Monday, June 23, 2008

Homecoming Home (pt.1)

It is a Sunday afternoon and I am all alone in my room reading Robert Frost. The day has a thick, blue melancholy feel to it. Church was earlier this morning where I helped Mike DeWitt tape the service. Europe was four months earlier. Occasionally I spot ‘Laina’ Wilson in the hallways, but it is never a contact greeting. I am all alone in my room, musing over poems, writing essays for Mrs. Mack, drinking very tepid coffee out of my purple coffee mug I purchased at Gloria jeans last year.

Beth comes to my door, the phone outstretched in her palm, telling me that it is for me.

“Hello,” I say. I have not dated anyone in over a year. There was snuggling and warmth with Jenn Wilson in Europe over the summer. There is the cute adoptive girl with shortly crisped bangs that smokes cigarettes at lunchtime. There is David Strickler and his girlfriend, Anne, who lives deep in the country in Brimfield, who I went to Brimfield’s Basketball homecoming with last year, where I was accused of pulling the fire alarm. There is Mark-Andrew, who has just returned back home form Prague, attending the University of Dallas. There is Harmony, in Spokane, scribbling me letters in cursive that looks like one continuous roller-coaster ride, telling me all about her pending collegiate experiences.

There is myself, alone in Peoria, with Paris becoming more and more of a memory everyday.

And there is a phone grappled in my palm right now. There is the moment the phone becomes a dormant object as I slowly hoist it up to my lips, suspecting it either any one of the Dave’s, but more than likely Hale or Strickler. As the words ‘Hello’, comes out of my mouth it is volleyed back with something soothing and feminine. A dulcet, high-pitched voice, whose lips I have touched before, when I was young, like a toddler performing botched balettic postures, trying to touch the slight half-rainbow of moisture that exudes form the top of a water fountain.

“Hi, Dave” The voice says, acknowledging me rather quickly. It is feminine but it is not that of Harmony.

“This is Renae Howard.” She says, identifying herself.


“Reane,” I say, very quickly. “Hey you crazy girl, how’s it going?”

Renae claims that it has been going good and well. For a moment I think that she is going to cuss me out for once again breaking up with her so abruptly two years ago. Fearing this, I try to institute more small talk, but her tongue leashes into a pair of scissors, snapping at me, informing me of the real reason she called.

“I have a question for you.” She says.

“Uh, yeah, sure, what’s up?” I respond, just a trite befuddled by the whole situation.

“Will you go to Homecoming with me?”

She spits out the question as if half-in-dread and half in panic. Her voice seems to rise up an octave at the end of her query. Having been squatting on the oak lip of my writers’ desk, I stand. My knees crack. Renae wanted absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me a year and a half ago, when I tried to get her to pick me up and go driving around. Now, she has called me, out of the lachrymose melancholy blue of autumn, inviting me to escort her to her senior homecoming.


Two weeks earlier in late September, I drove past Manual, in the Prunemobile. Stopping in front of the school, slowly idling, I was still thinking about Lil’ Wilson inside, slowly dancing with John, a thawed corsage precariously dangling form both their collars. Two weeks ago, I was by myself, tears splashing down my cheek, staring pensively into the windshield blue in front of me, noticing how my reflection looked like a dejected clown whose unemployment check was printed on a rubber stamp and is therefore no longer valid.

Squinting through the ajar window, I see the crystal ball, the Home Coming chandelier oscillating overhead. Patches of pied lights; little variegated rotating squares casting pink and blue windows. I think about the outfit Little ‘Wil must be wearing. I wonder if her hair is down. I wonder what bitchy things she has found to moan about. Perhaps it is too cold in the foyer for her. Perhaps the meal wasn’t served at the right temperature. Perhaps she is afraid that maybe I might show up tonight and completely sully her first and only Freshman prom.

