to say how it was different. maybe because it was me they were laughing at, and why, because I didn’t feel like a victim that day. I didn’t feel like a victim wearing what my mother had made… I met his mother soon after that, in church at the door. Peter introduced me to his father then, after we came to hear him preach, after we started dating that last year of high school. I had never been to a Pentecostal service.
The banners are on each side of the pulpit. Two are on the left. The other is on the right. They are the first things she sees. Eliza reads the words in colored thread before sitting down, before looking at the other people readying for the service, the practicing sounds of musical instruments displaced amidst the conversations in progress'”she reads the words before the hush of voices, the lights dimming for a moment to signal the entrance of the clergy. Peter is watching her and knows she has read them, the words on the banners. She looks at him and they know it together, what the words say. She smiles at him to assure him of that.
From the moment Eliza reads the words her apprehensions on what to expect are laid aside. Where they are sitting, in the second row on the right side of the auditorium, under the banner that says Love, the banner in the middle seems almost to be directly above the pulpit'”the word Hope written down to hang above where his father stands to speak to them'”the banner of Faith to the right of where he stands, looking out on the congregation. She likes these words, and she likes how his father talks below them, but most of all she likes the music, the singing, because she thinks about what these words mean as she listens to the congregation sing. She thinks of old country records.
It is even better when she closes her eyes, when she only hears the singing. It makes her think of trying on something and standing in front of one of those mirrors in dressing rooms where her image is broken into different angles. It easier to think of the people singing this way. They are part of her future somehow, and she knows this when she thinks of them in this way, thinks of them as with her there in the mirrors. They are inside the mirrors, reflecting her possible futures, their possible futures. And she likes to think Peter is also inside them, he too is watching with her from inside the mirrors. In that way he isn’t just one voice singing, but all the voices, including hers, because even with her eyes closed she knows she too sings, even though her lips don’t move, even though she doesn’t know the words. She knows he sings the words for her.
I didn’t want her to meet my mother. I was nervous about that, not about what my mother would think of her, what she would say, and how she would say it to me later'”I knew what to expect with that, the reaction she expected of me'”no, I was worried Eliza would think that was what I wanted, and that’s why I took her to see my father preach, so she could know that’s what I came from, but it wasn’t what I wanted, and I thought by showing it to her, letting her meet my mother, she would see that. and she would know of what I was ashamed. she would know what I saw when I looked at myself.
hope is the future you want. like a reminder. I don’t know when I began to doubt what my father hoped for, what my mother wanted. maybe it was seeing the people in church, what they hoped for, what my father inspired them to hope for. I saw what they wanted and didn’t want the same thing. I don’t know when I began to want something else… I know I didn’t want to go to the Garden of the Gods that day I first talked to Eliza. I didn’t want to go because I had been there before, and I didn’t want to go back. now I see maybe I had to to make the first time mean anything. it became an explanation of how I lost her after finding her there again. it explains why today I’ll be in the back of a church, un-invited, to see her marry another man and forget the boy she once knew… I get sad when I think about now, how insignificant it became after it happened'”why I left her there that night on the dance floor, the night of prom, why I rejected her rejection of me by that historical marker before going to the dance, by that road marker off of highway 15 where we parked (a marker saying something about the Mississippi, but I wasn’t listening when she read it to me)'”I get sad remembering it now, how important I thought it was at the time, how I still think it’s important in a way, but now I see its importance is only to myself, only to myself is it important, though I still wish it could be special somehow'”what I did that night of prom, what I did that day at the Garden of the Gods, the first time I went there, when I helped that girl and later that night with what happened with my mother and grandmother'”I wish these things could be special somehow, that I could be special, that the things I’ve done could inspire love, and maybe that’s why I could believe she could love me when we first talked that day, when I came back for the second time, on a school field trip for an advanced biology class (even though I didn’t want to go back), when she fed me, and I gave her my bracelet… the truth is I really didn’t want to go that first time either, that first time I went to the Garden of the Gods. it was a church outing, but my father wasn’t going. we had just moved from Ohio, from a church he pastored there, and the old pastor at our new church hadn’t handed over the reigns yet. he was driving the bus that day. my father was away on a church mission, a preacher’s conference in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and wouldn’t be back until the next day, Sunday, to give his first sermon at the Belleville Assembly of God, our new home and his new job.
he had me sit in the front seat. when we lined up at the bus in the church parking lot he had me sit behind him, since I was the new preacher’s son'”I guess he thought I would like that. it was the summer of my twelfth birthday, and I can still remember the dread I felt… I blame my shyness on my mother, the fears she instilled in me, even though she says I was always that way, that as a little boy I hid behind her around other people, that she couldn’t get me to go up to people'”she says I was born that way, and for a long time I was cursed in believing her, which is why I suppose I yearned for it, yearned for what she wanted of me'”to be born again… I suppose I knew why he had me in the front seat that first time I went to the Garden of the Gods. he just wanted a closer look at me.
the old pastor was retiring, and I still remember the dome of his head. he still let a few white hairs grow, feathered over the sun burnt and glistening scalp, the rest of his white hair finely cut and combed where it still grew along the sides and back. his bald head was all I saw from the front seat, and from a slight profile when he looked at me through the rearview mirror'”his glasses'”I could see the road ahead through them, blurred and out of focus. he was a fat man, with rolls below his cheeks and bushy hairs growing from his fleshy ears. when he looked up at me through the mirror, his eyes were small behind the glasses, hidden in puffy skin, skin already like paper, dotted with small red capillaries.
he wanted to know when I’d been saved. I suppose he was surprised when I told him it wasn’t my father’s altar call I answered. it hadn’t happened that long ago. I’d asked Jesus into my heart as a little boy, before I knew what that meant. I’d asked Jesus to come into my heart every Sunday and for as many Sundays as I can remember. it was an assurance I had to give to my mother in all our daily experiences as a family because our whole life was the church, an assurance I didn’t want to give her anymore after I met Eliza… I didn’t really mind telling that old pastor about it because his voice kind of reminded me of it. he had that same way of talking as that guest preacher did in Ohio when I answered the call, when I became scared, when what I heard in his voice made me scared for my eternal soul, when I was old enough to understand how I didn’t understand what that meant, but I knew fear… it was the pleading in it. like my mother’s, but a man’s pleading, and I was old enough to understand some of the story he was telling us (nothing of course of what eternity meant, other than to fear it as he made us fear it)'”I listened for it was a story about sex, and I was nine years old, just beginning to hear in his voice that same way of talking I recognize more and more now, a way of talking I was growing into, learning its rules even without knowing I was playing along, just as played along with that old pastor as we drove that day to the Garden of the Gods. it was the way I talked to Eliza the first time we talked.
“were you baptized, son?”
“sir, you’re preaching to the choir. my father baptized me the following Sunday.”
“you’re always preaching to the choir when you preach the truth, son… that isn’t what I asked. have you been baptized with the Holy Ghost?”
