Wednesday, January 23, 2008

All right, here's the second part.

I got some good comments from a friend already. Thanks friend. Those of you so inclined, please chime in.

Part Doo, of How I Got Better in Shop

The neon sign glowed on the black shiny seats of his pickup. We made out for a little while and then I pulled away and said I was hot and wanted to walk up on to the dike. He said I can’t. I gotta go, which was all right, because I don’t think I could’ve walked anyway. My legs, my arms, my head – none of it was working right. It all felt disconnected. So we didn’t go and instead we made out some more, and then some more, and then some more. It just kept going farther and farther. I didn’t stop him, even though he gave me a chance. More than once he asked if I was okay. I guess he was nice about it. I think that’s about the best you can ask for, for that kind of thing.

And then he drove me home and I went around the back door so I could clean up a little in the downstairs bathroom. Mom yelled down to me What are you doing down there? Where have you been? And I called up that I was helping with the varsity practice and that I was sorry I forgot to call.

When I went upstairs I had changed into my sweaty clothes from practice and they were all sitting at the dinner table. I think they knew. I’m sure they could tell by just looking at me. You’re supposed to look different, aren’t you? I’m sure I did. My mom never talked to me about that stuff, but I know which girls in school did it with their boyfriends without them telling me. It’s like you’re marked. So I guess I was marked after that.

A couple weeks later I was done with my lamp. It looked pretty crappy, but the light came on when you pulled the chain, and the puppy looked more like an animal than a vegetable. I had moved on to a little oak shelf, and I thought I knew what I was doing in shop. Mr. Moffet only helped a little with the router bits, and only then because I liked to watch him demonstrate on some scrap wood how to cut the grooves and fit the pieces together with his careful hands. Shop was actually all right, I guess.

My friends were getting used to me being with Jeff, sort of. I mean, sort of being with him. We didn’t talk during school or go to dances or anything like that. He picked me up after basketball practice (I made the JV team in that too) and we’d make out and stuff in the mall parking lot on the way home. Not too long to make my mom worry any more, though. She would’ve freaked if she knew and my dad. Well, my dad wouldn’t have it. Not with Jeff. Kevin probably knew, but he didn’t care. He’d started seeing some girl from Rainier and wasn’t around much anyway.

Jeff and I didn’t talk much. The music was too loud in his truck, and he only called me on the phone once in a while, when his parents weren’t home. He mostly just wanted to see if I’d come over. Sometimes I did if my parents weren’t home, but if not we’d talk a little about stuff at school, then I’d get off the phone. My mom would’ve said something, but she was getting more and more distracted by my dad. By Thanksgiving he was getting some chemo because the cancer wasn’t just in the places they thought it was. He was at home a lot. He’d sit in the basement on the couch with some water next to him on the TV tray and watch the news.

That’s where he was the day Jeff came over. It was a Saturday and my mom had gone to the big craft show in Portland. I had just brought my dad some saltines and was playing with the cat in my room. The doorbell rang and there he stood in a sweatshirt and jeans. The same ones he wore all the time, baggy and kind of dirty. He said What’re you doing? I said Nothing. He stood there and I stood there and then I said You want a brownie? He said Whatever and came in and sat at the kitchen table. His hair was a little wet. I could smell the shampoo when he walked by me. I cut him a brownie and brought it in on a napkin and he grabbed my wrist and pulled me down to kiss me. When I pulled up my dad was standing there in the kitchen doorway. He had the afghan pulled over his shoulders, held together with one hand. His other hand lifted up through the opening and grabbed the door jam. He opened his mouth and then closed it and turned around to go back downstairs.

We ate our brownies and Jeff said Let’s go up to your room. I wanted to really bad, but no way could we and I told him my dad was downstairs. He turned quick to look behind him, as if he’d heard my dad coming up the stairs and I couldn’t help but laugh. I don’t know if he was scared of my dad being my dad, or my dad being my sick dad. He said I’m gonna go and I said Okay and then he left and I went downstairs.

Dad had fallen asleep sitting up. His head was tipped back and his mouth was open. I could see the ridges on the roof of his mouth and it made me run my tongue back and forth on the roof of my own mouth. The chemo made him thirsty all the time and his mouth was always dry. His lips were grey and cracked. I went to the bathroom to find the Vaseline and when I came back he was awake and blinking at the TV.

