I was home alone in bed when I heard a sound like a crowbar on a door handle. It was like hearing the garage door open when your husband’s been out of town all week. Or maybe it was like hearing the garage door close when your husband is going away for a week. Either way, Matt never went anywhere. That was part of ‘our problem.’ He wasn’t a businessman and neither was I. No one traveled. We were all just here all the time. Matt and I. The kid was long gone. Forensics. Working in a police crime lab just like on TV except I worried she might end up murdered. My worries didn’t make logical sense but that didn’t stop me. I was reading a book that was written by a dead woman. Or, the woman had been alive but dying of cancer when she wrote it. She spent a lot of the book urging the reader to “live while you’re alive.” I knew what she meant even if it the sentiment was faulty. What else could you do, but live while you’re alive? I guess she meant live a certain way, with a certain amount of passion, or something.
I heard the sound again. Then I heard the sound the door makes when Matt enters the house through the front door. I guess the sound isn’t unique to Matt, we just so seldom have anyone over anymore, I now think of it as specific to my husband.
Matt had gone to the Red Roof Inn by the mall to watch a basketball game. He’d taken his flask. I’d watched him fill it at the kitchen sink. He’d taken the puppy with him, also. It was part of our agreement: Once every six weeks he left the house for a night so I could walk around, smoke, drink, without feeling like I was being watched. I hated that feeling. No matter how many times Matt told me he didn’t care or think it was weird if I smoked or drank alone, just knowing he was in the house, even in bed asleep, bothered me. I could never fully relax if my husband was in the house, which I guess is an odd thing to admit. Who knows what bothered Matt; he never said.
I looked around the room for the baseball bat. It had been a souvenir from a rock concert Matt and I had attended a decade earlier when people of our generation still went to rock concerts. It was leaning against the wall in the corner where I’d rested it when I moved up to the guest room two years earlier. I didn’t know it then but it turned out all four of us – Tara, Danielle, Whitney and I – slept in different rooms than our husbands now. I guess that’s just another thing no one talks about. Two of us had husbands we couldn’t hug without them trying to fuck us and two of us had husbands who had never once made the first move to fuck. I don’t want to embarrass anyone by clarifying which two and which two. And anyway, it doesn’t matter. It was sort of the same problem, really. When you thought about it.
Earlier in the day, Matt and I had gotten into a fight about nihilism. We’d met the new neighbors at a café downtown and somehow a movie got mentioned - a new western that was streaming – and the new neighbors, a husband and wife like us, had agreed it was nihilistic. “I turned it off after an hour. Too nihilistic,” the wife had said. The husband had said he’d kept watching, despite the nihilism, because he respected the director’s previous films. Matt hadn’t mentioned this to me, the nihilism, when he’d told me about the movie a week earlier.
“That’s cuz I didn’t know it was,” he told me on the drive home after I accused him of having kept this from me.
“I mean, I would have watched it if I’d known it was nihilistic,” I said.
“I just said I didn’t think it was,” Matt said. He always did this: doubled down on his own alleged ignorance.
As soon as we got home I got my laptop and Googled first nihilism and then morality after nihilism was defined as a lack of belief in religion or morality.
“See,” I said. “We’re both nihilists.”
“I’m not a nihilist,” Matt said. He was at the kitchen sink filling his flask.
“So you believe in morality?” I said. Matt had been baptized Mormon but soon after that his parents had left the Mormon church and joined a Presbyterian one. It was a slippery, young adulthood slope to agnosticism for Matt after that.
“What morals, then?”
“I don’t know.
“Well how can you purport to believe in something you can’t name?”
“I don’t know… the ten commandments then”
“You believe in the ten commandments?”
I Googled “ten commandments.”
“You believe in honoring the Sabbath? Since when?” I asked. No response.
“And you always take the lord’s name in vain,” I said.
“And masturbating to porn rather than engaging in sexual intercourse with your wife could be considered adultery.”
I hadn’t glanced up from my laptop for a few seconds and when I did I saw that Matt’s face looked pained and tired.
“You derive energy from these debates and they exhaust me,” he said.
I didn’t say anything to that. I just sat there silent, counting in my head: one, two, three – knowing Matt expected me to respond and so not responding was the only way to win the argument, the only way to not be hurt by what he had said with the intention of hurting me. I was the cliché female emasculator in every fight. I knew this was how he thought of me, just as I thought of him as the cliché weak male, unable or unwilling to fight for anything, including, especially, his wife.
“Like extroverts and introverts,” Matt said, continuing on without me.
“I know, ‘extroverts derive energy from people and introverts from solitude’,” I said. I couldn’t resist taking the bait. It was ironic because I was the introvert and Matt the extrovert, except when it came to arguing. Then, suddenly, we flipped.
“You didn’t have to cut me off,” Matt said.
“I just don’t get how you can say you believe in morality.”
“I just do.”
“To what end?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe you’re just brainwashed like everyone else,” I said, thinking not of the new neighbors who were Muslim, or of Matt’s once-Mormon-now-Presbyterian parents, but of the greater culture, which was made up of many different groups of people, most of whom, of late, seemed to consider themselves highly moral, and who shoved signs in their yards to prove it.
“Maybe, probably,” he said. We both knew agreeing was another way of winning. And then he set down the whiskey bottle we’d been saving for our next anniversary, the one we’d hand-dipped at the Kentucky distillery on our honeymoon a million years ago, and went into his bedroom, formerly known as ‘the master bedroom,’ to pack.
Now there was a man with a gun standing in our living room in front of the fireplace. I saw him as I peered down over the railing of the upstairs open floor plan. What was I even doing in a house with a fireplace? Growing up, we had always lived in farmhouses with wood-burning stoves. Central heating had been for the middle class kids growing up in the allotments. We – Mom and I and whatever husband or boyfriend she was currently with - had lived in the country, with Amish neighbors, melting snow to flush the toilet in winter; stapling plastic over the windows to keep out the cold and wind. No one had ever attempted to rob our farmhouse. What would be the point? All they would get would be some mink-oiled boots and some long underwear, a down coat, maybe. A pair of geese if it was the winter before our dog ate one of them: Lucy or Leonard, I was never sure which.
