Willa – Present
The road twists and turns into a straight stretch. Smaller arteries branch out like capillaries circulating into the state’s largest lake and a wealthy suburb of Charlotte. Newly built subdivisions encroach on both sides with large signs screaming ‘HOMES FOR SALE FROM $800,000’; one of the less expensive neighborhoods. Prefabricated plans and hastily constructed houses sit sullen behind white split rail fences. Dwellings that bilge through what little trees remain; development and a blight having taken more and more as time goes on. Modern suburban houses with sizable garish green lawns trucked in square sods from more northern fertile climates. Sprinklers going full blasts, a few carelessly point towards the street, water splatters the pavement draining down the sides, like waste. The owners unaware of the ongoing drought or if they are, they don’t care. Multiple massive SUVs and trucks in the driveway would indicate as much. They have what they need and will leave little for the rest, if any at all.
Faded wooden electric poles glide by one after the other. Their lines flacid with the weight of time, elements, and toil. Eyesores polluting the sky like floating refuse. Infrastructure crumbling around us like dry cake. I’ve always preferred underground lines. Nik told me they were more expensive and harder to maintain.
Nik. Nik. Nik.
I move on from the echo of my mind, adjusting my sunglasses, tumbling towards the hurt that haunts my heart. Memories flash in front of my eyes like the blinking blue strobes of emergency lights. The ache and angst behind my brows not as severe as the other at my center. I ignore it and concentrate on the road and the sound of wind and song as we drive the five-mile stretch toward the lake and the end of the point.
I could spin and defuse and say how much I love rural life; I’m not gonna. The over saturation of autos driven by willfully insolent, impatient, and entitled motorists that bully pedestrians and cyclists off the roads; the absence of public transportation; the lack of sidewalks at the request of miserly, lazy, fleshy, and oftentimes racist and privileged taxpayers demanding why build sidewalks when everyone can buy a car. No, no they cannot and should they? The murdering of healthy trees in order for the ostentatiously and ornamental flat grass add-ons that sprawl acres upon acres; some sort of modern suburban phallic-like symbol of power and privilege? The bigger the yard blah, blah, blah? For what purpose and at what price? Purposely aesthetic and not a monetary one, but an environmental one? Or is there a positive one? At what point do we sacrifice aesthetics for something as trivial as say the environment? Or the world? The answer seems obvious to me, oblivious to the obtuse. I could hear Nik laugh at me and mock me: “You live in Los Angeles! Los Angeles! Some of the worst traffic and most self-centered privileged assholes in the world.” My reply: “So. Your point? My message isn’t any different for us Angeleno and urban assholes.” He’d hook his arm around my neck, pull me to him, kiss me, and tell me he loved me.
I let out a long and dismal sigh. I’m angry and cynical and I’m okay with that. The past few years had taken its toll. Years feel like decades. The negatives slipped into my soul, invading my character, infecting it like a disease. The sadness and pain and outrage sat in my stomach and soured. I can’t escape it; I cannot detach from it. My skin hurt, my fingernails, toes, and even my eyelashes. An icy microbe of hate circulates my veins. Physical pain is my friend. I welcome it. The habit of physical suffering corners that of the melancholy till the line between is blurred—one becomes the other; both woefully destructive and dreadfully mundane. A bit cliché really.
The next song, metal and rap, guttural screams and hard solos, and a fast beat that makes the suffering ebb and it feels good as I embrace the image of me, a middle-aged white woman, headbanging my misery away to In This Moment surrounded by a bunch of former Spec Ops soldiers imprisoned in the very large SUVs I so loathe. Jack, the biggest one, sits sizable beside me. His eyes and head on a constant swivel for the bad guys. Who they be—I’m a woman, they be everywhere.
Nik would tell me to move onward. Life is too precious to allow a seed of darkness to blacken one’s heart and sabotage one’s future; ever the poet, ever the romantic, ever the philosopher; a paradoxical rarity that challenged anything and everything and stubbornly refused to be labeled and categorized; a typical rich white boy that had that luxury. He was my love and my best friend and he’s gone. His body destroyed by the impact of speed and earth, twisted metals and plastics, scorched farmland, and nefarious self-serving political zealots that incite racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and white supremacists to an unfettered, unstable, frenzied path of hate and violence. His energy gone; dispersed. Where? I dunno. We talked about many things—long elaborate meandering conversations others would find utterly ridiculous including this: where did energy go if it didn’t die? We both theorized on differing dimensions and believe the creation of life was merely the assemblage and dimensional change of energy already here; death is another dimension whereby the energy disperses back into the ether, nature or the cosmos, if you will; a non-sentient collection of awe; we come from the universe, we return to the universe, we are stardust.
