Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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A bird hits the windshield, boom, but the windshield doesn’t care, and then I check the rearview, and the little corpse appears on the asphalt. These sparrows are intent on killing themselves. They cross the road from one cornfield to the other (like there will be a difference), and there’s me driving along at seventy miles per hour, trunk full of guitars, and conk, no more bird.
All of my thoughts have these interjections, these exclamations. Conk. Boom. I’m touring the Midwest folk-music circuit alone, and I need to create my own imaginary noise, the way I create my own imaginary throat nodules that will end my singing career. I’m good at that: I can create imaginary cancer. I can create imaginary problems back at home, though if anything happens, Drew will work it out with the girls. He’s a good husband. My daughters and I were lucky to acquire him. He plays stand-up bass with me when I get paid enough to tour with an acoustic trio. And when the pay sucks, he stays home with the girls, thirteen, eleven, and five: all prime numbers, and they all have blond hair, and two of the three have the same father, the other man I married. The youngest, Gracie, is the spawn of a certain folk singer who is widely known among men who can braid their own hair. One of his songs is in a car commercial. When it comes on at our house, we change the channel.
In addition to the three blond girls, I have sheep and chickens and a cat and two dogs (who have an unsteady alliance) and Drew, who is unflappable. Me, I’m flappable.
I don’t want to do this Kansas show that I’m driving to and will not enjoy, but I’ve learned that you can grit your teeth so that it looks like a smile. You can be nice to folks. You can be self-deprecating. You can make sure you play the three songs people know. You can play a clever cover tune, but never anything written by the man who has a song in a car commercial. You can pretend to be flirtatious. I used to have a reputation for raising hell. It was really such minor hell — barely even heck — but folks still want that. They want to see me guzzling from a bottle of Jack, sitting in a stranger’s lap, kissing someone on the lips. Drew understands. It’s part of the show. Easier than singing.
Sometimes I wonder if the true me is the one kissing strangers or the one sitting here, all alone in the bird-death-mobile. I kill a lot of bugs, too. So many I can barely see through their yellow guts and have to scrub them away at the self- service gas pump.
Halfway through the set — which is going sort of kind of maybe pretty good — I think about that kid in the town in Missouri that I’d never heard of before, Ferguson. Right before I went on, I saw it on the TV in the egg-yolk-yellow greenroom: a cop killed a black teen named Michael Brown. The sound was off, but I saw police with assault rifles. I saw tear gas. I saw black people with their hands in the air.
Here at this arts center, one state away, the crowd’s all white, like me.
Between songs I mention the trouble in Missouri. Only half joking, I say, “If I knew that rap song, I’d play it right now.” I pause. “You know, the one that goes ‘Fuck the police.’ ”
Some people laugh, and a few clap, but one guy yells, “Fuck you!”
“No, no,” I say. “Fuck the police.” And then I start playing to get myself out of that shitstorm.
After the encore, I sit at a card table in the lobby and talk to people and sell copies of my new CD and sign things and say somewhat earnestly, “I remember you from the last time I played here.” I like this part more than the performance itself. I like the human exchange — and I don’t just mean when someone buys a CD.
Maybe fifteen people are lined up, and I can guess which one is the fuck-you-er. He’s handsome (maybe a little too much chin though) and rigid, almost as if he’s holding his breath. He looks like a cop, his black hair short, like a buzz cut that’s grown out. He’s standing with a woman, but they aren’t talking. She keeps turning away from him. I can tell she doesn’t want to be in line. She wants to go home.
I sell six CDs. I smile a lot. I say, “Thank you kindly.” Then they’re standing in front of me.
“She wanted to come see you,” the fuck-you-er says, and he shoves his chin out at the woman, probably his wife; she wears a plain gold band on her left hand.
“I wish we hadn’t,” she says quietly.
“Fuck the police, huh?” he says to me.
“No,” I say, “fuck you.”
He gets up close to the table and leans across until his face almost touches mine. He smells good actually: cologne with a hint of smoke.
“What did you say?” he asks.