I had crept out of the guest room so silently, the man didn’t yet realize I was there. It was dark and he was wearing a dark shirt and the hood was up over his head so I couldn’t see his face or hair. I wondered if he was someone my daughter had gone to school with. She’d told me a couple boys from high school had robbed and shot a man, recently, on the other side of town. But they were in jail, awaiting a court date. So it couldn’t be them. But maybe other boys, boys who had once hung out at our house, back when Matt and I were separated and Des and I welcomed her peers into our home because we were both bored and wanted company. There’d been one or two who had gone to juvie and one or two who had gone to prison; a couple who had called me a bitch, then wrote apologies to me. In each case I accepted. I wasn’t one to hold a grudge. Not against a teen boy, at least. I’d been waiting for one of them to break in, since they knew the floor plan, knew the lay out of our house, where we slept, where we kept the laptops, the big screen TV, our phones, our tampons, my dildo.
Des and I had taken shooting lessons at a place called AT CLOSE RANGE last summer after she graduated college. I thought it had something to do with Des’s ex-boyfriend, Rich. They’d started dating when Des was fourteen and he was eighteen, somehow still a senior in high school. I’d been apprehensive about their dating but what could I do? Des recently confirmed for me that I could have done nothing. “I wouldn’t have listened, even if somewhere deep in my heart I knew you were right,” she’d said when we’d gone for a drink after our last shooting lesson months ago. This was how I knew I was middle class now. I had to take shooting lessons instead of just figuring it out through experience, through those around me showing me.
My mother had kept a gun in the house when I was growing up. A shotgun or rifle, I could never remember which. I wasn’t sure the difference. A woman living alone in the country needs a gun, my mother had said. I thought what she really meant was a woman living alone in the country with a lot of ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends needs a gun, but I kept quiet about that; I didn’t say so aloud. One night we sat up in her bed with the gun and dog while one of her ex-boyfriends – the one who had been a male prostitute and gone to prison before she met him; he’d also gone to Julliard long before that - raged outside our front door. He never came in but I felt better knowing the gun was there if he did and that my mother knew how to use it if she needed to. I didn’t understand why she’d never shown me, why she’d never even put it in my hands, made me hold it. Maybe she’d just been too busy fighting off ex boyfriends to be bothered. It was a lot to live up to so I didn’t even try. I slunk off to college a virgin who couldn’t shoot a gun, who’d only barely been fingered in the back room of a party senior year.
I snuck down the stairs with the baseball bat in my hand. I knew which steps creaked and avoided them. I saw the cat and prayed he wouldn’t turn to look at me and that the gunman wouldn’t notice the cat turning and turn himself. The gunman was looking at his phone, thumbing it. I didn’t have a smart phone and felt righteous about this fact. My daughter kept telling me no one cared but I felt smug, nonetheless. I felt smug not having a sign in my yard, also. “No one cares,” my daughter said about that, too. But I knew she was wrong. I knew our neighbors cared, that they’d probably made judgments about us based on our lack of front yard signage, and I judged them for their judging.
Earlier, I’d watched the movie that was supposed to be nihilistic alone in the basement. I’d brought the bottle of whiskey from our honeymoon down with me and sipped straight from the bottle while smoking a cigarette. Des said no one smoked cigarettes anymore. “Everyone vapes now, Mom. Only Republicans and serial killers smoke cigarettes.” She thought she knew everything there was to know about serial killers just because she listened to a couple podcasts and worked in a lab. In the movie (spoiler alert!) a man with no arms or legs is thrown into a river and a woman shoots herself in the head when she thinks an Indian is about to rape her. I didn’t see what was so nihilistic about the movie but maybe that was on account of my being nihilistic. Like, if you’re religious you don’t identify things as being religious. Or if you’re homophobic or racist you don’t identify people or things as being homophobic or racist, either. I wondered if all westerns now were considered nihilistic on account of who our president was. The new neighbor had said something about the old west philosophy or mentality being responsible for his election. Personally, I thought misogyny had been responsible but I didn’t bother saying so. I didn’t feel like getting into it. It never seemed worth getting into anything now. I just hoped I never had to move into an apartment or condo if Matt and I divorced because I knew in most cities now you couldn’t even smoke in your own apartment anymore. I saw people smoking on balconies as I drove through town. In the middle of winter, even. All wrapped up in fleece robes and down jackets, smoking outside like teenagers trying not to get caught. I’d be goddamned if I was going to smoke my cigarettes on a balcony. Even if it was nice weather and smoking outside would be more pleasant, more pleasurable, I wouldn’t just on principle.
I tried to see what the gunman was looking at, what he was thumbing. But then I took the opportunity instead to knock the gun from his hand with the souvenir baseball bat. It was signed by a man who’d recently been cancelled, something about a ten year old tweet or a twenty year old photograph. It was as easy as I thought it would be; knocking the gun, I mean. I’d caught him quite unaware. I knew he must have thought no one was home on account of Matt’s Jeep not being parked in the drive like normal. The gun flew from his hand and because I was the one not thumbing a phone, I got to it first. That got his attention, finally. Maybe I was still drunk. I teetered a little as he turned.
“Hey,” he said, reaching to grab my arm, but I was holding the gun the way I’d been shown by a guy named Junior at AT CLOSE RANGE and I raised it at him the way I’d been shown to raise a gun at a target and so he backed off, dropped his hand.
“Give me the phone,” I said.
“What are you doing?” he said. I could see his face now. My eyes had adjusted to the light or he was looking up out of his hood or both. He was older than my daughter by a good ten or fifteen years, which means he was younger than me by at least ten. I didn’t know him and this was sort of a relief. I’m not sure what I would have done had it turned out to be one of Des’s old friends. Maybe I would have talked to him and let them go but kept the gun. Probably he would have called me a bitch without writing me an apology this time.
It seemed odd to be asked such an obvious question.
“I don’t know,” I said. An obvious answer.
“Give me your phone,” I said.
“Give me the gun,” he said.
I laughed. He didn’t really think it would be that easy, that I was that easy. I knew he didn’t but he’d thought it was worth a shot, I guess, and who could blame him for that.
We stood like that a long while – me holding the gun and him the target. Maybe five or ten minutes. Maybe longer. I was mulling over my options and I guess he probably was, too.
“Can I get my cigarettes?” he said, finally. His hood was down now. I had somehow missed that happening. His eyes were green and flashing like the light in Gatsby. Come to think of it, we weren’t dressed that dissimilar. I was wearing an old pair of black sweats and t-shirt with another cancelled man’s photo on it. I wasn’t going to get rid of all these t-shirts just because of the cancellations. I’d had this one for years; I liked the way it fit.
“Sure,” I said. “Soon as you give me your phone.”
