pack. Two nights and two days worth of clothes were tucked tightly
into a large black bag; there was hardly room above the toiletries.
Matt and I met half an hour before the train left. After a short walk,
during which I panicked and wined assuming we would be late, we sat.
The ticket pilled between my thumb and finger. Sweat was getting to
the ink, relaxing the fibrous paper. My thumb was black when our train
Matt said it would be around 2 hours before we hit Indiana,
where his entire family waited, also anticipating my arrival. We are
official, we are serious, I am in a relationship with Matt Baker. I am
being brought home.
The train pulled into South bend at 9 p.m. The platform dug
into my boot heel like the thin winding wire of a tight rope, and I
was fumbling. I needed one thing; there was one thing, one pleasantry
that could save my nerves. Just one small cigarette. Matt pointed out
the still red minivan holding his two younger brothers’, step mother
and adored father. I lit a cigarette. A moment from a minivan with
children and clean quiet adults. The symbol of family and soccer
practice, so humble, had suddenly become terrifying. What if I alone
managed to fill the enormous, apualstered vehicle with the nauseating
smell of lingering tobacco. The children, too young for polite
complaints would start coughing loudly, asking why any self respecting
lady would subject her skin to such an odor. Both parents furrowing
their brows, concerned for their boy’s ability to make decisions. Two
drags in I stomped the thing out.
Matt smiled as my nearly whole cigarette unraveled under my
toe. Knowing he could never convince me to calm down he placed a hand
on my shoulder.
His father stepped out of the passenger seat ready to embrace
his son. Then first thing I noticed about Carroll Baker was the way he
chose to move from the car to the ground. There was a caution about
his inelegant decent. Seemingly, Mr. Baker made a point of tearing
himself from the excitement of the moment to safely and efficiently
find solid ground. His shoulders contradicted each other, one leg
hindered by its other, and eyes fixed, anticipating only the
approaching concrete. With every toe and heel firmly realized, honest
in their support, Carroll Baker looked up. His eyes wide with
excitement, his arms opened like wings. Matt fell to them as air.
Carroll Baker’s every moment mirrored Timothy Delaney, my adored
father. And since, my smile was enormous.
After a dinner of Indiana’s finest traditional Mexican
interpretation Matt and I headed to his brother’s house across the
field. Mike Baker lived nestled in-between his father and
grandparents. All in a row, they called it Baker Street, I never
learned the blocks legal name. Mike had an empty second floor with a
bed and bath room. As gently as he could, Matt opened the back door.
The screen creaked just enough to wake Chewbacca. The pug bolted
towards the door, barking and sliding across the new wood floors. Matt
tried to subdue the dogs frantic snorting but Mike, asleep in his
chair, began to stir. He got up smoothly, Matt apologized for the
noise, Mike shrugged and smile.
“Ceme’r li’l Brother.”
Mike was covered in tattoos, taller and broader than Matt, who was
muffled by another welcomed hug. Mike shook my hand still slowly
waking. After several cigarettes Matt and I fell into bed.
My eyes were shut by the time he turn the light off. Matt was
warm, laying next to me his hand diving comfortably into the knots of
my hair. I felt my eyes open, I was sure the lids peeled back. There
was the cold air drying fragile tissue, the calm of Matt’s breath
causing them to tear. His hair pulled across the pillow grinding like
sand paper. Lips kissing my open eye. Sharply flinching, I laughed
pulling back to say
“Your face is forever in my eye.”
“No Street lights here dear, this is what dark looks like.”
Matt warned me of this phenomenon called dark. No passing head
lights, no street lamps, strangers window’s glowing orange 10 feet
away, at all hours of the night, Indiana had stars. It was cloudy that
evening. The blackness was something I could bear. Dark did not have
the new wickedness of silence.
