Moments #4: The Neighborhood, This Afternoon

Some days, you are lucky enough to wake up and discover that your entire neighborhood has changed over night.  Though it looks like snow, it’s actually just sleet and ice.  The roads are slippery enough to justify staying home today.  I still went outside and snapped a few pictures.  Outside, it was very cold, very still, and very quiet.

Previous Moments:

  1. My Dolphin by Case Wright
  2. His Name Was Zac by Lisa Marie Bowman
  3. The Neighborhood, This Morning by Erin Nicole

Moments #2: His Name Was Zac by Lisa Marie Bowman

His name was Zac and, for a few weeks during my freshman year of college, I thought that I might be very deeply in love with him.  He was a tall, muscular 23 year-old with thick blonde hair that fell clumsily down to his shoulders.  His face wasn’t really handsome.  The sight of his pink lips surrounded by his messy blonde beard always left me wanting to buy him a razor.  I often told myself that, whenever we had grown close enough, I would talk him into shaving his beard and revealing his true face, scars and all.  I assumed he had scars though, in retrospect, I guess the beard could have just been there to try to disguise the fact that he actually had the face of a 12 year-old.

Zac wasn’t handsome but that was his appeal.  I was 19.  I was away from home for the first time and I was desperately trying to not to let anyone see just how scary that was for me.  I’d already given the socially acceptable, alcoholic frat boys a try.  I’d had my flirtations with the painfully sensitive types who wore their hearts on their sleeves and cried whenever I said I didn’t see myself getting married before I was legally old enough to drink.  I’d had the fantasy men.  Now, I was ready for a real man and I was convinced that reality was hiding underneath Zac’s grotesque mask of a beard.

I sat directly behind him in Intro. To Creative Writing and the first day of class, I sat there and I stared at the blonde hair cascading down over his shoulders.  Over the winter break, I’d had a very brief fling with an aspiring screenwriter who, even at the age of 20, already had a bald spot.  It had reminded me of the importance of a thick head of hair and, if nothing else, Zac had that.

The first day of class, each student took a turn going up to the front of the room, sitting on top of the teacher’s desk, and telling the class who we were and what we hoped to express with our writing.  When Zac was had his turn, he told us that Jack Kerouac was a major influence on his life and that “No one is going to tell me how to write!”  His nostrils flared as he spoke.  When my name was called, I briefly stopped fantasizing about running my hands through the thick head of hair in front of me and I went up to the front of the room.  I hopped up on the desk and I immediately mentioned that my ancestors came from Ireland, Italy, and Spain.  No one appeared to be impressed by that unique combination.  I said that I was a city girl with a lot of country inside of me.  I paused and waited for a reaction that did not come.  In my usual rambling manner, I continued to go on about myself.  I was already feeling awkward and it didn’t help that it was obvious that, despite my best efforts to be cute in a flighty way, none of my fellow classmates were really listening to a word I had to say.  Some were talking amongst themselves, some were looking over the class syllabus, and a few were just staring blankly at the wall behind me.

No one was paying attention to me.  No one was looking at me as I spoke.

Except for Zac.  As I rambled through my introduction, Zac never stopped looking at me and soon, I felt as if I was talking to him and him only.  Of course, looking back, I also remember that I was wearing a short black skirt on that day and Zac wasn’t quite looking me in the eye.  In retrospect, it’s probably a lot more realistic to assume that Zac was more fascinated by the color of my panties than anything I had to say about myself.  If I remember correctly, they were hot pink.  I always made it a point to wear colorful underwear whenever I was otherwise dressed in all black.  It was my way of embracing the duality of nature.

But, on that day and at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the duality of anything.  All that mattered was that he paid attention to me and after that one class period, I decided I was in love with him.

As the semester continued, I would look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday because I knew I’d get to sit behind Zac and stare at his lion’s mane of blonde hair.  Some days, he was very talkative in class as he would tell us why another student’s story was or wasn’t honest.  Other days, he would sit in a sullen silence and I would wonder what inner darkness he was wrestling with.  As the days passed, I wondered when he would finally read us something he had written.  What mysteries would be revealed when he finally opened his soul.

One day, he came into class, turned around in his chair to face me, and held up a thick bundle of papers.

“I wrote this last night,” he said.

“Are you going to read it?” I asked, trying to hide my near-giddy excitement.

“No,” he replied before suddenly ripping the pages in half, “a true artist has to be willing to destroy what he creates.”

I sat there, shocked.  I wondered if I would have the courage to be a true artist.  I wondered if Zac would ever trust me enough to let me know what he had just destroyed.  Yes, I decided, he would trust me.  If I had to, I would spend the rest of the semester earning that trust.

Unfortunately, at our next class, Zac did read us the story he had previously “destroyed.”  It was about an angry, rebellious, bearded 23 year-old who, one night, spotted a dead dog in the middle of the road and it caused him to reconsider everything that he felt he knew about his girlfriend, his friends, and the father who never understood why his son didn’t want to take over the family hardware store.  It was a long, angry narrative about crushed idealism, spiritual ennui, and lots of profanity.  The main character had a habit of responding to every comment with an angry one-liner and no one could ever refute his arguments, which I guess is the advantage of writing about yourself.  It included a lengthy sex scene between Zac’s doppelganger and a high school cheerleader who was secretly fed up with being popular and I had to swallow a giggle when Zach hit the line, “His hands found her breasts,” as if they had previously gone missing.  In short, it was really, really bad.