You two are an item, I see, he said. I just shrugged. He said What do you mean? and then he shrugged like he was copying me, but he didn’t take his eyes off the TV. I said We’re pretty close, I guess. You guess? he said. I said He helps me in shop a lot and he’s really good at it and he’s really nice to me. My dad nodded, but he didn’t say anything else. A commercial came on for some kind of camera and he closed his eyes and tipped his head back and I went back upstairs to my room.

Jeff didn’t pick me up after practice the next week. He wasn’t in shop either and Mr. Moffet finally moved the pieces of wood in his workstation to a little cart from the back room. He asked me if I’d seen Jeff and I said no, but I had. He drove in and out of his driveway every day at the same times, probably to make his mom think he was always at school. Mr. Moffet asked me if everything was all right once when I got a little spacey later in the week. I do that sometimes. Just kind of get lost staring. I said Yeah, I’m fine and smiled at him. He smiled back patted me on the shoulder.

Jeff called me that weekend, after my mom left for another craft fair. She wanted me to go, like we sometimes do, but I said I had too much homework. I was hoping Jeff would come over again like before. My dad was going to be gone all day at a new treatment place and Kevin was across the river as usual. But Jeff just called. I asked him where he’d been all week and he said he was helping his brother work on his car. I kind of laughed since I didn’t really know what to say and he didn’t say anything either. It sounded like he was banging something with a hammer and I asked him what he was doing. He said Nothing. I said Do you want to come over and he said I can’t. I listened to the clanking for a while longer and then I said Why did you call me? He said I don’t know, to see what you were doing or something. I said I’m sitting here watching a movie. He said Oh, well I gotta go. And that was it. That was him breaking up with me, I guess. That’s what this other burnout told Michelle, so that’s how I knew.

So he started coming back to shop after a couple weeks again, but he only stayed for a little while, and he wouldn’t look at me. Mr. Moffet asked me if everything was all right again because I kept screwing up on my shelf measurements and I nearly sanded off my thumbnail. I said Yeah, I’m just thinking about my dad. He nodded and patted me on my shoulder because he thought he knew. Everyone thought they knew. I’d skipped a day to spend some time with him in the hospital and then all the teachers knew about that and then Mr. Moffet gave me that sad pat like it was so simple.

When I got home one Friday night after a home game my dad was in the living room, on the couch. Lately he’d been upstairs in his room most of the time. There was usually a nurse around when I got home, if my mom was running errands or something, but this time my dad was alone on his old recliner with a quilt on top of him. He was staring at the fire in our fake fireplace, and in the shadows he looked like Grampa. I sat by him on the floor and started to tell him about the game, how I’d played and such, and he put his hand on my head, as if he wanted me to stop. He said Hi Baby. I smiled at him, but I was a little freaked. He didn’t call me that. He asked me if I had plans and I thought he meant for the weekend so I told him I was going to Michelle’s for a birthday party on Saturday. He said No, I mean with the Kent boy – Are you two still serious?

So then I knew that he knew, but I guess I’d known already. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen us before, but mostly I just didn’t want to think about it. No, I said, I don’t have plans with Jeff - There’s nothing going on with Jeff and me. And then I’d said it out loud and that felt bad and good. Bad enough to make me cry, but good to finally talk about it. I cried on the arm of my dad’s recliner. He cleared his throat a little and I looked at him. His eyes were half-closed and I thought he might be sleeping, so I moved to get up. Don’t go, he said, I’m awake. I’m just thinking. He cleared his throat again and said, He’s not a bad kid, you know. I sat back and looked at the fake fire. It reminded me of chemistry lab. He said, I just want you to be happy, Sweetheart. His voice was weezy and faint and when I looked back at him and his eyes were closed. I waited for my mom to come home, then went to my bedroom.

So he made it past Christmas, but the last couple weeks were pretty bad. At first they brought a big hospital bed and put it in my parents’ bedroom, but my mom couldn’t sleep in there, because the thing took up too much room. So she’d sleep on the couch with a baby monitor next to her. I know because I couldn’t sleep either. My dad’s room was across the hall, and I could hear his breath from there and from the baby monitor in the living room. It felt like the house was weezing, and sometimes my dreams would have the sound of hard breathing in the background and I’d wake up gasping.

I guess during that time something was going on with Jeff and this girl on the dance team. Everyone was talking about them getting busted in her hot tub. I laughed because someone said the girl’s dad made Jeff run naked out to his truck, but it wasn’t funny, really. The dad had thrown a rock and cracked Jeff’s back window. Anyway, she was a junior and kind of slutty. It made me wonder.