I could hear my toes move back and forth, I could hear my skin
fold in the sheet. Indiana was drained, the only sounds came from
flesh and fabric. Absence redefined sense in general. What the city
lets you hear has one purpose, to alert, car horns, elevated trains
pounding at the rusting rail on which they soar, in the morning,
alarms squeal, thousands of newly soled shoes sent thundering through
even louder streets. Chicago nights are desperately alive. Indiana
settles after sun down. The land, farmers, the air; everything
soundlessly sleeps. I am not Indiana, I lay desperately awake.
There was a crash down stairs. Matt assured me the pug’s gate
had fallen, nothing more. At the quick slam I shook harder than the
last time a gunshot rang from a block away. Nothing followed the
gate’s tumble. The noise resonated instead of resolving into just
another sound. A gate had just hit the floor, simply a thing smacking
into another. There was no reason for my attention, it did not tell me
to wake and dress or lock up the door. A crash and then quiet. I had
never known sound without a distinct purpose. I assumed day light
would comfort me. Waking, unfortunately was just as startling.
2 p.m. Mike Baker sparks the ignition of his wrecked Chevy long
ago junked by the South Bend, Indiana fire department. He planned an
afternoon with the pug, Chewbacca, nested shot gun. While Mike
destroyed some corn fields at 75 miles per hour with 5 miles to the
gallon. The key sunk hard into its socket. With a purposeful 180,
Mike’s wrist cracked, and the great rust hood rattled, his monster’s
chest was stirring with life. The ancient machine did not whine,
though older than its driver, it was ornery and angry not feeble.
Gulping gasoline, fuel raged, the blood of the car lusting for
its chest. Once there, the live liquid knew the coming release.
Freedom of diffusion. From a sweet iron artery gas rushed into a pool,
violent with heat. Twenty dollars a tank already mad to live in the
air as useless exhaust. With such vigorous combustion the motor
released a colossal satisfying growl.
Two rooms over and a floor up I missed no moment of this epic
collision. Liquid gas and fire kicking with motion and bad ass. The
bed, window, and floor of my and Matt’s room quivered. If walls could
talk they would have whimpered. I lay still, back against the bed
frame, content with the view from one naked window. The light was
white and crisp. There was no garment, no curtain, just thin rosewood
pains delicate amidst the jittery glass.
A masterpiece lay past that window. The low humble horizon
line, pained with dead trees dry enough to never again feel green,
opened on to sky. A cotton candy blue, boasting muscular clouds, in
their pride refusing to drift and mingle. All of this heaven cradled
by a wholeness I never thought the horizon could bear. Atlas would
have fallen to his chin with the weight of that blue and white. The
entire sky curved back above my hair. And a breath beyond the tip of
my nose, I swear, unraveled forever. I could not see the trees. They
too were quieted in admiration of such a delicious sugar blue. Quiet
and bending, I like the trees fold, over taken.
The skin of my neck itched, taught from resting my chin over
kneecaps while curling my back to a C. I pull again at a cigarette,
lapping up my darling rich smoke. Like my back the tail of ash curved
lazily, crumbling without remorse. Tapping my index finger along the
neck of the cigarette, ash dragged in flakes to an old harmonica case,
always dry with gray powder.
Matt was running up the stairs. I could hear his socks on the
carpet. The door swung open to his enormous smile.
“Get ready. Grandpa Baker needs a birthday present…Today we
are going to Wall Mart. And Mike is driving.”
Matt grinned and nodded, I assumed this would serve as my
initiation. He sat on the edge of the bed.
“Your gonna wanna finish that cigarette.”
I looked up, taking a very long dramatic drag.
