Kirsten Anonymous

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Chapter Four

You know, it’s kind of funny. The way people say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” I get it and all. It’s cute. It’s also one of those things that’s like a poison-filled crepe. Maybe not a crepe. Who really eats those anyway? But you know what I mean.

I was on a bike ride a day or two after the cookout debacle, and I was thinking about her. Not because she hadn’t texted me back still, but because I was doing the same thing I had done for the last hundred and forty or so days. A little over a month previous, I had officially crossed the line of being on the outside longer than I was on the inside. So that was different. It almost felt like I lost a little something. I don’t think I could carry a “fresh out” style anymore. Not that I really did, but it kind of felt different in the back of my mind. The first month or so, it wasn’t life-altering, and I don’t want to give the impression I was this overjoyed young man regaining his freedom, the strapping American with the world at his fingertips. Really, I was just glad I could go to the bathroom and not have other people around. The ability to close doors was a big deal for a while. Right up there with being able to open them. Not that I secluded myself, but it was nice to know I could shut a door, or walk out it, or go to the library or something, without someone looking at me like I was a total lying piece of shit.

It’s not like I was institutionalized or anything. I don’t know how long that takes, but I’m going to guess it takes more than the length of one shitty summer vacation. There was one guy in there with me called Cincinnati. (I was reprimanded by a guy called Prince for telling him my actual first name. “I’m not sayin you can’t trust these cats, but y’know, we all in here for a reason. Last thing you want is some dude calling you up when you out and getting your ass brought back in.” Probably sound advice for most of life.) But Cincinnati, he’d been in for ten years of a fifteen year bit. He was thinking he’d get out early, since everybody pretty much does, technically. If you don’t know, one day in lock up counts as two days toward your sentence. So, I guess he must’ve gotten a 30 year sentence, or 15 “actual” years. Don’t ask me. There is very little of the whole experience I really understood.

But I asked him one time, you know, how do you do it? I’d been doing all right counting by weeks, but years? That’s actual chunks of life going by. A lot can happen in fifteen years. You could have a kid you’ve never seen and when you get out, they’re in high school. You could become a specialized doctor in that amount of time. You could almost pay off a student loan. Hardy har. But he told me he went by seasons. “You know, you outside one day and you like, damn, it’s hot. You know it’s summer. You goin’ to chow and freezin’ your balls off; you know it’s winter. And then you don’t think about that shit again.”

It made sense, to a certain extent. Four is a reasonable number to count. Your first week or month or season, that’s the first one, so you get your bearings and don’t really think about much. The second one, you’re just glad you made it through the first one, and before you know it, you’re halfway done. Number three is the ‘only one more to go’ time, and then, it’s your last one. The last one’s a bitch, but you’ve had practice by then. There’s always more than one way to count in there.

All that being said, I wasn’t in long enough to really talk much game. I could count however I wanted to and never even get to a hundred. If Cincy did his full bit, that was 5,475. Maybe not that big of a deal if you just look at it as a number. But “five thousand four hundred and seventy-five,” that seems a little more like it. I took one year of German in high school and the only thing I remember was that you could make really long words out of numbers. So in Cincinnati’s honor, this is how long he’d be there in German:

Fünftausendvierhundredfunfundsiebzig Tage.

Maybe it still doesn’t seem like a lot, but you don’t think about your days as days when you’re on the outside. You think of them in chunks. Time outside is markedly different than time inside, which any guy waiting for a letter can tell you. You might forget to go by the post office one afternoon, but for him, that’s seven more days, not counting however many days it’s been since he started anticipating your note. And plus, since everybody is a piece of shit on the inside, it’s not like the COs are really concerned about your schedule, let alone your hopes. So now maybe you think about it in hours. (Nobody thought about it in hours; you’d go fucking crazy.) But since I am outside with a calculator, this is how many hours Cincy was given: 131,400. Or, auf Deutsch,

“Einhunderteinsundressigtausendvierhundert Stunden.

