Milk Bottle Magnetism

I know everybody’s story is more interesting than mine, but it’s been so long, I feel like I have to get this off my chest. I miss her so much now, and some nights, she’s the only thing I can think about when I’m lying in bed awake. So you can listen, or you can not, it don’t bother me either way. I just have to tell it, is all. Here goes.

I first saw her on the midway, one Saturday night probably twenty-four, twenty-five years ago. I’d been working with the carnival for just about two years then, and while it hadn’t gotten old yet, I could see that coming round the corner, not too far off now. I’ve always been one to need new experiences, and while some of you think that carnies have it made, it’s still the same thing, day in and day out, same people, same job, and same marks, just with little bit different faces.index

But I’m trying to tell you about her, about what she meant to me that one precious day. I know I get off track, but I just miss her so damn much, still. I was working the milk bottle game, trying to scam some marks out of their money because that was my job, not because I’m that kind of person. I always hated that part of the job, but I loved it at the same time. It’s power, you know? I couldn’t lie to her, though.

She walked up with a couple friends and I knew she was alone, because the other two were holding hands and sucking face every chance they got. She was tall, and tan, and beautiful. And when she smiled at me she blew away every overcast day I could remember, her smile was that bright. Ponytail and no makeup and cutoff blue jean shorts, but not so short that people would judge her on sight.

I remember the one lonely brown curl stuck to her neck with sweat from the heat of the day. Laid against her skin like that’s where it belonged, and the sweat not taking anything away from how beautiful she was. I couldn’t imagine her sweat having any kind of bad smell, but I remember I got so aware of my dirty carny clothes and my own sweaty stink. I don’t think she noticed, though.

She came right up and laid her five down for her three balls. I fumbled setting them on the rail for her, and that earned me another half a smile, which was worth more to me than any amount of green paper. I stepped back to let her take her shots, and she missed, all three. Didn’t even touch a bottle. She laughed, and the music in that laugh made me smile like I haven’t since. Not once since then.

Nothing measured up to her.

Somehow I was able to talk to her, and I told her to give it one more shot, on the house. I handed her the ball, and when her finger brushed against mine I knew she was the one for me. She thanked me, and gave it her best, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t knock ’em all down with that shot, something that should have been damn near impossible. It wasn’t my first go-round, and I knew how to set those bottles up right, but she did it. I think she loved my confusion more than she was excited about the prize she won, because she took that giant green bear and held it against her hip without another glance at it. She kept her eyes on me. Lord knows I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

“What’s your name?” she asked me, still smiling.

When I told her it was Roger, she made a face like she was filing that name away somewhere special in her head, and she caught the bear in the crook of her arm as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a pen. She took my hand off the rail and flipped it over to write her number on my palm. I caught my breath as she leaned in to to put her lips right next to my ear.

“Call me tonight,” she whispered. “I know you; you’re everything that I am. Call me.”

She winked at me as she squeezed my hand before setting it back where it was on the rail, and interrupted her face-sucking friends to drag them off to the Gravitron.

I tried to call her that night; I tried over and over, but I never got anything more than a busy signal. I was for sure that she had to know her phone was off the hook, that she’d come back to see me again, that she’d send her friend back, something, anything. Nothing, that whole next day. I was in misery.

And the very next morning, she made the front page of the paper. Those face-sucking friends of hers had driven the three of them off a bad curve, rolled the car, and lost all of their lives. That was it for me; I walked off the midway that minute and never looked back. I caught the next train I saw rolling down the tracks and lived the hobo lifestyle for a few months before I found a place that almost didn’t remind me of her.

And ever since then it’s been the same. I can’t stay anywhere for too long without starting to hear the tune of her laughter, without glimpsing that bright shining glow of her smile. She was the one for me, and I lost her before I even had her. I know there’s nothing that I could have done, but I still blame myself for losing her.



The worst part is that life goes on. 

The minutes, then hours, then days that you don’t think about it until you’re out in public and it slaps you in the face that none of these dozens or hundreds of people passing you by have any idea of what you’re going through right this minute when it’s suddenly too much and it hurts to breathe and your heart beats black spots into your vision. 

Or maybe they do know. Maybe they’re struggling too, trying to come to terms with losing the very same person. But neither of you know that, and it wouldn’t change anything if you did. 

But mostly, it’s just another day to them. 

How can it be? How can it be just another day? The world is not the same; the ripples of change must surely be felt by all. 


And then you kick yourself because it was gone again, for a minute, for an hour. Life went on while you weren’t looking. As it has been for those same dozens or hundreds of people walking by you. 

Life, going on. 