He handed it to me. It was warm from his hand and I slid it into my sweatpants’ pocket. I looked at him, then, like he was a new opportunity, like I was a woman who has just ‘come to’ in a bed near which Paul Newman is standing on a stage designed to look like a southern hotel room. Like here, at last, was my chance for distraction - I have only one way to forget the things I don’t want to remember and that way is through making love. It’s the only dependable distraction and I need that distraction right now. In the morning we’ll talk about what you want and what you need. I had memorized these lines, lines spoken by an aging actress in a play about an aging actress to a man who was supposed to be much younger, though in reality, Paul Newman was only two years younger than the actress portraying the aging actress in the play. They’d been written by Tennessee Williams a long time ago but they felt fresh, as though I’d written them myself. I often confused myself with Tennessee Williams now, or with the women he wrote lines for in his plays in lieu of himself, I mean. Occasionally I acted in the Civic Theater in town. Once, recently, I’d played the aging actress in the Tennessee Williams’ play Paul Newman was lesser known for (but, arguably, better in). Unfortunately, there weren’t any Paul Newmans in small town, Midwest theater companies. Just a lot of middle-aged, high school drama teachers. Not that I was anything to write Hollywood about.
“Light me one, too,” I said, watching him pull a pack of Winstons from his jacket. He lit one for me and I reached my gun-free hand out for it, wishing I had a Tennessee line ready. Nothing came to mind and I didn’t think the ones about making love were appropriate. We didn’t have an ashtray – the only one in the house was down in the basement – and so we ashed on the floor which was hardwood.
“Look, what do you think you’re going to do?” the gunman said, exhaling some of the smoke with some of his words.
I stared at him, willing myself not to fall instantly in love with him as I had with my first husband. I figured he was probably a drug addict in addition to a burglar. I only fell instantly in love with addicts on account of my mother. Matt and I had been friends a long while first, only trying on the sex part as an afterthought. Matt didn’t even smoke cigarettes. It’d only recently occurred to me he was the only man I’d ever dated who didn’t smoke cigarettes. Now I was realizing how not being with an addict left too much free time for me to think about myself. I had all kinds of problems relating to anxiety because of it but mostly I couldn’t stop clenching my teeth. My jaw ached all day. It took me hours to fall asleep. Only the nights I drank and smoked – the one night every six weeks Matt went to the Red Roof Inn – did I wake with an unclenched jaw.
“Hey,” the gunman said. He was trying to jolt me out of my thoughts. He probably wasn’t fighting the urge to fall in love with me. He probably just wanted to get the hell out of here with some cash for drugs. Go bang his girlfriend. But that wasn’t my problem.
“Sorry,” I said. “I guess I spaced out.”
“No kidding,” he said, smashing the cigarette butt under his boot. I grinded mine into the floor, similarly, with my slipper.
“Look, I gotta go,” he said. “Someone’s gonna come looking for me soon if you don’t let me go.”
“A girlfriend?” I pictured a petite brunette with tattoos and an eating disorder. I always pictured women who were the exact opposite of me.
“Not exactly,” he said but he didn’t go on to be exact which forced me to ask more questions. I was a little annoyed with him, truth be told, for making me ask.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“What difference does it make?” the gunman said. “Look, can I sit down? I’m getting kind of tired of standing here.”
“Sure,” I said. I watched him sit in Matt’s chair, the one nearest the fireplace. My chair was all the way on the opposite side of the room, so I sat on the fireplace’s edge. What he didn’t understand was, it might make a lot of difference. I stared at him a while as he sat, his phone still warm in my pocket, thinking of his tiny, drug-addicted girlfriend calling it. I wondered if he’d ever consider doing local theater. He had the face for it. It was the face of a character actor but a little better looking. It was work, trying not to fall in love with it.
I hadn’t had these problems when I was married to my first husband because my first husband had required my constant, nonstop attention. He had a tendency to jump from moving cars, to pull the hair from his head, to accuse me of sleeping around on him even though there was never any time to sleep with anyone but him. Matt never accused me of sleeping around, even when I almost did. I’d never actually fucked anyone else since we’d been together but I’d fooled around with a couple guys while we were separated. I’m pretty sure Matt fucked other women then, though, so things felt fairly even.
I had recently flirted with the idea of becoming an addict myself, not of drugs, but of the All-American, flag-flying addiction: alcoholism. I had been consciously standing strong against the disease my entire life, due to the alcoholic tendencies of three generations of family members of both genders on both my mother’s and father’s sides.
A month or so earlier I had read the diaries of the late actor Richard Burton who in them had documented the alcoholisms of both himself and of his second (and third) wife Elizabeth Taylor. For a long while it had seemed Richard was the one to watch, starting his mornings at 7 am with Liz holding a glass of vodka up to his mouth because his own hands were too shaky. Then, somewhere about halfway through their (first) marriage, he started writing of Elizabeth as a source of concern, someone with whom he could no longer hold a conversation, someone who could no longer read a book or even speak, except in a child’s voice, of childish things. He wrote that given Elizabeth’s current level of alcoholism, he had but two choices: join her, in which case they would both require handlers as they would be too incapacitated to tend to things like the children and getting to movie premieres and movie sets on time. Or, become the nag, the mother hen, the female, if you will, in the relationship. It was at this point I jumped up in my bed and cried out, “Bravo, Liz!” Despite my apprehensions and outright judgments of my own family members, my mother most crucially and unforgivably, for their descents into addiction (which left me out). I was nonetheless impressed by and in full support of Liz’s ability to flip the script, to out-tipple an infamous tippler, to rise in opposition of her gender. This had set in my head the idea of becoming an inebriate, myself.
Then Matt and I had gone to New York City and saw a play about two brothers, one of whom was a screenwriter, the other a drunk. The drunk had been played by the same actor who had played an alcoholic slacker in an indie film in the mid90s, a film partially responsible for the breaking up of my first engagement – to a golfer - and subsequent marriage to my first husband, and here again he – the actor - was inspiring me, if not to leave my husband, at least to consider the freedom of being the addict in the family. I watched as he waltzed about on stage with a beer in hand and seemingly not a care in the world, saying whatever nonsense entered his mind, scratching his balls, picking his nose, without the self-consciousness or self-recrimination of the sober, while his brother, the teetotaler, fretted and worried over every word out of his mouth, every action he may or may not take at some future date. I saw the liberation of intoxication. Why hadn’t I seen it before? I’d been too busy judging to understand the appeal of being the one who can’t be counted on, the one no one looks to for aid or counsel, the one who can be childlike in his wish fulfillment, too far gone to feel emotions such as shame or embarrassment, at least for very long.