Still maybe not that much, depending on what he was in for. I suppose if you figure it’s fair for him to be inside as long as his victim is carrying around the scars he handed them, then it almost seems like he gets to quit early. To be fair, I never did find out why he was in. Never asked actually. To be more than fair though, most guys offer it up, or ask you first. And if they don’t, at least from what I learned, if they didn’t wanna talk about it, it was most likely a sex thing. So, yeah, maybe 131,400 isn’t enough. Maybe it’s too much. Who knows? I’m not trying to debate that part of it. Like I said, I didn’t try to understand it; I just checked it out and then (after about six hours, to be honest) was ready to go. But I was pretty sure a sincere “I’m sorry” wasn’t going to do much by that step in the dance.

So what am I getting at then? All the math and linguistic showing off. The point, as far as I could think about it that day, was that in some ways, everybody probably knows a little bit about what it’s like to do time. Any time you’ve waited in the line at the grocery. Or any time you’ve been in a traffic jam. Or any time you’ve sat at a railroad crossing in Arden. They’re all similar and they’re all a little different. At least in a grocery line, you can see the time getting shorter. But there’s also that feeling of ‘bloody hell this is literally never going to end’ you feel watching a train creep by around a bend, where you never know til the very last second, til the last car shows up uncoupled, that it really is almost over.

That day on the bike, I knew I had an hour until I was done. Or at least I was in charge of it if I wanted to add more time (though I guess, even inside, I could’ve added time). What I had no control over, though, was when my damn phone would buzz again. Not that that was worse than being in prison or anything. That would be more like getting locked up and having your sentence be “We will keep you locked up until we feel like letting you out, which will probably be soon, or at least you’d think so, but, meh...we’ll see.” So it wasn’t really the worst thing in the world to just wait for a phone call. Outside, at least.

Sometimes though, sometimes you think, man, remember back then when all I had to do was read books and stand up when the bunks got flipped and keep to myself and that was considered the absolute best behavior anyone could possibly show? Cut and dried. Clear instructions. Not for the first time, I wondered if I would have done well in the military.

Probably not though, I’m kind of an asshole.

Which, oddly enough, reminded me why I shouldn’t be waiting on my phone to buzz. One, why would she be interested in talking to me? Obviously she already knows I’m a fuck-up. Two, why would I think that being an “official” fuck-up would’ve changed things? The more things change the more they stay the same. Oh, and, three, people don’t pick up people at addictions meetings.

I added an extra three miles to the end of the ride that day, after adding an extra two at the beginning. I knew I’d never be good at it, even though I liked to imagine I could’ve been if I’d started earlier, or if I’d had a talented coach, or something. Maybe biking was my latent, hidden skill I’d never known about. Everybody was supposed to have a thing, right? Moping probably didn’t count, but I was coming up dry on other options. Maybe I needed to try more stuff. Then again, trying more stuff requires you to be bad at most of it. A needle in a haystack. Or more like a piece of hay in a stack of needles, because continuing to search through a stack of needles for something would take more than I probably had in me.

I guess there’s maybe some clever way to do that. Chris would think of something. Metal sleeves was the best I could come up with, but that didn’t really make any sense. How would you bend your arms? Or maybe you could just take one needle off at a time and slowly ‘move’ the needlestack. But, I wasn’t sure if that was allowed.

I slowed down to check for traffic at a redlight, realizing that these were likely not the things one thought about if one were to be successful in life. And again, I wondered, was that really any of my concern anymore? Maybe “keep your head down and don’t bother people” truly should be my new goal. It seemed doable, if still rather unsatisfactory.

Like this Kirsten thing. How in the world did I think I could help her if I couldn’t even get her to text me?

I considered riding over to the sobriety house. Girls were supposed to like sweaty guys, I thought. Pheromones or something. Then again, a scrawny, sweaty guy probably wasn’t a combinaison magnifique, if you know what I mean. I made a mental note to find the weight set that had to be somewhere in the basement still. People might give up on their weightlifting dreams, but never enough to actually get rid of the weights. That was a lot of work.

