Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Graceland--Excerpt 1

[Nano writing at its best--unedited, just as it came out of the scary reaches of my skull. Enjoy.]


I first became interested in the two young men who will tell a lot of this story when I first saw them. Don't tell them that, though, it would go straight to their heads.

I was fourteen, I suppose, which seems like a really long time ago though it was only four years. Four years can change a person a lot, and it certainly changed me. Let's set the scene for my fourteen year self:

A tall girl, gangly, with long self conscious brown or strawberry blonde or dishwater blonde hair (nobody could ever agree on the color, and when they talked about it I always wished they would just shut up and leave me alone and let me read). I wore a floral print dress that hit me at mid calf, and looked just awkward but it was modest and that was the point of clothes, to be modest. My arms felt long and thin and naked, sticking out from the short sleeves of my dress, so I crossed them in front of my chest.

Imagine this person standing in the middle of a crowd of similarly clad people, home schoolers all of us except the Catholic priest who didn't have kids, on the sidewalk right next to the parking lot of the Planned Parenthood. We were staging a prayer vigil protest, where we showed up and stood just off the Planned Parenthood property lines and held signs silently and prayed in silence. In sharp contrast to this were the people who drove by on the busy street behind us. Some of them honked and some of them screamed things at us (this was the first time I realized what the word was that people meant when they talked about the “f” word). I, the shy little home schooled girl, was far too freaked out to even think of words to pray. I stood, arms crossed, mouth probably a little open, eyes probably a little bugged out, a hot chill of mortification shooting through me every time a car went past and honked or yelled or anyone looked at us or I thought anyone was looking at us or I even thought about anyone looking at us, at me.

We were a big crowd, and being from a smallish town in the upper midwest, we were mostly white. I say this so that when I mention that there was one black boy in the crowd, hopefully it will seem less... I don't know, racist or whatever. I don't mean to be; it's just that, in a place like that, he was noticeable. His parents were the O'Connors, who couldn't have kids so they adopted five of them. The other four were Russian or Ukrainian; Larry was from Uganda. He didn't seem that different, other than his skin, and no one really cared. He was just Larry.

I didn't know him very well. He went to one of the other Baptist churches in town, and at home schooler events he would hang out with the kids from that church, who seemed a lot more socially well adjusted than the kids from my church, but that was only because they dressed in contemporary clothes and went to the mall and played video games and things like that. We might have been less entertaining, but we were more spiritually mature than they were. At least, that was the only way I knew how to think.

Larry's friend Mark came up the sidewalk, carrying his backpack. Larry was wearing a yellow button-up shirt, untucked, and blue jeans, with a pair of white sneakers. He had a backpack at his feet, though (as I would come to know later) it was unlike any backpack that someone going to a public school would carry: the only book in it was something he was reading for fun.

From the other side of Planned Parenthood came Larry's friend Mark, who seemed in sharp contrast to the adults and kids in the crowd here. We were a lot of studious faces, hands lifted, lips moving silently or half vocally, eyes closed or cast skyward in presumed prayer or contemplation. The Catholic family all had rosaries out, and were praying through their beads. I didn't understand it, but watching them filled me with a sort of awe.

Mark, meanwhile, was loping along, one arm swinging wide, the other occupied eating a mango like it was an apple. He wore a big grin, which got bigger when Larry waved at him. Mark was wearing a white button-up shirt, black jeans, a red tie and a black vest, and if it hadn't been for the vest and the cheap costume shop bowler hat (and also the wide grin on his face), he might have looked like a junior version of our pastor. He walked up to Larry, and the two clapped each other on the back and Larry said something that made Mark guffaw rather more loudly than I thought appropriate. Then I heard Mark ask:

“Do you have any floss on you? Mangoes are delicious but they get stuck in your teeth something awful.”

“They do, man, it's true,” Larry said. I turned and watched as he rummaged in his backpack, wondering how Mark could have the audacity to assume Larry had something as random as floss on him.

“Here you go,” Larry said, handing Mark a dentist's waiting room sort of floss container. “You'll have to take off the needle first. Careful.”

Mark took the needle and thread, handed his half eaten mango to Larry, unthreaded the needle from the floss, and proceeded to floss his teeth. I turned away in disgust, thinking a lot of uncharitable things about the two boys and their appropriateness, propriety, and... stuff like that. I overheard Mrs. O'Connor berate Mark for dropping floss on the ground. Mark made Larry guffaw at something and while Larry was laughing a woman came out of the Planned Parenthood. Her face was red and she looked across the parking lot at us and she marched over and stood about twenty feet in front of us. I had never seen someone look so mad before, never seen a brow so furrowed or a glare so fierce.

“You people can just go home!” she yelled, her voice high and shrill like when my younger brother dragged his fork across the chalkboard just to watch us girls cringe a lot. “Get out of here! What women do with their own bodies is their own business! What do you care? You all can just go to hell!”

Nobody responded to her. We had been told what to do if something like this happened. It was, basically, not to respond. The woman stood there another minute and her eyes got even darker and her forehead developed even more wrinkles, something I would have thought was impossible. She screamed at us even more loudly.

“Guess what? I'm about to have an abortion! I'm about to go in there, and set up an appointment to commit murder, according to you people! How do you like that? I'm going to have an abortion and there's nothing you can do about it, you bunch of meddling, pious, self-righteous, idiotic, control freaks!”

During this tirade I heard Larry mutter, “Dude, give me your knife.” Larry pushed past me and I saw that he had cut a couple slices of mango in his hand. He went to the front of the crowd and crossed the gulf toward the lady while she was still screaming. He stood at arm's length from her and held out a slice of mango. She glared at him and finally asked, “What the hell is this?”

“It's a mango,” Larry said.

“Is this supposed to be symbolic?” the lady asked, uncertainty making the stridency of her voice decrease.

“No,” said Larry. “It's supposed to be a mango. You looked like you might be hungry. Have you ever had one? You should try it, they're delicious.”

The lady stared at him another moment, completely at a loss. Larry continued to hold out the mango, arm extended, smiling at her. Finally she took the mango from him, took the other piece he offered her, turned around, and marched back into the clinic, a shard of sunlight making me wince as the glass door swung shut behind her. Larry turned back around and resumed his place by Mark's side. From the way he walked, he might have thought that what had just occurred was the most normal thing in the world.

Some people looked around at him (including me, though I did it surreptitiously), but he seemed to only be responding to Mark and all Mark did was give him a look.

“What?” Larry said defensively. “She looked hungry.”

No comments: