Ducky (journal): Begins. Ends.
You think about death.
Doesn’t everyone? But maybe not as much as you do. It’s not your fault, if something like this can have a fault, death is all around you and it’s perfectly logical to try to make some sense of it.
All you’ve learned is that death has no sense.
You understand even less after Sunny’s mom died. You watched the way her family crumbled and now you understand even less how death is something someone can choose.
No one can tell you, either. No one you can ask. No one who thinks you’d understand, even if he does know the answer.
Why be obtuse in your own journal? You know who you mean. Alex. Alex who can’t explain why he feels the way he does. Alex who doesn’t try. Alex who doesn’t think you can understand. Alex who makes you worry all the time because Alex doesn’t look at death the way you do. Alex seems to think it’s an option. A part of life.
You guess it is a part of life, but not the kind of part you get to choose.
Ducky (email to Alex, unsent): Tell. Me.
Ducky (journal): Mapping. Silence.
You went to the bookstore even though you didn’t have to work. You thought maybe Sunny would be there, but she wasn’t. You wander for a bit, and you tell yourself it’s aimless, but you end up in the poetry section. You’ve been thinking about it a lot, and that guy who was so friendly and who wanted poetry and surprised you.
You don’t even need to check your journal for the poets that guy mentioned. They’re emblazoned in your mind and you don’t even know why. He had a nice smile. That’s not a good reason to remember his books.
You flip through a Walt Whitman collection. It’s okay. Poetry’s not really your thing and this is some sort of ode to nature. You like nature well enough -- you think suddenly about sitting in Las Palmas County Park with Alex and for a second your whole body hurts -- but not as much as Whitman.
(What is Vista teaching you anyway, that you’ve never read Whitman before? Some private school you’ve got.)
You pick up Adrienne Rich next. It really isn’t your style either. You’re not comfortable with words and her poetry is all thick imagery with layers of meaning. Maybe that’s just poetry.
(That’s a Vista failure. Isn’t one of the points of keeping these journals to teach you to understand words? To like them, at least. But words are slippery things and slide across your tongue and catch on your teeth. You twist them and shake them and too many interpretations fall out.)
When you see “Cartographies of Silence” in the table of contents, you skim past it, but come back to the title three times. That’s when you decide to read it. Maybe it will map your silence. Maybe it will show you the path through your loss of words and back to Alex.
It doesn’t. What it does is break you right open.
A conversation begins
with a lie. and each
speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart
as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature
And you think, I know this. You snap the book closed and shove it onto the shelf. You walk away.
But before you leave, you go back. You cradle it in both hands. You buy it and take it home and put it in your room. In a drawer. Out of sight.
But you know.
Ducky: Liquid. Courage.
The alcohol tastes - he doesn’t know anymore. It burned his tongue and now all he knows is the slick of it down his throat. He has so many questions without answers. Ted will be pissed when he sees his alcohol decimated.
Ducky (email to Alex): Sent. Undone.
It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything-
I thought of you. I’m sorry I never know the right thing to say. I wish I could help. I want to understand. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I want to say the right things but I don’t. I want you to talk to me again. I miss you. Remember when we used to have Moments? I miss our Moments.
I want you back.
Ducky (journal): Regrets.
What have you done, you stupid, stupid boy?
You should close your email address. You should never go online again.
What have I done? I did this. I. Me. Ducky.
Ducky (journal): Forget. Forgive.
You forgive yourself. You have to, because no one else is.
Alex (email to Ducky): Cold. Warm.
It’s cold in Chicago. Not just at night. They keep telling me I should be grateful, because it’s unseasonably warm and normally it’s so hot I’d die. I don’t think they’ve ever been to southern California.
I haven’t found a place like Las Palmas County Park. I’ve been looking.
Alex (blog): L.A.M.
Lost anonymous me.
My therapist wants me to keep a journal. He thinks it will help.
I hate journals. A blog’s not the same.
I don’t think it will help.
Ducky (email to Alex): Water.
It’s warm here. We’re supposed to get freak cold weather soon. I thought global warming meant, you know, warm. The beach is nice. Sunny drags me there all the time. She’s got some new surfer boys. They’re wild. They want to travel the world, finding the biggest waves. There’s a group of them that go up and down the coast. A couple are girls, but mostly it’s guys all crammed into a couple cars together, surfboards strapped to the roof, bags of swim gear in the trunk.