I pedaled around the football field on the west side of the community college, wondering if you were supposed to lift weights before cardio, or after, or if it was really something I wanted to try. On the plus side, I would probably be sore for a couple days. That was at least a positive. Hurting meant you had done something good. But you didn’t really want to admit you were sore from lifting weights when people would wonder if by “weights” you meant “a full gallon of milk.”

I got ready to turn back toward the house, the farpoint of my ride sitting at the street corner just a few blocks down from the endzone. If I wanted to be home in under two hours, I needed to hit that spot in seven minutes. Plenty of time. But good, too. It meant I’d be tired. Too tired to stay up late thinking. Too tired to need to talk much. Too tired to wait for my phone to buzz.

I wiped some sweat out of my eyes and changed my mind on a whim. I turned the bike towards the asphalt path that cut through town. If I followed it to its end, I would overshoot the house by quite a bit, but it would add a little more time. And it was slowly uphill from where I was to the parking lot at the other end of the trail. A little extra exercise couldn’t hurt.

By the time I got back, I coasted through the subdivision for another ten minutes, just trying to catch my breath before seeing if I could walk inside. Mom was all for the exercise (and outside and endorphins), but she wasn’t a huge fan of the collapse at the end. Apparently she always thought I was dead or something. I suppose that’s sort of my fault though, what with the seizures and all.

At least she didn’t make me wear a helmet all the time. Just on the bike.

Anyway, I’m not going to sit here and tell you in great detail that I went to meetings and rode the bike and thought stupid things over and over every day. You could probably just go back to the beginning and read everything up to here a hundred times and get the general gist of it. There wasn’t a lot of variety, which, according to everyone “in recovery,” and the part of me (and everybody else, I think) that is on the autism spectrum, this should be a good thing. Don’t make too many changes at once. Don’t try to stop smoking and stop drinking. Don’t stop IV drug usage and over-eating. Don’t stop twirling the meth pipe and sleeping around. Or at least that’s my understanding. One thing at a time.

But, there’s also only so much of the proverbial hamster wheel a guy can take. I felt like I was waking up most days thinking, “Okay, here we are, have I done what I was supposed to do yet? Have I proven a point or is this going to be some kind of forever thing or what’s the deal exactly? Shouldn’t something be changing?” Besides, I had proven about a thousand different things already anyway. I could exercise. I could sit in prison. I could lose jobs and find jobs. I could get kicked out of houses and find other places to live. I could move by myself. I could survive on less than twenty dollars worth of food each week. I could sleep four hours a night and still be productive at my job. I could smell like the twenty-five shots of vodka I drank the night before and still drive just fine. Most of the time anyway. Hell, I could drink in the morning and not only would I still do all right, you would like me more. I could find ways to make up for what my brain had not provided me, namely, a personality, confidence, creativity, emotions and interests, the ability to feel love and anger and things beyond that trite depression everyone has. I could cut myself and hide it. I could study when I was intoxicated. I could do “bad things” and still create “good results.” I could take all the shit that life had given me in almost three decades and still be alive.

There’s always a point though, where you start to think, what am I actually proving? That I can take a hit? That I’m able to endure? Because that’s fine, but a constant endurance eventually becomes pathetic. If you are always merely not succumbing, you need to figure out how to do things differently so that, heaven forbid, maybe you are succeeding. Maybe you are not just being, but you are being good, or at least useful. You aren’t taking somebody else’s air. Nobody wants their eulogy to be “Well, I mean, I guess he didn’t give up. Sort of. I’m not really sure why he didn’t...prob’ly should’ve...but, okay. Um, cue Bone Thugs.”

I needed change. People, places, things. That’s what they said, every time anyone new showed up to a meeting, or even when it was just the same old crew. But most of those three had been altered, at least to a certain extent, by the Rostock County Superior Court. Was that really making a change though? Or more like getting shoved?

After the bike ride that day, while I was sitting downstairs on the couch looking at the computer, I had an idea for change that couldn’t fail. All three in one fell swoop. I broached the topic with my parents at dinner.