I know now why I went down. why I went to that altar in Ohio. it was same reason I answered the old pastor as I sat behind him, being sure he could see my eyes when I answered, as he saw me through the rearview mirror. I was afraid not to… it was a story about a boy. a boy who fell into temptation and visited a prostitute. how he awoke the next morning with a message in lipstick written on the hotel bathroom mirror, a message saying: Now I got your wallet, and you got my AIDS… I was listening then, because I thought I might learn something, something about what was still a mystery, and in this case it was acceptable because it was coming from a sermon in church and anything I might learn there of my desires was shared in the hearing of the congregation around me. I didn’t have to learn it with a girl… but then he said there are no friends in hell. that’s when the pleading in the man’s voice changed, when the preacher spoke those words, words not really spoken but more a shout from the pulpit, almost outside the microphone pinned to his suit amplifying the sound of it, like it was alone in the silence after it, the only sound my ears could understand, and to a boy just beginning to see maybe what that boy in the story saw, it was like I could almost feel myself alone with him there in the reflection of the message. I could imagine I was alone with him there as he saw himself, beyond the crude smudges in the lipstick. we were alone together there in the mirror, and I knew I could see myself there because the preacher made me feel his guilt. I knew what stirred when I imagined the woman that took his curiosity, what was forbidden to be spoken about yet was spoken in a way I was beginning to recognize more and more now, and I knew why when the preacher said it I felt guilt, because he spoke of it directly, and I was learning not to say it, not to speak of my guilt directly, but still knowing it was spoken of as I learned to talk to others as they talked to me, as I beat around the bush, but it was different that day I answered the altar call because then the bush was burning, or so it seemed to me, because I could see the message'”I saw the warning in the mirror, and I was afraid. I suppose just as afraid as I was that night of the prom when I told Eliza we couldn’t love each other… I was old enough to know what temptation was, but still so young as to be unsure if I was to hate what tempted me, or hate myself for being tempted, and see no other alternatives. I was tempted to see myself in that boy’s mirror, and I went to that altar because when it was offered to me I thought it was my only hope, my only hope of a different future, and it was the same with that old pastor that day he drove the bus to the Garden of the Gods, the same as when they laughed at me at prom and what I tried to do after'”I guess that old man could see what I wanted, what I really hoped for, because he was still there with me when he looked at me through the rearview mirror. maybe he knew why I could see myself in that boy’s mirror. there were girls on that bus, and by the end of the day I would have the opportunity to help one of them and feel how that felt. I would know a little more about the mystery.
my father baptized me the following Sunday, in a pool behind the choir. and I remember thinking something would be different somehow when I came up out of the water, at least I thought so the night before, as I said my prayers, because since I went down to that altar I had tried to understand what it meant, what eternity really meant, and how what was eternal about me had been saved by a choice I had made… I get sad when I think about it now, on her wedding day, because now I know there’s no choice I can make that can change eternity. I know now that’s not really what the choices are about. that’s not what salvation is. I didn’t tell the old pastor that, after what happened that day, because I hadn’t figured that out yet, because it’s something you figure out every day, but I also didn’t tell him how I really felt about being baptized by my father, or how I was curious about this other baptism, a baptism I heard other preachers, including my father, speak about, a baptism they called a baptism of fire.
“I hoped something would happen after, but it didn’t.”
“hope is not in what happens next, son. that’s vanity…” and this time I looked through his glasses as the old pastor spoke. I didn’t look at his eyes in the rearview mirror. I looked through his glasses as he spoke about baptism. “hope is in what you do, what you have done in becoming a new man in Christ. hope is in what you love, not what loves you. hope is what you believe in, who you trust… without that the future is a lonely road. without that nothing really ever happens… are you listening to me, son?” but I guess I wasn’t really listening by then because I noticed a girl was listening, a girl behind us who made eye contact with me when I acknowledged the preacher in the mirror, and for a moment I felt naked to her.
my mother made me wear a new suit after it happened, not for the baptism'”for that I wore my swimsuit and a t-shirt under a white choir robe'”she bought me a new suit after I went down for the altar call to wear after the baptism, when I sat with the others baptized that morning in the front row, so that we could stand with my father at the end of the service. by then it didn’t really matter. I didn’t dry off too well, and the new suit stuck to me, stiff and hot as I sat there thinking about what I said before my father ducked my head under the water… sometimes it’s hard to say what you wish was different. I’m not sure what I really expected, but I know what I wanted, just like I know what I wanted that night of prom when I let her go, when I let Eliza go because I was too proud… as I waited in the back, the choir robe too long for me, tripping up my feet, I somehow imagined I’d be fully alive when I waded down in that pool towards my father, that the attention I’d meet there would be met with my full attention and handled perfectly. I suppose I wanted there envy in a way. that the people watching from the congregation would want to be me, instead of how I usually felt, with my boy heroes'”imagining I could be them… I’ve never really wanted to be myself. not unless it was something special. only Eliza ever really made me feel that way, made me feel like myself without having to prove anything, but even with that assurance, that assurance she gave me, I suppose I’ve always wanted to be loved for something… I mumbled my confession, but I knew they couldn’t hear me. the microphone hung down from the ceiling, and I wasn’t tall enough standing in the water for my voice to reach it. my father had to interrupt me several times to tell the church what I was saying, and since this wasn’t what I really expected, I didn’t feel really alive in my confession. in fact I felt rather foolish, like a sinner that couldn’t be forgiven for this, that instead of being my father’s son triumphing over sin I was still drowning in it, and when my father saw that I was done with my confession, I forgot completely that there were people watching, even the laughter I heard, the laughter of adults watching a child struggle with rites they were done struggling with'”I really felt dead, waiting for my father to cup his hand over my mouth and nose and hide me in the water. the sad thing was the memory of it was still with me when my father raised me back up, when I opened my eyes and breathed again, and even the applause didn’t matter, because I knew I was still the same. a new suit didn’t help.
I don’t know why I’m surprised it was a girl that made me feel different. I still remember how Eliza made me feel different. the girl I saw in the mirror on the bus that day, the first time I went to the Garden of the Gods, was older than me, in high school, and I wasn’t even in the seventh grade, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t imagine things then, when I saw her smile at me as we made eye contact'”I can still remember what I felt when she looked away. it was like losing God, but instead I wanted her forgiveness.
Eliza didn’t like how it ended. Maybe because she’d seen him before he went down, when at the end of the service he approached the minister at the altar, the youth minister according to Peter. She’d seen him before that, during the praise part of the service, while they were singing. She’d seen him before she closed her eyes.
He looks their age, but she doesn’t recognize him from school. She notices him because of the way he’s dressed'”that’s what first catches her eye'”he hadn’t dressed liked the rest of them, like how she worried over it when Peter invited her. It’s almost like he just walked in from the street, and by the look on his face she wonders if it’s the music that drew him in, like he had been walking, walking all night, and the music he heard inside this church made him stop, the voices through the stained-glass windows stopped his walk and made him realize he had no destination, no reason to be walking all night'”the singing made him see the compulsion in it'”and so he had come in, standing in one of the back rows, alone in a pew, wearing a raincoat. He doesn’t take it off either, wet from the steady rain outside, a rain that had been falling all night. Eliza had awoken to the sound of it that morning, at first not really hearing it, not realizing it had awoken her. His hair is wet, and at first she’s not sure. She can’t tell if his face is wet from the rain outside, or if it’s as she imagines when she sees him there in the back of the congregation during praise and worship. She can’t tell, but it looks like he’s crying.
She can see he doesn’t sing. Just as her he just stands there, his hands resting on the rail of the pew ahead of him, but he has his head held up, his face upturned to the choir in front, and he can’t see her glancing back at him, over the singing faces, watching him stand there in his wet raincoat, tears running down his face, his lips not moving. She likes seeing him there, only taking a few quick glances back at him. She likes knowing he’s there during the singing, and it’s his presence that inspires her when she closes her eyes. She likes hearing the voices sing imagining someone like him is there crying in the mirrors, a part of it, the mirrors of their possible futures, but she doesn’t like how it ended, when he comes down for the altar call. His face is different then. There are no tears in his eyes, and his raincoat is off. He’s not wearing church clothes. He’s not wearing a suit, and when he passes their row to come down to the front, she knows he’s still walking without a destination. The congregation is singing again, a soft-sung gospel song for the altar call, but Eliza doesn’t like the singing now. When he passes where she stands with Peter, she feels like they’re singing to a man on fire.