I press down on the gas, hearing the earnest snore of the engine as I automotively clamber up Ligonier, take a right and then a left, head down the dual strip of road that slices between Madison Golf course. I make sure that my blinker has been winking on the right hand side of the car for a good two minutes before I turn, on to Sherman, trying to sniff all the tears back into my sockets. Trying to clear my throat, trying to make it sound like I am not at all alone in the world. Trying to sound, after I put the car in P and verify that the headlights have been switched off, after I walk inside the house and doff my jacket, walking around the corner to my room, the place where I want to live; the place where I want to learn and want to write; after all this, I clear my throat and maybe blow a snot-loogie into my mother’s rock garden as I enter the house, trying to convince my parents that everything in the world is okay, as I brew another pot of coffee and listen to some Morrissey.

Everything in the World will forever be ok.


Renae has just presented her question to me. My whole body is stiff, erect with shock. Depeche Mode is slightly humming in the C.D. player. Mother is baking coffee cakes in the oven. The coffee I am sipping is Gevalia, given to me by grandma. The Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune lays scattered across my mattress. The Book section is open. The Nelson Algren awards were announced two weeks ago. I cannot believe the query Renae just presented me with. I pause. I take a deep breath. I thank God inside my chest.

“Sure,” I say, without hesitation “I’d love to.”

There is an awkward pause.

“Do you wanna get together first to see each other.” I say very quickly and then rephrase my statement, saying that perhaps maybe we should get together first to see each other.

“Sure,” Renae says.

“How about Monday. Maybe Monday we can go to One World and hang out or something.”

“That would be nice.” Renae says, before telling me that she is once again really busy this week.

I want to ask her what happened. I want to know where Lee is. I want to know when they broke up. I thought that they were still dating.

“We can go to One World.” I say. “I can pick you up and the two of us and go to One World, only we can’t sit in the smoking section because it’s Cross Country season.

Renae twists her lips in the same fashion as she did two years ago. Apparently the vice that has grabbed hear peers by their social labels has not baiting her yet.

“I know exactly what I’m going to have, too.” Renae says.

“What,” I say.

“I’m going to have a hot chocolate with lots and lots of whipped cream.” She says.

“Are you going to say it just like that?” I respond.

“Yes,” Renae says. “With lots and lots of whipped cream.”

“And a cherry, too.” I say, trying to paint a smile across her lips.

“No,” Renae says. “No cherry. Just cream.”

“The tomorrow night it is. Is six-thirty ok?”

“Yes.” Renae says, into the phone, my ear, immensely enjoying being massged by the warmth of her vocal resonance. “Six-thirty is fine.”


“You can go to the Doo-wop diner.” My dad says. I am seventeen and have only been driving independently for just under two months.

“The what?” I say, looking at my father as if he is trying to speak a dyslexic from of Sanskrit.

“The Doo-wop diner.” My father says. “It’s in Bartonville. It’s close to where she lives. You can just stop in and get a milkshake.

“No,” I tell my father. “I want to take her to One World. It’s where I hang out all the time anyway.”

My Dad continues to look at me. Every time he gives me advice about women I can tell that, although he is madly in love with his own wife, he is upset that he was not more of a ladies man back in his Varsity Tennis Jacket Big Daddy Arthur days. I splash cologne on both cheeks. Two years ago almost exactly Renae and I were playing the very King-and I version of Getting To Know You. It would be four-fifteen every night when our voices would coalesce over cyber optics like a DNA coil gradually shaped into a pulsating heart. My hair is still cut short, mowed very near to my skull in back. I slap on English Leather, the same cheap cologne I wore in Europe; the urine scented vial Hale gave me for eighth grade graduation, what seems like decades ago.

“I’m just saying David.” My Dad impedes his way into my room. “That if you go to the Doo-Wop diner and had a milkshake you wouldn’t have to criss-cross all over town.’

“Dad,” I say. “I’m going to One World. I won’t be gone for very long. Renae and I haven’t seen each other in a very long time and we need to catch up.”

