By EJ Spode.
Chapter 24: The End.
Whenever I came down from whatever I had smoked, Uncle OG was gone, and the rocks in the sweat lodge had cooled off. I got onto my fours and crawled out of the lodge. When I stood up, Little Feather was standing there waiting for me.
“Uncle has asked me to take you home.”
I thought it was weird that Uncle had peaced out, but if the dude was over 100 or 1000 he was probably way overdue for a nap. I smiled at Little Feather: “Let’s go cuz.”
We got in Little Feather’s truck and pulled out onto the road out of Flandreau. As we hit Interstate 29 I powered on my cell phone. There was a text message from Steady, so I opened that immediately, and was very pleased to read “Feeling better; let’s hang soon.” As I was reading, a second message showed up: “Also. Just had the weirdest dream. We need to talk.” I smiled and put my phone back in my front pocket. But as soon as I had put it away it started chirping with an incoming call. I noticed that Little Feather was sporting a shit-eating grin for some reason. I pulled out my phone again to see who was calling.
It was Circe.
“Spode, you back safe in Ithaca?”
“No, get this, that old dude OG invited me to do a sweat lodge with him, so I stayed an extra day.”
“No shit? How was it?”
“It was freaking amazing, I’ll tell you all about it, but the dude is full to the brim with ancient fucking wisdom.”
“Spode, you have to tell me everything about it!”
“So where are you now?”
“Um, somewhere North of Sioux Falls.”
“You going back today then?”
“Stay an extra day. We can hang out tonight.”
“I’ll come over as soon as I can.”
I put away my phone and Walking Feather held out his fist, fishing for knuckles of respect. That kid was on top of it. I bumped fists with him and said “word.”
Not a mile further down the road though my phone chirped again. This time it was Penny. My first thought was shit, what does she want?
“EJ, you left town before I had a chance to finish what I had to say.”
“Look, Penny, I don’t think our conversation was really going in a productive direction.”
“EJ, you can’t just zoom into town, start a shit storm, humiliate me in front of my friends, and then blast out of here.”
“Well, I haven’t left town yet if that’s any consolation.”
“I’m still in town.”
“EJ, can we meet and talk about this?”
“Penny… I don’t see the point.”
“You don’t see the point?”
“No, honestly I don’t see the point.”
“We’ve been together for eight years, and you told me that you loved me and you said that you wanted to marry me, and you don’t fucking see the point of why we should talk the next day?”
“I said I don’t think it will be productive.”
Penny was getting wound up now. I knew what was coming next.
“For fucks sake EJ, I swear you are going to make me put a bullet through my head I swear to fucking God I will; you cannot treat people this way. I just cannot take this.”
There she was with the suicide threat again. At this point I didn’t know if it was real or just an act but whatever, I decided it would be better to see her face-to-face so I at least knew what was what.
“I’ll stop by your place in an hour if that’s where you are.”
Walking Feather never said much to begin with, but he seemed sort of sullen the rest of the drive. Sort of like I had killed his buzz by agreeing to meet with Penny. But seriously, my view was that adults should talk things through. Or … that was my view in the moment.
An hour later I went to Penny’s place expecting a civil conversation with some give and take but what I got was a whole lot of hate.
“EJ, what the fuck. You tell me you are leaving town, and then, behold, you are still here???
“OK look, OG… or uncle… or whoever he is… invited me to his sweat lodge.”
Penny took out an American Spirit cigarette, fired it up, and started pacing.
“EJ what the fuck? You walked out on our conversation to hang out with some stupid old perv?”
“OK, Penny, I think you are being really harsh here because Uncle is cool.”
“Oh he’s cool is he? Is he so cool that you don’t need to finish your conversation with me?”
“Yeah I’m looking, but I can barely stand to look at you.”
“Wow. Really? That’s where you are coming from?”
“EJ, you brought the negativity to this party.”
“Oh right, explain that to me for fuck’s sake please.”
“Is that even a question? You came to MY bar and called MY girlfriends cunts and you don’t know where the negativity is coming from?”