I saw how the youth minister looked at him when he came up. an old woman was playing at the piano as Peter’s father led everyone in a song'””softly, tenderly, Jesus is calling…”‘”but the singing seemed different to me now with my eyes open. suddenly there were no mirrors to imagine. I saw how that youth minister looked at him as he approached. I saw what he must have seen walking up there, not the faces turned to him from their pews singing him up there, but that minister’s face watching him approach, and I didn’t like what passed over the minister’s face, for he didn’t open his arms to him'”his face didn’t welcome this boy at all'”and when I asked about it, Peter didn’t like how I asked in front of his parents, at the door there as we left, when I met his mother and saw how she looked at me… I guess there’s different kinds of love, but that doesn’t mean they’re not really the same thing, because they all hold something sacred, and I just wasn’t sure'”I wasn’t sure what was held sacred that day I went to that Pentecostal service with Peter.
of course I had my expectations, because even though it was the first time I attended one I had heard about it'”the things that happened at such services'”I heard it from my sister when were just little girls, when my mother took her to one, a camp revival they just sort of walked in on while my father and I were hiking one day. it was a vacation before Josephine was old enough to climb rocks and hike trails without help, and I was just learning to, the summer I first learned to swim. it was a hot summer, and we were camping at Rim Rock or Pond’s Hollow that year'”I can’t remember which'”we liked driving down there because it wasn’t far, and the Garden of the Gods was less crowded then, camping in the Shawnee National Forest more pastoral. We liked it more than driving to St. Louis, which was about forty mile northwest of us, from where we lived in Illinois, and it seemed like we always went south when we got into the car to drive, even though my father had family to the north of Belleville'”there really just wasn’t nothing to the north'”mostly flat farmland, cornfields running along railroad tracks, occasional silos and grain elevators the only thing like trees on the horizon'”we liked driving south because the back roads just made more sense there'”there were more rivers to cross, more hills and valleys, more trees… I remember my sister telling me what they saw and how they didn’t stay long because she got scared'”the people in that revival tent scared her, but now that I’ve seen it for myself I know it wasn’t her that was really scared because I felt it too there, standing next to Peter'”I felt afraid because that’s how they wanted me to feel, and it was hard to reconcile this with how I felt about Peter and his family because I also knew they weren’t bad people, not even his mother was a really a bad person, and I knew his father was a good man. it was just hard to reconcile this fear with goodness.
it’s an old-growth forest, and the rock formations there almost seem to resemble things living. and I suppose I remember that vacation to the Garden of the Gods not because my sister was scared, but from my own fear, because of what happened there, after the accident, when I became afraid of heights. it happened with my sister, as she was telling me about it'”the camp revival she’d seen just outside of a town there, Herod I think it was'”when we ran off while our parents were making dinner at our campsite. our father thought we were out gathering sticks for the fire… it’s strange making sense of it all'”this mixture of childhood memories and the notions I get when I think about it now. it’s hard to remember what I really hold sacred. now that I think of that boy crying in the back of the church, I wish he hadn’t gone up, that I hadn’t seen him go up there. I didn’t like that he needed help. I didn’t like that, and I guess I know why'”because I didn’t believe anyone in that church could help him. it was better that he was just there in the back, his tears to the praise. I liked it better thinking he was not there for our help. in fact, I imagined his presence helped us. his presence helped me, for it gave me a reason to be there. it gave me a reason to look into the mirror… maybe even I saw him as I saw Peter standing next to me'”he was what Peter looked like to me from what he confessed to me, about what he wanted, what he hoped for, and when I closed my eyes to hear the singing I thought about the first time we met, when I shared my lunch with him, and after he gave me the bracelet how he told me a story, a story about a girl he had helped, and for a moment I saw how love was both'”how it required love to accept someone’s help, and how helping others was the only way to begin to truly love yourself, and it wasn’t just one or the other, that love wasn’t some either/or, some ultimatum to the universe'”there was just love and things that are not love, and all of it was happening at once, even when there were times it didn’t feel that way… now that I think about all the times I’ve been there, all the times Peter went there, and my sister Josephine and with what happened with that truck full of kids that night of prom when she went there, her boyfriend Carl driving, I sometimes wonder if there is a locus to certain emotions, certain tragedies, because now that I’m older, now that I’ve traveled far from home gathering sticks and seen places even my father hasn’t seen, seen even another Garden of the Gods (this one in Colorado), I know why home is where the heart is, why home is some place you go, but not some place you stay. I know because I’ve left my home countless times, and I know what it is to feel lost in my heart, and it’s these memories, the memories we have of this, that teach us all we will know of love and loss'”they teach us what the future holds. it’s just strange that our stories happened there, my story and the story of my sister, our first fears and our first love, and now I know why the old rock formations there resemble living things. they resemble living things because we make them to.
“what’d you say they called it?”
“mom said they called it speaking in tongues, but it didn’t sound like no language to me.”
we were walking then. the Pharaoh campground sat on a bluff, and I remember how my skin burned'”I was sunburned from swimming that morning. I’d gone swimming alone, and it was the first time I’d done that. it was also my first ear infection… I’m not sure how a lost my footing, but I remember listening to my sister as we walked, and maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to where we were going because I was trying to hear something in what she said, and my ear was swelling shut'”maybe I was trying to picture it as she’d seen it'”after all I was just a kid then, full of all kinds of superstitions, some of which are still with me, like believing doing someone a good turn will be repaid in kind, and at the same time I wasn’t afraid to have doubts, doubts on injustice, and even believe things like money took care of themselves as long as you didn’t place your faith in them'”as a kid I had all kinds of faith, faith that things happened for a reason'”and that’s why I tried to picture it, what my sister saw, and in trying to see that it was easy to forget to pay attention and watch my footing.
I don’t think my sister was capable of lying then, and that’s something hard to see now, in what I know I myself reflect in certain circumstances'”when I try to form an image of myself and judge my situations. I guess it started in high school. that’s when my sister and I changed, our relationship changed. we weren’t those little girls walking the bluff. it’s when I started to become more than just one person, when at different times if I looked in the mirror I wasn’t sure what I’d see, because by then I was learning you had to be something, and I was learning to lie… sometimes it’s hard to admit that you’re a bad person. that you’ve done bad things. sometimes you can’t'”not if you really want something. Josephine probably would have never got with Carl if I hadn’t got her that job at Wal-Mart, if I hadn’t told her what to say to get the job, and to mention me as a reference because I worked there too. it was just a job so she could get a car, and I had done the same thing. I had done the same thing learning to survive, to succeed. I was learning that you could be honest with people, but not entirely honest, that you chose details about yourself to create an image, an identity, and I was learning how that image changed, depending on who you were looking at. sometimes I would even prepare myself for it in the mirror, and it’s strange what you realize then, when you realize the image, your identity, doesn’t really even matter. you realize what matters is to be convincing. you learn to not see yourself and instead just see who you’re talking to. you learn the language of that, and you become like your reflection when you walk away, hesitant for an audience. you have no past, only the triggers of a selective memory… my sister wasn’t capable of lying about what she saw that day, that day I first learned to swim, when I got that earache, and as we were walking along that bluff a raw truth was revealed, a truth about fear, for I not only became afraid of heights that day, it was also the day I became afraid of death.