“I told you to fuck off.” I don’t know if my voice shakes, but I’m guessing it does.
“He’s a cop,” the woman says.
“Was,” the man says, and then he gasps, and he begins to cry.
“Fuck her,” the woman says. She turns to me. “Fuck you.” The guy is blubbering quietly. The woman says it again, louder: “Fuck you!” She’s doing it for him. I can tell. I almost admire it.
The kindly gray-haired woman who runs the arts center finally arrives. I can’t remember her name.
“Is there some kind of problem?” she asks.
“I was just telling these people to go fuck themselves,” I say pleasantly.
The wife doesn’t comfort her husband, the former cop. She shoves the card table toward me. She’s shorter than I am and skinny. I think I could take her if I had to, though I haven’t fought anyone since high school, when I ripped a hank of hair out of Gretchen Jenks’s head. I smile thinking about it.
“What the fuck are you laughing about?” the wife says.
“Oh, honey,” I say, and then she tries to flip the table over. I hold it in place, but a few of my CDs clatter to the floor.
When I look into her eyes, she’s crying, too. “Why’d you have to ruin everything?” she says to me.
“Call the cops,” I tell the kindly woman. Martha, her name is Martha. “The real cops.”
Martha just stands there.
“Call the police, Martha!” I say.
Martha scurries off, presumably to find a phone.
“Honey,” the wife says. “Honey, call the station.”
He sniffles and pulls out his phone. He must still have the station on speed dial, because within a few seconds he is saying, “This is Jake. You’re going to get a call to come to the arts center. It’s fine. Don’t come.” He pauses. Then he says, “I know.” Pause. “You too.” Then he hangs up. “They’re not coming,” he says. “I still have some juice.”
“He is the cops!” the woman says to me.
“Would you like a copy of my new CD?” I ask her.
“I think we’d better go,” the ex-cop says to his wife, and they walk away. He even totters a bit, as if his world has been kicked off kilter. Sometimes I wonder why we don’t all wobble.
The couple of people who were in line behind the fuck-you-er have split. Can’t blame them, but I really could have used another CD sale or two — for gas money.
Martha reappears and locks the front door. “Just in case,” she says to me.
I could collapse right now like this card table. My limbs could fold right up.
Lacey, my tall, blond, newly Christian thirteen-year-old, believes that anything that happens to me will end up on the Internet and will embarrass her in front of the entire planet. “It’s inevitable,” she says every time she uncovers a maternal infraction on the Web. I think of her as “the Inevitable,” even though I shouldn’t.
I don’t know if anyone pulled out their phone and filmed the scene with the ex-cop, but it’s probably coming. Somehow this will matter to Lacey.
The ex-cop sounded like he took it personally, but someone telling you to fuck off isn’t personal anymore. Maybe it was once. Maybe it summoned images of the actual act, but now the phrase is dead and wooden. For me, it’s mainly a punch line.
Yup, pretty funny.
I’ve got a couple of guitars to put in cases and haul out to the car, some cords to unplug and coil. I get my check and load up, and when I turn around and see my name on the arts-center marquee, I think, Show’s over. Get that down.
I drive as fast as seems prudent, then faster. Speeding used to feel more dangerous. The whole point of driving fast is to court danger, but in a newish, somewhat decent car in the twenty-first century, there’s no rattle, no threat. On a good road, ninety doesn’t feel like ninety anymore.
Out of my fucking way, sparrows!
I didn’t think until now about what could have happened back there. The ex-cop could have been waiting for me in the parking lot. He could have said, Hands up. No, that’s not it. He would have rushed me, and then, when I reacted, he would have shot me and claimed self-defense. The angle of the bullet — probably bullets — would have indicated my possible aggression. I think they can argue that. He’s an ex-cop. He would know the angles.
I don’t even know if Kansas has “stand your ground,” or whatever it is that allows you to shoot people in Florida. But they’ve got paranoia here. I can smell it.
