Nobody Like You: Six Stories
Nobody Like You
My cousin Blake used to live here, in Lynchburg, but he mustve moved or reenlisted in the Navy because when I went to Blakes apartment this huge Japanese guy answered the door.
Im Doug, I said, and then I felt like the worlds biggest asshole for using my real name. Im looking for my cousin Blake.
The Japanese guy said, Nobody lives here, just me.
I think I made him nervous. I could see a few cats behind him, on the couch. They looked nervous, too.
So I walked around all nightI didn’t know what else to do. The next night, I went to the mall. It looked like every other mall so I felt more or less at home. Inside, I got warmed up and ate a steak sandwich. These girls kept looking at me, laughing. One of them, the queen, scooted her chair closer to me.
Excuse me, she said, while her friends giggled into their hands. I was wondering, have you ever, in your whole life, washed your hair?
I didnt say anything. I knew I was dirty. I was shoveling food into my mouth like a raccoon or a vulture. These girls, they were nibbling on chicken fingers and French fries. Even the ugly one had shiny hair and perfect teeth. All my life, Ive seen girls like these girls, but Ive never talked to them. They were just here to shop and drive the boner boys crazy, and then theyd go home. Theyd sleep in a nice bed and never feel like me or remember me.
In the food court, I looked at all the couples and the girls Id never know and it was like they were scenery, nobody like you. I thought about my brother, Sam, and my mother. I thought about that guy I killed: Henry Dobbins. I thought about that exact moment when he turned his head and noticed, for the first and last time, my car about to crash into him. I wondered what he thought about in that last second, what he might have said. His girl was beside him. Maybe he said her name out loud and maybe she said, Baby, Im right here. That wouldnt be such a bad way to go, if you think about it all the time, like I do.
Please a Woman
I got a ride from a baldheaded truck driver named Gil all the way to Bedford, a small churchy town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Gil was a talker. In thirty minutes he filled me in on the various ways his children had disappointed him, and how to please a woman orally.
You just gotta get in there and love what you’re doing, he told me. He gripped his big hands around the steering wheel like someone trying to crack open walnuts.
Scrounge around a little bit,” he said. Believe me, the ladies will let you know when you hit the spot.
Gil dropped me off by the side of the road, and I walked down the street in the sun. I took a deep whiff of myself. I felt diseased.
Where Im Going
I bought a room for twenty-eight dollars at a slummy roadside motel. My room was dark and tiny and reeked of piss, smoke, and Lysol, but I didnt care.
It wasnt so bad. I took a long, mostly cold shower and when the TV wouldn’t work, I crossed the street and bought a steak and cheese sandwich for breakfast at a restaurant called Amys Drop Inn. I wanted some weed or some speed, and I shouldve asked Gil but he was already in another town by now. I didnt know anyone in this town, and even the dishwashers in Amys kitchen looked clean and God-stirred.
I ate slowly and watched the senior citizens of Bedford. They gummed buttery grits and runny scrambled eggs and yakked about football and bitched, relentlessly, about the coffee.
Too strong, somebody said. Makes my heart thumpyou hear that? Good Lord, they are trying to kill us all!
Outside, in the parking lot, a couple embraced beside a pickup truck. They werent old, but they sure werent young. The woman had long hair. She wore a parka that reached her kneecaps, and her hands were in the guys hair, which was ashy-white but full. He was a fat guy in overalls, and her hands were cupping his substantial ass and he had this shit-eating smile on his face. He was either drunk or crazy or lucky, holding a woman that he liked in the parking lot under the watchful eyes of Baptists sliding heels of toast through bumps of yolk and cheese grits.
I thought about calling home, but I didnt. Instead, I wrote a postcard to my mother and Sam. On the front of the card was a river with snow falling on it. There was snow all over the ground and even in the trees, and it made me wish that Id grown up in a place where I could walk to a frozen pond with my hockey skates. I wrote: Hey Mom. Im alive and Im sorry and Im moving again. Ill call when I get there but I dont know where Im going yet. I signed it, D, but then I changed my mind and crossed out my name completely.
Sams mother, Betsy, filled a saucer of milk for Fluff, their cat. On the kitchen floor, Betsy pretzeled herself into a yoga position with the soles of her feet facing the water-veined roof in our kitchen.
