We’ll see, but I believe that, if you click here, you should get all the installments that have run so far. Probably in reverse order.
I was in the far field now, the houses along Lloyd still recognizable, but the great trees in the distance were unfamiliar. I saw ahead of me a great structure, like a stained glass window, narrow and rainbow colored, shimmering. I didn’t know how to understand it. It jutted at such a strange angle out of the tall grass, and it seemed to move in the breeze. Just as I was right about on top of it, a man stood up.
Oh, a wing! A great, dragonfly wing. And this was the King of the Faeries.
“You’re Rufus’s friend!” we both said at the same time. We laugh and said, “yes,” and then laughed again.
“Have you seen him?” I asked.
“Last Sunday, when we played cribbage,” he said.
“Oh, well, damn it. See, he’s here and—”
“Here? But this is a terribly dangerous place for an unaccompanied dog. You know what happens to anyone who eats in faerie-land.”
“They’re stuck here forever?”
He scrunched up his face like he was about to tell me something true, but then thought better of it.
“Not exactly. But it’s still best to not eat anything here.”
“Okay, but it’s Rufus we’re talking about.”
“I just want to get him home. Do you have any idea where he could be?”
The King of the Nashville Faeries made a circle in the grass as he walked and thought.
“He will, of course, be in the last place you look.”
“Well, obviously. I’ll stop looking once I find him.”
“So, the question is, where are you least likely to look? And that will be the last place you look.”
I sighed. “Well, I’m not really that familiar with your world, so I don’t know where I wouldn’t look.”
“What don’t you like?”
“I kind of find eyeballs gross and too many of things gross, like, if there’s a place where something has too many eyeballs, I would avoi—”
“There is such a place!”
This week I read about two different instances where football teams were shut down due to sexual assault–on younger players. As a part of hazing.
This, I think, is the hardest thing to fight about rape culture. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again. We live in a culture where power is sustained through doing things to others they do not want done to them. The football coach tells you to run up the hill and you don’t want to, but you do because he said so. He has power over you. But you don’t have to be powerless. You can stick a broom up a 14 year old’s butt, even though he doesn’t want you to. You have some power.
I don’t know how we undo a culture like this by only insisting men stop raping women. They are only doing to us what’s been done to them.
When I got across the river, I was faced with an odd sight.
Ahead of me, maybe fifty feet in the distance, was my house. There was the garage and the rose we transplanted, and I could even see my neighbor sitting on his back porch, drinking a beer. I looked behind me and there was the rest of my back yard. I was home.
As close as I was, I found that I could not walk toward the house. I didn’t see a barrier but, as soon as I hit it, I could feel it, soft, with a lot of give, but not enough to actually let me into my back yard. I was still not in ordinary reality, but at least I could see I was very close. I felt around for the barrier and proceeded as if I were in a maze, keeping my right hand on the invisible wall between myself and my world, I proceeded to follow the wall, as it were, hoping that it would, eventually, bring me to a door or something. I despaired of ever finding the dog and seeing the house made me so homesick I could barely stand it.
Surely Bart would understand about me losing the dog once he’d heard the strange lengths I went to find Rufus.
I walked around my yard, following the unseen labyrinth, through gardens that didn’t exist on my side of the barrier, past thickets of trees too old and dense for my world. Eventually, I heard a great grunting and snorting noise and, as I walked back toward the old cow pasture, I came upon a great mastodon and her calf. The mother seemed agitated and I noticed that the baby’s head was wet.
The mother looked me straight in the face, her great eyes blinking slowly, as if she were examining my very soul. I didn’t know if I should be frightened or not. I had no idea if she was real or if I even was. Her giant eyelashes swept down and then back up and I found myself mesmerized by the slow, rhythmic movement. “Oh, mama,” I said. “Why is your baby’s head wet?”
I was overwhelmed by déjà vu. Was it not this very summer when I rested my face on Rufus’s head and, finding it damp, asked Bart why the dog’s head was wet? And had not Bart answered me that, when Rufus and Monty go to the park, one of the other of them eventually gets peed on? Why? Bart couldn’t explain it. It’s just a weird thing the dogs do at the park together. And here was this baby mastodon, large, but not that much larger than the dog. Small enough that I could imagine the two of the wandering through the field together. I could also imagine the baby mastodon putting his head down to see something more closely or to rest a moment with his new friend, and, then, yuck. Rufus had been by here, and recently enough that the baby was still wet.