I’m speeding just for the adrenaline rush. It’s one of the few thrills I have left. I try not to drink because I get awful hangovers now (imaginary brain cancer!), and I’d never fuck around on Drew, and hard drugs scare me too much. So these days I have to depend on the chemicals my body makes all on its lonesome.
But this highway screams straight through the state. Speed does nothing for me here except get me home to Iowa sooner.
Shit, fuck. I almost forgot about the show in Lincoln, Nebraska.
I seek shelter at a hotel and then, after a few hours of Web surfing and bad cable, my mind finally shuts down and I sleep. In the morning I grab a muffin and toast at the fruit-less continental breakfast. (No continent would claim this meal.) Then I’m back on the road.
Drew calls me on my cellphone.
“You shouldn’t be driving and talking,” he says, and I say I’m not, and he says, “I can hear the engine. Oil needs changing,” and I think there’s no way he can tell the oil needs changing because of the sound. No way.
But maybe he can.
“Any crises I should be aware of?” I ask, and he says, “Not that I’m aware of,” by which he means it’s a mess there, but he’ll take care of it. We’re starting to have Christian boys hanging around to see Lacey, who’s already striking in a frightening way. The boys don’t even do anything; they just want to look at her. But they need to be watched, and the girls need to have their self-esteem boosted — or crushed, depending — and the dogs need to be fed, and those love-stricken boys eventually need to be run off.
I don’t mention that I almost totally forgot the Lincoln show. I don’t mention the cop — the ex-cop.
“I’m going to sing that new song,” I say, and Drew says, “Great. Mellow out the chorus, and they’ll love it.” By “they” he means the twenty people there. By “love” he means they’ll clap for me.
“The chorus is all you,” I say because he wrote it, and he says, “Shucks,” and I say, “I’d better go,” and he says, “All the love,” and I say it back. It doesn’t make the sun shine brighter, but it doesn’t hurt. That’s my motto: If something doesn’t hurt, you can probably keep doing it.
I’m driving to a folk-music outpost, one of the last settlements of Nerdbraska. Usually there will be fifteen people who will sing along with every song, and I’m grateful for them. The temptation always boils up just to let them sing. If only one of them could play guitar! I’m planning my own obsolescence. I dream of it. Doesn’t everyone? But if I die, who would make sure Bones and Slobber got three walks a day, and who would keep the girls from becoming cheerleaders, and who would sing a cover of Tom Kimmel’s “Blue Train” that makes people weepy, and who would fuck Drew until he’s content? Somebody else could do some of those things, but only I can do them all.
Before, during, and after the show, I’m offered drinks, and each demurral takes more energy than the last. That energy’s got to run out sometime. I’m on my last wisps of self-control. At least I don’t say the word fuck in proximity to the word police. In fact, I studiously avoid both words. I’m still learning.
Post-show I drive my own car to the bar we’re all going to — me, the nice hippie couple who organize the shows here, and a handful of fans from the audience. One woman I’ve known forever. Whenever I play here, she’ll be in the crowd. We hug hello, and we hug goodbye, and I have no idea what her name is. She knows mine. That’s the easy part.
I could bail on them. I’m following the hippie couple’s red Toyota, but I could take the next right, and it would lead me to the interstate. Instead the red Toyota tugs me along like a magnet. This is supposed to be fun, I know. They’ve been looking forward to it, and my job is to pretend that it’s not a chore. I make a list of topics I will not talk about: global climate change, fracking, Michael Brown, the Affordable Care Act, or any kind of catastrophe anywhere. America is the great grizzled god of denial, and I accept this. I won’t be cynical tonight. But my eyes in the rearview are cynical and tired and puffy. I’ve got three to five years of still being pretty for a certain age. And that’s not cynical. That’s optimistic.
The bar’s parking lot is nearly empty: I see a Prius and a pickup, plus our little caravan of despair.
I try to kill my cynicism before I go in, but, oof, it’s tough. It can survive a shiv to the kidney. It’s got a big old will to live. I pull out my phone and point it to the sky and say to the nice hippie couple, “I’ve got to make a quick call home. Meet you inside.” Then my brain performs a miracle: Their names are Reggie and Bill! She’s Reggie. They smile and nod and go into the bar, and then I don’t call anyone. I just hold the phone to my ear in case anyone looks outside. It’s OK to be a liar, but not OK to be outed as one.
