“Extant” a short story
When I was a girl my best friend was a boy. We stayed that way until I sprouted tits which consequently resulted in us fucking and then teasing each other about it and then dating other people because the transition from friend to lover just didn’t happen. Also, when you’re 15, it is very rare to be comfortable with only sleeping with the person you lost your virginity with for the rest of your life. Most people, both male and female, must have sex with other people so that they can feel they have experienced life. So that when they do commit to someone long term they won’t feel denied an adolescence and time to explore the sexual world, or think that maybe someone else is out there who is even better than the one they are with. If a man meets the ultimate woman before he’s done getting his necessary sexual life experiences done, he’ll reject her. A lot of women will do the same, although since their biological clock is set much earlier than men’s due to fertility constraints, they’re often ready to settle down earlier. This is all just healthy.
Me and Trey were relatively healthy kids I guess. Trey was always a kind sweet kid and very sensitive. When he was twelve a guy at school said something derogatory about Trey’s mom and Trey hit him so hard he was unconscious and he had to go to the hospital. He told me it really upset him the guy disrespected his mom and he thought he was his friend. Trey’s mom Charla was gorgeous. Charla had very beautiful dark skin and she wore her hair in a cute little short afro. Trey’s dad died very young in an accident at the ironworks plant; Trey was only three and doesn’t remember him. Charla was able to keep the house and have enough to get by on from the life insurance money, and the settlement from the company that owned the plant thanks to the union fighting for her. She never remarried, I remember she went out with a few guys but they never turned into something serious. She mostly just stayed around the house and did housework. As an adult I realized Charla had some problems, like I think maybe agoraphobia.
We lived in a little town a few couple hours outside of Atlanta. When we were growing up I was always at Trey’s house. Charla didn’t say much to me but I always felt welcome. I mean she didn’t talk a lot. But she baked us cookies like all the time. And then she’d just sit at the kitchen table and read books all day long smoking. Trey was protective of her because she was fragile. Charla was so sweet though and always made sure there were snacks and sandwiches around even though money was pretty tight. Sometimes when one of us was cruising by she’d snake her arm out and grab us for a quick hug. Then go back to doing the crossword or reading one her books. Trey loved her very much. He looked just like her only way bigger. He was real good looking with nice long lean muscles. He had cute very white perfectly square little teeth with spaces in between. Charla called him Lil Chiclet.
Trey was much better looking than me. I had one of those sad white girl bodies that was like all torso and these short weenus legs. But I had a face apparently that men found attractive so that was at least something good from the old genetic grab bag. I had low self esteem in my teens and early twenties though and didn’t take good care of myself. I slept with a lot of guys that weren’t that nice to me. And I didn’t always use protection. I was supremely lucky I never got a disease that antibiotics couldn’t cure. I got pregnant once you could call that a disease maybe haha but thank god I was able to go to Planned Parenthood and get an abortion. It was the thing that changed me. I started using condoms every single time I had sex and I became more selective. I went through some feelings about it. My head would bother me with thoughts about like, what if the fetus was already making plans like wanting to sell cars or something. But then I relaxed and knew I made the right decision. It was not the right time in my life to have a baby and also I had no money. And ultimately it does not matter what reasons I had- this is my body and choice is my right. Later when I really was on my feet I actually started donating to Planned Parenthood and I registered to vote too.
Anyhow, Trey joined the Marines when he turned 18. I didn’t see him for years. Then I got a phone call from Charla. She was now living in Texas with her sister. And had been dating this rich guy for over three years. He keeps bugging me to marry him she laughed. I always loved her happy laugh. She told me she called my mom up to get my number. I was still living in our little town. Same as my folks. Well my dad had died a couple years ago but my mom Mabel was still around. I would visit her sometimes but she had a lot of negative things that just seemed to squirt out of her mouth. She’d been like that even when I was little. I think that’s why my dad died early no joke. I think he was just like peace out. Mabel just was always saying mean naggy things and had these silent punishing moods and feeding us tuna noodle casseroles made with hate. Oh well she had a terrible childhood so made sense she was a psycho. She did her best. And she wasn’t all bad. You just had to keep her on some light topics so the conversation didn’t turn into a stealth critical attack. And it was also important to keep the visit short.
Anyway, Charla called up and all I heard first was breathless breathing on the other end of the line. She always had a sexy delicate out of breath voice. Charla? I said. I knew it was her even though I hadn’t talked to her in ten years. She told me she was hoping I would go check on Trey. She told me he’d been injured when he was in Afghanistan. He had since gotten full disability and honorable discharge and physical therapy but she was worried. He was still sounding funny on the telephone. She said she had visited him a few months ago and he’d seemed okay but a little withdrawn. Now he was sounding not right again.
