The scent of her warm bed sheets and Marlboros and Opium sent the monks running to sound a gong and I didn’t care. She was the stranger. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I crashed against her in waves. By the time the monks’ warning resonated, I was already lost.
She was in almost every class with me except lunch. Chemistry. Physics. Pre-Calculus. German. Advanced Literature. She wasn’t in Pascal. Economics and Society, yes. She was… this girl. Her hair was bleached perfectly white and she pencilled in black eyebrows and wore dark crimson lipstick. She wore motorcycle boots, black leggings, a black skirt, and a motorcycle jacket with a painting of Elvis made up as Marilyn Monroe on the back. No matter what else she wore, she wore that jacket like a second skin: it was a part of her. Her name was Cindy.
“Did you paint that?” I asked her in our second week, long rows of lockers stretching beyond us, hurried students rushing past. We were both new to school, it turned out—both special cases, left to find our own patterns in the tiles as we gazed down at our shoes.
“Yeah,” she said. “I make jackets. It’s one of my things.”
“That’s awesome,” I said. “you should make one for me.”
“I don’t know…,” I said.
“Then why the fuck do you want the jacket?”
“———?” I said. “I just want a jacket… and it would be cool for you to paint something on it.”
“Well,” she said, “when you come up with a good enough idea, maybe I’ll help you make it real.”
Andy was in Advanced Lit with us, and Econ, but it turned out Todd was in almost an entirely different Washburn. We drove to school together in his Gremlin, would go out to 7-11 together for lunch, and drive home together, but otherwise we never saw him—it was like they had secret hallways for the Left-Behind. Going to a new school Senior year was going to be weird anyway, but seeing how starkly it separated a group of guys who had been hanging out for the past five summers was depressing as hell. Summer was the only context in which I knew Jake, who had graduated in Spring, and Andy and Todd: I had no awareness of them other than that we all knew most Clash lyrics and could work the carb on a bong (and even make a bong out of surgical tubing, a 2-liter of coke, tin foil, and some duct-tape in a pinch)… And now I knew them as categories. School, turns out, isn’t really a bridge to the Proximity, but more like the Supreme Proximity Access Sorting Machine.
Cindy flopped back on her bed, which surprised me with its floral print comforter and matching pillow covers in a room filled with paints and crated albums and coffee mugs and ash trays. “Pull off my boots.” I walked toward her and she lifted her left leg high in the air and I pulled off her boot, setting it down on the floor near her drawing table. Her other boot met me as I rose up and I pulled it off and dropped it down to make a pair. She pulled her knees together, then sat up: “I want you to draw your vision with me, here——.” In bed. She rolled over, leaned off the edge of her bed and then arose with a large sketch pad and a handful of charcoal sticks. “I’m not drawing your shit until you join me.”
I never saw Kiley at school because she went to Southwest, not Washburn. And now that school had started, I began missing Zen Center to take 7-to-3 shifts on Saturdays and Sundays at the 7-11. The start of the school year dropped a kind of glass wall between me and Kiley. We called each other, but so much of our relationship was beyond speech——or couldn’t, maybe shouldn’t, be talked about. And how do you say “I love you” with “Mrs. Odegaard gave us the theme “Utopia and Dystopia in 20th Century Novels’? I can’t fucking believe she included Ayn Rand’s ‘Anthem’—what a ridiculous fucking book.” How do you acknowledge the lingering distance in exchanging an ankle draped over ankle with, “Mr. Crenshaw’s handwriting looks like Sumerian. Not only didn’t the Sumerians know Calculus, they sure as heck didn’t need it to graduate with honors. Seriously, dude… English!”
And so the end of summer turned my love for Kiley into a kind of muffled echo of summer, no longer direct and in the sun, but refracted and distant and weird… It was like the boxes being drawn around me by school and work were erasing her. In late September, I skipped work and went to Zen Center.
Katagiri Roshi talked about The Three Collective Pure Precepts. Avoiding evil, practicing good, and purifying the mind were things I struggled with during zazen—and fucked six ways to Sunday the rest of the time.
Roshi’s talk made me feel a full aisle of anxiety and shame’s flavors—and not even accepting that the universe intended me to be fucked up (just as it had intended for me to be right and good), made it feel any better. On another occasion he had talked about how sometimes having no other choice is how we find our peace, and I was starting to think I had too many choices. But that was all headache and stomach-ache. I hadn’t seen Kiley in three weeks & just being in her presence brought me nearly to tears.
“Finn—I saw your mom last night!” said Kiley as we exited the center.
“Your mom was at my house!” she said. “She was with Donald Fenton. We were having a fundraiser for Mondale and I was serving canapes and I saw this woman take a salmon and dill cucumber and my mind shouted, ‘Finn!’”
“My mom was at your house?”
“You look just like her!” said Kiley. “But it’s weird that she’s dating Donald. I mean: I think he’s already had a couple of wives.”
