49 / 365 – Welcome


I seem to be blowing up at everyone. When I came back at the end of summer, everyone was so happy to see me, the nice guy who was captain of the championship basketball team. Now they’re going to be saying: What the fuck did they do to him in Minneapolis? He’s all crazy and angry all the time.

I’m not sure where it started. Kate finally answers her phone late Saturday night. I’d been trying to call her since Valentine’s Day, when I forgot to send her anything and didn’t call till the afternoon and then she wouldn’t answer. She’s just gotten home, I think. From what, I don’t know. Sounds a little drunk. I guess part of me was relieved she was home. I kick myself sometimes for how these last six months have gone. I don’t know why I care. She should go out. She should go out on dates, even. She deserves that. I think I feel guilty. All the time I spent off in college and last summer while we were traveling in Europe about how I was going to do things differently, not lose all the good things, the ambition to be better that you have when you’re young. And here I am, six months later, and I’m a bigger asshole than my father. It seems like no matter whether I stay here or go back to Chicago, I will have fucked up worse than he ever did.

Kate was mad when I called her, really let me have it, the way you do after a bunch of beers. I didn’t ask her where she’d been and then she got mad because I hadn’t asked her where she’d been. She was yelling, “I was just out with friends but damn you if I didn’t want to be out with my boyfriend, or at least someone who was at least trying to be in a relationship with me.” That stung, some. I was mad, but I think I was more mad at myself, especially since by then she was crying and mostly being silent. I didn’t know what to say. Finally she said, “Aren’t you going to say anything?” I sputtered something about, I don’t know. I couldn’t think of what I wanted to say. Then she said, “This says more to may that any bullshit words you’d come up,” and then she hung up. Wouldn’t answer when I called back, like five times.

I couldn’t hardly sleep and I was all wound up when I got into the cafe about three or four hours later. Jackie took one look at me as she was getting out the coffee and I was starting up the grill and she shook her head and said, “Uh oh, stay away.” But I got into it with Sarah. She started talking in that way she does when her voice gets sorta cool, not quite cold but cool, I think because she’s mad or upset and she’s trying to kinda stifle it. And she starts talking about how great my life will be because I’m young and smart and I’ll make the right choices, not the dumb ones like her that have left her almost dead and she’s not even fifty and she’s out here in the middle of nowhere far from everything she’s known. She didn’t really say almost dead but that’s what I call it when she starts like this, the I’m-Almost-Dead speech. Drives me nuts. She’s this totally talent woman who started up this amazing little cafe in town that’s like the only new life the place has seen in twenty years and she’s all down on herself. It drives me nuts and it drove me extra nuts because I was already all wound up like a wounded raccoon that you’ve cornered in the barn and it knows it and you know it. So she’s sitting there at the desk in the back room and she wouldn’t stop it with that cool voice and not listening to anything I said and I just blew up. Thank god we were in the back, but when I went back out, a couple of the guys at the counter were staring at me like I was the biggest asshole, which I guess I was.

Sarah didn’t come out of the back for a long time and she didn’t look at me when she did. I kept my head down the rest of the time, tried to avoid looking at the guys at the counter. Here, if you do that at least people will leave you alone and go back to reading the paper that’s always left out there on the counter. They won’t make a guy talk when you don’t feel like it.

But I was still all wound up and when I got home my dad was sitting in the family room, watching something stupid on TV, like golf. Who would want to sit around on a Sunday afternoon and watch golf? It’s like watching glaciers melt. What says “I have a totally useless and stupid life” more than watching golf on TV. And he’s sitting there sprawled out, a can of beer on the coffee table and he starts in on me. If I wasn’t wasting my life I wouldn’t have to work on Sunday, or some dumb crap like that. And I said, “Yeah, cause then I could sit around on my ass and watch fucking golf on TV and then I would be a really successful and worthwhile guy, a great father and all the rest of that shit.” Something like that. And that was it, he’s yelling and I’m yelling and my mom comes in from somewhere with a cocktail in her hand and I’m thinking, Isn’t this great? It’s the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday afternoon and we’re all having such great lives that we all have to be half-crocked already. And I just stomped back out of there, I hadn’t even changed my clothes, and I went back to the truck and got in and just started driving.

I wasn’t even paying attention to where I was going. When one road ended, I’d turn onto another one. Pretty soon I hit pavement, and I realized I had headed northwest, skirted the town, and I thought, fuck it, and just headed north. I was just playing all these arguments out, over and over, yelling at everybody in my head. It’s fucking exhausting doing that. Then I started looking around a little bit and it was a sunny afternoon, really beautiful actually. The prairie is all covered in white, broken up by a few dark trees and the dark line of the road. I started to ease up a little, just thinking about when there’s nothing else out here, you can go outside and after awhile you see all this and you just settle back and all the fighting and yelling and anger just start to blow away on the wind. It was cold but I rolled down my window a little and let the cold air blow through the cab and it felt good. I still had the heater blowing hard on my feet but I was half-warm and half-cold and I felt great.

Pretty soon I came up to the border crossing. I must not have driven up this way in years, because they’ve built it all up in the last few years since I was there. It used to be just a little building with a light on it. Now there’s a big white metal fence around it and big lights overhead. It must really light up at night. And the building is huge now, and the fence runs high all around it. It looks like the entrance to a prison, if you ask me. They really beefed it up. I don’t know if they’re afraid the Mexicans are going to start flying up to Canada and coming into the country from up here, I don’t know. It’s especially stupid because there’s no fence on either side of it, not even a low fence. There’s a wooded hill on the east of it and off to the west it’s just flat prairie, with a few breaks of trees and farms. Any sane person who actually wanted to get across would just go a mile or two west or east and walk over. I don’t know what those big fences are supposed to do. Protect the border officers, maybe.

I didn’t see a place to turn around so I drove into this thing. The guy came out and I said, “I just want to turn around. I don’t want to cross.” I was trying to figure out where this guy might be from. He didn’t look familiar. Didn’t smile or anything. Looked at me like I was some kind of criminal, but he pointed to a lane that wound around the building and went back. I rolled up my window and drove around. The guy never even smiled. Stupidest thing, this guy sitting inside this high fence that’s wrapped around the road out in the middle of nowhere, and he’s a jerk on top of that. Hell of a way to welcome people to the country. “Hi Canadians. Welcome to America. Fuck you.”



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