Their eyes are permanently bloodshot. Mostly from the saltwater, but a little pot too.
I’m not a good surfer. You remember when we took lessons? I sucked so much I almost sucked all the water out of the ocean. These guys are good. Sunny’s getting pretty good too. I sit on the beach and watch, mostly.
One of them had a brace on his ankle. He hurt it skateboarding. He showed it to me. It’s swollen and bruised and gross. He keeps a book with him and reads it when he can’t surf, but we talked awhile.
He’s only seventeen. He graduated from high school early and was supposed to go straight to college, some ivy league school. He wouldn’t tell me which one. He said he needed a break. He’ll go back, he just wanted to be free. Everyone put too much pressure on him. To think about his future and make all these goals and then meet them. Exceed them.
Talk, talk, talk, he said. Everyone always wants to talk about how they’re feeling. About why they do the things they do. Sometimes you just have to feel, he says. Sometimes you just have to act.
Have you ever felt that way? I think it sounds frightening, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Ducky (journal): Ugly. Beautiful.
You’re sitting at Las Palmas County Park not reading Adrienne Rich. You don’t have to read it anymore. It can be out of sight in your bag and you’re thinking about words and lies and truth in silences.
You’re almost hidden in the bushes. This short girl sits down near you, but you don’t think she’s seen you. She stares into the distance absently, and then gets out a sketchbook and starts to draw furiously. Obsessively.
You go back to not reading your book and half-heartedly writing in your journal. This is how boring your life is, you’d rather stay in the bushes and watch some stranger do something she loves than go find your friends. You love your friends, but things are weird right now. Or maybe they’ve always been weird. You try not to think about why you’re more comfortable with a bunch of fourteen-year-old girls than anyone your own age, even your old friends, but it’s there in the back of your mind sometimes. Mostly in Ted’s voice, teasing you. Mocking you.
The sun’s going down, but it’s still hot. Sweat trickles down your back. You’d be cooler in shorts, but your outfit looks so good, crisp dark blue jeans, purple and black bowling shirt, smooth brown boots. You push your sunglasses up off your face and put away the book you’re not actually reading.
The girl sighs and squints at her sketchbook. The light’s almost gone, but she keeps drawing, quick sharp strokes.
A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own
false energy, Cannot be torn
up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself.
You think about the poem. You have pieces of it memorized. Why can’t you be so dedicated to school? You have pieces of it memorized and you think about them too much. You should forget them, put away the book. Hide it. Give it away.
The girl should dress better. She wears sloppy clothes, baggy shorts and a worn t-shirt and a ball cap over her hair. She chews on her nails while she stares at her sketchpad. She spits on her fingers to smudge the charcoal lines of her work.
Beyond her, you can see three people walking together. Two are tall and one is short. When they’re close enough, you see there are two boys -- the tall one with his mane of long brown hair and the short one with the buzzed head -- and one is a girl. She is dressed nicely, button down shirt and pinstripe trousers. The boys are casual-cool in their band shirts and jeans. The tall one is cute, too, his lips twisted into this sexy little smirk, like he’s constantly laughing at the world.
You stare. They’re holding hands. All three of them.
Artist-girl looks up and beams at them. Suddenly she’s beautiful, all that joy in her face making her shine. She puts away her stuff, gets up, and gives each of them a quick kiss, not even looking around to see if anyone is creepily watching, like you are. You put away your journal and your book of poetry and stare after them.
They walk back the way they came, leaving you alone in the falling darkness. It’s really getting chilly, your arms are cold, but you don’t want to move.
Ducky (journal): Follow. Them.
You had thoughts, watching them walk away.
You’re not sure how to write down your thoughts.
You thought about following them, casually bumping into them, getting their names. Asking if they actually were the way they looked. The four of them. Boys and girls, together.
You thought about writing down the way it made you feel, to see something not just boy and girl. Not just Cro Mag and girl. Not just Sunny and the endless train of boys.
It was too dark to write down your thoughts. You sat there for awhile, until you were shaking with cold, thinking about the way they touched. The way it looked so easy between them. You don’t know anything, really. You saw them for a minute, less than. They could be horrid people who hate each other.