“Penny, what do you want? Do you want to end this? Right now?”
“No EJ I don’t want to end this. I am not going to marry you now because now is not the time but I am ready to talk about our relationship and getting it back on track once you get your negative-ass attitude out of the way.”
“My negative-ass attitude?”
“Yes EJ, yours.”
“Well please fucking explain that to me.”
“Goddamit EJ, are you blind? I love you and you are my best friend but your shit has to stop.”
“Yes, EJ, your shit. Your self-entitled bullshit shit.”
“Well that’s just great but know this, Pen: I had some insights in the sweat lodge with Uncle and I’m pretty sure you are one empty ass human being.”
“Is that so.”
“That’s what I learned.”
“You spend eight years.. fuckit… nine years with me and you listen to some stupid old man in a sauna and you decide that I’m fucking empty.”
“I’m listening, I really am.”
“What I came to understand is that I’m not getting much positive out of our relationship and I’ve idealized it as this noble quest and am idealizing us as classical heroes, and I’m just not sure that is healthy for either of us. Or anyone else, for that matter.
“Goddamit EJ, you’ve known me for nine years and you take a one-hour sauna with some creep and you decide I’m fucking evil?”
“I never said evil.”
“Fuck you EJ, just seriously: fuck you! He does not even know us.”
“OK, here is the thing, and here is what I believe. I think Uncle is insightful, and I believe him when he said he knew the ancients.”
“You believe that.”
“Well, first of all, OG or Uncle or whatever you call him is from Mexico and his name is Homero Diaz.”
“You heard me.”
“You mean like the Mexican dirt bike champion?”
“GOD DAMN IT EJ, will you shut up about your dirt bikes for one fucking minute?”
“Sorry, it’s just that…”
“The man is a phony – a fraud – he’s a cultural appropriating over the hill Mexican hippy and you bought his bullshit and you shit on the nine-year history that we have together. Because he got you high in a fucking sauna! You want to throw it all away because of that perverted old man.”
“Why is he a pervert, and anyway you said you didn’t love me and you didn’t want to get married.”
“EJ I NEVER said I didn’t love you. I said I didn’t want to marry you – not now. You just marched into town while we are still healing from last summer and said you wanted to get married. What the fuck was that? That is your idea of a proposal? That’s your idea of the right time to get married? After you waltz into town and call my friends and co-workers cunts in front of the whole bar? That’s your idea of the right time?”
Despite her marching-waltzing mixed metaphor I could see her point on that one. I could also see that I had completely lost the initiative in this fight. There was nothing for me to do but hunker down and get pounded on. To my surprise Penny then bent the conversation in a more positive direction.
“Look, EJ, I love you, but you need to get your act together and you need to think about whether you want to put the time and energy in rebuilding our relationship.”
“No, I do want that.”
“It’s going to take a lot of work, EJ, and I honestly don’t know if you are either willing or capable.”
She looked at me expecting me to say “I’ll try my hardest” or something like that, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it, so I just nodded. She paused for an extra millisecond after the nod, like she had a notion to wait for me to say something, but then powered on, lest she lose her initiative.
“I think you should use this next semester at school to think about our relationship and whether you are willing to invest the energy into rebuilding it.”
She paused again, and I responded with a nod again because that had worked pretty well the last time. Then she wrapped up the conversation.
“We can talk again when you finish your term at Cornell.”
I decided my best bet was just to agree with this plan, so I said, “OK, that sounds fair.”
I wanted to say a hell of a lot more of course. Like I wanted to ask why she got to call the shots, why she got to take the moral high ground, why she got to decide when cheating was ok and when it wasn’t and why she was protected from any criticism whatsoever and why she got to cruise around in her little bubble world with people fawning all over her and calling her beautiful and cool and bohemian and generous and no one was allowed to say she was selfish and self-absorbed, manipulative and … let’s be honest: Completely fucking shallow.
I didn’t say any of that of course. I just got up and excused myself, told Penny I would reach out to her after the spring term, and then I left.
As I got into my car I wasn’t sure what to think. It was true that I didn’t know much about Uncle OG Homero or whatever his name actually was, but it did seem that he knew a lot about me, and as far as I could see his analysis of Penny was pretty much spot on. But still, Penny was the love of my life and, if I could learn to deal with her mood swings, the relationship was probably salvageable.
I started the car and was about to head to Circe’s place when it occurred to me that I wasn’t in the right headspace to visit Circe at that moment either. I needed to process the past 24 hours first, so I drove to my dad’s place, fired up a joint, and sat down at with my brand new Moleskin notebook and started doodling aimlessly. I hit my joint hard. This was going to take some serious thought.
Well, like I said, my winter break was majorly effed up. If you’ve gotten this far, you are probably wondering whether I hooked up with Circe again or whether I blew her off. You are probably also wondering what’s going on with Penny and me.
For what it’s worth I did end up going over to Circe’s place. It would have been pretty rude not to. And I can also tell you that Circe is coming to visit me here at Cornell next week; that should be mad fun.
Meanwhile, based on the reports I’m getting from Meej and Athena, it sounds like Penny is now all in with that little Leo DeCaprio/Eddie Munster/James Joyce mashup of a human being — that human tampon, Jimmy fucking Kennedy. Well you know what? Good for them. I have zero fucks to give. They can go back to the 20th Century and sit there enjoying the deathbed convulsions of late modernism for the rest of their fucking lives if that’s what they want.
Still, I’m not about to sit here and tell you it’s all over with Penny and me. For sure I have 99 reasons to think Penny is not the person for me, and I have 99 more reasons to think that our dance is over with. And Uncle was on point about one thing; Penny is definitely a sociopath. But the important thing is…and I don’t think Uncle got this… Penny isn’t just any sociopath. She’s my sociopath.
And here is the other thing – the other deep truth that I don’t think Uncle Homero was able to wrap his mind around. Love isn’t about beauty, or goodness, or even whether a person treats you or anyone else with respect. The fact of the matter is that you really can’t control how you are going to feel about someone, ever. I’ve thought of a million different ways to explain this. I’ve tried writing long essays and poetry about it, and I tried writing fucking prosetry about it. In the end, though, I decided that trying to explain it all was was pretty much pointless because what I was trying to say fundamentally boiled down to this:
You just don’t get to choose who you love.
One last thing. When I returned to Cornell, I brought The Turtle Diaries with me. I’ve been reading them over and over, and I have to admit that in the end Athena may have had a point about me being more creative back then. Some of it is weak, but I confess that some of it is pretty good. And my favorite entry is the very last one.
June 19, 2005
After the Flood
The day it stopped raining dicks the turtles were out in force – cruising the streets in their fancy vintage cars, smoking giant blunts and popping endless bottles of sweet champagne. I was out front raking up the last of the dicks when Minn cruised by in a cherry M3 Beemer crammed full of blonde Russian hotties. Minn pulled over and looked at my pile of dicks and said “what you gonna do with those, cuz?” and all I could think to say was “Suck it, turtle.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Image: Jana Astanov.
Chapter 1: Giants in the Earth:
Chapter 2: The Welcome Inn:
Chapter 3: Dimebag Bob’s:
Chapter 4: The Trojan Horse:
Chapter 5: The Turtle Diaries:
Chapter 6: The Cartagena Diaries
Chapter 7: Penny
Chapter 8: San Pedro
Chapter 9: Triggered
Chapter 10: Letters and Dreams
Chapter 11: Helena and Steady Eddie
Chapter 12: Circe
Chapter 13: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Chapter 14: The Sleepover
Chapter 15: The Bittermilk Road
Chapter 16: The Rocket Sisters
Chapter 17: The Pelorum Avenue Street Racers
Chapter 18: I reconnoiter the Stockman
Chapter 19: The Prosetry Slam
Chapter 20: OG Homeboy
Chapter 21: Deer and Jaguar
Chapter 22: Iktomi and the Ducks
Chapter 23: The Deer Woman
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, April 9th, 2017.