from what I can picture of it, from what I saw myself after dating Peter, I can see maybe what the tears are for, why maybe that boy was crying in the back when I attended that church service. I know why I cried that day I lost my footing and my sister had to run for help. and I remember how the tears felt. how they felt like tears of fire… I guess that boy just stopped crying when the offering plate went around, and that was a different reason than why my own tears stopped. I stopped crying when my father showed up. I stopped crying because I had hope. my fear vanished and I knew I would be saved, but I don’t think that was the reason his tears died. his tears died for a different reason, for there was no logic to them. he wasn’t crying because he was afraid… now I think maybe those tears were the only justice he would find. it was the only justice for that boy in church, and they were not tears of regret, not even sadness'”they were just the tears of life, stirred by its abundance, springing from a source that has been touched by the world, giving them their salt. they were a spiritual response to the earth, and they were the same tears I saw in Peter’s eyes that night of prom, after he started the car again and we left that road marker, and when those tears dried he knew'”he knew what would have to happen. he knew something would have to die.
it’s a terrible thing to lose hope. it can make a person go crazy. that’s why I know there’s no such thing as false hope, for faith is faith, and even the most outrageous things, even violence, can be justified by way of faith. it helps us with our fears, because it takes guts to face hopelessness. that’s why I can picture it now. what maybe that boy saw in his tears. what my sister saw in that revival tent. what Peter saw… that’s why I’ve never liked money because of what I’ve had to do for it, but by the time I was high school, after I got that job at Wal-Mart for Josephine, I had begun to learn to justify things I knew to be false'”I had learned of necessity. that’s why when my sister applied, neither of us felt bad about what she had to do at the interview. the boss was Christian, and though he kept his faith separate from the workplace, I knew it wouldn’t hurt for Josephine to mention she’d been baptized. it was a lie, and at first my sister didn’t want to do it, but when I mentioned that car she wanted, it seemed such a little thing. it merely seemed necessary to beat the competition, and competition justifies a lot of things. we do what we have to do to survive, even if it means relying on other people to help us. that was something Peter didn’t want to admit. he’d lost his hope in that because he knew it wasn’t entirely honest. he saw it as using people.
since he felt that way, no one was there to help Peter that night of prom. there was no one there to save him when he cursed himself up on that stage, our high school watching, and since he felt that way maybe he thought all there was left to do is die, all instincts on survival were channeled into that other feeling, opposite of love, a feeling of hatred for life and himself, and now sometimes I wish I’d just lied to him, lied to him like how I told my sister to lie getting that job'”I should have lied and told him he was special'”but I guess it just didn’t seem necessary then, or at least I didn’t know how necessary it was then that I lie for him to have hope, and maybe like that boy in the back of the church, the offering plate just simplified things after that, money made it simple'”it explained things'”and when Peter saw I would not lie to him, maybe he saw what that boy saw, and the last of his pride was lost in that hopelessness. he knew no one could help him because no one can help you face your own death. and I’ve seen it now. I’ve seen how some people die even though their body’s still living. when they lose some image of themselves in the mirror. I know about this now because I loved him. he was like that boy. and now I wish I hadn’t been so honest.
I guess money has its own honesty, its own justice. that’s why in many ways it makes things simpler. in many ways it makes things easier to understand. it makes things less personal. I can see why Peter embraced it as an answer to his confusion. maybe it made it not hurt so much. maybe it helped stop the tears… he didn’t like it when I asked. when I asked at the door of the church. because I heard what the preacher said, what that youth minister said. when that boy came up. I heard it even though it was spoken softly, under the voices singing. I heard it in that moment of silence as the old woman at the piano began playing a different music, secular, a score that did not require voices'”a melody that sounded like Beethoven. It sounded like Beethoven, but I’m not sure. but I am sure she played it because that boy was the only one standing up there (he was standing, not kneeling), and that’s when I knew. I knew they’d heard his confession before.
“well it’s true. look into the Bible. you can trust it. trust the answers you find there. he just doesn’t want to believe that’s all there is…”
his mother wasn’t mean as she said this, but she said it with such finality, and it wasn’t like I didn’t notice how she answered instead of Peter’s father, even though I directed the question towards him. that’s when he admitted he’d prayed for the boy before, when I didn’t respond to Peter’s mother, and it was the subject of their prayers that seemed strange to me. maybe it was why Peter looked to money as a different answer, a different reason for his pain… I saw it after I started dating him. I noticed it when we out to places, how he didn’t like it when we went into places where we might know somebody. he liked how you could pay at the pump, and even getting a simple thing such as a fountain soda bothered him'”he never liked going to the same gas station. he liked being anonymous when he paid for things. and I guess I can see why. it was his imagination getting the best of him, wondering what other people thought of him and what he was paying for. it was like he was always walking with mirrors all around him, and being a preacher’s son he was ashamed he smoked. that was the hardest thing for him to pay for because there were only certain places that didn’t check ID. he hated it when it was same cashier as before, and when he turned eighteen (his birthday was just before Easter that year, just a few weeks before prom) he never went to those places again. even with strangers he liked it to be about money. he read into things in the eye contact. the words said. and instead of imagining like I’m doing now'”imagining what went on in his head when he had to pay for things'”he tried to imagine my imaginations of him. and there was no one there with him inside the mirrors… I guess I can see why he liked it when it was just about money. there weren’t any other intentions to complicate it, and I suppose that’s why he distrusted his father’s preaching. why he heard what was preached, but couldn’t do it. he saw the dancing that went on during praise in the church. how people danced in the spirit, in front of the altar and in the aisle, their hands in the air'”and he wasn’t sure what their intentions were. I think even my sister understood that, because when we were walking that bluff, her not even in school yet, she even said the same thing. as a child she noticed it, how in their need for attention they were holding onto something they didn’t want to let go of. she noticed the timing of the offering buckets, just as I did, just as I’m sure Peter noticed in the laying on of hands, and before I lost my footing I heard my sister say:
“seems like people are more likely to give you their money if they’re scared.”
so I can see why he embraced it as answer to his pain, as a solution to his guilt. that way no one was in control. even the money wasn’t in control, a rendering unto Caesar. it was just an impersonal force setting things in inertia. in his imagination people were merely living out this inertia, the only real movement a trade, a trading of places. sometimes he would tell me about, and it wasn’t like I didn’t know what he was talking about. I did it that day with my sister, when I fell in that rockslide and waited for my sister to get help. as I laid there on the my stomach, trying to hold on and slip no further down the ledge, my knees burning from the cuts. I did it when I tried not to see myself there, when instead I tried to see my sister running, like I was just behind her trying to catch up, and I felt her fear instead of my own. I felt her heart beating in her ears as she ran. I saw what she saw as the campsite came into view. I saw my father see her face… so I can see how it was for him when all he saw was mirrors. it was easier when it was just about money, and I guess he just hadn’t figured it out yet. how no one else should make you feel guilty, and I suppose that night of prom he realized that. no one can make you feel guilty but yourself, and maybe he came face to face with the guilt he felt then, his guilt over his own sexual innocence, a problem he thought money could solve, and he knew why he was guilty. he was guilty because he couldn’t trust me. he couldn’t trust other people, because of his cynicism in their intentions, and though all he saw was mirrors, he was afraid to take a look at himself.
I know how I got that earache swimming. I remember because it was like losing that narrator I always heard when I decided to take a look at my life. I didn’t want to look at myself when I was hanging off that ledge. I was afraid if I did maybe I would die. that’s why I imagined my sister running, and that voice I normally heard, that voice inside me, instead began narrating my sister’s life in that moment, and that’s when I learned what death meant, that’s when I learned what happened if you felt you couldn’t trust the voice you heard, because I had heard my own inner voice clearly that day. I heard it floating on my back in the water, my ears under the water as I floated, my eyes closed. the sun wasn’t behind the clouds, and in that motionless floating I heard that voice you normally hear speaking when you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, when you’re having a conversation with yourself in a language not spoken out loud, but a conversation nonetheless'”a voice you hear when you have questions'”and I guess I was narrating my life up to that point, like an obituary, as I floated there in the water. I told myself the story of my life, as if I was some famous person being reported on, with highlights of flaws and accomplishments, and I must admit it’s something I still do, just as did then as a child learning to swim, and when I thought I was going to die that day, that my father wouldn’t come in time to save me, I felt guilty of that voice. I wished I’d never heard it. and since then I’ve always been afraid of heights. since then I’ve had more earaches. so I know why Peter didn’t want to take a look at himself even though all he saw were mirrors. the same reason no one does when they feel that way'”we’re afraid someone else might hear what we hear and make fun of us.
