Kings lie down to zip up their jeans,
buy Cetaphil, candy, magazines
at Walgreens because they can
walk there unsupervised, describe
blowjobs they’ve given to seniors
in cars, spend what they think of as
their own money. Home sick from school,
they learn about G-strings from daytime TV.
A Jerry Springer episode: “My Daughter
Dresses Like a Ho!” and a mom comes on
waving a finger at a whooping audience
that quiets as she opens a variety-pack
Band-Aid box out of which she pulls her
We named those thongs for this one
beautiful junior who, in the cafeteria,
sat down within view. Why it was
we had to be in high school
at the same time an extremely low-riding
jeans trend arose, we’ll never know.
Kristen went to Catholic school
so everyone had already been kissed.
As a girl, that’s how you made it
to first base. You didn’t kiss,
you were kissed. What does it mean
to get fingered? I asked her, the term itself
insufficiently illustrative. She made a motion.
My eyes widened. “It’s really
more for the guy,” she said.
People got fingered on the beach
and drank beer. For dinner, we ordered
Little Giant. I was kissed by a friend of hers who later said
I was an airhead. At Walgreens,
I bought candy to bring to Michigan City.
It’s amazing that we did
what we did among the very sandcastles
of our youth. There he was, by the dune.
“Hey,” he said. But I just handed him
an Airhead and went to swim.
That was all we were doing: playing Kings.
There’s a can of beer in the center and cards
fanned out around it, or a Solo cup full of
whatever people pour in. Each card means a different
collective activity, rhyming or raising a hand.
If you’re last or you can’t rhyme, you drink.
Sometimes it’s a “social” and everyone
drinks together. The goal is to get drunk,
even though that means losing. Fives were guys,
sixes chicks. In the strip version, those cards indicated
collective stripping by gender. You never knew
whether it would be strip or not, so you always
considered wearing layers. It was summer.
Sometimes you’d get pretty naked
but it wasn’t pushy. You could take off
one sock at a time.
Which boy’s feet you sat at mattered.
Strip Kings or not, the feet determined
the course of your night. I sat at Tim’s.
I went upstairs for a drink when he did.
We paused in the hallway, his breath,
his skin, deodorant, laundry detergent.
He stepped back to look at me
and shook his head, marveling
at the strength of our restraint.
“That’s just what he’s like
with girls from out of town,”
Kristen kept saying.
Andrew was my ride
from the North Side some mornings.
It was navy blue, his minivan, someone
in the family’s discarded car. He blasted
dry, minimal Chicago hip-hop
and we made out at stoplights
but I was in love with Matt.
Matt and I lay in bed for hours
listening to The Rhythm of the Saints
and showered at his dad’s when
only his stepmom was home.
We sat on the couch. I tried, watching him
play Grand Theft Auto, to be supportive,
to comment on the game’s genius
design and look generally
interested and skinny.
Matt left the room right after he told me
he was getting back with Kim.
He came back in with a paper towel
taped to his shoulder, opened his arms
and grinned like you can laugh
even while you cry on me.
I didn’t move toward him.
Sam and Matt had been good friends,
co-captains of the soccer team. I don’t
remember why they fell out. How it started
between us was Sam kept asking me
to walk to Fifty-Seventh Street for lunch.
He never believed that stuff
I did with him I hadn’t done with Matt,
but I hadn’t, not with anyone.
He turned eighteen and I gave him
an original Pulp Fiction movie poster.
“Can’t we just ride out the summer?”
We were breaking up for college.
No, I said, having left my body
upstairs in a distant hallway.
I think we should start the process now.
“I pressured you to have sex,” he said.
“You shouldn’t have lost it to me.”
I was just as bad
as his other ex-girlfriend.
She was actually a popular hot girl,
not a might-be-hot-in-a-few-years type
guys could feel they’d plucked
from innocence, like me.
“Turns out you’re just like her,”
he said. Maybe I’d wanted that
from being his girlfriend. Maybe
she was what I’d wanted to be.
I pulled into St. Joe around two
and felt giddy. I met Tim, already
dressed for the wedding,
coming out of the elevator,
his suit sleeve just hinting
at a bicep beneath.
He stared like I didn’t know
you were going to be here.
“What’s your room number?”
308. The knock came. Kristen
didn’t tell you? It was her wedding.
“No,” he said, lifting my dress.
He called drunk from his dad’s
sometimes at 2 or 3 A.M., a number
I’d learned by heart at seventeen. I’d lie in bed
and watch the call come in. So this is what I am,
I said to myself, his girlfriend calling my room
twice the night of the wedding. I haven’t
seen him, I haven’t seen him, I said.
He said he’d spent the earlier part of the day
beating in the face of a guy who sold drugs
to his mom. He showed me his hands
but the knuckles weren’t bruised. I couldn’t tell
if the drinks had made him confuse
fantasy and reality, just like I couldn’t
in my hotel room tell whether I had confused
the same thing. Tim, I said, why
are we doing this? “Because,” he said,
“this is what we do.”