After a week with the hospital bed in the house my mom agreed to have my dad moved to this old-folks home close to the hospital, and that was the last time he got moved. I went to see him every day because school was out and I had taken a break from basketball. I’d go and sometimes just sit there for a couple hours reading or something. Sometimes he’d be awake, but not usually. It was quiet there. I think everyone was dying. And then one morning, a Monday, when I woke and went down to the kitchen, mom was gone and there was a note on the table. I called the hospital, the number she’d written, and she said Dad had died in the night. Kevin got up a little while later, and I told him. He just nodded, and then frowned and sat down at the table. I sat down too. I’m glad he was there because it sucks to cry alone about your dad dying.

When school started everyone knew and nobody talked to me, except Jeff. He saw me in shop on Tuesday and said he was sorry. He said That sucks. I said Yeah. It did suck. But I had basketball practice that night, and after practice, when I stepped out the side door it was pouring, and Jeff’s little truck was there with the loud crappy music waling out of it, and so then at least I had a ride home. I was bringing my woodshelf home with me that day. I was getting a lot better at shop. Mr. Moffet was a good teacher, I guess.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I wrote this whole thing listening to the soundtrack to Once. And the soundtrack to Elf.

This is the blurb I submitted with the story:
You can look at high school in a few different ways. It's either a meat grinder, chewing up already-fragile adolescents and spitting them into a society that's equally ready to eat them alive. It may be a condensed evolutionary test, pushing us along diverging paths of success or failure. Or it could be a big, no-stress party scene, full of good times and good lovin. The last view is wrong. Adolescence is hard, and we grasp at invisible branches to help us pull through, not noticing the scars these thorny limbs have inflicted until much, much later. If at all.

And here's the story, posted in two parts, because nobody would read the whole thing if I posted a 5k word story, admit it. And don't feel bad if you don't wanna read it. I probably wouldn't, because I like my internets short, sweet and satisfying. Not long, sour and shallow. Which would be a wading pool full of lemon-juice flavored cross-country skis. Anyway.

Working title: How I Got Better in Shop

The kids in Mr. Moffet’s class would’ve called him a fag or something like that if he’d been any other teacher, because he acted like a girl. He had thick glasses and a high, gravelly voice. But in shop, when he ran the Skil saw or helped us sort through the scrap pile, it was different. He was still careful and kind of prissy, but not really. I mean, it was like watching an old nurse take your blood pressure. Slow and sure. Plus, well, it’s hard to make fun of someone who can run huge sawing machines. Maybe sometimes it was frustrating waiting behind him in the cafeteria line, but I think most kids liked him. I did.

The thing was, he was a lot like my dad. It would come to me at times, like when I’d get stuck behind Mr. Moffet going up the bleachers before a football game. Dad was the same way at home. Picture me waiting for him to find something on TV or to finish washing a pan so I could dry it. It was a drag, but he had a way of setting the table on Sunday evenings after church. I had to stop pouring water and watch. The way he placed his fingertips in the top corner of the cloth rectangle and moved it down, just so, and folded each paper napkin square and set the fork and spoon next to each other, spaced equally up and down, side to side, on the napkin.

He must’ve always been like that, careful and slow. My dad was the guy who graded the wood at the lumberyard. Like This piece is for a desk, This piece cut up and make into toilet paper. I don’t know how it works, but they say he was the best. They say guys have to go to school and get certified for that kind of thing now, but Dad never went to college or trade school or anything. When I was little I always imagined him sitting at a giant desk with piles of boards and logs in front of him, like a teacher grading tests. So I guess he and Mr. Moffet had that in common.

Kelso is a logging town. Everyone’s dad or uncle or next door neighbor either logs or works at the mill. I signed up for wood shop sophomore year because of Jeff Kent. He was a burnout, and hung out on the smoking dock with the rest of them, but he was also my neighbor and had caught me changing out of my training bra the summer before 10th grade. I was on the back patio, in the middle of mowing the grass. I had just been to Bernice’s for a hair cut, and all that grass and dust and sweat and splinters of fresh-cut hair were making me itch, so I tried to do the bra trick my mom did at the Y, but it was too hot and sticky, and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing, and before I knew it, Jeff was coming around the corner from the side gate and I was standing facing the sliding door with my shirt up around my shoulders and my elbows and wrists trapped in the elastic and polyester of my dirty old training bra. I saw him in the reflection. He stopped and put his hands in the pockets of his dirty jeans and laughed, I guess waiting to see what I was going to do next.

