PART 2 OF 4
She and Dominic had only been meeting for three weeks, but it had really started months before that with a journal entry she wasn’t supposed to read.
What the fuck happens to people? I mean, they get old and turn into fascist dictator nazis who’ve forgot what it’s like to breathe, to feel, to even believe that we can think for ourselves. That bastard thinks he’s got the low-down on me ‘cause he married my mom, and he hangs around the place like some homeland security spy. They don’t understand what it’s like. Like he tries to be my homey or something and he thinks he can talk to me about girls and shit and what does he know, I mean, what the hell do they know about it anyway? Taking my keys, fuck them!! Just because my girly and I like to get it on? Just because he came home early from work. Should’ve gone to the hill. But damn, you know, it’s like living in a cell, stuck behind bars of ‘love you’s’ and ‘want the bests’ and ‘go to college’ and ‘be somebodies’ and my mom crying and he, that fucker, talking ‘bout rubbers right in front of her—my fucking mom, right there and her eyes all full of water and tears falling down her cheeks. Like that’s shit she just don’t need to know about. And whatta they know about love? Just sit in front of the TV, their eyes going all watery and empty, never touch each other, him telling her to go to hell. What’s thatta bout? Man, and they telling me that what Maria and me got goin’ on ain’t love. They know what her skin feels like? The way she looks at me with her blue eyes, like I could fall into them and swim? There’s always a girl around, you know. They’re easy because they like the car or they like the jersey and the gold chain and you act all jack and you tell ‘em their pretty and that their eyes are filled with stars or some other shit and they fall all over you, but whatever, you know, it’s like leave me alone. With Maria it’s all different. She’s so fly, the way her hair curls around her shoulders, her blue eyes. I mean, man, a Mexican girl with blue eyes. And everyone wants her, you know? Cholos always hanging ‘round, but she rides with me. She tells me I’m fine and she holds onto me and when we’re together, you know, and she kisses me on the neck or on the lips everything’s sweet, everything’s good. And when she’s with me, just me, you know, and I hear her breathing and she says she thinks she’s in love and those bars go away, and I feel calm, crazy calm like this’s all that matters and I feel so strong like the world can’t touch me. They say they love me, but they don’t even know me, and it don’t matter ‘cause it’s not the same you know, your mom’s gotta love you, but not Maria, man, not her, she’s gotta choice and she chooses me.
The page had been folded over the entry, covering it. She had told her students to fold over the page of any journal entries they thought were too personal for her to see. She wouldn’t read those entries, she assured them. She would simply glance at these to see that the page had been filled with writing—to make sure they were actually making the effort. She had all her students keep a journal and she told them they could write about anything, use any language they wanted, and grammar didn’t count. The point was to get them to write about things important to them, rather than simply learn how to write in stifling diction and false phrases to get a grade on essay papers. What most students wrote was boring, pedestrian, and fairly vacant, but others wrote about things that were truly amazing and shocking, as if the journal was a confessional.
She never intended to read the folded over entries. It was a genuine offer of trust to her students, but the eye wanders and when it did those first few times, she discovered things that were impossible to ignore. A few months before, a boy had been brutally beaten after a football game. He had been left in the parking lot, next to the opened door of his car, and it wasn’t until much later in the evening that a policeman found him in a puddle of his own blood and rushed him to the hospital. In one of his folded over entries, Bryson Williams wrote this line: “Seth hit him with the bat, and I know he’s a fag and all, but once was enough, but Seth just kept pounding him.” She knew Seth Green, and to look at him you’d think he was the nicest kid, well-mannered, well-spoken, polite. Nothing about Seth’s appearance betrayed a bat wielding attacker, and Bryson, he was on his way to UCLA, a good student, one of her favorites. Seth was in Marty Thompson’s class and when she showed him the entry, they contacted the principal. The next day the police arrived at school. They called Bryson into the principal’s office during her class, and when he left she avoided looking at him. Just a year before that, Keesha Johnson wrote about how her uncle came into her bedroom one Thanksgiving night when everyone else was in front of the television watching football. Sarah talked to the school counselor, social services got involved, and eventually Keesha left school. It was almost as if these kids wanted her to read these entries, as if the fold indicated an opportunity for intimate confidences to be exchanged.