I didn’t like how it ended. how Peter’s story ended that day he gave me the bracelet. not the part how he helped the girl. I liked that because it reminded me of my father. that girl had fallen too. rock-climbing she slipped and fell into a crack between the rocks. she cried just as I had cried, though Peter said she wasn’t in danger of her life. she was just afraid to climb back up by herself'”the fall had scared her'”and none of the other girls she was with wanted to climb down to get her. Peter said she’d smiled at him. she’d smiled at him on the bus. that’s how he knew her, when he responded to the girls’ cries for help and climbed down to help her up, her ankle sprained, ending their church outing, a trip Peter didn’t even want to go on. but I didn’t like how it ended'”Peter’s story'”because he told me about that night with his mother and grandmother and what they prayed for, after the dream he had, and it just seemed strange to me, just as it did after I started dating him and I asked about that boy at church. their prayers seemed strange. it was like the day I got that earache, the day I almost died. I wondered what voice they heard in the language of their prayers, what answers they were really looking for at the end of the conversation. I wondered who was really narrating their life if they didn’t want to admit it was only themselves.
All you have to do is open the back door. Josephine can’t help but smile at the foolish look on his face, even though she’s glad he asked. If Peter hadn’t asked, she wouldn’t have had the chance to talk to him. She’s seen him at work before, and she knows his name is Carl from his Wal-Mart badge, but this is the first time he’s talked to her, the first time there are words with the eye contact. Josephine just wishes her sister hadn’t been there.
She and Eliza have never really competed for boys. That’s something they decide as little girls, from before their parents moved to Belleville, when they lived across from Long Acre Park'”they decided this in that playground there where they once played. Josephine has always been a little more temperamental than her older sister, a little more vocal in her pleas for attention from their parents, but this stems from the erratic time of her birth, after their parents lost their house and had to declare bankruptcy. There is a different music in Josephine’s childhood, though just as much dancing and laughter, but still a more somber tone, like the lyrics make more sense, the words more relatable to experience. Eliza, being older, understands this more, but for Josephine it becomes something she lives, giving sadness to her smile.
The music instills distaste for competition in both sisters, and it is the music of their parents that teaches them this. On-line Rhapsody play-lists and old-time country records are a mixture of rebellion and the broken songs of freedom, and it is these songs the girls hear growing up. Music even before their parents’ time, but consistent in truth, timeless in change, and the sisters learn at an early age the wisdom of non-assertion, the waste of rivalries at war. It’s outlaw music, underground, and like their parents they learn from it that they only want their own peace, a peace hard to find in necessity, in the irrevocable urge to be the best and right even among people you love, to be the center of your world, and at the top of the food chain, and Josephine feels this sadness more than her sister, this sadness of what is unavoidable even though we all know it, the knowledge that even knowledge can’t help you, because what we all know to avoid tragedy we still do'”this is the sadness you see in her smile, a small trace of it lingering there even though you can tell she’s embraced something beyond it, some happiness outside of knowledge and its endless futility in solving anything. You can tell she’s changed her mind about something, but it’s not something she can tell you, not even her sister tries to put it into words, though even Eliza sees it in her smile that day she meets Carl, in the smile she gives to Peter’s foolishness, and she understands because if he’d just opened the back door, the back hatch, he would have seen how to replace that broken taillight.
sometimes I think stupidity has a lot to do with luck. a lot’s just changed since we were little girls, since Eliza and I ran in that playground in Long Acre Park. a lot’s just changed around us. I remember when the Krispy Kreme opened, next to what used to be a Hardee’s, and they just built that Wal-Mart, in the new shopping center across from the community college (used to be called BAC'”Belleville Area College'”now it’s SWIC, Southwestern Illinois College). they started building along that road when I was freshman in high school, a Lowe’s and Verizon Wireless, Radio Shack and GameStop, and Wal-Mart seemed like a good place to work after my sister got on there, when I got my Driver’s License, and I guess if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met Carl… so I don’t know what else to call it'”that chain of events that leaves you either feeling stupid or smart. luck seems like just a good name for it as anything else, like it’s something breathed in the air. that’s why I never understood her boyfriend, why Eliza dated him, and when she told me about the tongues he spoke to manifest his baptism, his baptism in the Holy Ghost, it seemed like something strange to pray for, especially when it’s your mother and grandma praying you into it, because in my notion of things we’re all baptized into it, we’re baptized into it when we’re born, born into the fire and ice of this world, and the rest of our life is just the momentary sensations of that, reminding us we have to let go of what we come to know after being born, so we can speak to what we remember of what we were before in the womb… Peter wasn’t any different than the rest of us. he just thought he was, and I guess that’s why it’s the thought of purity that corrupts us. it’s like a denial of the afterbirth. I like the visceral part of us, the dirt, for it was this that we are born into, and any purity you’re going to have comes from accepting that, so you can see the spiritual side of it, the spirit in all flesh'”it’s the only way I can recognize it. it’s the only way I can burn it, burn it with my knowledge, so that what doesn’t burn can be seen underneath, so I can see what is moving and not frozen… no, I suppose you could say I didn’t like Peter, and when Carl had to help him with that broken taillight (even though all he had to do was buy a dollar replacement bulb and do it himself), I couldn’t help but smile at him. I smile at a lot of things I don’t like. it seems to me that’s about all you can do.
I guess my notion on luck changed that night of prom though, after what happened to us in that truck going to the Garden of the Gods. I still remember the fireflies, driving through the fireflies at night… it was a last minute decision in a way, after Peter broke into the music at prom'”Carl didn’t want to stay'”his friends and their dates didn’t really want to be there anyway. I had to talk him into taking me. I had to get my sister’s help. since I wasn’t a senior and had never been to prom I was curious. I even wanted to wear a dress, though like Carl and his friends I wasn’t really among that crowd'”I wasn’t much involved in competing for attention in high school'”social studies seemed more interesting outside the classroom, but I must admit I did hope nobody else was wearing my dress… besides that camp revival my mother and I walked in on when I was little girl, when we used to camp at the Garden of the Gods, I haven’t been in that many churches, so maybe my judgments aren’t fair. maybe I was too harsh on Peter, too harsh with my sister for dating him, but looking back on it now I can see I was just trying to identify with something, and the funny thing was I didn’t want to identify with anything at all then. I was just trying to find what was true, and after I met him I could tell even he didn’t believe in it, all that was said at the church services he was forced to attend. my sister thought this made him complicated. I just thought it made him a fool… I knew that boy, that boy Eliza saw when she went to church with Peter. I knew him from that raincoat she mentioned because he always wore that raincoat. we used to make fun of him for that. I remember because he was in my class, and we’d all heard about what happened that last summer, how he tried to kill himself, how he had religious parents, how they had church people pray for him because they thought evil spirits were oppressing him. my sister didn’t know that, but I did, and since she was older than me I must admit I felt pretty smart when she told me about seeing him, how she felt about seeing him. I felt like I was in the mirror watching her… maybe we’re in control of our luck. maybe not. either way I guess it doesn’t matter in what happens. that boy couldn’t believe then because of what happened to him, what he chose to happen to him, in how the church looked at him after that. that boy didn’t need the Bible right then. he didn’t need its history, its truth, just as Peter didn’t in what he wanted from my sister. because it wasn’t his spirit that wanted answers. I learned this with what happened to that other boy, that boy in the back of the truck the night of prom. I learned it with what I saw that night among the fireflies.