You think not. You think they’re all in love, boys and girls, and girls and girls, and boys and boys.
You don’t want to think about it anymore.
Ducky (journal): Just. Ugly.
You thought that artist-girl was pretty. You can’t be gay.
Ducky (journal): Just. Beautiful.
But you think lots of girls are pretty. Dawn has a nice smile. Maggie moves in this strangely sexy way. If she knew about it, she’d stop, but she hasn’t noticed. You sure have.
Sunny’s beautiful. Sunny kissed you. You didn’t want to kiss her back.
You don’t want to think about that either.
Ducky (email to Alex): Cold. Metal.
I did something wild. Maybe crazy. I don’t know how I feel.
No, I do. I feel sore.
You remember me talking about Dawn? (Dawn as in Sunny and Maggie and Amalia.) Awhile ago she said she wanted to “explore more piercings” but her dad said no. Sunny encouraged her.
Sunny encouraged her enough we all went to the piercing shop earlier. It was sketchy -- otherwise they wouldn’t pierce us. We’re all underage -- but pretty clean. Maggie went with us for moral support, I guess, because she didn’t get anything pierced.
Dawn pierced her tongue. She thinks she can hide it from her father. Otherwise she would have got her nose done or her eyebrow, she said.
I pierced my nipple.
I don’t know why I did it. The girls were encouraging me. I just know I’m going to catch it on my shirt and rip it out and then it’s really going to hurt.
What was I thinking?
Tell me you’ve done something out of character too.
Alex (email to Ducky): Like This?
My suicide attempt was out of character. I think I win.
Or wasn’t it?
Tell me how the piercing feels when it’s healed. One of the guys I met here has both his done. I asked him if they hurt when he got them, so I could tell you. He just laughed. His are bright green and very shiny. What color is yours?
Ducky (journal): Weird.
Did Alex make a joke about It? The suicide thing? Does that mean he’s cured? Or does that mean he’s going to do it again? You don’t know the answer.
I don’t know.
Ducky (email to Alex): Rainbow.
Mine is multicolor. Like an oil slick. Or a dark rainbow.
It still hurts.
You sound like you’re doing better.
Ducky (journal): Forever.
It took you an hour to write that email to Alex. Another half hour to send it. You changed the last line twenty times.
Why do you worry so much?
Why don’t you know what to say?
Ducky (journal): Secrets. Lies. Truths.
The call was Dawn. It’s late for her to be calling anyone. She whispers and asks you to come get her. She can’t be at home, she says. You are tired, but you go. That’s you, Super Ducky Saves the Day.
She’s waiting in her driveway, her head down, hair in front of her face. She rushes into the car and doesn’t look at you. She’s hiccupping and pulls her knees up to her chest and lets her hair fall down over everything.
You don’t think she’s crying. You do think she’s been drinking.
You go to the park, turn off the car, and look at her. It’s mostly dark, but there’s enough ambient light you can see her face. Her cheeks are wet and she’s still breathing in shaky little gulps.
“What happened?” you ask. She starts crying. Sobbing. She’s crying so hard she scares you. You put your arm around her, hold her close, and she snots onto your shoulder. Gross.
But she doesn’t cry like that long and when she’s done, she looks a lot better. Her eyes are all red and she’s snotty and her voice is rough when she speaks, but at least she’s calm.
You try again and ask what happened.
“I kissed a girl,” she says and wipes at her face. You wish you had tissues. You search around a little and find napkins in the glove box. They look mostly clean.
“You kissed a girl,” you prompt when she doesn’t say anything else.
Dawn lets out a shaky little laugh and smiles. “You’re so calm about it,” she says, sniffs, and blows her nose. When she’s done, she crumples up the napkin and slips it into her pocket. “Yeah. I kissed a girl. I was supposed to, I guess. I mean, we were on a date.”
“You were on a date?”
“Yeah. Our third date. I knew she wanted to kiss me, so I kissed her.”
“And she rejected you?”
“You hated it?”
You will never understand girls. Why is she crying?
“I liked it.” She sniffs again. “I liked it a lot. I just wish it was Sunny.”
You don’t know what to say to that.
Dawn scrubs at her face with the last napkin, leaving little bits of paper on her cheeks.