The problem was somewhere deep down inside I knew I was an enabler rather than an addict. I could go only so far: two and a half drinks, half a joint, a dose of LSD, a handful of mini thins. Then I would start to get feeling real uncomfortable and order a coffee or a Diet Coke, drink a half gallon of orange juice, eat a burger, a slice of pizza, down a glass of milk. I was lame like that. Everyone made fun of me for it. Even Matt. Matt sometimes vomited from drinking on holidays we spent with my mother. I hadn’t thrown up since college, one of those blurry nights where you can’t remember if you fucked someone or not. I didn’t have problems with my jaw clenching then, either. And what difference did it make anyway, if you’d fucked someone or not.
”Where else were you headed?” I asked the gunman.
“Huh?” he said.
“Were you going to hit more houses? Or was mine the last one?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “What difference does it make?”
He had a point. It was hard to explain to a strange gunman in your house how you’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity. I couldn’t very well say, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to take me with you now.” I figured he’d never even seen Bonnie and Clyde or Badlands. Or even Kalifornia, which was one of Brad Pitt’s early movies, one of the ones where he’s hot and violent. Or Drugstore Cowboy with a sexy, strung out Matt Dillon. I didn’t know how to say my whole life had been affected by the movies, how I was always looking for my next leading man and maybe he was it. Instead I tried explaining to him who Patty Hearst was, which was hard because he was younger than I and I barely knew. I started explaining how she was from this super wealthy family.
“Wait, did you ever see Citizen Kane?” I shut up long enough to look at him.
“Yeah, I saw it,” he said. “In a high school film class.”
I raised my eyebrows; I was impressed. At my small town public high school we only had the standard classes available to us: Geometry and Civics and Physics. We didn’t have the fancy alternatives kids were offered now: Film and Philosophy and Ceramics. Who knows how I might have turned out if I’d taken a film class in high school. I might even have made it all the way out to Hollywood. ‘Course, I could be dead now, or sexually assaulted, if that had happened. So who’s to say what’s right, what’s worse. The way our lives turn out. Any of that.
“Okay, well, she was related to the main guy in that, the newspaper guy. I mean, the man he represented in real life. Hearst. He was her grandfather. Or maybe her great-grandfather. I’m not sure. But anyway, she was kidnapped, right out of her apartment, one day, right in front of her boyfriend – her boyfriend was a pussy, by this group, and they held her for a long time and she started robbing banks with them and I think she maybe shot someone, too. But during her trial she said she’d had Stockholm Syndrome, you know what that is?”
I stopped again to look at him. I could see he was tiring of me. I could tell he was sorry he’d ever stepped foot inside my house. But that wasn’t my problem.
“Yeah, it’s where you fall in love with your kidnapper?”
“Something like that,” I said. And that’s when I started wondering who would be kidnapping who here and who might end up with Stockholm Syndrome. I was almost fifty, he looked thirty-five. It was Mrs. Robinson and The Graduate a few years later. I didn’t know how to think except in terms of cinematic history. I’d have to have a different name, like how Patty became Tania.
“She said she was a feminist revolutionary,” I said, apropos of almost nothing.
“Who did?” the gunman asked.
“Patty. Patricia Hearst. Tania.” I could see I was losing him, talking about a woman. That’s how I always lost Matt, too. I tried another tactic.
“If you kidnap me, we could split the money,” I said.
“What are you talking about?” he said. “What kidnapping? What money?”
“I’m worth some money,” I said. “You could ‘kidnap’ me, hold me for ransom, and then when the cash comes, we could split it.”
He lowered his head as though scanning the floor for answers, shook it back and forth between his knees, ran his hands through his hair. I thought it was hot how he did this. Exactly how I would have directed him to play the scene.
Then he flicked a second cigarette butt onto the floor from his thumb and forefinger, an inspired bit of improvisation. Very James Dean.
“If you want money and you have money, why do you have to go through this whole kidnapping charade? I don’t get it. Just take the money out of the bank or whatever,” he said.
“I need to stage a kidnapping so I can leave,” I said, very matter of factly. It seemed obvious to me. But maybe he’d never been married, so maybe he didn’t understand what was obvious and what wasn’t. He didn’t understand I’d already twice broken up with Matt, once before we got married, once after. I couldn’t break up with him again without everyone hating me. And I was so exhausted already from being hated the first two times. I figured if I were kidnapped, I’d be a more empathetic character, someone worthy of compassion and a little understanding. Rather than the bad guy I was used to playing. I didn’t understand how everyone else was okay with her life like this. How my friends were okay with either not being able to hug their husbands without being raped or never knowing what it’s like for a man to want you, really want you, to take your face in his hands, to move his hands down toward your shirt and then to your waistband. I didn’t want to die not knowing, not having a man’s hands inside my waistband.
“What are you talking about? Leave what? Leave who? Why do you have to be kidnapped to go?”
Suddenly, the gunman was asking a lot of questions.
“Look, there’s money in a trust my father left me. Actually my great-grandfather left for my father, but that’s not the important part. The important part is it’s a pretty substantial amount of money and we could split it. If we make this look like a kidnapping, if we leave a ransom note. They used to do it all the time in the old days. The Lindbergh baby. Patricia Hearst. That Getty grandson whose ear they cut off. Maybe you can cut off a little of my ear or a fingertip, send it to them in a box.”
“You’re crazy. No offense. But that sounds insane.”
I sighed. I knew it did. I guess I was just hoping he wouldn’t notice, that he’d be crazy enough or fucked up enough to not think too hard about what I was asking him to do. Like Robert Downey Jr. when he mistook a neighbor’s house for his own and passed out in some kid’s bed. Like my first husband when he married me a month after our meeting. Like me, standing here with this gun, willing to risk it all. Whatever ‘it all’ was. I didn’t even know.
I’d thought a lot, recently, about how nihilism left you open to being the most empathetic person you could be. I’d been reading the New Testament and couldn’t find one example of Jesus judging anyone except those who judged others, like the woman in Luke who complained of cooking and cleaning while her sister knelt at Jesus’s feet.
“Tell my sister to help me,” she complained to Jesus. “I’ve been working and she’s just been sitting here with you.”