I storm out on the porch, a wastebasket in one hand. I make sure that my car is impeccably clean. I drape an old afghan over the seat in the back to make it look both more comfortable and more intimate. I jettison old coffee cups and napkins both myself and my old man have left in the car. Around the neck of the rearview mirror, I place the necklace I bought at the LYE convention last year, at the Holiday Inn, in O’hare. I remember Mike DeWitt, asking the girls if they would like to dance.

“David.” Dad says my name, reprimanding me.

“Dad, I gotta go. I’ll see you in about two hours.”

“Take care.” Father waves his splayed hand in the air. I remember trying to compose the letter to my father two years ago, after he said that I couldn’t see Renae, partly fussed because Patrick left early with Amy and the car arrangements got all screwed up that night. That was two years and what seemed like decades ago. I remember Amy later calling me up and chewing me out, saying that the reason I broke up with Renae was because she didn’t have her drivers’ license, so as soon as she got it, in a matter of weeks, we would be able to see each other more. I remember calling Renae up and hearing her tears, her telling me that she didn’t want to talk to me right now.

The Prunemobile is nothing fancy. It was conceived in the late seventies, before I had even learned how to speak in complete sentences. The car is always in the shop. In the thick gusts of snow, and chiseled ice, the car takes approximately fifteen minutes to warm up and the often stalls when I am trying to make a right turn. Later this year, my junior year, in between multifarious visits to Doctor Breightmeyer and nights where I coddle the tears and wish that I was somewhere else, later this year, the aluminum stem, activating the blinker signals will fall off. Dad, in all his tackle box ingenuity would epoxy the blinker stem in, only to have it fall off every three days, leaving a wad of unattractive stale goo in its place.

I drive through the South End of Peoria. I drive past Manual, where I left practice two hours ago, having pushed my Acic’s through another Main Street Five. Third year at Manual busting my ass and still the neon rectangle monitoring time at the finish line has not lowered past Seventeen minutes. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to have been. I think to myself. I followed the rules. I prayed to God. I ran everyday. I was supposed to have already left my mark in the chlorine-stenched Hallway by the pool.

Driving near David’s Hale’s house, up Garfield, near Limestone. I find Lauder avenue. The pine tree still appropriates much of the neatly trimmed front lawn. In the window I see a stilt figure slashing past the window shades, a cordless object prodded into her left earlobe. From where I sit, inside the Oldsmobile, inside my car, I can tell that her blonde hair has been cut significantly shorter and now shortly abuts the lobed of her ears.

Looking at the slightly chipped cross dangling from my rearview mirror, I give the carved ivory a kiss, before thudding the door shut. I can make out Renae’s slender silhouette inside.


The last time I saw Renae was either Monday or Tuesday, December 28th or 29th, 1992. It was at the Mall. On the upper level. Renae arrived with David Best, having both of their parents recently dropped them off. Laura Lane and Kristy Day were their as well. So was Patrick McReynolds, and, much to Renae’s chagrin, David Hale.

“Patrick I can stand.” Renae says, as Hale struts inside the door waring a Harely Davidson Bikers cap that looks like something a police officer singing for the Village people might Sport.

“He’s not that bad.” I say to Renae, slightly elbowing her, reminding her that, in the immortal sugar-coated words of Willy Wonka, a little non-sense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Renae says to me, her arms tightly braced across her breast as if she is cold.

Hale accosts us with his signature whoo-hoo, removing his cap as if tipping it at a ballgame to show us his surprise.

“Wow,” I say. Renae is still looking the opposite direction. Hale has completely sawed off any shred of hair that once attired the to of his head.

“Dave,” I say. “I’m impressed.” In a way Dave looks like a Pony League catcher who his teammates would call Moose.

Come on, I say to Renae, still wearing the Identification bracelet she got me. The bracelet that took me two days to figure out how to undo the clasp and put it on my wrist. I wear the Manual Jacket my mother made me, with the words 96 thickly stitched in the right hand corner in numbers the size of my splayed palm.

