Note: To learn more about Penelope Przekop's novel, BOUNDARIES, and to start reading at the beginning, go here ! It all comes down on October 1st. Don't miss it!
Chapter 12: Peter (continued)
Do you still not understand?
Peter’s soft bed fails to cushion my aching body. Bruises, tiny painful reminders of the guys who carried me to that final, deserted place, begin to surface. He sits next to me and pulls his peanut butter brown blanket up around my face. The baby powder he uses to chase away that anatomy lab smell clogs my head. I think he might kiss me but instead he says he’ll be on the couch.
As I drift to sleep, I pray that Matt will forgive me and that I can forgive him. I wonder if I'll ever look back and laugh at the notion that I loved him at all. Part of me hopes I’ll laugh until I cry, but the other part— my heart—knows he’ll be the one I’ll never laugh about. In time, I’ll forgive my mother because forgiveness and love are inseparable; feeding off each other when there’s nothing left.
I wake to find Peter sliding between the sheets. His underwear rubs against my legs as he slithers over me. In a dark, sleepy daze, I hold him close, waiting for the realization that he’s the one I should have loved all along. His shaking hands encircle my waist. I kiss his neck and shoulders. My name, uttered from his lips, floats through the air. It sounds nice. It feels good. I’m through feeling bad and sad, tired and lonely.
Outside, a car sputters to life; I listen until the sound of its engine fades away.
I gather Peter’s rough face in my hands. His twinkling eyes usually make him seem older but now he looks young. A cheerful, panting puppy, finally free to play, stares at me.
The sun filters through the blinds, easing across his room. I look over his shoulder expecting to see the same white, ordinary ceiling I’ve seen over Matt’s. Instead, a gigantic splash of red, white and blue hangs overhead.
The confederate flag.
My hands drop from his face. I suddenly feel older.
“What’s the matter?” he whispers.
"Why did you paint that flag on your ceilin’?” I ask. “You said you weren’t creative.”
He twists his head to look up. “There’s a lot more to creativity than just bein’ able to perform the tasks involved, you know, bein’ crafty. I copied what I saw. It took me a long time.” His eyes glisten. “I have one at home, too, but this one’s better.”
“I don’t understand what people see in that flag.”
“Why?” he asks. “It’s about pride. What’s wrong with that?”
“I just cain’t understand people who cling to the past, to defeat. It’s weak.”
His eyes fall and he kisses my cheek. “Peyton, you and I aren’t so different.”
“I have to go,” I say, scrambling out of the bed.
“You don’t have to go anywhere. That’s your problem. You need to stay with me.” His eyes follow me around the room as I gather the few things I'd brought. I can’t find my shoes. The part of his face that isn’t covered by his beard turns red. He gets out of bed and paces beneath the giant flag.
I have the sensation that it’s falling on me. “I have to get my shoes.” I want to leave. “I left my shoes at the frat house.”
He eases me against the wall, sliding his hands under my shirt. “Peyton, I’m your best friend.”
“I don’t want you to touch me.” I shove his hands away. “It’s not right.” I hook my belt around my waist; try to smooth out the wrinkles in my skirt; and then head for the door. I can feel Peter’s breath on my neck as he jogs down the stairs after me.
Just as I reach the landing, he bolts around me, blocking my way. “Since when have you done what’s right? You know, if you’re gonna screw the whole town, you could at least screw somebody who gives a shit about you.”
“You don’t know who I’ve screwed.”
“Thangs get around. What the hell’s wrong with you?”
I push past him and walk outside with my bare feet. The concrete isn’t as hot as I expected. “Nothin’s wrong with me. Nothin’ that cain’t be fixed,” I say without turning around.
“I was your friend! Every single time you needed me, I was there!” He yells from the doorway. “I’m probably the only friend you’ve got.”
“Becca’s my friend.”
“Yeah? And where was she last night?”
I fumble for my keys. “Just leave me alone.”
“It doesn’t matter who you think you are, or how many stars you gaze at when you’re all alone. It matters what people think.”
I stand by the car, wondering why I don’t just get in and drive away. “What people think is not supposed to matter,” I yell back.
“Your actions—the choices you make—define who you are. You can think and say whatever the hell you want to tell yourself, but the sum of your actions is a sign you hold out in front of yourself. Everybody's lookin’ and don’t think they’re gonna treat you any other way than how they think they’re damn well supposed to. You have to carry that shit with you for the rest of your life.”
“I don’t plan to carry anythang
“You cain’t go around actin’ like a slut and just forget about it.”
His voice echoes through the morning air and I wonder if Matt will hear. Then I realize it was Matt’s engine I heard fading into the distance, going toward the hospital and to his father. He’s gone.
“You think about that for as long as it takes!” Peter says. “Think about that when you think about all that other crap you think you’re gonna forget.” Peter stands in his underwear, proud. “And that flag stands for somethin’ you better hope you’re capable of. It’s got nothin’ to do with defeat!” he bellows. “Do you hear me, Peyton? It stands for resilience.”
Something happened to the frat house during the night. It sits on the sun burnt yard like a big, pale ghost who longs to be human again. Its body long dead, the soul clings to life through those who laugh and jump and sing and cry inside its walls. In the early morning hours, only the brothers remain: asleep and tucked away where they belong. A ripped screen door is my only barrier to getting inside. The rooms, clear of people, tension, and chaos are hauntingly melancholy, as if something real can finally be seen. The flat, poster faces lining the walls seem like an attempt to display family pictures when, in truth, there is no family.
