Dirt

Jeannie was doing AA. It was really working for her.

Back in Boston, he went to a couple of meetings, and of course he’d read Infinite Jest, and he knew Mr. Wallace went to meetings, and even church. He had a difficult time with that- DFW going to church. He didn’t like religion. AA was too Christian. He didn’t like everyone calling themselves addicts, diseased. He wasn’t diseased. He knew he was a stubborn overgrown child, desperately holding out, he knew his flaws, but at least he knew what he was. He didn’t like that Letterman and Conan needed a little just a little pill, a little something to get them through. He didn’t like that most of his literary heroes drank themselves to death or more abruptly killed themselves before 50. Yeah, J.D. made it past 90, but only while clutching a shotgun against a bolted door, one by one cutting off friends and family who didn’t live up to his fictitious characters.

They weren’t his heroes anymore. Fuck em’. He didn’t like any of it. He was his own man now. Broke, no health insurance, a pothead again, but he was his own fuckin man.

The last thing he told Jeannie before the dogs came-swear to God-was about the soldier and the dirt. The bit from the PBS documentary about Vietnam that was most deeply embedded in his brain was the soldier who appreciated the dirt when he was surrounded by Charlie, certain he only had moments to live. The soldier ran his fingers through the dirt, never more appreciating its beauty. The dirt, and the dead leaves.

This always made the 33-year-old man-child shake his head. The dirt, the fucking dirt. He believed the soldier, he knew it was true. But could he cheat? Could he experience a modicum of that gratitude without being surrounded by Charlie?

In Bad Kids, he wrote about watching folks younger and younger as they grew up before him, casting innocence into the lake as they chose their escape, their compromise. Their means of coping, getting through. Cigarettes, netflix binging, food, wine-tasting. Fuck everything. Marriage, Tinder, staring at phones, advanced degrees. Safety. Jesus Christ, he’d rather die. He didn’t want to merely get through. What was the point of that? He wanted to smack sense into every clown on the planet.

He still hadn’t made that toss. So stubborn. What was he holding out for? What did he need to let go of? He had reasons, arguments for everything-why he wasn’t talking to the Mormons-but his Dad, his Dad wasn’t Mormon and that was hanging by a thread. At least J.D. had some cash as he cut off the world one-by-one, burrowed in his cave in New Hampshire. But this idiot, this holdout, had a little over a month to figure out his next living situation. Broke as a joke. 33. Not a kid anymore. He looked in the mirror, he saw what he was- the grays, the pain, the fatigue. Hunched over, he saw the recession, stand up straight! Fix the hair, smile for God’s sake. Still handsome, but that ain’t gonna last forever. He knew what that could get him and it couldn’t get him enough. Over the past year a line from the Friends theme song played in his mind on a loop:

Your job’s a joke/you’re broke/ Your love life’s DOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY

He wanted to appreciate things like the soldier. If only he could bask in the splendor of dirt.

You can, Jeannie told him, you can.

Jeannie was special. She had a silly nickname that dated back to childhood, but why on Earth would you call her anything other than what she was- a Jeannie?

He was going to walk into the creek to get a better angle, better pictures. He took off both of his shoes. He’d only taken off one sock when Jeannie, now about 100 feet ahead, told him to turn around.

He felt a lightness all throughout his body. It began at his feet and lifted all the way to his head in the couple of moments he took to turn around and see the three pit bulls that had crept up. No owners, no humans in sight. Jeannie told him later that it looked like two Pit Bulls and a Bull-Mastiff-looking-thing. Yeah yeah, Pitts could be sweeties, he knew. Plenty of links to articles on facebook about that shit. And he had grown to love dogs in recent years, if only to fight criticism from the family that he hated all pets. He’d just had a friend’s Pitt licking his face a couple of weeks back. It was nice, but he felt the energy and strength as his face was licked up and down, and it was greater than the only dog he loved as a kid- a Rottweiler. He felt the Pitt’s tooth graze his upper lip that night. He knew what that fucker could do if he wanted.

He prayed. He’d been doing that since the end of his Boston run, after a decade void of invocation. But as he told Jeannie, it wasn’t to any organized bullshit.

These dogs, in this wide-open, shallow/dry riverbed, they were reservoir dogs, and they were protecting illegal marijuana crops. He’d heard about that shit. These dogs could end him in seconds. What a terrible way to die. Flesh torn limb from limb. Fuck that.

“What do I do Jeannie?” he calmly asked, as he now faced her again. He didn’t hear her response as he put the sock back on, followed by his two shoes. He wanted it to be over. Was he outwardly calm because of the yoga? If he was more jumpy, as he’d been most of his life, would that have meant death? Thank God for the yoga. One of the mutts had blithely trotted into the water, as if to say the river wasn’t really an option; he’d seen No Country For Old Men anyway. He had never felt less in control. He slowly walked, surprised by his outward calm. The distance between him and the killers grew and grew.

The mountains, the river, the trees- fucking hell. He’d never seen anything so gorgeous.

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