I told her I hadn’t seen him since we were teenagers and wasn’t sure if he’d appreciate it if I just barged in on him. Oh come on she said, he’s like your spirit brother just go over there and talk to him. I didn’t say anything. Then I asked her where he was living. She said she gave him the house, he’s in the same old house with the kudzu choking the shit out of it. Then she asked me about my life for a little while and what I’d been up to and stuff like that. Then she had to get going and when she asked me if I’d go over there I said Yes Ma’am like I always did with her. She said Thank you and that she loved me and hoped we could stay in touch. It was weird I hadn’t seen her in so long and she was on and off the phone so quick but it still felt like back when we saw each other every day.
I put off going over to the house for a while though. I was a little nervous. I wasn’t used to real human interaction anymore. I worked the night shift at the one quaint touristy hotel in our town. I did occasionally have to check in a guest or give them some more pillows and towels so they could steal them later but mostly I was the night auditor and because I was good with numbers I ended up doing all their books. It was ok work for a nocturnal person like me and it paid enough for me to rent a one bedroom apartment and own my own small vehicle so I was living better than most in the no-living wage apocalypse.
Anyhow, I didn’t want to go see Trey but I did. One Wednesday late afternoon I drove over to his house which is in a little neighborhood kind of out in the boonies on a bluff near the river but there’s no view of it cuz there’s too many trees. Actually there’s sink hole problems too so that’s why its still really rural out there. I hadn’t gone out there in ten years. His house looked just like it did when we were kids, it was painted the same light blue faded almost to white and the kudzu was all over it again and the tall trees coming up right behind it. There used to be an old orange Volkswagon bug parked outside in the weeds with flat tires where we’d sit and eat popsicles but that was gone now. Just lots of tall weeds growing outside. It barely looked lived in but the mailbox was new. It was stainless steel and it glinted in the dark yellow late afternoon sun.
I knocked on the door and no one answered. SO I knocked one more time and this time a man’s voice said Hang on and I heard footsteps and then he opened the door. He didn’t act that surprised to see me. Probably Charla had told him I was going to be coming. Hey there he said. Hi I said. He looked like Trey only a little older and more muscular, with some grey at his temples. He motioned for me to come in and I was immediately hit with how bad it reeked of bleach in there. He asked me if I wanted some water and I said okay and we went into the kitchen. Haha the same brown and beige flowered linoleum was in there. We used to find the shapes of aliens and animals in the design.
He got me some water and we looked at each other. I told him it fucken reeked in here. He said lately he felt like he needed to clean a lot. I told him well look you don’t have to use bleach. That’s been proven to cause cancer you know. He said Yeah? I told him the owners of the hotel I worked at, they’d switched to green cleaners and used white vinegar to clean the rooms. White vinegar kills 98% of germs, 82% of mold, and 80% of viruses I recited. And it’s completely non-toxic. He asked me where I worked and I said The Calamint and he said Oh cool and I said they’re pretty nice. I told him how I was a maid for a while at the Red Lion and they had us cleaning with fucked up chemicals and some of the older maids actually got bladder cancer and stuff from them. The owners knew about these ladies but instead of giving them money and changing the chemicals, Red Lion corporate made us sit down for a mandatory meeting where some Aflac rep tried to sell us cancer insurance that would come out of our paychecks. So you just knew Red Lion was making money off of us dying instead of just changing their cleansers or giving us health insurance for free, cuz they had cut this deal with Aflac.
That’s fucked up said Trey. I felt a little embarrassed then. I hadn’t uttered that many sentences together to anyone in a while, except when I screamed at my mom a while back. How have you been I asked him. He said he’d been okay and he asked if I wanted to sit in the living room. I said okay and he took me in there. All the carpet had been ripped up and there were a couple metal lawn chairs sitting in there on the concrete instead of the brown carpet and old couch we used to watch tv on. He said sit anywhere you like haha.
He turned out to really want to talk too. He told me what happened. He was teaching Afghani soldiers tactics in the Sangin District area of Helmand Province in Afghanistan when a sniper shot him from the hills. The sniper ate a Hellfire Missile from an Apache helicopter. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk about his injuries so I asked him other stuff about the war and he said he didn’t agree with the one in Iraq that obviously that was just over oil but he was glad there was an American presence in Afghanistan because the Taliban were treating the women like shit over there. Someone has to help those women get their rights he said. And we should also be training the women how to fight.
I thought that was really cool. He was telling me all this, but it actually took him a lot longer than just this paragraph because he had to stop a lot and sort of think about what he was going to say. He didn’t sound brain damaged or anything, he was very clear and just as I always knew him, he just took longer to talk.
He asked if I wanted to see the backyard and so I said sure. We went out there and it was pretty funny. There was a goat out on the lawn staring at us. Trey said he belonged to the neighbors but they let him wander around so he’d come into Trey’s backyard and eat the grass. He hadn’t had to mow the lawn in a year. He likes me to feed him some treats too said Trey.
But then the goat saw me and he went off into the brush.
He just a little shy because he wants to make sure you aren’t gonna throw him in the paddy wagon and take him down to the pound. He’s like a regular down there. There’s a neighbor who always calls the animal cops on him and then the owners have to pick him up. Bill don’t like goin to jail.