Our hands join. The last couple of times we have seen each other, our lips seemed simply to content in drilling our tongues deep into each others mouth. We walk, next to each other, gripping each other’s hand. Hale and Patrick talk about going down to KB Toys and scaring a bunch of little kids by firing fake guns at each other.

“Hey, Dave,” Hale says. “Are you going to be using the gift I gave you for Christmas today?”

On Christmas eve at Christ Lutheran Church, Hale gave me a thoroughly wrapped parcel, weighing in my palm at approximately five pounds. After using my father keys to sever the excessive amounts of tape, inside was a brass coin roughly the size of a Kennedy half. The front side of the coin showcased a very old and moribund woman who looked like she would have played bridge with Lydia Moss Bradley. On the back of the coin is a picture of an antique Coffee Grinder. The coin is a gift certificate, worth ten dollars at Gloria Jeans.

“Would you like something from Gloria Jeans, sweetie.” I know full well that Renae will say no, commenting that she can’t stand our fascination with cappuccino. Patrick will interject and say that before he seriously spills some hard-core imaginary guts in the toy store, would his close friend and soon to be former school mate mind treating him to a nice warm cappuccino, even though the boys always drink it cold.

Renae smiles, shooing the boys off. We hold hands again. Three times I have endeavored to staple her lips with my tongue and three times she has looked back at me and verbally insinuated that she does not feel at all comfortable making out with me while the two ogres Patrick and hale are around, but Patrick she can stand, mind you.

Everytime Hale gets a cappuccino he always takes two hearty swigs from it and then tells me to hold onto it for him, meaning finish the damn thing. I walk with two giant cap’s in each hand. Dave Hale ordered some sort of Extra-large Holiday eggnog induced peppermint syrup Carmel concoction. After having sipped it, I understand why it was that he only took two sips, yet, id cappuccino, and both Patrick and myself have tacit rules about wasting such a fine, delicacy.

“Let’s go in here.” Renae says, ogling the after holiday sale placards with giant percent signs on them. I walk into one store with her where Renae tries three outfits on. With a giant, extra-large cappuccino nursed in each hand (the holiday one, the longer it sits, looks more and more like Reindeer poop) I am asked by the store manager if this place looks like a food court. As I go outside the store to continue my hearty slurps, I can hear Renae’s voice from the dressing room, asking me if I will hold her purse for her. I accept, and, like a kiosk, stand in front of Dots, a large drink cupped in both palm, a leather purse from Wilson’s looped around the thrity-degree angles of my indented elbow.

Fifteen minutes later and I am still trying hard to finish the Santa Clause cappuccino Hale purchased on the gift certificate coin he gave me for Christmas and only took two swallows then abandoned. Renae comes out of Dots, kisses my cheek, addresses me as honey, tells me about this fabulous outfit she just found, commenting that her mom probably wouldn’t mind if she used her For-Emergencies-Only-Credit card just this once, even though she used it last week at Marshal Fields in Chicago.

I nod my head up and down. Reassure her that I’m happy because she’s happy honey. Prance my legs due to excessive caffeine in take.

“I’ll only be another minute.” Renae says, kissing the side of my cheek again. A guy walks past me and asks me if I just tied the knot, telling me that he used to be whupped like that before he learned how to put his foot down. Now the bitch knows who wears the pants in the family. I tell him that’s nice. He says that he has tapes at home he can loan to me. I tell him I’m not interested.

Below me, in the center Court, Santa’s contract insists that he stay till New Years day. There are kids cussing Santa out, claiming that they were too good this year, asking why they didn’t get the latest Video game. One kid even moons the camera when the obligatory contract oriented photograph is snapped. The Holiday tape is on a continual ninety-minute loop. I can swear that I’ve heard the first Noel already two or three times. The chipmunk song also reeks of squealed monotony. Renae exit dot’s wit three boxes she exchanged to me for her purse, slightly planting a pedal moisture again on my cheek.