Do you love your brother? she asked Sam.
I have to, he said.
Sam kept looking at Betsys feetthey were long and thin and freckledand her face was blotchy and strained.
Isnt that uncomfortable? he asked her.
You have no idea, she said, almost laughing.
Sam knew it would be bad, but, really, it was so much worse than hed expected. Like, last winter, this kid named Barney Goudie killed himself. Barney had no friends, severe acne, and he never looked at people when he talked, but it didnt matter much because by the ninth grade hed stopped talking altogether, and in the tenth grade he started to flunk all his classes even Beginning Art and, seriously, a lump of clay could pass Beginning Art. So dumb Barney, he dropped out of school and nobody missed him until the night he shot himself in the bed of his fathers pickup truck. In that moment, he went from this totally boring loser to a temporarily interesting loser. Doug even went to his funeral, and he told Sam all about the sophomore girls clinging to each other and crying.
It wasnt such a tragedysocially, it was the best move Barney ever made. For a few days, everyone tried to conjure up memories of Barney, but the best anyone could do were things like: He sure did like that yellow striped shirt. Or: He ate paste in elementary schoollike, a whole bottle of it. Or: My mother said his father molested his sister. Or: He had a weird smell, like three-day-old hot dog water.
In the cafeteria, on the first day of school, Sam ate half his sandwich and put his head down on the desk. He never thought hed be one of those guys, like Barney, that eats alone in the cafeteria. He was already sick of everything, and it hadnt even started yet.
Sometimes my friends ask me about that night, even though I tell them to stop. In therapy, were all supposed to talk about whats inside us, but I dont want to anymore. People want to know what happened. They want to know if Im OK. I understand thatbut I dont want to talk.
I dont tell them about the hospital that night, sitting in that chair beside Henry, waiting for him to die. I dont talk about that with anyone.
But I do remember how it felt, that night. At first, right after the collision, everything was quiet. Doug Figgens had already driven away, and Henry was slumped over the steering wheel, and there was so much blood. I got out of the car, and started screaming. I didnt notice, at first, this small crowd that had already gathered. Older people mostly, in summer robes and pajamas. A woman I never met tried to hug me, and I let her, but only for a few seconds. Someone told me an ambulance was on the way. Someone else told me not to touch Henry. The woman who hugged me had enormous hands and a big mole right over the corner of her mouth. She kept staring at me with enormous concern, but her hands felt like Styrofoam and I had to turn away. She disgusted me.
I walked away from all of them and sat on the curb on the other side of the street. A siren caterwauled and soon the police arrived. They asked me a few questions, and I told them the truth. I told them it was Doug Figgens, and I told them I was sure.
I rode in the ambulance. I never talk about that, either. It was so bright in there, and so frantictwo people trying so hard to save Henrys life. I was almost afraid to touch Henry. I hate to think about that now, but I was scared.
And then he died. I went outside to smoke a cigarette. There was a garden behind the hospital filled with white roses and ornate birdbaths. I walked along a path that zigzagged between the flowers. I walked until I reached the parking garage, and then I took the elevator to the top floor. I wanted to be closer to the sky. In case theres a heaven, I wanted to tell someone that Henry was a good person, because he was, most of the time.
Henry and I used to come here, when we were first going out. Wed park on the top level of this parking lot and make out under the stars in his ridiculous convertible. Im sure a part of me wanted to remember those nights, but it was ugly and scary up there without Henry.
After the funeral and everything, I stayed in bed for three months. I wanted to stay in bed forever, but I knew how much it hurt my family, and in some weird way that I still dont understand, I felt like I was hurting Henry, too. But I couldnt move.
I went outside because I needed to be away from people. Heres one thing I thought about: Those flowerbeds behind the hospital are beautiful for a reason. You walk past them, and maybe you barely notice how much care and patience went into each perfectly manicured row. Thats how it is sometimes when its late at night and youre hurting. Maybe you want to sink into those flowers forever, but you keep on moving, and maybe you even look up at the sky, because this is it, for now. Youre stuck. Theres nothing else. Its just the moon on the flowers and the rest of your life.