A Students's Guide to First-Year Writing

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A Students's Guide to First-Year Writing

Now, and at the Hour I was not with You

I. Laurie is crying again, “You are not with me,” she says.

“Wait, Rae, don’t move.” I watch the silver image of the Virgin Mary on a swaying chain around her neck as she snaps the shutter to trap me in black and white. Laurie is the photographer of our little society; Michael is the sculptor, Stacy and I are the painters, and George has had a thing for performance art lately. We’re smoking cigarettes in the moldy bowling alley. George says: “I’m bored of this- all of it. Everyday’s the same shit. We need to fucking do something before my skin rots off.” Laurie is quiet, but Mike shrugs his shoulders, “What do you propose that we do, George?” “I don’t know, rob a bank, be punk rock and spread some anarchy... man, I don’t know, just anything.” I look at Laurie. She’s quiet. I motion to the bathroom to take her from George’s little angst party. We stand together in the stall, so I kiss her and touch her hair and say, “You okay, sweetie?” “Do you want the truth?” she asks.

I nod and she replies, “No, Rae, I’m not okay. I’m really very, very not okay. I’m losing my shit over absolutely nothing... Rae, I just can’t do it anymore.” I’ve heard Laurie like this before; it makes my stomach go sharp and black because I want her to be okay. I need her to be okay. But she hurts so deep; her depressions come in torrents. Her tears stream the Chanel foundation off of her cheeks into puddles on her black dress, all in such slow motion. She brings a bottle from her bag, clicking and childproof, to her burgundy lips and then shares it with me. We return to the group with hydracodone breath, so that the rest of the day will be a senseless opiate dream.

You are not with me. You are not with me. None of you. You stand around and let words drool out of your lips. You speak of punk rock and of anarchy, but you don’t even care... about anything. You don’t even care. You can’t even see me crying. You say, "Laurie, you okay, sweetie?

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” You can’t even see me. I am not okay. I will not be okay until I am no longer here, in this place, with Lucifer on every treetop, spitting black venom on everything. I will never be okay and you don’t even care because you can’t even see me.

They’ve all gone home- Michael, Stacy and George. The night is screaming something about sleep in Laurie’s banana-bread kitchen. So, we go to her room, to her bed, and shut the door. In the darkness, I can hear her tears fall onto the pillow until her breathing becomes deep and slow. As she sleeps, I keep my eyes open with growing anxiety. She’s not okay... and something is very wrong. I whisper words out her black window, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed...”

II. Segue: Laurie and the Mighty Abandon.

You are not with me. I am forsaken. I loved you all so much. I tried so hard, I was so beautiful, but you were not with me. I’m sorry. I don’t know, I just can’t. There’s never a bottom to the pit inside my chest; there’s never a drought in my tear-ducts. I just can’t. I’m sorry. I’ve taken off the Mary that has hung swaying around my neck. I have no faith in a god who would give me this- a god who would bring me here to this immaculate lacking. Why have you left me here? Why are you not with me? I’m sorry. I’ve fallen here, lying in the storm, being consumed by the mud of the earth.

III. Blood, not Black and White, and the Ivory Door Proclamation.

I recall this action to come most effectively in terms of a very old, very shaky silent film; absolutely silent but for the sound of flapping reels. The black and white picture has a flashing effect and produces unnatural movements. This is the way my vision of this scene plays in my head, over and over again.

The camera begins in the sky. The dark, Boca Raton, light polluted sky. And spins down to the trees, down to the house, down until we see a girl on the lawn, in a Donna Karan original slip dress; a silent image, but for the sound of flapping reels. She is at the garage door barefooted, with mascara streaming down her face. The picture is in throbbing black and white; her dark hair is sticking to her teary cheeks. We can see it all from this angle. From her bag she brings a tube of lipstick, still burgundy even in a black and white image. She smears words onto the fresh ivory garage door, “Nothing is with Me...” Her fingerprints are on the blank surface, but the camera is pulling back again.

The girl takes something metallic from her bag, something heavy... loaded. Her father had kept it locked since Vietnam; armor-piercing bullets are illegal. This is all so black and so white, the pulsation of a projected image in sync with a racing heart.

White night and black, she’s got lightly shut eyes, hands in violent tremors, and burgundy lips open, impatient. Even in such silence, we can hear her breath, “...blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy...” The camera is panning so far. We see her naked feet in the grass, but she’s becoming so small from where we are. She’s raising her weapon and breathing; she’s pointing it at her face. Everything becomes so tight; she’s clenched and contracted. And then it goes. We are shuddering and deaf, though we heard only flapping reels. The girl is now slow-motion violence, in black and white. She is falling back, slowly hovering. She is crumbling. Her black hair is moving through the night air in floating tendrils. Her body is relieved of its duty and the wet earth welcomes it home. The girl, so slowly, sinks into the dewy lawn.

With the camera inching closer we can see the bleeding. Up from her small head, to spread through the grass and the early morning. Blood, not black and white, not burgundy, but red. We can see it all from here— the house and the ivory door proclamation; we can see her, on the red lawn.

IV. Lilac Wine is Innocence and is Peace.

Live a little rumble now, A thimble girl all wet. The rain that pours a gunshot- Wound, quick like sand to set. For storms to pound a sidewalk In barren empty space. She has a trinity at her knees, Falling on her face. The shock of blood at Sunrise— Words,Burgundy on the Wall. Cleanse her now with Lilac wine— To her, us... all to all.

