Held Back

Somebody dies at the end. Somebody always dies at the end. It’s like you’ve got a couple of pens — exactly the same pens — and then you lose the top to one of them. A felt pen, so it’s going to dry out if you don’t find that other top. But you never do, and for the rest of your life, you’re wondering, maybe I should’ve switched the top from the other pen to that one. Maybe it had more juice left.

Or maybe it’s not like that at all. My life has sped away from her death like an arrow with a thin string of razor wire attached — almost invisible, but try and walk through it, it’ll cut your head off.

She was beautiful and young, and she died at age twenty-two. She would’ve been twenty-three in July, but she died in late December, in the middle of her senior year. Slim, I called her. Her name was Kim Salvia. She’d been held back in first grade because the teacher thought her too dreamy. Not many people at Alba knew that — Alba College. I was a senior too, and more than half in love with Slim. She stood six-feet one with long, swaying blonde hair. She never had the slouch of some tall girls. If anything, her body appeared to be reaching upward, straining to extend itself further into the world. When she tilted her head to listen to me, her hair hung straight like a glistening curtain and I wanted to kiss her secret, exposed ear. Sometimes I did.

My friend Charles had driven up from Detroit because his fiancée Robin had just dumped him. We’d already gotten measured for our tuxes, so it was serious shit, and he wanted to get away, visit me, his old pal L.C. — Lawrence Carter, his running buddy from back home who’d gone off to college to seek his fortune and thus was constantly mooching money every time he came home and wanting to stay out all night even when all the other home boys had to get up and punch in at the factory the next day.

My life has sped away from her death like an arrow with
a thin string of razor wire attached — almost invisible, but try and walk through it, it’ll cut your head off.

Kim was driving back to Detroit — passing Charles on I-96 driving the other way, most likely — to see Robert Fripp at Ford Auditorium. Robert fucking Fripp. She was into that weird King Crimson shit. That was the thing with her — she was dreamy. It took us three years to fall in love with each other because she danced like a hippie, and I danced like a rocker when I danced at all — all stomp, no flow. We fell into each other’s arms the minute we returned to campus that fall, and all she did was hug me one millisecond longer than usual, but it was long enough for me to know that was where I wanted to be.

So, what was I doing sleeping with Gina? Yeah, somebody cheats on somebody, that’s part of it too. While Kim was out of town, L.C. (me again) got really drunk and slept with Gina, one of Kim’s friends — though I was wildly incapable of finishing what I started, so technically the act was not consummated. Until the following morning. This is a confession, so I guess God’s in the house too.

I didn’t known what to do with Charles, or what he was expecting, but after I let him in, he pulled out a fifth of whiskey and his hash pipe, and we didn’t say much, sitting at the old sticky kitchen table in the house I shared with some hippies who were trying to smooth out my rough edges and get me to just mellow out. They were friends of Kim’s, which is how we met, though Alba was so small, you met everyone eventually, whether you wanted to or not.

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