“Which way, mama?” I asked, but she just snorted. I kept my hand on that weird barrier and set back to walking.
When I think about my family, I’m struck by what a haunted house it is. Scary things go on in every room, but the noises from the other rooms make you afraid to venture out, for fear there’s worse than what’s happening to you.
It’s apparent to me now how these things go on for generations, how people get shaped into things as children and then shape others as they get older. How many fingers on how many arms would I need to point to everyone who bears some responsibility for yesterday’s debacle? And that’s not counting the people, I’m afraid like me, who sit back and do nothing.
I mean the almost nursery-rhyme level of if my father had not scared that girl and my grandpa had not beaten my dad and if my great-grandmother had not terrorized my grandfather and if whoever did whatever to her… on and on.
It feels like a curse, like a terrible thing that just comes with our family like blue eyes and curly hair. You might be a monster. If you aren’t, you might not know how to love anything but a monster.
Here’s the other thing that I can’t quite let go of. I love my Grandma A., rest her soul, with my whole heart. My dad’s mom. Every memory I have of her and me is one I cherish. I loved going to her house. I loved being spoiled by her. One of the hardest times of my life was watching her waste away but not being able to die, thinking that God had abandoned her.
And my dad also adores his mom. Doesn’t have a bad thing to say about her. Frames himself as a kind of protector of her from his dad. That gibes with my memories of her.
One of the things my brother’s girlfriend said on the phone is that it really bugs her and makes her feel like my dad is constantly comparing the two of them the way he goes on about how wonderful my sister-in-law is. My sister-in-law. A woman so vile I can’t even get into it because, if I get started, I won’t be able to make it through the day–the cigarette burn on my nephew’s forehead, the taking him to the fucking strip clubs when he was a baby, the time she threatened to kill my dog, the shitty things she does to my nephew now, and how much he loves her anyway, because that’s what kids do, the refusal to divorce my brother, etc. etc. etc.–a woman who is not allowed to know where I live and who I will probably end up assaulting at my father’s funeral, because I know she will come and try to sit with the family. Just like she tried to take my dead grandmother’s stuff after her funeral, a woman she did not know, because she was “part of the family now.”
And yes, my dad does talk about her like she farts sunshine. And he sends her money whenever she asks for it. And it is completely insane. She is objectively terrible.
It taints my opinion of my grandmother–that my dad so adores this terrible person. It makes me worried that my grandmother was terrible in some way I don’t know about because I was too young to see it when she was alive and he’s successfully rewritten history now that she’s dead.
And that kind of pisses me off. That I can’t even be sure that I really knew the people I love most.
Andrew Jackson, or the bird of him, set me on firm ground and pointed me toward a faint light.
“Just head toward that, Miss Betsy,” he said and I admit, the way he said “Miss Betsy” made me understand something about Rachel that I hadn’t previously. It was an understanding one carried for the rest of her life deep in her core. No, lower. A little lower. Right there.
Anyway, I walked toward the light, which, though it seemed impossibly far away, ended up being rather close and small. It was, upon further examination, a tiny campfire surrounded by dejected fleas. Some of them were tossing protest signs onto the minute flames. One of the signs said, “Baths are for Commies and Bad Dogs.” Another said, “Take Back the TV Remote.”
Damn it. These were Rufus’s fleas.
“Why aren’t you guys with the dog?” I asked.
They rolled their eyes and pointed beyond the fire. Though it was still dark, I could just make out water ahead—a river.
“Did he swim across?” I asked. They nodded.
I’ll spare you the details of what I saw on that shore. But I will say this: as much as I hate fleas, something about seeing thousands of their corpses washed up on the river bank made me sad.
Still, I waded into the river and, when it got deep enough, swam across, after my stupid dog.
My brother called to say that his girlfriend–the mother of his youngest child–is upset because she thinks my dad doesn’t like her, because he’s being so mean and nitpicky and keeps saying nice things about my youngest nephew’s mother, in a way that makes her feel like he likes the middle kid’s mother better than her..
So, I called her. She was crying. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t have that long to talk because I was at work. But I assured her that he’s just a jerk to everyone and that he likes her fine and that she’s not doing anything wrong and that his love for the middle child’s mother is inexplicable.