V. Don’t Let Me in on This. Friend... to Friend.

laurie is gone. a victim of the mighty abandon.
i knew something was wrong when i woke to the faintest scent of purple roses. Patrick’s been up all morning gasping for tears. Yellow tape is stretched around his lawn, he can see it from his window, “Caution." He is slipping his feet into black pants, slowing pulling on his blackest shirt so catatonically on this mourning morning. Out the door, to the car, passing his ivory garage door which once stood blank— now bleeding lipstick symbols. He’s headed right for me. Friend to friend. Patrick drives with thoughts few and foggy, he hasn’t prepared what he’ll say. I’m at the lazy piano still in my pajamas when he pulls into my driveway. Opening the heavy door reveals Patrick, dark with white eyes and a deep sickness in his face. It is then that the scent comes again, her purple roses, and my brain throws up the red alert, “Why are we not with her?” “Come in,” I say. We walk into the living room where he lays it on me like Atlas passing the burden, “Laurie... killed herself last night.” My body staggers under my skin, all is motionless in my brain, now frozen. And I reply, “Okay.” “She shot herself...” Patrick probably continues speaking, but that is all I can hear. It’s all breaking into nothing as I float him out the door and away. I hover to the piano but it sounds like chicken soup. I would lie on my soft bed but I’ve forgotten how to use the staircase. So I float. Tip-toeing on the tile and whispering a song, “...now, Holy M a r y, moth er now ofGod ,pr a y now f o r u s sinners, now... now...
now...” I have to vomit.

VI. A Voice... Laurie.

I’m so sorry, you were not with me. None of you. How could I live so alone? I stood on tainted grass in the rotting world and gave myself sleep, so finally. No pain can devour me here. But I am sorry. I am sorry if you hurt for this. Please just let me go. I’ll be angry if you start loving me now.

VII. The Northbound P608 to West Palm Beach.

jesus christ, you bleeding fucking rose, you know we always loved you I am on the little commuter train, preparing to man the floodgates. I’m headed to Stacy’s house. Everyone will be there: Stacy, Michael, George, and me. The whole society, minus one.
laurie, i’m all alone... on the rattling train by myself... since i was not with you in the moment you needed, you’ll never be with me again In this mud-land, exposed through dusty windows, I feel that I am coasting on liquid train tracks, approaching the speed of light. This is an umber-world where I can’t get my heart under control— it’s locked in one continuous beat. And as we come to Tamarind Avenue, I can see his dark, black Volvo ready to parade me off to the house where Stacy lives. Ready to parade our loss through the floodwater to come.

VII. The Big Bang Theory.

(1) Rae: I can feel mayhem as I walk through the door. It’s so silent in here. Like the electrons here are all in overdrive. I hold my breath through the hall, and I see
her on the patio. Stacy is blank. I open the door and sit at the table with her,
lighting a cigarette to compete with the ashtray-full she’s already had.
(2) Stacy (on the patio): Why is she here? Her silence pins my hands over my head and
her voice is like rusty metal. She can’t understand that I don’t care. Laurie wa s
my B es t Fr i e n d, and I l o v e d h e r s o m u ch... ...but...
I hate her for what she’s done, and she’s gone so that’s that. So, just let me have
this patio, I’ve got enough wine to make it through the night. I don’t even care,
I’ll just say it: “Rae, can you leave me the fuck alone, please?”
(3) George (in the bedroom): i can’t feel my hands. i can’t feel my hands or my arms or
my feet. why am i shaking? i’m dying. i can’t feel my hands. my eyes are
watering. i’m alone and i can’t feel my hands. i can see rae now, she’s here
now. i can’t speak. she’s sitting next to me on the bed, but i can’t feel my feet.
“rae... i think i’m dying.” i’m shaking. she’s still... she’s not shaking. she says,
“tell me why you think so.” “i can’t feel my hands or my feet... i can’t even move them... i...” she says, “relax...” she holds me around my shoulders, “breathe, i love you. i’m here. you’re okay. i promise.” if i’m okay, then why am i dying?
and now she’s got me crying, too.
(4) Rae: I can see Michael from here. He’s wrapped himself in a bed-sheet, lying under
the grand piano. He’s crying. He hit me when I crouched next to him, so I’ll
just stay here, on the couch, alone— with all of this white light, in the dark.
(5) Michael (under the black piano): e m p t i n e s s is m y
F o o t p r i n t... . .. .. . i am c u r l e d i n t h e
R e s o n a n c e of Fear.

IX. Segue: Past + Present = Future.

To sit Rich, Unwaver— The rain that You Gave her. Amidst which Was dying— A Cloud Drift un- Tying.

X. (go ye now in peace.)

Now. The smile of mine that Laurie bruised is nearly healed.
So. I am walking across fresh grass, clutching thick and thorny purple roses, until I see her name carved in a granite bas relief. She can sleep here, and I can find a way to let her go.

But I’m sure I look so small on this expanse of green, with the summer sun beating my hair. And I feel so small, standing on this much eternity. I am alone. And no one can see me now. And no one can hear me whispering, “...Mary... mother of God... ...pray for us sinners... Now... Now ...and at the hour of our death...
...Amen.”


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