The man with the NRA hat and I
had, on the trail, a pleasant exchange.
“We’re from Indiana,” his wife said.
I’m from Chicago, I said.
“We’re from southern Indiana,” he said.
I see. As I walked away,
I thought about his hat.
What could I say about guns?
I don’t know if I should, if
I shot one. There was a ranch.
I was in school. Elementary.
We were going to shoot cans
but my leg went into the frozen
lake instead. I screamed
and we had to go home.
It was winter, summer,
hunting season. It was is that
a gun? Fireworks we watched
from Laurie’s roof, not a boat we’d taken
out on the lake. I think I’m between
a boat and a lake when I think,
Somebody owns that boat, nobody
this lake. I will be owned by the ground
I walk on, kept by the air I breathe.
An article appeared in my news feed.
Michigan City Man Airlifted to South Bend
Bleeding from Skull. Hadn’t the ranch
been there, where my leg went
through the ice? “Love you, Tim,”
the comment read. I’d felt so good
picking up and telling him
he was drunk and I wasn’t
available, or letting the call
go to voice mail, waking up,
seeing it and not calling
back. Dear everyone
I loved and never told,
I loved Tim and never told him.
I did tell him once, in my kitchen.
He’d said it first, so I was safe.
I told him I’d marry him. “You’d
marry me?” We were drinking
martinis. He was in a relationship
with someone with my name.
Yeah, I’d marry you, I said.
“But aren’t you slumming it right now?”
He grew up where my family
had a second home. His dad’s
was just down the road.
He’d come for me barefoot
in a three-wheeled golf cart,
his drink on what would have been
Do you ever think about actually
being with me? I should have said
in bed, in the basement, the shower,
on the beach at dawn. But he was
in college and I wasn’t anything
like the girlfriends he brought home.
I don’t feel that I’m slumming it
with you, no, I said. He sipped
his martini. “Damn,” he said,
“I always thought that maybe
I could have a different life.”
We walked from mine
to his dad’s. I followed him down
to where I used to sit at his feet.
He wanted to show me something,
which turned out to be a rifle
he pointed at me. Put the gun down,
Brad, I thought, reciting a line
from a scene I’d once studied.
Daniel, my scene partner,
was Brad. “I just want to get a look
at the little lady,” his line said next.
The class was amazing. We did
exercises that didn’t resemble reality
in order to make our scenes more real.
In one exercise, each partner held
the end of a rope. Delivering a line
meant manipulating the rope in some way,
pulling, yanking, wrapping, knotting,
tying oneself or someone else up.
This permitted the surfacing and physical
expression of hidden motivations,
as when the other Jess and Peter,
her scene partner, found themselves
completely wrapped up together, him
behind her, the rope so tangled you’d
sooner step out of than unwrap it,
while their characters, exes who’d run
into each other in line for the bathroom
of a restaurant they’d gone to on dates
with other people, spoke about fondue.
Another exercise had us move
freely through the fully fleshed-out
details of our set, to try to defamiliarize
things like tables and chairs, glasses
and guns, floors, even, and ceilings,
to try, in our scenes, to employ those things
in a more human way. You’d be surprised
how much work it takes to approximate
human beings onstage, even when
you are one. Most actors just pick up
a glass and drink, but God knows a glass
is for running one’s finger along
the rim of, spilling, moving from one
side of a table to the other, passing
to a friend for a sip. The glass,
in this sense, is another scene partner,
in relation to whom a whole human
drama unfolds. Actors think,
A gun, I know what this is, this
is how a person holds a gun, or
A kitchen, I know what this is,
this is how a person is in a kitchen,
but God knows the running joke had been
Cooper smoking pot while I made eyes
at Tim, me saying, Please, Cooper,
don’t do that in my kitchen and him
saying, and everyone repeating for years,
“Wait, I’m in your kitchen?”
When Daniel had the gun,
that time we moved freely, he wasn’t
pointing it at me so much as lifting me up
who was draped over its barrel. Put it down,
I insisted. “I just want to get a look,” he said.
We were divorcing. I was taking our sons
to Portland. My name was Colleen.
Tim showing me the coat of arms
newly installed on his shoulder blade.
“My sister got one, too,” he said. “It’s a family
crest. See? Here’s my Irish side, here’s
my American side.” He vaguely touched
his back as he spoke. You have to get better
at pointing them out, I said.
“Show me,” he said, guiding my hand.
“Here are the books. Here are the dogs.”
No, I said, they’re here and they’re here.
Tim hit a curb, riding
his motorcycle. Now, though
his tattoo’s intact, his brain
will never be the same.
I think this must be what love is.
You tend a little fire that is someone
in your system, and even though
the facts might point in one direction,
out, you go on tending it
because that is what you do.