She didn’t see this as a betrayal of trust. Unless an issue of life and death was at hand, their secrets were safe with her, but what she discovered, what she had absolute proof of now, was that their world was a dark, murky, dangerous place that they hid from their parents, from their friends, and from most of their teachers. Each kid was walking around in a space unto themselves, just waiting for someone to reach them or stop them or protect them but you had to break that barrier, you had to offer them the chance because in their world chances didn’t exist, in their world everything was ending tomorrow, if tomorrow even came.
Dominic was a terrible student. His unfolded entries were silly, adolescent at best. One was an ode to marijuana titled “The Last Toking” where he had Jesus and the twelve apostles smoking a bowl, except for Judas who refused and became a policeman and arrested them all. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, he yelled out, “Oh, my homies, they know not what they do.” Next to it was a picture of a bearded man sitting on a cloud and smoking a huge joint with a caption: “Heaven.” Another entry consisted of transcribed verses of ‘poetry’ from Tupac Shakur and a penned-in tombstone with R.I.P written in the center, but when she asked her students to write about the nature of love, she got another folded over entry.
After my Dad left I’d drive out to the water, alone, and the sky and the water were almost the same color and it’d be so big and I’d want to jump into it, and everything would be perfect for a few minutes ‘cause there’s nothin’ but blue as far as you can see, but then there was a ship and that ship got bigger and bigger and pretty soon your watchin’ that ship instead of the sky and water and that ship is ugly but you watch it anyway and you know it’ll never stop, that it’ll just keep on goin’ away, out into that empty space that’s too far for you to go out into, and too dangerous, and that ship’ll get smaller and smaller until it’s just a dot on the horizon and then nothin’ at all and you wonder where it’s goin’ and you know you’ll never see any of those places, those people, and then it’s gone. After that, the ocean and the sky isn’t the same anymore, it’s just empty, ugly, space.
Below this entry, she took a risk.
“It’s difficult to lose someone you love, Dominic. If you ever need someone to talk with, please let me know. –Ms. Evans”
* * *
“Did you know your son was having an affair with councilman Howard’s wife?” the man asked as he shoved a microphone in her face. It was just hours after she’d watched Dominic’s body, with three others, all of them anonymous in their county shrouds, be wheeled out of the house. She couldn’t make out the reporter’s face, or any others. She was in the middle of a surge of cameras and microphones, a tangling of arms, a throng of talking heads, but she had retreated so far within herself, into the hard shell of shock, that she barely noticed the way her body was pressed against, jostled to the side, pulled backwards by reaching hands. Detective O’Reilly’s hand was tight around her right arm and he shoved his way through the crowd, pulling her in his wake, and she tried to concentrate only on this. She tripped over a man’s foot and O’Reilly pushed him out of the way, knocking him into another man with a camera.
Detective O’Reilly had just asked her the same question in the police station.
“Did you know your son was seeing Mrs. Howard?” He asked it softly, as if his voice might hurt her more than all of this.
“Of course not,” she said. She wanted to hit him, but the world felt two-dimensional, like it was a movie projected on a 360 degree screen, and the words came from far, far away.
“I’m sorry,” he said. She watched him tap his fingers against the desk. “We think your son was seeing Mrs. Howard. The councilman found them–” He looked at her a moment. “It looks like the councilman found them together.”
An image of David’s back going out the front door that morning flashed in her mind. He had his headphones on and when she said, ‘Love you,’ he couldn’t have heard it.
“Did it hurt?” she asked.
“Excuse me?” Detective O’Reilly said.
“Did it hurt him?”
“The bullet was near the heart,” he said. He looked around the room as if he were looking for help. “It didn’t take–” He stopped and looked at her. “I don’t know,” he said.
Now O’Reilly was taking her home even though she didn’t want to go there, and as he settled her into the passenger seat of his unmarked police car, camera lenses pointed through the glass. Someone switched on a spotlight and the inside of the car became brilliantly light, her white hand on the armrest of the door, her feet hiding in the shadows of the dashboard. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the lenses focus, the huge mechanical corneas turning in the center, growing smaller with the light, and settling on her face like the hollow barrel of a loaded gun.
* * *
It took Patrick a day and a half to get home from Singapore. She didn’t blame him; it wasn’t his fault.
The first night, the very night of David’s murder, Roberta had come over but she didn’t really know what to do and ended up cooking dinner, but Sarah wouldn’t eat. Roberta tried to hug her, but Sarah refused. Outside the street was deserted; the police had set up a road block to keep out the press, but in the distance, if Sarah listened closely, she could hear the hum of voices, the movements of a crowd like something gnawing on roots buried in the ground. “You shouldn’t leave for a few days,” Roberta had said. “They’re everywhere.”