“So, hey, has anybody gone to the cabin lately?”

Let me interject, this wasn’t some kind of glamorous lakehouse or vacation destination. A few hours north there was this cabin my dad’s dad had built on the bank of some river. I hadn’t been in practically two decades, and couldn’t drive straight there if my life depended on it. But it was still there, at least as far as I knew. In my grandpa’s will (not my hitch-in-the-giddyup grandpa, the other one), like everything else, it was left to “everybody.” So basically, my dad, his brother, my grandma, us kids and our cousins. I guess. Well, maybe not that last part, but I mean, technically, I was part of “everybody.”

Dad looked up for a second, thinking. “Y’know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I hope at least somebody’s been cutting the grass. I guess I should call Mark about that.” Mark was dad’s little brother. He was divorced and had two boys close to Chris’s and my age. They lived a little over an hour closer, so usually they would take care of the upkeep if we weren’t specifically planning a trip, which, like I said, wasn’t exactly a common occurrence.

Nobody really said anything after that bit of musing, so I awkwardly kept pushing it. “I feel like we don’t really ever use it. Didn’t you say you guys used to go for like the whole summer?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Sometimes. That’s when I was pretty young though. Mark and I would usually camp out, since it just has the one bedroom. Once we got older and the appeal began to wane, we usually stayed home, or would just go see mom and dad for a week or so.” That’s the kind of guy dad was; he could say “wane” and not sound pretentious.

“Did you guys never go?” I asked, meaning him and mom.

He laughed. “Not very often.” He looked at mom across the table, smiling.

“Your dad thinks it’s just too hilarious to get my hair wet. It’s the one tiny request I made that he could not seem to bear.”

I laughed. “What’s the big deal? You guys have known each other since high school.”

“It’s just the fact of the matter,” dad said. “I guess.”

“You guess,” she laughed. “I don’t think there’s a way I could’ve been clearer. ‘Carl, please don’t get my hair wet.’ If there’s another way to say that which might function better, please do let me know.”

Dad just smiled to himself and cut another helping of lasagna out of the pan. “We should try and go up there sometime,” he said. “I could take a couple days off. Make a long weekend of it.”

This wasn’t exactly what I’d been thinking, but it was closer. “Yeah,” I said, “That could be nice maybe. Get away.” I paused. “I feel like I need to get out of here, sometimes, y’know? Not that you guys are annoying or anything. I know I’m basically a waste of space at this point, and I’m sure it wouldn’t break your hearts to have a little time to yourselves. Y’know, like you were probably planning on when you had kids originally. That we would eventually leave instead of boomeranging back constantly.”

“Oh, now. You aren’t bothering us. We like having you here,” mom said.

“That’s true,” dad, “I know mom likes having somebody around with her during the day.”

“Yeah.” I took a drink of water. Not because I was specifically not drinking alcohol, just because I usually drank water there and didn’t know what else to do. I let the lull in conversation grow a little bit on accident. I was trying to think.

“Are you wanting to go up there?” dad said, graciously making the connection I couldn’t figure out how to word.

“I don’t know. Kind of. I was just thinking about it today, I mean, was all. If nobody’s been up there I thought I could go mow. Chase the snakes and squirrels out. Or something. I thought it just might be helpful I guess.”

“It’s probably owned by squatters by now,” mom said. “Assuming it’s even still there. Do you really think Mark has even been going?”

“I assume so.” Dad didn’t really talk to Mark all that much. Not because there was any bad blood or anything, they just weren’t like, chummy. I guess maybe that’s how brothers get. Chris and I didn’t exactly go on putt-putt dates every weekend.

“If you want to go, I’m sure it could use a little clean-up,” dad said. There was a pause as he looked over at mom, “Right? You look like maybe you were thinking otherwise.”

“Oh. No. I was just thinking. Not of anything really. Sure, if he wants to go, I don’t see why not. I mean, you ought to be able to take care of yourself, I would think.”

“I’m not wanting to just go get hammered,” I said.

“I didn’t mean that,” mom said. “I wasn’t even thinking that. I was just trying to think of the last time I was up there. It wasn’t exactly the cleanest place, if I recall, and that’s been years ago.”

“No, I know,” I said. “That’s sort of why I thought it would be a useful thing. I could try and clean it up a little or something. Paint. Mow. Clean out the inside. Make sure the neighbors know we aren’t planning on just letting it rot.”

“It certainly couldn’t hurt,” dad said. “Do you remember how to get there?”

“Not even a little bit.”

I’ll spare you the next part because he started rattling off a string of highway numbers and county road numbers that I was literally forgetting as he said them. Then mom started interjecting and correcting him (accurately, I guess) and it was sort of like pulling numbers out of thin air by the end. Fifteen to two hundred east, or was that one fifty that went by the church (what church?) but then up past Thorntown, and it was like going to (some relative who I couldn’t picture’s) house, except you turned where that old drive-in used to be, seventy-three, or no, I’m thinking of something else, it was right there by where (some person dad knew in, like, third grade) lived, but then once you’re over the bridge it’s just right there at the end of the road, I’m sure you’d remember once you got close…

“Yeah,” I said, “Maybe. There was that bait shop?”

“Exactly.”

I glanced over at mom, who appeared to be driving there in her mind. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to Google Map it or something, just to be safe.”

“Probably a wise choice,” Dad said. “I’ll have to find the address.” He laughed. “I don’t know if I ever even knew it.”

Surprising, considering he used to spend long drives playing the infamous County Number game, which required a ridiculous amount of rote memorization. The rules are pretty simple. Basically, you looked at someone’s license plate and then name where they lived. Apparently the first two numbers on the plate are assigned to certain counties. Who knew? Besides dad, only old people, as far as I could tell. I guess maybe driving used to be more mysterious and exciting.

Somehow, this became the off-and-on conversation for the rest of the evening. In the living room, on commercial breaks, mom would say something like “do you know how to set up a tent?” Yes, believe it or not. “Do you have a sleeping bag?” Well, I mean, there were some there, assuming they hadn’t been chewed to pieces. “How long were you thinking about staying?” No idea. A week? “Were you thinking just hot dogs, or?” They both had this very European way of ending questions with “or.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it that much,” I said. “It was literally just a thought I had this afternoon. I thought it would be something different. And clearly, I have the time.”

“What about your meetings?”

Shit. “Crap.” I looked out the window at the night-dim yard. “I guess I could just double-up on a day or something. It’s just three in a week; they don’t care how you do it.”

“Would you want to do that though?”

“Maybe? I hadn’t really thought about it, I guess. I mean, if I did that first, it would be better. Get the crappy part done right away and all.” That was our unofficial family motto, I had recently been thinking.

Mom looked over at dad. “Did you have any thoughts on it?”

He shrugged, marking his place in a book with a finger, another baffling skill of his. He could read, watch tv, and talk to us all at the same time. Somebody oughtta call Ripley’s. “I can’t see any reason why it would be a problem. The meetings, that would be my main concern. It would be a shame to get this far and then get into some kind of trouble. Not that we’re worried you do something like that on purpose, by any means. They have them fairly often, though, correct? They don’t cancel them or anything?”

“No, not that I know of. On the cancelling, anyway. There was that one time over out east,” (other than initially sharing the name ‘SHitS’ in a ‘oh these guys…’ type way, no one referred to it as that), “but even then, when it was just me and Trey, he still signed my paper. Since I had at least showed up and tried.”

“I don’t see any problem with it then. Like you said, get them out of the way and enjoy a few days off maybe.”

I laughed, uncomfortable. “I don’t mean it like that. I know it sounds stupid. Like, what do I need a vacation from? I have three hours of responsibility in a week and now I’m trying to sneak out of it.”

“I don’t think that,” mom said. “Plus, I imagine you’re under a fair share of mental stress that most people don’t typically have to deal with.”

This always, always made me uneasy. When the whole thing was painted in this “you’re fighting the good fight” type style.