Neither of us clung to any religion; maybe Buddhism; nothing mystical, but, we didn’t dismiss anything outright. Ali gave up her religion long ago she said for self-preservation reasons; assimilation, she called it, saying she never really felt connected to it anyway; a cutting remark that dripped off her tongue like acid that I know stemmed from the menace of bigotry she suffered as a child and teenager growing up in England, France, Germany and the States. Regardless, all three of us floated around the same philosophy: ninety-nine percent non-theist and one percent agnostic; the agnostic belief is that magic is the unknown in the universe and the science and wisdom and imagination used to discover it.
The SUV convoy rolls forward to the atypical refuge and current place of residence as the heavy metal song drones on loudly in my ears. Security has slowed and stopped in the road ahead. One of them exits the vehicle and I notice the body as we take the curve. Slowing to a crawl then to a stop, Jess turns on the emergency flashers. I pause the music and remove my earbuds.
“You’re not going to stay in the car are you? At least wait till they’ve assessed the situation?” Jack asks.
I frown at him and exit the SUV they leave sitting in the road running.
“What kind of person would I be if I let y’all lead me by the nose everywhere?”
“A live one.”
I ignore the stab of pain and shame his words cause—when I risk my life, I risk his. I wait until he gives the go ahead. Jack moves to my side to cover me if needed. I’ve always resented that their job is protecting my life as if their life is any less precious.
I walk towards the body: a white female in black compression leggings and pink and black running shoes, a black hoodie and cap. She doesn’t appear to have been hit, but merely collapsed onto her back on the short green grassy mild slope next to the road. Her arms spread wide like she’s waiting for a hug from a small child. Her face soft, like in a relaxing sleep and a pleasant dream.
“She’s unconscious,” Devan says looking around in caution after picking up her wrist then placing it gently on her stomach.
I kneel next to her feeling her neck for a pulse checking her heart rate: eighty-five, nothing erratic. Her skin feels warm, slightly damp, and I feel a faint thump, thump from her carotid. I dial 911.
“Yes, I’ve found a woman unconscious on the side of the road…” I spend the next several minutes detailing the information and end the call when finished.
I pull off her sunglasses and cap placing them on the slope where her body has fallen. Looking her over, I pick up her hand in compassion attempting to give some comfort to her unconscious body. She’s middle-aged, shoulder-length dark blonde hair in two braids, her long bangs held back with a rusted hair clasp, her face clear of makeup, a few signs of ageing, and a scattering of light acne; unnervingly and outwardly similar to me in many aspects.
Off in the distance, I hear the approach of sirens gaining ground mingled with the sounds of shrill birds nearby. The smell of honeysuckles drifts over me like the feel of the sun on my upturned face. I close my eyes briefly taking in the scent and see Nik handing me a bouquet of honeysuckles, paperwhites, tulips, roses, lilies with that wide smile.
“They’re almost here. Not much longer.” I squeeze her hand and continue. “I’ve seen you walking before. I do notice how people tend to bully one off the road here with their cars. I sent an email to the city offices complaining about the lack of sidewalks. It’s a shame how there are so many roads and not enough walking spaces anymore.” I pause and take another deep breath. “The honeysuckles…are nice here.” My voice gets softer. “Nik used to bring me honeysuckles. They’re my favorite.”
I feel Jack’s look of sympathy flutter over me as he scans the area.
A large loud white four-wheel drive truck with excessively big tires and lots of chrome, spewing noxious fumes from its tailpipe, roars to a stop next to us. A bulky fifty-plus white male with little hair and as garishly and gratuitously as his truck exits the driver’s side. “Do you need some help? Call 911?” He starts dialing from his smartphone looking warily at the three-oversized security flanking me. They step forward, holding up hands to halt his approach towards me.
“No and yes.”
“Did you hit her?” He looks at me accusingly then eyeballs my security; his facade of machismo over inflating his chest in some kind of caveman response to them.
“She shouldn’t be walkin’ here. There’re no sidewalks.” He stares at my security again suspicious and hostile. “Are you sure y’alright?”
