from Part 2
Bobby has become Mom's favorite. When I went downstairs, he was sitting at the table playing cards with her. She was gabbing about her childhood and how popular she was with boys and he was asking her questions about herself, just to be nice. "Wanna join our game, Kristin?" he asked.
"Nah," I said.
"She's too hoity-toity." Mom had to get her nasty two cents in.
God, I wish I lived somewhere else, someplace cold and wintery. Alaska? Sweden? I'd look for cracks in the ice and follow them deeper and deeper into the wild. I'd find the wolves and the coyotes and live with them.
Simon wants us to be each other's first sexual experiment. His rationale for this is that we don't have religious guilt about sex and that our minds match. He also thinks that we're good enough friends not to have this destroy our friendship. The whole idea is confusing, but I told him I'd think about it. As if I had said yes, he produced a Trojan rubber from his pocket something I've seen in Bobby's room! If I'm gonna be a smoldering fire, I'll need someone with a little more finesse. But then again, it would be something. Sometimes I feel like pinching myself just to feel something. This is a dead-end town no nature (with the exception of the mountains, which don't count since they're covered in smog); no rocks or sea, hardly any old houses; just mini-malls, fast-food restaurants, apartment buildings, condos, stucco, and smog.
It's so cool that Billie Jean King whipped Bobby Riggs at tennis. He's such a male chauvinist. Women are finally taking what they deserve. I called Simon to gloat, but he was at a seminar for "young artists." It's such a drag having a rich friend.
P.S. It's hard to decide who's grosser: Nixon or his V.P., Agnew.
Grandma has a cold. Why the hell do I bother to visit her? Last night, she raked Mom over the coals while she rubbed Vicks VapoRub over her chest. She coughed and sneezed her way down memory lane:
GRANDMA: There was an apartment in Detroit. This was before Detroit turned into the hellhole it is now. This was when people really loved and needed American cars. Then, Detroit was the place to be, I'm telling you, the place to be in the U.S.A. Morton and I'd walk around that city and say "American on wheels" to anyone who would listen. Isn't that hilarious? And Morton would pick flowers from my neighbor's window box and give them to me. He'd light me a cigarette from his cigarette like in that Bette Davis movie. We listened to the radio and danced. On our wedding night we were in a dance marathon; we were more interested in dancing than even going to bed, if you know what I mean. (long tragic pause) That was before your mother was born. Once your mother was born, Morton just wanted to go out by himself all the time.
Later: The ghost is howling like a coyote. Bobby wasn't home yet so I got into his bed. When I woke up, he was tiptoeing around.
BOBBY: It's okay. Go back to sleep. I'll sleep on the couch.
ME: What did you do tonight?
BOBBY: Just hung around Michelle's trailer. We were going to drive to the beach or something, but her aunt wanted her to stick around.
ME: What did you talk about?
BOBBY: I don't know. About what we're going to do when we graduate. About the church.
ME: Do you love Michelle?
BOBBY: It's easy to love Michelle. She's sweet and she's pretty. It's easy to love people in general.
ME: I think it's hard to love people. It's not that I don't want to. It's like I have...what's that thing when you have something in your eye that blocks your vision?
BOBBY: An astigmatism?
ME: Yeah, I have an astigmatism on my feelings.
BOBBY: Nah, you're just having a tough time these days. Do you want to watch TV?
ME: Okay. Bobby, do you love the ghost? (He had to think about that for a while.)
BOBBY: I love him...because he's David. And...I hate him because he's not David. I can't help wondering what would have happened if I were just a few years older, if both of us...you know? (I shook my head.) David was the oldest and he always seemed smarter and bigger and better at everything than me. He got most of the attention, especially from Mom. But then, he had to go to war because he was the oldest...and that makes me feel, I don't know...guilty.
ME: I'm sorry, Bobby.
BOBBY: It's okay.
ME: Like the saying goes, "I didn't ask to be born."
ME: Or when.
I biked to the library, which is in the nice, older part of town. It's a good place to go when I need to escape. The librarian there, Miss Dodge, is pretty sweet; I've known her since I was about two. "Do you have something sophisticated for me to read?" I asked her, feeling dumb. She didn't grin at me like most adults do. "I just read a good piece in this magazine. It's on conspiracy theories surrounding Martin Luther King's assassination," she said. It was a pretty interesting article, but what got me really excited were the ads in the back of the magazine: L'École Gallavier. SWISS BOARDING SCHOOL! The answer to all my problems. I copied down the address and, when I got home, wrote away for a brochure. I can't wait.
Something I've managed to avoid so far. I've been assigned to write a paper about the Vietnam War. It's bad enough that I have to listen to teachers going on and on about it as if there is nothing else that has ever happened in history.