If she was a year older and perhaps more experience, perhaps she’s say that the sole raison behind her shopping affliction is due in part to the fact that she dated David Best for a year and discovered that the only way to have a sustainable orgasm was through trying on close and monopolizing her father’s money.

Renae grasps my arm and begins to tell me all about this charming delightful object she just tried on. I nod my head and tell her that is nice. With my glasses off, the customers continue to shoot in every direction. Eric Bushman walks past me, with some girl from anther school, a girl who is not as cute as Renae. I nod my head in acknowledgement and he continues to walk, pretending he has never seen me.

“Oh Look,” Renae says, pointing to coliseum sign reading EXPRESS.” I nod my head as if agreeing with her at the name of the Store.

“Come on,” She says. “I’ll only be a minute.”

I agree and after thirty seconds I find myself being fiercely tapped on my shoulder by the store manager. Apparently they have some kind of policy where all the boxes and sac form other stores need to be X-rayed and checked. I say bosh to that and A minute latter, I am holding Reane’s stacked parcels, still sipping on Hale’s Santa Shittoccino. Renae comes back out, hooks her purse on my limb as if she is benignly placing a bulb on a Christmas tree, informing me that. Once again, she will only be a minute, claiming that they don’t call it Express for nothing.


She opens the door before I knock. For nostalgia’s sake, I have the wrist band she gave me two Christmases ago handcuffed around my left wrist. If Renae has noticed it, she sure has shit isn’t saying anything.

“Hi,” I say. There is the customary embrace when old lovers see each other. The feeling of once, having shared some sort of inexplicable connection and, because of time and space and causality, because of greed and obsession, become sometimes, even when life throws us a curve ball and we hit it out of the park, it goes foul anyway. Sometimes, for no reason there is loss, but there is forever the embrace. We hold each other momentarily. I tell her that it is really good to see her smile again. She lets go of me with a shrug.

“So,” I ask her. “How’s life been treating you these days, Miss Howard?”

Renae lets go of another shrug indicative of mild-to-lukewarm. She is still tall and slender, a Virginia Slim with mascara. Her smile does not seem quite as luminous as it did two years earlier. As if the bulb behind her lips have been slightly dimmed.

“So,” I say. There is a pause. “I like your hair.”

“It’s short.” Renae says, lolling her head unconsciously like she is a rock star. “I love it short.” There is something phallic and almost disturbing in the way Reane says the word ‘short’ but I choose not to complement. Perhaps she is thinking about her ex-boyfriend.

“So,” Once again, I say, beginning my romantic interlude with the word ‘so’. “Where would you like to go tonight?”

Renae once again shrugs, making a grunting sound that is either I don’t know or I don’t care. Her house has a strange familiarity to it-I wonder if the giant black and white poster of James Dean is still displayed above her bed.

“Does One World sound okay for you?” I say.

Renae does the whole whiny grunting sound again, this time saying something like, yeah, I suppose.

“There’s the Doo-wop diner.” Renae says, a sourness forming to her lips. I nearly choke at the irony.

“Do you like the Doo-wop diner?” I inquire.” My dad kept insisting that we go there.”

Renae makes another fast gnarled grunt, saying that it’s okay, quavering her palm up and down near her covered navel.

“I used to work their, but only for a week.” She says.

“Didn’t like it..”

“Agggghhhhh.” Renae says, in another high pitched squeal. “Couldn’t stand the manager.”

“Right.” I say, before requesting that I borrow the phone real quick. Renae says the words ‘real quick’ to me, once again, as if she is expeceting a serious phone call at anytime. As was the truth two years ago, I imagine that she still does not have call waiting.

Not trying to be Jacob to his Isaac, I phone my dad, informing him, that I’m over at Renae’s right now and will go to One World, hanging up before he tells me that all that criss-crossing around town is totally unnecessary when there’s that blasted ill-named sock hop diner in Bartonville.

We leave her house. Renae locks the door behind me. We pass the giant needles of the pine. The leaves are slowly beginning to turn so that everything around us looks like the inside of a kaleidoscope. As we strut down the slight bump to the Prunemobile, I open the door for her, making sure that my TO DAVE: LOVE RENAE identification band is extremely visible. Still Renae doesn’t see it.