“Well, I mean, that’s what I get. It’s not like I don’t deserve at least that,” I said. Then, before anyone could comment, I jumped back to the subject at hand. “Maybe I’ll just go for a few days anyway. I mean, it’s not like there’s a lot to do there.”

“That was my other concern,” dad said. “Not that you would do anything to compromise your position, but that you’d just get bored. If you’re wanting to work on the house, that is. I don’t know that there is really a wide variety of quick, easy, summer up-keep type things. I can call Mark and see what he thinks, but if I were you, I’d just take a tent, a book, a fishing pole and enjoy the solitude for a few days.”

“Yeah,” I watched the neighbors let their dogs out to pee in their backyard. “We’ll see. Like I said, I was just thinking about it, was all. It’s not like I had some grand scheme.”

“No Walden Pond thing?” mom laughed.

“No…,” I said. “Just, I don’t know, something else.”

“I’ll see if I can find the coolers and things. I’m sure we’ve got hotdogs in the freezer. And there’s charcoal in the garage. I guess you’d be using a campfire though. There’s probably no power or anything, is there?” she looked at dad.

“He can turn it on, if he wants. It should all be ready to go.”

“Oh,” I said. “I don’t need to mess with all that.” Truth be told, I understand nothing about electricity other than it is invisible and it can kill you. That seemed enough reason to stay away.

“Well, won’t you want a shower or anything?”

I shrugged. “I can rough it a few days. It’s not like I’ve got anybody to impress. I can take some soap and bathe in the river.”

“Ew,” mom said. That seemed her general outlook on most things cabin-related. Usually these topics led to a ‘I just don’t understand why dirt doesn’t bother you boys’ type monologue. Ironic, considering she grew up on a farm. Or maybe that was why she felt the way she did. There was no need to be dirty every day anymore. Hallelujah.

“We can just see,” I said. “It’s not like it’s gotta happen tomorrow.”

Although, truth be told, if I’d’ve had directions and a sleeping bag I’d’ve been happy to stroll out the door right that moment. They really weren’t doing anything wrong or overbearing or even slightly impolite, that was the truth. This was just an idea. But it was my own idea, and it seemed like people were okay with it. And that hadn’t happened in a very long time.

After they went to bed, I headed downstairs and laid on the couch, the tv on but not being attended to in any real way. I was trying to think of the smallest amount of things I would need to take with me, and debating one that I thought maybe I’d really like to take. I pulled my phone out of my pocket.

To: Kirsten. “Hey, what’re you doing the next couple of days?” Send.

Since I didn’t need to expect a reply back in any reasonable amount of time, I tried figuring out the best plan for departure. Mom and dad had a point; it would be best to get things out of the way early and then just relax and not have to worry about upcoming meetings or cramming everything into a day or two at the end of the week. I don’t have some crazy undiagnosed anxiety thing, and I’m certainly not jumping on the personality disorder bandwagon, but I did feel like I’d had my prison experience and would prefer to not go back. Plus, if I did, the judge had said I had to start all over again from Day 1, except the whole thing would be inside this go round, and I didn’t want to be the guy counting seasons. Not that I couldn’t, I guess. I just didn’t want to have to prove it.

It must have been toward the end of the week, because I didn’t have any required meetings left. I remember chewing on that for a while. Sometimes I’d do an extra meeting early in the week, but I couldn’t technically start collecting more attendance signatures until Sunday either way. That was forty-eight hours away. I supposed I could just find three on Sunday, an early-risers one, a noon one, and an evening, and then leave after that.

But then on the other hand, I could also get up early and go in the morning. I figured, at the most, I wasn’t going to stay more than five days. That would get me back with three days left in the week for meetings. One a day. That wouldn’t be so bad. And plus, I wouldn’t have to wait. And at that point, I felt like I was tired of having to sit still and wait for life. And wait, and wait. Besides, if there was ever a time to just go off and do something, it would be that time when you had no job, no responsibilities, no relationships, no nothing, right?

