HEROINES OF ANTIQUITY
That Halloween when we were eighteen we went downtown. You: A shimmery Cleopatra. Me: a Joan of Arc costume for eight-year-olds we found at Walmart. We rode the crowded outdoor escalator up to The Balcony Club, but at the top you shoved me towards the downward escalator and told me to run. I didn’t understand until I looked over your shoulder and saw that you were being pursued by a much older man with a bullet hole painted on his forehead.
He swung himself over the escalator railing and stomped his heavy steel-toed biker boots down toward us. We squeezed between confused bystanders and ran for several busy blocks. He was angry that we ran. He shouted, keeping pace from across the street, his trench coat and long reddish-brown hair billowing around him like a comic book villain.
We were armed with, what, my two-foot plastic sword and our own banshee screams? We doubled back to, what, Capitol Boulevard? And sprinted home nearly a mile, across the river, stumbling to Towers Hall, frantic and fumbling for our keys.
We never spoke of it afterwards, never laughed about it later, never told each other we were being melodramatic. We ran, and we were safe and sound, two damsels locked away in a tower on the top floor. But then you never stopped running, or biking, or strength training. You were determined to survive.
Right away I tucked the memory back like a baby tooth in a tiny drawer I had no reason to revisit, but it seemed like you stored it for fuel. Over time, my memory will warp that bullet hole painted on his forehead into a mortal wound you inflicted with a stone and slingshot.
We are twenty-five now. You visit me in Santa Cruz. It’s early spring, cold and wet. You work in a fancy Boise high-rise and I am so impressed, I can’t even tell you. I’m happy at my marketing job, rising before dawn to sit at a desk that feels more like home than my own house.
You recognize something immediately. “You used to be so fun. You used to have fun,” you say, and I know what you mean. We used to go to dance clubs well after midnight.
We used to be silly just to make ourselves laugh. We couldn’t have pets, so we created one out of a fluffed-up tampon. When people came over we showed them the shoebox with holes poked in the lid and asked if they wanted to meet our pet mouse. GAWD, we were weird. We were spontaneous — taking off for Portland for the weekend with my sister’s boyfriend, crashing at his folks’ house, going clubbing, and sleeping until one. Then coming home to absolute chaos because our roommates had to field angry calls from our parents. Oh, well, we had fun, didn’t we?
Now I sit at the Borders cafe every weekend, reading, marking the page number where I left off because I can’t afford to buy brand new books. I’ll come back next weekend to finish the book. GAWD, how pathetic. That’s all I do now. I read heartbreaking novels at Borders and it is the highlight of my week. I only laugh with coworkers, or while watching The Office streamed on a tiny desktop monitor at home, wishing I felt for my husband the way Pam feels about Jim.
You took one look at my life and asked what the hell I was doing with it.
When I take you for a drive around Santa Cruz — a picnic at Panther Beach, an afternoon getaway — the much older man I married is jealous and angry. He thinks you are a bad influence because I am laughing again — this gut level laughter that scares him for some reason. The drive is dull and rainy, and it is the most fun I’ve had in a year or two or three. After you fly home, I decide to look for people who like to be silly just to make themselves laugh. I will find them.
A year and a half from now I will leave him, but I will keep it a secret for four months. When I visit you in Boise on a solo road trip, I’ll casually mention that I separated from him as we drift on a tiny raft down the Boise River, past our old dorm building, but I won’t tell you why. You’ll admit something equally deep and painful to me that I never knew before and then we’ll float quietly past Towers Hall. I’ll shiver, soaked from having just rocketed backwards off the raft, laughing, when the swift current takes us under a low-hanging branch by the bank. The tumbling cold water will shock me because I won’t think anything can shock me anymore, but I’ll be more than wrong about that.
Our dorm will look pretty much the same as it did eight years earlier, looming like a seven-story touchstone at golden hour, reminding us who we once were and who we once hoped to become.
We won’t know right then that he will be busy back home, hacking into my email and dismantling my life person-by-person, dollar-by-dollar, the way he did when I first met him — building a roster of people who will never want to speak to me again, starting with: 1. my long-time mechanic. 2. A church matriarch I exchanged emails with a couple times. But in that moment, it will be just the two of us on a high-speed float, outrunning a threatening figure again.
I will wish to borrow whatever survivor stone you pocketed that distant Halloween night and swallow it, thinking it could save me from the swamp that is trying to claim me. But we’ll both learn exactly what our bodies and spirits are capable of, undisguised. We’ll vanquish enemies, regain glory, go wild, settle down, claim victory, and leave a worthy legacy, laughing all the way
Jody Rae’s creative nonfiction essays appear in The Avalon Literary Review, The Good Life Review, From Whispers to Roars, and Red Fez. Her short story, “Beautiful Mother” was a finalist in the Phoebe Journal 2021 Spring Fiction Contest. She was the first prize winner of the 2019 Winning Writers Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest for her poem, "Failure to Triangulate". www.criminysakesalive.com.