I slam the door behind her and rush to my side. After three motorized chokes, the engine comes to life. Renae is wearing very thick sunglasses. The expensive leather jacket she bought on sale and then was sullied by Hale’s cappuccino is worn. The stain hardly visible, thanks to the color of mocha.

I pull out of Lauder court driving. There is a tangible, stifled uneasiness to the silence that exists between the six inches that separates the passenger side form the Drivers side. Renae continues to warble out a string of syllables as if everything is really no big deal. She says a quick garbled ‘yes’ when I tell her that it sure is good to see her. She shrugs her shoulder’s like it is no big deal when I tell her that I feel extremely honored that she asked me to escort her to her senior Homecoming. Her shoulders jolt up and down, as if it is really no big deal. As if she could’ve gone with anyone, she just needed a date.

Inside One World, I keep on trying to make Renae smile.

“…with lots and lots of whipped cream.” Renae says again. I keep saying things to make her smile. Keep making remarks to make her blush.

“How’s the folks doing?” I inquire.

“Dad’s always drunk.” She says. “Mom kicked him out for two months. I don’t know why she continues to put up with his shit.”

“I always liked your dad.” I add. “I always enjoyed giving him shit.” I say, staring at the blue vase in the center of the table, and the slightly wilting Daisy with the bowed stem inside.

“He couldn’t stand you.” Renae says. “He always thought you were trying to get fresh with me. He always thought you were deliberately trying to pick a fight with him.”

“I was just being….jocular.” I say, utilizing an ACT voacb word of the week.

“Hemmm,” Renae shrugs her shoulders again.

“I think that’s the reason my mom liked you so much.”
“Really,” I say, a smile bending across my lips. Debbie was always a looker.

“Yeah,” Renae says. “The way that you always pissed my old man off, plus she always though you were cute.”

“Cute,” I say the word out loud and too myself. My last vivid partially blurred because of no glasses memory of Debbie Howard was her driving me home from HAMMERS at Renae’s father Christmas party. Debbie had her hair slightly puffed in front like foam gushing from the bottom of a waterfall. I remember staring at the back of her jeans, as she bent over, fastening Ian, Reane’s six year old cousin, into the front seat of the car.

“It’s a good thing you two are leaving now.” She says. “The only thing those boys are going to continue to do is to drink.” She says.

I reach out across the wooden strips of the table. Another pedal has slowly wilted and is falling down form the top of the daisy. A patron who skin is either covered with tattoos or metallic piercings sets our drinks down in front of us. I look at Renae.

“Is that enough whip cream for you?” I comment. She smiles. It was the similar smile when I groped her hand at SCHOOL TIES two years prior. It was the smile of recognition, the smile of somebody still seeming brand new to you even thought you have seen them in those boxer shorts over and over again; even though you know what color the carpet is underneath; you know what the pipes look like. Her burgundy blush was the color of love.

“Yes,” Renae says, as the smile slowly descends from the top of her forehead. “It is a lot of whip cream.”


On the ride home, I insist on dropping by my house to formally introduce Renae to my mother and father, once again. Renae seems to be rather in a hurry, but she capitulates to me request, saying let’s make it brief but sweet. Mom’s head lolled into her padded shoulder, he hands slightly clasped as she welcomes Renae into our house. Dad just seems to adjust his glasses several times and even (perhaps intentionally) drops his dinner napkin off of the table, garnering a good look at Renae’s tightly packaged denim ass before slowly exhaling. I show her my room, the room, downstairs, where the grand piano used to belong. The room I first composed the letter to my father when I was fifteen, telling him that I was in love with Renae. She smiles and nods.

“I need to get home.” She says.


In front of her house, on Lauder Court, there is no extended information to come inside and make out. I adjust the clutch and idle the Prunemobile, until I smell burning oil and then place the car permanently in Park.