“Bring it on Matt Baker.”
blanket on the front seat. It was not for warmth or cushioning. Mike
knew I had every reason to be terrified and the blanket served as a
comfort mechanism. Though I recognize my many neuroses the worry that
a car may bite if approached to suddenly had not crossed my mind until
then. I was pretty convinced the thing could smell fear and devour the
weak. Matt hopped in back perching on a cooler, the cooler came with
beer and ice but not a seat belt. Mike was ready at the wheel. I once
climbed the mountains of North Carolina with ease and confidence. It
took nearly fifteen minutes for me to scale that aluminum door four
feet from the ground. I slammed the door(which slammed back) buckled
up, considered a prayer and instead lit another cigarette. It was half
way down the road at 60 miles per hour I decided to run through a few
I began to enjoy the ride after traffic picked up, it was clear
that if we were to hit another vehicle our machine would consume the
victim, I doubt we would even take notice. When forced to break at red
lights the noise of the engine became enormous, the world around
shook, blonde women cheered. I felt like Bon Jovi, which was
Indiana’s flatness often broke here and there with a rusted
barn or lone evergreen skirted by pools of gray ice. Businesses sat
only on every corner with four traffic lights. The sky, long and
empty, matching the lands color perfectly. I did not speak much at
all, I assumed I shouldn’t shout and at any other volume, I would
certainly go unheard. Matt was quiet, probably waiting until we hit a
bump so he could watch me squirm. At the next corner, deep fried in
cooperate snacks, we hit another red light. Mike craned his neck to
“I swear every corner in every one of them po-dink towns
got a goddamn McDonalds.” “Fucking fat bastard
His eyes lit up at the neon suggesting 5 dollar vodka
“I’m always down with a liquor store though.”
Mike broke the ice in the best possible way. Hating capitalist
America but loving their cheap booze. Green. We peeled out shouting
Mike dominated two parking spaces, I dismounted with Matt in
toe, noticing a bit of swagger in my long steps. I now understood
testosterone, I had balls. Ready to conquer the mile long rectangle
concealing the perfect Jigsaw puzzle for a 73 year old farmer, the
doors shot open in fear of three tough mother fuckers just coming from
Hell’s fire truck.
Air circulated rapidly, both tasting and smelling of plastic.
It may in fact have been a very fine plastic, I began to feel
packaged. Wal-Mart was crowded and the noise was deafening. Indiana’s
penny savers cried, feasting through hundreds of aisles and
sub-aisles. Applying but one rule, buy one, have another of the same,
but free. Everywhere prices slashed, a smiling yellow head promoted
the slaughter, lifeless and secured above high above all else. Held
upright by thick wire that replaced his neck. The yellow man’s
sacrifice must have encouraged frenzy. He was constantly surrounded,
the miniscule prices below were acknowledged as something of a Holy
Trinity. I was hoping to catch a revised the Stations of the Cross.
Wal-Mart’s yellow man, grinning under black oval eyes, would replacing
a withering Christ, his follower’s depicted as soccer moms in terry
cloth jumpsuits, and that head severed then sent rolling. (Just like
Despite my fascination, the trip was quick. Mike found a puzzle
with over a thousand pieces, grabbed the only birthday card sans fart
joke, and found Matt and I; each with a very large jar of peanuts. We
had all the elements of a gift for Grandpa Baker. Heading for the
register we stumbled upon an aisle housing the elements of a gift for
irresponsible young adults. I had absolutely no idea Wal-Mart could
sell liquor, and I swear the yellow head winked at me. I left with a
ringing in my ear, a 24 dollar handle of Captain Morgan’s Rum, and
twice the swagger. Though Wal-Mart was jarring, defiantly primitive, I
handled it with style and felt quite proud. Then Mike rested his hand
on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze
“Time for round two sweetheart. We’ll have to knock back
ones first. Yes mamma.”
The trip to Indiana centered around this birthday party. A
combination celebration in honor of his Uncle, Grandfather, Aunt,
Uncle in law, maybe cat, old pair of shoes, board game; I lost track
at the second distant relative. We arrived at his aunt’s house an hour
late, post stiff Jack ‘n’ Coke. Mike dropped us off and sped away in
search of the nearest gas station. Night had lain it’s self over
Southbend. The stars chirped in a world of navy. Unlike the night
before, I felt beautiful moving through this quietness.