But Jesus didn’t tell the sister to work. And he didn’t judge the sister for not working, either. Instead Jesus stood up for the sister who had knelt at his feet and listened to him talk. “She has been doing just what she’s supposed to do,” was the gist of what Jesus said. “While you’ve been off cooking and cleaning.”
I’m not saying Jesus was a nihilist. But he didn’t judge anyone as far as I could see, he just forgave their sins and cast out their demons. And some people had a lot of demons. Like that guy, Legion, in Mark. He lived alone on the top of a mountain and cut himself with rocks constantly before Jesus came and cast them all out. There were like 1000 and they all ran and jumped into a flock of sheep. Or pigs. I forget which, now. I couldn’t believe there were cutters, self-harmers, back in Jesus’s days, too. I wondered how different our culture would be if we still believed in demons living inside of people instead of believing people were bad and made bad choices. Who could say which was better.
I was probably just thinking of myself, wanting empathy for myself, which was why I was spending so much time figuring out how to be the most empathetic person; why I was obsessed with being a nihilist. I could feel all the demons inside of me growing restless again. I didn’t want to sit around cutting my arms with rocks, anymore: figuratively speaking.
I wanted to move forward without looking back.
I needed a gun in my face to make this all easier, but the gunman didn’t seem to be cooperating, so I figured I might have to be the one with the gun. I might have to be the one to point the gun in his face, make him fall in love with me. Stockholm Syndrome. Or Brad Pitt. Or whatever.
“Let me ask you a question,” I said. We were in the basement now. I’d held the gunman at gunpoint, made him follow me down the stairs to the whiskey and the ashtray so we could be more comfortable, more sanitary. It hadn’t yet occurred to me to ask his name, to introduce myself. He was still just ‘the gunman’ to me, and I to him? Who knows. Probably something lame like ‘the housewife’ or ‘the lady.’ ‘The pain in my ass.’
“Okay,” he said. He was swigging from the bottle of Maker’s Mark Matt and I had bought on our honeymoon. I borrowed it from him, took a deep swig myself. I had decided to drink more than I ever had before on account of this being my one chance, like Patty Hearst’s that day the kidnappers broke into her Berkley apartment. I knew I would never have another. I had to make the most of it, live while I was alive, like the dead lady in the book said.
It was only two in the morning. Matt wouldn’t be home until at least eleven. That was our agreement. I got the whole morning free, too, in case of hangover even though I barely drank enough to feel one. I really just wanted as many hours to walk around freely as I could get. I remembered once, when I was nineteen and staying with my mom and her abusive boyfriend over Christmas break in some shithole apartment in Columbus, my mom saying to me, “Sometimes I just wish he would die in a car crash instead of coming back,” and I’d said, “Or you could just leave.” I didn’t get how hard leaving was then. So hard, sometimes, that you wished your boyfriend would drunkenly hit a tree, or another car, even, kill an innocent family, instead of coming home. So hard sometimes you prayed for a kidnapping.
“Are you a nihilist?” I asked the gunman, handing him back the bottle. He sort of stared at me then, eyes squinted like he was trying to read a word on a chalkboard. I sat back on my heels, gave him a minute to think it over while I lit another cigarette, already passing my normal allotment of two a night.
I’d read another book, recently. I was accidentally in this book club in which I didn’t know anyone. Everyone else was somehow affiliated with the university in town. They were grad students and doctoral candidates – these women, affiliated in some manner with education and social services. All a decade or more younger than I, and very idealistic because of it, because of their youth. Consequently, the book club seemed to have a lot of rules – “no thrillers in which a woman is killed or hurt,” for example - but the main one, the one repeated ad nauseum every meeting, was “we don’t read books by straight, white men.” Instead, they Googled “good books by non-whites” and “best novels written by a woman” at the end of every meeting to find our next novel or memoir. I’d been initiated into the group by an acquaintance who had moved out of town. At first I’d gone just as something to do. I’d sit, mostly silent, listening, gathering bits of dialogue and information, observing. I told myself I was undercover, like Gloria Steinem at the Playboy Club. I came home and immediately went up to my office to take notes on whatever the women had talked about at that night’s meeting, whatever fucked up things they’d said. I didn’t know why, maybe I thought I could write a play based on them? I’ll admit, I had held most of them in contempt, at first, thought their idealism small and meaningless. I still did but now I also found them, for the most part, kind and likeable. There were one or two I truly hated, despite my nihilism. One was a mom who told us she’d recently banned all Roald Dahl books from her house after overhearing her husband reading one of his books aloud to their child. I can’t remember now, why, but something about a character ‘off page’ being killed or some act of violence ‘off page,’ similarly. Someone had asked me what I’d done when my daughter was little to ‘vet’ books for her.
“I don’t think I did,” I’d said, knowing I hadn’t but not wanting to sound completely irresponsible in this new time in which we were living. “I guess I just viewed everything as a chance to have a conversation.”
The women just sort of slowly nodded and stared blankly at me. And that made me feel self-conscious so then I blurted out, “And now she’s a scientist so I guess it all worked out!”
The book we were currently reading was written by a young woman who chooses the world over her family. Her family forces her to choose. Or she chooses without force. It depended on how you looked at it. It was sort of like the Patricia Hearst story only different. Only this woman wasn’t kidnapped, she was her own captor. She wasn’t a victim of Stockholm Syndrome unless you consider the great universities of the world kidnappers, brainwashers, as her father did. And then she was. I had read the last quarter of the book in a four hour, clenched hand pose in my bed, immobile except for the index finger of my right hand tapping to turn the page. It was three in the morning when I finished and I couldn’t sleep. The word: ‘autonomy’ kept flashing through my brain. It was the same when I woke up five hours later: the flash of ‘autonomy’ like a warning light on your car dashboard. The book seemed to suggest that a marriage under religious pretenses was an imprisonment of a woman, but I couldn’t see a difference between a religious marriage and a secular one in that regard. I thought of my non-religious friend who set her alarm for five a.m. to leave the house before her husband woke. My friend would never describe what happened to her as rape. She had only confided in me what was happening to her recently and one time, but she had been vulnerable in a way I had never known her to be in the twenty years I had known her. She confessed to not wanting to go home that night. Her husband was waiting for her, had sent what could be viewed either as a flirtatious text or a warning. Both of us had cried even as I knew she would never speak of it again; the guilt of having betrayed her husband by telling me would be too great. She would convince herself she was wrong, even, like a true captive. She would defend her captor if ever I brought it up so I didn’t. She read the same book I did and protested loudly about the brainwashing of the religious persons in it, the women’s confinement, especially, with no awareness or remembrance of what she’d told me about her own marriage, about her own lack of free agency over her body, her conscious efforts to escape her own house. I thought of my other friend who felt it was her duty to pleasure her husband every night, before bed, before she moved from his bed to her own to read (her pleasure): he needs it, she told me, to feel okay about us, echoing my other friend.