“Well,” I said, “It’s not easy to be a single mom.”
“Have you met Donald?” asked Kiley. “I mean: he’s a great doctor or something, but… it’s like he’s had one-too-many corners sanded off.”
“If he’s with my mom,” I said, “at least some part of him is still real. She can get you real in a hurry.”
Kiley laughed, then said, “Did you know your mom smokes?”
“I’ve never known her without one.”
I think I should have been more apologetic or surprised, because Kiley gave me her Proximity Scan look, then said:
“Finn, what if you more than just look like your mom? Like, what if you become a smoker?”
“I’m a bike racer, Kiley. The only things I smoke are bongs and the guy ahead of me on the road.”
“But what if you stop being a bike racer? And start being a smoker?”
What was my face before my parents were born? Smoke…
“Not gonna happen.”
“I know. It’s just…” She stopped thinking and smiled and leaned forward to kiss me, “I miss you, Finn.”
“Can I come over?” I asked.
She paused, “Better not,” she said. “I have a ton of homework.”
“So do I,” I said, “I could bring it over.”
“But then you know neither of us would get it done. Remember: I need to make you Anchor Man when you’re a Chi Sig!”
Her hands flowed effortlessly over the page, and the way she pursed her lips to blow charcoal dust, the blood red of her lipstick, didn’t turn me on half as much as the fact that she gave off energy without feeling nervous about it; without, it seemed, caring that the energy existed. So when she reached with one ankle to pull one of my legs between hers, closed her sketchbook, and leaned backward, her belly-button a pale-pink rose on a bed of skin almost more white than her t-shirt, it just seemed natural to roll over, to genuflect to her grace, and to start kissing her where she began.
We traded NME’s and SPIN and mix-tapes and were, in our classes, neither the very smartest nor the most disinterested, but instead each, as a pair, the most-disinterested among the very-smartest. In “Economy and Society,” Mr. Olsen asked whether or not anyone could share key differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties in the upcoming election between Vice President Mondale and Governor Reagan:
“None,” Cindy said, “only a unified misery that disguises itself as spectacle. As Debord said, ‘behind the masks of choice are just differing forms of alienation confronting each other with their respective contradictions.’ Reagan is going to trash Mondale because he is aware of the spectacle and can use it for real repression. Mondale thinks there’s still some form of necessity by which we can all be happy, unified. But he is uncaptured by capital—and so will never move beyond the desolation and fear at the still heart of misery, with his grimaced smile its avatar.’”
Mr. Olsen, mind blown, could only say, “Well, Ms. Andrews, if you need——I mean, you can always visit the counselor if you have a specific grievance.”
“Oh,” she said, “I’m totally cool: I know this is all bullshit and that you have no idea what you’re talking about. But… I do like to listen to you try.”
“I’ll see,” said Mr. Olsen, with the resigned body language of someone who had been at this kind of theater at least one year too long, “if I can raise my game to the same level of mastery as you seem to maintain your disaffection.”
After class I cut her off in the hallway and said, “That was totally fucking rad!”
“It was just some fucking plagiarism of Debord,” she said, “Have you read him?”
“Wow… No. No idea, just: whatever—that was fucking wicked,” I said, “And anyway: I have a jacket design for you.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “I have a kind of theory of my own: that school isn’t really for moving us ahead, but for keeping people out of the Proximity.”
“What the fuck is ‘the Proximity’?”
“It’s the place where the American Dream still hides, always just at the edge of what’s reachable if you’re not already there.”
She stopped walking, pulled my arm, and said, “Finn… Fuck the American Dream. It’s not hiding, it’s a spectacle created for the specific purpose of keeping you lost.”
“Life is depressing. So what’s on the jacket?” she asked.
“It’s James Dean, with an electro-shock helmet on his head, and the acronym ‘S.P.A.S.M.’ at the bottom.”
“What’s it stand for?”
“School, pretty much—or ‘Supreme Proximity Access Sorting Machine.’”
“Finn?” Cindy asked, “You are… “ She paused, taking in the idea of the Proximity. “Interesting. Can you come meet me at my house, after school?”
“Now that I have a vision for the jacket?”
“Now,” she said, “that you have something to share with me.”
I kissed her lips, and then her sternum, and then her collar-bone, and then leaned forward to kiss her earlobe. “I shouldn’t have…” “Why not?” “I… have a girlfriend.” “Are you her property?” No…” “Then I am not a thief.” “No… It’s just—.” “Right: sometimes it’s—just.”
Goho’s “Shut Your Face”
Challenging Goho, Hyakujo asked, “Shut your face—now how will you speak?” Goho replied, “Shut your own face.” Hyakujo leaned back, “In eternities that lay beyond us, I will hide my eyes from the sun, looking for you.”
# # #
This is the thirteenth section of Zen Arcade, a novel by Joel Turnipseed. We will be publishing a new section every other Sunday until Summer 2015. Read them here or get an email notification when the new section is available.