The high scaffold, Thanksgiving '02
The snow was swallowing our car, the lights playing out a lulling snowflake vortex and I was trying not to fall asleep. The girls in the back were talking Sunday school curriculum, comparing and getting excited about the holiday weekend and going back to their church at home and seeing people, the old Sunday school teachers. They were comparing Sunday school teachers and songs and just because I'd had it with everything I decided to teach them the original version of Jesus Loves the Little Children, the version before it was nice and before it was multi-racial and before they sang it in church. The version with scaffolds and dead people and a revolutionary sentiment.
Whether on the scaffolds high or the battle fields we die... I put a brogue into it, staring into the snow trying to find the lane's lines and trying to not look in the back seat at their clean faces in scandalized silence.
It'd looked like I wasn't going to get out of town at all, that Thanksgiving, like I was gonna have to cook a turkey in the dorm microwave and eat it in my beige brick room. I'd called a guy who'd given me a ride before, out to my Uncle's. He said he was taking all of his laundry home and just didn't have any room in his soft topped jeep, but I suspected it was the trip-long unfriendly silence we fallen into 20 miles into the trip after I'd said I was reading Ginsberg for break and he'd said, but wasn't he gay?
So I called these girls I didn't know and asked them for a ride. The carpool of fundamentalist sophomores going to Jersey and Pennsylvania, going to a house in Harrisburg as a hub and the girl who had the car, who was driving, said yeah come along. Then she called back an hour latter saying, you can still come if you want to but you need to know that some of the girls don't want you to come. They're uncomfortable. I'm not going to say yes and then no, but just so you know.
All of their bags were in the trunk, when I got there, so I stood my bag on end between my legs in the front seat, my knees against the glove box, and we set off on the turnpike in the fall, me staying silent so's not to be left behind at some truck stop. It started to snow. With the snow came the cars spun out silly down the embankments and the driver saying she was getting tired and the back seat singing hymns I'd never heard and refusing to take a turn driving.
When we got there I stood aside for the hustle of coming home, holding my bag. Everybody's parents and siblings were there in a driveway of lined up vans and the dog was barking and jumping and running around in circles. When I finally asked if I could get a ride they said it was out of the way even though they knew I knew it was about 12 miles that they wouldn't take me.
You can have the couch, the Harrisburg girl said, if you don't mind the dog. If you can't figure out the ride to your Uncle's, we're having a bunch of people over. So I slept on the couch. I had $3, a stack of books, a change of clothes and a short couch in a town where I didn't want to be. I was too broke to buy a train ticket and anyway they were making you buy them a week in advance, because of Al Qaeda.
When I woke up the sun had lit up the snow in a cold glare and the house was empty. The girl and the mother and the dog and the little brother who looked at me suspiciously, all of them were gone and there was just a note, answer the phone if it rings. It might be my dad who's a truck driver.
When the phone rang I tried to remember their last name but couldn't. I found it on an envelope in the trash but I couldn't figure out how it was pronounced so I just said hello? A big voice loud over truck noises said, so you must be the guy my daughter brought home from college.
It's not really like that, I said.
I'm sure, he said.