Was this not sex work of another sort? Were they not prostituting their bodies? And what of mine? Untouched. I had no more free agency over my body than they did, because I was bound by the laws of a modern marriage, which still prohibited a woman seeking fulfillment of her needs outside the marriage, even when the husband was negligible to the point of neglect, to the point of what might be called cruelty.
I said I wasn’t going to tell you which two and which two and now here I am telling. Just like a writer. She always reveals her sources in the end. She always reveals what you, the reader, want her to, what you believe it is your right.
Of course Matt would never think himself cruel, and in truth, it was hard for me to think of him in these terms, also. But I had lived fifteen years feeling undesired, undesirable. And that was a sort of cruelty. Even if he felt bad about his own cruelness, his own handicaps and inhibitions, and preference for himself.
Perhaps because of all this, this chaste lifestyle I didn’t want to lead, I found myself envious of the woman in the book at inappropriate times for envy. I was envious, for instance, of her having a brother who tortured her nonstop, who held her upside down, pinned her arm behind her back, called her a whore, shoved her head in the toilet. It reeked of true love. The whole time I was reading this part of the memoir all I could think was how much her brother loved her. Maybe he wanted to fuck her, too, and that was what made him physically punish her - on account of his sexual desire for his sister. I’d never had a sibling. I’d pined for an older brother, watching The Brady Bunch, pined for Greg Brady. Did all sisters subconsciously want to fuck their brothers? I thought it was probably all, unless you had an ugly meek brother, then maybe not. But if he was older and hot and anywhere close in age: you probably did.
“Let’s pretend you’re my older brother,” I said to the gunman, despite him being fifteen years my junior. “You can hold me upside down, shove my head in the toilet.” Matt didn’t get these games of degradation. Because he’d never been degraded by a close family member. He didn’t have a sister.
The gunman just sort of looked at me, quizzically, squinting again. He was really hot when he squinted. But he didn’t say no.
I couldn’t stop thinking of the world the woman in the book had grown up in, so many family members degrading her (not just her one brother). My childhood had been comparatively lonely. I had been degraded, sure, but mostly I’d been alone in my room. My mother just had too many boyfriends and husbands, most of whom were degrading her, to busy herself with degrading me. It definitely wasn’t the constant and continuous degradation the author of the book had experienced in her childhood. What a gift! How ungrateful she was! That must be what her family is thinking now, reading her memoir. Seeing her face all over the internet, heralded by our former president and Oprah. My mother thought the same of me; I knew. Her boyfriends always voiced as much on her behalf. “Ungrateful little bitch” was a pet name by which I was often referred. Though not often enough, in my opinion. And never while held upside down in the toilet.
“Do you believe in morality?” I asked the gunman, taking a slightly different tactic. Maybe it was the whiskey but he was starting to remind me of a certain rock guitarist in a certain rock band from the 90s whose videos had played 24/7 on MTV when I was nineteen years old. I mean, he was hot.
He was beginning to sound like Matt, monosyllabic; what I called lazy.
“Do you consider yourself nihilistic?”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
“Do you believe in either religion or morality?”
“Of course I do.”
“Of course. I believe in both.”
“Oh,” I said. I tried not to sound disappointed. “So when you broke in here, when you broke into my house, that was a moral act?”
“Well, no, but you don’t have to be a nihilist to rob someone. I know it’s wrong, and I feel bad about it, but I also just didn’t know what else to do. Sometimes you just do something, even though you know it’s wrong, cuz you don’t know what else to do. Haven’t you ever done something like that?”
Ha! What did he think this was? I wasn’t the one professing to believe in morality. I was the one arguing against it. How was he turning this back on me?
“Of course. Yes. All the time,” I said.
I took another drink from the bottle, remembering how Matt had developed a little crush on the Maker’s Mark tour guide, a cute, twenty year old blonde. I thought about how it was likely the only reason he wasn’t cheating on me, fucking a student, was because fucking a student now was tantamount to murder. No, it was worse than murder. No one had yet been cancelled for murder. The point was, Matt wasn’t virtuous because of some inner moral strength, but due to lack of opportunity, due to a change in the cultural climate. Fear was a greater motivator than lust, in this case. In many cases. I kind of felt sorry for him, being born into the wrong generation. The one that didn’t get to have any fun. As opposed to the ‘free love’ generation, say. Or the ‘roaring twenties.’ When morality was seen as bourgeoisie, middle class, conservative, Republican. I knew what they said about power but I thought if a thirteen year old could get pregnant, a twenty year old could make a decision about sex, and sometimes power was intoxicating and sometimes that intoxication was what a woman wanted to feel. Only now the culture told her it wasn’t (what she wanted) and for the most part she believed the culture because the culture told her she was stupid, naïve, if she didn’t (believe), and no one wants to be viewed as stupid or naïve. So now the twenty year old was being controlled and manipulated by the culture, by her peers, who were in power, rather than by a single man she may have enjoyed fucking. It didn’t feel like any great win to me for women. But what did I know? I was old and out of touch.
Then I asked the gunman the question every woman embarrassingly asks every man, eventually: “Do you like me?” Of course, what I really meant was do you want to fuck me, but I couldn’t ask that outright. I thought it was probably obvious I wanted to fuck the gunman, but maybe not. Maybe I just thought it was obvious because of the Maker’s, because my head was a little spinny and there was a gun in my hand and a man I hadn’t fucked yet sitting on the couch in my basement for the first time in a long time.
The gunman looked confused. A familiar ploy. Of a man trying to figure out the motivation for a question such as this from a woman.
“What do you mean? I don’t even know you,” he said. He was being cautious. Good for him! Don’t answer too swiftly, too soon, who knows what you’re signing up for!
“I just mean: do you like me? simple as that,” I said, knowing it wasn’t simple as that, it was very complicated. There were layers and layers to the question and there would be layers and layers to the answer. Yet both sounded so simple. So easy. I’ll admit, I was feeling the other side of power now, the sexiness of being the one holding it. There was an intoxication to this as well. I thought every woman should know both sides in her lifetime. I wanted to know both tonight.
