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He hid it well in high school. I thought he was just remarkably messy and not too ambitious. I found out years later when he called me.
Nothing was clear back then, those years with Zeke. The Georgia humidity made everything murky. Kudzu vines hung like green veils over trees and bushes and telephone poles, making it hard to tell what they were. Everyone had secrets, even the preachers. Especially the preachers. But still, I should have known.
Zeke was one year ahead of me and had this invisible older sister I never met, even though I crept through her hallway almost every night while she was in her bedroom. She had to hear me—it was a double-wide with creaky floors. Zeke lived with her. He had a mother, but I don’t know where she was.
I had to sneak out of my parents’ house after they’d gone to sleep. It wasn’t easy. My mother had cloistered me away at sixteen in our suburban split-level, threatening me with unspeakable consequences if I so much as tried to go for a walk.
But I was good—slinking through the house in the dark like a thief. I guess I was a thief, rolling my dad’s car down the slope of the driveway, starting it when I got it to the street. I drove the two miles to Zeke’s and spent the darkest part of the nights with him in an alternate universe.
When we were closed in his room, he gave me bong hits. Whatever he had in that bong made me feel like I didn’t want to kill myself after all.
Zeke called me when I’d been in Montana for ten years. I was living with a jealous man at the time, and I said no, I would not come see him. Later I heard he managed to get a job, a wife, two kids, and reclaim his life.
Irene called last night from Georgia and said, “Rita, Zeke died.”
“What?” I heard her, but the ground had vanished.
“Yesterday.” Irene was my only friend from back then.
“How?” My brain lurched like it was trying to break out.
“You know how, honey.”
“But he’d stopped,” I said. “He was done with it.”
“You’re never done with it,” she said.
I gasped for air. I threw the back door open and it slammed on the metal siding.
It was a single-wide, with no steps in the back and a five-foot drop. I was finally living alone, finally in a place where I could be.
The sky was lit with crimson clouds, the sun behind the mountains. My lungs filled with air. The silhouette of the peaks was so sharp it was heartbreaking.
click below for more Rita stories:• Don't Ask Me No Questions and I Won't Tell You No Lies
published 22 June 2011