maybe I wasn’t really smarter than my sister. maybe I wasn’t really watching her from the mirror when she shared how she saw that boy in church. maybe we’re all trapped in mirrors'”the perspectives of what things seem to us. I know enough now to know I don’t understand what is true, even my own image changes, and sometimes it even seems frozen in the memories I have of it, but there are always new memories, and as far as I know the future never ends… my father believed in the Bible, and that’s why I believe in too, the stories there, the mystery. because I also saw my father live his life, in the balance of the literal and the uncertain, and even in the things that made sense in a trivial way, he tried to find other ways to make sense of them, ways to make them timeless, and in that sense my father was a spiritual man, an artist, because he also wasn’t afraid to admit his dirt. he talked to me that night, after the accident, as he drove us back from the Garden of the Gods. I didn’t know it was the last time I’d see Carl, but it didn’t really matter then. I was lost in the fireflies and the words of my father, his advice on how to be happy… I never liked it when my father was angry with me, and I remember even as a little girl the irrational urge to do it anyway, whatever he forbid me doing, but my father wasn’t really angry with me that night. in fact I saw in the on-coming headlights there were tears on his face.
“you’ll always remember this. what happened tonight. but don’t be afraid when it looks different to you, as time goes by, because it will. you’ll be different looking at it…”
we were looking straight ahead, or at least I was. my father might have seen the road, but I didn’t. outside the range of the headlights I was looking at the fireflies glow in the darkness. I saw them when they lit up, just for a moment, how then that light was gone until my eye caught another one light up, some of them even leaving a line of light outside my passing window, a window through which I could see my shadow. I wanted to tell him about my sister, what happened to Peter at prom, but I think he already knew. my sister didn’t want to go with us, when we left the dance, after Peter went running out, and what I didn’t know was my father had already got a call from his parents, from Peter’s mother.
“you’ll learn just as I learned a long time ago you can’t change the way you think. any changes to how I look at things time did to me. that’s why I’m not going to tell you what to think about this. you’ll find your own explanations for it. just don’t let anybody else tell you what it is. don’t let anybody take the meaning you find in it away from you…”
I would have never thought he’d tried it. after seeing that boy die, I just couldn’t see Peter dead too. I don’t think Eliza expected it. it wasn’t like she meant to laugh at him. she was just laughing at what he did, just like the senior class laughed at him when he went up on that stage, even though I guess his dream wasn’t much different than most. it was like a dream like we all have, a dream of a world in darkness being lit up by fireflies, a dream of seeing that without a window of shadows.
“we’re not alone on this road tonight'”you know that, don’t you? out there in the darkness there are living things, living things we can’t see, but they all hang in the balance'”they exist in the reality of our tolerance… so don’t ever say there’s no God, because you don’t know if it’s true. your voice speaks this doubt to the things it can’t see, to the things it can’t tolerate outside its life in this flesh…”
I don’t think we went by it, by that road marker that night. it was on a different road, though in the general direction of the Garden of the Gods. and I guess since Peter shared what happened to him there, that first time he went there, to the Garden of the Gods, when he helped that girl who smiled at him, and that night staying at his grandma’s house in Carbondale and what happened after waking his mother sleeping with him on a mattress on the floor, his father gone to some conference'”since he shared that with my sister'”praying with them that night for his baptism, a baptism his mother told him he needed, manifested in tongues his grandma prayed for him to speak, all of this inspired by a dream he had that night, feeling silent and strong after saving that girl, yet still afraid to say he wanted something from her'”I guess since he shared all that, Eliza wanted to show him the clubhouse, the memories she had of it as a little girl, the cabin where I was born. she took him to it before they dressed, before they dressed to go to the prom, and I guess by with what happened later that night, it wasn’t hard to see Peter had other intentions when he stopped the car by that road marker. it wasn’t hard to see what he wanted.
“we’re always disappointed by what we want. that’s why there’ll be rituals you’ll learn to tolerate, habits and ways you’ll come to learn, certain necessities you’ll have to abide, and you’ll learn other people’s meaning of intolerance'”in understanding the rituals and beliefs they go by to deal with this disappointment'”but you shouldn’t try to tolerate what happened tonight. don’t let anyone explain it away to you as meaningless. time alone will make you wonder enough of that. time alone will tell if things like love and hate can be tolerated, if something in us dies when we make them to be tolerated, make them to be explained away in the random order of a chain of events, impersonal and ugly to a reality without them. time alone will tell if you can tolerate your own past, the strange horror of recalling it with regret, and I can’t tell you what to do when that happens'”in that you will have to discern your own truth… you’ll have to find for yourself what you want and what you want to laugh at.”
I guess my notion of luck changed that night, but not my belief in it. even with what I saw happen, with what I saw happen to that boy, I couldn’t tell myself none of it made sense. I couldn’t because I was afraid of what that meant, because it wasn’t some broken taillight that caused it, that caused that boy to fall out of the back of the truck, because it happened when we weren’t moving at all… I don’t think it was like my sister said. Peter didn’t embrace money because it was an answer to his confusion, his fear, though it was fear that made him fix that broken taillight, a fear of being rear-ended, and it was this fear that caused Carl and I to meet, his fear of breaking the law. I suppose we do a lot of things for money, because of our fears, but I think Peter embraced money as an explanation for another reason. because we all know sex sells, just like we all knew we were breaking the law riding around in the back of that truck that night'”we just didn’t care because you never think statistics apply to you then. you never think that today death might be coming for you… after that night, riding home from the Garden of the Gods with my father, I didn’t regret I was there that day Peter got the taillight to his car fixed. I didn’t regret meeting Carl and finally talking to him. I didn’t regret falling in love with him, even knowing then I would never see Carl again after what happened, and not just because someone had died'”death wasn’t the reason'”I would never see Carl again because my version of the truth changed. my luck left me feeling stupid, and if my father had forbid me to see him after that, maybe I would have, but my father didn’t forbid me to see him. he didn’t forbid me anything on that drive. he just talked to me through his tears as he took us back home, as I watched the fireflies through my shadow in the darkness.
Carl didn’t take me to church. that was for sure. our first date was at a bar, a bar that allowed under-age drinking. he asked me out the day he helped Peter fix that taillight, to a fear factor contest with cash prizes. now I sometimes wish it would have been that simple. we made fun of Peter for worrying about that stupid taillight (it was a wreck of a car he drove around anyway'”a boy’s first car in high school'”barely afforded with the cost of gas and insurance), and so it would have made more sense if that’s how that boy had died, falling out of the back of truck, if someone’s taillight hadn’t worked, causing Carl to hit the brakes unannounced, but that isn’t what happened. we were parked when he fell off the back of the truck, and that was the hardest thing about it. it was like that boy died for no reason, like Peter tried to kill himself for no reason, because that’s what he told us to do, that was his message when he broke through the music at prom and climbed that stage'”he told us to stop, that we needed to see what was ahead of us, that we needed to stop before it was too late to stop'”and we all laughed at him. we laughed at him because we knew he was right and we knew he was lying. we didn’t have to listen to what he was saying because one look at his pants told us otherwise.