I loved Indiana’s humble homes. Warm light hallowed the
windows, inside a thermostat set neatly at 70 degrees, vegetable
platters and bowls of chips, all of this was to be expected. I assumed
correctly. While biting into a carrot a wonderful distinction quieted
me. At that moment I was very much a part of the American Dream. It
was alive and warm in that kitchen, and the family filling it. The
city cynics can eat their cold words. I could touch all things
stunningly American. I saw it, felt it, knew it well, I want that
classic dusty Dream of this country. I very badly needed to see it
Carrots, broccoli, and snap peas decorated a puddle of ranch
dressing. Different colored potato chips and unopened soda overtook
the counter top. The refrigerator was a photo album. Dinner was
scooped on to Dixie’s double strong paper plates, the rims covered in
tiny flowers. A sheet cake, still in its greasy silver pan, was moved
to the table’s edge. Some candles sat low, wicks black, their virgin
wax burnt away from last year’s birthday. The lights dimmed as the
Baker’s and I cleared are throats.
Happy Birthday has 4 beats set aside to welcome specificity
into every person’s annual anthem. It was composed for all names ever,
and somehow remained personal, special. “Your birthday song,” like a
slice of cake just for an ego one year older. The combination
celebration managed to destroyed Happy Birthday’s legendary formula.
The melodic frame work allows the honorees first name to be proudly
cheered and then carries on. No one in that kitchen knew how many
birthdays were scheduled to be recognized. After the third name The
Baker’s began to mumble and laugh. It really didn’t matter. With chips
on the table and no dishes to be done the real reason for celebration
seemed trivial. 24 candles (all those huffing and puffing were well
past 24) gave way to smoke, just as someone flicked the lights back
on. The air was full with smells of burnt wax and yellow cake. Granma
Baker gracefully dipped a knife into white frosting, splitting and
flaking above warm thick Pillsbury cake, from box to oven to belly.
Two pieces in I could not move, the yellow box cake proved to be more
satisfying than cake ever should be.
Matt’s aunt, the hostess, stood by the fridge pointing out
pictures of a boy named Dustin. I was just next to her and Granma
Baker as they fingered shots of Dustin in baseball uniforms. There was
a picture of this little boy above Matt’s bed back home. It sat in the
same frame as Kenny Ray’s portrait, his step brother who passed away
about a year ago. Dustin died a few months after Kenny Ray, he was
years younger, still very much a child. The idea of a bare fridge
clearly haunted his mother. I knew this story. I knew the darling face
of that boy and why his mother so delicately straightened the photo
under its magnet. The two women assumed I did not know. Neither wanted
to tell me, talk about such a thing on every Baker’s birthday. I
watched a system appear, a way to step around the topics tragedy
without disrespect. When his name was spoken, by either Granma Baker
or the Mother, “Dustin,” was half spoken. One of the women would begin
to trail off and slightly lower their eyes and chin. A women’s remorse
is most prevalent in her pauses. Out of respect for each other Granma
Baker would take cue, allow scarcely a second of quiet, enough to let
the name ring and settle, then she would pull back to noisy enjoyable
conversation. They went back and forth. I did not ask a question. I
did not try to involve myself. These brilliant women did not want
sympathetic speeches. I tucked my chin slightly closer to my neck, and
paused, waiting for that name to resonate without a word. Soon enough
attention shifted to something very loud. Sports.
For the past month the local high school’s basketball team had
been moving up the ranks of a grueling regional tournament. They lay
upped their way to the finals which had all of Southbend in an uproar.