Those first few dozen hours after Roberta left Sarah didn’t turn on any lights, didn’t use any appliance, didn’t even change her clothes, but simply sat in the dark and listened to the silence. The house had never been this quiet, and the stillness of it was like having your body held under deep, cold water. There were phone calls, but she had turned the volume down on the answering machine. She knew she should call her mother, but she simply couldn’t tell her that David was gone and she wasn’t yet convinced of the truth of it, even if she had seen his body and identified it with his name. A neighbor, someone that very day, had mowed his lawn and she had to sit and listen to the pop and whine of the mower. With the blinds closed, the streetlight was kept out, and at night she sat on the sofa and stared into the darkness and sometime in the early morning she wondered if she had even ceased to exist, but then light began to seep through the cracks in the shutters and soon shapes appeared in the faint, blue light and she watched her legs and the curve of her hip become part of another day. Sometime in the morning she heard a thump at the front door, and it took her a while to realize it was the newspaper, sitting there and waiting with the patience of written words.
When Patrick finally arrived, even he wouldn’t break the silence. He walked through the door, still dressed in a suit, his hand grasping the handle of his briefcase, and looked at her curled up on the sofa. His eyes were deep and red and filled with hours and hours of knowledge. He dropped the briefcase in front of the door, walked across the room, and laid down beside her, his head in her chest, his arms wrapped around her like another set of ribs and sobbed like he was drowning from holding it back, and if she hadn’t have been so filled with her own water, her own ocean of pain, she might have found room for his pain too.
* * *
The next journal Dominic turned in was 10 numbered blank pages. She wrote ‘incomplete’ at the bottom and returned it but said nothing else. Two weeks later when he did the same thing again, numbering the next ten pages 11—20, she waited until the end of class, and asked him to see her. He stood by her desk, his one three-ring binder at his side, and waved to a friend who was out in the hall. His demeanor towards his friend was one of a ‘homeboy’, like a man who stood on a corner sipping 40oz. beers and constantly pulled up his falling pants. When everyone in the class had left, she told the friend that Dominic would be a few minutes, closed the door and asked him to sit down.
“I’m all right,” he said, and he remained standing there in front of her desk, his jaw set, his face pointed towards the ceiling so that she was presented with his chin.
“Are you really?” she said.
He held his arms out for a moment and let them slam back against his body. “Man, Ms. Evans, why you all worried about me and shit?” He looked towards the closed door. “It’s none of your business.”
“Dominic, you put on this show,” she said, “as if you’re all tough and heartless, but I think there’s more to you than that.”
“Oh, Jesus,” he said. “Don’t pull that nice teacher shit. You don’t know nothing, Ms. Evans.”
“Anything,” she said. “I don’t know anything.”
He sat on the edge of a desk, his lips curled, showing teeth. “You know, you lie,” he said after a moment.
“I’m sorry about that,” she said. “It was wrong.”
He set down his binder and looked away for a minute at the closed door. He seemed to relax a bit, something changing in his face so that he looked more like a boy than a man who might be hiding a gun. “What if all the kids knew you read those things? That’s pretty screwed-up, you know?”
“Strung up from the school flagpole, maybe?” He didn’t laugh. “I’d appreciate it if they didn’t,” she said. “It wouldn’t be too good for them to know. Besides, I don’t make a practice of it. Sometimes things just catch my eye and I worry.”
Dominic was silent and then nodded his head. He grabbed his binder and stood up. “Your kid’s the one got shot, right?” he said.
He could have walked over to the desk and punched her in the face and the shock would have been less. She looked up, her eyes trying to kill him, but when she saw his face, she could tell he wasn’t trying to hurt her. He was trying to understand something.
“Yes,” she said. It was silent for a minute and a parade of thoughts marched out in front of them, but she said nothing more and neither did he.
“All right,” he said. “It’s cool, Ms. Evans.” And he walked out the door.
* * *
“What do you know about this kid?” Sarah asked Roberta.
They were sitting outside near the front steps of the school, working their lunch supervision. She motioned her head towards Dominic, or rather, his car; Dominic couldn’t be seen behind the tinted windows of his Chevelle. He had driven the purring machine up to the front steps, set the stick shift in neutral and let the engine idle, a mean, low idle that seemed set so low on purpose. She had watched him before. He always picked up underclassmen—freshman and sophomore girls that made themselves look older with copious use of make-up, who leaned over the doors and stuck their faces inside the darkness of the car, their bodies moving like clumsy gymnasts, pirouetting themselves into the passenger seat. Recently, though, he had been picking up the same girl. And sure enough, there she was: young, a freshman probably, her belly exposed by a mid-riff shirt, her jeans so tight at the hips she had to tip-toe down the steps. As she reached the car, the passenger door came swinging open.