seems like we slip into the spiritual after we know we’ve done something dirty, something of our flesh. seems easy to slip into the spiritual after that. I went to a couple of youth group services at the Baptist church, but I never felt like I belonged there, just as I didn’t feel I belonged in a bar. other than the drugs and alcohol there ain’t much difference. you just build a tolerance to those things anyway. the cool girls in church talked about sex just like girls go together to bars. it’s something we all have in common no matter how we try to treat it, and I guess what we see depends on how we lift the veil, what we reveal in fear or in love. Peter’s corruption didn’t lie in what he wanted from my sister that night by the road marker. it was how he wanted it, like love is something you can capture and define on your own terms, and that was what was silly about it'”he couldn’t change his mind or take back anything he said or done, like if he’d said or done it he had to live by the consequences of it, like he was a picture or something, an unresponsive mirror, like everything was frozen to that moment and how he remembered it, how he thought other people saw him in how he remembered it, and this was more than just some fatalist perspective'”it was like a fanatic saying his destiny was determined when all he had to do to get out of the way of danger was move'”and the extremes he took in this intractability were more than just silly. it was downright stupid. it was like he couldn’t forgive himself and change. Eliza said he had conflicts about how he was to serve God, and maybe after those fumbling attempts in the car by that historical marker, he just gave up on being human because it was easier trying to be something else. it was easier to be something special, someone who was meant to make those mistakes.
sometimes you have to see something spiritual to it, the reasons for things. sometimes you just know, like it’s a memory you already have, and like a story where you know how it ends you make your peace with it, without words'”you answer the questions in your mind to what it all means, and you’re satisfied with the answers. I felt it that night in the Garden of the Gods with that boy, in the drive home with my father, and I believed this voice I heard, this voice inside me, because it was rational'”I knew it spoke the truth, that I could trust it. I didn’t have to deny what I saw that night, among the fireflies. my own importance was diminished, and I guess that was something Peter couldn’t feel when my sister rejected him, when she laughed at his serious pleas, because he knew he wasn’t being honest with her. he knew he was lying to himself. he should have just told her about those pills he took.
a lot’s changed since my sister and I were little girls. I’ve learned there are lies in truth, and truth in lies, and when I’m honest with myself I don’t know what to pray for, what I really wish for when I wish people luck. time has passed. time has gone by since my sister and I first loved those boys, those boys we knew in high school, since we learned the first things of love, since I’ve begun to learn to be patient with myself, and now my sister is getting married, and those memories we have, those memories of what happened there, what happened at the Garden of the Gods, become new each day I remember them, like a breath held in and then let go… I haven’t read what’s on that historical marker for a long time. our parents lived in that cabin after they lost their house, after they had to declare bankruptcy, and I was born there. my mother’s father built it. it’s been a long time since I’ve read what’s on that marker on the way there, just like it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Garden of the Gods, but I know what it’s about. they called this area near the river bottom the “Mississippi Bubble” because of its promise of money. a promise of money that took longer than expected, the timing too soon for their dream, too soon for the people that settled here, in this land where I was born, and that’s what I fear now'”that some things come too soon'”and all we are left is knowing that. and now I know in my memory I will always return here, to these highways and byways. I will always come back here, to this place I’ve been before. I will always return to the place where I was born… and it’s not far from it. it’s not far from the first tavern I ever went to.
The televisions hang above each end of the bar. You can’t help but look up at them. Josephine has never been in a tavern, but nothing about it seems scary. If anything she’s more scared saying the wrong thing to Carl, because this is their first date, and she doesn’t want to do anything wrong. That’s why she doesn’t want to play, and not because there’s money involved. She doesn’t care there are cash prizes for facing your fears, even though Carl wants to win one of them. And so she watches, afraid someone will notice she’s just watching.
That’s when he tells her, Carl tells her why he wants to compete, and since what he says contradicts her own feelings, her defense for just watching, she really begins to notice him, his handsome features, even though she still doesn’t believe him or agree with him in what he says, his opinions. She only agrees in part. She agrees with him when he says other people shouldn’t live your life for you. In this she sees it’s true, it’s true that it’s good not to envy others, or boast upon your own life, for in that you were being conned, conned into believing your ordinary life wasn’t good enough to live, that if only some missing factor was present all your dreams would come true. You were conned into wasting your time. Josephine doesn’t feel like she’s wasting her time though, being there in that tavern with Carl, because she wants to be there, even if she’s just watching.
Everyone’s kind, and Carl does end up winning something'”a flat panel TV'”for eating a baby duck, a duck egg with a baby inside. he says it’s crunchy. and they’re tolerant enough not to ask his age, because after all he ate it, and though they’ve been closed down before, for under-age drinking, they’ve always opened back up again, the management just changing hands in the family, and it’s not like they asked them to come. Everyone knows why the children come, just like the old-timers know why they always come back. You think you’ll get what you want going there.
maybe fear’s an addiction in a way. paranoia. in a way you can get used to it. even feed on it. and then when you make it all spiritual, like this world doesn’t even matter, well, I guess things can get crazy… I don’t blame myself for what happened in the Garden of the Gods. I wasn’t driving when it happened. I was in the front seat with Josephine with the music blaring when that kid fell out of the back. he was a strange kid anyway, so it doesn’t seem that strange it happened to him. it was just bad luck.
admitting you’re guilt doesn’t make you not guilty. that’s why I never understood church folks. trying to be clean doesn’t make you clean, and it’s funny to people watching when you feel like somehow you are in trying to be it. Peter was strange because it ain’t normal not to be raised like normal kids, like he was different somehow. the things we was all learning naturally growing up he was told not to do, some of it he wasn’t even exposed to, which made us pity his innocence. everything in the world was bad, including us. you can’t be normal being raised like that… and what if they’re right? what if the church folks is right and we’re all wrong? doesn’t seem like it would be something I would hope for, or want even. it doesn’t seem like the only picture the Bible paints… but I don’t know. maybe they are right. maybe they’re supposed to be here, speaking about what we all talk around, heedless of warnings not to go there, opening a can of worms we all try to deny in our necessary search for good times and laughter, in our insincere strivings for perfection, and we all sense it. we all sense we have something to be afraid of, like there is spiritual forces out there, gently giving us a nudge, silently showing us sometimes a reality beyond the appearance in the glass, something we breathe in the air'”and we all know what’s coming. we just don’t realize we don’t have to face it alone. it’s the fear we all have in common.
sometimes I see it. almost like I still see myself when I walk away from the mirror. I sense fate in every moment. and though I don’t go to church I know the people there aren’t just some hypocritical force, some human force, attending to a message that must be spread. they exist just as we exist outside, unclean except in those moments of despair and doubt when we wish for lamb’s blood. when we wish to be new. and it is then in those moments that we walk among angels together, charging our realities with the premonition of our choices, and though we don’t need to say it we all know the truth then. our doubts confess the truth then in every moment. and thinking you’re alone in that, or at least thinking not everyone feels that, well, that just makes you isolated and paranoid… I wasn’t even driving. we were just sitting there parked, the music from the radio turned up. I wasn’t even driving, and that kid got killed. seems strange that Peter went looking to die driving and couldn’t. after he ran off the stage at prom with that boner, I guess he chose to mosey onto the back roads in that wreck of a car of his, and I guess it didn’t matter he fixed the taillight because he tried to beat that train, and I guess in a way he did, though you can’t really stop a moving train'”he just didn’t stop, and after jumping that railroad crossing at high speed (that wreck of a car of his didn’t have much of a suspension), one of the wheels came plumb off… he didn’t die though, though he just missed that train in the nick of time, though that car was totaled after he went head-on into a tree. maybe he was walking among the angels that night. something out there must have pitied his innocence.
seems like Hollywood likes those movies now. end of the world movies. seems like they know something in us wants to see it. seems like there’s money in it now. just like I’m sure there was money in fall-out shelters back in the 1950’s. I guess a part of all of us wants to see the world burn. it’s why though that we try to deny. sorta like how we are when we feel like people don’t like us. we make up all kinds of excuses for it… I knew they was sisters, and when Peter drove up to the automotive center at Wal-Mart with that car of his, I made sure I came over when I saw her in the back. I figured it was my chance. she used to make fun of me, for where I lived, being on the base'”she always felt like she was going into a prison when I took her there. my dad was in the Air Force, stationed at Scott Air Force Base at the time, and I didn’t go to their high school. it was only cause we worked Wal-Mart together that I knew them at all, that I got my chance to talk to her, and it was Eliza that got us in, that snuck us in that night of prom'”she did it for her sister because none of us belonged there, just like Peter didn’t belong there, not after with what happened at that road marker. he belonged on some exodus… I thought he was strange then, when I first met him, how I had to tell him how to fix that taillight. there was something about him that made no sense, and I didn’t like him. I didn’t like him because I couldn’t tell what he was afraid of.