I told her she was doing fine. I told her I was going to call him and tell him to shape the fuck up. She asked me not to. So, I guess I’m not.
The Professor advises I just wait until I see him acting like a jerk to her and then call him on it. So she’s not “tattling” and he shapes up.
It’s making me feel so heartsick and almost dizzy. My brother brought this young stranger into our house and exposed her to this?!
And I’m mortified that my dad would behave this way. It’s bad enough he pulls this shit on the family. But some poor gal who’s not related to us? What in the ever-loving fuck?
I want to cry, too.
I had hoped he would mellow as he aged.
But here we are. He’s always so angry at what a mean-ass motherfucker his brother is. And yet, here we are.
Okay, so we’re having a pre-order party for The Wolf’s Bane on November 8th from 6 to 8 p.m. at East Side Story. I think I’ll be reading promptly at 7, but you can come hang out earlier, eat some treats, look at some stuff, and buy a copy of Allendale, which will be for sale there for either $4 or $5 depending on what my costs to print it end up being (which I guess I should check on). There will also be some other cool take-home things, I think. And there’s going to be a book trailer!
Last night, I went over to the East Side Storytelling which was Sara Harvey reading and Bill Davis performing. Sara, though sick, was great, as always. Bill Davis was a hoot and his music was fun and his voice was lovely. He’s got a cool Halloween song, which he played acoustically, but which you can hear in it’s full, silly, wonderful glory here.
The venue is another story. Everyone’s food was not good and they basically abandoned our server to handle thirty people who all sat at once. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad for a server. And there were few people inside. They could have sent another server outside to help keep order.
The weirdest thing, though, is that it smelled like a horse barn. Like horse poop and hay. Which seems like a weird smell for a restaurant.
That place is in a good spot and I know people go there and love it and never have any problems. But every time I go there I end up wishing they could get their acts together so that I could go there more often.
Even in the thick fog, the tear was sharp and easy to make out. I approached it cautiously, calling for Rufus the whole while, hoping he might just reemerge.
Of course, he didn’t.
I stuck my head in the tear in reality and felt the by-now-familiar breeze. I looked down, but I didn’t see any bottom. I honestly didn’t see anything at all. Below was as black and empty as above.
I stepped in anyway. It felt like I imagine stepping through a slightly-electrically charged rain shower would feel, or like walking through static. For a second, I felt I was standing on something. I turned back and saw my own back yard, hazy through the fog but familiar, and then like the cartoon character who realizes too late that solid ground is an illusion, I fell.
Down, through the blackness, down through the never-ending slightly cool breeze, down through silence like the grave. I fell so long that I ceased to be afraid of falling. It was obvious to me at that point where Rufus was—somewhere beneath me, falling as well. Possibly we would just slide down the backside of reality forever, until we starved and death ended our travels.
Hours went by and still I fell. I passed the time wishing I had left a note for Bart, wishing I had told him I loved him, and then reassuring myself that a brother never doubts a sister’s love. I felt sorry for myself that I would never see my niece grow up. I felt deeply ashamed at what I was certainly about to put my parents through.
They would give me a Christian funeral. I hoped my friends would have sense enough to read Whitman in my honor later.
I cried, too, in part, just to give myself a noise to hear. But eventually, I grew tired of the sound of my voice and I fell silently.
That’s when I realized I heard something, a faint whooshing sound. I strained to see if I could hear it better and in front of me, as if someone had turned on a light switch, was Abraham Lincoln, illuminated with his own inner glow.
No, not quite Abraham Lincoln. It was the head of the Great Emancipator, but his body was absent. In its place was the body of a vulture. He regarded me with some interest.
“President Lincoln?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
“Are you falling, too?”
“My dear, I fly on the wings of liberty!” He responded, giving his great wings a slow, majestic flap, which caused him to bob up out of my line of sight for a second.
“Is there firm ground somewhere?”
“Of course, my dear,” he said. I wondered how he put on his hat with wingtips instead of hands.
“Could you fly me to it?”
The great man wrinkled his brow and pondered my question. Then he frowned.
“No,” he said, but mostly to himself. “I don’t think I can handle the burden of another woman.”