“I’m in love with Sunny.” She says it calmly, simply. Just the facts. “I’ve never told anyone that.”
You feel special.
Then you feel like a jerk. You bet Dawn wanted to be kissing Sunny when Sunny kissed you and here you are feeling like you’re important because you know something no one else knows.
Sunny likes boys, not girls. You hurt for Dawn.
She sniffs yet again and lets out this shaky little laugh. “Thanks for this,” she says. “I didn’t want to be alone.” She leans over, wraps her arms around your arm, and squeezes you. “You’re a really good friend, Ducky.”
You talk to her for awhile. She tells you about her first kiss with a girl, some friend of hers back in Stoneybrook who was blonde and gorgeous and reminded her, in strange, unexpected ways, of Sunny.
She doesn’t cry anymore. She smiles and laughs at her own shyness and by the time you take her home, seems perfectly happy again.
You don’t really know how people feel, do you? You can’t know. They look one way -- happy or amused or angry or sad for no reason -- but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. You’re a good friend. Everyone says so.
Even so, you can’t know everything about your friends. You can’t always know how they feel. You don’t always get to understand. Dawn’s so open about things. She stands up for her beliefs, stridently, even when she shouldn’t. You don’t understand why she wouldn’t be open about this, but she’s not. It’s okay that you don’t understand.
You still don’t know why Alex thought death was a choice, but maybe that’s okay too.
Alex (email to Ducky): Maneaters.
I went to the Field Museum yesterday and saw the lions of Tsavo, your maneaters. They were smaller than I expected, diminished by the glass and the display. And by being dead, I guess.
There was a moment when I turned and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was my reflection in the glass, I think, but it startled me. For a second, I understood fear of the maneaters.
I went home and watched The Ghost and the Darkness. It was fun.
How’s your nipple? I talked to that guy again. He says be careful not to get it caught on anything and rip it out. It will feel good after it’s healed.
Ducky (journal): Realizations.
You think Sunny’s cute. Sexy when she’s not trying too hard. So you like her. But kissing her didn’t feel right. So you don’t like her. But you love her. Just not like that. You have been very confused by this but it’s simple.
You can’t like Sunny like that. You love her too much. She goes through boys like they’re disposable, wad them up and throw them away. She would get tired of you and your friendship would be ruined.
You love her too much to like her like that. It’s not that you never want to date a friend. It could happen. Maybe.
Alex wouldn’t throw people away.
You don’t want to think about that.
Alex (email to Ducky): Homeward Bound
My therapist says I can come home soon. Maybe this month.
Alex (blog): L.A.M.
What happens if I’m found?
Am I still me?
What happens when I see all the people who know what happened? What I did?
Maybe I’ll still be lost.
Maybe I want to stay lost.
Ducky (email to Alex): Warm.
I’m looking forward to seeing you. We’ll go to the beach.
Ducky (journal): Scared.
You miss Alex. Shouldn’t you be happier that he’s coming home? Is it that you don’t miss him the way he was before he left, but the way he used to be when you were best friends?
Or is it that you’re just not ready to see him again?
You think, if he was the same guy he was a couple years ago and you were the same sort of friends, you could talk to him about all this. All these thoughts you’re having. But he’s not and you’re not.
You haven’t told anyone. You haven’t even written it here.
Alex (email to Ducky): Date
My flight gets in at 2:30 Saturday. Would you come with my mom to get me? I’d like to see you.
I know you want to know why. I have an answer. I don’t know if you will understand.
I want to tell you, though. I have a lot to tell you. I miss you.
I can’t wait to see you, Ducky.
Alex (blog): L.A.M.
I have not been good at keeping this. I hope my new counselor doesn’t want me to write in a journal too.
Ducky (journal): Be. Honest.
You think you like boys.
No. This is still lying. It is lying because it’s easier. You don’t want to be that kind of person anymore. You like focusing on everyone else’s problems, on everyone else’s needs, but you have to face your own, too.
You like boys. You think you like girls too. You haven’t yet met a girl you’d like to date, but you know a guy. Maybe.
You are Ducky.
I am Ducky.
I am Ducky and I like boys and I like girls.
It’s time to leave to meet Alex’s plane. It’s time start a new journal.