“So,” I say, try to make chisel away the silence. “I’ll see you this Saturday.” I say.

Renae nods. “How ‘bout I pick you up.” She says.

“Okay,” I nod once again, stolidly with my chin, as if I am being mandating instructions for a dietary living at a Health Clinic.

“Don’t forget to pick up a corsage.” She says. “I’ll have your bouttinere, or whatever it’s called.”

I nod my head again, upset at the pulsating splinters I feel inside my chest every time we try to communicate.

“Okay,” I say, “Well, I’ll give you a buzz this week, making sure everything’s cool and all.” Renae nods, thanks me for the coffee. There is more awkwardness. More uncomfort.

“It was really good seeing you again, Renae.” I say. “I’ve thought about you a lot. This feels really good.”

Renae sort of sways her head back and forth. I tell her goodnight and she reaches for the side door just as my body gravitates towards her. Seeing that I mean to embrace her, she allows me to, but does not hug back.

“Renae,” I say, before she struts up the slight inclination of her front lawn alone.

“Yes,” She wails, once again, rather impatiently. I roll up my sleeve, push the fold of fabric to my elbow.

“Did you notice that I wore the bracelet you gave me tonight” I say.

“Yes,” Renae nods her head. “I noticed. I guess it meant something special at the time, didn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I say to myself, as she grants me goodnight again, informing me that she will call me later in the week to verify our plans.

“I guess indeed meant something at the time.” I say to myself, looking at my bluish reflection in the windshield, briefly wondering what Jenny Wilson is doing right now.


Every day after school I stretch out my limbs and run and every day I come home and brew a pot of coffee and lay on my bed, supine, with my hands cradled behind my nape in dyslexic prayer wondering if she will call. I listen to Tori Amos. I listen to Depeche Mode. I think about Europe last summer. I think about what my mother told me, about anticipating a sort of emotional low once I returned to the states, returned to my Junior year, return to the academic gutter; the genital wart I call Manual High School.

First hour is coerced smiles with manual singers. We still sound slightly off key. Billy Fortune sits next to me and tells me that we really need to get together sometime and meditate. I just look at him.

I think about Renae. I try calling her line once on Tuesday but hang-up when I realize that it is busy. Mother asks me if I am excited about homecoming. Like Renae, my supposed date, I offer a heartless, insouciant shrug. Because I am facing my mother, however, I smile and tell her that I am elated, proud of myself that I can recall another ACT vocab word.

Tuesday and Wednesday transpire without a buzz. I lay on my bed, trying to see if I can feel the world slightly tilt to the left, slightly rotating, orbiting around the mid-autumnal slashes of light that cut through my window sill at dusk. Finally, Friday afternoon, after practice, I arrive home with a note from my mother. A note, stuck on a post it on my bedroom door.

Call Renae. The note said.


“Hey,” I say into the lower end of the phone. “How’s it going?” Renae lets out an exhausted sigh that sounds like she is practicing for her pending La Maze class.

“I just wanted to call and tell you that I’ll pick you up at five tomorrow night.” She says.

“Cool,” I say, before I inquire how her week was. She answers in the same monotonous drone, stating that it was all right but nothing special.

“I’ll pick you up, but we need to hurry. We need to be at Laura’s house. Her parents want to take photographs of all of us.”

“Totally cool.” I say, once again.

“We’re going out with Laura and Lonnie and Kristy and Timm. It should be a fun evening.”

Again, I nod my head, and tell her that I am looking forward to it.

There is another pause in our conversation.

“Did you remember to pick up the corsage?” Renae asks.

“Yes,” I respond. “My mother is going to pick it up at the Florists tomorrow.”

“I already picked up yours,” She said. “It’s a smooth peach color. I hope the two of ours matches.”

“I’m sure the two of ours will.” I say. “How about outfit. What should I wear?”

“Just wear a shirt and tie.” She says. “You’ll look fine.”

“I’m sure you will, too.” I add, realizing that it’s probably a good idea if I venture out tonight and pick out a shirt.