“But Mr. Lincoln…” I objected. It was too late. He had already flown off.
Various other presidents came to check me out—Hayes, Garfield, Teddy Roosevelt, Johnson, both Adamses. None of them would help. But then Jefferson came by and who ever knew him to pass up a chance to get his hands on a woman?
“Mr. Jefferson!” I cried out, but even he ignored my plight.
I continued to fall until finally, the scraggliest, most broken buzzard you’ve ever seen made its way over to me. The head on the bare neck of that great bird was a scowling madman with a shock of white hair that was all cowlick.
“Ma’am, I heard you could use some help.”
“Andrew Jackson! Yes, thank God. Please. Help.” Because say what you want about Andrew Jackson, he’s not going to leave a fat woman in distress. He grabbed hold of me with his giant talons and began to carry me off. I cried out in relief. “Why wouldn’t anyone else help me?” I asked.
“Ma’am, I believe they mostly feel that the modern world has become strange and unsympathetic to them. They shy away.”
“But you helped me,” I said.
“To me, the world seems little changed in that regard. I don’t hold it against the current crop.” We flew on. “If you don’t mind me asking, miss, why are you here?”
“I’ve lost my dog.”
He seemed to be relieved that my answer was so simple.
“Big and yellow? Likes to chase rabbits?”
“I can point you in the right direction.”
My mom thinks the Butcher needs counseling. My dad accused him of being on drugs. He accused my dad of being a rape apologist. My mom complained that, since I’ve asked them not to read Tiny Cat Pants, she couldn’t read the October story. My dad scoffed that it was “probably just as bad as everything else she’s written.”
And now I have this twitch in my eye that is rather unpleasant.
But I am relieved to have said tick, because, frankly, I feel fine. All this nonsense and my internal happy-o-meter is set to content. No wire sticking out of my boob? How bad can it be? And I’m starting to feel like maybe it should bother me that things don’t bother me. I mean, that can’t be right or healthy to just be like “Whatever!” about everything.
But here it is! Evidence that some part of my brain, and hence my body, is actually quite stressed out about things. So, normalcy will return.
I can’t say how I knew the dog had gone through the tear. I just knew. The second I saw the patch was off the tear, I knew the dog had gone in there. Worse than that, I knew I’d have to go after him.
I’ve been thinking, on my history weekend, that the answer to why people owned slaves is incredibly obvious. It would be awesome. Yes, it’s got to be soul-corrupting, but, ignoring the moral implications, of course having people to do all the shit you don’t want to–or can’t–do is marvelous. I think even believing that you, because of some intrinsic value, deserve to have these people doing whatever you tell them and they, due to their inherent lack of being as awesome as you, have to do it, is some heady shit. Once you gave yourself permission to go ahead and enjoy the luxury of having slaves, I think it’d be very difficult to give it up.
But another thing I keep thinking about, too, is how much this resonates through into our current discussions of rape culture, how “slave culture” is, perhaps, the original rock in the pond that has sent us the destructive ripple of rape culture.
Because, if you consent to be my slave and I consent to do to you only the things you would allow me to do to you, you’re not really a slave. (Maybe we’d say you’re a non-sexual submissive?) The real pleasure of slavery is the pleasure of rape–I do to you whatever I want and I don’t give a shit how you feel about it. In fact, it’s better for me if you don’t want to do it, if you would say “no,” if you could.
Not all slave-owners, of course. Some must have enjoyed believing that their slaves came around to being willing to submit to those circumstances. That they were “kind.” Seducers, turning a “no” into a “yes.”
But for most, the ones who whipped and kicked and punched and burned, the satisfaction had to be there in the ability to willfully disregard the will of the body they were acting upon.
And, too, it wasn’t just slavery–this is how indentured servants might be treated, or wives, or children, or strangers who insulted you.
Which makes me wonder how you train this out of a people. If we have, for so long, believed that social prestige and status is intrinsically linked to having as few people as possible above you who can act on your body without your permission while we display the ways in which we can act on others’ bodies, why and how do we give that up?
On Saturday, I took the Lipscomb Civil War tour. It was incredible and they gave us a shit-ton of flyers and maps and a book. They could easily get $25 to $30 a head for that and it was free! I learned a ton.