My lip curls. I turn my face away ignoring him. I don’t like him. He reeks of toxic masculinity and overt racism. His asking is not for my safety, but for some dare and titillation; some excessive show of virility. This from the woman, me, that totes around five former Spec Ops with guns and knives that excels in hand-to-hand combat, I tell myself. If anyone would’ve asked me when I was younger if I would’ve imagined my life as this, I would’ve rolled my eyes, laughed in their face then told them to fuck off.
“Do I know you?” His overly long I runs rather long making a one-syllable word many, like he purposely didn’t want to end it too early or it would call into question his southern heritage. I love the southern dialect and missed it. I didn’t miss guys like this though. These tired tropes that troll a more unbiased world plague those they feel are less their equals. Guys like this are hardly contained to the south though.
“No,” I say relieved at the arrival of the emergency vehicles and staff.
Conversations with some people are downright painful. The passage of time slows and words morph into a muddle of blahs and whines, descending into an inevitable shrill, penetrating grey matter like a blunt scythe; I’m left a dull mass of resentment having wasted what little time I have on this lovely cracked blue marble dealing with such inanity.
I let go of her hand and allow the medical technicians access to do their job while I move towards the two cops to answer any questions they have for me. Two local yokels. More fleshy white boys with buzz cuts that used to be popular high school jocks that bullied on those weaker than them. Now, they carry a gun and badge and the power to ruin and take lives. It’s easy to stereotype small town southern cops because eight times out of ten, they’re exactly that. The tropes are real, very real. Especially now. Most especially now.
“Do you know her?”
“They with you?” Both eyeball my security with hostility and suspicion and I take a long deep agitated breath at the overt malice on the larger officer’s face.
They seem dubious. “Are you okay, ma’am?” The younger one asks. His sincerity sends a mixed flame of emotions through me. It’s then that I realize what this must look like from a different perspective and harsh presumptions have once again invaded and circumvented our capacities to connect with people.
Empathy, Willa, remember empathy. Remember compassion. But then, why should we continue to try and empathize with people that dismiss and dehumanize us? Like we’re the flawed ones? The ones morally in error? The ones whose values are perpetually in question? I unconsciously sigh. That coming from a rich white girl sounds nauseatingly elitist. “Yes. They’re here for my protection.”
They ask for our driver’s licenses and car registrations in addition to any travel papers. I return to get my wallet handing over what they need to make sure I’m not some ludicrous serial killing dogooder with a security posse. While I’m gone, they question Jack and ask for all their licenses and gun permits and our travel papers. They take my information eyeballing me with caution when I pull out my California driver’s license.
“California, huh? The Sanctuary State.” The taller beefier one that’s awash in a strong stench of garlic says it mocking me with a clannish dose of antagonism. His uniform fits snugly around his pale dad bod as he stands stiffly and hostile opposite me. Now I’m being stereotyped as the rich white libtard dyke-bitch from L.A. So be it. “Never been myself, never plan to. They secede yet?” He asks not expecting nor wanting an answer.
“If we did, we’d take our two and a half trillion dollar GDP and the fourth largest economy on Earth—much larger than Russia by-the-way—with us,” I add snarkily. I hear Jack clear his throat to cover a snicker.
“You’re staying where?” The younger and smaller of the two with the boyishly deep dimples ask, failing to see our temporary address on our travel papers or simply corroborating it, cutting the older one off in hope of de-escalating any additional exchanges. He no longer seems hostile, but open and curious and I detect the shade of sympathy.
I motion for his pad and write down the address. A short tight glimpse between them and I note the flash of recognition in their eyes, which suggests a dawning awareness of the estate address and its famous (or infamous depending on your side of history) owner. Officer smelly gives me a long up and down leer before strutting off towards his car without comment.
“I was a fan of … Mr. West. My condolences. He was a good man, a great actor, and humanitarian. He did a lot for the…community.” He pauses and pulls out a business card handing it to me. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me.”
I nod absently and think of the two out of ten statistical anomaly standing before me.
Officer dimples acknowledges, saluting my security with a quick reverent nod before leaving. I watch him walk away trying to catch my breath from the hurt that hits me, like someone punching through my chest cavity and squeezing my heart and lungs. “Which hospital are they taking her?” I ask after him with a catch in my voice barely getting by the skip of breath and beat.
He walks back to me jotting a name and address on his pad of paper tearing it off and handing it to me. “Have a good day, ma’am, gentlemen.”
I stand waiting and watching them go, still staring after their cars disappearing in the distance in a swash of barely visible smog. Jack emerges next to me. “I found her phone in the weeds.”
© 2018 Pamela Gay Mullins