I Need You

When I was 20 I got a job at the Red Cross in Florida, 1,300 miles away from anyone I’d ever known. I met an ex-marine named Jake there and we started dating. We were like two strong magnets, forever being pulled to each other in whatever we did, and it made me happy that I didn’t get sick of being around him. We worked together, hung out at night, slept in the same bed, woke up, and repeated the process over and over. We always wanted to be around each other, and I think about it now with fondness.

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He thought I was goofy, and listened to my ramblings of the difficulty of being a religious person whilst also being immersed in the punk scene there. He was not religious nor into punk, but he was suddenly immersed in it (as well as involuntarily becoming a vegetarian, since we usually made food together). We were such opposites, which made it all the more surprising that a buff military dude who drove a Mercedes would be so enamored with a smelly punk girl with blue hair who rode her bike everywhere. I was surprised to feel such a connection with him, when typically i’d avoid someone like him back in Michigan.

After the year of working at the Red Cross was up, not knowing where our futures would end up, Jake drove me to the airport and we shared our last embrace in the departures line. I remember crying and feeling so torn apart.

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It was easy to fall into our old routines once we got back to our own states (he lived in Connecticut) because neither of us ever existed in each other’s hometown. We went back to hanging out with our old friends who had only heard mention of this other person in conversation when asked friendly questions about our time in Florida. It was heartbreaking to feel Jake’s absence but knew that he could never exist in the Michigan I knew. I know someone like him wouldn’t fit in my punk world, and I couldn’t mix with his college buddies in Connecticut.

After a year, I was dating someone who had the opportunity to drive an Italian punk band around the US on tour (foreign bands toured the country and play shows but always preferred to have someone from that country drive them around). He asked me if I wanted to accompany him on the New England leg of tour and I jumped at the opportunity.

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The tour was a lot of fun and I got along well with all the Italian guys, cramped into an Old Econoline Van, hitting the road every morning to get to the next city.

We decided to leave right after the show in Boston to get to New York City to sleep at a friend’s house so we had more time to hang out in the city the next day. As we were driving through the night, my boyfriend told me we were very low on gas. It was 3 am. We were in a part of Connecticut where we didn’t know how long it’d be until we got to a gas station. He was worried that we’d run out of gas before that. I pressed my forehead against the window and stared at the black trees speeding past the van.

“If it comes to that, I know someone who will help us.”

 

It’d taken me some time to get over Jake. It was surprisingly easy to pretend it never happened because it only existed in Florida, but he always crept back into my mind in those moments right before sleep took over.

We past a sign announcing the single digit number of miles until we’d get to Jake’s hometown, as if the state of Connecticut was trying to bring us back together. I breathed slowly in and out, glancing to the back of the van where the Italian guys slept. I wanted to sleep too.

I didn’t know how i’d explain any of this to Jake, after i’d call him. I wanted to believe that he’d laugh and understand completely. “Of course Karen and six strange Italian men and her new boyfriend would call me at 3 am from the side of the road after not seeing me for a year,” I imagined him thinking. “Oh that Karen!”

Instead I knew if he woke up from the phone ring, he’d need a few minutes to process who he was talking to, and then a couple more to understand what was happening. And then one more minute to understand that I needed him to buy gasoline and bring it to me. Part of me wanted this to happen. Of course I wanted to see him again. I would make out with him in front of my boyfriend standing next to me if I knew Jake wanted to kiss me.

We passed the exit sign for Jake’s town, and shortly after, my boyfriend saw signs for a gas station. “We’re gonna be alright, I think,” he said.

Jake was tucked under his blankets, asleep in his bed, breathing lightly in the quiet dark of his room as the camera panned out on a brown van driving towards the distance glow of a 7-11, him none the wiser, but me a little melancholic.

 

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How Strange It Is To Be Anything At All

               Superfan’s are the best fans of bands. They go to every show, they make ugly homemade shirts with the band’s logo out of pink and black puff paint. They stand in front and scream all the lyrics and judge everyone at shows as if we didn’t know they were mere tourists. Honestly, a lot of superfan’s are annoying. Jordan, the superfan for a thrash metal band cleared the floor every time they played because of his abrasive karate kicks in the circle pit. He never bothered to go to shows his friends weren’t playing, never talked to anyone else, and seemed like a casual jerk. 