“So, tomorrow at five, I’ll be there.” Renae says, once again, in her fast monotone.

“I can’t wait.” I say, before hanging up the phone, but not before saying goodbye, before we even said hello.


That night I drive around by myself in the Prunemobile, wishing that I had something rolled and sweet between my lips to be sucking on. I slide my car in the parking lot of Northwoods, thirty dollars in my wallet, looking for a white shirt.

I walk inside the Penny’s and the first fifteen dollar shirt I see I pick up. The sale lady tells me that the shirt will not fit my neck. She measures my neck with a miniature ruler, as if preparing me for the guillotine. She then sells me a shirt that costs ten dollars more that the shirt I had originally planned on purchasing. I arrive home, standing in front of my full mirror. Two minutes later, after I have carefully removed all the pins from around the sleeves and collars like I am removing curses from a Voodoo doll, I realize that the neck is too tight and if worn with a tie, our homecoming photographs would turn out slightly blue, giving Renae the impression that she is dating a finely groomed smurf.

I tell my mother and she tells me not to worry. That we’ll go back to Penny’s tomorrow after my Cross-Country meet and exchange the shirt. I go back into my room and listen to Depeche Mode synthesized chimes and wonder heavily inside if the whole weekend will feel this tight, leaving it hard for me to swallow, afterwards.


We exchange the shirt. Mother picks up and outfit for me to wear. That morning time seventeen minutes still flashed in implemented neon slashes at the end of the meet. As hard as I try to push myself, it seems as if I am still tumbling over my own foibles, it seems like I will never be able to live up to the times I have ordained for myself.

The outfit mother has coordinated herself and deemed that I wear is gray with a blue tie knotted around the bulb of my Adam’s Apple in posh literary Albatross fashion. I spend the afternoon lolling around the house, glancing at the time, waiting for her to arrive. Twice I pick up the phone and consider calling her, asking her if perhaps maybe we could just talk. Perhaps we could just like hangout and laugh and giggle and say stupid things that have no meaning to them whatsoever. But my ambitions stretch as far as the three digits and a numerical slash.

I dress. My contacts are steadily affixed in both lids. I blink several times. Dad comes in and helps me ties my tie, showing me how to tuck the loose silk non-visible end into my shirt like they used to do in the seventies. I nod and tell him thanks.

With my hair thoroughly gelled into a sprayed plateau. I look at the photographs on my wall. I look at the photographs form the music man, and look at myself, in the top row, bending over, trying to look at Ambra. I look at the autographed laminated Daivd Coperfield Aunt Jan gave me. I look at the Tori Amos and the Eric Johnson and the Harry Connick Jr. I look at the one photograph I have of Renae. The photograph that I used to ferry in my wallet. The photograph that I used to show people, pointing to the girl in the center of the photograph, saying that it was she who held my heart by the reins and kept saying giddy-up.

With corsage in paw I adjourn out to the cement steps, squatting, smiling, not knowing entirely what to expect. I wear Renae’s gold bracelet again, out of respect to the individual whom I am escorting. I think about what Renae said, about how it felt somewhat special at the time. I think about talking with Renae the summer after my first sojourn to Europe. I think about trying to cajole her into picking me up for a drive and how she was listening to Radio Head in the background. I think about how I asked her if she felt ‘so very special’ in accordance to the lyrics of the song.

“I am special.” Renae replied back to me. “I am special indeed.”

I abandon the steps and go back into my room, winking at the copy of Leaves of Grass reclining on the corner of my desk, hoping that maybe Uncle Walt can save me. For sentimental-as-fuck sake reasoning I have Depeche Mode’s SOMEBODY chiming in the cassette lips of my stereo. It is autumn and the planet is begin to transition into shades of copper and corduroy and the very next thing I realize my mother is stammering into my bedroom, a look of excitement squeezed into her lips, informing me that she thinks my date has just arrived.

(book o' Muses) October, 1994

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