I should have been more embarrassed, but it was just dumb Jeff from next door, and as far as I was concerned he was just being a big jackass. I tried to hunker over a little and shoot him a dirty look over my shoulder, but he stopped laughing and rubbed the back of his neck. I wriggled around some more, trying to get it all back on. I stretched and pulled, sweating more, and in the window I could see him take his other hand out of his pocket and walk to me, looking at my back. I told him Get out of here!, but he pulled my arms up and held them together with one hand, then pinched the bra together somewhere behind me. I felt the clasp come apart (the part I’d forgotten), and I pulled my arms down fast, adjusting my t-shirt around myself. I didn’t look back, and went inside to get the damn bra off in private.

In the downstairs bathroom I pulled off my shirt and bra, shivering in the chill of the basement air. I hugged my arms to my chest, and I could smell the faint tang of cigarettes on my arms where he’d held them. Later that night in bed I played the scene again and again, hugging my stuffed seal between my legs. That look on his face.

So when I didn’t get signed up for choir in time, I told the guidance counselor I wanted shop instead. I knew it’d be full of burnouts, and I’d have to make some excuse about it to Michelle and Bethany and the rest, but at night when I was trying to sleep, I relived the scene on my patio over and over. Sometimes I’d even wear my bra to bed, with the clasp undone in the back, to remember that feeling, like fingertips on my skin. His hands, his face, that smell. I never saw him at school, and he was hardly ever home, so I’d have to settle for shop.

That’s how I met Mr. Moffet. Our first project was a lamp. I was to shape a piece of wood into something interesting, glue it to another piece of wood and then screw in a metal rod and the chord and some other pieces and end up with a lamp. It was hopeless. I was ridiculous. The belt sander scared the crap out of me, and my puppy, traced onto a block of wood and cut with some giant machine I forget the name of, looked like cauliflower, and then the whole electrical part was a complete mystery. So I had to stay after twice a week to get help. So I wouldn’t flunk shop. You just don’t flunk shop in Kelso.

The first day was a Tuesday, and I only had an hour because I had volleyball practice. Mr. Moffet showed me how to used the big sander. He stood next to me, showed me where to put my fingertips so as to guide the wood slowly towards the spinning machine. As I was working on the edges of the lamp base he left for a moment and came back holding a new pair of safety goggles. He motioned me to turn off the machine and pulled my enormous scratched pair off my face and handed me the new ones. They were fresh out of the box and smelled like plastic, and when he slid them on I could see everything with a slight yellow tint. Mr. Moffet’s green sweater looked like fresh cut grass. He smiled and I smiled.

The next class was Thursday, and Jeff Kent was gone, again. He showed up about once a week and worked on a cabinet that looked as if it might go above a bathroom sink. It was his independent study project, and Mr. Moffet left him to it, unless he needed help choosing wood. It was going to be nice, even I could see that. The wood was light and freckly, and it was going to have glass in the door. Jeff Kent ignored me whenever he was in class or if I saw him in school, and I pretended that I didn’t care. But I know that day, the one when I got my yellow glasses, I know he looked at me twice, because later when I was helping my mom unload groceries in our driveway he stopped next to me in the road. He leaned out the window of his little truck and asked me How’s your ugly lamp? I told him to shut up and turned away. My face was hot for an hour.

Jeff Kent hadn’t always been a burnout. His brother was a football player and went to some little college in Montana to play. Whatever Barry did was big news in Kelso, and everyone knew it when he screwed up his shoulder in his second college game and couldn’t play any more. He quit school and moved back to work with his dad at one of the pulp mills. He worked shift and had just that summer moved out of the Kents’ house over to Longview. Everyone expected Jeff to be like Barry, and he was until Barry left for college. Then Jeff quit everything and spent lunch and study breaks on the smoking dock with the burnouts.

My dad used to be a big fan of Barry’s, but just kind of put up with Jeff. Jeff never offered to help my mom carry groceries like Barry used to, and even if Jeff had played football, he never would have started. But now we never talked about either of the Kent brothers any more. My brother Kevin was between the two of them in school, and at least he was taking classes at the local community college, even if his grades sucked and he mostly partied with Shane and Willis all week. That seemed to be okay.

After that day, the Thursday when I had the new glasses, Jeff would say hi to me in class. He’d say something mean about my project and poke my arm or tug on my hair. And Mr. Moffet would ask me to come in after school to work on my lamp. I was sometimes playing varsity in volleyball, surprise surprise, and it seemed like a lot was going on. So my dad’s announcement that he had prostate cancer just came and went. I knew what it was, of course, and cancer was that big scary word, but everyone recovered from prostate cancer. It was a jokey kind of thing, getting your prostate checked. I didn’t even tell Michelle. My mom went to work, my dad went to work, Kevin did or didn’t go to class and got drunk with Shane. And Jeff asked me to go to the movies on the Saturday after Homecoming.