That night was the last game. Luckily, the entire event was broadcast
over the radio. With two minutes left every mouth in the kitchen hung
open, some still filled with cake. An announcer’s voice blared through
speakers at every pause a Baker quickly whispered a statistic biased
on their conclusions drawn from previous games. I did not know
fourteen year olds possessed the consistency required to have a
“statistic.” All the eyes fixed on the small box spewing static and
an enthusiastic play by play. Everyone leaned in fixed, silently on
the radio as if it could blast into flame if they did not keep a close
passionate eye. Over time was announced. Then several grunts of
frustration. Then recovery to stillness. The game was riding on a
small pre-pubesant boy’s free throw. At this point I too was pulling
for him, captured by the collective excitement the sound was
thrilling. The gentleman announcing stifled himself at the twist of
the player’s wrist. There was only static as the ball sailed through
far away air, drenched in a stranger’s sweat, but the silence was both
here and there. Screaming began as the buzzer rang, I did not actually
hear anyone announce a win. But I certainly cheered. I have no idea
why. I liked the largeness of everyone’s cheering. I had no part of
it, but yelled with every proud parent on a bleacher, shouted and high
fived Bakers whose first names and titles I had forgotten. It felt
like a city sound, only there was touch without fear, there was joy.
Soon after Matt, Mike, and I gathered out coats to cross the
frozen yard to the truck. Every step I heard frosted grass snap as it
met my hardened leather souls. That had always been a tiny pleasantry
of winter. Some bit of sweetness in those long miserable months. I
loved the grasses snap. I took a few extra steps, without straining my
ear a glorious winter filled me.
The three of us ran to the house as soon as the truck stopped
purring. The heat gave out three minutes into out 25 minute ride home.
I sat on top of my hands to thaw red fingers Matt placed a straw
directly in the handle of rum. Which warmed my belly. We sat down at
the kitchen table sipping and gulping and sipping again. Mike perused
magazines called things like “Inked” and “Tat-USA.” Every couple of
pages he would just kick to life.
“That’s some fuckin bad ass bullshit! Fuck man! What The FUCK!!!”
I had shown him my tattoo earlier which implied that I connect to his
rant and possibly offer a high five or body slam. I responded with
“Right On,” and Mike seemed satisfied. Until another dragon and/or
demon theme full color sleeve caught his eye. While Mike slay his
thirst for all things bad ass I looked past Matt and too the window.
An opaque blue, solid and consistent colored the window. The thick of
that blue was daring me, the potential for something marvelous was
unbearable. The city is full of things but the darkness is just full.
That ambiguity had me on my feet violently throwing on a coat. Matt
asked what the fuck I was doing. I opened the door to thin chapped
“There is not nothing out there. And I’m gonna find it. HA!”
I was drunk in a frozen Indiana corn field. It was somewhere between 2
and 4 a.m. I heard wind and nothing else at all. I saw, behind me a
house and in front nothing at all. I began to run very fast into this
tease of nothing at all. Something hard intercepted my bounding steps.
Though I did not stop moving, I was going quite fast, shortly after
stopping when my face met what must have been the ground. I had been
punched in the mouth by nothing at all, gravity is a cunning kind of
nothing. I heard Matt shout from across the dark.
“Were you what just screamed and thumped.”
I held up my lighter yelling S.O.S. He found me in a moment. In review
I doubt that I was too far from the house and I wouldn’t put it past
myself to run with my eyes closed in the name of a story. Matt lay
down next to me on top of the stale knotted corn. The field folded
crooked and frozen. We lay upon an enormous spine. Five generations of
fathers lived for this body of earth and we lay in it, each groove
seeming to fit the shapes of our bodies. On my back I turned from Matt
and set my stare directly above.
My eyes suddenly teared, blinking away the sting, vision
cleared, I understood the sharp sting. Heaven burned my bare eye. I
had found the marvel I aimlessly sought. The stars were searing, bold
white light accompanied by dusty clusters twisting like pin wheels in
“Never seen the stars before.”
I could only breathe. My life had gone by assuming a night sky with
such overwhelming richness was a lie. Wonder does not come from
stranger’s chaos, beauty with in business, not at all. The cleanest
magic of life, in a such a world, lives only in this world. Never
before had I been moved by something as immovable as sky, earth, a
pause. To need no justifying description for my awe. To be silent not
stifled. To be stilled not stopped.