I guess that would partially depend on Kirsten too, but surely she could finagle some type of plan. It was a sober living house, not a correctional facility. You could leave whenever you wanted, or at least one would think. Unless you were court-ordered maybe.

I’d tried that, by the way. I’m not that stupid. That, or house arrest. Or work-release. But it turns out they only release you for work hours, and then it’s right back to the jail, and I didn’t really want to have people saying “Hey Cole, your ride’s here” every time a cop car showed up.

But, anyway, I thought she could probably do whatever she wanted. I grabbed my phone again and sent, “As in like tomorrow through question mark.” I thought that was pretty funny, writing out “question mark” like that. A lot of people had started saying “heart” in sentences where things were written with a picture of a heart. “I heart N.Y.” and all that. I’d said that before, too, but it was kind of starting to seem dumb. Probably the same kind of people that said “kewl” instead of “cool.” But then I thought about that again and changed my mind. She was probably being funny on purpose and I just didn’t get it.

I started making a list of what mom had said on a backsheet in my notebook. Just the normal stuff. Sleeping bag, pillow. Towel, swimsuit. Shampoo. I figured I could survive with minimal clothes and deal with the food thing as I went. Hotdogs for lunch and dinner. Maybe like toast or something for breakfast. I could throw the bike in the back of the truck in case I got bored. But then again, I’d probably be pretty busy doing all kinds of things up there. Assessing the cabin. Maybe some simple repairs. Exploring around the woods. Looking through what was actually inside there. Who knew what had been left in the last fifty years? I’d have to take my notebook, of course, in case I wanted to draw or write something. Maybe at least two books, because you don’t really ever know what you’ll want to read. And then a fishing pole too, like dad had said. I could get bait there.

I wobbled my pen between my fingers and looked at the phone, wondering what all I would need to take for her. What all she had. Surely she had a pillow and clothes and all that. Or maybe she would want to eat more than hotdogs and toast. Ketchup? Eggs? How long do eggs even last in a cooler? I thought about cereal, too, but I didn’t know what she liked (I’d need to remember to ask). And then again, what about milk in a cooler? The bait shop probably sold ice. We could go into town maybe. If she was actually naked in that one picture, she probably wasn’t too shy, so as long as she didn’t mind the river water, bathing shouldn’t be a problem

Somewhere, some moment in the midst of all this, I realized she was kind of becoming a chore. I didn’t necessarily really need to take her there. Didn’t really want her there. It would be a lot cooler to go up by myself a time or two or ten. It could be like my own little secret escape hideout place and then, later down the road or something, then I could take her up. “Yeah, I was working on the molding here in the kitchen. I redid the roof. This pier used to be a lot shorter but I added some length to it this summer so you had enough room to really get goin’ before you jumped off.” That would sound a lot better.

Anyway.

A pocket knife.

Or a hatchet.

Something for chopping or cutting or something. People always had those.

I tried to think of what I had seen Bear Grylls use. Or that other guy. Survivor Fellow or something. Whatever his name was. They only had like, a bottle they found on the ground, and surely if there was trash where they were I could find trash where I’d be.

Rope?

A hammer maybe?

Probably.

The list took up the better side of one page before I realized I was being an idiot.

I went to the bedroom and grabbed my backpack. Excepting sleeping bag and pillow, if it wouldn’t fit in the backpack, it wasn’t going. I threw some clothes in, cheated a little bit and tied a pair of sneakers to one of the straps, and then stuffed my toothbrush and stuff in, just to double-check. My notebook fit, my books wouldn’t. Out went Delillo’s Underworld, in went McCarthy’s The Road and this one I had found called Tschick. It was kind of for kids, but, whatever.

I stuck the bag at the foot of the bed and tried to think of how I could coolly let mom know I was just gonna take off in the morning. Get up early and talk to them at breakfast was probably the smartest. Get on my way as quick as I could.

I plugged my phone in by the bed, thinking I’d need the truck charger, and then noting the lack of notifications, reconsidered. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” But sometimes, when people let you down, maybe that’s what you were really planning on anyway.

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