Ha his name is Bill? That’s cute I said. There were a couple more chairs out in the yard next to some goat poops and we sat down next to them. Trey said it was good to see me and he asked if I would come over again. I said sure. Then he asked why I hadn’t before and I said I didn’t know. He asked if I was seeing anybody and I said no. Then he asked me if I had any friends which I thought was really rude because he was assuming the answer was no, like how it was when we were kids. I was friends with a couple women at work but they were busy with families. And while they had invited me to their homes a few times but I found excuses not to go.
I had to get going to work after that but I promised to come back soon and we exchanged phone numbers. He called the next day and asked if I wanted to stop by before work and he would feed me an early dinner. I said ok. He cooked me some barbecue and homemade potato salad and we took it out in the backyard again. I was like Hey this is really good. Trey said thanks. Then he started talking some more.
This time he told me that he was wearing his helmet when he got shot and at first he thought it didn’t go through. They are made from Kevlar he told me. But the bullet went in at a weird angle and was still in the back of his head towards the right. They got it out though he said. And luckily I’m ok I just have a thing about words for some reason. The doctors are pretty mystified that’s one of my only problems besides some dizziness and depth perception issues but they say it’s a miracle and I should be grateful. I am really grateful but I am a little depressed because I do have some dizziness so I can’t drive. I qualified for full disability. I want to start an online business. I have to have something to do I can’t just sit around.
I asked him if he missed the military and he said he did. He said he had actually loved some parts of it, he liked learning and keeping his body in peak condition and he said he just liked the adrenaline of battle. He said he was good at it. He kept real calm. It wasn’t hard. When the shit was going down you didn’t feel fear. You were in the zone of survival and you just got the shit done. He said when that got taken away from him he thought about killing himself for a while.
We continued to get together in the afternoons before I had to go to work. We’d just sit out in the backyard. And sometimes feed Bill, who by this time had got to trusting me. A couple weeks later Trey asked me if I ever thought about killing myself. I told him sure. I told him about how some years ago I was dating this loser and we’d beat the shit out of each other. One night he broke my arm in three places and I smashed his head in with this big flashlight. The neighbors called the cops and they took him away. He was in the hospital for a while then he went to jail. I had been living at his place so I had nowhere to go. I went to a shelter that social services set up for me. And I was sleeping in this church basement and it smelled like pee. I was grateful for the help but the whole situation was pretty gross and depressing.
Yeah that sounds pretty bad he said. Sure I said. But I got work after that and eventually got my own place so it’s cool now. And those days are over. That’s good he said, I’m glad. After that conversation we fucked. It was really good. It was a turn on that he had condoms and offered to get them before I had to ask. Way better than when we were fifteen.
After that we started dating. I guess we helped each other because we both forced each other to go to therapy. After a few months of seeing each other very regularly I realized Trey was very depressed, and at a certain point I got real tired of it because he was moping around and I felt like he was trying to drag me down and I said I think you really need to see a therapist. And he was like if I need to see one you need to see one too, cuz you ain’t all there either. I was like what the fuck is that supposed to mean and he said come one you’re still all locked up like when we were kids. And that pissed me off but I said I’d take my loser ass to see one if he went down to the VA and got signed up with one too. We actually shook on it.
SO I did find a therapist who agreed to see me on a sliding scale. She was a licensed clinical social worker. She made me talk about my mother of course and low self esteem and everything. It did actually slowly start to help me. She did this neat thing where I had to think about a traumatic event in my life and watch her move her finger back and forth in the air like a clock pendulum. She said there was some link between processing and healing painful events in the brain and rapid eye movement. She also had me write stuff down to and read it to her.
Trey went and saw a guy too. A really good psychologist. He started getting better too. It is actually amazing how much more balanced a person can get if they have an outlet to talk like once a week, even twice a month, which was all I could afford most of the time. Trey then started getting into healthy living. He planted his own organic garden in the back and he was really proud of it. He said he had since realized that his military rations were all non-organic pesticide laced corporate food crap. They were feeding us something called um, hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup he told me. He said no wonder so many people are overweight when that’s what they’re getting fed. He said he felt so much better now than when he was active due to him switching to all organic.
So he was really getting into his organic garden which was neat to see him start to get all excited about something. Bill was a little pissed because Trey built chicken wire around it but he’d still come by and we’d hand feed him from our lawn chairs. I was starting to look healthier since Trey was feeding me so much produce. We began selling it a farmers market and I drove his truck for him but it looks like he’s going to get his drivers license back now.
During that time I came up with the idea of us playing Scrabble together so it would build up the word synapses in Trey’s brain. It was helping him. He actually started being obnoxious and debating with me after a while. One time he won with this word “extant”. I was all what the hell is that. And he was all crowing it’s a word it’s a word it means like umm, it means like uh you know and he took too long explaining it so I accused him of cheating. We looked it up on his phone and it did turn out to be a word. What it means is “still in existence, still alive”. Haha just like us I thought. I felt really good in that moment, and like there are some real possibilities in life now. It’s like getting to have a new childhood… I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just the beginning of something is all.
Copyright © 2013 by Kim Campion
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