When I go inside, I find a greasy dive with a beautiful old bar — probably solid maple — but it’s dead quiet, so I stomp right over to the jukebox. “Music!” I say, and I skip the country and veer toward classic rock. Led Zeppelin riffs fill the room.
The true sign of friendship is when we allow each other the illusion of being cool. So I reach over with my thumb to remove a smudge of lipstick from Reggie’s cheek, and when she looks at me, I say, “I just wanted to touch you,” even though that wasn’t it at all, and she gets kind of soft and glimmery, so I kiss her on the lips (no tongue), and then I kiss her husband the same way, and then I kiss her again, and someone in the bar claps and hollers.
For a minute the air feels charged. We’ve let the idea of sex into the room, but it’s only a phantom. They can bring the idea of me into their bed with them tonight. That’s the point: let them have the dream; the real me can drive home.
My oldest, the Inevitable, the newly minted Christian, does everything electronic: She blogs. She texts. She tweets. I can’t tell if she’s really good or really bad at it. I feel like it has to be one or the other. I don’t think there’s a middle ground.
I’m drinking coffee at a rest stop and looking at my little phone, and I guess Lacey’s up late and looking at her little phone, too, because here’s her latest tweet, posted seconds ago:
Lacey Christian Soldier @laceybug43 · 34s
A world of hurt just needs a big bandaid from Jesus.
Lacey Christian Soldier @laceybug43 · 34s
A world of hurt just needs a big bandaid from Jesus.
I can’t tell if she’s proselytizing or doing some form of stand-up. I imagine her curled on the couch, pale-skinned and elegant. She takes up two-thirds of the couch this way, which means that if both her sisters are in the room, one is relegated to the floor. Lacey likes to relegate. Or maybe she’s alone, out in the backyard, in the dark. She likes to sit under the only tree. I watch her sometimes during the day. She sits in the shade, and her fingers move furiously. If you didn’t know she had a phone in her hand — from a distance you can’t see it — you would think she had some muscular degenerative disorder.
Wherever she found Jesus, it wasn’t at our house. It happened sometime over the past year. She entered teenhood, and I was all ready to get her on the pill and confiscate Miller Lite from her bedroom. Instead she went to church with one of her friends. She brought home a Bible. She brought home a purity ring.
We fought over the purity ring, which she got for vowing not to have sex before marriage. I don’t think you should vow anything at thirteen. She vows, she tweets, she blogs, she prays.
She has a terrific voice that she wastes in church.
It’s not that I don’t believe in god (lowercase g). I do think there’s something bigger than us. I just suspect that it’s our collective sense of ourselves, all 7 billion of us. But I drive Lacey to church, to church socials, to choir practice. I am her vehicle unto Jesus. If that’s not a mother’s love, I don’t know what is.
I sleep just a few hours in a Motel 6 and get home early in the morning. Drew’s the only one up.
“I kissed Reggie and Bill,” I say.
“Both of them?” Drew asks.
“Yup,” I say.
“How are they doing anyway?”
“Good,” I say. “They say hi.”
“What did Bill say about the farm?”
“Um, nothing really.”
Drew would have talked to Bill about his organic carrots and what Bill does to eliminate squishtoe bugs, or whatever. He probably doesn’t eliminate them at all. He probably finds them nicer homes. He makes them squishtoe-bug mansions.
“Good show in Lincoln?” he asks.
“Good enough. Sold twelve CDs.”
He nods. He’s all Drew, all the time, which is really hard to pull off. I’ve never been fully myself for more than three or four minutes at a whack. He also has nice triceps. I’d never really appreciated triceps until he took me to bed.
Drew’s better with the girls than their fathers are. He says things like, “If you brush your teeth, we’ll let you stay up an hour later,” and “Good stuff will happen tomorrow. You’ll want clean teeth for it. Feet, too.” He’s so calm sometimes I think he can shut off his brain. Most of us can’t do that — we outsmart ourselves.