            One band’s superfan was the singer’s mom. Joey Ramone was the mom we all wanted. Everyone called her that because she had bushy, brittle brown hair going just past her shoulders, just like Joey Ramone.  Nobody could figure her out but we all loved her. She ran up on stage and screamed into the mic her son held out to her. Sometimes they’d play “Blitzkreig Bop” or “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement” and everyone would cheer and chant her name as she made her way to the stage to co-sing. Of course she knew the words.

             Jim was the superfan for another band I saw often, but what’s different about him was that he came to shows his friends didn’t play. He’d fallen in love with punk just like the rest of us and had to surround himself with like-minded fools. He was also the brother of my close friend Lori and a year younger than me, but I still looked up to him. He was always kind to me, which was appreciated because people often saw me as a jokester, and he always knew when I was being serious. Being kind also went against what I thought punk was about. From watching movies like “Suburbia” and reading books like “Please Kill Me,” I thought punks were crude and cruel before I actually became one.

               Jim was very traditional when it came to his looks. He had spiky hair, a big lock and chain around his neck (channeling his inner Sid Vicious), a bullet belt around his waist, heavy black boots and a torn band shirt. Nothing could hide that he was from a nice family, especially if you knew his sister, who was more reserved but just as anarchistic. He was too kind to everyone and had a bit of a baby face to be mean.

               I’d see him outside shows sometimes, once at a protest for a visit from the president to our town. “Lets practice civil disobedience, Karen,” he’d say. “Lets jump over that metal fence they just put up to keep us out.” He was always doing what I wanted to do (but never did), and since I hadn’t quite found my space and voice as a female yet, I envied his boldness to do whatever crazy thing he wanted. He’d always be the first to defend his friends if they got in a fight with an outsider, and I was glad to have him on my side.

As time went on and people left the punk scene and new people came around, I’d still see him at parties or shows and even if we didn’t talk, we’d give each other a knowing glance from across the room that read “you still here? yeah, me too.”

Last year.
Last year.

I lived with his sister eight years ago in a house she’d bought with her husband and Jim would come around and visit sometimes. He’d gotten into drugs years before, and was struggling with it. I never wanted to hold it against him or treat him differently because a lot of my friends were into heavy drugs, even if I thought it was a terrible addiction. He stayed true to his ethos and became friends with people who weren’t the best and that unfortunately affected him.

              I moved to another city and hadn’t heard from him until I found out that he’d killed himself recently. There are many things i’ve been grappling with since hearing about his death, feeling sorry and sad and mad and confused. Things I can’t put into words here. I hate how death always brings people together, and after seeing all my old friends, I hate that Jim has ushered in a new era. The era in which its no longer just our older relatives dying from cancer and old age, but our friends are cutting the cord also.

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My last interaction with him was when he was describing a new band he’d gotten into, a very non-punk band called Neutral Milk Hotel. We were in the kitchen and played the record for him and he sang  at me for the whole first side of the record, as if i’d never heard it the same way he heard it and he just wanted to make sure I understood its power. I got it, but knowing how powerful the music was, tried to play it cool.

It would have been perfect to play that first side of the record at his funeral but tragedies are never perfect I suppose.

 

Raking Sand

Last summer on a whim I rode my bike to the North Avenue Beach at eight in the morning. I put on my bathing suit and fitted a helmet over my matted bed hair. Getting there wasn’t hard–it was a straight shot down one street from where I lived. After locking up my bike, I discovered that someone had raked the sand, making the beach look clean and welcoming. Elton John’s “Honky Cat,” followed by “Hotel California” was playing on the loudspeakers as the beach employees set up their stands for the day. I went out into the water for once not worrying that my towel would get stolen and swam for a bit, just enjoying being the only person at the beach. An occasional jogger would run past, not looking at the great scenery on both sides, too focused on bringing the pain. I moved deep enough for the water to come to my neck. I turned around and looked at the Chicago skyline. It was right there. It was so beautiful and I was surprised to tear up at the sight and how it brought the moment together. I was unbelievably thankful to be there. After a few more minutes I got out and rinsed off and rode my bike back home, ready to start my day.

Sexy Adventures in Amsterdam

I decided 2018 was my ‘year of yes.’ Shonda Rhimes said that saying “yes” to everything for a year of her life changed her completely, and I decided to do the same. I was going to say yes to everything, no matter how painful or boring it may sound. I had been planning a trip to Amsterdam for a few months already and as the trip arrived in January, I was very excited to get out of the country.

I went alone because everyone annoys me on trips, but also because I love afternoon naps and taking my time. Going in winter was a great idea, too. The dramatic lighting from the Christmas lights in leafless trees along the canals made everything seem very romantic. I made sure to keep no schedule during my trip so that it would be easier to say “yes” to anything that popped up along the way.

Outside a museum, a small pop-up shop unpacked like a messy suitcase, its tote bags and van Gogh prints hanging from posts and t-shirts hung from the makeshift ceiling inside. It was bursting with touristy crap, with just enough space for a cash register inside.

This is where Micah was, counting the magnets. I walked in and as I glanced at him, he said “i’m doing inventory today,” in broken English as if apologizing for allowing it to happen to himself. The next night as he moved his hands up my legs on his couch he will tell me he pegged me immediately as an American, but never revealed to me how.

We started chatting about ourselves, and finding things in common, decided that this American and Amsterdamer were going to sit down and talk about life in our respective countries that evening together.

I came back later and found the shop closed and packaged into a neat little box the size of a phone booth. He was leaning against his work van, waiting for me. “You have two options,” he said. “I care very much about animals and their safety, and on my way here this morning, there was a duck on the side of the road. I want to rescue it and bring it back to a small body of water nearby. We could go rescue it, assuming it’s still there, and then get coffee.” He paused for dramatic effect. “…Or if that’s too weird, we could just forget it and get coffee somewhere.”

I feigned my indifference, but really I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d already felt like I was on a wild adventure outside my comfort zone: It was my first day alone in a foreign country, meeting up with a guy i’d met three hours prior. I couldn’t’ve asked for better stories like this to bring home, so of course I couldn’t say no. Shonda Rhimes prohibited it. I told him yes.

We drove to a busy neighborhood where the regular, non-rich Amsterdamers lived. Whereas bicyclers clogged the streets near the canals and museums, here there was an even ratio of cars and bicycles. Micah kept his eyes to the surroundings as we drove, searching for the duck. I watched as we passed small parks with children and parents, architecturally pleasing apartment buildings, and Dutch versions of restaurants and corner stores back home in the states.

“I just saw it,” he said, quickly looking in the rear view mirror. “I’m going to pull over up here.”

We parked the van and made our way to the median in the road. “Is this duck dead?” I asked, figuring it was so. We’re definitely looking for a flattened duck carcass.

Micah didn’t answer, but what i’ve edited out here is his continuous ramblings about his views on life. He was either an existentialist, or someone who had a very dark past and was now trying to mend it by only doing good, positive things in the world. He knew that in order to be a light in the world, you must do good things. You must always be kind. You must always think positive thoughts, rescue animals from the highway, and give your date two options when the first one might be a little crazy.

We walked on the median for  a few minutes, the cars rushing past us on both sides before Micah perked up. “There it is.” He quickened his step forward and stopped abruptly.

I stood on my tippy toes to look past him as he bent down. It was dark by this time, but I could see Micah pick something up with his thumb and pointer finger, holding it up to see in the street light. I thought it was gross to pick up the dead duck with his fingers, until I saw it. It was the top part of a mop. To clean your kitchen. He held onto its white cotton strands, stained by the dirt from cars. If what he said about thinking positive was true, I could feel something else emanate from him. I tried not to laugh. He took the mop and out of frustration, flung it into the grass. I thought this was rude, considering he cared so much about animals. Does littering not factor into these beliefs?

*reenactment.*

I consoled him and he tried not to show his embarrassment. We walked back to the van without saying anything and we decided to carry on with the date, post duck. We drove to a pool hall where we played a few games. It felt cool to hang with the locals, although i’m sure they could tell also that I wasn’t from around those parts. As the night went on, he eventually forgot about the duck and we ended up having a good time. Later on as we walked to his car from the pool hall, he grabbed me as I stood in the bike lane and kissed me as bicyclists whooshed past us, some of them ringing their bell in anger. One bicyclist yelled out to us “Are you crazy?!” and as I unlocked my lips from Micah’s I yelled out “YES!”

 

 

Revisiting a Murder

There was a span of time where the library had some really great speaking events. Authors would come and talk about their book and whatnot, but the really juicy events, the ones that I was interested in, were when experts on a niche subject came to do presentations about subjects like aliens being spotted over Lake Michigan, weird history, or how to listen to music properly.

The best presentation, by far, was this ex-cop who spoke about an unsolved murder that occurred in 1970 in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where I was living at the time).

Seventeen days prior.

The story goes that a couple was living in a house on College Avenue. They had gotten married seventeen days prior. The young wife was home alone when (police suspect) a person knocked on the door and, after she let them in, stabbed her thirty-two times. Once in the chest, once in the back, and THIRTY TIMES IN THE NECK. She was almost beheaded from all the stab wounds. The guy had photos and a blueprint of the house to go along with his presentation. He showed us gruesome photos of the crime scene, the woman’s dead body covered in red, doubled over. People in the audience gasped at the photo. Her face was hidden by her hair, saturated with blood. She was found on the floor in the kitchen, right outside the door that went to the bedroom. He displayed an outline of where the body had been found in the house.

There is no suspects in her death, and many believe it was a random person who killed her and ran off.

During the presentation I realized the house in which the murder took place was down the road from where I lived. After the presentation my friend and I walked a little further down the road to check out the house where the this atrocity happened.

The house where it happened.

We stood in front of the house, having walked past it a million times before, but now looking at it differently. In the front yard was a FOR RENT sign, and I wondered which apartment (there were two–the one where the murder took place was on the first floor) was available.

When I got home, I called the number. A man answered, and I told him I was interested in renting the apartment. He seemed cheery, and told me that it was indeed the first floor apartment and that he’d be happy to show me the apartment in the next couple of days. I told him i’d look at my schedule, not actually thinking about intentionally renting or going inside a creepy murder house. The thrill of talking to the landlord and finding out which apartment it happened in was exciting enough for me.

The next day I had to run an errand that took me past the murder house again. Knowing the first floor was empty, I walked up to the windows and tried to peek inside. I couldn’t see much and after a minute or two I heard a young girl speak, startling me, asking if I was interested in the apartment. She lived on the second floor and was returning home from somewhere.

“The apartment is open–I can let you though the front door and you can go right inside,” she said. “My landlord doesn’t mind.”

I thanked her and followed her into the house, not sure if I should be scared or excited to have such an opportunity. Through the front door was a small area with a staircase that went upstairs, and a door in front of me that went to the apartment in question. I thanked her as she went upstairs, and I wondered how I went from listening to a guy talk about the murder in a library auditorium to standing in the very doorway this woman’s murderer past through to kill her.

Now alone, I turned the knob and opened the door.

I thought for sure the apartment would look somewhat modern, stripped completely of its past. You’d expect an old-ish house to have a complete overhaul, giving it a more sanitary look. What I found was a time warp to a completely different era. Absolutely nothing had changed. I might as well have been there the day after she was murdered.

I stepped into the kitchen, hesitantly. The walls were a dingy, dark yellow. Looking to my left was the living room, its dark brown carpet with outdated sheer window blinds. There wasn’t a piece of furniture anywhere, which made sense, but also meant no one’s lived here for a bit. Immediately my eyes were drawn to the spot in the kitchen where the door to the bedroom was. I looked down. The kitchen floor was covered in vinyl flooring, in typical 1970’s decor. I walked over to the spot Shelly Speet Mills’s body was found. There was no evidence of blood anywhere, but it was hard to decipher between what stains had come from her murder and what had come from forty years of use.

I felt sick knowing all that I knew about this spot. The history of sadness in this place after the horrific act occurred. Her mother finding her. The moments alone with her before anyone showed up to help. Her husband coming home to find countless police officers milling about the apartment looking for clues while the woman he married two weeks prior lay dead on the floor.

I hopped over the spot I knew she’d died and walked into the bedroom. The floor was sticky, and there were rat traps along the wall. Crumbs of dirt littered the floor. One sad window filtered sun through a dirty sheet. It was as if my imagination of the murder had replicated itself in reality, and I was forever going to be trapped there. At any moment I was going to turn around and she would be standing there, bloody, her arms reaching out to me, as if pleading to bring justice to her murderer. I felt aware of myself there, then. It was quiet, I couldn’t hear the roar of cars driving past the house despite it residing on a busy street. I exited the bedroom, hopping once again over the spot, and half-skipped/half ran to the door. I whisped myself out the exit, to get outside before I was trapped forever in that house.