“Sure, I like you, what’s not to like? Is there some reason I shouldn’t like you?” The gunman was spinning his wheels. Maybe the Maker’s was getting to him, too. I’d decided his name was Rhett. Or Mario. Like a racecar driver. Like a lothario. Like I needed him to be.
I wonder how many of her kidnappers Patty had slept with. It hadn’t specified in the book I’d read about her life. It only specified her sleeping with and falling in love with her bodyguard, once out of captivity, once she was on trial, facing a different sort of imprisonment, the literal kind.
I wished, then, that I were wearing anything other than an old pair of sweatpants and the cancelled man’s face on a t-shirt. No, not anything. Something, something specific. I wished I were wearing a pair of thigh highs and a silk blouse. A pair of heels would be on or off, perhaps kicked somewhere in the middle of the carpeted floor.
I wondered why I was reading so many books lately. I knew the answer, of course. It was because I wasn’t living life while I was alive! The damned dead woman, the cancer victim, was right, but I didn’t know how to go about making a change, how to go from just plain living to LIVING WHILE YOU’RE ALIVE!
“Of course there are reasons,” I said. “There are always reasons if you get to know someone well enough.” I thought about running up to change, if there was time, if I would have to take the gunman with me or if I could trust him to stay here on the couch. No, I couldn’t trust him. It took much longer to develop Stockholm Syndrome, I supposed. Days, weeks, even. He might need to be locked in a closet or trunk, sensory depravation, withholding of food, and then, after a while, the feeding again, the return to the senses. That’s when the love bloomed: in the return to the senses, the replenishment of what was withheld. Be it physical or emotional withholding, or, best case scenario: both.
I had once read a story in which a character is advised, for the curing of his depression: don’t eat sugar, drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes for a week. Then, slowly, one at a time, add each back in. I guarantee you, you will be so happy.
I figured Stockholm Syndrome was something like that.
I figured I would fall madly in love with the first man to fuck me.
I couldn’t tell if that man would be the gunman, yet, or if it would be someone else. I looked at him, though, into his flashing green eyes, a little glassier now on account of the Maker’s. I knew his fingertips would reek of nicotine if I smelled them, if I held them up to my lips. I debated doing this for a time before I actually did it. The amount of time I sat back on my heels debating was the most pleasurable time I’d experienced in recent years.
But I wasn’t crazy; I kept the gun in my hand, leaning forward. I used only my mouth.
“What if I were the one to cut it,” I said. I was asking the gunman, holding my hair away from my neck, tucking it, to afford him a better view of my ear.
“You’re not going to cut your own ear,” he said. “Trust me.”
He grinned a little, took another swig of the Maker’s and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. Never mind that if Matt had done the same thing I would have rolled my eyes and thought: gross.
“Well, are you man enough to cut it for me then, Mr. Bigshot?” I said. My feet were in his lap but the gun was still in my hand, lazily aimed his way. I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t under the delusion he’d fallen in love with me just because of what had happened a few minutes earlier on the couch. Maybe it was the Maker’s but he was starting to resemble a mid90s Matt Dillon. Maybe it was just the smirk.
“Maybe,” he said, and I wondered where he’d gotten chew. There was a big wad of it in his bottom lip, just like all the hometown boys I’d wanted to finger me when I was seventeen. I waited for him to wink but he didn’t so I went on.
“It can’t be much worse than piercing your own ear. I did that drunk one night in college.”
“I believe it would be much worse,” he said. And then he spat into a plastic cup I didn’t remember getting him. It was one of Matt’s from college: Iowa State. I thought it was an odd choice for me to have given the gunman but so what. “Severing an ear is much larger a project than shoving a needle through one.”
I sighed, knowing he was right about this, at least, if nothing else. He was going to have to be the one to do it. I needed to make it all seem a little more enticing. A little more lucrative, too.
“The Getty grandson, his kidnappers asked for seventeen million and got two and a half. I think we could ask for four and get a mill. Or something close. Of course he was held hostage for five months, before they got the…”
“Five months? I can’t be held hostage for five days,” the gunman said. He didn’t get it. This was a million dollars, cash, we were talking about. Split 50/50. Surely no girlfriend was worth that, if that’s what he was worried about, losing her.
He spat again. He must really be filling up that cup, I thought. He reminded me of my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, not the millionaire, the factory worker. He carried a spittoon with him wherever he went; chewed and drank (beer and whiskey) right up until he died at age 95. My mother liked to tell the story of how the doctors advised him to quit drinking and chewing tobacco when he was 92. “What was the point?” she would ask her audience, hands raised in the air like question marks. “That’s what he wanted to know. He never did quit. And he never got cancer, either. He just died in his sleep like an old man will: happy.”
That’s how I wanted to die, I’d recently decided: inebriated, happy. I took another glug of bourbon as if to prove it. Was this living while alive? I wanted the dead woman to come to me in the form of a ghost and tell me. Was I doing this right? Was this okay?
I held up my pinkie finger, studying the tip. How much could you cut without going to the hospital? How did the 60s kidnappers know so much about human anatomy before the internet? Could you slice straight through a finger with a common kitchen knife? Straight through the bone with one good slice?
I asked the gunman all of these questions.
“Why are you asking me? how the hell would I know?” the gunman said.
“I thought maybe you were a hunter,” I said. “You’re a guy, you live in Michigan, you have a gun…”
“No, I’ve never hunted,” the gunman said. He sounded a little offended, like I’d hurt his feelings by implying he’d killed Bambi. I was used to eating venison on account of two of my mom’s husbands being hunters or hippies or survivalists. They all sort of blended together after a while.
“Well, which do you think would hurt worse: ear or pinkie?” I said.
“Ear,” he said.
“Okay, then,” I said. “Let’s go up to the kitchen.”
“What for?” the gunman said.
“Duh,” I said. “A knife?”
I grabbed the bottle of Maker’s and my cigarettes. Motioned with the gun for the gunman to lead us up the stairs. Which is when I noticed he was wearing Levi’s, and there was a Skoal container in his back pocket. Hot.
Half an hour later I came to on my kitchen floor. There was blood everywhere and my entire hand was wrapped in a kitchen towel and duct tape. The kitchen towel was a pinkish-red and for a second I wondered where he’d gotten it since all my kitchen towels were white with black borders.