I don’t want to talk to Drew about the ex-cop yet. I want to talk to Lacey first, as a form of penance. She might already know. She Googles me. She follows all the folk-circuit blogs, keeps track of my sins.
Around noon, the Inevitable comes into the kitchen, where I’m slicing carrots into matchsticks for a stir-fry. (When I’m around, I cook healthy lunches.) I can tell she wants to make an announcement.
“What is it, honey?” I say. I keep chopping. There’s something therapeutic about it.
“You kissed some girl up in Lincoln,” she says. “In public and everything.”
And I didn’t even think those kisses were worth noticing, let alone capturing on a phone.
“It’s true,” I say, and she says, “Drew!” the way she does, and I say, “He knows.”
I don’t add that I kissed a boy, too.
“Do you want me to kiss people?” she says. “Do you?”
Maybe Lacey hasn’t kissed anyone yet. It’s possible. “Sure,” I say. “If you’re ready to kiss someone, and you want to, why not?”
“I don’t even want to kiss anyone!” she says.
Well, don’t then, I think, and I continue chopping.
“Mom!” she says.
“Honey,” I say, “it was nothing.”
She’s picking at the edge of the countertop with a fingernail. A loose piece of linoleum comes up. We’ve glued it down before, but it never stays. She doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I could say, Hoo boy, I used to do much, much worse things. I’ve got a doozy of a story from when I was pregnant with you, but I don’t think that will supply the necessary salve for her wound.
She thinks this is some form of betrayal or family tragedy, and she has a right to her opinion, to the wonderful umbrage of childhood. I haven’t been that sure of anything since the mid-1980s. She will outgrow it, that feeling of certainty.
“No one listens to your music,” she says.
She wants it to hurt — and it does, a little, so I say, “Plus, I got into it with a cop. Well, a former cop, I guess.”
“Don’t you ‘mom’ me,” I say, but I knew she would. I wanted this one. It felt good.
“What happened?” she says.
“Nothing really. We just yelled at each other.”
“I’m Googling it,” she says. “I’m Googling it right now.”
When I was about Lacey’s age, I huffed gas fumes. Way out behind one of the outbuildings at the Johnsons’ farm. I think it was propane, but maybe not. It pops you with this burst of cold, like snorting winter, and then, in seconds, your brain flips, and your legs turn jammy, and the sky is just this immense joke, and people love you, and you love people.
A hit of that lasted a long time, but not forever.
Even now, when I see a propane tank hooked up to someone’s supersize gas grill, I think that I could easily sneak out there in the dark of night and blast myself. I’ll never be fourteen again, but maybe I’ll get to feel like it.
It wasn’t propane. At least, I don’t think so. I’ve Googled it now to try to figure out what I did to myself, to my neurons. Who knows what deficits I have? Who knows what kind of higher intellectual functioning I’ve lost? I can’t even balance a checkbook. Well, I probably could, but there’s no point to it now. You can check your statements online.
Maybe writing songs uses only lower intellectual functioning. Medium, maybe.
Or maybe my brain is one tough bitch.
Later, little Gracie and Agnes, my middle child, help me make cookies. Gracie likes to measure. She likes to smooth off the flour — packed in its tin cup — with the flat edge of a butter knife. Agnes likes to eat dollops of batter.
“Don’t eat too much,” I say, and she sticks another gob in her mouth and replies, “I won’t.”
I’ll be the first to admit that “too much” is difficult to estimate. I’ve erred before.
When the cookies are done baking, Gracie and I pull out the first sheet. She wants to eat one now.
“Let ’em cool a bit, sweetie,” I say.
“Gracie,” she corrects me.
“Sweet Gracie,” I say, and that’s good enough for her. She understands negotiation.
Drew comes in with a layer of sawdust on his left sleeve, and he pops a whole cookie into his mouth. I watch him chew around the heat of it. He never lets anything cool down.