Then that night we went over to the Madison train station and took their living history tour. I basically learned that Jane Addams is literally my old boss and that my dad and mom have hobo stories.
Then yesterday, we went over to Bledsoe’s Station and Mom and I wandered around the inside of the fort, while Dad and the Butcher yelled facts to us from the observation deck. Then we tried to drive over to where the Renfroe massacre had been, but you can’t get that close. It’s weird, though, how close that was to Clarksville but the remnants of the Renfroe party were driven down into Cooperstown (or what is now, anyway) and a bunch more of them killed at what is now Battle Creek (hence the name). Why didn’t they run to Clarksville?
All I can figure is that they must have been being attacked from the north and driven south, intentionally herded away from Clarksville.
But we know that eventually Mrs. Refroe and Black Bobb at the least ended up in Nashville.
At the end of September, Bart decided he was going to go visit some friends. Alone. Without the dog. He was serious about it. For the dog’s own safety, Bart confiscated Rufus’s car keys. I knew a week with just me and the dog was going to be somewhat brutal, since I simply could not walk the dog as long as Bart can walk the dog in the mornings and still function at my job without napping.
But I thought we’d worked out a system. I walked him in the morning for my usual length of time and then I came home and walked him in the evenings until I was exhausted. He pretended to be mollified.
He also spent much of the evenings sleeping right by the back door, so that, should Bart arrive home, he’d be right there to greet him. Sometimes, he even looked askance at me, like maybe I’d done something to run Bart off.
One day it was so ridiculous with Rufus moping around and sighing deeply and looking longingly at the back door like that was the direction salvation was coming from, that I called Bart and let him Facetime with Rufus. But this didn’t actually seem to help. It just made Rufus more convinced that Bart was somewhere without him.
The next morning, I woke up and I knew something wasn’t right. The house felt empty. I tried to remain calm. I went to the bathroom, put on my glasses, and poked my head into each room. The further I got through the house, the surer I was that Rufus wasn’t there.
Now the panic set in. My heart was racing. I felt too hot but with a cold sickness in the pit of my stomach. Damn it, damn it, damn it. I can’t lose another dog. Not yet.
I threw on my overalls and a t-shirt, slipped into my shoes and headed out the back door, which was, yes, god damn it, open. Who taught him how to open doors? Who thought that was a good idea?
It was foggy out and I could see only as far as the shed.
“Rufus!” I called. “RoooOOOOOoooofussssss!” But, in the mist, it didn’t carry. The sound seemed to go no farther than I could see. I kept calling, though, stumbling across the driveway, tripping as I made my way into the yard. I squinted but there was no sign of him.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine what I was going to say to Bart. Fuck me. How could I have been so careless?
The trees loomed out of the mist ahead of me and I had some thought that, maybe, he’d just already gone on our walk. If I could get to the treeline, I could make my way toward Lloyd and see if he was up on the road. I kept calling for him.
The backyard seemed to stretch on forever, though, and I stopped, suddenly afraid I was going to fall into the creek. I stepped back, in a direction I knew was safe, and my footstep made a weird noise—too big, too crunchy.
I looked down.
I was standing on the duct tape patch.
The tear in reality was uncovered.
I read it. I didn’t like it. I think it’s really well-written and well-executed, but I just didn’t like it.
I hate books like that–where you feel like you should be able to enjoy it, because look at how objectively good it is, but you just can’t ever settle into it as enjoyable.
Though, honestly, I don’t know. I feel a little numb myself still, in ways that continue to surprise me. The other night, the Butcher just opened the door and let the dog out without hooking him up, because it was raining and he was convinced the dog would come right back in. And when I went over to check on him, of course, he was gone.
And I turned to the Butcher and said, “that was a dick move.” And then I sat back down. That struck me as odd–that I could recognize that the dog was missing, but I couldn’t give a shit (and believe me, this whole discussion becomes funnier, in context, as the month goes on).
And there’s been lots of good news, too, that I just can’t give a shit about. I mean, I care, just, not that much.
I know I will come back to myself eventually, but it’s taking a while.
The dog has been having a visitor. Mrs. Jordan, who goes to the Jehovah’s Witness Hall around back and who supports Thelma Harper for state senate and who has some pamphlets on breast-feeding she just had to share, has been coming over in the afternoons, knocking on the front door, and waiting for Rufus to let her in. She’s our across-the-street neighbor’s grandmother.
She makes herself a cup of tea—which is how we first discovered we were having a visitor: tea was missing—and sits at the end of the couch, her enormous purse resting on her lap. At some point, after she’s gone through her whole spiel, whatever it’s about on that particular day, Rufus leaps up on the couch next to her, puts his paw on her arm and she places her hand over his paw. She then proceeds to cry.
After a few minutes, the dog will press his head against her head and she’ll pet his neck until she’s soothed.
We don’t know what she cries about. We only know it’s her who’s been drinking our tea because Bart set up a camera to see what was happening here during the day.
“You want me to try to get some sound on this?” Bart asked me, as we watched the video together. “I know some guys who could mic the couch.”
But even watching her feels like an invasion of her privacy, even though she’s sitting in our house, with our dog, as of yet having never met us.
She gets something from Rufus that just feels like it would be cruel to take away from her.
And it’s hard not to imagine ourselves in similar circumstances—in need of kindness and with few options for where to get it.
I need to remember this for my next chapter–the thought I had when I woke up this morning. The kind of history that I’m trying to write for Nashville is, in some parts, a history of holes–where you look at the people we do have information about and try to figure out what that would mean for the person we don’t.
Today at Pith, I talk about Mary Overton–a woman with two prominent husbands, a really significantly historical father, and a prominent family. You look at everything you know about the people you know about and see if you can discern from all that the life of the woman central to all of them.
And, of course, it’s hard. It’s deliberately hard. The people whose histories are so hard to come by–women, minorities–their lives are hard to come by on purpose. Names left out, chances to write their own stories denied.
Anyway. It’s sad and frustrating.
I woke up one night in a flat-out panic, heart racing, breath uncatchable, because it dawned on me that the ghost of Sadie must be what had torn reality out there in the back yard. I threw my overalls on over my pajamas, and stumbled through the dark, across the uneven ground, to the far back yard and the duct-taped patch. I peeled the tape back and put my head in the tear. It was cold and a slight, clammy breeze blew from beneath me.
“Sadie?” I asked. I listened but there was no noise coming from the void. I strained to see what, if anything, might be moving back there, behind the scenes, but it was just darkness and quiet and cold. As far as I could tell, the only thing over there was that slight breeze.
I put the tape back into place.
Over at Pith, I talk about our chances of finding Timothy Demonbreun.
I have a post on the thing I found in Ron Ramsey’s office. I will have a post on our chances of digging up Timothy Demonbreun. And, you guys! I spent all afternoon at Traveller’s Rest, sitting in the office where the old kitchen used to be, talking about history and Overtons and I got to ask if everyone was given an Overton upon their arrival at Nashville and they laughed.
And more importantly, even though I did not get to buy one–Traveller’s Rest has pie birds! In the gift shop.
Plus, I got to introduce Traveller’s Rest to Ben & Sue Allen’s The Thing, which, you may recall, from my incessant babbling about it, has many Overton connections–from Ben’s cousins to the Baxters’ friendship/enemyship with Dickinson.
And the other cool thing–Okay, I’ll just be honest that I learned many cool things–that I learned was that Mrs. Overton’s first husband was Andrew Jackson’s personal physician (a job with real security), hence how she ended up with a kid named Andrew Jackson May.
Plus, plus, I’m going to the TSLA at the end of the month to read to them about the fictional feud they fictionally had with the state museum over The Wolf’s Bane. I am so tickled.
I do feel a little bad for insisting the Butcher walk the dog this morning, because he was being so obnoxious yesterday after a week of very little getting-out-and-walking-around, and now it’s raining.
But pie birds!
I never feel Sadie’s presence in the yard. Never hear her moving around in the house at night. Never feel the weight of her at the foot of the bed.
It’s such a great relief to me. My last fear, when it came to that old dog, was that I would not let her completely go. Even though I know I met Death in Her great hall and handed Sadie’s leash to Her and let them both turn from me and walk away, I have always feared succumbing to the temptation to say “Here, girl,” one last time, just to see if she’d still come.
But it is an emptiness that having another dog doesn’t fill. I’m not haunted by Sadie, but I am sometimes haunted by her absence.
For me, it was half my life ago. In some ways, it still feels like yesterday.