“I’m sorry,” the gunman said, wincing. He sort of looked like a Wilson brother, wincing. More Luke than Owen. Though, truthfully, I could barely remember what Luke looked like. It’d been a while since he’d been in a film. “You insisted. You got out the cutting board and drank the rest of the Maker’s and called me a pussy if I didn’t do it.”
“You make me sound like such a bitch,” I said.
Then I saw the Ziploc baggie on the counter.
“What’s that?” I said, even though I already knew. I just wanted him to tell me.
“And where’s the gun?” I said. Which is when I realized he could have left with the gun while I was passed out.
“There were never any bullets in it,” he said. “I didn’t have the heart to tell you. You were so into it. Also, I was curious how far you’d take things, I guess.”
“Pretty fucking far,” I said, holding up my right hand, minus a finger.
“Yeah,” the gunman said. “Pretty far.”
I wondered how bored in his life the gunman was that he was humoring me. Maybe he wanted to disappear, too. Maybe there was no tiny drug-addicted girlfriend, after all. Or maybe there was and that was the point.
Sometimes I wondered if the members of my book club just needed to get laid. I knew it was sexist, and maybe even worthy of cancellation, to think that. But I thought it of myself too. So I figured that made it okay. Or at least not horrible. Maybe this was what the dead woman had meant by live while you’re alive. Maybe she had meant we needed to fuck more people, fuck while you’re alive! Something like that.
One month we all read a romance novel. “The Duke Who Ravaged Me.” That was the actual title. Someone – the unofficial leader of book club, a tiny pixie of a woman with cropped orange hair and glasses - said it had been recommended by The Washington Post. I read a page and a half. I thought it was boring. It was all about a man. Some of the other women read more. Some read all of it. The tiny pixie woman seemed embarrassed she had recommended it. “This book is trash,” she said at our next meeting.
“I read a shit ton of romance novels,” one of the youngest members said. “This one was not graphic.” Another member, a thirty-something woman with an autoimmune issue and a pageboy haircut, said, “I know you said it wasn’t graphic, but I felt the sex was very graphic.”
“No,” the youngest one reiterated. “Not at all graphic.” She was knitting when she made this proclamation, which I thought added weight to her opinion.
The room was divided that night into two sections, those who read romance novels and those who didn’t. “How do you do it?” those who didn’t wanted to know. “How do you overlook all the problematic parts?”
The youngest woman shrugged. “I’m telling you, this book was not graphic,” she said. This woman had a large dog that weighed more than she did. When we met at her house the large dog had drooled on everyone.
I wondered what the women would think if they could see me now, surrounded by blood, a gunman in my kitchen, my finger in a freezer Ziplock baggie on the counter.
“I think it could have fit in the sandwich-size baggie,” I said to the gunman.
“Huh?” he said.
“Nothing,” I said. Matt always said I was too critical. What does it fucking matter which Ziplock? That’s what Matt would have said. And he would have been right. What did it fucking matter?
“So, what now?” the gunman asked. I was stunned. Was he really looking to me for a plan? Was he prepared to follow whatever I said?
“I don’t know but we need more whiskey; my finger is throbbing,” I said. “Can you drive?”
“Whatever happened to the kidnappers?” he said, running his hands through his hair again. Wincing a little. Or maybe he was squinting. I couldn’t tell.
“All the ones you were talking about, earlier. The ones who kidnapped the Patty lady and the baby and the grandson?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I never cared what happened to them. I guess they probably got killed or went to jail but I don’t know.” I realized I wasn’t making this sound as enticing now. I figured he probably didn’t want to end up in prison or dead. “But anyway, I’d be the one kidnapping you now,” I added, trying to reassure him. It wasn’t that I wanted to go to prison or die, either. But I was older. Death was closer. I lit a cigarette and waited to see what he would do next. He dug his keys out of his Levi’s.
“Either way,” I said. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to go. You could go with me. We could drive to the airport right now, fly to Mexico or somewhere in the Caribbean.”
“I don’t have a passport,” the gunman said.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, we could fly to Florida. Miami. Key West. That’s pretty far. Southern most point in the continental United States.”
“Thanks, but I think I have to go,” he said. “Can I have my phone?”
I fished it out of my pocket with my left hand by twisting my body. There was a smidge of blood on it and I wiped it on my sweats. I thought about how stupid it was to have cut my right hand pinkie instead of my left. I thought about getting on an airplane with the dishtowel duct-taped to my hand.
“At least take something with you,” I said. “My laptop?”
I wouldn’t need it and I felt bad he’d wasted so much time on my house without anything to show for it. I felt bad I didn’t even have a smartphone to offer him. If I’d had any cash on me I would have given it to him.
“Thanks,” he said, taking the laptop. It was a couple years old, already. I didn’t know how much he would get for it but it was something. “Well, goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” I said. I held up my hand in a wave without waving it. It was still pulsing. I watched him go out the front door. The knob was hanging from the door. Matt would have to get it fixed before he sold the house, if he sold it. And what did it matter. I left my fingertip in the baggie on the counter with a note.
“Dear Matt,” it said. “I’ve been kidnapped. But I’m okay so don’t call the police. The kidnapping is more a figure of speech, figuratively speaking. I am leaving on my own volition. I am leaving for the airport, to an undisclosed location. I will let Des know where I am soon. As for us, I think we both know you deserve better. Figuratively speaking. Or we both deserve something new. Figuratively. We both deserve to live while we’re alive! I’m not taking any books with me so do with them what you will. I won’t be reading where I’m going. I’ll let my book club know I won’t be joining them so they can fill my spot, keep up their numbers. As for the pinkie, it’s mine. I can’t explain how it ended up in a baggie but do with it as you will. I didn’t have the heart to throw it away but you should. Take care.”
I signed the note with my left hand. My signature looked like shit. I got my passport out of the kitchen drawer and changed into something that didn’t have bloodstains all over it. I thought about where I would go on the drive to the airport while chugging some cold brew from a jar in the fridge. Once, Matt and I had flown to Vegas on a whim, after we got back together the second time. I figured I would go somewhere farther. Decades earlier I’d gone to a boarding school with kids from the Dominican Republic and Curacao and the Cayman Islands. I thought maybe I’d go to one of those places, look some of them up. My banker could wire me some money. I could fly Des down to visit. Maybe my jaw wouldn’t ache anymore. Maybe my fingertip would grow back but probably it wouldn’t. Probably it would serve as a reminder. Like a YOLO tattoo but more subtle. Obvious only to me.