“What are you building, Daddy?” Gracie asks, and he says, “Secret project,” and he winks at her. She tries to wink back, but it’s more of a blink.
“Still hot out there?” I ask, because it’s another scorcher. Even in the air conditioning, you move slowly and under duress. Drew nods and pops another in his mouth.
“Can you even taste them?” I ask, and he says, “All over,” and then the girls ask if they can each have one, too. I say yes and join them. We put ours on plates because we’re dainty like that.
© Grant M. Ryan
When I stick my head into her bedroom, Lacey’s hunched over her laptop on the floor. She looks beautiful, slightly pallid, and crooked. My diagnosis is temporary computer-assisted scoliosis.
“Hey, baby,” I say.
“I know: ‘When you die, you’ll look back and cherish all this time you spent on the Internet,’ ” she says in a weird, strangled voice. It takes me a second to figure out she’s imitating me.
“It’s really nice to see you, too,” I say.
“What happened?” she asks.
“What happened where?”
“With the cop,” she says, and she points at the screen of her laptop. “It’s inevitable.”
I walk over, and there’s a big old picture, with shitty focus, of me yelling at the ex-cop. Our mouths are both open. He looks like he’s about to cry. The wife’s just standing there — though she yelled the most.
“Where did you find it?” I ask.
She shrugs. “There’s only one post,” she says. “What happened?” she asks again.
“I don’t think it’s any of your business,” I say. “What happens on the road . . .” I stop.
“What happens on the road — what?” she says.
“Honey,” I say, “that guy was a dick. He heckled me, but, to be honest, I feel bad for him.”
She waits for me to continue.
“He told me to fuck off, but I pushed his buttons first,” I say. “I own it. I did it. I didn’t know I was doing it, but I did it.”
Lacey starts clicking and opening bookmarks: There are all kinds of YouTube videos of me and also ones on Vimeo. We watch a long take of me telling a convoluted joke onstage while, to my left, Drew holds his stand-up bass and winces at the punch line.
There are lots of me singing, and sometimes I sound great. There’s even one of me saying, “What happens on the road, stays on the road.”
“Baby,” I ask, “why are you digging around in my dirty laundry?”
“I don’t know,” she says, and she picks at one of her thumbnails with the other thumbnail. Her voice isn’t really sad, but someone else might think it was if they overheard it.
“I saved some cookies for you,” I say, and I go to get them. When I come back, Lacey breaks one in half and nibbles at it.
“Do you want to go drive fast in the car with me?” I ask, and she says, “Not really,” and I say, “Come on, sister.”
She shakes her head and looks up at me with the eyes of Bambi, the mouth of a guppy, and brand-new breasts that announce, I’m here! Those eyes will stun the boys, and then her beauty will incinerate them, and then she’ll tell those poor souls about Jesus.
“What happens on the road is bullshit,” Lacey says. She’s right: It doesn’t stay on the road. It follows you home. It stays forever.
She likes the cookies though.
Gracie has leg warmers on under her dress, and I say, “Sweetie, it’s a billion degrees out.” She doesn’t care. I admire this about her.
“Come here, baby,” I say, and she climbs up in my lap. She’s not too big for this yet.
“Is Lacey mad at you?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Are you mad at her?” she asks.
“Not at all,” I say, and it’s true. Lacey’s working out some kind of identity for herself. She wants to be my opposite: the square to my pentagram.
Gracie likes thick, fuzzy blankets that approximate the pelts of wild animals. In this house we turn the AC up to Ice Age so we can still snuggle under the covers all summer. I know, I know. We’re killing some small percentage of the planet in order to cuddle comfortably. Gracie’s hair needs to be washed, but she smells good: a mixture of child and lavender and oil.
Sometimes I think of Gracie’s folk-singer father, and I actively hate him a bit, and then I smell his daughter for a good long while.
While I was gone, Drew and the girls acquired a new cat named Mumps to go with the old one named Measles.
“I draw the line at Rubella,” Drew says, and I laugh, and then I say, “Guess how many assholes I met out on the road?”