“Open Sesame,” she said.
Roberta laughed and looked at the car. The girl hopped in and for a moment, through the open door, Sarah could see Dominic behind the wheel, hidden in the shadows of the car, hand on the stick shift, other hand hanging limp over the steering wheel.
“Dominic Salazar?” Roberta said and pulled the plastic wrapping from her tuna sandwich; the wrapping was smeared with mayonnaise. “What do I think of Mr. Salazar?”
“I can’t believe you eat that stuff,” Sarah said.
The girl got in the car and flipped her dyed blonde hair once for all the world to see before closing the door.
“I can’t believe they fall for that,” Roberta said. “It’s like they’re prostitutes or something. All Christina Aguilera’d out, piercing their noses, blue contact lenses, and for what? A ride in some jerk’s car, a trip to the ‘hill’?”
The engine roared under the hood a couple times, as if he might skid out across the pavement, and Sarah was ready to report it, ready to have a heart to heart with him, but then the wheels surged forward, rolled quietly away and out onto the street like it was carrying the Grand Marshall in a parade.
“Professional opinion or two friends?” She didn’t let Sarah answer. “He’s a young man with a lot of affective issues, a boy with low self-esteem who has a difficult time with social adjustment, and…”
Sarah just lowered her chin and looked at Roberta who smiled and took a bite of the sandwich.
“Jerk,” she said, her mouth full of tuna. “A jerk and a half and a quarter more.” She wiped her fingers on a napkin. “You know, he shows up here, revs up that engine of his and these little girls, you know straight out of middle-school, who don’t even know what’s up, who are still trying to decide if it’s okay to wear ‘Winnie the Pooh’ panties, these little girls’ hearts go all flitter-flutter, and he takes them for a drive, tells them they look ‘fly’, like they’re J-Lo or something, and finds a quiet little spot in the shade somewhere in the hills or maybe he even takes them home and says, “You know, baby, you’re my one and only,” and what girl doesn’t want to hear that, especially from an upperclassman, and the next thing she knows his hand is down her shirt, what there is of it anyway, or his fingers are slipping into her pants, if that’s possible these days.”
“That it?” Sarah said. “Or do you have more to say.”
“Oh, I’ve got more. Just catching my breath.”
“How do you know this?”
“Why are you so curious about this kid, Sarah?” Roberta started on the other half of the sandwich.
“He’s in my class.” She pulled a strand of hair behind her ear. “He’s writing some interesting stuff in his journal. Doesn’t sound like things are too good at home.”
Roberta looked at her a moment. “Ahh, I see what’s going on here,” she said. She nodded her head sadly.
“You do, you think?” Sarah said.
Roberta put her hand on Sarah’s knee. “Yeah, I think I do, and it’s not the same thing. Not even close. David didn’t know what he’d gotten himself into. He was the victim.” She looked at Sarah a moment and then rolled her napkin into a ball. “Look Sarah,” she said. “I talk to the girls. You know they tell me things. Don’t bother with this kid; he’s not the one to save. I’m telling you, it’s not worth it.”
* * *
Patrick met with the police, made arrangements at the cemetery, but avoided the morgue. She watched him read the papers, four of them in all that had piled-up like little caskets on the front porch. He had a pad of paper sitting next to him on the coffee table and as he read the story, he jotted down times and phrases and other information. She watched his face, the way his eyes squinted when he read something painful, the flexing of his jaw muscles, and that distinct troubled look of someone who cannot figure out a problem. She looked at his thinning hair, the wrinkles beneath his eyes, and the lips that moved ever so slightly as he read, and in everything, even the curl of his eyelashes, she saw an older David. She knew then, even though it would take many more months, that she couldn’t look into his face everyday, that the crowning achievement of their marriage was David, and without him they had little together to hold onto. He finished one paper and moved onto the next, not even bothering to close the pages of the first. The pages crackled in his hands as he turned them. He wrote more on his pad and underlined something.
“10:30,” he said. “The school called to tell you he wasn’t there?”
She walked to the kitchen, opened a cabinet above the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of vodka. Her hands were shaking and little splashes of it fell onto the counter when she poured. When she returned, she saw him look at the glass in her hand but he managed not to say anything.