The anger comes. The waves of rage crashing down that this happened and not that. That this one is gone and not that one. That nothing is fair and life goes on and you forget, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s for a second or a minute or an hour because you’re letting someone down

But you forget that too, for a minute, for an hour. Forget and forget and forget, all day and all night but it doesn’t matter because nothing is real anymore but it still happens. 

Life goes on. Out of nowhere, life goes on. 

And it’s bullshit, but that’s the way it is. 

Coming and going. Forgetting and remembering and forgetting. 

408 Down

I have 408 words so far for my memoir about the trip to California. It feels good to finally be starting this project.

I’ve been listening to my new Garbage radio station on Pandora for a couple of weeks now, and the urge has built up to critical mass.

I can see him so clearly, wearing his black shirt with the pink G on it. I’ll get to that. I’ll get there. It was the most color I ever saw him wear.

But then, we only saw each other in a handful of outfits; that’s the nature of road tripping.

So many memories assaulting me, of him, of my mother-in-law.

So much grief; so much grieving.

So many more words to write.

Grief Without a Timetable

Tonight I learned that a friend of mine passed away. 

Not recently, no; it’s been nearly thirteen years. 

When I was nineteen, I met a guy on the Internet. He was driving from Wisconsin to California. I talked him into detouring to Louisiana to pick me up and bring me with him. This was the 90s and we were teenagers; nothing bad could possibly happen. We were invincible. 

Which makes what I read today all the more painful. He died in 2003 of sleep apnea, after falling and hitting his head. 

We were invincible. 

How many times has his spirit graced this blog?

That time a year ago:

I took a road trip to California with a guy I met on the internet days before. On the way home, his car died and we walked for miles in the middle of the night before a truck driver stopped to give us a ride. With a machete in my pants. Just in case, you know?

That time in 2011:

I walked three miles along I-10 an hour from El Paso with a machete in my pants at two in the morning because our car broke down (This was the one trip I didn’t make solo.). Who knows what could have happened instead of my first and only ride in an eighteen wheeler?

And dribs and drabs here and there in between. 

Like when Mel at Stirrup Queens asked us who we’d like to call that we can’t just pick up the phone and call. 

I would like to call the friend I met on mIRC about twelve years ago who took me on his road trip to California. It wasn’t until we were on our way back that I found out why I had to badger him so much to pick me up. He was planning on suicide, but changed his mind when I went. I received a wedding announcement from him almost a year after our trip with a picture of him and his wife, but that’s the last I’ve heard. I hope he’s doing well, and still beating his depression.

Mel and I had an email exchange about my comment, back then in 2011. I dug through my emails for twenty minutes tonight searching for it so I could tell her what I’d learned, with the context. 
The whole reason I was determined to find him was my plan to write a memoir about our road trip. And now I have to write it. I have to do it right, and I have to do it well. 

I’m sitting here on my brother-in-law’s couch writing this post, and Rammstein comes on: one of the bands in our massive CD playlist from the trip to California. 

It’s just–I miss him so much more now that I know I can’t talk to him or send him a Facebook message. It’s so final. I cried for an hour. There’s a hole that I didn’t know was there before. 

I’m missing the co-author of the machete in my pants story. 

This sign. I’ve driven past it so many times, but one time, I stopped. And it was on our trip. 

The Time Before

It was an old Victorian style home, placed gently at the end of a cul-de-sac. I rested my hand on the wrought iron gate and winced at the screeching sound it made as it turned inward on abused hinges. I checked over my shoulder for signs of the impending major thunderstorm that had been predicted for today, but the sky was clear as a bell.

I walked to the front door and entered the house.

The foyer was inexplicably decorated like a dream I’d once had; the sinuously carved legs of the table spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. A portrait of an ancestor I’d never caught the name of loomed over me, and I cowered in response.The elephant foot umbrella stand contained the two curved-handled umbrellas that had once sheltered my grandparents from the rain.

The heavy door swung silently closed behind me, and in the last wink of natural sunlight I caught a glint of something shiny on the edge of the table. When I moved closer I saw that it was a shining silver anklet, hanging off the table, just enough of its weight left on top to keep it from sliding all the way to the slate floor beneath. The initials engraved on a tarnished tag, which contrasted starkly with the newness of the chain, were my grandmother’s initials, WCS, twining softly through and around each other like lovers. I choked back a sob at the memories that came rushing to the forefront of my mind.

I continued further into the dark house, and went straight to the windows of the sitting room to open the drapes wide to let the afternoon sunshine reveal the treasures within. Some of the furnishings I remembered from my childhood; others, not so much. This rug, ancient and faded as it was, still retained the muted maroons and oranges of long ago. I traced the shapes of the poppies with my foot, remembering, remembering.

The wing-back chair had been my grandfather’s; he would sit with his paper and his cigar, shutting out the rest of the world, smoking ferociously, refusing to admit that he had a family who loved him in spite of his denial of our existence. The arms still bore the marks of his elbows, the table next to it the shadow of the circle of his ashtray.

Someone had moved the ashtray to the mantel. I retrieved it, and walked it back to my grandfather’s table, caressing the angles and facets that would glint in the light from the chandelier that–I glanced upward–was no longer there. Why had they taken it out? I’d never know now.

The fireplace was different, too. The mantel smoother, more polished than I remembered from before. The bricks, though, were still solidly mortared into an orgy of fire and ash. Marshmallows never dropped, blackened and cracking, onto this hearth. This fireplace was forbidden to anyone born after World War II. No one that young could possibly offer it the respect it demanded. I never understood that rule.

I ran my hand across the top of the mantel, sweeping up a ridge of dust against my leading finger, and a piece of paper wafted to the floor, disturbed by my motion, I bent to pick it up, and paused halfway back up, eye to eye with a picture of tattoo celeb Kat von D. I furrowed my brow; this was not a thing that belong in my grandparents’ house. They had never bought a television. They wouldn’t even recognize this woman as an actual person, with her star tattoos and fancy eyeliner. I turned to see what other changes had been brought since my grandmother’s passing.

Her sofa was still there, the one I’d never sat upon. I crossed to it now, around the coffee table with its mosaic of light and dark woods. I put my hand out to touch the back of the sofa, and made as if to turn and sit, but I could not. She would never have approved of a blue-jeaned ass on her Chesterfield.

Headshot limply dangling from my hand, I left the sitting room behind, to disappear from my sight as I had disappeared from my family while they still lived and breathed.

I trailed my hand along the wallpaper that had coated these walls for decades, tracing the flocked decorations and picturing them in my mind without looking at the real thing. The wall sconces hadn’t been polished in years; their tarnish seemed to suck in what little light reached this far down the hall.

I turned into the kitchen, and my jaw dropped at the sight of a three-tiered birthday cake resting comfortable on a white porcelain cake stand in the middle of the tiled island. I’ve heard of fruit bowls, flower vases, many things served as a centerpiece, but never birthday cakes. It looked so good, though. So fresh.

Nothing in the sinks, no stains on the stove, nothing peeking from inside a crooked cabinet door. My grandmother had always kept her kitchen spotless As I moved farther into the room, I could see the stack of small dessert plates placed next to the cake, forks resting atop them.

Had the probate attorney known today was my birthday? Even if he had, he should have known that I would be here alone. I have no one with whom to share cake. I lay the photo next to the plates, Kat side down.

I turned my back on the cake and entered the dining room. When I opened these drapes, shaking their dust into the air I was already struggling to breathe, I heard the sound of something in the distance, and lingered at the windows, swiping at a pane with my closed fist to make a cleaner spot. I stared at the treeline for twenty, maybe thirty seconds, before a dog came padding from between two pines. It barked, and I recognized the sound as what I had heard. I was still confused; no one on this street had ever had a dog that large. This was strictly a purse-sized canine neighborhood. I shrugged, and turned back to examine the table.

The same dark wood, the same darkly upholstered chairs. The same chandelier, unlike in the sitting room. The same sideboard, full of the same china. I reached for the knob to open the top cabinet, but my nose was assaulted with the smell of rotting seaweed. I lifted my hand to shield my poor nose, and bent to examine the floor. When I saw a row of filthy shoes lined up beneath the sideboard, straight as an arrow, my back muscles pulled me into a position to match them, an incredibly erect posture of surprise.

My grandmother would never have let shoes like that into her home. But the house was only a few miles from the ocean, although much farther from the heavily frequented beaches that the tourists loved. In the midst of my confusion, I heard the sound of the front door–no, I felt the air pressure change in the house as it closed. That door had never made a sound from the day it was hung.

Rhythmic shuffling footsteps coming closer. I let my hand fall to my side.

The door on the other side of the dining room flew open, and my sister screamed “Surprise!”

I never liked her.

The Blog Propellant–Very Roomy. I know I didn’t do exactly what I was supposed to do, but this is what I got.

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 2

Day 2: Write something that someone told you about yourself that you never forgot.

Something I’ve never forgotten.

I’ve written about some of those before, I do believe.

I started to dig through my archives for examples, but what I found wasn’t the answer I was looking for.

I found the post I wrote when my Aunt Morna died, and when my Grandma Inez died.

I’m crying now, and I lost the focus of this post. It’s not something about myself, but all I can think of how many times my grandfather said “cheese and crackers, April Inez!” I had a really great extended family.

I miss them.