I guess he got those pills from a commercial, or maybe some porn magazine'”some sort of male enhancement pill'”Extenze I think it was'”since he didn’t know I guess he thought he needed them. he already seemed agitated when I first saw him at the dance, like he had sweated recently, and that suit he wore was sticking to him… I already had it all planned. I had some tents and sleeping bags in the back of my truck, and a bunch of us were going to head down to the Garden of the Gods after the dance, spend the night down there, and do some hiking the next morning. even then I think he knew he was just tagging along, my friend’s younger brother, but since it was his brother bringing the beer, I didn’t mind him coming along. it was just stupid how he fell out of the back of the truck, just like it was stupid how Peter took a handful of those pills before picking up Josephine’s sister.
I guess we always think more will do it. that’s why it’s hard to sit still sometimes. it’s hard to just sit with yourself. it’s hard just to be satisfied with yourself in the mirror. like we’re all afraid of some staring contest… the economy is pretty bad right now. maybe in way it made relating to me easier, cause her folks had to travel a lot'”they even lost their house. they moved around quite a bit before Josephine was born, when her sister Eliza was just a baby. so maybe she related to that, not really having a home, since I traveled around a lot too in my father’s different assignments in the Air Force. it gave her a different perspective on security, the value of possessions, like it didn’t even effect her, the economy being bad. I guess she saw it how her father did'”this problem of just not being able to sit still, this inability to be happy with yourself'”thinking more will just do it, until you become bloated with your appetites, spoiled fruit better dead underground… maybe truth is lost in the lies we reveal. it doesn’t seem like our honesty is getting us anywhere. we know we’re raping the earth, but we don’t stop ourselves, not when time gnaws at our boredom, when we consume just for something to do. and the funny thing is we pride ourselves in the truth revealed in our therapy sessions, in our stormy relationships with one another, in the uncensored, ugly truth that thrives in us when we think it’s okay to live out the dramas of our past, when we explore every urge that’s within ourselves, marveling at our honesty in exposing them. the funny thing is we call it purity. truth. as it becomes just another blog on the web. as it becomes the height of civilization. we put it in museums and call it art.
I don’t think we’re so much afraid of dying as we are of missing something, failing some test, a test where no one tells us the right answers. Josephine said her sister became scared of death there, in what happened to her there as a little girl, in the Garden of the Gods, and after what happened to us there that night of prom, maybe Josephine became a little scared of it too. it would have different maybe if we had been rock climbing, if that boy had just fell that way, if it would have been some accident like Peter had that night driving, but it didn’t happen that way. we were parked at the McDonald’s, across from the outdoor playground, in the last town before entering the Shawnee Forest, the radio blaring. what was funny was the song he was playing air band to when he fell off the back of the truck, cause I’m pretty sure he was a virgin and probably didn’t even know what lyrics were all about'”he hadn’t experienced enough to know'”he just leaned too far back doing that guitar solo to “Hotel California” and when he fell on his head he broke his neck.
I hear she’s getting married now. Josephine’s sister is getting married. seems like it’s been a long time since that night, that night of Eliza’s senior prom, since that night in the Garden of the Gods. we’ve all done quite a bit of walking since then, but I can’t say I’ve quite gotten rid of it'”that need for suspicion. in a way it makes everything special. it makes me special, and what happens to me seems a trifle less boring. in a way it keeps me going. it lets me know there is a God I don’t know how to please, for that’s one thing our honesty’s got us. we know we aren’t going to change… sometimes I wonder about her. wonder what she’s doing now. and I hope she’s got what she wanted. I hope she’s got somewhere to go. I hope she’s got some home to go back to.
There’s a knock on the door. It’s her father coming for her. Eliza watches him enter the room in her mirror, and for a moment she feels like a little girl again, like that girl she remembers in playgrounds. And they don’t have to say it. They don’t have to say it as she lays her hairbrush down again. No words are spoken between them as he helps her with her veil.
It is time. Time to let her memories rest, for she knows now her memories of what happened there, what happened in the Garden of Gods, are not memories she has chosen. Much of it has already been forgotten, like an old home-made movie lost on the shelf, later to be edited. What happened there was just like any other playground in her experience, her experience of loving a boy, of losing truth in that only to replace it with other truths hard to forget, truths hard to forget even in laughter, for it was the truth of holding yourself up to that laughter. She wants to tell her father she is no longer a child, but in knowing that she knows she doesn’t need to tell him. There’s nothing more she needs to tell herself, nothing more to say to her father in the mirror, for it already held their past, and she doesn’t want it to hold on to anything more. She has her future to think of, a future where death didn’t hide in her reflection, and so she closes her eyes. She closes her eyes to the things she wants to remember, and in that moment a story is told, in that moment her mind is renewed by the thought of being loved. And she closes her eyes to this because in that moment she doesn’t need a mirror to see herself.
That’s when she feels her father’s hand. She feels his hand on the bracelet, the bracelet she’s worn since then, since those days before when she was innocent, when she and her sister were innocent, innocent of their own awareness, innocent of an awareness they learned of in those playgrounds, those playgrounds of their birth into this life, with its senselessness and pain. She feels her father’s hand and knows she is ready, maybe even ready to have her own children, and even so she feels no fear. She feels no fear because there is no fear in what she is ready to do. There is no fear in the perfect thought of love.
it’s funny how I used to say I’m sorry. I remember I did that as a little girl, when my parents told me no and I did it anyway. I used to say I was sorry like in that way it made everything okay. maybe it was funny then because I wasn’t as accountable, but I don’t think it’s funny now. I have too many memories to remind me.
I suppose I’ll always wear that bracelet, that bracelet Peter gave me there, in that garden where my sister and I first learned to fear, where we first learned to love. I’ll wear it until the threads can no longer hold it, because in a way it reminds of the vows I’m going to say today. it will remind me when I say I do. and I guess it isn’t strange that I remembered playgrounds when I awoke this morning, playgrounds from my childhood, from before I began to doubt who I was. it isn’t strange that I remember that vest my mother made me, how it was like a breastplate of colors, an armor to my fear of other children’s laughter then. I don’t have to say I’m sorry now because I’ve already said it a thousand times. it’s just living with it after that I have to learn. I still have to learn that it’s okay to forget. it’s okay because like that bracelet there’ll be always something there to remind me.
today is no different. today is just like any other day. just like any other day, there’s a time when I’ll wake up, and there’s a time when I’ll return to sleep. the rest is up to me. it’s up to me what I do with the in between. and I know there’s still more I want to do. there’s still more I want to remember, in the soft light of remembrance and its shadows. and I still have it, that vest my mother made for me, just as I have his bracelet. I have the stories in them to tell my own children if I’m only given the chance. and maybe, just maybe, it’ll all make sense… maybe I’ll even learn to crochet. like my mother.