That was pretty much the end of things for me and Zac.  The beard, the intensity, the self-righteous anger; it was all kind of annoying without any talent to go with it.  Still, it was a good few weeks.

Zac read a few more stories over the course of that semester, all of which were about the same angry and profane 23 year-old who didn’t get along with his Dad and who spent his time “telling it like it is.”  Usually, I zoned out whenever he was reading.  Occasionally, he would still talk to me about his artistic insights and I would nod and smile without actually hearing what he was saying.  He mentioned Keroauc a lot but I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Zac would have been one of the fans that Keroauc complained about in Big Sur, always dropping by unannounced and demanding to know if Kerouac had written anything else about Dean and Sal.  About halfway through the semester, I think Zac finally figured out that I was bored with him because his stare became a bit less intense.  I caught him rolling his eyes once as I read a story about an angry 19 year-old who always knew the perfect thing to say and who spent a lot of time considering the duality of nature.  After the end of the semester, he disappeared from campus.  Whether he graduated or dropped out or transferred somewhere else, no one knew.  Actually, to be honest, no one cared.

I do sometimes wonder what happened to Zac.  Is he still writing or did he eventually take over the family hardware store?  And did he ever shave that ridiculous beard?

Previous Moments:

  1. My Dolphin by Case Wright

My Dolphin, By Case Wright

I met My Dolphin 15 years ago. It was Christmas Day at Kitty Hawk. I didn’t have any kids yet and the presents were done. I was not hungover; those sorts of mornings happened later. It was a nice Christmas; in contrast to my Christmases growing up- they were very scary because of my Old Man. He would try to stay out of his cups for some holidays and that was always much much worse. I remember wishing that he would just drink and get it over with. Christmas Day back in those days were like distilled fear; I’d get smacked around and go for long walks in Virginia until late afternoon broke and my Old Man’s no drinking pledge would subside.

I was older now, but I still got anxious Christmas morning and liked to go for those walks alone. I needed to feel that wind . . . that cold December wind brace against my cheeks. On Christmas, Kitty Hawk has grey skies and bitter salty winds in beautiful abundance. I liked the way the wind smacked me around safely.

I left the beach house front door, shut it smartly, and remembered to lock it and check it. You can’t trust locks and doors at the Outer Banks the rust and decay is ubiquitous and the salt blows through everything like alpha particles clumsily meandering in space toward wherever they want to go. My shoes made that scraping sound where the salt and sand and shoes come together. I turned and looked ahead to the Dunes that I’d crossed thousands of times. There’s always these openings along the beach road that takes you along the length of island, until the next bridge, and the next barrier island and the next and the next. I always entered to the left entrance where it’s filled with countless footprints no matter what time of day; the wooden entrances just don’t have the same feel. I always looked both ways first, not for cars but to see just how empty it was both along the left and right. I went up and down the Dune entrance, seeing the ocean with that green color it has.

I was about to exhale, but then I heard the screams.

I saw a man trying to pull a beached dolphin back into the ocean. It was low tide and he would be pulling and then the dolphin would roll back to shore. Then, I was upon the man and breathing deeply. I had run at a sprint without thinking. The Man was skinny and no older than 30 with a full beard with beat up jeans and a wool sweater. He grabbed me and had tears in his eyes.

“Help!” “I can’t get him in! I already called emergency marine life, but they’re not answering.”

I grabbed the rear fin – (assume that what it’s called), the man grabbed around his center, and we dragged the dolphin towards the water. We were losing our footing. I remember digging against the wet sand, pulling as hard as we all could. His skin was rubbery, but rough from the sand. He tried to help us by bucking to get back into the sea. His blood was on my hands and washed away. With a pull of all of our strength, the Man, the dolphin, and I fell into the mini-shelf where ocean, sand, and pebbles met. The waves would hit and push us all back. This pattern went on ’til our hands were numb and our clothes were heavy and soaked. Every step was like fighting through foot deep wet snow. Finally, the three of us were exhausted.

I pulled the dolphin to the beach by myself; the Man told me that he was going for help, but we knew he wasn’t coming back because he couldn’t meet our eyes. I hugged My Dolphin and looked into his eyes- they had clear awareness and thought; that’s when I knew that for the first time in my life that I was going to have to help a person die.

My Dolphin was so scared. He wasn’t bucking or squirming anymore; we were too tired for that. He was in my arms and looked at me pleadingly. I shook my head, held my tears in, and told My Dolphin- “It was going to be okay. It was going to be okay.”

He sighed, looked away for a moment at the sea, and looked back at me- calmly. His eyes were telling me that it was going to be okay. My Dolphin died in my arms. Then, I let myself weep.

I’m sure that he had a name among his family, but I’ve always called him My Dolphin that is who he is and will remain to me. We all die, but My Dolphin passed in the arms of another person who loved him. We were going to be okay…. we were going to be okay.