Strips of light peak in through two long windows draped with sheets. My old shoes sit side by side where the light meets the floor on the opposite side of the dining room. It would be nice if they sparkled like Dorothy’s red slippers. I could put them on and tap my heels and say, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” My family and friends would stand before me with outstretched arms, welcoming me back from a bad dream caused by an unexpected storm.
But the shoes are dull. Once black, now they’re smoky gray. Someone put them there as if they knew I’d come back.
I look around, worried that someone will see me. I yank the shoes from the dusty floor and head for the door. What seems like a thousand faces of Peyton Bound peer at me through the tacky tile mirrors lining the foyer. Jagged gold lines running through the glass separate each reflection into a million tiny pieces.
No one is there but I don’t feel alone.
When I step back out into the fresh morning air, I take a deep, hot breath. I savor the warmth knowing that fall and winter will come soon enough, just as they have before and will again. The calendar doesn’t matter after all. I know change will come.
One of the worn, dusty shoes slips from my hand. I squat to pick it up. I slide my fingers into the dingy leather and feel its imprinted sole. They held up for so long and seem to match everything. They’re comfortable but they’re junk now. I imagine them lying in the back of my organized closet next to the other discarded things I once valued.
Finally knowing what I need to do, I stand up, throw my head back, and toss both shoes high into the air. A colossal cloud hangs far above the whirling dark objects; it looks like an angel of mercy. I don’t look back to see where they land.
I just leave.
This parable ends with all of us staring at each other wondering who truly loved and who truly hated. Perhaps we’ll never know; life is like that. All I know for sure is that once upon a time I saw a powerful glimpse of truth that set me on a new path.
Maybe you can find it in your heart to love me now.
More than twenty years later, a thousand miles away ...
Only my father remains in Louisiana but my guess is that he’ll be leaving soon. It’s taken him years to realize there’s nothing holding him back. Just last month he called to say that he finally tore open that walled-off closet. He said it was time to get things done, make changes. He removed each item, blew off the dust, and stared at it for as long as it took to decide if it was just junk or something worth treasuring. He wept over the things he’d forgotten. Then he cried over the junk.
It turned out that everything had meaning.
My mother married a man who goes to church every single Sunday. She continues to take multiple medications. Her home has a room devoted to painting. Just last summer, she stood for hours painting a picture of me. When I saw it, I cried knowing that although I’m far away, she could clearly see me. She seeks redemption in the long distance grandmothering of my children and every summer they travel to see her.
But they don’t travel south.
She left it behind even before I did.
Although I packed up a moving truck of my own and drove away in 1991, the South refuses to leave me. It calls my name on stormy nights and hot days. I ache to go home, but when my bedroom flashes white or sweat beads on my back, I feel too close and it frightens me.
Trucks crowd the congested Jersey roads I navigate on my forty-five minute commute to and from work. During those long drives, I watch the weather change, day-by-day, year-after-year. Here I experience seasons that are nearly perfect. Falling leaves blow across my car like colorful swarms of life. Snow covers everything I find ugly with thick, white blankets. I see the cold beauty and the warm beauty. When winter lingers, when March comes and spring doesn’t, I search for that bit of struggling life I once hated. But I’ve learned that Spring comes in the North just as it did in the South, the seasons always change, and that patience is the hardest lesson.
With every turn of the weather, the past falls farther and farther behind.
I have seen my life reborn.
The scar on my back is worse than I ever imagined. It’s easily ignored, hidden behind me, covered by what I choose to drape over it. But sometimes late at night when my husband’s hands glide beneath my long hair, when he touches that unchanging ridge that seems to divide me, the scars he cannot see or touch split open. Their blood washes over me like tears, falling again from that third eye I developed long ago, and I’m reminded that many of my wounds remain. Once in place, the third eye never goes away. Then his arms, strong with real love, hold me closer than I ever thought possible. He whispers that he loves me; he doesn’t care that I’m not perfect. In those moments, I feel God again … holding my hand, saying He loves me, too. God doesn’t care if I still can’t meet Him in His home, in His church. He meets me where He can.
Some people walk toward adulthood on a carpeted flight of stairs, some climb a ladder. I scaled a mountain with only my bare hands to hold me up. It may not have been as steep or jagged as my neighbor’s but it was mine. It was all I could find to lead me forward and I won’t be ashamed.
I’ve come to the top of that mountain and I see now that there are demons everywhere. They hide in the scar on my back. They instill in me the horror of knowing how close I came to taking a life and to losing my own. They are memories I can’t erase, but I’m finding a place for them. Like bags of sand in the trunk of my car, they hold me steady when the road grows cold and slippery. They ground me. They remind me that no one saved me and no one will ever have to save me again.
I will save myself.
The sirens Matthew Adler spoke of are wailing in my ears. I’m running toward them on a road that stretches endless before me. The traffic has fallen far behind.
BOUNDARIES will be posted on Aberration Nation through October 1st.
To find out what BOUNDARIES is about and start reading at the beginning. go here .
BOUNDARIES is Penelope Przekop's first novel. It's a work of fiction based on true events. Since writing BOUNDARIES, she has completed two other novels. ABERRATIONS was published by Greenleaf Book Group in 2008. CENTERPIECES is currently being considered by several publishers. Penelope is working on her fourth novel, DUST.