Paper not started. If I don't write the thing I'll probably get an F, and down the drain with the honors program.
O'Neil was out sick, so I had to talk to Armstrong. "This is high school. We do our assignments. Really, history is not so bad," he says.
I can still read those damn books whether I'm in honors or not.
Brainstorming. Brain. Storming.
Notes for Vietnam paper:
THE BAD WAR, by Kristin Folger
There is no such thing as a good war, but some wars are worse than others. Such is the case with Vietnam.
FASCISM, by Kristin Folger
The history of Vietnam is that many different forces have tried to govern it and the Vietnamese fought back. Ho Chi Minh was supposed to be a hero. But he wasn't. America got involved. President Kennedy tried to end the war, but then he was assassinated. Johnson made matters worse.
HOW IT STARTED, by Kristin Folger
The French were wrong then Geneva was wrong Communism wrong capitalism wrong Vietcong wrong Eisenhower Kennedy Johnson Nixon you name it the betrayed become the betrayers, the savior turns with a machine gun to the crowd.
* * *
This is how it happens: The young boy is taken from his home he is bright, athletic, funny, a star. The town glories in his perfections: track star, wrestling star, star scholar.
But, he is still a child.
This is how it happens: The young boy is green as jade. He smiles, teeth bleached white from the sun, from Crest and Colgate and American dreams.
His country says war, says kill, says die, says don't question authority.
At first he doesn't mind. The uniform is shiny. Aren't American soldiers heroes? He's always thought they were. Inside, he pretends that he's someone else: John Wayne, Clark Gable. Outside, he excels, the way he always has. He trains to say war, say kill, say die. He flies to a land farther than he can imagine. He learns to be a soldier, to understand the terrain. He communes with nature. The snakes and lizards. The insects.
Part of him has gone away. The other part pretends he is in one of those movies he watched as a boy The Guns of Navarone, The Shores of Iwo Jima, where the enemy is clear and ugly and evil. The enemy has a wicked face and a long skinny mustache. The enemy is not a woman farmer, a girl, a crying child, a scared teenager, a village.
This is the history of colonial rule. The changing of one land one body for another, one leg one arm one soul. And the whales travel miles to Baja, the turtles leave their eggs on the beach. And Simon, don't romanticize Ho Chi Minh or Marx or the maniac Stalin or Lenin or anyone or me. Don't even romanticize the whales, because they don't have difficult choices to make; they move on instinct. And the turtles leave their eggs on the beach to hatch alone. They don't even stick around to help their babies make it to the sea.
Dear Miss Faulkner: This is a late paper. After you read it, you may understand why. I can't write about the American participation in the Vietnam War without thinking of my brother David. Before he went to war, he was pretty famous at this school. He was a track star, wrestling champ, valedictorian. David was going to be a doctor or an astronomer.
Did I tell you that David knew the name of every planet, every constellation? We walked a lot at night and he introduced me to the stars. He taught me to see the way light falls on the trees, how to observe the changing directions of the wind, how to know when the rain would come days before it came. We talked about God. He believed in God, but he said it was okay if I didn't. He wanted people to think that things came easy for him. But they didn't. He would stay up nights working on his wrestling moves or his Spanish or his debate speech. David made birthday cakes in the shapes of animals. David sang old Gershwin songs off-key. Forget it, Miss Faulkner. You wouldn't understand. You think the slaves should have stayed enslaved.
I'm going to fail history. Naturally, I didn't give the paper or letter to Miss Faulkner. Why bother writing to even you? Why pretend that you're somebody and you can hear me?
Later: Called St. Agnes and a nun gave me the number of a convent in Alta Dena. The Mother Superior was eager enough to talk to a potential novice (if that's what it's called). She got right on when I explained my interest. The nun business has been slow lately, I'm sure. All that poverty and celibacy; there must not be many takers in this country. Also, that marriage to Christ business is pretty weird. In every religion there's always something that rubs me the wrong way. She asked if I'd been confirmed and I told her I had. (That was an event in itself Mom dressed me up like a Chatty Cathy doll, complete with patent leather shoes!) The Mother Superior explained that I could come to the convent to live at any time, but that my parents would have to give permission, plus pay room and board until I become a real nun. I was pretty cheerful, imagining myself holed up in a nice stark room somewhere reading Descartes and Heidegger, until she went over the daily routine: three Masses a day for an hour each, cooking, cleaning, milking cows (!). When I asked if I'd have to attend Mass since I'm an atheist, she immediately lost interest. What's the problem?
David. Please. Please come back. Please. Even with your body screwed up you could still do things. You could be a doctor even, like you wanted to. We could live together forever, and I'd help you out. Please, Dave. You've rested enough. Come back.
Copyright © 2001 by Kelly Easton