I didn’t tell my parents. No way would that go over just fine. It was drizzling, and I rode my bike to Michelle’s and he picked me up there at seven. He was playing some metal and it was too loud to talk on the way to the mall. I couldn’t have anyway. I was nervous. I didn’t want to say anything stupid or act like a dork. We just drove and I watched the windshield wiper drag a leaf back and forth, back and forth. I imagined I could hear it scratch over the screeching of the guitars.

The night ended with us driving back to Michelle’s with the music still blaring. We’d barely talked the whole evening. Whole evening being three hours. He stopped across the street, in front of the Wilson’s, and put the car in park. I smiled at him and said Thanks for the movie. He laughed kind of, because I’d had to yell over the noise, and then he leaned in suddenly and grabbed my shoulder, pulling me towards him. It was wet, tonguey, hard. His teeth bashed my lip, and I didn’t know what to do with my hands. After a minute I felt his hand pushing up the corduroy of my thigh and I flinched when he touched my zipper. Not a bad flinch, but he jerked back anyway. His eyes were big, but then he frowned, and moved across the seat to me, this time putting his hand directly on my zipper. The music was so loud and he tasted of popcorn and old cigarettes. He worked both hands inside my clothes, and I was pressed back against my door. As he pushed towards me harder my seat belt strap rubbed my neck and I said Ow. He pulled back again, realizing I was trapped in my seat belt and he reached down between us to press the button. When the belt loosened I reached behind me and opened the door to the rain, but not really wanting to get out. But I think I was supposed to get out then.

I stood next to the truck with the door open and leaned in to tell him Thanks again. He had scooted back behind the wheel and was putting the car in gear. He leaned over to pick up the baseball hat that had fallen on the floor on the passenger side, and when he looked up at me, his dark eyebrows pulled together and his wet lips shining under the street lamp, it was something. It was an unforgettable something. He pulled his hat down low, raised a hand and said See ya and drove off. I wanted to run after his little truck, to let him do whatever it was he was going to do with his hands inside my clothes, but there was that feeling in my stomach. I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad.

So I went back to school on Monday, my guts all knotted up, hoping I would see him at his locker, at his car, through the back door windows, hanging out on the smoking dock, but he wasn’t any of those places. And he wasn’t in shop on Tuesday. So after wasting half the class sanding the edges of my puppy with a dull piece of sandpaper, I told Mr. Moffet I was ready to get started on the electrical bits of the project. He showed me on the handout he’d given us on the first day of class the supplies I’d need, and where the electrical parts were in the cabinet in the back of class. He drew me a picture, his hand curved around his mechanical pencil, like lefties do, and labeled the parts A, B, C and such. I was trying to figure out how to cut the power cable off a big spool in the cabinet, when I smelled Jeff’s breath. He was standing behind me, and when I turned he looked away. I said Hey. He said Hey, Whatcha doin? I shrugged and he nodded and wandered off.

Mr. Moffet brought me a pair of snippers and helped me get the metal leads hooked up to the other lamp parts, and when the bell rang, I realized Jeff was already gone. Earlier in the day I’d imagined he would walk me to my locker, but then he didn’t and I was relieved. Some kids made out at their lockers and what if he’d wanted to do that? I didn’t know if we were going out, or what. I don’t think you’re supposed to ask things like that.

Anyway, it didn’t matter. When I got out of volleyball practice, he was waiting. I could hear the music as soon as I walked out the side door, by the gym. Shelby, this girl on varsity, started laughing and said There’s your burnout. I pretended like it was no big deal and said My mom asked him to drive me to youth group. Only she didn’t know he didn’t go to our church and that it wasn’t youth group night. We went and parked by the dike next to Liberty Lanes.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Now where do we put it all?

Yesterday I went to Rockin Rudy's to buy some earrings for a friend. It was a belated Christmas present (I'd originally wrapped up some CDs I'd burned for her, but it felt cheap and lazy to be giving her something cut'n'pasted from my computer screen). It took me 30 minutes to pick a simple teardrop-shaped garnet and silver earring. I mean SUPER SIMPLE. The point of this story? Gift giving is hard.

So, I will be forgiving about this (I agree, the grimace is probably from the rod stuck up her 'gina):

But, when my skin crawls off my body from the zombie stare, I watch this: