I WILL BE SHOWN A PHOTO
Where I go to school, there is a screensaver on the computers that has a slideshow of pictures taken on campus. There are pictures of graduates in caps and gowns, people studying on the grass, the athletic teams, the new library, etc. Everything in the pictures looks bright, pleasant, inviting. I am in one of the pictures. My sister pointed it out to me.
I think the picture was taken three years ago around Mardi Gras. In the picture my friend Dan and I are standing under a tree. We hadn't seen each other yet that semester, so we are talking, enjoying each other's company. I am wearing beads. Beads, you see, are bright, pleasant, inviting. To me, this picture is creepy. It's a reminder of the only day in my four years at this college that I have worn beads. And I didn't even wear them the whole day, I had just gotten them, and I left them hanging on the desk in the class I was walking to.
I wonder what visitors must think about that picture. Do they think it must be common on our campus to see friends standing in a circle, chatting, only one of them wearing beads? Do people on campus meet me and wonder what happened to my beads?
Today I saw my sister on campus. We met each other walking on the sidewalk in front of the university's administrative building. We watched a man directing a semi that had delivered some packages to the bookstore. He directed it so that the double tires on the rear of the trailer backed over a sign that said "Authorized Vehicles Only."
The driver got out of the cab and tried to put the sign back upright. He was halfway successful -- the sign leaned forward limply as if a hurricane had passed through, affecting only that one object.
He got back in the cab with the guy that was directing him and they drove away.
Sometime in the future, I will be shown a photo of me and my sister at the exact moment the truck made contact with the sign. A photo that will not be put on the school's screensaver, rejected because it is not sufficiently bright, pleasant, or inviting.
It's hard to believe that he kept pictures of me passed out drunk and naked and that as many people as he showed them to, I never found out until after he died.
That he laughed so hard I thought he was crying when he read the story I wrote about him for my freshman orientation class: "My biggest challenge in adapting to college life has been my roommate, who has an odd fascination with growing his facial hair to resemble Tex Watson or various other members of the Manson Family. He killed our houseplants on purpose. He makes me look at his genitals."
That even after he laughed that hard he said, "It's funny, but it doesn't really have any depth." Which was what he said about everything I wrote.
That when he screamed "Oh shit, come in here and look at this!" I always looked, and it was always his dick, or photographs of his girlfriend naked so that later when we were eating at Taco Bell he could say, "So Samantha, I caught Mickey looking at those pictures we took of you."
That still today, when people call for me to look at something, I expect that it will be somebody naked, or that I will be shown a photo of a dead raccoon, legs crushed behind him on the highway.
It was the raccoon that he showed me that day in his bedroom, the last day we lived in the apartment together, when his voice got quiet before he slid the picture back into the shoebox. "This is the one that made me stop taking pictures of roadkill, but it's the only one I kept."
"You had a whole series of these?"
"Yeah. Don't you think that's fucked up? I mean, don't you think it's some kind of reflection on my motorcycle wreck?"
He was taking psychology classes and I was failing literary criticism. That year I believed nothing meant anything.
I will be shown a photo. "Do you remember how drunk we were?" She says this about all of the pictures from that summer.
This one will be different. It was taken the night she left, the night after I finally realized what the term piss-drunk actually meant. I'd heard it before, but I thought it was just old southern slang.
See, I used to live a block away from the bar I worked at. When I got off at night, I'd slide behind the Dumpster and through the alley to my back door. But the night before she left, something blocked my path behind the Dumpster. It was a man's body.
He wasn't dead, just drunk. Piss-drunk. And what this means is that he had passed out behind a dumpster and pissed his pants. The evidence had run down to his knee, discoloring his khakis.
So this photo is of me, sitting cross-legged in the parking lot of a trashy bar we used to go because this guy she was dating worked there. She told people they were dating; he told people they were fucking. Our friend Allison is offering me a bottle of water. I have a lit cigarette in my left hand, a lit cigarette sitting on the ground in front of me, and I'm trying to light another in my right hand as she takes the picture. "I need to go home," I tell her. "But this is my last night," she says.
"I have to go home, or I'm going to pass out right here. I'm going to be piss-drunk."
I talked a cab into giving me a ride down the street for free. I had money, but I couldn't find it.
I called her an hour later: "Should we meet on the corner and hug or something?"
"No," she said. "I don't want to say good-bye."
"Let's pretend like tomorrow is just another day."
"OK. I love you."
"I love you too. I'll see you tomorrow."
"OK. Goodnight." I listened to her hang up. I listened to the operator. I think she said, "If you need help, hang up and press zero." I think she said, "Go to sleep. You're not piss-drunk anymore."