Drew’s mouth is poised at an odd angle, ready to laugh or chide me, whichever’s necessary. “I’m guessing a bunch,” he says.
“Two,” I say.
“Yeah?” he says.
Perhaps I should mention that we’re naked and pressed up against each other in bed.
“This asshole talk’s pretty sexy, huh?” I ask.
He laughs, and I tell him the story about the ex-cop, even though it’s a sure mood killer.
“Face it,” he says, “you’re an asshole magnet.”
“It actually makes me a little sad,” I say, and I guess it does.
“You do know how to get on people’s bad side,” Drew says with a smile, and he pulls me closer, and I wrap my hand around his penis.
Out of bed and in the middle of the night, I Google the photos of Michael Brown dead in the street, and I try to imagine Lacey taking his place. It’s unthinkable, but I try to think of it anyway. I should be grateful. A mother in Missouri is going through that for real.
My ribs feel tighter than a corset, like they’re squishing something, and the house has a clammy ache to it, the kind that comes at 2 AM when I’m the only one awake. If somebody else gets up, it might dissipate, or possibly spread.
I’ve put it off, but I have to Google him: I try “cop fired Manhattan KS.” I try “police officer suspension Manhattan Kansas.” I guess at his possible transgressions: murder, theft, brutality.
Finally I find a sliver of an article in The Kansas City Star: “Partner of slain Manhattan officer takes leave.” It’s him. His partner was run over by a suspect fleeing arrest, mowed down as he tried to stop the car, and three days later my cop said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” He was placed on voluntary indefinite leave.
That’s it. That’s his story, two short paragraphs and one direct quote.
When I Google his name, his Facebook page comes up first and then just generic sites: Whitepages.com, background checks. He’s not that cop in Missouri. He’s probably never killed anyone. Neither have I. Well, I’ve killed a bird or two with my car. And I’ve killed chickens before. I didn’t shed a tear. People think a folk singer must be tenderhearted, but my heart’s not tender at all. That’s why none of my songs are in commercials. That’s why I get on people’s bad side, even people I don’t know.
I look at two photos of the cop, the photos that anyone with an Internet connection can see on his Facebook profile: he’s somber in one, laughing in the other. The dour one was taken around Christmastime. Either that or they left the marshmallow snowman on the mantel way too long.
I imagine that he’s up, awake, somewhere in Kansas, doing what I’m doing, killing these hard minutes on the Internet. I hope he’s petting a dog. I hope he’s drinking bourbon.
Then I just fucking do it. I send him a Facebook message: “You might not believe it, but I’m sorry. I really am.” It’s stupid of course. Why the hell would he ever want to hear from me? It will probably go to Facebook’s junk-mail purgatory. He might not see it at all.
Then I check Lacey’s Twitter.
Then I Google myself.
Then I get a message back from him, just two words: “Me too.”
Daniel A. Hoyt
Daniel A. Hoyt’s “The Inevitable” is fast and loose and funny, yet not a word feels wasted. He handled the female narrator’s voice so well, I looked back to make sure the author’s name was Daniel and not Danielle.
Much of the story is worth quoting. The political: “America is the great grizzled god of denial, and I accept this.” The theological: “I do think there’s something bigger than us. I just suspect that it’s our collective sense of ourselves, all 7 billion of us.” And the psychological: “I’ve never been fully myself for more than three or four minutes at a whack.”
I’m grateful for any and all readers. Thanks to Joann Longton and Pam Hanna for reading, thinking, and writing.
I worry that profanity is almost ruined — it rarely makes anyone flinch — so I’m oddly pleased at the dismay about the F-word. “The Inevitable” contains language that all kinds of people use on a daily and even hourly basis.
I’d like to say I’m sorry for offending anyone, but I’m really not. I’d worry more if my stories made everyone happy.
I was revolted by the frequent use of the F-word in Daniel A. Hoyt’s story “The Inevitable” [December 2015]. How dare The Sun print such vulgarity! If an author can’t write without using profanity, he or she needs to find another way of making a living.
Please do a better job of censorship, and buy Hoyt a thesaurus.