“I got the message between classes, around 9:15.” Patrick had fried some eggs and the stink of it filled the house. It was just four days after the shooting. She had watched Patrick eat a plate full, and she had been so disgusted she wanted to throw it on the floor. Now he sat in front of his empty plate dressed in one of his starched shirts, a necktie clawing at his throat, even though he wasn’t going into work. “Patrick, it wasn’t the first time,” she said, and realized that was a mistake as soon as she said it, but she wanted him to know.
“He’d been missing class?” The look on his face was so full of hurt, so full of confusion that she almost laughed at him. How can a man be so unaware? But the pain of it touched her somewhere and she stopped. He laid the paper down on the table.
“But his grades were fine,” she said. “He always showed back up.” His face said, why didn’t you tell me. It was the face of betrayal.
“Jesus, Patrick, he’s eighteen.”
“Should have told me.”
“When you’re in Singapore? When you’re at the office in Phoenix with…?”
There was a moment of recognition between them, a filing away of things to be dealt with later.
He crossed something out four times on the yellow pad of paper. “Did you know about this woman?” he said.
“No, I didn’t know about that.” The irony of it hit her somewhere and it deepened the pain. She should have known about that, she thought.
“You didn’t need to work, Sarah.” He rubbed the heel of his palm against his forehead. “I make enough money. You could’ve stayed at home.”
“Don’t,” she said. “Don’t do that.”
He stopped and looked at her, then looked away. “In Singapore,” he said, “it’s so clean, so God damned clean. You should see it, not a spot anywhere. When you walk around, it’s like your walking in some dream.” His hands began to shake and he set down the pencil. “When I got your call, I was having dinner with the Japanese at the hotel. They brought the phone to the table, if you can believe that. My translator didn’t understand the word ‘accident,’ and they all were confused.” He held the back of his palm up to his eyes and turned away so she wouldn’t see. His shoulders started to shake. “They just kept asking questions, and the word kept coming to my head but I just couldn’t say it. But they wouldn’t stop asking and finally by the look on my face, the translator understood. I stood up from the table to leave and as I started walking out I heard the translator say it for me, but I still didn’t believe it.”
“I was there,” she said. “I identified David’s body.” She let the silence build around that until she was sure he understood. “The hole looked like nothing, like something to put a band-aid over.”
He stared at her a second, his eyes blinking as if little explosions were going off in his head. “God, I’m sorry,” he said.
* * *
It was the Tuesday after the funeral that Patrick went back to work. When she saw him come out of the bathroom dressed in his suit and tie, slathered with cologne, his hair combed as if having combed hair actually mattered, she wanted to hurt him.
“Your son has died, how can you go to the office?” she said.
“Our son.” He reached for his watch on the dresser next to the bed. “You can take the blame out of your voice,” he said. “It won’t help.” This was Patrick as always: calm, rational, unemotional. When David was born, she remembered now, he didn’t cry like she expected him to. He was even scared to hold the baby.
He walked out of the bedroom and towards the family room. She jumped out of bed and followed.
“You got him that car,” she said. “If he hadn’t have–”
He stopped in the middle of the hallway and turned to face her. His face had a thousand things to say and she waited, formulated responses. He raised a finger to her and for a moment she thought he might hit her, and she hoped he would, but then he turned around and walked to the closet where he kept his briefcase.
She reached him, grabbed his hands, and forced him to sit down at the kitchen table. She bent down on her knees next to him and held his arms down at his sides.
“I need you not to go,” she said. “I need it not to be normal.”
He looked at her, his eyes moving back and forth inside his head as if he were searching for something else hidden behind her words. Then he nodded and let himself fall back into the seat. She let go of his hands, placed her own on his knees, and looked up at his face but he had turned it away. She sat next to him at the table, the light of morning coming in through the windows and settling across the kitchen floor. There was nothing to say or do. He touched his tie, pulled on his jacket, and then laid his hands on the table. She looked at him, but he wouldn’t look at her. She wanted to say “sorry” and the word came into her head and rolled around her tongue and she thought that if she sat there long enough in the silence he’d be able to hear it knocking there behind her closed lips but she swallowed it down. And then that silence really crept into the house and Patrick must have heard it too, because he leaned over, laid his hand on hers, just long enough for her to feel the warmth of blood below the surface of his skin, reached down, picked up his briefcase, stood, and walked out the front door.